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We still had one unrealized wish which was to photograph ourselves with a clear view of the mountain in the background. Our earlier attempts were foiled by fog or darkness. Maiko had assured us that we will get a great view of Kibo from the Mweka campsite provided it was clear. We couldn't have hoped for anything better than this.
So we went a bit overboard, but after 6 days on the mountain we figured that we were entitled to it.
These videos capture the festive atmosphere at the Mweka campsite.
We had our final meal of the tour with a typical breakfast and set off to reach Mweka gate before noon. Aware that the fog will roll in soon, we looked back and captured our last look at Kibo on this tour.
As we re-entered the rain forest, we encountered some familiar figures...the Impatiens Paplonecea and the Impatiens Kilimanjari.
and the stubbly rain forest which we'd left seemingly a long time ago...
We were not fully out of danger as we encountered a very wet and slippery trail that had some very sticky spots. There were plenty of traffic jams with huge groups of hikers stuck at some slushy spot not trusting to place their foot forward. No one wants the ignominy of a fall in seemingly innocuous conditions after successfully negotiating more treacherous terrain above.
After an hour and a half, the trail flattened and broadened and soon we were on a 4x4 track. We saw some hikers limping their way and after passing them saw a 4x4 rescue vehicle. Maiko told us that it was to provide relief for the limping hikers.
Sensing that we were within the last half-hour of our mammoth journey...
The Finish Line. Venkatesh was initially unaware that the porters were singing to welcome one of their party who was walking behind him. After Malini points this out, he turns the camera around and understands what the commotion was about. This is a deluxe outfitter company known as Kili Warriors. We'll just pretend that the welcome was for us.
Having reached Uhuru peak the previous day, we were given certificates with a golden border for our efforts by the Tanzania National Parks organization. We scanned the log and found that all the entries for the day mentioned "Uhuru Peak". It looked like the success rate for the day was quite high.
While waiting in queue for the certificates, we bought the obligatory T-shirt souvenirs that featured the Machame route topographic map on the back. We waited under the shade of the tourists shelter for the call to board our bus back to Arusha. We chatted with some other hikers and exchanged notes. We were gratified to hear from one of them that the Kilimanjaro trek was much tougher than the Annapurna circuit. After a half-hour wait, Maiko tells us that our transport is waiting at a spot that is a short walk from the gate due to parking limitations at the gate. It took us another 15 minutes to get to the mini-bus and it took off on the rough 4x4 road after waiting for a pair of Australian hikers.
The return trip was longer as the Mweka gate is beyond Moshi, a town we did not pass on Day 1 as the Machame turn off comes well before that.
Moshi seemed to be a much bigger town than Arusha. The bus stopped outside a bank (so that the porters could change their foreign currency tips to Tanzanian shillings) for a few minutes before resuming. At a busy roundabout, the driver was unable to change gears and the bus had to be pushed out of the intersection. The engine was still running and after a few turns, a garage appeared out of nowhere. A well built man emerged from the shop and went to work under the bus. A trio of juvenile assistants ran back and forth between the bus and the garage bringing with them odd implements like screwdrivers etc. The well-built man got behind the driver's seat and managed to shift gears, but the driver still had trouble doing it himself. After some more under-chassis tweaking, the driver could shift gears and we were off again after the driver and the mechanic exchanged a brief hand-shake. The engine was never switched off during the entire period. It was just as well as it would have delayed us by quite a bit if we had to wait for a relief vehicle and move all the stuff to that one.
One of the Australian hikers mentioned that he'd decided not to attempt summit and stayed back at Barafu camp. He made a looping gesture with his finger over his forehead. His companion had reached Uhuru peak without any trouble.
We could not get a glimpse of Kilimanjaro or Meru on our way back as there was thick cloud cover over them. It was after 4 pm. when we reached Le Jacaranda. After a good scrubbing with plenty of water and shampoo, we went upstairs for a quiet moment with glasses of (what else?) Kilimanjaro beer.
After 6 nights of sleeping in a tent it was a welcome change to sleep in a bed. We received word from Good Earth tours that they would pick us up at 9:30 am the next morning for our 5 day camping safari through Tarangire and Serengeti National Parks and the Ngorongoro crater. But that is another story.
We met Ketan at the Panorama Campsite after spending the afternoon at Tarangire the next day. He had a disturbing update about Scott, who we'd met on the bus from the airport on arrival from Amsterdam. Scott had exhibited symptoms of HACE and had suffered quite a bit during his Kilimanjaro climb. He had made it to Uhuru peak but had a tough time overall. Apparently, he had stopped eating after a while as the high altitude had killed his appetite. We did meet Scott at the Oldupai Gorge museum the day after. We could barely recognize him from a week ago as he seemed quite weak. He seemed to be recovering but was still feeling the effect of the climb. He told us that the guide should have prevented him from going all the way to the top despite his own stubborn nature. We met him again on the bus ride to the airport on our return trip. He seemed in much better spirits having enjoyed the safari a lot more than the Kilimanjaro trek.
...There were 12 people who slept in
our hut the night before summiting. We all set out for the summit at midnight in the cold and darkness using miners lamps. Only 2 Japanese men reached Uhuru peak including one who was 65 years old. A Swedish girl and two English guys who climbed with us through all the stages before the summit reached Gilman's point at the rim of the Kilimanjaro crater (18,640 feet) which is also accepted as summiting. Everyone else had to give up in between. It was a tough day on the mountain. The day before we started one climber died at Stella’s point before the summit. I witnessed five evacuations and none of them looked very pretty. The porters would carry the climbers bundled in their sleeping bags lying on a stretcher with one wheel that they would careen down the mountain path running with it and yelling in Swahili to each other. A French couple in our hut had looked very strong the night before. But the guy turned back from near the summit with a bad case of High Altitude Cerebral Edema. I am no doctor but I knew he was in trouble. His girl friend was hysterical. I gave him some of my diamox and worked with the guides to evacuate him to lower altitude. The evacuation crew carried him on a stretcher down to the lower camp Horombo. When I saw him the next he was sitting at the breakfast table next to me at the lower camp and had recovered smartly. Remarkably we met three couples on the mountain and in all three cases the women made it to
Gillmans/Uhuru while the men did not get past the base camp!
Statistics on success rates...
Climbers who do a 5 day trek who reach Uhuru 27%
Climbers who take 7 days who reach Gillmans Point 92%
Climbers who take 7 days who reach Uhuru 72%
Climbers who take 6 days and the Machame route who reach Uhuru 72%
We'd also heard that young men in good physical shape are more susceptible to altitude sickness as they tend to ignore the "pole pole" mantra and try and climb too fast. Interestingly in an earlier report from Gopi about his friend Suku's attempt, it is the women who stayed back while the men managed to walk from Gillman's point to Uhuru in the wake of a blizzard!
The more reports we read, the more confusing the picture becomes about high altitude sickness. But we are convinced about the need to spend extra days for acclimatization, use Diamox in the days preceding, and be prepared to abort if your body tells you that it is in trouble.
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Text, Pictures: Malini Kaushik and R.Venkatesh