Kilimanjaro….the day we climbed to the top of Africa
The time was midnight and we had never felt more exhausted. We were wearing 5 layers of clothes but the wind cut through them with numbing ferocity and all I want to do is cry from the cold.
We were19,000ft above sea level and at this altitude your body does strange things. In 8hours Russell or I (hopefully both) will be standing on the roof of Africa or bent double vomiting our hearts out.
Why would two relatively fit, everyday men want to do this to ourselves, because we can, and that feeling of accomplishing something like this is a once in a lifetime feeling that nobody can or will ever take away from us.
The trip didn't start well with us waking up to a down pour of rain. But as we were back in Africa we realised that the showers last for a couple of hours at the most and we were going to have a great day ahead. After being in a bone-rattling bus for 3 hours learning local swear words and of course the Swahili we would mostly be using on the mountain. We eventually reached the entrance to Kilimanjaro National park where we were greeted by a forbidding sign….NO climbing without a guide. NO children under 10. NO adults with heart complications. (Don't ask) Drink 4-5litres of water a day. Descend immediately if you start feeling Ill.
Our porters, all 10 of them for two of us seemed a little odd at first but Russell and I were so looking forward to this day that nothing was going to deter us from what we came here to do. The porters stayed behind and packed the luggage as we set off into the forest. The walk to the first camp was a little of and anti-climax for me but we need to remember, pole' pole' (slowly slowly in Swahili)
Through the forest we trek, the hot and humid conditions are not too bad. Everything around us is a lush green.
We set up camp after 6 hours of trekking and we not sure what will be on the menu? Little did we know that we would have to get used to chicken, rice, marie biscuits, porridge, toast and popcorn for the next 5 days and nights.
First night was a little difficult to sleep as we were now two grown men sleeping in a tent and on the mountain floor in Africa…. how romantic!
Start the day popping pills, diamox which is to stop the brain from swelling from altitude. Not such a gentle walk now as its getting steeper and steeper. Still we push on and before we know it it's been a few hours and time to set up camp again. You can start to feel the air getting thinner but nothing to worry about yet! Some bushes and shrubs around but the trees have started to disappear. Flies are a plenty in the long drops! We have left the rain forest behind. Russell pulls out his cell phone and we are blessed with Coldplay… only one track but that song is all we had to get through the trying times.
Start the day with the pills again, now we are drinking mountain water so we have to be careful as we adding neutralizing tablets so we don't get sick. Diamox has a curious affect, making the hands and feet go tingly. We are in moorland with some wonderful vegetation and even more wonderful views. Fist thing everyday once we step out the tent was, to look up and say, 'nearly there'! Still no idea what our bodies were going to be going through in the next 72 hours.
Thank goodness for wet wipes, no bath or shower for 4 days and it's starting to be noticed. Our bodies are starting to swell and a lot of HAFE is about. High Altitude Flatus Expulsion. This is standard with altitude and even a lady would not be able to control her bodily functions. A great excuse for everyone to 'let rip' The air is getting thinner, our bodies working twice as hard to maintain the supply of oxygen. We now find ourselves getting more tired a lot quicker.
Day 5 & 6
Kibo Hut is a fairly primitive affair but we won't be here long. We leave at midnight to start the final trek. We try to sleep after an early supper but fail. We lay awake with our layers on and eagerly wait to undoubtedly punish our bodies in a way like never before. Midnight arrives and away we go…..
For the first time since leaving London a week ago, I don't believe I'll make it. Its 2am and we have been walking for 2hours. I'm feeling strange perhaps a little disorientated and loss of memory. I am constantly testing myself by remembering my addresses, post code and phone number. We look up and all we can see in the night sky is the outline of the mountain top against the hundreds and thousands of stars that we would never see again, especially living in a city like London. Russell starts behaving oddly, crossing his feet over each other rather than plodding along in a reasonably straight line. He looks drunk, and then with no warning to himself or us, he gets sick. We stop to rest and he pulls his balaclava down. His eyes and nose are black. This is not good. Our mountain guide Ome says its ok, we nearly there and he, Russell should be fine. Now that was more of an incentive to get to the top. If Russell was not to make it, it wouldn't feel right to carry on without him even though in the beginning we made a pact that if for some reason one of us was not successful the other should carry on to mount Kili.
The cold is the killer. My toes and fingers are numb. How long does frostbite take? The cold has seeped under my 5 layers and even my shoulders are aching. I don't think I have ever felt so miserable or so demoralised. There is such a long way to go to the rim of the crater known as Gilmans point. I look up again and see stars moving. Then I realise they are not stars. They're the pinpricks of light from the head torches of climbers who left Kibo Hut before we did.
Gilmans point at last, technically this is the top of the mountain. We can look down into the vast crater. But the highest point is still 2 hours further on. The sensible thing would be to call it a day and head back down. Naturally we carry on going. We have to clamber through the packed snow and ice on the rim of the crater which is difficult because the sun is yet to rise.
The massive walls of 12 000 year old glaciers greet us.
What a sight. Uhuru peak only 50meters away, at 06H45 we walked side by side and I then put my arm around Russell and said, 'this is it, we've done it'! I also felt a tear or two roll down my cheeks. Were they tears of happiness? Were they tears of relief that we both had done it? Who cares? All that matters was that, we came, we saw and conqueredand both can tell the tale.
31st October 2005
Once we had the photos taken with 'fake smiles' we were both cold and the thin air was making life unpleasant it was time to go. But before we left yours truly needed to leave a deposit on the mountain……. Was it High Altitude Flatus Expulsion (HAFE) I don't know, but I wasn't going to take a chance so I went around the closest BIG rock on the top of Kili. My my, what a sight, the best W.C. view in the world I bet. Sun rising in front of me over the Serengeti, 12 000 year old glaciers to my right, a volcanic crater just to my left AND FROZEN yes frozen wet wipes! Could this day get any better? After a moment of defrosting the wipes we were on our way…. I had left my mark on top of Africa's highest mountain. J
Once back at Gilmans point it was a good idea to use the emergency signal to call my mother to say hi, then I forgot about the air being thinner and after a 10 second conversation I was exhausted. Never the less we rested and 'rock surfed' back to kibo hut which took nearly 4 hours. We slept for a few hours and then started the trek back to reality.
I was warned that climbing Kilimanjaro would be tough, and it was. Would I do it again? Probably not. Am I glad I did it? You better believe it.
You learn something about yourself when you seem to be at the limit of your physical endurance and push yourself beyond.
Where will we go to next?
Gavin Keast Russell Griffin