I learnt a long time ago never to say never. I have been up Kili via Marangu before- June 2015 to be precise. The plan was to go up Kili a different route the next time I attempted it- Machame- well best plans do not always work out so there I found myself trekking up to the roof of Africa via the same route. To say I was not excited would be to put it mildly. Actually I thought about backing out more than once. My heart was not in it. I did not want to go through the same torturous summit again. I consider myself to be a lady who sticks to her words, I had made a commitment to the Mountain Slayers and so I found myself headed to Arusha on 1st November 2016 at 8:00am.
I think the slayers have gotten used to my flexi departure hours- there are times I have waited for 30 minutes before departing for a hike. Well, unfortunately for those who have been used to my soft take on tardiness, public transport does not offer that luxury. We were a total of 6 of us heading to Arusha. Two were late and literally chased the shuttle down Mombasa road. By the time we were all safely in the shuttle, the bus driver had just about had it with us. No sooner had he finished strapping the luggage of the ‘first’ late slayer and got off the carriage, in came screeching the ‘second’ late slayer. Not only were these ladies late, but the amount of luggage they had? The driver was definitely not amused!
Eventually we were off to Arusha. I like listening to the banter of the team, especially when I know what lays ahead and they do not. As we were transferring from the shuttle stop to our hotel we had a chance to chat with two locals about their current state of government. Interesting to note that not everyone is happy with the job that President Magufuli is doing. He has clamped down on unnecessary government expenditure so severely that the effects are being felt all over. Government officials who were used to travelling all over the place for the flimsiest of reasons, can now not travel unless out of their personal finances. All this unnecessary travel clearly had a huge impact on the tours and travel sector. I cannot wait to see what the president will do with Tanzania after his term.
Anyway, we settled into our accommodation then went strolling in town. Arusha is a small town in comparison to Nairobi and foreigners- which we clearly are- stand out like sore thumbs. I guess wearing touristy clothes and walking leisurely did not help our case. After changing our Kenyan shillings into Tanzanian shillings we went out looking for some chow. There is a place I have been raving about for a long time, about their pizzas, so we headed to Tapas Cielo to get some food. We then headed back to our hotel for a briefing from the Tanzanian team that would be responsible for our journey to the roof top of Africa. The seriousness of the task that lay ahead was evident as nervous laughter rent our briefing table. Eventually we finished up and decided to call it a night.
The Tanzania team was at the hotel bright and early to pick us up and transfer us to the Marangu gate. It is always such a nice feeling seeing the usual faces as part of the team- Joshua, our wizard chef, Hussein, the lead guide were sussing out the team as usual. They always look at us and start trying to figure out how to manage us. After weighing in our luggage and registering we were ready to set off. Unfortunately a snag from the operations desk meant that we set off more than 2 hours late! This would not have meant much only that the skies decided to open up and give us a thorough washing. It not only rained- it poured! We were drenched to the bone and walking in the dark. Complaints could be heard from the team. People asking why they were there and if it was necessary.
I know there are always times on the journey when people want to quit. When it gets tough, you need to remember the reason you begun the journey. Before we started trekking we shared what our motivation for the hike was and this is what I cling on and remind the team members when they seem like they want to give up. To get to Uhuru peak, I needed a solid reason. I have been to Uhuru peak before so when the pain got unbearable I knew that I would not hesitate to quit. This was a spiritual journey- getting to Uhuru peak would take the strength and will of God. It was also about breaking personal boundaries- there are certain things that I have been unable to do because I fear the unknown, getting to Uhuru would mean that there is nothing that I cannot do if I put my mind to it. Eventually we arrived at Mandara hut for the night. It was still pouring and we were struggling to dry off and get to the dining room before finally jumping into our sleeping bags. As we were taking down our dinner (Joshua is such an amazing chef!) we reminded ourselves why we were on the journey and eventually settled in for the night.
