What do you mean, we have to walk back down again?
Then of course reality hit … we had made it nearly 6,000m up the mountain but now we had to get back down again and of course the only way was to walk.
The descent was steep, very painful on the legs and required just as much focus and determination as going uphill. We descended through very slippery scree back to camp arriving at around 1130am and collapsing into a deep sleep, only to be awoken for lunch at 12 and back on the road again at 1pm.
This was for phase 2 of the descent to our final camp, a seemingly interminable plod down many many steps, and we did not arrive until 6.30pm as the sun was setting. I don’t want to dwell on this as it was in many ways the hardest part of the journey. We were all exhausted, the euphoria had drained away and it required huge determination and effort to just keep on walking, hour after hour.
The very best moment of the descent was when my lovely porter, Karim, appeared in the distance having walked up from the camp to meet me and carry my backpack for the last hour. I was a sorry sight – I had shed most of the layers from the extreme cold at a the summit and these were knotted around my waist in ever-increasing rounds, giving me an appearance which resembled the Michelin Man. I was feeling tired and emotional having been awake for the best part of 36 hours and walking for 18 hours with barely a rest. As Karim approached and took my bag, I burst into tears at this gesture of kindness and stumbled for the last few miles down after him feeling like a complete wreck.
It took the very last of my energy to blow up my airbed for the last time (thank goodness), get out my sleeping bag, take off a few layers and crawl in where I literally passed out for the next 10 hours missing dinner completely despite the best efforts of Mathew, the mess tent porter, to wake me up by banging on my leg and waving a plate of banana stew under my nose.
The next morning we packed up camp for the last time and had an easy 3 hour walk back to the gate where we were met with a Kili Beer and great celebrations, singing and dancing.
We gave our tips to the staff, all 45 of them and these were handed out in front of us. I cannot over emphasise the crucial role that they played in making our climb a success. Kilimanjaro provides a vital source of income for guides and porters and our respect for their work was huge.
The bus awaited, such a welcome sight to have something other than my feet to transport me. 45 minutes later and we were back at the hotel, and my goodness what a welcome shower – hair that had not been washed for a week, not to mention the rest of my body. Proper food, wifi connection, a bed to sleep in, being able to stand up to get dressed, nice clean clothes, a real toilet, bottled water and a bar. It was heaven!
The evening was a special meal to get our certificates and a party. Awards were handed out and I was given the dubious distinction of being Worst Tent Mate for waking up Kathryn to chat and constantly losing everything. Fair enough I’d say!
Climbing Kili had been a trip of a lifetime, and one that I would never regret, although I’m not sure I would rush to do it again! I made some great new friends, and surprised myself at my resilience. Would I recommend it? If you are fit(ish) with a spirit of adventure, a love of mountains, and you don’t mind roughing it for a few days, then yes and without hesitation. The challenge is as much mental as physical and it’s not for the faint-hearted or anyone who can’t do without their creature comforts. However the experience of being at one with nature at its wildest, and the sense of achievement standing at the top of the mountain after getting there on your own two feet are without parallel.
- Read Climbing Kilimanjaro – Chapter 1
- Read Climbing Kilimanjaro – Chapter 2
- Read Climbing Kilimanjaro – Chapter 3
- Read Climbing Kilimanjaro – Chapter 4
- Read Climbing Kilimanjaro – Chapter 5