Hitting the peak of Kilimanjaro is a shock, a relief and an ecstatic rush all rolled into one.
The orange horizon burned my eyes after hiking for 6 hours in the dark, my fingers were frozen, lips ripped apart from the wind and sand. My boots weighed ten times what they did when we set off 5 days before, my head was throbbing from the thin air up here.
My boots weighed ten times what they did when we set off 5 days before, my head was throbbing from the thin air up here. But still it was amazing. Having trekked through monkey-filled mountain rainforests, from soaking cloud layers to parched, dry deserts and up the steep volcanic ash fields to the frozen glacier walls, i was now looking down on Kilimanjaro, the saddle between us and the sister peak, Mawenze, and over the clouds and Tanzania's early morning steppes. I was looking back on the past days, plodding along at a snails pace, across the rocks and tracks of the National Park.
Our Chief Guide, Samueli, has been climbing Killi for 35 years and set us off at an unbelievably slow walking crawl - heel to toe, heel to toe, all day long. Altitude Sickness is the biggest villain on this mountain and Samueli ensured we would ascend very slowly to allow our bodies to acclimatise properly. Samueli also chain smoked the whole way, rarely cracked a smile and claimed his grandfather had been one of the first porters to the peak a hundred years ago.
12 of us had set out at midnight, six hours ago.
5 of them were members of the military.
3 had to retire due to altitude sickness symptoms, all 3 were military folk and fit.
Altitude sickness doesn't favour the healthy.
We had reached the plateau, but not the peak - that was another one and half hours slog in thin air with tired legs around the ash bowl crater. The glaciers looked amazing and I felt good - I wanted to push on to the peak. The other 2 military members turned back, leaving the unhealthiest and, presumably, blind stupid members of the group(3 nurses and 3 'London media types') to press on with Samueli and Ellie, our second guide.
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