I had never seen my hands and nails so dirty before, my face was wind chaffed, my nose raw from blowing it repeatedly and I had been wearing the same pair of socks for the last 4 days. It no longer mattered if my camelbak mouthpiece was covered in a layer of dirt, if I had the energy to care I’d spit out my first mouthful of water but by this stage I was sure I had ingested enough dirt to be completely immune from Kili.
We woke the morning of day 4 energised after an amazing day of hiking the day before. It was, in fact, the best night of sleep we had all had because it was the second consecutive night above 3,400m elevation and our bodies had finally acclimatized.
Like every other day we had gorgeous clear blue skies. The temperate was starting to drop as we rose higher and higher but with the sun on our backs it felt warmer than it actually was. The vegetation had, very slow without us noticing, changed to a desert like environment. There was now only small shrubs with an occasional hip height bush to hide behind when nature called. The path was still dusty (if not dustier) and the air was getting more and more dry. Without any high trees and a clear sky it was breathtaking to see the clouds all around us.
Sophie and I had relished the day before, at Kikelelwa camp, at being able to get fully naked for a ‘shower’. I had suggested we use my sarong to hide behind allowing us some privacy to scrub places that hadn’t been scrubbed for a while, it was a simple luxury. However, as we started a new day of hiking this perk quickly faded into a distant memory with more dirt and sweat.
Above 4,000m elevation the lack of oxygen meant that ‘pole pole’ was really the only speed in which we could walk at. Once again I out did all the others with some ‘pole pole sana’ (extremely slowly slowly). Today we would be walking towards Mawenzi peak, a smaller mountain peak next to Kibo Peak (summit of Kili), and our camp named Tarn Hut was located at 4,330m. It was an additional 700m in elevation and would only take 2.5hrs so the hike was short and steep meaning lots of puffing and sweating all the way up for me!
We were told by our guides that the next camp would have a ‘swimming pool’. Jason and Kes were both so excited by thisthat they were soon talking energetically about getting into their swim shorts and jumping straight in. Listening to their plans I became quite disappointed in myself for not having thought about packing any swimwear with me as the thought of jumping into a cool refreshing pond and scrubbing all the dirt of myself sounded incredible. Overhearing the boys George laughed and told them that it would be too cold to swim in, however that didn’t seem to deter Jason at all who, I’m sure, daydreamed about swimming for the rest of the walk.
In addition to the topic of said mysterious ‘swimming pool’, we had decided a few days ago that we should invent witty professions to write down at the register of each camp. At the first camp (Simba) we had simply all written our boring actual professions. Kes encouraged us to come up with completely ridiculous jobs instead, which is exactly why we were friends with him! Of course he would put down “Astronaut”! And so this became a new game and a daily topic in our hiking conversations: to brainstorm and discuss what each of us would be. We often laughed at the idea that other climbers would be completely baffled by us and wonder who “Loo String CEO” might be.
As we neared the camp site, the enormity of Mawenzi somehow crept up on us. Before we knew it we had jumped over a small stream turned the corner and there sat Tarn Hut, right under her giant shadow.
The ‘swimming pool’ as it turned out was a giant green pond. Although, to me, it didn’t look very sanitary to swim in let alone drink from it soon turned out that none of the guides wanted anyone to go into it as it was our only source of drinking water. Jason regrettably had to settle for his usual bowl of warm water to bathe in.
The toilets at this camp had simply the best view I have ever seen a toilet to have! In addition that were large and very clean with hooks inside. This gave me the bright idea of taking a ‘shower’ in them with all the privacy to get fully naked yet again – ahhh what a luxury!
That afternoon we went for our usual extra acclimatization walk. We thought that like every other day it would be a short 40 minute hike up some hill but we were in for a surprise. Moses lead us up the side of Mawenzi peak, this was a little steep so again we pole-pole and huffed and puffed all the way up, passing other climbers. As we reached the top of the peak’s edge and peered over the side we saw one of the most spectacular views: 360 degrees of sheer beauty. In front of us Kibo Peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro. To our left and right the great plains of Africa with fluffy white clouds. Behind us: Mawenzi.
