Tuesday, March 8, 2011

We came, we climbed, we conquered...

Wow, where do I start in trying to put into words the incredible experience we had on the mountain. I'm not sure what I was expecting exactly but what I experienced was so much harder emotionally, physically and mentally than I could ever have imagined. It was also the most incredibly rewarding and awe-inspiring thing I have ever done.

As we flew into kilimanjaro and saw the summit of the mountain level with our plane, to say I felt a mild twinge of panic would be an understatement!!! I had to ask those around me if they too were slightly FREAKING OUT???!!!

(the somewhat daunting view from the plane-in 5 days time we'd be attempting to be up on top of that thing!!!)

For four days we worked our way gradually closer toward Kibo which was to be our base camp. Camping was actually quite pleasant given we would arrive at camp to our tents all ready and hot water on the boil. Our entourage consisted of 54 porters (many of which we only saw at the beginning and end of the 8 days), 6 guides, 3 cooks and the 17 of us. These guides were to become our brothers or kaka in swahili and were absolutely amazing!

(Romley, our very open hearted kaka who took such care of us all)

The first two days were relatively easy (though poor synth was battling with a twisted ankle) and it wasn't until the third day that a few girls started to really feel the altitude starting to kick in.

(getting closer)

By day three one of the poor girls had thrown up 17 times (later this was determined to be an allergic reaction to her dioxin anti malaria medicine) and another two struggling with nausea. Luckily, throughout the trip I was able to avoid any nausea and only had the sniffles and some breathlessness. I'd like to think that my acupressure wristbands helped me avoid the nausea (lorraine I have you to thank for getting me onto those super things) and perhaps also that I was the only one not taking diamox also had something to do with it.

On day four we had a rest day at Mawenzi Tarn, a rather beautiful campsite near a green lake which is at the base of Mt Mawenzi (which happened to be our water supply). I'm so grateful we had this day as it really helped us all prepare for the summit attempt. We climbed Mawenzi on the morning of our rest day and got to 4500 metres. Our guides were really happy with us as they said people who make that point usually have about a 95% chance of making it to the summit. Even more exciting for me was that I got to see and touch snow for the first time!!!

(Synth & I before our practice up Mawenzi where we got to the snow line)

Next stop-base camp. This walk proved to be really challenging. Partly due to the fact that the landscape turns completely moon-like with nothing but grey dust for as far as the eye can see. It felt like we just kept walking and walking and walking. We passed a plane crash site which was sad-5 people had died in the crash two years ago. Once at Kibo we learnt the best news ever-we had been upgraded to the huts rather than having to be in the tents. With the raging winds and freezing cold we were all very grateful to be able to dress standing up and to prepare for our big ascent. We had an early dinner and tried to get some sleep as our departure time was due for 11.30pm.

After having woken up with a raging headache and trying to eat something (I'd lost my appetite two days ago), we rugged up and set off. Within the first half hour I mentioned I had a headache to our lead guide, Honest, and could I have some aspirin... the next thing I knew I had my pack ripped off me and they stripped some of my ten layers off me saying I was over heating. I was also assigned a guide who was then by my side the whole way.

It took us 7 hours to get to the first point which is Gillmans Point. How I got there is really hard to say-the time is a blur and I really just kept going by repeating my mantra over and over, breathing deeply and taking one step at a time. I found myself drifting in and out and finding myself trying to sleep walk. Every time I'd get into a rhythm my eyes would close and next thing I'd have my guide's face in mine saying 'no sleepy sleepy' with a gentle slap of the face:) He would continually encourage me, gently push me from behind, force feed me water-whatever it took to keep me going. He was an absolute legend! When we got to the first peak, the pure relief made I think almost all of us break into tears. And it wasn't over yet!

(sunrise over Mawenzi and Kenyan plains)

After watching a stunning sunrise and a twenty minute rest, we started off again for the summit. To be walking on the crater rim through snow, ice and screet was an adventure in itself. After 2hrs we had made it... What a feeling... We really were on top of the world.

(Synth and I feeling very relieved at Uhuru peak)

Once up there, the desire to sleep hit hard. I tried sneaking in a snooze once we got back to Gillmans Pt but my guide wouldn't have a bar of it. After only 15 mins of rest we were told to descend. This was even more challenging and something I really didn't expect. We virtually had to ski down the screet for approximately a kilometre. Half way down my knees gave out. From there it was de ja vu from our last day at Milford Sound two years ago (Troy I was thinking of you and laughing to myself in between the tears from the pain) The rest of my descent I had to lean on two guides and go down straight legged-not fun!!!!!

The other shock to follow was that we couldn't stay at the camp and had to eat, pack and set off for a 5hr hike. Enough to make you weep!!! Finally when we made it to Horombo camp (and again we were super lucky to get upgraded to huts) we were finally able to absorb what we had all achieved.

16 of us had made it to the top. Some had made it even though they were absolute zombies and barely conscious. To see how my team mates made it against all odds makes me so proud to have been part of our group. The team spirit and support through the whole trip really made it something I will never forget.

To finish off my kill experience I had an ambulance ride for the last section of the walk. My knees were so bad in the end that I think the guides figured I'd take 4hrs rather than 2 and suggested I make use of the emergency evacuation fees I'd paid in my fees... I gladly accepted:)

And then it was over... 8 days without a shower, going from 28 degrees to minus 16 and back again, all finished off with the best dance of my life to our porters and guides Mt Kilimanjaro song.

Mt Kilimanjaro conquered!!!

(Romley leading our rather large team in the Kilimajaro song)

I will post all photos to my travel blog and will add the link shortly... Keep an eye out for it...

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