Saturday, June 14, 2008

African Adventure: Kilimanjaro Trek Day 5 & 6 (April 3, 4)

Day 5

Although I sent a message form the summit of Kilimanjaro, it was short so thought I would fill you in on the details which my frozen fingers could not type while on the peak.

I went to bed at about 8 pm on Day 4 after sending the Day 4 e-mail and phoning my Mum in the UK to wish her happy Mum's Day. Gena made what was probably the smart choice and had decided not to attempt the summit. Day 4 was a challenge for her, it was long, and had several short climbs up frozen rock faces which both exhausted and frightened her, especially at this altitude. I should also add that we were doing the difficult Machame ascent also known as the Whiskey route compared to the relatively easy Marangu route also known as the Coca Cola route. So Aaron and I were woken up at 12.15 am by our guide. Both wrapped in lots of warm clothing, we emerged from our tents into strong winds, freezing temperatures, and a clear dark night. Then we began the ascent. There was no clear path to follow just the silhouette of a huge glacier above to which we needed to climb straight up over boulders and a scree field. There were no switch backs, just an almost vertical route we had to follow. The next 5 hrs up the scree and bolder field to Stella Point (40 mins form Uhuru Peak) was torturous. It was cold, I mean really cold. The water in my two insulated water bottles was frozen solid within 2 hrs. The wind battered us causing us to lose balance and stumble for what seemed like every step. It found its way into each and every minute gap in our clothing which felt like we were being pricked by 1000s of tiny needles. The air was thin. Every step I took required a forced deep breath in and rapid exhalation in time for the next deep breath in. Each step was an effort and I was luckily if I managed to put one foot fully past the other, most of the time having to make to with half or quarter steps. My footsteps and those of the guide in front are all I focused on and all I could see in the dark of the night, just tiny strained footsteps. To be honest, I am not sure if I was fully awake for much of this part of the ascent. Looking back it seems like I was in a twilight zone between the real world and some other place we visit in our dreams. I remember watching my torch light fade and die and straining to follow the steps of the person in front. We stopped to take a rest about 3 times. As much as I wanted a rest, as soon as I stopped I got cold, even when curled into a ball, the wind and cold pulled away my body heat and I wanted to go again. Oddly enough, this 5 hrs or so passed quite quickly and we made it to Stella Point. It was still cold, it was even more windy, but we could see feint light on the horizontal and knew sunrise was coming soon. The trek from Stella Point to Uhuru Peak, the highest point, was about 40 mins to an hour and not as steep nor as difficult at the trek so far, but it was colder and the wind stronger. I was more with it and awake for this part. Just knowing the peak was so close was an inspiration and fueled the mental drive that controls the physical body. On we pressed and reached the large "Congratulations, you have reached the highest Point in Africa at 5895m (19 341 feet)" sign at Uhuru peak at 6.15 am, just as the sun came above the crystal clear horizon below us.

We spent the next 30 mins or so taking pictures and sending the e-mail. The bitter cold affected all of the LCD screens on all of the electronic equipment. The laptop screen was very washed out and I could hardly see the cursor, the screen on the digital camera looked like it was operating by strobe light, Aaron's camera view finder also looked like it was working from strobe light, and the GPS screen was changing in slow motion. Thankfully the batteries held enough charge at these temperatures to allow us to finish our task, but operating any of the equipment was painful as I had to remove my glove to type and press camera buttons. I wanted to explore the top which was decorated with huge glaciers and a hidden crater. But it was just too cold and windy. So our mission accomplished, we stated to descent. With sunlight now plentiful, we made a rapid departure along a definite path back down to Barafu Camp where Gena was waiting in a brilliant cloudless morning.

The ascent from Barafu camp to the summit took us about 6 hrs, from 4600m to 5895m, the descent back to Barafu about 2 hrs. We climbed a vertical distance of about 1.3 kms over an actual climbed distance of about 5kms and arrived back at Barafu camp at about 9.30am. The day was not over however. We still had to hike down further to Mweka camp, another 6 kms and another 4 hrs down a steep riverbed, so steep in fact that this only a descent route. In all Aaron and I hiked 16km over 14 hrs, ascended 1.3km and then descended almost 3km to Mweka. It was a very very hard day. We both said we would not do this again, and in some ways wish we had done the easy route. Looking back now, I am glad I did it and would do it again, although Gena and I have decided we will come back on Gena's 50th birthday to do the Marangu route so she can summit. We slept very well that night.

Day 6, 4 April 2000: The final descent.

We woke up to a beautiful view of the mountain we had just climbed. For some reason I wanted to go back to the top, but of course knew that even if we had the time, I was physically incapable. The guides and porters sang us the Kilimanjaro song after breakfast and I just sat back and listened (after taking some pictures) as then sang and danced with Kilimanjaro over their heads in the distance. We still had to descend down to Mweka Village where we would be shuttled back to the Springlands Hotel in Moshi. This was another fairly tough day which involved descending anther 4 hrs down the steep very slippery riverbed. By this time my right knee was getting quite sore from the constant downward impact, no switchbacks, just straight down. When we reached the exit gate, we signed the book and collected our certificates. Our Kilimanjaro Climb was over.

Before the climb, the Kilimanjaro part of the Edventure seemed like just another exciting Edvent and just part of the Edventure. But for me now, it was much more than another hike or another event. It was one of those very personal things that has left indelible mark, and one that has in many respects changed me.

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