Saturday, August 04, 2012

Day 7 : Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate

We woke up at 06:30 after almost 10 straight hours of solid sleep, I don't think I even turned over once.  I tried to write up my diary last night but I got about half way through it before I fell asleep so I decided to call it quits.  I can see in the handwritten diary where I was falling asleep because my handwriting degenerates into a scrawl.

We had all had a good nights kip and after the usual maltabella, which Andre is still steadfastly refusing to let past his lips, omelettes and bread all the camp staff gave us a bit of a sing-song which was much less tacky than expected and now that I have the tune in my head it won't get out.

The last days walk consisted of yet another 1300m of descent, our knees complaining all the way as, Andre put it, an avalanche of porters came rushing past us.  It is quite unbelievable how they jog down a slippery path with heavy loads on their backs or heads.  Although they almost never slipped there was the odd crash as something came loose and clattered down.

Today we were in the rain forest almost from the word go which after the barren vistas we have been in for most of the week is quite refreshing and very beautiful.

We also ran into the two betties whom we hadn't seen since the first couple of days; they had made it up to 5000m which, given their physical presence, was quite a remarkable achievement.

Simon decided to gap it and get it over and done as quickly as possible so we didn't see him at all and I was taking photographs so I was quite slow and ended up overtaking the same people repeatedly.

We re-met an afrikaans couple that we had first met on days one and two and had a good chat as we sauntered down the path and they piqued my interest in doing the Inca trail in South America sometime in the future.

Once we reached the road head we signed out and then had our boots cleaned.  I was a bit reluctant because I didn't want them wet since I had to wear them again tomorrow but I needn't have worried and $2 later I had a nice clean pair of boots.

Surprisingly the bus was waiting for us and we climbed on board but were then besieged by hawkers through the bus windows which led to a couple of fabulous interactions between Andre, Simon and the hawkers.  Andre completely bamboozled the hawkers to such an extent that they had no idea if they were ahead or behind on the deal.  I think what threw them was when Andre gave a shirt back which scrambled his accounting but in the end, the hawker came out way, way ahead not that he knew it while Simon and I had a very good laugh.  Andre got $4 plus 2 bangles, 2 banana skin paintings and two Kilimanjaro patches which the hawker got a well used hat, two walking sticks, a led headlamp and two gaiters from what I can remember.  It was a hilarious exchange with Simon getting in and out of the act and tried to swap his 3 day old underpants to another hawker who wasn't biting at all.  The teenage girl in the seat in front of Simon was in hysterics so he played it up a bit which everyone, other than the hawker, enjoyed immensely.

A short bus ride later we were back at Springlands and a welcome Kilimanjaro beer in our hands followed in short order by many Tuskers.  There is no wine at all to be purchased here so I am just going with the flow and drinking the beer. The whole afternoon was spent in the beer garden with intermittent forays into the room to shower and sort out the baggage ready for an early start tomorrow morning.

We met up with Marita and Petrie who had spent the week in Zanzibar so their trip wasn't without at least some highlights.  We sorted out the tips with Prosper which went well, Shirley, Cronje and Arthur had all left tips of the recommended $185 with the hotel and the three of us added $220 each which, given the amount of work involved by the porters and staff, still seemed very reasonable.

Simon asked Prosper to bring him his pack and to show him his gloves which only a picture can describe.  At this point Simon gave Prosper his gloves in exchange for Prospers gloves which was very kind of him.  Andre also gave his sleeping bag to Prosper so he did very nicely out us or, more correctly, Andre and Simon.

I spent most of the afternoon writing while Simon and Andre consumed vast, by my standards, amounts of Kilimanjaro and Tusker beer.  Somewhere Simon managed to find time to have a massage which he says was excellent, not just good, but really excellent.

Supper was very average but it was really nice to have a proper shower even though the hot water ran out 2 minutes into the shower and it was especially nice to sleep on something horizontal instead of constantly having to crawl uphill in one's sleeping bag.

So that is it, Kilimanjaro; tick with a capital T.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Day 6 : Barafu Camp to Mweka Camp via Mount Kilimanjaro

Technicall today actually started at 22:30 on the 2nd of August when we 'woke' up to start getting ready to leave by 23:30.  None of us had actually slept at all, possibly a little nerves or altitude or the cold or maybe a little of everything.  I don't remember being particularly nervous but I do remember never really getting warm and toasty in my sleeping bag.  I got dressed in hiking longs pants, thermal long johns, a shirt, a fleece, down waistcoat and a down jacket and this was only just enough.  We were quite lucky in that there wasn't really a wind blowing otherwise the long johns and walking pants would have been hopelessly inadequate instead of just mildly uncomfortable.

