Here's the last of the series from holly's kilimanjaro journey. get the scoop on her trek to the summit of africa's highest mountain before you take on the challenge for yourself!
Day 6 [Millennium Camp]
Rise and shine. With mere hours of rest, I hauled my body from its warm spot to get myself prepared for the 'performance'. It was dark and icy cold as I shuffled to the mess tent for some porridge and honey, with the light of my head torch for direction. As we set off, I could feel my heart thumping in my chest. This is it now. My mind was dancing around, yet my body was shuffling forward at tortoise speed. The altitude factor was taking its toll, I felt overwhelmingly sick and decided I'd just keep my mouth zipped tight except for the occasional sip of water - water that was slowly turning to ice. For the first half hour we were still making our way through the sprawling camp. The tents were alive with flashing head torches, singing and cheers of 'happy new year'. I'd lost track of the days and here we were seeing the new year in from this world-renowned mountain. And as extreme and exhausting it was, I much preferred this to the pub. Who am I?
We crept on, a seemingly-endless stream of head torches lit up the way as we zigzagged up as far as the blurry eye could see. Vic explained we would stop every hour for around five minutes, so as not to stay stationery for too long in such extreme conditions. As you can imagine, these breaks felt like blinks. Continuing on step after step along a dusty winding path and up uneven rocks, I kept my head down against the whistling wind chill. We all agreed that it had felt like we were stuck in a loop of an old film for the first six hours. It was, without a doubt, the hardest section of the trek so far but knowing what awaited us spurred us on. The porters were our cheerleaders on that mountain, their calls of 'hakuna matata' and songs along the way helped more than you'd ever believe. Vic's Yorkshire accent brought smiles to our faces when we were feeling a little less sprightly and the power of a little positive thought goes a long way.
By the time sunrise broke and the icy-chill turned to burning rays, energy levels were low but the stunning views of the orange light glistening over our tracks gave us a burst of energy. Marshmallows were a welcomed accompaniment to this. Reaching Stella point was a surreal experience in itself, we were within real reach of our goal and to see strangers and new-found friends all around you having all worked so hard to get to this point was a peculiar but special moment. It was around an hour and a half from the summit but only metres below in height, which is why many trekkers stop here and choose this as their summit. For me, Uhuru peak was tantalisingly close and so with every little bit of energy I could muster I set off.
Having been hit with an extreme winter, we were advised to pack crampons for the summit and slipping the chains on to my boots I felt like Bambi crossing thick snow and ice. In my tired state, I got my crampons tangled with each other and elegantly face-planted the ice. Another refreshing reminder that dignity is not a luxury on the mountain. Laughing it off with the amazing porter that stayed by my side throughout the summit slog, we carried on with a little more gusto seeing the peak in the distance. Remember that advert where all those women run towards the Lynx-spraying gentleman? Imagine that in slow-mo, with much more clothing.
Reaching Uhuru peak was an almighty highlight of my life so far. It felt like an out-of-body experience being as exhausted as I was but standing in such a spectacular setting, I was determined to lap up the precious moments before I had to turn around and leave. Peeking out from my buff, the views were out-of-this-world amazing. Jagged glaciers, thick snow and ant-like trekkers surrounded me. The buzz of standing on top of Africa’s highest mountain after everything I had put in to it; and sharing this experience with all the characters I met along the way, was just incredible. Internally, I was singing and dancing, externally, I managed a feeble fist bump but my smile from ear to ear said it all. Clutching my Rock2Recovery charity flag in the 40 mph winds for a picture, my hands were swollen and stiff inside my gloves from the bitter cold. But the sense of achievement, sheer relief and delirious happiness to see the new year in from Africa's highest mountain was a feeling I'll never forget.
You spend around a quarter of an hour at the top before it's important you get down lower, it's funny when you think how long it takes you to get up there. But some things are great in small doses: tequila, chocolate M&Ms, the summit of Kilimanjaro. (ok, forget the M&Ms). And despite all the tribulations, it was so unbelievably worth it.
I laughed as I trudged back to Stella point, crampons stabbing the thick snow. I did it. I actually summited Kilimanjaro, shuffling my way across rock, ice, snow, up countless steps and boulders and dusty dirt tracks. Now for the descent. Something I hadn’t spent much thought on until now. The sun was hot as you now faced its rays and my lips felt crispy. My SPF balm was still frozen so there was no other choice but to keep my buff across my face. We practically skied down as we made tracks down the scree, loose rock under our feet made for an interesting glide, run and tumble down to camp. I had marks, bruises and a badly-positioned tear in my waterproof trousers to show for it. It was tough on the toes and adapting a technique I had learnt on the Great Wall trek, I zig-zagged to lessen the blow.
