That's usually easier to say when you're the one who's up the mountain, probably. For the past week, I've been very thankful for friends and family who I knew were praying for me while I was climbing Mt Kilimanjaro (:
|Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania|
Anyway, I'm back where proper beds with mattresses and pillows, proper roofs over my head and proper walls sheltering me from the wind, toilet bowls with a flush and toilet paper, running water and soap and all the jazz that comes with comfort exist. Not to say the least, WIFI.
It's been a really tough past week. I was probably more mentally prepared for what was to come, having attempted Island Peak in Nepal in 2009, so I knew at least how long the treks could be, how cold it could be, the conditions we were living in (tents, toilets that were just a hole in the floor etc). Physically speaking though, while the climb was possibly no more tough than Island Peak was, I was way less prepared for Kilimanjaro, and the altitude hit me slightly this time, unexpectedly. I definitely could have, and should have, trained harder, though my leg muscles aren't really aching, surprisingly.
|The 2nd day of the hike (I think), having gone past the rainforest|
It was a huge group, all under Student Adventures, 33 students (or ex-students) from various universities (Portsmouth, Liverpool, Cambridge, and Newcastle) attempting the climb, and 87 porters and guides supporting (from Easy Travel). I didn't really enjoy being part of such a massive group (used to being in small groups of 7/8, or at most 20), but we were very well taken care of.
|87 porters and guides for the 33 of us!|
Each day comprised 7-8 hours of walking, from about 8+am to 3+pm, depending on our speed. The first few days were alright for me, despite not having walking poles cos I thought I would be able to survive without them (stupidly enough). Arriving at camp (the porters would have left later than us and arrived earlier than us, set up the tents, and started cooking), we would dump our daypacks in our tents, gone to the mess tent for tea (popcorn and hot drinks!), then waited around for dinner (there's always awesome hot soup). Every night was freezing, but an insulated mat, 3 season sleeping bag and many layers kept me relatively warm (:
|So amazing to be above the clouds! Mt Meru in the distance.|
We attempted summit push in the early hours on Tue, 9 July. Woke up at midnight to start at 1am. It was a ridiculously long and tough climb, we kept thinking we've reached the top but just kidding, it's still far, far away. Most of us were falling asleep while walking, I was definitely just on autopilot mode, just putting on foot in front of the other. Didn't help that we were mostly on a scree slope (which seems to be what most mountains are made of), so you feel like for every one steps you take, it's effectively just one step. I kept telling myself that God is always with me and that I would be fine.
|Image taken from: http://icrosspoint.com/|
Having attempted (and failed to reach the summit of) Island Peak, I was very determined to successfully summit Kilimanjaro. And honestly, mental strength and determination is key to success (unless of course, you have serious altitude sickness). We finally reached Stellar Point about 8+am, and Uhuru Peak (roof of Africa!) about an hour later (: If not for the the fact that we were doing it as a relatively large group and most of us were just trudging along to Uhuru, I might well have been very happy just arriving at Stellar Point.
|Stellar Point with my guide|
So anyway, we finally got to the top (I was usually at the front of the group), and the first thing I did was to throw up (Y). I now have the dubious honour of having left my mark at 5895m above mean sea level (AMSL) . Took a couple of photos, some of which I was sleeping in (was wearing my shades so you can't tell xD) and then got hustled back down. Similar to Nepal, I was so exhausted coming down I was just slipping and sliding, and snoozing at every rest stop.
|Glacials at Uhuru Peak!|
This company (Easy Travel) has got quite some dedication to making sure everyone who wants to reach the top does. A few guys were supported by one/two guides all the way to the top. I made my way up myself, fortunately, though my day pack was being carried by one of the guides. I don't think that was a great idea, cos though some of the people probably just weren't as physically fit and needed some support, some of the others were seriously feeling the altitude and probably should have gone down earlier. One of them did pass out near Stellar Point, and had to be rushed down. In any case, infinitely thankful that all of us made it back down safe and sound.
|Sunrise on the way up. One day, I will make it up to a mountain to see the sunrise.|
On the last day down though, I had temporary blindness, which quite freaked me out. I couldn't see anything for about 15 seconds each time, and it happened every few minutes. Needless to say, it's not quite that safe to not be able to see where you're going when you're on the mountain, but one of the guides was with me all the time. Thankfully though, it stopped once we descended to about 2500m or so, and is apparently one of the symptoms of High Altitude Cerebral Edema.
|View of the peak from the rainforest, on the way down. In between bouts of blindness...|
It has been a really tiring trip, but being way more mentally prepared for it than I was for Nepal, it went rather well. I really did enjoy the process more than the end, and talking to the rest of the group, most didn't seem to ever wanna do something like that again. I hate having headaches and no appetite (I keep thinking apatite now cos of geology ><) as much as the next person, but once I've forgotten how dusty and dirty you get, where you sneeze out bits of dirt and blood clots, where toilet paper is a very very precious commodity and the freezing biting cold in the night, I'm sure I'll be back for more.
|Amazing sunset at base camp|
The most interesting experience though, was the bartering once we came down. I'm used to having souvenirs shoved under your face and people shouting various prices at you, but I've never seen people trading belongings for souvenirs before. Some of in the group traded away (or gave away, if it was a cute kid demanding it) their hats, watches, walking poles, fleece, even boots! Amazing. I guess since they got their kit specially for the trip, and they never want to do it again, they were quite happy swapping them for t-shirts, bracelets, paintings and knives.
All in all, it's been really interesting and amazing, not the least because I got to know many more people from a different culture (students from other universities, and the guides/porters from Tanzania) and I'm soooo excited now to see my parents and some awesome goodies from home :D
|Cos I just cannot resist not climbing when I see something climbable.|
Update: For a more flora/fauna/rocky post, check out my Nature blog