Immediately after we started walking there was a tricky rocky section to navigate where we had to use our torches but as soon as we were past this we turned the torches off and walked by the light of the moon.

I had put my water bottles and camera into the middle of my backpack in the hope that they wouldn't freeze but the camera was actually ok whereas the water bottles froze.  I also had some water in the camelbak bladder but it is really important to blow water out of the feeder tube after finishing drinking because otherwise the feeder tube freezes solid and then that is the end of your drinking water until you descend.  As it turned out, the bladder idea didn't work so well because the feeder tube froze solid without and water in it and stood straight up in the air so I couldn't draw from it in any case.

After the tricky bit it was just one long hard slog up a scree slope for 7 hours until we got to the top.  Andre was struggling to get enough oxygen into his lungs so every 15-20 minutes we would hear a desperate wheeze "a minute ..." which Simon and I were just as grateful for.  Being at altitude can be a very strange experience, it's hard to imagine tying one's shoelaces and then having to recover one's breath because of the exertion but that is what happens.

The scree slope means that for every step up you take you slide 1/2 a step backwards so it be more correct to say that we shuffled up Kilimanjaro rather than walked up it.  It sounds ridiculous now but but the heel of the foot going forwards would not or would only just pass the toe of the stationary foot.  One could take larger steps, the slope would offer you that but then you would spend a few minutes recovering from the oxygen debt.  When we stopped it could not be for more than a minute or two at a time because any longer than that and one starts to get really, really cold so it is better to keep moving with very short breaks.

As we move slowly up we would see headlamps appear below us and then slowly catch up and overtake us, it was all a bit surreal with this disjointed line of shimmering headlamps all the way up the slope.  I think we were about half way up when I looked up the slope and saw what I thought to be stars far above us overhead but they weren't stars, they were the headlamps of walkers above us, very far above us.  I couldn't believe that we still had that far to go and both Simon and myself were a little depressed at this point which I think was around 02:00 or 03:00 in the morning.  We continued with our 15-20 minute intervals thoughtfully provided by Andre and gratefully accepted by Simon and myself although at one point though Prosper wouldn't let us stop because it was just too easy to nod off, cold as it was, and freeze.  At about 04:00 to 05:00 when were about three quarters of the way up both Simon and I started to feel strong again and confident that it was now only a matter of time before we summited which we did  at 06:30 just 10 minutes before sunrise in the east.  What a magnificent sight, just spectacular.

There were a couple of things about this climb which people would find strange, firstly doing or finding anything is difficult because of all the clothes and absolutely everything is an effort.  Even taking off and putting the backpack back on it an effort that may require a few deep breathes to recover from.  The second is that walking by the moonlight is tricky because the shadows contain no details so one's depth perception is a bit dodgy leading to some severe balance problems. This could also be the altitude but I think it was the moonlight but either way I had Simon constantly warning me about "the edge" as I stumbled my way up.

We watched the sunrise over the glacier atop Kilimanjaro from Stella Point and then because we were all feeling good and more than a little please with ourselves we decided to continue on to Uhuru Peak which is the summit of Kilimanjaro proper.  The walk from Stella Point to the summit of Kilimanjaro is, or would be, a real doddle at low altitude.  At high altitude the gentle slope was quite and effort and all three of us ended up stopping many times to catch our breath.  I remember the sight of Andre flat on his back sucking in the air while Simon, leaning on his walking poles looked on while doing the same.

From where Andre was lying if he had just lifted his head he would have been looking at the photograph below which gives an indication of just how tired we actually were.

As tired as we were, we were far and away from being the most distressed.  There were other walkers having to be guided around and physically helped by the guides and who looked as if they had absolutely no idea where they were or what they were doing.

At the peak itself we had to have the obligatory photograph but none of us were in a particularly good state of mind so I don't think that we stayed there more than twenty or thirty minutes before we started back down.

By the time we got back to Stella Point I really needed a toilet break and went around a corner to find evidence that this was not an uncommon occurence.  It is so easy to dig a hole in the scree and bury it that I find it hard to think of any excuse for not doing so.  Not a great experience on top of an otherwise beautiful mountain.

On the way down I taught Andre and Simon how to 'ski' on scree which is great fun and only marginally risky and 01:30 later we were back at camp.  Andre and Simon both took minor tumbles on the way down but no damage was actually done and it is so much easier on the knees than simply plodding down a slope.

