Day 7: Barafu Camp to Uhuru Peak to Mweka Camp
Trip Start Jul 17, 2010
73Trip End Sep 19, 2010
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There was a stream of people already going past when we joined the path outside the mess tent, headtorches stretching up the mountain path above us. Our guides spread themselves out between us all, making sure we kept to the right path, checking we weren’t stopping. Tonight they added “keep going, don’t stop” to “pole, pole”. For the first 2 hours I was going OK, the only problem was I hadn’t pulled the thermal long johns up far enough so every step I took was twice as hard and it should’ve been due to having to stretch out the crotch of the compression long johns. The breaks were supposed to be 5 mins but I didn’t have time to take of the gloves, undo the waterproofs, undo my pants then reach in and pull up the long johns… and from when Theo said 2 mins to go it was really about 30 seconds, you didn’t have time to put on your backpack and gloves before he started off again. So I was struggling to do that and have a drink as well and it was killing me. If you need to go to the toilet then that’s all you will have time to do at that break…
For the first 2 hours I was going OK as I had “Eye of the Tiger” playing in my head and it worked alright as timing for each step, but at the second stop it turned out Eva was really struggling and was close to going back down. From here on she was at the front and they slowed the pace, but that meant other people behind would go faster then have to stop when they got to the person in front, wait, then go again, stop, wait, go again, etc. As had happened on the morning leaving Moir Camp, when you stop / start all the time it really throws your rhythm out and you struggle.
When in a rhythm you can block out everything else and just go one step, two step, three step in time to the song in your head, looking at the ground in front of you and the person in front’s feet. That’s all I was thinking of and paying attention to… stick, breath, step, breath, keep your balance, stick, breath, step, breath, keep climbing, stick, breath, step, breath, keep your balance, stick, breath, step, breath, keep climbing… But when the person in front of you stops it breaks you out of your trance and you notice everything else: the freezing cold, whole body tired and hurting, feeling dizzy, worsening headache, how hard you are breathing, cold air burning your throat…
Things start getting a bit hazy after the second stop when we then started going slowly. I can remember it being very hard to keep take that next step, and running into the back of the person in front of me when they stopped. I tried to slow down even more so that when the person in front was walking they were opening up a gap that got big enough that I wouldn’t run into them the next time they stopped before they started again. From what I can remember it worked. The other main thing I remember about going up was how hard it was going up a whole lot of scree… it seemed that you make one step of progress for every two steps you take due to the scree sliding back down underfoot. I remember the guides kept saying “don’t stop, keep climbing” many many times, and my nose running so much that I stopped wiping it with my gloves and just it drip like sweat. And every time I looked up to see how far there was to go I just saw a trail of headtorches stretching up in a zigzag that didn’t seem to end. I think I was hallucinating a bit too because for some time I thought we were going up to meet the aliens at the top of the mountain.
Eventually we were told we were nearly at Stella Point and next thing we were being given cups of tea to drink while watching the sun trying to poke through the clouds. From here to Uhuru Peak is only another 100m in elevation but I don’t remember it, I vaguely remember hearing “Team Simba” (as we were known by now, even porters from other groups were stopping as they passed us during the day to get their photos taken with Scott lol) but didn’t even think to take any photos. The next thing I can remember is being stopped for a drink break on the way down later in the morning. Going down was a whole lot more fun than going up was…as you slide with each step, you can make each slide bigger by putting down more weight through a bigger step and eventually you can work up to going about 5m with each step, its much like skiing down and great fun. The only problem was unexpected differences in the depth of the scree… too much and you would lose your feet out in front if you, and other times there would be solid rock coming up through the scree and your foot would catch that and top and you go over forwards lol.
The pace Atalie was setting to get back to camp was pretty gruelling and I just couldn't keep up so let them go out ahead, I was well ahead of some of the group anyways. When I got to camp I was buggered and just took my shoes off and sat there for about 30mins, seeing others in the group coming in one-by-one. We were all stuffed by we had all made it to the top!! Crashed out for a while then up at 11:30, pack your stuff then lunch and set off downhill to Mweka Camp. We had to be out of the camp site because the next lot of groups would be arriving any time from around 13:00, then they would follow the same schedule of resting afternoon, early dinner, etc.
It was pretty tough on the knees doing down as there was a decent slope to it, it we had’ve been going up it would’ve been “pole pole” but since we were going into thicker air there was no such problem. The only thing holding us back was Gary, he kept getting slower and slower as the day went on, it had been a big day and his energy levels were now non-existent as he didn’t have any lunch before we set off downhill. Of course the porters were rushing past us again, only slowing to say hello to “Simba” then rushing off again. We saw some of the old stretchers that they used to use to evacuate people – like metal bed base with a bike wheel underneath it in the middle. Looked rather dodgy indeed. These days they just carry you down to the nearest helipad, one of which we had seen at Barranco Camp and we saw not much further on from the stretcher today.
Mweka Camp was the most civilised of the lot, Theo even managed to get his hands on some beers for us to celebrate with, but we struggled to drink them lol. The camp felt a lot like a caravan park next to the beach somewhere in Australia, including a hot English girl enjoying the sun in not too much clothing. Some people had a quick nap but I was all happy that we had done it and couldn't sleep. At the end of dinner we had the usual briefing on what was happening tomorrow then the crew sang a few songs for us, lead by the head porter and chief mischief maker, Boostah. Something I noticed wherever I went in African was they are like Pacific Islanders in that when a couple of them together to sing it sounds sensational, they can all do it. Get me together with a couple of friends and we sound like dying cows. We had a few last games of UNO then it was tie for sleeping in the tents for the last time.