Saturday, 13 March 2010

Kilimanjaro Diary - Day 7

This post actually starts on the eve of Day 7 at about 10.30pm. This was when we were woken up so that we could get ready for the summit trek. I say we were woken up but I don't think many of us actually got any sleep to speak of, which was unfortunate given that we'd just trekked for about 10 hours during the day, but understandable due to the mix of nerves altitude and excitement. There was little excitement to speak of at about 11.30 when we'd gulped down some Milo, forced a few biscuits down our necks and were facing a long walk, uphill, in the dark and cold, with head torches. We were probably wearing almost every item of clothing we'd brought. I for one was wearing long johns under my thicker trek trousers, the merino base I'd practically been living in for the last 3 days (and nights), t-shirt, long sleeved running top, charity t-shirt, fleece and waterproof, hat, merino buff as a balaclava and three pairs of gloves. I'd also packed my down jacket in my backpack as an emergency measure.

Set off we did though, at a very slow pace, over scree and slippery rocks, eyes on the heels of the person in front of us and iPods well and trully plugged in. I'd set mine to random which was proving to be rather enjoyable, whereas James had his set to Trance and seemed to be trying to rave his way up the mountain. My legs were still sore from the days trek and I felt really sorry for the Doc who not only had to try and get himself up the mountain but had to try and deal with all of our aches and pains and sickness as well.

We had many more porters and guides with us for this part of the expedition. I reckon it must have been about one each and it soon became apparent why, even if we'd not listened to the briefing before hand. It was about half an hour in when I started to struggle and was told to give my backpack to a porter, who effectively became my dedicated porter for the night. If this trip hadn't felt like an expedition and test of endurance during the previous day then it certainly did tonight. It was easy to think, at the foot of the mountain, that this was just a very long walk. It was easy to forget why you were doing it at all. The months of preparation seemed distant and charity was the last thing on your mind.

Despite the layers, whenever we stopped, it took less than a minute to start feeling cold. I couldn't really say how long I'd been going for when I sat down on a rock and started to cry, but it was at about 5100m. I had pains down the fronts of both legs, I was tired, cold, miserable and wanting to go home. Of course I wanted to get to the summit, deep down I always wanted to, even if at that precise moment I'd have said I didn't. The Doc made his way to me and had a chat. Well, he talked and I tried to make coherant noises between body wrenching sobs. Diagnosis - shin splints. Decision - mine to make as to whether I wanted to try and push on, bearing in mind that if it got worse later I'd have further to go to get back to camp. Hardest decision I've ever had to make. Harder than deciding whether to turn the PhD into MSc or whether to take a 6-month job with the National Trust.

I decided to go back to camp. I'd heard that shin splints can turn into hairline fractures and I felt I'd have had to have moved so slowly that I'd not have made it before sunrise anyway. Better a contender than a casualty. Miley Cyrus "The Climb" was playing on the iPod as I started back. My porter accompanied me all the way back, making sure I drank enough water. It's easy to forget to hydrate when you don't feel thirsty. I don't really know when I got back to camp but I just crashed out in the tent for a couple of hours. At around 8am I was woken by the porters asking if I wanted to move down to the next camp, where we'd be staying that night. I declined, just wanting to try and sleep some more. A bit later Alan, who had made it to 4800m before exhaustion set in, came to find me and we drank Milo and chatted in the mess tent, trying to figure out how we felt and how we were going to cope when everyone else started coming back.

Charlie was the first back. Or what was left of Charlie. He was being carried by two porters and looked like a shell or a person. Between 10 and 11am I think most people got back, few were unaided, some were being ill on the way. General consensus was that no one had enjoyed the experience one little bit. I almost felt glad I didn't make it. I do wish I'd been able to get that picture at the summit and do the dance. There's always next time. I brought a bit of the mountain back so I guess I'll have to return it one day. Maybe with a bit more rest I'd have managed. Who's to say.

Couple of hours kip and lunch done with it was time to head off to the last camp on the mountain. It took about 3 hours and we arrived early in the evening. Wash, dinner and the sleep was the order of the evening. I just tried not to have to hear too many stories about the summit. Apart from the one about James stripping down to a mankini... that one I could stand to hear.

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