Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Summit & Downhill Demons...

I made it! The feeling is beyond description, a jumble of different emotions; pride, joy, wonder at the beauty that is all around me. The sky is deep blue, fading to a pale in the distance, cotton candy clouds hover above the foothills and plains visible below. Mt. Meru off in the distance, and Mawenzi Peak, Kilimanjaro's secondary peak, stand out well above the layer of clouds.

I trudge slowly over to the marker of the highest point on Mt. Kilimanjaro. We made it up the last 500-600 feet very slowly that morning. I felt terrible for the first time. My heart was pounding in my chest, it felt like my ribs were vibrating, my stomach was turning and I had a horrible headache. Classic signs of the beginning of acute mountain sickness. Good thing we were descending today.

I followed P.B. up the slope, we had walked together a lot on this trek and our pace was timed perfectly. Breathe in, step, breathe out. My thoughts strayed, I realized I was feeling very sad, it was almost at an end. Breathe in, step, breathe out. I was going to have to say good bye to Simon, Urio, and Charles. Breathe in, step, breathe out. And Buiat, shy, attentive Buiat. Soon, our two friends, our southern Canadians would be on their way too. Don't stop P.B., I might get sick... breathe and step and breathe some more. I never considered that I would make such good friends on my trip. Nothing to be sad about, friends are precious, no matter where they are in the world.

On the way to the summit. looking down towards Crater Camp (hidden below):

The way to Uhuru Peak

Almost there, Mawenzi Peak is in the background:

You can almost see the sign
As I reached the 'false' summit I started to feel better. Perhaps it was knowing that I was there or maybe the slow pace up the slope helped me acclimatize. But, we weren't really at the summit. We had to go just a bit further. By this time it felt anti-climatic. We soon reached the marker, posed for pictures, let the wonder of it all soak in, and then we were rushed off and headed down the slippery slope toward Barafu Camp at 14, 950 feet, a descent of almost 5000 feet.

We took off at a fast pace, something that was foreign to me after 9 days of the resting step. Before very long we were in loose scree. I had my poles out, as Simon was insistent on it, and would dig in one foot and keep the poles handy for balance and slide up to six feet downslope. Then I would place the next foot and do the same, it was kind of exciting after being so slow and cautious. We descended very quickly, but the dust was incredible, coating the throat, eyes, ears, clothes and getting inside the boots. I wrapped my bandana tightly around my face and kept going.

See the steep slope and scree? punishing!
Steep slope and scree
The lunch break was very welcome, I was incredibly hot and dusty and could not wait to remove all the extra layers. We had our last served lunch, I will miss the delicious soup! I knocked the dust off my boots and gators and packed up once again. The first thing I do as we leave the camp after the lunch break is slip and fall. I don't think much of it, Urio gives me a helping hand and off down the trail we go. Only another 2000 or so feet to go.

After about an hour, my knee, the right knee, the strong knee, starts to really hurt. It gets to the point where every step is pain-filled. All I can do is slow down a bit. We finally get to Millenium Camp and I immediately get off my feet and put my leg up. Damn! And to top it off I have my first blister of the trip, on the back of my heel. It's a doozy. One more day of descent yet. I put a hot water bottle against my knee all night and try to sleep, but I am worried. We have at least 4 hours or more of downhill ahead of us.

Before I tuck into my sleeping bag for the last time, I walk out in bush and gaze at the plain below us, the lights of Moshi town twinkle up at us, while the southern stars adorn the inky black sky. The Milky Way has been incredible, I don't remember it ever standing out like that at home. I will miss being on the mountain, in pain or not...


missjackie said...

Sounds like an experience of a lifetime. Being back is going to be strange, I think.

I remember when I got back from Spain after living there for a year. While it was nothing compared to what you are doing here, it was different enough for me to feel lost and disoriented when I got back. I'd like to think that I felt akin to those young 20-somethings that came back from that pleasure island in that movie, The Beach. The feeling that you get is of something wonderful and strange that you want to share, but can't for one just has to experience it.

Safe journey!

librarychik said...

Hi Miss J,
It was an experience of a lifetime. I am actually home and updating my 'journal' from memory and my written journal at the time. Yes, it is really difficult to adequately describe the trek, but I am enjoying the process as it is digging up details that I neglected to write in my journal at the time.

Ash said...

I just realized that I haven't said "wow" yet. Wow. This trip sounds amazing, chicka! If you opt out of the ilbrarian thing, you should seriously consider becoming a travel writer. :)

librarychik said...

Thanks ash... so kind of you to say so, but I really do not do it justice. Take my word for it, I will just have to go back is all. So when are you coming to the big smoke for a visit? Can't wait to meet LilyMab....:-)