Monday, 21 January 2013

Kili 5 – Barafu Hut to Uhuru

Day 6 – Barafu Hut to Uhuru
The longest day ever. More toilet stories. We make the top and I see auras.  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Day 6 started on day 5 – at ten pm. Having been dragged from our warm and safe arctic sleeping bags we supped on tea and biscuits, a sparse and bland final supper. Three pairs of socks, four layers on the under-carriage and seven on the trunk, beanie, all-in-one scarf and sunglasses, trekking poles at the ready, we were set for the final assault. My stomach was in riot mode but I could not face the long drops before leaving. This was a very big mistake.

Because we are essentially different parties we split once more into two. The other seven set off 30 minutes or so in front of us because we two are deemed to be the stronger party. Last night was a full moon and tonight while the clouds are low the light is diffuse and we don’t need headlights, although we pass others who are wearing them. As we ascend over an uneven series of rock sheets it is difficult to maintain balance and to get any rhythm; this is tiring and it is so cold, but once through this first hour we get onto a track of sorts. As we climb the air clears and we seem to be leaving the clouds below us. Across the saddle is Mawenzi about 11km’s away, it is the first time we have clearly seen this peak. Its lower flanks are shrouded in cloud and there are eerie flashes of lightening around it.

The snow line is probably at about 5,000m. White patches lying in protected rock nooks and under giant boulders gradually start merging into larger areas.

It is around about this point that I have to reflect on a couple of potential life expanding experiences that should be avoided. Mixing chewing gum and peanuts is a tactile and taste disaster, this I can attest to. Gouging ones eye out with a blunt radish is also an unwholesome activity and one which I admit has never really been a temptation. Doing number twos very early in the morning at an altitude of over 5,000m in sub-zero temperatures must be avoided at all costs, but I had to do it and it was not nice. Enough said but while other folk were taking their minds off the pain of walking and breathing by counting steps, listening to fading music on iPods stricken with extreme cold, thinking of sex, composing stories about their cats, or doing quadratic equations in their head, my mind was exclusively focused on my growling and liquid lower intestines and rebellious sphincter muscles. This, I am convinced, is what got me to the top.

The final ridge walk. Stella Point is up there 
somewhere – not sure where exactly.
Lyndsey suffered nausea and for a period had to stop every ten steps or so – but could not throw up despite Felix's urging and encouragement to "let it out". During one such stop I said – “Lynds, there is a one legged man who has just passed us.” And there was, and I think it spurred us both on for at least another twenty steps.

After exactly 6 hours walking Felix announced “There is Stella Point”, pointing to a crest just in front of us.

It is at Stella Point that one has technically summited and have become eligible for a certificate of success. That last twenty metres suddenly became heavenly; feet and boots were light and airy and we flew to the snow crusted rim of the crater. Bugger me – this is it! We hug; me, me daughter, the guide and the assistant guide. A dramatic and emotional moment. The increasing tensions of the past four days are dissipated and replaced with exhausted elation. I lean my forehead on my walking pole and the exhaustion and relief wells up in my throat and my eyes fill with tears.

We sit in the lea of a rock outcrop overlooking the ash pit and crack a slab of Kendal Mint Cake and sup on hot water from the flask. We bloody done it! Felix says we must move on or face a certain frozen death where we are – so reluctantly but energised, and oh so energised we move on and up.

The walk from Stella Point to Uhuru Peak is along a gently rising ridge. To the left lie the slopes we have just toiled up (We just done that!) and to our right and below lies the Reusch Ash Pit – the ancient caldera. It looks desolate and very very cold. An ash and snow blend. People apparently camp overnight there – but we see no one down there this bitterly cold morning.

We trudge upward on packed frozen snow. It is easy walking after what we've just experienced but still we maintain that slow rhythmic pace, because that is now the pace of life, and the pace of achievement.

The rear of a very large Glacier
Things don’t often loom at you – but this does. Its height is somehow indeterminate – could be five, could be ten storeys high. It’s the back of a glacier, the Furtwangler Glacier, not the snout that  melts into the ice cold babbling streams we saw and had crossed below, but an obvious wall of ice, broken, pinnacled, fissured, indubitably vertical and massive. Inexplicably painted in aquamarine and streaked in sky blue. Brutally . . . . Big.

Uhuru Peak is crowded, and shrouded in mist. 

Yes, Uhuru peak is shrouded in mist. We have spent 5 days of increasingly painful exertion, 5 days of rising emotional tension, 5 days of diamox induced tingling extremities, 5 breathless days - all carefully timed to almost coincide with a full moon, a choreographed experience of mountain moonlight segueing into a glorious East African dawn. Not a bit of it - we are shrouded in cloud and visibility is down to 10 metres. It is a shame that we don't see dawn breaking over the plains of Northern Tanzania and Southern Kenya, but frankly had we have been lucky enough to have done so that would have actually been a bonus to this remarkable experience.

We line up for the obligatory photo beneath that famous sign board. A strident and demanding voice expresses annoyance when our assistant guide has problems understanding the operation of Lyndsey’s camera thus delaying proceeding by at least 20 seconds. The sort of familiar and strident carrying accent so unwelcome and familiar in such circumstances. Not exactly an Ubuntu spirit (a mix of togetherness and mutual tolerance) on a peak called Uhuru (KiSwahili for peace) it takes all sorts . . .but hell . . . we’ve all just done it hey?

It’s all a con. This was actually shot in a studio . . . 
Suddenly I’m seeing auras around the heads and torsos of people about me. They are luminescent lime green and deep purple. I fumble for my sunglasses which I had stupidly taken off earlier. Clearly I am going snow blind and need to counter these visions. The glasses have the reverse effect and polarize the auras into horrible starkness and set them dancing around the faces and heads of the subjects. This frightens me a little and intrigues me a lot. Have I suddenly become prescient and will this be a permanent condition?

Felix is anxious that we commence our descent and given that there is absolutely no view to be had and it is minus 9 Celsius and we are hanging around at 5,895 masl this seems to be a reasonable suggestion. 

As we slip down the path from the summit towards Stella Point shouts from behind warn us to get out of the way of a couple of guides supporting between them a strapping fellow who is deathly pale, has a bubbling hacking cough and is clearly in advanced stages of High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema (HAPO). This trio runs through the ascending and descending climbers with a shocking urgent violence and uncompromising speed that illustrates the seriousness of this guys condition.

We meet the rest of our party who are thirty or so minutes behind us and are just nearing the summit. More hugs, kisses and hearty back slapping. 

We’ve done it guys!

But now we've got to get down . . . . . Today!

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