Home - Monday 9 October 2000

Well, 5 days till we leave and believe me, Iím counting!

This whole Kilimanjaro jaunt has been one big adventure and we havenít even left home yet. Itís something weíve both wanted to do for a while and we had even kitted ourselves out in Europe before heading home on our overland trip. We carried the stuff all the way down with us but when we finally got there we decided not to do it. At that point we had been on the road for three months and hadnít done much exercise for most of it. More importantly, we had both been ill. Scott had lost 6kg and was looking pretty weak and haggard.

Then, after putting the idea on the back burner for a few months, we got together with Sally and Andrew and heard about their plans for the trip. In July we had a Sunday breakfast with them, the day after their return and Sally in particular was waxing lyrical about the trip and what a wonderful experience it was. That got us all excited again and soon we booked our own trip.

From then until now we have put a lot of hours into getting fit. I know that many people say that fitness doesnít make a big difference and that altitude is the great leveller but be that as it may, Iíd rather have one less thing to worry about. Weíve put in lots of hours at the gym, on our bikes and walking. I hope it all pays off.

Weíre also not taking any chances with the altitude. We bought Diamox as well which is supposed to help with acclimatisation. Iím not too sure about this whole idea of taking drugs for Ďjust in caseí type of scenarios, particularly when our trial dose of yesterday gave me tingly feet and a metallic taste in my mouth Ė both listed side effects. However, as Cornť from Wild Frontiers said to me Ė why jeopardise the whole trip just because I am reluctant to take the medication. Itís a valid point.

Iím very excited but still nervous. Particularly about the 5th (the summit) day. We end up walking for something like 15 Ė 18 hours. Thatís a long time!

Home - Tuesday 10 October 2000

The main news from today is that Cornť called to say that there is a slight problem. Brief moment of panic while I waited to hear what the problem was. In the end, it was not really a problem Ė our flight out has been re-scheduled from 1:15pm to 10am. This isnít really bad news. It means that we will have to get to the airport at 8am so there will be no time to hang around the house in the morning getting bored, nervous, excited Ė whatever.

It also means that Iíll have to leave work early on Friday Ė I mean you have to pack after all! Seriously though, I want to pack while there is still time to rush off to the shops if I find that I have forgotten something. Iím not normally obsessed with packing but I have never had to pack for 5900m before.

Home - Friday 13 October 2000

D-Day tomorrow! Itís now 5:30pm and weíre actually packed and ready to go. It took a bit of shuffling and leaving out of stuff Ė Iíve never had such a huge pile of stuff to pack before. Itís all the cold weather gear of course. Our bags come in at well under the 20kg airline baggage allowance but at 17kg theyíre also a lot more than the 12kg porter limit. I hope that this isnít a problem Ė the bags will be lighter on the hill of course.

Iím nervous Ė just generally about making it to the top of the mountain. So many people say that it is the hardest thing they have ever done but what does that really mean? Some friends have told me that gorilla tracking in Uganda and walking in the jungle was the hardest thing they have ever done and another friend tells me that the Otter Hiking trail is the hardest thing she has ever done. Neither of these things is particularly hard to do so I guess that it is all relative. I get the impression that some people expect it to be a walk in the park and are shocked when it isnít. In my typical fashion, I have imagined it to be terribly hard. Hopefully I end up being pleasantly surprised!

48hrs from now the first dayís walking will be over so letís see how I feel then.

Day 0 - Saturday 14 October 2000

So here we are at Keyís Hotel in Moshi, Tanzania. Getting here was a pretty painless procedure. The plane left Johannesburg about 20min late and was far from full. We had a three-seat row between the two of us, always nice. Interestingly, it was a free seating flight Ė not that common. We sat on the right side of the plane and were lucky. It was through ignorance but we ended up getting great views of the mountain while we were coming in to land.

Arrival was quiet and easy too. Check yellow fever certificate, check visa and collect bag off carousel. When we got through customs, there was a guy with a Wild Frontiers sign waiting for us. As I said, easy. We ended up as eleven people from the flight, all going to Keys Hotel. Got my first bit of a shock Ė turns out weíre all going up in one group. Well, three guys (one not from our flight) are taking the Arrow Glacier Route so they will be with us for part of the way but not all.

Next surprise Ė rumour has it that seven more people will be joining us. That takes us up to 19 people less three for some of the stages. Not exactly what I had in mind. Still, itís not the end of the world. Call it another travel experience, a first for me. That of the Tour Group Holiday.

Day 1 - Sunday 15 October 2000

First day on the mountain over and I made it! It went a lot better than expected. No blisters or even threats of them. Tired but fine.

