Scree running is fun, particularly after the arduous climb the night before. The guides, Kertrina and I stood at Stellar Point looking down the way we had come up – in the light it was completely different. The sun was up now and starting to burn, Kertrina was still suffering with the altitude and the guides had quite rightly determined that down to Barafu Camp was the safest and most expedient way of fixing this little issue. Coming up had taken 7 hours, going back down to 4,600m from 5,745m should take 3.
The rest of the group had already, with the exception of 2 sat at the top for a breather, headed off down the mountain. The guides took Kertrina’s arms and with me close behind set off down the track.
For the first 30 minutes’ scree running was incredible, as time went on my thighs began to think otherwise. We passed pockets of our group on the way down but still we didn’t stop. Clouds of dust billowed out from behind us as we weaved our way along unfamiliar terrain in the day light until after only 2 hours we hit the bottom, leg’s shaking and sweating with all the layers we still carried.
We were left to enter the camp where we were met with a congratulatory hug from the porters and a Mango juice box, it was like nectar!! As the rest of the group slowly started to enter camp we were told that we had 1 ½ hours to rest back in the tents before we had to pack up and head down to Mweka Camp, taking us from 4,600m down to 3,100m and was to take around 4 hours.
We were all absolutely exhausted but as we were buzzing from summiting, only managed to snatch bits of sleep before packing up and setting off down the track.
The biggest problem with going up a mountain, is that at some stage you have to come down and that 4 hours was the longest I can remember. The views all the way down were stunning but we were working muscles that had lain dormant for the past few days and pace was slower than normal. Still suffering with lack of sleep there were a few slips and stumbles but we eventually made it down to our last camp – Mweka, located in the forest it had that cold, damp feel that we were simply not accustomed to.
The last dinner was a celebratory one, the chefs had managed to rustle up…chips. It constantly amazed us all how they could possible create so much with so little time, equipment or ingredients but they kept us well fed throughout.
That night we all managed to sleep, for what seemed like the first time since we started and rising up the next morning to listen to the singing at the tipping ceremony being held by other groups around camp. Ours would be held back at the hotel, something we were all looking forward to.
The singing jogged a memory from the climb, I recalled some singing near the top and asked one of our guides, Seba who confirmed that they had started singing to encourage us on.
We would finish our time on the mountain at Mweka Gate, our 10km trek today would take us from 3,100m down to 1,800m and would again take 4 hours. This time we were rested and looking forward to the last leg.
Our thighs and knees were still a little tender from the previous day but we made good progress through the forest, chatting, swapping stories until around an hour before we hit the gate I heard a thud from behind me and scream. Kertrina had gone down and gone down hard. She was lying on her side directly on top of an exposed tree root.
One of the guides and I rushed to her and helped her up, it was clear that she had bashed her side, it hurt like hell but she could breathe ok and after a quick check determined that she was ok proceeded at a slower pace. We had our fears confirmed when we returned to the UK, she had fractured 3 ribs and would be off exercise for 6 weeks!
Thankfully the rest of trip down was uneventful and it was nice to just wander through the forest – there was a short section of flat ground that felt like heaven!
We arrived at the gate for another photo opportunity, said a goodbye to our porters and boarded a bus back to the hotel where thoughts turned to a nice hot shower (or in our case a cold one as the hot water wasn’t working but it was clean water all the same!).
We are asked to tip the guides and porters on our return, ordinarily between $160- $200/person and after living with them for the best part of a week I don’t think any of us could begrudge them a penny. We arranged a time for the ceremony, collected the money and gave it to Bruce along with any kit we didn’t need/want (Kertrina gave them everything, tent, roll mat, boots the lot!)
We thanked the guides and porters, they thanked us with song – The Kilimanjaro song, it was wonderful and we loved it. We still had the certificates to dish out and Bruce and the guys would return at 19h00 (they actually rocked up at 19h45, but that was common…) to give them out.
I’d witnessed the certificate ceremony in the hotel before, it consisted of the guide giving the certificate to the recipient – that was it, simple and quick. By the time the boys arrived, we were due to go in for dinner so we bought them all a beer, then another, then another.
Our resulting ceremony lasted almost 2 hours and they managed to make up a song for each member of the team as they went up to get their certificate. The singing was so loud that the entire hotel came out to watch and the waiters and waitresses all joined in.
What an unforgettable night, our new friends sang and danced and we all joined in with the words we knew…making the rest up as we went along it was brilliant, one big happy family. When it was time for them to leave (as their boss tried to shoe horn them out) it took another special song and a further 10 minutes before they were gone.
And that was it, over the next couple of days the boys came to visit us swapping contact details before they all disappeared for yet another trip up the mountain leaving us to ourselves before the long trip home.
Words simply cannot portray the experience of this trip, it was life defining and we shall all look back on it fondly due to the shared experience and the new friendships we have all made.
There are so many to thank; to Nathan at Life Changing Challenges who set both Kertrina and myself on this journey. To the charities that we have supported and have supported us, The Baton and Support our Para’s.
The guides, Bruce, Ringo, Innocent and Seba and the porters who were all amazing.
Last and by no means least, to everyone who has supported us, who has sponsored us a massive thank you – every penny has meant so much and I know so many of you have really dug deep to help, I hope you have enjoyed reading about our little adventure and this has in some small way encouraged you to find adventures of your own!
Guest Blogger - Barry Jones