Tim and Pete went up a hill, to bag a summit ....

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

25/02/2010 :Helen dropped me off at the train station in Dorch and I was on my way filled with mixture of excitement, sadness and anxiety. Millions of things running through my head. Have I done everything, packed everything, will I be able to climb that mountain, do I have enough pills (probably needed a separate suitcase just for all the pills, Malarone, Diamox, Paracetamol, Lanzoprazole, Ibuprofen, Ciproflaxin, Antihistamine, Imodium, plasters, creams, sunscreen, insect repellent… the list goes on).

One day in London and then the flight. The Malarone made me feel so ill that I stopped taking it when I reached Nairobi because there is no mossies on the mountain due to the altitude and temp. Had to plaster myself in deet just to be safe.
Arrived in Nairobi at 22:00ish. Walked out of the airport to find a man with my name on a board. It was Paul from The Riverside bus company.  I emailed them a few months ago to arrange for a transfer from Nairobi to Tanzania. Got an email back from Nicodemus at the time  to say it's all booked and I thought nothing more of it.  Much to my surprise I was by them! I followed him with some trepidation to a little office on the side of the airport. He was a friendly chap and after a while a felt I could trust him.  I asked him about these rooms on the airport that Raja told me about where I could stay the night. After a phone call to his mate a another friendly chap arrives and told me to follow him! As we walk he tells me to let him do the talking and when i was asked to say I was on my way to Arusha.  Little did i know that these rooms were actually inside the airport so i would have to go though security and effectively leave the country.  We got through baggage scanning with no problem, however the lady at the security desk did not like the idea. So, my Kenyan airways chap went over the check in desk, got on to the computer and proceeded to create a fake boarding pass to Arusha that I can present at the desk! Everybody was happy and I was back in the airport and out of Kenya.  I was not quite sure what the consequences will be however I had a bed for the night and could take a shower. Worry about the details in the morning when i attempt to get back into Kenya (which was not problem in the end, just a confused look and question by the customs lady and all was good). So in less that 24hours I visited Kenya twice, all for $6 'assistance money’. Nice.

The bus journey from Nairobi to Marangu (Tanzania) was long (9 hours!) and rough. To say the road was terrible would be an understatement.  Transferred to 3 busses and arranged for the Karama Lodge to pick 1 bag up along the way. Finally arrived at the Capricorn hotel in Marangu.  Nice place with TV (only 1 channel) and a hot shower. Nice. Had a steak and a Kilimanjaro beer and off to bed. Had the best sleep for days.  The following day I waited for the rest  of the group to arrive by  lazing around the hotel grounds speaking to the staff and learning some Swahili. Will list the words I learned late (all clean!).

The group arrived around 5pm. We were a total of 15 people. All very nice. Three guys from Iceland, 1 from Poland, some Londoners, a couple from Reading and some northerners . We had dinner and a briefing at 7 and fuelled each other’s excitement and anxieties.  One girl, Faye, lost her bag on the flight.  Lucky for her it arrived the next morning before we left for a 3 hour bus journey to the Rongai gate.  On the way it started to rain. So we started to walk in the rain, then arrived at the first camp in the rain, and we got up the next morning in the rain and continued to walk another day in the rain! Most things in our bags we wet and the mood was pretty low by this point. Cold, wet, anxious about the climb, what if it doesn’t stop raining….  I got a bit worried that we will have to turn back.  The summit is -15C and it will be impossible to do with wet clothes. Fortunately the rain eased off and we managed to dry all our clothes and sleeping bags at the end of the second day. Relieve.

Wake up call was 7am each morning, breakfast at 7:30 which consisted out of a cup of tea and toast, porridge, sometimes a small omelet and a sausage. Not too bad considering that the porters had to carry all the food up the mountain to feed the 15 of us, 36 porters and cooks, 7 guides and 1 leader! They also had to carry a mess tent with a table and little chairs, tents and a mattress for all and everybody’s  luggage.  Quite an undertaking!  The weight the porters are allowed to carry is 20kg per person, hence so many of them.  They are pretty strong and fit but their personal equipment is not in the best condition, so I did have sympathy for them. Nevertheless, they are friendly and chatty and I enjoyed interacting with them trying to learn some Swahili. They were hard working always trying to make sure that you had what you needed. Water bottles filled, tent pitched with your luggage inside, a bowl of water for a wash, trenches around the tent to divert the rain….

 We started to walk at 8am in the mornings. The mantra for climbing Kilimanjaro in Swahili is Pole Pole, which means slowly slowly. We had a guide at the front of our single file who gave the pace. Pole pole we made our way upwards. Mostly 3-4 hours walk per day with a few breaks in between.  Soon I got into the rhythm and as the altitude increased the pace got slower and the breathing harder.  Took my Diamox twice a day and had no real problems with altitude sickness. I had a few muscle aches at the end of the first few days that resolved later as my fitness increased.  First cave to third cave to Kibo Hut we pushed on every day. 

At 3rd cave (3900m) we did an acclimatization walk in the afternoon to 4300m. It took 3 hours. On the way my stomach started to cramp. Luckily I was well prepared with the wetwipes and darted into the rocks for a number 2. Unfortunately this was not the end of it and it kept me awake for most of the night with pains and worry that if I fell asleep I might poo myself in my sleeping bag! Altitude has strange effects! After another couple of trips to the toilet (an experience which require a squat and aim technique that i had to learn very quickly!) the pains were over and I could relax.