Back to the beginning of a long day. We were up at around 7am and showered and packed by 7:30. We had breakfast, handed in our valuables (cash and passports) and were basically ready to go. We watched tons of porters load up and leave and carried on waiting. We ended up being split into smaller groups as we had booked. This means that Scott and I make up a little group of two. Itís quite scary it sounds like we have EIGHT people in our support team. Francis our guide, an assistant guide we have yet to meet, 5 porters (weíve only met one Ė Simon) and a cook. Wow.

Anyway, we hung around waiting this morning for ages Ė basically for the Three Peaks/ Scout Group to get themselves sorted out (11 People) and left Keys soon after 9am. We did get a great view of the mountain from just up the road from the hotel. While we were waiting we took a short walk to see and photograph it, and to scare ourselves all over again!

We arrived at Machame Gate at around 10am and were walking by 11:30. We got here at around 4:30pm. The walk was not hard Ė we climbed about 1200m in total but it was a slow, easy pace. Francis, did no pace setting today so it was all up to us, or more accurately me Ė Scott always walks behind me.

We wore our gaiters, which wasnít really necessary but did keep some mud off. It was easy to see that the path would be terrible in the wet season but we were lucky. There were a few muddy/slippery patches but nothing bad. It would be awful in the rain.

Today was a perfect day for walking. Cloudy, not too hot, not too cold. The whole day was spent in the rainforest, which was great. There were however 80 hikers starting today and I have no idea how many support crew. Hundreds would not be an exaggeration.

We arrived to find our tent pitched with our bags inside. We changed our T-shirts, socks and shoes and then sat down at our own little table, complete with tablecloth, to enjoy a snack of tea, hot milo, popcorn and biscuits. Plus a little bowl of hot water to wash with. It was really impressive stuff and the popcorn went down great. We are now waiting for supper.

At about 4pm we climbed up a fairly steep ridge and when we reached the top we left the rainforest and hit moorland. It was almost like a line between the types of vegetation. There were still trees but far fewer and of a totally different type, and we were in the clouds. Now itís 6pm and chilly and getting dark.

7:30 pm update: Itís now totally dark and quite cold. Weíre in the tent, inside our sleeping bags.

Supper was awesome. We started with vegetable soup and bread, followed by pasta, fried potatoes and fried cabbage and carrot mix. Next it was a choice of tea or milo again. I am most impressed.

Apparently we get woken at 7am tomorrow with washing water, breakfast at 7:30 then pack and start walking at 8.

Now for news regarding the rest of the people from Keys Hotel. The three Arrow Glacier guys (nice guys) arrived without problems, the German couple too. The German/South African guys made it too but one of them told Scott that he is wrecked. Bad news after the first day and not a particularly strenuous one at that.

The big news is the 3 Peaks/SA Scouts team of 11. Apparently they started walking but were called back due to permit problems. They had special discount permits as scouts but it is said that there was no one there to verify this. Hence the call back. Josh (Australian guy doing Arrow Glacier) says that he expected them to started walking only at about 3pm. I canít see them getting here today if that is the case. Some of them are like us Ė flew in yesterday and fly out next Saturday so a one day delay would be a disaster. Letís see, we may wake up tomorrow to hear their racket in our ears Ė theyíre a noisy bunch!

Our mattresses are those high density (really high density) foam jobs about 1.5cm think. Hard as a rock, well maybe not really but it sure feels like it.

We saw the mountain briefly again before sunset. It was great to see but I donít feel as if I am on a mountain. Itís all too big and far away to feel real. Maybe that will only happen during the last day or so. Oh well, I have lot more to say but am too uncomfortable to say it so goodnight.

Day 2 - Monday 16 October 2000

 Itís only 1:30pm and weíre already here at Shira Camp. Francis told us that it would be a 5-hour walk and so it was. He also said that it was steep and only 6km long. Right on all counts. We climbed about 900m today.

Iíll start with some general impressions first and then fill in the details. Both of us are still feeling strong. No headaches, nausea or any of the other symptoms of altitude sickness. I have been drinking a lot and that is supposed to be good. Last night I got enough sleep but needed many hours to achieve it. Our mattresses were hard, the ground rocky and sloping, generally not very comfortable. Tonight itís rocky again but flatter.

This morning we woke to a basin of hot water for washing followed by a breakfast of toast, porridge, fried egg, paw-paw and milo. We wolfed it all down!

