Day 6 will be the hardest, longest, most exhausting day of the climbers’ lives! When they make their way into Mweka Camp tonight they will very definitely have earned a good night’s sleep!
During the course of today, they will have ascended through 1200m over a 6km horizontal distance. Not only this, they will have started out at midnight at 4700m and climbed through the night to reach the summit at 5895m, a couple of hours after sunrise.
To make the challenge even more difficult (as if it wasn’t tough enough!), the temperatures have been well below freezing as they have ascended. Add in the wind chill factor and it becomes colder still! The summit of Kili is not considered the equivalent to a pole for nothing. To warm themselves up, the two leaders thought that a couple of burpees would do the trick!
But the day isn’t finished yet just upon reaching the summit. The day’s actual objective is still far down the mountain in the middle of the rainforest. There is still much to achieve and negotiate coming down from the summit as tonight’s camp is about 3000m below them and about 20km away.
As they head downhill, it won’t take long before weary legs are begging for some uphill. Because the next two days are all about downhill. Merciless, unrelenting and continuous downhill.
The only saving graces for today are that the business end of getting to the summit has been achieved; the group gets to travel the equivalent journey as if they would from the pole to the equator; and with every step downwards, the air gets gloriously, deliciously thicker; and last, but no means least, appetites return will vengeance!
By day’s end, everybody will have consumed approximately 6000 calories getting themselves up and down Kili today! And boy, there will not be scrap left on the dinner plates tonight!
The thougthts of showers, cold beers and clean sheets are still a day away. Today is all about getting down!
Day 7 is, sadly, the last day on the mountain. The hotel is but a scant few hours away. But more importantly, a few well deserved cold beers are even closer!
But there are still a few details to take care of. One of which is to thank the crew that got the group up and down the mountain safely.
The mighty porters will need to be thanked for their tremendous efforts in their part in getting everybody up the mountain. Everything, and that means EVERYTHING, needs to be carried and hauled up the mountain. Food, water, tents, tables, chairs and mattresses are but a few of the goods that make their way up and down the mountain on the heads of these mighty folk! And always with a smile.
It is difficult to conceive how a three course evening meal of such outstanding quality and quantity can be produced off just two gas rings in a small tent for 30 people! Not once, but twice and then sometimes three times a day. Nevermind all the hungry porters who need feeding too! The cooks are the unsung heroes of any trip up the mountain!
No matter how experienced a European mountain leader is, he will never match the hundreds of times the head and assistant guides have been to summit. It is of great comfort to know that there is such a vast depth of knowledge and experience to draw on should our leaders ever need to. They are the quiet, dependable, reliable and total masters of their universes.
Thereafter, there is not much to do but to get off the mountain and descend through some of the most ethereal, beautiful, ancient primal rainforest ever. Here is the haunt of elephants, leopards and monkeys.
As the climbers descend, the dense rainforest canopy arches overhead and forms a fitting green honour guard. The trees stand patiently in silence and majesty listening to the chatter of tired climbers passing beneath looking forward to nothing more than their cold beers at mountain’s end, Mweka Gate.
Bar a few formalities at the gate, a few happy group photos, the hotel is a short drive back through the vast coffee plantations that grace this part of the mountain and then into the ever increasing spread of Moshi’s humanity. No matter the weather down here, it is always warm! A welcome change after days of high altitude bone chilling cold!
Only once the hotel is attained, the gear thrown off, the hot shower or swimming pool delighted in and the beers in celebration raised, does the enormity of the achievement begin to make itself apparent.
Climbing Kilimanjaro is not about reaching the summit; it is about reaching the summit in your heart. Sometimes that are they are the same thing; and sometimes they are not. But either way, Kilimanjaro is a great teacher. The outcome of her lessons learnt will be only ever be realized long after you have arrived home and regaled all and sundry around the dinner table about the time you pole, pole from the equator to the pole and back again in just 7 days via one of the world’s seven summits!
Lasting conservation efforts will more probably grow out of the efforts of those professionals trained at Mweka [College of African Wildlife Management], and through local values and skills, than from the wholesale application of foreign ideals. This demands a deeper appreciation of how … traditional African hunters interact with their environment. These misunderstood hunters, so long condemned as the scourge of wildlife, bear little resemblance to the poachers created by conservation propaganda.
Jonathan Adams and Thomas McShane, The Myth of Wild Africa pp 121.