So I summitted Kilimanjaro (along with my friend Lauren, our guide Joseph, for the 167th time, and our assistant guide Seif)… a nice little achievement in my book… but despite the great view and my general ability to be in the moment and enjoy things as they happen… I really, really, wanted to get the fuck off that mountain. Mostly because it was absolutely freezing (dawn seems to have only made the wind worse) and I was getting a bit of an altitude headache. So down we all went… what was just over a 6-hour climb to reach the summit took two hours and ten minutes to go down. The majority of which, at least from Stella Point down to about 200 meters above the Barafu camp, was down on a trail just adjacent to the one we ascended on… and there’s a definitely a reason to use the alternate trail as it’s mostly gravel. In effect, you basically ski/slide down the hill on your feet… very, very weird, yet very quick (and very dusty…I was sneezing out dust for the better part of two days after that). At least it was over rather quickly (that’s what she said… just had to throw that one in there)… I think we stopped just once on the way. In hindsight, i wished I took a couple of pictures, because the view on the descent was absolutely gorgeous… what we failed to see on the ascent (as it was dark) was that from the top of the ridge one could see almost the whole trail all the way back down to camp (which was about 1.3 kilometers below)… but I was in no mood to stop for picture taking. We made it back to camp and I dropped right onto my mattress and promptly took a nap (which was great as it cured me of my altitude headache).
A short while later I was woken up by a porter to come into the mess tent for brunch. Although Lauren and I were tired, neither one of us was in nearly as bad a shape as the folks we saw coming down the mountain the day before (blue lips and eyes, swollen faces, muttering “never again” over and over, or being carried down by the guides)… so that was nice. And we both noted that physically, it actually wasn’t that bad… the things that made it hard were the altitude (giving me a little headache and making both of us a little woozy/stumbly, the cold and the odd hours/lack of sleep… the walking part was actually pretty mild compared to those things.
After brunch and more tea, it was off for what turned out to be the worst part of the entire trip… the four hour descent to Mweki camp (another 1,600 meter descent over 7 kilometers). Already tired from everything, the second half of this last descent featured a very rocky, steep path that was slow going and tough on the legs. I mean, even our guides were tired and sore. The one nice thing, or maybe interesting is the correct term, was going through most of the mountain’s climatic zones in basically one shot (as this trail just went pretty much straight down the mountain until the last bit). You go from no vegetation at all, to seeing moss and lichen, to seeing small tufts of grass, to seeing large tufts of grass, to seeing the beginnings of small shrubs, to seeing medium sized shrubs, to seeing small trees to finally seeing some medium sized trees just at as we reached camp… a botanists dream (Mweki camp is just on the upper edge of the rainforest, so we didn’t see really big trees until the next day). I was very glad to finally reach that camp as it was a very long, tough day of trekking.
One final dinner, one final night in the tent, and then one final breakfast and we were off the next morning for a 3 hour hike down to the gate where we’d sign out and a bus would pick us up and take us back to the hotel. Luckily, although step at times, the final day’s descent was nowhere near as rocky, or steep, as the last bit of the day before. As an added bonus, we got to see both species of monkey that inhabit the rain forest around Kilimanjaro. And voila… just like that, we were done. Then I was off to the hotel to figure out how I’m going to get myself to India.
Distance covered: 62 kilometers (approximately 37 miles).
Totals Ascent/Descent: 10,000 meters more or less (or 6.2 miles… yes, miles).
For comparative purposes… the trek I did in Ethiopia was actually much more difficult than this one. Really, the only things difficult on Kilimanjaro are involved on the summit day… the cold, the altitude, the lack of sleep and long descent… I would say the summitting part isn’t all that bad physically if you’re in decent shape. The food was really quite good, the tents kept out the rain (can you tell I’m still a bit gun-shy about that given what happened in Ethiopia) and the porters did the bulk of the heavy lifting… so really, not that hard. I’m very glad I did it, and glad I chose to climb Kili over going on a safari.