Friday, 25 January 2013

Kili 6 – Uhuru to Mweka Hut

Day 6 – Uhuru to Mweka Hut
 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . We run back down again. The most exciting day becomes the most grim.

The descent is dreadful. 

Our previous snow tracks from Stella Point to the summit have become packed under the feet of other walkers and are now a treacherous ice field. The path below Stella Point is a lethal mix of ash scree, rock shards and ice, all obscured by snow. Felix bounds down this nightmare concourse with all the energy of a Dassie on an acid trip. Lyndsey is a close second and I follow a very poor and panting third. This change of pace from funereal upward motion to frantic descent tells heavily on my thighs, knees and buttocks. Where previously I had been priding myself on steady and un-laboured breathing I was now gasping like an overweight Ox. The route down bore little resemblance to the way up and perversely seemed longer.

Gratuitous picture of Kilimanjaro moonlight
I can only surmise that because the ascent was undertaken in moonlight and under severe physical and mental duress it was necessarily a slow, measured, contained, local and introverted experience. The descent was undertaken in broad daylight, and was fast, furious and dangerous. It was a wide uncontrolled extrovert experience.

What should have been distinguishing landmarks from the climb up were only vaguely recognizable on the descent. Existentially these were two different mountain sides, and the time frames taken to descend or ascend were not comparable. And that is that.

We fall into Barafu Hut at about 9:00am and sit in the mess tent listening to the rain that has accompanied us during the last half hour or so of our descent drumming on the canvas. I say to Ishmael, our Major domo, that what I really need is some juice. He looks pityingly at me and indicates the giant soup tureen in the centre of the table which is now brimming with some form of energy juice. These guys think of everything. Our summit breakfast comprises a consomme of spaghetti, potatoes and carrot. Yummy!

Gratuitous picture of a Kilimanjaro sunrise
We are given an hour to rest and then have to commence our descent to Mweka Hut.

Initially this descent is okay, but the weather closes in and soon we are walking in heavy rain. This would have been unpleasant but bearable had we not also been walking along a wide broken path that in the current conditions fast becomes the bed of a river replete with waterfalls and prettily decorated with rapids and whirlpools.  “Bearable” rapidly turns to “unbearable” and Lyndsey says what I am thinking. She says with a classic sense of understatement “I am really not enjoying today.” I concur wholeheartedly and would have agreed verbally if I had had the strength to open my mouth other than to gasp for breath. I can safely say that I have never been so exhausted in my entire life as I crawled into Mweka Hut at about 2 pm.

We had walked from 11:00pm the previous night to 2pm that  afternoon with just one hours rest.  In that time we had climbed 1,285m and then descended 2,795m. And our spirits had soared and fallen to the same heights and depths.

There aren't many photographs of today, because it was dark for a lot of the time, and when it got light there was too much cloud, and when we got back down below the cloud level we were running too fast, and then it started raining and then I was too tired to get the camera out of my backpack, and then I simply fell asleep.

Day 7 - Mweka Hut (3,100) to Mweka Gate
A gentle walk. How the good book and a pair of surfing shorts saw us through.

The walk from Mweka Hut to Mweka Gate is far more civilised than anything we have done so far. An awful lot has happened to all of us and we chat as though we have known each other for years – which in an existential way we have. As the trail descends through the cloud forest there is a last chance to see the mountain from this angle. It is magnificent and there is a little bit of all of us up there, somewhere.

The last view

As a postscript my new found ability to see people’s auras had receded as we descended. According to my subsequent Internet searches this is a condition known as intraocular inflammation and it is well documented in the literature of veterinary science. This is something I would like to investigate further.

Felix the Guide of whom I had initial and completely unfounded doubts about proved to be the sort of person in whose hands you would gladly place your life, as indeed we did. In turn he clearly places his life in the hands of a greater being, because for this last triumphal photograph he dragged out a battered copy of the bible. That I can deal with – but those bloody surfing shorts . . . . . 

The essence of success. The good book 
and a pair of dodgy surfing shorts

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