We started walking at 8:30 and it was up, up, up. Quite a rough start to the day. We stopped at 11:30 for lunch and I think that I am spotting Francisí ways. Yesterday he trailed behind us reading and when he got tired of his book he did a bit of guiding. That was my initial impression anyway but I think that I got it wrong. He goes in front and sets the pace when the hills are steep and the going gets tough. He sets a nice slow pace too Ė I feel as if I can walk forever behind him without getting breathless. When the going is flatter or easier, he falls back and lets us set our own pace. Itís a nice way to do things. I donít know if he also uses it as an opportunity to judge our strength. He also answers all our questions, rests when we ask him too and sometimes when we donít, especially if it is a nice viewpoint!

We stopped for lunch just over a killer ridge at 11:30 as I said earlier. I am repeatedly impressed. Lunch was great Ė bread, margarine, peanut butter, honey, bananas, oranges, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, green pepper and hard boiled egg. Tea too. Itís not only the quantity, quality or even variety that most impresses me, itís the presentation. Tables and chairs plus a table cloth. Sliced vegetables, even the oranges were cut into quarters AND cut loose from the skin! I donít after myself that well!! Now Iím off to check the status of my popcorn and miloÖ

Weíre back in the tent. No popcorn today but freshly roasted peanuts (as in still warm).

Itís cold up here; weíre above 1 cloud layer but not the second. Itís only 4pm and weíre all fleeced up, not only with jackets but trousers too.

Weíre still going strong so Iím hopeful for tomorrow. I have a slight headache but that isnít necessarily altitude. Tomorrow night we sleep at the same altitude as tonight but we cross 4600m during the day. At that point we will be higher than weíve ever been before so letís see how we feel.

After a brief doze we went for a walk around the camp and caught up on the news. The Arrow Glacier guys are fine, I have no doubts that they will make it. They saw the two German guys (Joe and Jan), theyíre still slow but carrying on. Of the German couple, the guy had to turn back but Petra is still going on. Scott and I had the conversation and decided on the same thing Ė if one of us turns back the other will carry on. Rumour has it that a total of four people turned back this morning. I would have thought that it was too early for altitude; we camped at about 2900m so it just goes to show. Of course it doesnít have to be altitude, it could be food, water or any one of a number of things.

The Scout group eventually made it too. They did have the rumoured permit hassles and only got going at 4pm yesterday. They spent last night at the Ĺ way mark for day one and then caught up with us today.

We had a long chat with Jan and Joe. Theyíre pretty nervous. Jan stayed behind to chat some more after Joe left. Janís doing OK but Joe did no training so apart from his other concerns, he is stiff and sore as well and getting worse every day. The literature is really misleading making this sound like a casual stroll. I guess they want as many tourists as possible but it is quite irresponsible. Weíre all nervous here!

We chatted to Francis about tomorrow. We have the option to go up to Lava Tower or not. The downside is that it is obviously more walking but the upside is that it takes it higher. The map says 4900m but Francis says 4600m. This is good for acclimatising, but also important psychologically for me. It will be the highest Iíve ever gone and it will be quite a milestone, mentally at least.

Dinner was great again. Mushroom soup and chapattis followed by chicken, rice, beans and a vegetable Ďsauceí. Now this sauce was so thick and chunky that it is something I would serve with rice or pasta and call supper! It was all followed by fresh orange and banana and then tea.

Day 3 - Tuesday 17 October 2000

We saw some great views of both Kibo peak and Meru this morning. There are huge ridges, plains and foothills that the standard photos of the mountains never reveal.

We started walking again at about 8:30 and again it was largely uphill. We stopped at around 12 for lunch where the path splits to go up to Lava Tower or head directly to Barranco where we camp tonight. I actually thought that the Lava Tower route was not optional and that the shortcut existed only for porters. It ended up that only 4 or 5 of us went up to Lava Tower. Itís strange because I thought that this was an important part of the acclimatisation process. Anyway, we hung around there for an hour or so with Petra and had tea with the Arrow Glacier threesome before heading on to the camp. The weather was awful up there, you canít say that it was raining but nor was it hailing or snowing. It was more like raining hailstones than raindrops. Lava Tower was impressive but due to the mist, rain, generally crap weather and breathlessness I was less whelmed than I hoped to be. I was not too happy up there Ė definitely a little shortness of breath on the way up.

The walk from Lava Tower to Barranco was down all the way. The first down on the entire walk so far. I know that Ďwalk high, sleep lowí is the motto to live by when acclimatising but itís quite depressing going down before you have to. The Barranco site is the best campsite so far Ė there is a huge wall of rock on one side with the mountain behind it and hills covered with giant Lobelia on the other.