We woke up refreshed and looking forward to the long trek to Horombo Hut (3,720 M ASL). I must point out here that the team was made up of 5 females and 1 gentleman. What this means is that getting ready time is magnified tenfold! You would think that without showers, make up, ironing clothes or any of the things ladies do, we would be quick? Well, think again! The guiding team eventually understood the dynamics and decided that if they needed us to be trekking by 9:00am we needed to be up at 6:00am. I was on the same mountain, same route, but the dynamics were different. That is what makes the journey enjoyable.
I needed a day trek alone so after seeing that everyone had started off well and fallen into a comfortable pace and chatting and laughter was going on, I pulled away from the group and focused on myself. I must say that the solo trek to Horombo was one of clarity and grounding. The trek to Horombo was painless this time around because I was so deep in prayer. The first lesson I took away, ‘focus on me (God)’. As long as my eyes are trained on God, there is nothing that I cannot do. All I need to do is keep redirecting my thoughts back to Him and asking for His intervention and guidance. He came through so strong, I felt so much peace. I knew that no matter what happens, I will always be alright.
Second profound thing was if I want something, ‘put it down, quantify it, make it real!’ I was so shocked that I actually spent the first night at Horombo making to do lists and journaling.
Third thing, ‘Giving when it hurts’ I had started wondering how I was going to honour my commitments to giving when it became clear that giving when it hurts is when it counts.
I got to Horombo about 2 hours before the team and I had time to just sit back and reflect. By the time the team arrived I was refreshed and ready to relax and bond with them. The next day was an acclimatization day so it was pretty relaxed. The Tanzania team had already checked us out and realized that they needed to be careful with us if they wanted 100% success rate at the summit. Some people where much weaker than others and needed the rest day. We walked about 3 kilometers in total and spent the rest of the time catching a nap and those who wanted, walked around and took pics.
We woke up refreshed and ready to head to the base camp which is 4,720M ASL, Kibo Hut. After walking alone and listening to God on the walk to Horombo, I was now ready to join the team and walk with the slowest walker. This was literally her first time hiking so her pace was slow and laboured. A journey that took the rest of the team 5hours took us 7hours. To say it was painful would be an understatement. The pace was so slow that I literally froze as we walked through the saddle, which is a desert. I froze because I was walking too slowly. She enjoyed the journey and I got to learn a lot about her as she did about me too. The beauty about walking slowly next to one person is that you eventually get past the small talk and start talking about real stuff. We both enjoyed it immensely.
Our guides had been sussing us out from day 1 and based on how we were walking they decided to release us at different times for the summit. The slowest hiker was meant to start 1 hour before the rest of us in the hope that that would give her a good enough head start before we started off. One other hiker also decided to join up with the advance team. As usual the night before summit is not the night anyone gets any sleep, first and foremost it was freezing cold! Second, that altitude is like sleeping higher than Mt. Meru, Mt. Elgon and just 100 metres below Lenana peak on Mt. Kenya- oxygen is limited.
Our very committed waiter, Adam, came to wake up the advance team at 10:00pm and serve them ‘breakfast’- all this is happening in our single room- waking up and eating so of course we could all hear what was going on. At this point I might add just how hilarious Adam was, he kept whispering to me the number of minutes remaining to wake up time, so even if I was asleep, surely how could I have slept? Anyway, eventually he whispered, ‘ 1 more minute’ and I knew it was a wrap. Time to get up and get dressed for the journey to the peak. We had been briefed to be well dressed as the mountain was extremely cold. I have never experienced such intense cold in my life. At the coldest we might have been dealing with -14 degrees. I froze. I mean I literally froze. As we arrived at Hans Mayer cave my fingers just said no. They froze and I could barely feel them. I was certain I was going to loose my fingers to frostbite. I turned around and told my guide that I could not feel my hands. He called Mtemi, the senior guide, he came up to me, peeled off my gloves and quickly replaced them with his gloves and helped me put my hands in my pockets. I could not fold my hands. I was helpless. My water froze in my camelback. I had no water, I was frozen and I did not want to eat anything (appetite above a certain altitude disappears). I was miserable and ready to give up. I thought Mtemi would tell me that it was time to get off the mountain. No such luck.
