Day 7: Friday 4th October 2019
4:20am – Millennium Camp @ 3,950m
Just woken up to find one of my trainers is filled with water. Oh well, doesn’t matter because this is our last night camping and we will be having lunch at the Weru Weru River Lodge – a hotel with flushing toilets and showers. I haven’t done anything with my hair for 3 days and have taken to wearing hats in a bid to forget how unwashed it feels, but that is nothing in the scheme of things.
I have slept for a full 8 hours which was unheard of to date. I am wearing a full base layer, my mega warm Buffalo trousers, a pair of hiking socks, a pair of heat holder socks, merino base layer top and leggings, body warmer, hot water bottle and the customary two sleeping bags.
I laid out last night at 8pm unable to move because of the layers and just slept. The reason is quite simple, yesterday was one of the toughest/most extreme days of my life.
After dinner on Thursday (pasta and sauce – carb overload) we were told we should go to our tents and rest. We would then be woken at midnight. Well it was absolutely freezing and there was little rest to be had. I didn’t want to unpack my sleeping bag and mat but ended up doing so as I could not get comfortable laid on the ground in the tent.
Midnight came round quite quickly; whilst laid in the tent I listened to the beautiful sounds of everyone trumping. It seems there is no one who has escaped the “squittee squittees” as we now call it.
We went to get snacks and tea at midnight. They gave us snickers bars which I have quite taken to – the problem is that they have been frozen so when you open them they are actually powdered snickers – anyway they still taste the same.
Dressed in a ridiculous number of layers (and glad of it) we set of to scale the mountain. Well what can I say, there, there was a line of torches which seemed to be in the air. It was an incredibly steep rocky path. We walked up in our head torches until sun rise at 6:30am. We were like zombies. It was impossible to think about anything other than to follow the feet in front. I was allocated second place after Daniel, Jimmy’s deputy.
I am in the second group, the first group ended up only consisting of two of the lads (including Heineken and fags man) and the guide Elias.
Barafu Camp was at 4,673m and Uhuru Peak 5,900m. This meant breaking the golden rule of only going up 1000m a day. Two of our group were physically sick because of the altitude; one only made it to Stella Point which is actually only about 1K and 180m lower than Uhuru Peak.
There was no one who wasn’t ill in some way. I was ill but it was nothing to do with the altitude; put it this way, the immodium started to wear off half way down – enough said.
We had joked about whether there was a café at the top. To my surprise – but perhaps not so given the level of hospitality we had experienced so far – the guides produced flasks of hot sweet tea at about 5am which really hit the spot.
The walk up was one of the longest of my life, without the guides supporting and encouraging us I don’t think many of us would have made it. The guide Daniel called me “Mamma Lucy” as I had told him my youngest son was called Daniel.
So after 5 ½ hours of extremely difficult ascent we were rewarded by the sunrise over the landscape – what a view! I have taken some photos but I don’t think they will do it justice.
As soon as it got light the mood changed. The weather was absolutely beautiful. On all the pictures I had seen before of the peak, people were stood at the top, often with frozen beards, looking like they were in arctic conditions. We had none of this. In fact I can feel my face and lips are burned despite all the suncream.
Stella Point came into view and we felt that it was okay, we are going to make the gradual ascent to Uhuru Peak.
Quick photo at Stella Point then on the Uhuru Peak. It was quite strange because there were so many people who were obviously ill. Near Stella Point a Chinese lady was being guided down looking rather poorly. Going from Stella Point to the Peak a woman was literally being dragged by two porters. I noticed a couple coming the other way who had oxygen tubes.
The Peak itself was so busy, the whole thing reminded me of Castleton on a busy summer weekend. It was a case of “snap and go” with the photos. It was a real wrestle to get the photos I wanted at the famous sign. Anyway I got them; the Paces and T&E banner and then one with my scout necker.
Then it was time to go. We arrived at the Peak just before 9am so it had taken 8 hours. By this point Daniel insisted he carry my back pack. We had been told by Jimmy the night before that if a guide offers help we must accept as it is all about safety. So I didn’t end up carrying my day sack almost all the way up and down.
Once we had reached the Peak, I thought it would be easy. We would drop down to Barafu camp, have a bit of lunch, a rest and then walk the 4K down to Millennium Camp for the night. Little did I know.
There are two paths up to the Peak: the rocky path we had ascended and a scree path which looked easy – not so.
It took me from about 9:30am to 1:30pm to get down the scree path which was pretty horrible. Daniel who was carrying my pack and one of my walking poles held my hand all the way down and I still managed to fall over on my elbow (and put a hole in my friend’s top). We had a lovely chat on the way down and I learnt a lot about Tanzania, the country and politics. The population is about 50 million. It is a huge country and much of the land could be used more effectively. Swahili is the language spoken by everyone but there are three main tribes which each have their own language. Everyone belongs to one tribe. The President is popular among the lower income groups as he operates a socialist system. Tanzania became independent from Britain in the early 1960’s and since then, I understand, the same party has been in power. It is classed as developing nation and has no welfare system as we know it but like in many countries families are expected to support each other so one person’s wage may have to support an extended family.
When African countries have an issue with each other, they don’t threaten each other but they sort their problems out the “African way”. They meet up, have a discussion and hopefully sort it. Basically what we family lawyers call Dispute Resolution.
It was boiling on the way down and some of the layers came off. The clothes did not fit in the rucksack and had to be hung and tied on.
On arrival back at Barafu Camp I was met with a mug of pineapple juice. I flopped into my tent, sorted some stuff and fell asleep with my boots sticking out of the doorway. I asked where the mess tent had gone: “the wind has taken it”.
I was woken up to Michael and Elias calling my name, they asked if I wanted some soup. “Yes please”. I fell asleep again and was woken by three smiling faces with lunch which comprised leek soup, eggy bread, pizza and a pancake – weird combo but absolutely fine.
There was no time for a rest as bags had to be packed and we set off on the 4K downhill walk to Millennium camp. I swear the amount of stuff I have has multiplied and I can’t fit it all in my main rucksack any more. God knows what I’m going to do at the airport.
The 4K walk seemed to be about 20K. Daniel insisted on carrying my day pack again. We walked at the back with the Doc. Everything was set up on arrival at Millennium camp. The landscape again changed over the 4K descent. It is much greener here with bushes and plants. There were even moths round the dinner table which we had not seen for a few days.
After a perfunctory wash – there was no washing water at Barafu Camp – we had dinner. This was rice, a pea and carrot stew and really nice cooked cabbage – like coleslaw without the mayo. Bed was at 8pm and I have just woken to write this.
We will get a knock at 5:30am to wake up as it was decided last night that we would try and get down the last 14K to Mweke Gate tomorrow so we can get to the hotel asap. We also agreed we would each give a tip of $220. This will be handed to Jimmy at the celebratory meal tonight and he will distribute this amongst the support team. I also want to buy souvenirs “tat” for family and friends (and me).
A word on the dust – it gets everywhere, everything is filthy. It turns to mud on when it has been raining. It is all part of the experience. Another funny comment I wanted to get down on paper. When discussing how to train for Kili one of our groups said the best way is to “dig a hole in your garden, poo in it (not the word used) and then invite your neighbours to do the same”. Forget altitude chambers, it is all about the toiletting!
It is not to late to make a donation and congratulate Lucy for her incredible achievement. Should you wish, you can make a donation here