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

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