Back at Barafu Camp we had an hour before lunch to repack our bags ready for the 03:30 trek to Mweka Camp for the night.  We were all a little tired and not really feeling like yet more walking but there was nothing for it but just to get it over and done with.  Altogether we descended close to 3000m on the day and our knees felt every step of the way.  The only good thing was that as we descended we felt better and better due to having more oxygen available but we were all very, very happy to see the Mweka Campsite because our knees and feet were killing us.  Coming down was quite a kaleidoscope of terrains from rock and glaciers at the top all the way through to the edge of the rainforest at Mweka Camp.

We unpacked and I had the daily shower and then the usual soup, starch and vegetable gravy before we crawled  off to bed for a really, really good, exhaustion induced, sleep.

So although it was a really hard day in terms of sleep deprivation and exercise it was a thoroughly enjoyable day and one that I think we will all remember for as long as we have memories.

The statistics for the day are:
Distance : 17km
Altitude : 1200m climbed, 3000m descent.
kcal : 5256
heartrate : 128pm average, 153bpm maximum
walking time : 10:42 hours

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Day 5 : Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp

I had a so-so nights sleep; I managed to stay asleep until 03:00 but then couldn't get back to sleep thereafter.  We had the usual breakfast of maltabella porridge, toast and omelette.  We are still working on getting Andre to eat the maltabella porridge and although his standards as far as what is deemed to be consumable food are dropping fast it remains to be seen if he will plumb the depths of maltabella by the end of the hike.  We remain hopeful though.

Moonset over Karanga Camp early in the morning since I wasn't sleeping anyway.

Last night was quite cold but still not as cold as I was expecting and although the water outside Andre's tent did freeze, nothing else froze.  In no time at all it was time to depart on what was meant to be an easy day.  Although neither of them showed any indication of taking strain we were all pretty happy to get into Barafu Camp a few hours later.

Barafu Camp is located on the skyline top left and it is quite a steep climb up to the camp.  We were constantly amazed at the strength and endurance of the porters carrying what we would consider ridiculous loads so that we could have it really, really easy.

Barafu Camp is on the edge of a ridge so it is a very long narrow campsite and we had to walk through most of the campsite before getting to where we were going to camp for the night.  On our way up through all the tents we passed where someone had laid a donkey sized turd right in the main trail through all the tents.  One wonders about people sometimes but it is best to just keep on walking and pretend one hasn't seen it.  There is actually quite a lot of human waste along the trail, mostly out of sight, but the parks board really should be doing something to firstly discourage the practice and secondly to clean up the mess.

This is the communal long-drop which is a very, very long drop but to say that it is nauseatingly disgusting is a complete understatement.  If anyone is reading this intent on climbing Kilimanjaro, hire a private toilet; it is absolutely worth the money!

The views from Barafu Camp in an easterly direction above and a southerly direction below.

Because the walk was so short today we arrived before all our tents had been pitched so Andre and Simon climbed into their tents while I waited for mine to be finished.  I think that someone nicked my walking poles while I was waiting which is very annoying.

After a good lunch of spaghetti and vegetables we all retired  to our tents for the afternoon which I didn't really feel like but I did have a brief nap before starting to sort our everything for this evening.

Along the trail today there were loads of porters carrying 25l drums of water from below the Karanga Camp up to Barafu Camp because Barafu Camp is completely dry.  That would be a 750m vertical climb with 25l of water on one's back which is quite a trek.

In my tent  as I write this and prepare for this evenings exertions it is pleasantly warm as opposed to just outside where it is decidedly chilly.  The plan is to go to sleep at 18:30, wake up at 22:30 and start walking at 23:30 since we are still walking quite slowly even though the pace has picked up a bit as the party has downsized.  My feeling is that the chances of me getting any sleep at all between 18:30 and 22:30 is approximately zero.

I found my walking poles, they had been put into Simons tent for safekeeping and I shouldn't be so quick to assume the worst.

The statistics for the day are:
Distance : 4km
Altitude : 700m climbed camp to camp.
kcal : 1489
heartrate : 110bpm average, 150bpm maximum
walking time : 3:26 hours

Some parties don't overnight at Karanga but trek straight from Barranco Camp to Barafu Camp which is entirely doable but I was very happy to have two easy days instead of one hard day before what looks like a very hard day.

Time to go and try and get some sleep.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Day 4 : Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp

Yet another eventful day, I really do seem to attract them.  Cronje seemed much better this morning, a bit of colour in his cheeks and he managed to get eat a reasonable amount of food for breakfast.  I ate about twice the amount I should have and I'm starting to feel much more organised and, at least thus far, really strong.

The Barranco wall starts just above the tents and is a bit of a scramble in places.  Even taking a diagonal line up the wall is pretty steep in places as one can see from the photograph below. 