The toilets get worse every day and so far the walking has got harder every day too. I had a bad stretch going up to Lava Tower, really fighting for breath and Scott had a headache. Your mind starts playing games with you and most people we speak to feel the same. Every twitch and pain is minutely probed and examined. I was feeling generally listless and not hungry. I had what felt like sinus pain behind my eyes. Of course it may have nothing to do with altitude, my rest heart rate is only 68, which I think is great at this altitude (3900m). I took some cold and flu medication, was really struggling for breath when I went to bed but slept very well and woke up feeling great.

Day 4 - Wednesday 18 October 2000

Woke up at 6:30 feeling great and wolfed down my breakfast Ė I was starving after not eating last night Ė and by 8:20 we hit the road. The first obstacle was the Barranco Wall. It was not nearly as bad as it looks Ė it looks like a sheer climb, but it was still pretty staunch scrambling and walking. The day was rough with lots of up and down walking and 3 very steep hills to climb in between all of that. We ate a wonderful lunch Ė French toast, banana fritters, potato and carrot chips and our regular fresh tomato, cucumber and green pepper. I didnít think I would want to eat all of that but it went down very well. We are now at Barafu Camp (Barafu means snow in Swahili) at 4600m. We walked in hail again today. I have been very impressed with the quality of the path up to now Ė soft, springy and really good to walk on. The last part of today was stony, almost like walking on slate, not the best walking surface and tomorrow promises more of the same. Yep tomorrow, the final push is nearly upon us. It is now 4pm and we get woken in 8 hours to start the last stretch. Nerves are jangling all around!

Francis reassured us that we are strong and will make it with no problem tomorrow. In fact, he says that we will summit early. Scott also says that now that he has got this far and still feels fine, he is very confident that he will make it all the way to the top. I feel fine and am breathing nicely. I havenít checked my hear rate but it feels good. I found the last part of today very hard and donít know if I can handle 8 hours of that. Oh well, letís see.

This campsite is a true base camp. Stony, no plants or any kind of life, cold, in the clouds and the worst toilets of the bunch. My standards are very, very low when it comes to things like this but there is a toilet here that I wonít even use!

So thatís it. It was a hard dayís walking; donít let anyone tell you that you donít need to be fit to do this. Tomorrow will tell if it is spiritual experience or if by the time I reach the top all I want to do is head down. Iím only focusing on getting up. Once Iím up there, the 10-hour walk down will have to look after itself.

Just had a chat with Jan. Joe threw in the towel this morning and turned back. I donít think that it was as much the altitude as that the effort was just too much for him.

Itís just cleared enough for us to see the mountain Ė good grief! Now it truly looms over us, casting a long shadow.

Summit Day - Thursday 19 October 2000

We both made it!!!

What a day. Francis was supposed to wake us at 11:30pm with tea and biscuits. It is hardly surprising that we were both awake long before that. In fact I donít think that slept for more than a few minutes at a time. We started walking at 12:15 and reached Stella Point at 5am. This is awesome going and we ended up being the first ones to get there. We left up to an hour later than some other groups and overtook every single one of them. We then had to pace ourselves and slow things down in order to reach Uhuru Peak at 6am and not before sunrise.

I went like a steam train Ė I donít know why. Scott says that he would never have made it in that time without me. Donít let this fool anyone, it is a hard, hard walk.

At times it is gravel mixed with dust and you just sink into it. The last 100m (or maybe even less) to Stella Point is very tough. It is really steep and you are walking through scree Ė yuck. So it was hard work even though we went really well. In fact, the top arrived sooner than I expected! It is not for the fainthearted or the unfit. Once at Stella Point it is an easy 30 min stroll to the summit, which we stretched to a chilly 45min., Sunrise was great. The sun on the glaciers was wonderful and for the first time in my life I was really somewhere that was clearly the top, if not of the whole world, then at least the visible world!

The final report has to be though that it was not a spiritual experience at all. I was willing to believe that it might be. Buddhists believe that God lives in the mountains so why not. He left this one a while ago. The sunrise wave of tourists numbered over 20 and kept growing. It removes all sense of spirituality, well to me anyway. This doesnít make it less of an experience though.

We only spent 20min or so at the summit before the cold drove us down. I was still feeling great but about halfway back to Barafu Camp I started feeling awful. Scott felt sick at Uhuru so that we can call altitude. Me I think it was more a case of over-exertion, not eating enough or not drinking enough. Back at Barafu we collapsed into our tents and slept for 2 hours. What bliss. Then after a light lunch (at 10:30) it was the 3Ĺ walk to Mweka camp. What can I say about this, I made it here, we arrived at 2:30pm but the day involved 2hours more walking than I was happy with.

I got here and crashed, ate supper, am now writing this and plan to crash again in a few minutes (6:30).