We all went silent, each of us finding a spot where we could sit alone with this magnificent mountain and commune with it soul-to-soul. For a long while we just sat there, it was impossible to take it all in and as soon as you did you started to panic at the idea that this was incredible moment would pass. Eventually we took some photos and made our way back down feeling a little sorry for the other climbers whose guides hadn’t taken them to the top.
Dinner, as usual, that night was delicious. So far on the menu we had had: fried chicken with potato fries, bean/beef/tuna stew with rice or pasta, boiled veggies, fresh fruit for desert and the occasional fried jam filled “donut”, to name a few dishes. We always started with a delicious soup and pumpkin had been our favorite. In fact the food was so good that we nicknamed our chef “Mr. Delicious”. Being so exposed to elements every day it was a real luxury having a hot meals.
Su had brought a couple of guidebooks along with her and during either afternoon tea or dinner by candlelight she would bring these out and give us the thoughts of a Mr. Henry Stedman. Henry, one of the authors of our guidebooks, wasn’t particularly encouraging to his readers. We concluded, after listening to Henry’s thoughts, that he was probably a bitter old British fellow who might have purposely decided to make the climb sound more dreadful so as to put off anyone from actually doing it. This theory was supported by the notion that encouraging mass tourism to pristine national parks like this would be detrimental to selfish travellers like ourselves.On the trail to Kibo, however, Henry was a bit more positive, stating ‘one would find a rare hiker who did not enjoy this walk’.
The next day (day 5) we started this long walk to Kibo camp, our last day before summit night. Kibo (4,700m) would have no water so the porters would have carry all the water we needed for drinking and cooking by hand and we would not be able to wash up. By this point our whole team had succumb and surrendered to the dirt anyway and so no one was really disappointed by this. Jason was probably the most committed of us at still keeping himself germ free. I had personally tried to keep the inside of my tent clean with wet wipes, but by Kibo this was no longer a priority.
The trek was much longer than the other days (almost 6 hours). The plan was that we would arrive in Kibo and have a light dinner then immediately go to bed at around 6pm. Squeeze in 5 hours of sleep before waking up at 11pm to prepare for the summit walk starting midnight. From camp to the top of ridge was an elevation rise of 1,200m and this we would need to conquer through the coldest part of the night in order to reach summit by sunrise. We would then descend back down to Kibo Camp have a short rest then continue down to Horombo Camp situated back at 3,700m. In total, more than 14 hours of walking would be done in the next 24 hours.
Back on the path to Kibo, we all fell into single file and George decided that we should play a game. It was a geography game where we would take it in turns to come up with the names of a countries in alphabetical order. This definitely caught my attention and having been at the back of the pack for the whole week I suddenly felt a surge of energy wanting to keep pace with the group and maybe try to shuffle into a more advantageous position (we were taking it in turns from front to back).
Each of our competitive natures were activated and I eyed off Kes as my greatest opponent (I’d like to think vice versa). However some of us (George) were obviously cheating! When we got to the letter ‘C’ and Bacari (who was at the back) called ‘Cameroon’ suddenly George decided that we should always start a new letter at the beginning of the group and then announce ‘Cameroon’ for himself. We had some good laughs along the way and time felt like it was passing faster. The effects of altitude was not missed during the game and some very obvious countries (e.g. Greece) were some how missed. It was definitely the altitude because we are all super smart at geography… obviously.
When we reached the ‘saddle’ – the area between the two peaks (Mawenzi & Kilimanjaro) – the vegetation became non-existent. There was rarely a small tuff of grass and the wind was unrelenting. All of us were trying to balance breathing, talking and keeping our buffs over our nose. By now if you needed to have a toilet break you’d have to yell out to the whole crew “carry on without me whilst I duck behind this rock” if we happen to have passed large enough rocks to duck behind but they were becoming rare to find! Occasionally a rock was very popular so to speak.
We finally made it to Kibo and we were tired, hungry and super sluggish. When I saw the path to the toilets from our tents I was gutted. We were camped at the bottom of the site and the toilets were situated at the top! There wasn’t one trip to the toilet where any of us didn’t have to catch our breath to get there. Everything started to take longer with the lack of oxygen: getting dressed, eating, brushing teeth and packing/unpacking of bags. Nonetheless we were there and we were only hours away from starting the big walk up the mountain side and onto the summit.
to be continued…