After what seemed like months and months of waiting for this day, it was here. Prior to the trip, and even during the early days of the trip, I had some doubts about getting to the top. I'm fit, determined and stubborn :), yet there was still that very tiny nagging doubt that said, 'What if?'. What if the altitude sickness gets me?
Well, waking up at 3am on 17th November, after a really poor nights sleep due to the incredibly strong wind and usual uncomfortable ground beneath the sleeping mat, I was absolutely sure I would get to the top. Each day the guides had told Dave and I that we were among the strongest walkers they'd had. Our pace was always good without going too quick. We took very few breaks (apart from to drool over plants) and we showed very few effects of altitude.
So, at 4am, off we trudged in the cold night air, buffeted by a really strong Easterly wind and we commenced the long haul up the switchbacks to Stella Point. Daniel had informed us that the walk to the summit is usually 6-8 hours dependent on the fitness and strength of the group. At the time I remember that sounding like an incredibly long time to get to the top of a peak that we could almost see in front of us. It just didn't look that far away!
As we trudged upwards, the sky behind us began to brighten over the first two hours, until at around 6am, the sun rose.
And we could see a very long way.
The going had been tough up until this point but both Dave and I walked with our heads down, silently following the feet in front, taking very few breaks. The tubes on our camelbaks had frozen so we had to stop now and again to sip water from a bottle. Ingeniously, I had covered my Sigg bottle with a spare thermal sock which made an ideal insulating layer and prevented it from freezing. It also made the water taste like my feet after 4 days of walking up an African mountain. Cheesey water anyone?
The frozen hydration tube showed just how cold it was. That had never happened to me before. Yet, strangely, I didn't feel cold at all. I actually stopped to remove my primaloft jacket from below my down jacket very early on. That left me wearing two baselayers, a thin fleece and my down jacket. This was absolutely plenty. Dave was the same, and he never once wore a pair of gloves, just relying on the pockets of his down jacket.
The sun rose further and the morning was beautiful. Every time we glanced up the steep slope in front of us, it seemed like the crater rim was still miles away. But slowly, we made progress until eventually, we could see a small rock marking Stella Point. We were nearly on the crater rim.
Up until this point I felt fine - my headache was gone - but I felt tired. The walk was tough. Really tough. It's hard to describe properly, but my legs felt okay, and my breathing was fine too, I was just drained of energy. Although there was no way in the world I was not getting to the top because of exhaustion, I felt like sitting down for a rest every ten steps or so. But we didn't, and we all made it to Stella Point after around 3 hours 55 minutes!
It's as strange name for this spot on the crater rim as there wasn't a single bottle of Belgian lager to be found. I could have murdered a pint or two. We stopped for some pictures and a 10 minute rest.
Then, the guides pointed out where Uhuru peak was. It looked so close, yet apparently took 45 minutes to get to. Dave and I were having none of that. Despite being exhausted, I had a real second wind, and the gradient was much easier from here to the summit. Plus, we had the amazing G=glaciers of the Southern Icefield to wonder at as we walked past. 30 metres of sheer ice cliff!
We walked along and became strung out. Daniel, followed by myself, and then Dave, Thomas and Aloyce. As we got closer, I slowed up as I wanted to get to the top with Dave, because we'd shared a lot over the past 5 days. Mainly leek soup and popcorn!
At 8:42am we arrived at Uhuru Peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro and Africa's highest point. I felt quite emotional and I shed a few tears beneath my macho wraparound shades. But then the elation set in. What a feeling. The wind was gusting, it was cold, but we had made it to the top, just like I knew we would.
Plenty of photos were taken by Daniel. I had a whole bag of things I wanted photographed at the summit...
My Pill Harriers Tour Flag (4 sheets of scribbled on A4 paper sellotaped together)...
My Welsh Flag!
A Specials Scarf - I'd seen them in Cardiff a month before and a close mate bought me a scarf and said he wanted it taken to the top of Kili. (The teeshirt I'm wearing is for the charity I walked for)
My Ieuan The Lion Fund teeshirt. Despite doing this trek for myself, for my 40th birthday, I also raised £1100+ sponsorship for a brilliant children's charity called Ieuan The Lion's Fund - http://www.ieuanthelion.com/ - in memory of my friend's little lad who tragically passed away at the age of 13. He loved Disney and The Lion King and I thought it was so appropriate for him to be here with me, on top of Africa, looking down over the plains below! One very special reason why I couldn't fail to get to the top.
Dave left the top first as he was feeling a bit odd and probably starting to get affected by the altitude. He literally jogged off towards stella Point with Aloyce and Thomas in pursuit. I followed minutes later with Daniel. The walk back down to Stella Point seemed easy now, despite weary limbs.
But the walk down from Stella Point to Barafu was hell. Really difficult terrain, legs that kept slipping from under us, and aching knees. The cheap poles I'd brought with me finally came into their own. This was the only time I used them on the whole trip. The views, as ever, were worth the grief.
Then, we stumbled the few miles downhill to Millenium camp where beer was on sale! Neither Dave nor I, could face one! How Ironic. Best we could manage was a can of Coke each for 3000 TShillings (about £1.20). Washing water was brought, dinner was served, and despite a large group of noisy French Canadians in the next clearing over, we both slept soundly that night after the incredible exertions of that memorable day.