Kilimanjaro – Days 5 & 6: Descent

It was ipod time.  Cue the Awesomeness playlist since I was still too tired to pick anything else.  Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean blaring in my ears, I started practically bounding down the mountain, walk-dancing to the tunes and stopping every now and again to take pictures.  I lasted about 5 songs.  I was still over 19 000 feet above sea level, and had been up and on my feet for 10 1/2 hours, maybe not a great time to attempt a dance party down a mountain.

It took us another hour to get back to Gillman’s Point, the adrenaline of the summit moment quickly running out.  Mette and I flopped on our rocks and passed out.  We could not believe that we had to walk/slide/get down the veritable vertical gravel pit of death just behind us.  Fiona and Nobu set off quickly, we procrastinated, before eventually agreeing that we couldn’t actually stay there forever.  The first bit was nearly as hard as it had been climbing up.  Now 4 hours more tired and motor skills failing terribly, I made it through the rocky bit and reached the gravel.  Raymond grabbed my arm, took my poles, told me not to step on any rocks and starting hurling us down the mountain, skiing in our boots on the gravel.  It was fun . . . kind of.  He, having done this over 50 times, had no problem practically running down the mountain.  Scaredy cat me, on the other hand, preferred to go at a much slower pace.  It was certainly the fastest way down the mountain, metres just passed by, and we weren’t doing switchbacks anymore.  Eventually, I made it back to the cave, took a break, ate another energy bar and bemoaned that I was just halfway.  It was, by now, boiling hot in forty three thousand layers of clothes, being sometime around midday.  John my hero had nicely taken my 2 kg down jacket for me, but I still had to contend with my rain pants, which were baking my legs.  Off they came, and shoved through the straps of my pack, I set off with Peter for the rest of the way down to the huts.  I almost fell a few times, and once just totally bailed.  I sat for a second on my butt while contemplating my fate, before flopping back on my daypack, so annoyed and fed up with this stupid mountain.  Peter came to rescue me, and we had a wee chat before making it the rest of the way down.

Justin met me outside our hut with a glass of juice, and I headed inside to sleep – the only thought in my now overtired and still slightly oxygen deprived brain.  I stopped my timer – 13 hours and 4 minutes.  It was 1:07pm and I’d been up for 14 hours, time to go to bed.

The guides let us sleep for a couple of hours.  We still had to walk the 9km+ back to Horombo Huts before dark.  We had a lovely hot lunch of soup and sammies and headed off yet again.  I wore my runners, Fiona wore her Teva sandals: hiking boots were simply not an option.  I think the general consensus at that time was that none of us even wanted to look at the stupid things again.  On our way down the steep part that had given Mette and I such a laugh the day before, I saw a single woman, walking slowly with her guides, one beside and one behind.  Her bottom lip was trembling as she briefly looked up to see what lay ahead.  Never being one to miss an opportunity to hug a complete stranger and also knowing exactly what she was going through, I threw my poles at her guide and scooped her up into the very best good-luck hug I could muster.  You can do it, I told her, you can do it!  She smiled and laughed, wiped away a tear and said thanks . . . everyone is your friend on Kili, hopefully that hug went half as far for her as the encouragements of my team did for me.

We wandered back into the Horombo camp probably around 6pm after another 2 hours and 41 minutes of walking.  Our room – again above the dining hall – had a wicked flight of stairs to go up.  We groaned and moaned our way up and took our toothbrushes to dinner, there was no way we were going to take an extra trip up there.  We met and commiserated with the walkers we had met the previous day and gotten to the summit with.  What muscles were the sorest, what time did you get down, how long did it take for the walk back . . . how great was that?!  The poor, poor souls who were headed off the next day to Kibo and then to the top, so fresh and energized, so happy to be going up!  Oh if only they knew what lay ahead.  There was one group at breakfast the next morning who kept saying: “In 24 hours it will all be over!”  I really didn’t have the heart to tell them that of the next 24 hours, they would spend at least 14 of them walking, cursing the day they were born and going through the entire gamut of emotions.  That’s half the fun of summitting a mountain.

On our last day, we had our last breakfast, packed our bags and then our porters, our cooks, our entire team of 14 helpers for us 4 climbers, got together and sung us the Kilimanjaro and Jambo Bwana songs.  It was great!  We finally got to meet everyone and it was a great send off as we hurried ourselves down the mountain.

As I may have mentioned, we were slow, very slow in our ascent.  I think Raymond expected us to also be slow in our descent.  Fiona and Mette were, Nobu and I practically ran down the mountain.  5 hours and 8 minutes after leaving Horombo, Nobu and I reached Marangu Gate, about 19 kms.  On the way down I had a great chat with Peter, whom I hadn’t really gotten a chance to talk with much on the way up.  He is one of those people who you can just tell has a kind soul.  We talked about our parents, sisters, brothers, jobs . . . I also thanked him for singing, only remembering then that while we were struggling in cold-induced misery up the final stretch, he had sung almost the whole way.  A few hours of never-ending, made up song issuing from his mouth.  He was singing about Uhuru, he told me, singing about how we would make it to the top, to encourage us.  “Well, it worked,” I told him, “Thank you.” 

“You were sleeping,” he said.  “You were sleeping and walking and we had to wake you up.”  Now this I do not remember, but am not entirely surprised.  I do remember, at one point on our way to Uhuru, looking at the path ahead of me and noting the absence of any serious impediments and thinking, I will just close my eyes for a bit.  Actual, full-on sleeping though?  Well, I guess I would have been asleep, but I don’t remember waking up.

It started raining as we got back into the jungle and back in the cover of trees.  We stopped for a quick break and continued on, Nobu and I reaching the gate before 2pm.  Victorious, we signed out and browsed the souvenir shop.  I bought a tacky tourist shirt to change into (partly because I deserved it and partly because I really stunk) and a BEER – a Kilimanjaro of course!  We had lunch and then headed back to the hotel to say a final goodbye to Raymond, Peter and John and tip them and the porters.  We received our certificates – one from Zara and the other one an official Tanzania National Parks certificate and took another proud picture.  It was really sad to see them go, they had helped all four of us achieve such a goal through such a challenging experience.  I’m not sure if I will ever return to Kilimanjaro . . . I don’t know if I could do it again, though attempting the 7 Summits (the tallest peak on every continent) had crossed my mind in the past week.  This, however, would include Everest . . . maybe the 6 Summits is enough.

We met again for dinner all showered and clean, I even put on mascara for the first time in weeks, and joined another couple we met at Kibo.  At the table beside us were a couple of young Danish guys.  They were on their way up, hadn’t heard of Diamox (an anti-altitude sickness medication) and didn’t have any handwarmers.  I hadn’t used any of the Diamox Robbie had given me and still had a couple of his hand warmers kicking around, so I passed them on.  Robbie had been such an incredible help to me in Mozambique, the first mortal, non-outdoorsy person I had met who had made it.  I told him so, and he had just shaken his head and said “Someone helped me in Moshi, I’m helping you – pass it on.”  Fiona, Mette and I later cleaned out our bags of wet wipes, extra snacks, energy drink powder, and hand sanitizer, hoping it would help them along the way.  Hopefully those boys made it to the top.

Still exhausted, but not wanting to let each other go, Fiona, Mette and I chatted until late.  Fee and I’s airport shuttle left the next day at 6:30 – we met Mette on our balcony at 6:25 as the sun came up again over Kili, hard to believe only two days earlier we were all the way up there.  A final hug for Mette and we were on our way.

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