- Niamh O Riordan.
Ok. Kilimanjaro. We made it. And we didn't make it. We actually climbed the hightest mountain in Africa twice. And it was all fabulous. Our first excursion was marred by bad weather and altitude sickness. Our second trip was perfect in every way.
Here's a blow by blow account of the second trip:
Day one was a short walk after a long drive through a nice wood. Stayed at Simba camp. We slept in tents and ate in a mess tent. We could see the mountain from there. Quite nice. We had one guide, Godi, one cook, and about 7 porters to carry our gear. We actually did no work ourselves other than walk to camps. They would fetch water, pitch tents, cook meals. Great team. Fab food all the way.
Second day was to 2nd cave. Another nice short walk. No sickness. Again perfect weather. Height: 3400m.
Third day was to Kikelelwa. Annoyed that this was only 3600m. We thought it was 3900m so we did an acclimatization walk up towards our next camp. Perfect weather. The idea is not to sleep more than 300m above where you slept the night before and to climb high and sleep low so each day you try to climb above where you will sleep.
Fourth day we walked four hours (short) to stay at Mawenzi Camp. This is a mountain itself and we stayed in a crater. We were at 4300m. We were above the clouds and could see all of africa it seemed. We did an acclimatization walk to 4500m up into the mountain itself. Great fun. The moutain is far more mountain shaped than Kili and it really was breathtaking. Perfect weather.
Day five we walked between Mawenzi and Kili ending the day at Kibo camp at the base of Kili itself. Kibo is 4700m high. That day we ate and slept cos we would make the final ascent in the night time. Managed about four hours sleep before waking at ten thirty. Had bickies and a hot drink. Started the walk at eleven thirty. Amazing stars so high up in the world. Never knew there were so many but it was steep steep steep and cold cold cold walk until dawn.
[DON'T READ IF YOU"RE SQUIMISH] It was so cold that I wouldnt take my hands out of my gloves to wipe my nose so I learned projectile nose blowing (that's actually what they do here - no hankies used) and when that failed I became 3 again and used my glove. I must insist, you'd have done the same - even you Emma!
[OK. IT'S FINE NOW] We were wearing three pairs of socks, three pants, countless tops, fleeces, coats, balaclavas, hats, two pairs of gloves. But we didn't have the snazzy hand warmers all the other tourists brought from home. So jealous of those things. My hands were painfully cold. Breathing was very difficult. We zig-zagged up and at each corner, I would pause to breathe. GODI and the assistant guide began to sing to take our minds off it and I think that's the trick. So I spent a lot of time thinking boring thoughts just so that I wouldn't be counting the seconds. It's too cold to stop for more than water. The temp was -10c. It would have been much colder if there was a wind blowing and I can't imagine what it would be like to summit in rain or snow. A bunch of South Africans were behind us and one of them started vomiting. Can't believe he went on. But we were fine. Malc was feeling a little off for a while but it passed.
Then before we knew it we were at Gilman's point. About 5600m. Couldn't believe it. That's when I began to suspect that I was dreaming. It was only 5 am. We'd made very good progress. But you would too in that cold. So we marched on around the rim of the crater toward Uhuru peak, the summit (5895m). We'd heard this part was relatively easy but I was exhausted. I had to keep stopping to breathe but we were all so cold, Malc especially, that I didn't want to stop. I was very weak. And you don't eat up there (you're only asking for trouble) so there was very little I could do. But we could see the peak getting (achingly slowly) closer and the sun was coming up (glorious sunrise - amazing colours) and we weren't sick. And there were glaciers. And cool clouds. And we could hear people cheering. And it couldn't have been real. It must have been a dream.
So we got there. To the peak. And we did what all the other tourists did: took a few snaps, looked around and turned back. You have to. The longer you stay up there, the more chance there is of you getting sick up there. But it was stunning. So beautiful. I never thought I'd get there.
We walked back down then, slip sliding down the moutain on the scree. Is it ski-ing or skating that we did? I'm not sure. We certainly didn't walk down. What had taken 7 hours to ascend took less than 2 to descent.
At Kibo, we ate but were not allowed to sleep (makes people sick) and started the walk down. First to Horombo camp, then to Mandara. Our guide bullied us into taking a spin down from there. It was 7pm and 3 hours to the gate and his team had gone ahead of us. So Malc did what Godi asked and told the officials he had a sore knee (which he did) and we came down in an ambulance (no cars allowed in the park. We got our golden certificates and drove back to Moshi. Then we showered for the first time in six days and collapsed into bed.
Agus sin sin. It was amazing. For those of you who might not know, this was our second attempt. On the third day of our first attempt we were caught in a terrible snow storm. We walked for hours (maybe 8) and just couldn't stop, even when I got a headache. It was an acclimatization day so we were up at about 4500m. Never knew a headache could be so bad. Summit day was actually less difficult than that third day. But I'm really glad we did it twice. We saw Machame, Umbwe, Rongai and Marangu routes and they were all stunning and all different and all great fun. It's an amazing mountain because there's such a diversity of scenery and landscape.