February 14, 2011
day 5 on the way to Uhuru Peak 5895mt
Leaving Mechame Hut and the luscious Rain Forrest terrain behind us, our guides led us up into the wide expanse of heather and moorland with many vistas dominated by vegetation that is indigenous to Mt Kilimanjaro. The weather was gorgeous, clear sunny and quite mild – when we started out that is! As the morning wore on it became hot and very much like summer! The sun strong and beating down on us from above with just a wisp of a cloud in the clear blue sky.
However we soon discovered that on Mt Kilimanjaro there is a particular pattern to weather and by 11.00am or maybe midday the mists would rise up and engulf us turning the atmosphere around us decidedly chilly and somewhat wet. So from mere t-shirts and a hat we would scramble to put on something a bit warmer and in my case to put the camera back into its waterproof bag.
The trek itself was, again, a rather easy going one and quite short considering – about 4 or 5 hours long – and we reached Shira Camp, our destination for that day, by early afternoon. That gave us a whole afternoon to prattle about and generally relax and enjoy the surroundings. Shira camp spread out sprawling around us with hundreds of other little tents already set up belonging to the numerous other groups who we would be leap-frogging along the trek throughout our journey.
That brought a close to our 2nd day on the mountain: another delicious and cosy supper in our mess tent and another good nights sleep in out tents wrapped up in our sleeping bags.
day 6: Setting out for Barranco Camp (or Day 3 of the trek)
Taking us higher and higher…. the terrain began to change quite drastically, though weather kept up with its pattern of sun in the morning to be replaced by chilly mists and clouds by midday. The terrain became sparse verging on the alpine dessert with heather and indigenous plants defying the elements. It was also getting colder, though while on trek, especially during the morning, t-shirts or polo shirts were still very much order of the day. Once the mists came up though, heavy fleeces were required and even a waterproof jacket as the chill would bite to the bone thanks to the dampness. The vistas remained stunning and jaw-dropping. Our trek took us up to Lava Tower @ 4560mt and then back down to about 3870mt at which level our next camp – Barranco Camp – was set! I had a slip here and twisted my ankle which got me quite worried a the snapping noise I heard didn’t sound quite comforting. But with a good rub of anti-inflammatory and a tight bandage the rest of the trek passed by with little ado.
A few scenes from this stage of the climb:
The atmosphere was defintely getting rather chilly now, the ground hard with permafrost and ice and everyone was forced to wear their heavy jackets which in a way was a small blessing in disguise as it would normally have taken up so much space in the kit bag that trying to repack every morning before setting off was quite a challenge. Barranco Camp was literally a small ridge in a valley between two ‘legs’ (if ye can say that) of the mountain. We had a beautiful view of the peak from here which got our blood boiling with anticipation. That, we would point out to each other, is our destination!
The terrain was now mostly alpine dessert and loose scree, also the way was getting somewhat steeper though the trek we would follow would undulate up and down along the face of the mountain as we worked our way round to Barafu Camp by way of Karangu Hut.
I feel, at this point, I have to mention the admiration we all had, have, and I think will always have for our guides and porters. The guides were second to none and truly knew their business and were totally professional and helpful all along! The porters, also, were absolutely amazing. Every day we would wake up and find breakfast ready for us, a delicious selection of cereals fruits, fried eggs and bacon and copious amounts of tea, coffee etc. Then we would set of with our guides on the next leg of our trek! In the meantime our porters would start decamping and packing everything up. Loading these cumbersome, and most assuredly heavy, baggage on their heads off they would go charging up the mountain side, overtaking us and arriving at our next campsite to set up tents and all before we would have reached it. That is a feat of wonder – the porters, the guides, the unsung heroes of Mount Kilimanjaro!
Barafu Camp, or base camp if you wish, was the last campsite before our final trek up to Uhuru Peak proper. The toughest trek of all it would turn out to be, and the longest to boot also. The plan was for us to set off at 11.00pm with the aim of reach Uhuru at sunrise the following day. In the meantime we had to go and register at the camp office and while we waiting we indulged in a bit of brotherly/sisterly love, this impromptu group hug being the proof of the closeness of the group.
Then it was a bit of time for relaxation and maybe even contemplation. Also a bit of toilet doing, you know!
Our head Guide Lionel warned us to get some rest and to meet him and the other guides in the mess tent an hour before departure so he could brief us on what to expect and how to cope with the harsh conditions we will encounter on our way up at night, in the dark, with howling and icy winds, and steep incline. Needless to say… this rest was a bit difficult though we did try. At about 9.00pm we were all back in the mess tent ready for our briefing. We all met quite early as it had been decided that a few of our group would leave at 10.00pm while the rest of us would leave at the originally planned time of 11.00pm. Ben, Conti and Tonio were in the group due to leave at 10.00, the rest of us – Felicia, Lara, Darren, Anthony, Marcus and myself to set off at 11.00pm. During the briefing we all battled to get our gear on and fastened down properly, to fill our camel backs and any thermos with water for during the climb and generally get prepared. This last trek being the culmination of a week’s journey – the excitement and anticipation was thick and almost physical among us.
I have to admit it was quite an emotional moment as the first group set off at 10.00pm and we watched there headlamps twinkle of in the darkness to join the river of twinkling lights that had already started making their way up.
At 10.45pm the second group gathered outside the Mess tent and after a quick inspection of everyone’s gear we set off and up towards Uhuru Peak. It was pitch black, the night darker then any other night I remember, our headlights illuminating a small patch of the ground immediately before us along with the feet and legs of that chap in front of us – in my case Marcus. It became a tiny world of howling wind, icy cold, the feet in front of me and my breathing, which progressively became harder and more laboured the higher we went. 1 step, 2 steps, 3 steps… and a small pause for breath. Again and again… it became a monotony. We did have chance to appreciate the beauty of it all though… at a point, about half way up we paused for a bit of a breather and looking up and below all one could see was twinkling lights in the blackness worming their way up the mountain side. Upwards it was hard to tell where the twinkling lights of fellow climbers ended and where the bright stars in the sky began – such was the deep night!
Our Next breather and proper rest was at Stella point, the last stopping point before the final rush towards Uhuru Peak! I will admit that I flopped down onto a rock and was breathing heavier then I would have liked to have admitted. My camel back had frozen up and I could not drink from it anymore. My balaclava was stuck to my face, frozen in place because my nose had started to leak, and was very uncomfortable. I also felt totally fatigued.. mentally more then physically.
On we went, the break over, up and up.. our feet finally crunching through snow, though still not much. and slowly but surely the sky began to lighten up. Marcus pointed out the sunrise to me and wow, was it beautiful!
At 6.45am on Sunday 14th February 2010 the Kilimanjaro Challenge 5 Team reached Uhuru Peak!
What a crowd there was! On Valentines day, at such an early hour, at one of the remotest parts of Africa…. there was a crowd! Hehe! Well well! Most important of all… we all made it! In my case with big thanks to Anthony, Lara and Felicia for the encouragement on the last bit of the ascent and also a very big thanks to Nelson who relieved my of my back back for the last few hundred metres.
Thank you everyone… Thanks to Lionel, Nelson and all the guides! Thanks to all our porters, thanks to all the staff and people we met along the way… Thanks you to all the KC 5 group for being such a great group and great friends.. Thanks to Keith for coming up with the idea and helping us along and thank you to my family, my Dad, my Mum and my brothers and sisters, my friends who supported and helped with the fundraising, preparation and moral support!