Kilimanjaro 3 – Mawenzi Tarn Camp to Kibo &
Ascent to Uhuru Peak
On Kilimanjaro 3, we broke camp at Mawenzi Tarn and headed off past the Mawenzi Peaks and over the saddle to the final camp at Kibo. This was a 5.6 mile trek with an altitude at Kibo of 4,700 metres/15,420 ft. A few steep climbs followed until we reached the alpine desert. Here we passed the remains of a Cessna light aircraft, which crashed in 2008. Four Italians, believed to be honeymooners, were killed in the crash. The pilot survived and was rescued by park rangers.
From here the track started rising again, and with around half a mile to go, I found that I needed the Altox oxygen sysyem to keep me going. A hundred metres from Kibo, Charles the leading guide, sat me down on a rock and unstrapped the system. He told me that if the rangers at Kibo had seen me using Altox at that point, they would have evacuated me down the mountain, being classed as unconscious.
During Kilimanjaro 3 I found the final push to Kibo extremely hard. I was hardly able to put one foot in front of the other. My son, daughter and daughter-in-law were still in good shape. I had to forego the lunchtime meal and the briefing for the final ascent, as I just wanted to sleep. My son relayed the main points of the briefing before retiring himself at 6:00 pm.
The plan was to be awakened at 11:00 pm and after a light breakfast start the 7 hour ascent to the top of Kilimanjaro and the highest point at Uhura Peak 5,896 metres/19,343 ft. This was an extremely steep climb of 1,196 metres/3,923 ft. I was now wondering if I had it in me to attempt this nightime climb. I had no energy left and was gasping for breath just walking the few yards to the toilet tent.
At the appointed hour I was already awake and the four of us got ready and after a bite to eat (I could only manage a bar of chocolate), we donned our Altox systems and were ready for the off. Charles and myself went first and a few hundred metres from the start he backtracked to check on the other three and the two guides, Damas and Sonani, who were accompanying them.
Eventually I saw a group of headtorches and soon they reached me. They were soon off up the steep track with Charles and myself at the rear. I was having to stop every ten metres, gasping for breath, despite using oxygen. At 4,920 metres/16,141 ft I realised that I had failed. Kilimanjaro ‘The Roof Of Africa’ had beaten me and if I tried to go further I may not come off the mountain alive. Charles called out in the dark for Sonani to come back down and take me back to the camp, while he proceeded with the other three and Damas.
It was a moment of bitter disappointment, realising I would not be at the summit with my family to take part in the photographs and celebrations. I had dreamed of standing on the top of Kilmanjaro for almost ten years. Although many people older than my 66 years had conquered Kilmanjaro, the effects of altitude, fatique and age finally made me realise I should have attempted it ten or twenty years ago. The effects of altitude can be described but unless you have experienced them personally it’s difficult to appreciate how they can effect you.
Even now, two weeks later, I keep thinking what I could have done to improve my chances of summitting. I had abstained from alcohol for two weeks prior to the start. I had done plenty of training walks, albeit not at altitude. We had chosen a 6 day trek instead of a 5 day trek. Would a 7 or 8 day trek have given me better acclimatisation and a better chance? I suppose I will never know but it will bug me until my final day that I didn’t make it to the top.
Back at the camp I didn’t even have the energy to untie my boots, which Sonani did for me. I crawled into my sleeping bag and hardly slept wondering if my son, daughter and daughter-in-law were OK and had reached the summit. Dawn broke and I was trying to estimate what time they would be back down off the mountain and back in camp. I wanted to greet them on their way down but miscalculated the time and suddenly there they were back in camp at around 11:00 am.
It was hugs and congratulations all round but I must admit to not really feeling a part of it anymore. We all agreed it was the hardest thing we had ever done and my son, who runs marathons, said the 6 day climb was far harder than running any marathon. I checked the gauge on my Altox tank and was amazed to see that I had used a quarter of the contents in one hour. So if I had had the energy to go further I would have run out of oxygen anyway.
Now it was time for them to grab a couple of hours sleep before setting off to our last night under canvas at Horombo Huts, another five hours walking away. Although the walk was a descent, we all were dog tired when we reached Horombo. I don’t know how they managed it after all the previous nights climbing and lack of sleep.