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Thursday 23rd February 2012    Day Eight

ĎOur time has comeí its midnight and we are as prepared as possible.  Itís a lovely clear night and the stars are truly amazing.  Words cannot describe the depth and clarity of them.  Every one of them seems to twinkle; they are so bright and seem to meet with the horizon.

We are all dressed in so many layers we can hardly move which we do very slowly out of our camp.  We begin our ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro, the reason we are all here, and know we have a gruelling task ahead.  With only our headlamps to see where we are going we follow our head guide Chaz up the mountain.  We know we have five to six hours climbing until Gilmanís point and start off very very slowly.  We climb quite steeply quickly and are soon waiting for our first rest stop as the going is shale and tough straight away.  All we can see above us are rows of lights  dotted higher and higher up the mountain and it looks extremely daunting to realize how high we have to go. 

 Our first main stop is at 5000 metres where we are told another half an hour and we will be halfway at 5500 metres.  Halfway is also known as Jamaican Rocks so named because it is said that a Jamaican reggae band climbed the mountain but after smoking marijuana thought they could slide back down.  One of them slid too far and too fast, went straight over the top of the cave and broke his neck, killing himself instantly!

 In the dark we canít see a thing and all we want to do is get up the mountain.  The altitude makes it incredibly difficult and the higher we climb the harder and colder it gets.  We have to rely on the guides to lead the way with one up the front setting the pace and two behind keeping an eye.  We must have done quite well because we catch up and overtake one group and then proceed to hit a traffic jam.  We then have to go at their pace which is quite stop and start but by this time it really is a matter of one foot in front of the other.  Harder and harder, slower and slower and colder and colder.  We want to stop and rest but when we do we get cold very quickly and want to get going again.  Our water is freezing in its bottles and our runny noses are freezing on our faces making it very sore.  I tried covering mine up but then breathing was even harder and just made things worse.  The altitude is unbelievable just breathing is difficult let alone climbing up a mountain.  Those of us with poles have a problem keeping their hands warm no matter what or how many gloves they are wearing.  All of us are suffering one way or another but luckily none of us are nauseous or dizzy but itís much harder than we could ever have expected.  On the way we pass people that are really suffering.  Some are being sick or just canít go any further.  Some look almost delirious and a few are even being taken back down.  In the end we are not looking at anything around just concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other and eventually after five and a quarter hours we reach Gilmanís Point.

 It was still dark but you could just see the horizon beginning to lighten.  We were extremely pleased with ourselves but too tired to jump up and down in celebration.  We stayed here long enough for a hot cup of ginger tea after which many more people were reaching the top and it was quickly becoming crowded.

 Off we went again to reach Stella Point  for the sunrise, about half an hour to 45 minutes away.  The going now was much easier (than the summit climb anyway) although it was snowy and icy. 

We were all in good spirits because we felt the worse was over and it would be plain sailing from now on.  It still felt a long way but when we reached Stella Point

(From here you can see the summit which although it doesn't look far it was agony getting there.) the view was amazing.  The sun rose over Mount Mawenzi

and no photograph could capture the beauty of that moment.  On the right was a huge cliff of glacier which again was a sight to behold. 

It seemed every way we turned another spectacle took your breath away (not that we had much left anyway).  Unfortunately we couldnít rest here for long, you get cold very quickly and the crowds of other climbers soon build up.  We watched some other climbers coming up one of the harder routes to Stella Point and really felt for them, we had first hand experience of how difficult it was.


Off we went again around the edge of the crater towards the real top at Uhuru. 

Even the ash inside the crater is an awesome sight!  I think this was when it hit us all that we werenít quite done yet.   We had been under the impression that getting to Gilmanís was the hard part and from then on it would be plain sailing.  Getting from there to Stella Point hadnít been too bad but when we see where we had to go to get to Uhuru we realized we hadnít left any fuel in the tank for the task ahead.  Starting to climb again was really difficult; the altitude was giving all of us a headache, making us nauseous and dizzy.  You could see the sign up ahead

but it seemed so far away and so steep it appeared almost unreachable.  Slowly, slowly and with many rest stops and not much conversation we finally reached the unreachable and touched the sign. 

The relief at making it was immeasurable and we couldnít quite believe we had done it and wouldnít have to push ourselves any more.

 A photo with Terry in front of the sign (we look so happy but are just feeling exhausted) and itís all over!  A good look round at the wonderful view  and a moment to gather a piece of rock from the top and then we begin on the descent.  You are only allowed to stay at the top for 15 minutes because it gets so crowded and the cold starts to eat away at you.  It was heaven going downhill for a change and our pace was so much quicker.  Every now and again there was a slight incline and it immediately slowed us down again and reminded our bodies how exhausted they were.  The sun had now fully risen and we stopped at Stella Point to remove some of our layers as well as a quick rest.  Then it was back to Gilmanís and off down the side of the mountain.  Just over the edge Terry stumbled and fell on the rocks 

and you could see how dangerous it is and how easily accidents can happen.  Luckily a few plasters mended him and we continued on our route down. 

Seeing it now in daylight I was absolutely dumbfounded at what we had climbed the night before in the dark.  It looked so rocky and steep and I am sure if I had seen it in the daylight I would never have attempted climbing it. 

We could see our camp at the bottom of the mountain  and we didnít think it would take us that long to get there.  Ha ha, think again we descended fairly quickly and after we got past the rocks we began scree sliding.  This was quite good fun and definitely sped up our descent.  After a while the scree became too shallow to slide in and so it was back to walking pace.  Camp didnít seem to be getting any closer.  At the halfway point a couple of our porters came to meet us from camp and very kindly carried our rucksacks for us (they were rewarded with $5 each but worth every Cent).  This was a huge relief but it still seemed to take us forever to get back down. 

Finally we got there, I think it took three hours to get back down, and after throwing our boots off we collapsed into our tent.  It was now around 11.30am and we had been walking and climbing for nearly 12 hours.  Lunch was at 1.30pm and we all took the opportunity to have a little sleep, I donít think anything they said would have stopped us! 

 At lunch we were all still exhausted any nobody ate much at all, weíd finally lost our appetites!  We really didnít want to walk any further but were told we had a three hour walk ahead to our next camp.  We wanted to stay where we were but apparently for safety measures they have to get you to a lower altitude quite quickly. 

So off we set  and to be fair once we got moving and the going was easy and gently downhill, we all started to feel a lot better.  We left Kibo Huts  behind and made our way down 1000metres to

Horombo Huts  where we had our last night on the mountain. 

After dinner which again we only picked at we needed no encouragement to go to bed and I can safely say we had our best nights sleep on the mountain.