It was a long, hard day. Hardest thing I have ever done? I actually think not. I have once or twice in my life exerted myself to the point of tears or even being sick. That didnít happen here, didnít even come close. If I were any less fit it would have been a different story. People are still arriving now Ė you have to admire your strength of will. I know that if I were part of this group, I would be saying that I had never done anything harder.

Off to sleep. Tomorrow 3-4 hours walking then showers, wash hair, soft bedÖ.

Day 6 - Friday 20 October 2000

Back at the hotel.

The walk down was painless and only a little over 3 hours long. We kept meeting people and in the end Petra, Jan, Etienne, Scott and I all arrived at the Park Gate together.

We signed in and bought the obligatory book and T-shirt. Scott and I always buy a book as well as the usual T-shirt. Itís nice to do a little post trip research! The final test was the 10 min walk to the bus. Bit of a surprise that, just when you think it all over.

At the bus we all piled in Ė guides, our porters and us and headed back to the hotel. It was a shorter drive than the one to the park because you donít end the hike where you start it.

At the hotel after a shower we headed back to the bar for a goodbye visit with our guides. We handed over our tips, some old T-shirts and a lot of snacks that we never got around to eating. We enjoyed some beers together and then we went for a short nap before taking a walk into town. We went to the hotel bar again, it was about 5pm but we only back to our room after 11pm!

We were chatting with Etienne, Lawrence, Josh, Jan and Joe during all that time. It was a good evening with lots of alcohol flowing and apparently Jan and Joe were still going after 1am. I just couldnít carry on any longer but there was a strange reluctance to say goodnight to each other. I think it is because that would almost be like officially ending the trip.

Jan missed his T-shirt opportunity at the park gate and was so drunk that he paid one of the Scouts some exorbitant amount of money for the T-shirt. Heís too embarrassed to tell us what he paid but it was a lot. We paid $10 for each of ours and all Jan will say is that he paid a LOT more than $20 for his. He was drunk at the time so what can you say.

We subsequently found out that he probably paid $100 for the T-shirt but heís not giving anything away Ė too ashamed Iím sure!

Day 7 - Saturday 21 October 2000

Up early in the dark and at breakfast by 5:30. We left for the airport just before 6am and got about 5min into the drive to the airport when the bus broke down. Weíre a little skeptical about this because it was going along perfectly when the bus driver pulled over to the side of the road, lifted off the engine cover, stopped the engine and declared the water pump broken. Superb diagnosis but as I say weíre a little skeptical.

Anyway, we were all transferred to a local bus, we broke down at a bus stop (!), and had an uneventful if slightly crowded ride to the airport with local music accompaniment. I enjoyed it, we listened to some yesterday too and itís nice stuff.

The checking in and customs process was painless and the plane actually left 10 min early.

Home - Sunday 22 October 2000

The flight home was uneventful but once we landed the adrenaline that had kept me going disappeared and I was left exhausted. I slept in the afternoon and was in bed for the night by 8:30.

I did a little research on how others found the mountain. Jan and Etienne both admitted to finding it an emotional experience. Jan went so far as to say that he hadnít cried when he got married or when his son was born but he did when he got to the summit of Kilimanjaro. The sunrise from the top was what did it for him. Etienne on the other hand says that it wasnít the summit that was emotional for him but more the look of sheer determination on peopleís faces as he was heading down and they were still fighting their way up.

Itís strange but when I have done something like this it immediately becomes less special to me. Itís almost as if I am saying well, if I can do it itís automatically removed from the list of special and hard to do to the achievable column. Part of the problem with this trip in particular is that I was so ready and prepared for anything to happen Ė mentally in particular that when it arrived (the summit) it was too soon and anti-climatic.

Francis and Ellie said that we were the strongest group they had ever taken up. Not true of course! We left Barafu at least an hour later than some groups and still reached Stella Point first. Scott is quite proud of the fact that I got there first and keeps telling people about it. I did make it before him and he was struggling to keep up. In fact, when Francis pointed up and said Ďthatís Stella Pointí I was surprised. I had focused on not checking or counting time until it got light and we reached Stella Point long before that. It's not that we were trying to race to the top but just that the pace I found comfortable was faster than that of other groups and also, we stopped less. It was too cold for me to stop and rest so we kept overtaking groups that had stopped for a breather.

All of aside, it was a great experience and I have no regrets at all. Scott regrets not spending more time at the summit and in particular not going to the crater. You canít decide on the day to do that. You have to arrange it with you guide and be prepared in advance Ė especially for the extra walking! I would also have liked to see the crater too but the cold drove most things out of my mind

© Copyright Scott Smith and Renťe Pattle

Includes all text and photographs