Lauren’s adventures on Kilimanjaro
Today is exactly a month since I stood on the rooftop of Africa, but sometimes it feels like years, even lifetimes. Sometimes I can’t believe I actually did it at all. But I have the t-shirt, and the photo, so I guess it must have been real. Here are a couple of thoughts compiled from an increasingly jumbled selection… Oh and by the way, if anyone tells you climbing Kilimanjaro is easy, they’re either lying, insane, or both. Enjoy!
7am: Arrived in Tanzania last night. Was very relieved that my luggage made it as well. My paranoia got the better of me while packing, so I had managed to stuff an awful lot in my hand luggage (good thing they didn’t weigh it), but turns out I worried for no reason. Day didn’t start fantastically, managed to slam my finger in the hotel bathroom door, and now have a black fingernail. Hope it doesn’t fall off. Time for breakfast and then we’re off to the slopes.
11am: Arrived at the start of the Machame route. Hurry up and wait. There are hundreds of people here, all waiting to sign in and start their trip. Having lunch now, because then I don’t have to carry the food in my backpack.
2pm: We started the climb and have been trekking up through humid rainforests. Slow going, am starting to understand they weren’t kidding about polé polé (slowly slowly in Swahili). Diamox tablets are making me super thirsty, which means I have to visit the bushes every 30 minutes. I’m pretty sure some of these plants are going to make me itchy later.
6pm: Camp number 1. Had fun trying to arrange all of my sleeping paraphernalia and take a wash in a very small bowl of water. Wish I could wash my hair, feel like a grease monkey. Almost time for dinner and then I’m heading straight to bed. Long day coming up tomorrow!
Sometime early in the morning: Sleep? Didn’t get much of that. Not a fan of sleeping bags and the floor, and it was absolutely freezing! Time for breakfast and then we’re off for an 8 hour climb. Looks like a beautiful day, we are heading out of the rain forests and up higher around the slopes.
At lunch: Great views as we climbed today, something amazing about standing above the clouds. Got my first view of the mountain, scary! It’s so big and so far away, I can’t believe we’re actually going all the way to the top. The mist started rolling in and the landscape has changed, it’s quite eerie and so quiet. Am in awe of the porters. Here we are, scrambling to try and stay on our feet with our little backpacks, and they come barreling past us, bags on their heads, never putting a foot wrong. Amazingly strong men.
Dinner: The sun came out again after lunch, and the strangeness of the landscape increased. Enjoyed spotting all of the different types of rocks that resulted from Kibo’s volcanic eruptions in the past (yes, I am a nerd). Picked up a piece of obsidian to bring home. The trek after lunch was mercifully short and made fun by my crazy hiking mates, and I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep.
Morning: No such luck on the sleep. Diamox pills are still causing havoc, had to get up in the night and find the loo and managed to get lost. Wind was howling and it was freezing again. Definitely getting harder to breathe. Time to pack up tent city for another day of the hike.
Lunch: It’s freezing cold, the mist came in again and I have a gigantic headache from lack of oxygen. Starting to wonder about my sanity. Landscape is all rocks, covered in lichen, and the only animal life are some rather hungry looking crows. I hope they don’t think I look tasty. Crossed a few glacial melt streams today, glad I didn’t fall in, they look freezing. We reach Lava Tower after lunch today, some of the crazies are going to climb it. Don’t think I’m nuts enough for that.
Dinner: Declined a scramble up Lava Tower and carried on plodding towards camp. I can see the trail we have to take tomorrow from here and it looks awfully steep. It’s getting colder the higher we climb, and the lack of oxygen is being felt. Seems to be a bug going around camp, happily I appear to have avoided it. I hope it stays that way. Tomorrow we head up to base camp for the summit. Another long day in the boots…
Morning: Managed to get a couple of hours of sleep last night, but still have an altitude headache. Today we climb the Barranco Wall, descend the Karanga Valley, and then climb up to Barafu, where the summit trail begins.
Lunch: Barranco Wall was something else! For those who are scared of heights, not an entirely enjoyable experience I am sure. Two hours of rock climbing later and we reached the top. Then came the hard part for me, descending the valley. No problems with heights, just massive fears of falling. By the time we got to lunch my nerves were shattered. Big mug of milo is in order. From here we head out over the rocks and climb to Barafu camp, where we will have dinner and a bit of sleep before we start the summit attempt.
Dinner: That took a lot longer than expected. It’s late, almost 7, and we have to be up at midnight for the summit. Tent is pitched on a slope, there is no flat ground here. Going to be interesting trying to sleep. Nothing lives at this altitude, it’s just barren rock. Summit attempt starts soon.
Lunch: Getting up at midnight is so hard. It is cold and dark, and even the excitement of the summit isn’t much of a motivator. We began the climb to the summit at 1am, in the darkest hours of the night. Just before sunrise, the temperatures dropped to -17, and as the cold, the exertion and the mental fatigue took its toll, the effort required to put one foot in front of the other consumed my world. 7 hours 26 minutes later, I reached the summit. About the hours in between, all I remember was darkness, a puddle of light from my head lamp, and the realization of how far we still had to climb every time I looked up and saw headlamps up the distant slope. I would never have made it if my fellow climbers hadn’t pushed me up, and pulled me up. At 4am the little voices in your head become incredibly loud, and I wanted to give up so many times. Words cannot describe how hard it was to just keep going. I descended as fast as possible, made it back to camp around 12, phoned home and had a nap. After lunch we continue to descend to camp for the night.
Dinner: Made it to high camp. Everyone is exhausted. Sadly two of the group did not make the summit, but 27 out of 29 isn’t bad. Early night for me, and then back to civilization tomorrow.
Morning: Best night’s sleep ever. Feel like a new person. Time to bust this joint…
Afternoon: Sitting at the base of Kili, waiting for a lift back to the hotel. Drinking an ice cold Kilimanjaro beer. It tastes like victory. There is a thriving flea market here selling everything from t-shirts and beers to knives and paintings, got to love the spirit of African entrepreneurship. Knees are screaming in protest at my almost run down the mountain, butt is bruised where I slipped and fell, and I am alive. What an adventure!
Note: Due to the fact that our group consumed every last Kilimanjaro beer at the hotel and a great deal more besides, the diary ends here, with a hangover.
The credits: Thanks to Olga, my room/tent mate, for being as messy as I am and a whole lot of fun. Thanks to Sue and Mark and Alan and Olga and Lucas for being ridiculous and making it fun. Thanks to Darryl and Jenny for getting me through the dark hours, and to Lucas, Jackie and Scotty for dragging my ass up the last couple of kilometers. I couldn’t have done it without you guys, and I wouldn’t have wanted to.
One last thing: I would like to once again thank everyone who supported me, I managed to raise R27 000 for the Sandton SPCA and I had the time of my life.