The first obstacle of the day was the Barranco wall which is a bit of climb with a little bit of scrambling thrown in but we were going at Cronje's pace so it was really very easy.  Even though Cronje is definitely better than yesterday he was clearly in trouble and it doesn't look like it has anything to do with altitude sickness.

From the top of the wall we parted ways and they eventually ambled into camp and hour after we arrived, still clearly not very well.  Cronje was saying that as long as his heart rate didn't go above 145bpm he felt absolutely fine but if his heart rate went over that then he would get a strong pain in his chest and all the way down his left bicep.  During the walk Shirley and Cronje had talked to several doctors and nurses that happened to be hiking and had received conflicting advice and it didn't seem to be going anywhere.  When he described his symptoms to me I vaguely remembered that Rob had something similar so I phoned Rob up but it turned out that the symptoms were completely different but he did recognise the symptoms as being the same as one would get from angina which is a heart attack and suggested that Cronje descend immediately.  Thereafter followed a chaotic leaderless charade with Cronje, who felt fine unless he was working, thinking that we were all over-reacting.  Rob had given me a number for heart specialist and between many dropped calls the doctor convinced Cronje that he should descend as soon as possible and once the decision was made it all started to happen in a slow chaotic African manner.  Simon, frustrated with the indecision and pace, also entered the fray to give some direction which helped, not so much to change the direction but at least to speed things up and lend some urgency.  Shirley was beside herself with worry which was totally understandable but once a plan was decided she at least had something to work on and towards.  The plan was was that Shirley and Cronje would walk very slowly down to Millenium Camp which was 4km away and from there he could be stretchered or air-lifted out.  The doctor had prescribed 300mg of aspirin immediately and 150mg every day until such time as he reached a hospital.  At the moment we don't know how they are but we did see them crest the last rise after which there was only downhill all the way to the Millenium Camp.

I found it very interesting the different leadership styles between Simon and myself.  I am much more the co-operative, arrive at a decision together type which is fine in lots if not most situations but thinking back on this afternoon, this isn't one of them.  I think Simons command type leadership was more appropriate.  Anyway, they have gone and are hopefully at a hospital by now and I feel really stupid that I didn't take the symptoms more seriously yesterday not that it would have made much difference because they would have had to take the same route out in any case.

As soon as Shirley and Cronje had left the three of us took a hike up  a long hill up to 4263m and sat there and admired the scenery before descending before sun set.  I had a great shower just as the sun dipped over the horizon and then spent some time sorting things out in the tent ready for tomorrow.

We had tea and supper in the mess tent as well as a bit of a chat before Andre and Simon left for bed at 20:30.  All of us are feeling good and strong so we are looking forward to tomorrow although I will take another disprin even though the headache is barely there.  Having now seen two couples depart where the one partner was fit and strong but had to forego the climb out of consideration for the other partner we resolved that if one of us had problems, the others would still press on and climb and not feel regret at leaving the other behind.  I felt very sorry for Petrie and Shirley both of whom were showing absolutely no signs of distress on the walk.

I felt really strong on this afternoons climb so it looks like my body is finally starting to get into the swing of things.  I really enjoyed the walk this morning after we had separated from Shirley and Cronje and we could walk at our own pace and there were a couple of hills where I really enjoyed sucking in big lungfuls of air and going up at a nice clip.

Although I really enjoyed today I could have done without the medical issues; I don't go on holiday to make decisions and try to lead and it really felt like Shirley was looking to me to lead and because I'm not a doctor I felt a bit out of my depth.  I really hope that they are okay because they make a great couple.

The cell phone signal exists but it is very unreliable which was very frustrating but at least I did get hold of Rob and spoke to a number of doctors who all said the same thing.  It was a little like in a movie where someone has to tell another something really important ... and then the signal goes but this was real life and it was unbelievably frustrating.

Decorum is taking a bit of beating, at the start of the hike we would walk 50m off the track for a pee and every day this distance has come down until now when we just turn around.

Prosper came back from Millenium Camp fairly late where he had left Shirley and Cronje in the care of a doctor and they were going to sleep there and then continue down slowly.  Hopefully at lower altitude he will be able to manage his heart rate a bit better.  Arthur has been renamed "Pilletjies", I think he was hoping that quantity of pills would get him to the top instead of his legs; still not really sure why he gave up.

I spent a bit of time fashioning a strap for Andre's hat because the wind is bound to blow it away sometime.  After that I shortened the chest strap of my heart rate monitor because it is now measuring bubbles in my colon instead of my heart rate.

The statistics for the day are:
Distance : 5km
Altitude : 20m climbed camp to camp.
kcal : unknown
heartrate : unknown
walking time : 5 hours

The end of the day showing Mount Meru in the distance.