We had time to briefly rest for an hour or so before packing our things and reaching Millennium Camp where we could sleep. Bliss. I managed to get a short call through to my parents to let them know that all was well. It was one of our camp-mate’s birthdays and the porters had managed to rustle up a cake in celebration. The mess tent was buzzing from excitement and exhaustion and whatever else we were all feeling, but sleep was pending. As I snuggled in my sleeping bag, writing hurried notes from what felt like the longest day, I flipped open a notebook that had messages from my family and friends. I’d felt a little too emotional to read them before summit night and wanted to get in the zone, but it was brilliant reading them now that home felt a little closer. Right, rest time I've got six hours of walking on these tired little legs of mine before I can taste that Kilimanjaro local beer yet. Peace out.
Day 7 [Mweka Gate - Hotel Heaven]
6 am start. No rest for the wicked. Our last day of trekking on this mighty mountain stood between me and that long-yearned shower. The descent offered a different challenge to the ascent, but the nearing proximity of a cold beer was a light at the end of the tunnel. Before setting off, we said our thanks and handed out the collection of tips for all of the porters that had worked tirelessly and kept our spirits high throughout. They broke out into their much-loved songs and we danced in the morning sunshine with the snow-topped peak of Kilimanjaro in the background. An amazing goodbye to the team that had helped get us through this crazy experience.
Around six hours of trekking laid ahead, making our way down boulders, muddy trails and into the muggy rainforest below. It felt even warmer having come from the icy summit. As we descended, we peeled back the layers until we were in our shorts, t-shirts and caps at the last signpost of the trek and sipping on an ice-cold glass bottle of coke. It felt like a taste explosion and I looked around to see if Coca-cola were filming us for their next commercial. We had to sign our names to confirm we’d made it back to the officials, and we were on the bus to the hotel just like that. The feeling of sitting on a proper seat was lovely and as we snacked on samosas and fruit juice, we all gawped out the window in a slight daze, passing colourful street life and gorgeous African dress.
We arrived at the most gorgeous hotel, it felt like authentic Africa with a few added quirks. Camels and geese roamed freely across the hotel lawn and geckos scuttled across our room. Before my shower, I almost felt like one of them. But sprawled on a clean bed, with a mosquito net around for protection, I laid there trying to process it all. We made the most of the pool and the shower and then hit the buffet like a hungry pack of wolves. Adjusting to normality was feeling a little weird. Certificates were awarded to us for our efforts and a few speeches were made, laughing about our weird and wonderful experience and how just ten days ago we were strangers. Now, we called our team the ‘Kili family’. All of a sudden, acrobats came out and played with fire. Impressive but also a little worrying with a few near-misses. It kept us on the edge of our seats for sure. The half of the group that weren’t going on the safari the following day stayed up into the early hours consuming many bottles of the fine local beer. The safari-goers amongst us called it a night.
Day 8 [Safari Time]
Shower, pancakes and syrup, and away we were for our just-reward: an authentic African safari. I attempted to sort through my mountain things but resorted to keeping things in my assortment of dry bags to contain the funky smells and dirt dust. En route to the National Park, we were shown a Masai Market, it’s where the locals buy and sell goats and it looked more like the goats were ruling the roost. The safari was brilliant; we saw monkeys, baboons, giraffes, flamingos, zebras and warthogs. Poking our heads over the truck, we snapped pictures and cooed over baby monkeys. We stopped for lunch at a river bank, assured that it was safe to get out and eat our packed lunch. However, a curious baboon found temptation at our table and grabbed a boiled egg, apple and an orange from our packs as we leant well back. It added yet another amusing moment to our whirlwind experience.
Coming home, I appreciated all the simple pleasures. The easily accessible tap water, the taste of flavoured drinks, the feel of my memory foam bed and the ease of going to the toilet without wriggling out of a sleeping bag and making your way over an assault course of guy-ropes. That’s the beauty of pushing yourself completely outside of your comfort zone.
Each day of the trek had been a new episode of challenges, tribulations, delights, views and memories. I made memories and friends for life, and it’s a life experience that I’m still processing now. Despite this being the hardest challenge I've ever set myself, I would urge anyone to at least consider experiencing it for themselves. Although, I think the one time is enough for me. I’m sure in time there will be another mountain that calls my name. Watch this space. (Sorry, Mum!)