Onwards to Kibo Hut which  is 4700m above sea level and -5C at night which is pretty extreme.  A quick visit to the toilet block became an 15min huffing and puffing up a small hill! At this point the only symptoms I had was a headache which was quickly fixed with a couple of Paracetamols.  At Kibo I took the afternoon to rest in the tent as I did not sleep the previous night due to my funny tummy. High above Kibo Hut the mighty Kilimanjaro loomed over us. Rather intimidating and I felt a bit vulnerable in this hostile environment. This is no walk in the park! A large percentage of people do not make it all the way to Uhuru peak due to altitude sickness.  Sadly people also die on the mountain. Three weeks ago a man was adamant that he wanted to go for the summit the same day as arriving at Kibo Hut. He went alone against advice and was never seen again. Helicopter search and all. Fortunately we had a very experienced leader, Samuel. He has been leading trips for more that 10years up Kili, 3-4 times a month for 7 months of the year. He knows the mountain!

Wake up call was 23:00 followed by a breakfast. I only managed tea and biscuits. Then a final check of all my equipment: 2 pairs of gloves, walking poles, head torch with spare batteries, 3 warm hats. On top I had a thermal top, T-shirt, fleece, down jacket and  a Goretex coat over everything.  Bottom part was thermal underwear, thick trousers with rain trousers over to stop the wind and 2 pairs of socks. A bottle of water strapped around my waist under the down jacket incase the water in my camelback froze (luckily this did not happen until the final stretch to Uhuru peak). Then Samuel lined us all up in the order he wanted with guides in between everybody (one guide for every 2 people).  I was placed behind Edgar (a guide).  I stuck to his ass like a lawn mower to grass! For 5 hours to Gillman’s point all I remember seeing was Edgar’s feet and scree.  Whenever we stopped for a short break all I did was shout "Edgar", he will stick his arm in the air and I will fall in line behind him. This part was hard. I mean really hard. Walking really slow, breathing in and out for every step I take, feeling dizzy and disorientated, freezing cold, only stopping for 1 min breaks to have a sip of water.  We progressed well passing a few other groups along the way. People from other groups vomiting and standing around dazed and some having to turn back. Finally we reached Gillman’s point. A sense of achievement! Now only a short 2 hour walk to Uhuru peak and the highest point in Africa at 5895m.  Our group started to break up a little but I just made sure I had Edgar in front of me. This part was amazing. The sun started to rise and lit up the glacier. I felt fine with no apparent ill effect from the altitude. Walking was still extremely hard even though the incline was less. We walked over snow and ice. Some of our group started to suffer really bad with altitude sickness feeling nauseous, dizzy with no energy. I grabbed one of the our guys by the rucksack and started to push him forward all the while encouraging to breath and to focus. He opted not to take Diamox and was struggling. After an hour we could finally see Uhuru peak in the distance. I left him to go on his own and moved forward to meet Tim who was doing well in the front.  Amazing feeling to reach the summit after 7hours of hard climbing. It was beautiful.  We muscled our way to the sign to have a few pictures taken before being ushered back by our guides to start the decent. We spend no more than 10-15min at the summit as it was too dangerous to stay at that altitude considering the speed at which we ascended.  So back we went. Descending was easier but still took 3 hours. On the way back I passed 2 people that only made it to Gillman’s point and one woman that was rushed down while slipping in and out of consciousness.  Dangerous mountain!

Arriving back at Kibo Hut after 10hours of walking we all just collapsed in the tents for a rest. However this was not the end for today.  There was still a 3 hour walk down to Horombo hut! Absolutely wiped out by the time we reached Horombo that afternoon! Thirteen hours climbing and walking, ascending 1200m and descending 2200m in one day at altitude.

Final day was a 6 hours, 20km walk back to the gate. I found this pretty tough and by the time we reached the gate my knees were finished!  Still the sense of achievement made up for the aches and pains.  We had a traditional Chaga tribe lunch that consisted of a stew of green bananas and beef. Pretty good.  Then back on the bus for a 3 hour journey to Arusha and the Karama Lodge i.e. civilization. No more walking like a crab in the tent, squatting for a poo, sleeping cold and stinking of sweat. This place is nice. We all gathered for a meal and a few beers and stayed up late recounting our experiences. To bed at 01:00. Bliss. 
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Ma on

Dit was nou cool. Was n avontuur en n half. Hou van jou manier van skryf. Geniet die res van jou toer en laat weer van jou hoor.

Ida on

Hi boet! WOW! Amazing, het lekker vir jou gelag!

Helen on

Hey Piet,
I am so pleased for you, and all I did last week was drive to work and back!
Well done, nice story. x

Hanneke on

Well done!!! Wow, die foto's is amazing!!! (en jy is baie snaaks!!!) Geniet die res van jou avontuur. xxx

Naomi Brooks on

Well done Pieter!!! Sounds like an amazing experience (although extremely tough!) Love the photos too. Look forward to reading more about your travels x

stacey williams on

Hey!! A belayted congratulations to you both - very proud of you.

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