It literally took EVERYTHING in me to get to Gilman’s point. Gilman’s point is 5,681M ASL. The guide who was leading me did not know the direct route to Gilman’s so we walked around in circles before Hussein came bounding over the rocks, grabbed my hand and lugged me over the last couple of meters. Once I got to Gilman’s I sat down and cried. I cried my heart out. Heart-wrenching sobs. I was done. I was broken I could not move on anymore. This was it. Well, after crying, I stood up and continued walking without any prompting. I was frozen, tired, dehydrated and hungry- my body had had enough of this madness and wanted out. I pushed myself all the way to Stellar’s point, which is so close to the end- it is about 30-45minutes to Uhuru peak. I broke. I sat down. I gave up. I just did not have anything else to give. Fourth lesson, ‘help can come from very unlikely quarters’ the guide who stepped forward to assist me is one I did not particularly like due to his aloof nature. For that reason he was not on the Mt. Meru trip, but here he was. He was signaled by our lead guide, Hussein, to step in. He came in front of me, he did not say a word and he just started walking slowly. He would take about 10 slow steps and stop. After every 30 steps he would sit down and motion me to do the same. I stopped thinking and simply followed his every move. I did not have to think, all I had to do was follow- he did not question me, he did not give up, he just set the pace for me. Ten feet from Uhuru peak I stopped to catch my breath before I took the last push.
Getting to Uhuru peak was so significant, I broke down and cried. I know for a fact that my strength ended at Hans Mayer caves. Beyond that was simply a spiritual journey. I released myself and allowed God and others to take control. I was broken. I felt so weakened by the whole experience but I was exhilarated that I made it to the top. AGAIN! Getting off the mountain is another story all together but I got off with the help of Adam- yes our waiter came up with cold Mango juice to meet us at Zebra before half dragging me off the mountain as we skied down together.
Getting to Kibo. I was so elated but in such a rush to get down to Horombo. I quickly downed the light lunch prepared before I took off alone to Horombo. I made sure everyone was okay before I left Kibo. The last hiker was still up on the mountain so no way were we going to be allowed to wait for her. You need to descend as fast as possible- being at such high altitudes can literally be a death warrant. Off we trooped to Horombo. The feeling of accomplishment was so high! Dinner and a well deserved rest was all we craved. The last slayer eventually strolled into camp at 10:00 pm. Exactly 24 hours since she was awake. She is a real trooper. It is amazing what the human body can do when it is pushed to the limit.
The next day we took our time getting ready before getting off the mountain, two of the slayers had to be gotten off the mountain in an ambulance. Fatigue and knee injury were very valid reasons for this. I see God’s amazing hand through the entire journey- the groups which tried to summit the day after us had 80% failure rate. And this includes guides, porters and guests. The sulfur levels on the mountain were too intense and therefore affected their respiratory systems.
We eventually got to Marangu gate where the celebrations went into fifth gear! We were all over the place taking pics and just reminiscing on what an amazing journey we had been on for the past six days. One of the slayers, our MVH (most valuabe hiker) from Mt. Meru treated the group to a sumptuous lunch at a hidden gem in Moshi. The pains and aches of the past couple of days were quickly forgotten as we shared the nuggets that we gleaned from the journey. After a much needed shower and rest at the hotel we were ready for our journey back to Nairobi and our individual realities. It is amazing how refreshing being off network is for the soul. Being at one with nature has a way of healing and soothing the most battered soul.
People think I am nuts to keep going back to the mountains but the truth is that in nature, without all the trappings of modern day living is where I feel most alive and refreshed. I wish everyone could try just being out in the wild unencumbered by technology, traffic, work and life pressure. We would all be better for such deep spiritual experiences.
To #Team Kili 2016- Me love you all a long time! You made this experience great! Mountain Slayers is about community, family.
Until the next mountain, stay safe!