As it is almost a year since I took on the challenge of a life time, I thought it was about time I got round to finishing my blog about climbing Kilimanjaro. I did actually type this in full the other day, but of course the computer froze when I was scheduling it to post and I lost the whole lot – so this post is definitely not as good as the original, but hopefully it is appropriate enough to summarise what the final climb was really like.
We were woken up at 11pm and told to dress quickly and meet in the mess tent for breakfast. After 5 days on a mountain we were all shattered but really looking forward to reaching the summit. The mood was quite different in the tent to previous days, no one really wanted to eat anything, and the realisation that although for the last 4 days in my head this had been the final hurdle, it was in fact not technically true, after all what goes up must come down, and once the challenge of summiting the world’s tallest free standing mountain was over, the challenge of getting back down in one piece was about to start.
Our mood all seemed to pick up as soon as we noticed the plate stacked high with ginger nut biscuits and we all eagerly began filling our coffee and tea cups with hot water, ready to dunk our biscuits in. Of course, it was all going too well and no sooner had I managed a spoonful or 2 of porridge, did I manage to vomit in my hands. Nice, I know.
I ran outside the tent, trying not to put anyone else off their breakfast and desperately tried to stop the tears from flooding down my face. This was the last thing I needed, being sick was not cool! A few seconds later, whilst I was hurling into a bush, I felt a hand on by back. One of the guides had followed me outside to check that I was ok. When I felt like I was going to be ok, I went back inside the tent and sat back down. One of my camp mates had filled my cup with hot water, another was pouring a re-hydration sachet into said cup, and my ‘porridge’ (if you could call it that) had been replaced by a plate of ginger biscuits. I immediately felt much better, and I knew with the support of my new friends I would make it to the summit. Just try and stop me.
We set off not long after and I noticed that the pace of the group was much quicker than usual (well, it certainly felt that way to me.) After about half an hour we naturally fell into a couple of groups and I felt much more comfortable going at my own pace. I had read a number of blogs before leaving the UK and I knew that this was the hardest part. I had purposely kept mu iPod for summit night, so I turned in onto shuffle and kept in playing quietly in my ear. If I’m being completely honest, I spent the first 4 hours looking pretty much at the ground. I mean, it was pitch black anyway so there wasn’t really much to see, but on the occasions that I did glance up, the sight was spectacular. We were one of the last groups to leave camp, so there were quite a few people ahead of us. This part of the climb was like a winding road, so all I could see was torch lights, floating in the sky like fireflies. It was truly amazing.
Although the journey seemed to take forever, given the amount of time we were actually walking for, it did go quite quick. The guides wouldn’t tell us how far we had to goo, but they did keep saying, you’ve been walking for 3 hours, 4 hours, 5 hours now, so we knew there really wasn’t much further to go.
The sun began to rise about 5 or 6 hours into the climb, and I still have another 2 hours until we reached the top. Although I didn’t make it for sunrise, I didn’t care, I knew I was going to get to the summit; it was literally just a matter of time.
I remember asking the guide how long we had now until we reached the top. We could see the top for quite a while and surely we must nearly be there. About half an hour he told me. If I’d had more energy, I’d have been giddy, but seems as I didn’t, I just replied with ‘good.’ By this point it was about 7am (I think) and some of the earlier groups were starting to make their way back down. One woman coming towards me (as I was in the front of our trio at the time) offered me some words of encouragement. You can do it, she told me, and you’re nearly there. You look in a much better place than I was when I was at this point, I was crying and you’re not. You’ve only got about an hour to go. Go on girl, you can do it. I smiled at her and said that you, but I really wanted to say 2 things: 1. I am crying inside, believe me and 2. AN HOUR, A BLOODY HOUR, MY GUIDE TOLD ME 30 MINUTES, 15 MINUTES AGO. FOR GOODNESS SAKE. (Or another more appropriate expletive)
Eventually (about an hour and a half later – turns out they all lied!!) I made it to the summit. I couldn’t believe it. I literally had no words; I just stood staring out at the edge. I was here. I had done it. The head guide was with our group at the time and he asked me where my camera was. Erm, I don’t know, was all I could reply. I don’t really know who was more confused, him or me. I mean, you can’t go all the way to Africa, climb Kilimanjaro and not have a picture. Where’s your phone he asked me. I gave it to him and made my way over to the sign. ‘Say cheese’ he said. Snap, that was it. I had my memento, an iPhone picture of someone who resembled my former self. I was broken, but I didn’t care, I had made it to the peak. Now, all that was left was probably the greatest challenge of them all, getting down from the highest free standing mountain in the world. Should be a doddle eh!