25th Aug 2011 - Kenya & Tanzania
Kilimanjaro - Horombo Hut - Altitude 3720m
This entry should probably start under yesterday’s date as technically, that’s when it started. The alarm went off at 10.45pm for our toughest day. Bed tea at 11 was followed by breakfast at 11.15 ready for a midnight departure. Given the time and the altitude it was rather cold (approx minus 15) and so it was essential that we were dressed for the occasion. Therefore, the following items were all worn, from bottom upwards – 2 pairs of socks, base trousers, hiking trousers, waterproof trousers, base top, long sleeved hiking top, fleece jumper, lined coat, down jacket, balaclava, neck warmer, hat and 2 pairs of gloves. Looked a little like the Michelin man! We started hiking, knowing that the first part was going to be the hardest. From camp we could see the steep face of the mountain in front of us, and once we reached the top of that we knew we were only going to be at Gilman’s Point, 200m lower and 2 hours short of our final destination Uhuru Peak. However, it that had to be conquered first. The first half of the walk to Gilman’s was a series of switchbacks up scree. There are many reason given as to why you leave at midnight, the scree will be frozen, the ice at the top won’t have melted much by the time you come down, to ensure you have enough time to get up and down. However, I am firmly of the belief it’s so you can’t look up at any point and see just how much further there is to go. The guides can tell you what they like and you have no choice but to believe them! By around 2 we had reached a small cave where we stopped for a drinks break and to remove some of the layers as we were roasting and didn’t fancy being the first people to faint whilst doing the middle of the night summit attempt! For a while I thought the cave was Hans Meyer cave which would signify half way up the mountain in altitude terms. However, we soon reached Williams Point, the 5000m mark and I realised that was wishful thinking. In order to keep spirits up all the guides were singing, acapella style. It was largely in Swahili, but still was a distraction from the job at hand. Eventually the switchbacks did lead to the cave where we took another short drinks break. One of the biggest problems about hiking at that time is that you can’t stop for very long to rest as you cool down so quickly and get cold. So, you just keep on plodding on, Pole Pole. The route back down below us was littered by pinpricks of light, from each trekkers head torch, looking like a line of miners heading off to work. To the right, we could see lights of small Kenyan towns near the border.
We may have reached the halfway point altitude wise but the second half would be steeper. We were so tired at this point, we’d had no sleep and it was the middle of the night, that the guides decided to split us up. I carried on with Adam and Melissa walked with Edward. The switchbacks continued, to the left, the right, the left, the right, it was endless monotony. Suddenly the switchbacks finished and out of nowhere (at least in the dark) we had arrived at Jamaica Rocks, a series of large boulders covered in scree that had to be scrambled over. These were tough going and we had an hour of it. They stopped briefly, during which time we were back on the switchbacks, then they continued again although this time minus the scree. After 5 long hours, we reached the top and arrived at Gilman’s Point, at an altitude of 5681m, shortly followed by Melissa and Edward. If you time it right, you can spend some time here watching the sunrise but we were too early and sunrise was too far off for us to wait for it. Instead we began the 3 hour round trip to Uhuru Peak, the highest point in Africa. Luckily, this only meant an increase of 200m and so it was fairly easy going and relatively flat. The route was round the edge of the crater rim and during the walk the sun began to rise to the left of us. We passed Stella Point, the glacier near the summit, which is receding at such a speed that, if current rates continue, will be totally gone by 2020. Finally, at 7.00am, a most welcome sight, the summit of Uhuru Peak which, at 5895m, is the highest point in Africa. There were quite a few people up there although, thankfully, we had managed to beat the majority. There was a large number of the army up there, having reached the summit in 2 days and facing the prospect of going the whole way back down that day, and many of them seemed to be in a bad way. Adam gave out a few nausea tablets to those looking the worst! We were lucky as we had met an Australian in the Serengeti who had recently climbed the mountain and had given us her leftover Diamox. These tablets are taken to negate the effects of altitude, although side effects can include needing the loo a lot and tingling in the extremities. Luckily we only got the tingling, avoiding late night, dark toilet breaks. You are allowed 20 mins at the top, but any longer is deemed too dangerous when you haven’t acclimatised properly. We spent the time taking many, many photos of ourselves, the crater and the view. Then it was time to leave. With words of encouragement to those still on their way up, it was back the way we came, only much quicker. Back to Gilman’s Point, then over the damn rocks, and down the scree.
It only took 2 hours down meaning a total of 9 hours walking and it wasn’t even 10am! Down at the camp we got to collapse in our tent for an hour before an early lunch. However, by this point altitude and tiredness had gotten the better of us and our appetites has disappeared, so we packed up camp and began to head down the mountain. We came down the opposite side of the mountain, meaning we had literally walked over the top of it! The route down was the Marangu route, also known as the Coca-Cola route. It is the most popular route with trekkers staying in huts rather than camping (unless you are coming down the Rongai route, in which case you still camp). It took us 3 hours to get down to Horombo hut, where we were breaking up the journey, meaning 9 hours walking in total. Considering they warn you the day would be 11-15 hours, we did pretty good. We got afternoon tea before dinner, but luckily there was no need for acclimatisation walks on the way down. Eventually, at 8pm, after pulling an all nighter for the first time in goodness knows how long, we got our first bit of sleep in 38 hours.
Heart Rate 106 (Melissa 89), Blood Oxygen Level 92 (Melissa 93)