Day 8: Summit DayMarch 13, 2011 in Tanzania
Barafu Camp, 4690m ASL
We did it!!!!
As expected, the climb was a long hard slog, but we managed it in the end.
The snowstorms mentioned in yesterday's entry intensified during the evening, so that by the time we got up at 10pm the snow was already several inches thick outside our tent. After some steaming tea and biscuits we set off into the night at 11pm, armed with headtorches, cameras, and a shitload of warm clothing.
The first stage directly out of the camp was pretty brutal - lots of steep rocks to scramble over in the dark. Extra fun when you realise they're also treacherously slippery with the wet snow which was still falling.
After about 30 minutes the rocks gave way to what we were all expecting - long, steep uphill stretches. Since it's dark you don't really have any conception of where you are, how high you are, or how close you are to a cliff. Most of the climb thus passed by simply staring at the boots of the person in front of you, with the occasional glance down at the lights of nearby Moshi.
Our altitude sickness was mostly under control at this point, though from hour 2 onwards I felt drunk and light-headed. I listened to music for an hour or two, but I found it more of a hindrance than a help. I couldn't hear people talking to me or others, couldn't hear the sound of my breathing (very important when every breath is about half as effective oxygen-wise as it is at sea level), and it just took me completely out of the group.
Despite being emptied of everything except snacks, water and the first aid kit, my pack was still too heavy for me and Samweli our assistant guide carried it for me the rest of the way.
Looking back, it's honestly hard to remember how the 7 hour climb passed. It was just walk, keep walking, keep breathing, keep drinking. Eventually we arrived at Uhuru Peak, the highest point in Africa at 5895m above sea level. Only two other groups on the mountain had beaten us to the summit, one of those being John our Canadian friend (we discovered later he was a marathon runner). We all took some photos with the sign, I tried vainly to call home by was foiled by Vodafone, and attempted a few fruitless scenery shots. Sadly the clouds had closed in again, despite the growing light in the eastern sky.
All up, the summit was a little underwhelming, but I guess it's about the journey, not the destination.
And so began the long descent into the morning. The journey up had taken roughly 95% of my willpower and energy, so the trip down was mostly torture. Snow fell on and off, we slid down dirt slopes past vistas we'd completely missed in the dark, stacked it onto arses and started the cycle again.
After 3 tortuous hours, I finally arrived back at Barafu Camp, 9:15am. The whole climb and descent had taken just over 10 hours. Shandos arrived back about 15 minutes before me, as we'd gotten separated during the final parts of the descent. She was much better able to keep up with Hasani who was doing his best Speedy Gonzalez impression.
I had a few glasses of pineapple cordial, a stretch and a lie down for 2 hours. Then by 12pm we were having a brief hot lunch before the second descent of the day.
What was described as a gentle 3-hour descent to a lower altitude camp was one of the most horrible experiences of my life. After very little sleep and already walking for 10 hours, we were now being asked to walk another 3+ hours. The first hour or so was OK, fairly smooth and a long gentle down slope into the valley.
But as we left the alpine moonscape behind, the road, scenery and weather all changed. The snow gave way to drizzling rain, the desolation became pine and then rainforest, and the smooth trail became a muddy, rocky staircase. I hated every minute of it.
Four long hours later, we arrived at Mweka Hut in pouring rain. Thankfully our tent was mostly dry inside. We had a brief chat with Tom and Sarka who confirmed that they hadn't summited and turned back at Stella Point due to gastro, mountain sickness and fatigue. A wholly unremarkable dinner, a group cup of tea before collapsing into bed at about 8pm. Summit Day was finally over.Read more