Days 1-3 acclimating to the altitude of trekking Mount Kilimanjaro were not difficult trails, it is all about taking your time and walking pole-pole (slowly, slowly in Swahili). The summit day to Uhuru Peak, was a different story, let’s hear about days 4 and 5 with the challenging climb up Kilimanjaro and the joyful descent that followed.
DAY 4: Kibo hut (4730m) to Uhuru Peak (5895m) to Horombo hut (3720m)
Hiking time: 9 hours to reach Uhuru Peak, 5 hours to descent to Horombo
Distance: Approximately 5.4km ascent and 15 km descent
Habitat: Stone scree and ice-capped summit
Managed to get a couple of hours and the alarm went off at 10.30pm to get some porridge and coffee inside us and prepare for our summit bid. At this point I was layered up the max. Four thin layers on the top, thick fleece and down jacket. On the bottom, one base layer, fleece trousers and thermal omni-heat trousers. Two pairs of gloves for the hands. Balaclava, hat and scarf. Shit got real, we were actually doing this!
With our head torches on and poles in hand we embarked on the rocky path under the moonlight. The first part of the trail consists of a rocky path to the Hans Meyer Cave (5150m), where we stopped for a little rest and refuel with energy bars. It was important not to rest too long, it was taking a lot of concentration to put one foot in front of the other, the pace was getting slower with the reduction in oxygen.
The trail then zigzags up to Gillman’s point (5685m), which is located on the crater rim. This section was tricky, it was steep and a lot of stone scree, you need to dig deep to find the energy to scramble and pull yourself up, I found giving myself a talking to at this point to mentally get me there. The sun rising from behind Mount Mawenzi was just what I needed, it was a blue line layered with an orange line, this vista was quite simply awesome. Little tip, don’t be too exhausted to remember suncream at this point, you will end up with a very burnt, flakey face like me, not a good look!
Some of the group were hit with the effects of altitude with sickness, nausea and headaches. It seemed the only thing that was giving me a headache was my head torch was too tight. From Gilmans Point to Stella Point (5765m) was around 30 minutes through a layer of snow then the final stretch to Uhuru Peak was draining. Don’t think I have ever walked that slow in my life but your body just keeps putting one foot in front of the other. Definitely short of breath, it does draw upon your mental stamina to keep plodding on.
I MADE IT to the Uhuru Peak, the highest mountain in Africa…. I was overcome with emotion and cried, a mix of sheer exhaustion and euphoria. A big hug from a fellow hiker in the group helped. We spent a little time taking in the views of the glaciers and the landscape as far as you could see, still in disbelief with what we had just done. We had left three girls at Gilmans Point as the guides felt they wouldn’t make it, and to my surprise, one-by-one, they arrived at Uhuru Peak personally accompanied by a guide. Well, I cried again each time they made it, I was like a proud mum… the whole group made it 5895m into the sky. Hello roof of Africa!!
We could only stay at the summit for 45 minutes maximum due to the altitude, the thought hit me “Oh jeez, we gotta get back down now”. We were deliriously tired but there really is no option.
Once we reached Gilmans Point, it was time to descend the steep scree section, this is not easy with exhausted legs, you find yourself almost running especially as you could see the Kibo huts in sight which meant rest and refuel. My guide Simon grabbed my day pack and linked my arms to act as an anchor so I didn’t fall over on this terrain.
We squeezed in a little sleep, I felt rather guilty waking the team up to eat before we headed back to Horombo. We could not stay at Kibo so there was no option but to give the guys a good shake. The descent to Horombo didn’t seem too bad after the events of that morning, we reached the huts by sunset ready for dinner and a big fat sleep!
DAY 5: Horombo hut (3720m) to Marangu Gate (1879m)
Trekking time: 7h
Distance: Approximately 19 km
After breakfast, we continued our descent, passing the Mandara hut, down to the Marangu gate. The experience was very different to the way up, no rain this time. By the time we reached the forest the sun was out, glistening against the strings of moss hanging from the trees. I peeled off some layers of clothing and my speed started to quicken to ‘haraka haraka’ (fast, fast in Swahili), I think the thought of beer you can buy from the office at the bottom was giving me extra power to soldier on.
Tips were given to the main guide and who split this and we presented to each of the porters, chefs and guides to thank them for their wonderful efforts and motivation on the trek. In turn, we were rewarded with our certificates and a local song from all the team. We joined in and had a dance to their harmonic Swahili beats, not sure where we found these reserves of energy from.
It was now time to celebrate and cheers to the immense challenge we had conquered, I will never forget the way I felt on reaching the summit of Uhuru Peak of Mount Kilimanjaro., that will stay with me forever. Some memories money just can’t buy!
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