Thursday, 15 September 2011

Back from my Kilimanjaro trek

Hi all

I apologise for my long absence but I haven't had much access to the internet since I left Kigali a few weeks back.

Well there is plenty to tell from Rwanda and DR Congo, including a close encounter with gorillas as well as with a drunken group of Congolese fishermen to name but a few.  But the latest thing I did, the Kilimanjaro trek is the one most appropriate to the subject of this blog.

I booked the 8 day Lemosho route, which is the second hardest route on the mountain after the Umbwe route.  I was originally considering to do the Umbwe route but was persuaded by the director of Absolute Kilimanjaro that my chances of summiting would be much higher on the Lemosho route because it gives the body more chance to acclimatise.  So I took his advise.

At the top of Africa

I arrived in Kilimanjaro airport on the 8th September and upon arrival was requested for my yellow fever vaccination card.  Oops I had forgotten to bring it and I wondered what would happen next.  The guy took me into an office and simply said well if you haven't got it we will have to vaccinate you and you will be charged 50USD.  I asked him if there was any harm in being vaccinated twice and then he said well if you already had it I can just issue you a replacement certificate for 20USD.  The interesting thing is that I didn't even have to try to prove it.  Merely to say it was enough.  Anyway I paid the 20USD and got a yellow fever vaccination card and all was set.  Now if I had been caught trying to get into DR Congo without the vaccination card I am sure it would have been much harder, and would have involved a substantial bribe, but luckily noone had asked me for it there.

There was a driver waiting at the airport and he took me to the Springlands hotel in Moshi, along with a another South African chap.  When I arrived at Springlands the hotel was full of trekkers ready to do Kilimanjaro, as well as those that had just gotten back.  Because of the fact people were all coming and going at different times it was a rather sleepless night.

In the morning on the 9th we all weighed in our bags that the porters would have to carry (which should be no more than 15kg), ate a big hearty breakfast, purchased bottled water for the first days climbing and then waited around for the guides and transport to turn up.  My guide was called Wilibard and is a 30 year old Tanzanian.  He was rather tall and skinny and looked like you would expect a guide to look.  He went though my kit to check I had all the essentials and as it turned out he thought I should bring a warmer pair of trousers, so I went to the hire shop and got one.  Then it was off in a 4x4 vehicle along with the rest of my team (3 porters, a waiter and a cook) on the long drive to start the Lemosho route.

The Lemosho route starts off in the forest and climbs though 5 different zones on the way to the top.  In this aspect it is one of the most scenic routes.  I found the first few days hiking fairly easy, except for the long day when we hiked for 7.5 hours, doing in 1 day what many hikers on the Lemosho route do in 2 days.  The reason for this was the guide wanted to maximise my chances of summiting by getting to the pre-summit camp one day early.  Unfortunately I caught a cold while in DR Congo and whilst I did not find the hiking tough, the cold caused me a lot of pressure in my sinuses and was giving me some headaches.  Also I would at times feel nauseous from the altitude.  I was just hoping that I would be able to cope with the altitude okay on the summit day.

In terms of fauna I saw a lot of buffalo and warthog spoor, but no signs of the beasts themselves.  That is probably a good thing as when crossing some of the plains there was very little to hide behind if you came upon a herd of buffalo.  There are also some elephants in the forest, but I saw no sign of those.

As for the food on the route it was fantastic.  I was not expecting such variety and quantity as I got, and I could never finish what I was given, although don't worry it didn't go to waste and the team finished whatever I couldn't eat.

So after 5 days of hiking I arrived at Barafa pre-summit camp at an altitue of 4,600m, ready for my summit attempt in the early hours of Wednesday morning.  We arrived at the camp in the early afternoon and by dinner time I was feeling really spaced out due to the altitude.  I had felt like this a couple of evenings beforehand, and then each morning when I woke up I felt completely normal again.  I was hoping this would be the case here too.

A lot of the groups set off to the summit at 11pm, but Wilibard said we should leave at 2am as he didn't think I would need to stop as much as most people do.  I didn't get much sleep due to all the noise of departing groups, but I did get a little, and when I got woken up at 1.45am I was feeling tip top and ready for my climb, with no dizzyness or nausea in site.

We could have climbed by the moonlight alone, but I used my headtorch just in case.  One of the porters came with along for extra experience.  So that made the Kili trio of me, Wilibard the guide, and the porter.

We made good progress and we soon started catching up the other groups of climbers who had set off an hour or more previously.  Some of them already looked to be suffering a lot, but I felt great and passed them with relative ease.  As the hours went on we passed more and more and more people and I was really feeling my fitness was showing.  Wilibard was also impressed but urged me not to push myself too hard.  I heeded his advise but gave myself the physical challenge I needed.  I was blowing hard but steadily.  By the time I reached Stellar point at an altitude of 5,752m I was staggering and unsteady on my feet, but feeling absoutely fantastic, like a runners high.  I pushed on towards Uhuru peak and arrived at the infamous sign at 6.40am.  Four hours forty is a pretty quick summit time and I am very happy with that.

We took some photos (one of me doing a handstand against the Uhuru peak sign) although not as many as I wanted because it was freezing and I preferred to keep my hands in my gloves rather than getting out my camera, and then we started the descent back down to Barafa.  Just before starting the descent I did a short victory jog.  The descent is so much fun as the surface is scree, so you can basically run down it a.k.a scree running.  All 3 of us were scree running and we were back down in the camp before 8.30am, although we must have inhaled copious amounts of dust on the way down.

I took a 2 hour rest in the tent at Barafa and when the waiter woke me up at 10.30am for food, I felt really nauseous.  Wilibard came to see me and said this was quite normal after people have summitted and that we would shortly start our descent and then I would feel much better.  He was right and in the early afternoon when we arrived at Mweka camp at around 3,100m I was already feeling back to normal.

This morning we trekked from Mweka camp to Mweka gate to complete my Kili climb.  As I mentioned before, I finished 1 day earlier than planned so I did the 7 day instead of 8 day Lemosho route.  So now I have one full day tomorrow to rest and laze around the pool, reading a book.

I am not aching at all to my amazement, and I could happily go and do the whole thing again.  The hardest part physically for me was the descent from Barafa to Mweka camp, as the route is full of rocks and boulders and you have to tread carefully to avoid tripping.  It also jars the knees quite a lot.

But I did it, I reached Uhuru peak at 5,895m, and for today at least I can be content and start looking forward to me next challenge, the 5,000km Vuelta Sudamerica bike ride from Buenos Aires to Cusco which starts next weekend.  Bring it on!!!!