Kilimanjaro: the descent
Hi there and happy Wednesday! I really hope that my summit day post didn’t gross you out or scare you into never wanting to climb Kilimanjaro, if it was on your to-do list to begin with, that is. I wanted to be real and I knew it would be difficult. It was about as difficult as I expected. I don’t often write my travel posts in diary style but it just seemed the most appropriate for a multiple day camping/hike adventure, since there is nothing to really link as far as restaurants, hotels, etc. I said I’d link gear and/or clothing, but I don’t want this to turn into an outfit blog, so I am still debating whether I’ll actually do that. It could be helpful or maybe I’ll write it with my favorite pieces and how I’ve used them again since then. Either way, today is descent day!
Once we reached the peak at 7:15 am, we took photos and celebrated and stayed at the top for perhaps, 20-30 minutes. We had to wait our turn to take some photos and then there were the Germans and a small group from Russia waiting behind us (I asked). Please know that jokes were made about us reaching the top before both, the altitude made me less kind. :P
We then started the walk back to Stella’s Point and then Gilman’s. I don’t think we stopped at Stella’s, but at Gilman’s they had us sit again and drink some hot tea and eat some cookies. I finally was able to eat something here and drink water, Charles, the guide carrying my pack, stuck close to me and Zoe and helped us with our water and snacks. I think he was our appointed minder on the way down. There were 8 hikers and 4 guides, so they each watched after two of us. Charles went by Chas and is a talented artist and was so laid back and kind, he was the best person to help both of us at that point. At Gilman’s, Zoe’s hands were very cold, even in her gloves and with handwarmers and one of the porters helped her warm them up by repeatedly slapping her gloved hands together between his, it looked kind of painful but she said it worked! I am not sure how long we sat at Gilman’s but we were all a little delirious. I sat on a rock and rested my forehead on my hiking pole and closed my eyes. The next thing I knew, I was fallling forward and my pole fell on the ground because I’d fallen asleep like that. It was probably 8:30 in the morning and I was obviously tired, but I don’t think I’ve ever been that tired!
We left Gilman’s and started down the same way we came up, except instead of switchbacks, we got to kind of sand ski down the mountain. The volcanic soil was very soft and you could slide down in very large steps by just letting yourself slide. Is this good for the mountain istelf and erosion, TBD! And not everyone did this, some people were too tired to control their legs. I thankfully thought about using both legs equally when we started descending and was equally sore the next day. It was not a completely painless way to descend but it was the fastest. John and a porter left Gilman’s first because he felt horrible. Chas, Zoe, and I were second, then Greg, Mark, Jody, Lisa, and Karlie were behind us with Frank, Rashid, and Abuu. I didn’t feel 100% better so my plan was to get to the camp as quickly as possible to take some pain meds, be horizontal, eat some snacks, and maybe use the closest thing to a Western toilet we’d see until the afternoon. The jury is still out on whether the putrid-smelling outhouses at Kibo were better than a rock or a bush on the slope of the mountain.
On our sand-skiing adventure down the mountain, the Germans were fairly close behind us, and the next thing I am about to tell you should not scare you either, because I’m sure it rarely happens. One of them was near a large boulder and above (behind us) I already told you the order we were in. John and a porter were way down below us, maybe 200 yards, and then the rest of us were spaced out but you can go back to my summit day photo and see that we were not that far apart. One of the Germans somehow loosened a large boulder or he knocked something or fell and a good-size boulder, probably 10 feet in diameter, started rolling down the mountain from above. It was round, rolling and bouncing. Zoe, Chas, and I heard screaming down at us in Swahili and we turned around to see the boulder racing down the hill and bouncing terrifyingly into the air when it hit a large rock or dent. It was about 50 yards to our left on the descent and moving in a fairly straight path for an out of control projectile, but Chas immediately started screaming down to John and the porter who was with them. Things get more unpredictable as they pick up more speed and it could have veered towards them as it kept bouncing and rolling down the mountain. I don’t know what Zoe was thinking but when I saw it above us, I froze because I didn’t know what to do. I think Chas saw we were in the clear and didn’t tell us to run but was more worried about anyone below us. John and the porter froze and the rock passed them about 30-50 yards to their left and thankfully came to a stop lower than them, but it was scary! John told us later in the trip, when were at lunch at the very finish, that he’d asked the porter what to do in that situation and the explanation was basically to wait until almost the last minute because the path is unpredictable but then if it looked like you were in danger, to run in the opposite direction as fast as possible. I would not have even imagined that any of us could have been hurt by that damn rock on the way down from the mountain and I’m glad no one was, but it was scary! And also, a great story!
We kept sand sliding/skiing down, made it to a giant formation of rocks, and Zoe and I made a pit stop while Chas waited for us, still wearing my pack because he would not let me carry it until I felt completely better. These rocks we stopped at were CLEARLY the sight of many a distressed stomach. Oy. We kept walking after that, the path changed from soft volcanic dirt sand to gravel to a hard path again. The gravel was tough to walk on, but then we walked to camp and we were sooo excited! I gave Chas a big hug - and could tell he was not a hugger, ha - but I was so grateful. He kept telling us any time we needed anything “Hakuna Matata” which actually does mean no worries in Swahili and if you ever visit that region of Africa where Swahili is widely spoken, you’ll hear it a lot. :) We were back a camp around 10:20/10:30 in the morning after reaching the summit at 7:15, so much faster! The plan back at camp was to nap, eat lunch, change, and then pack up to walk back to Horombo for the night. Lunch was light but fairly hearty, since we’d almost been fasting for over 12 hours. I think a lot of us had very short but good naps. Zoe distributed ibuprofen before nap time like it was candy, because we all had headaches from the sun, hunger, dehydration, and the altitude. But lunch was great, the guides all told us how proud they were of us and how great we did and then gave us the plan for the afternoon: pack up and walk back to Horombo huts for the night. I was very happy to be leaving Kibo. The altitude difference between Kibo and Horombo was between 1000’ and 1500’, I think, but the difference overall of 15,000+ feet versus 14,000’+ made a huge difference for my body, even though I was taking diamox. If you read about the drug and side effects, I had the tingling of hands, feet, and some weird patches on my face at times. I think that Karlie and Zoe did too. Mark took the drug one day, commented on that side effect and then said he was done taking the drug. The tingling completely stopped when I finished the bottle of medication, since what I’d been prescribed was exactly enough for the trip. Jody, one of the hikers, is a doctor and side that feeling is normal.
After lunch we walked down to Horombo, had a great celebratory dinner, our vitals were checked and we got our nightly hot water bottles for sleep - which I think I’ve forgotten to mention until now! At the higher elevations, the staff made us hot water bottles that were fitted in the cutest little covers made of beautiful local fabrics. The first night the guides called them our hot water babies so then we just started calling the covers their dresses. The hot water babies were such a cozy and unexpected addition to sleeping and just a nice extra touch that I don’t know if any of the other groups had! We also for the first time, stopped to really look at the stars here. Zoe and I wandered out to the bathhouse sometime around 8:30 that evening and we ran into John, who had been hanging out with the porters and using the Night Sky app to show them the constellations. Since we were in the southern hemisphere with next to no light pollution, the stars were UNREAL. John used the app to point out things that most people will never see in their life, like Neptune and the Milky Way. I had only seen photos at that point but to actually see the hazy cloudiness of the Milky Way galaxy and a planet that most of Earth’s population will not ever see without a telescope was amazing.
After spending our third and final night at Horombo, we woke up around 7 am for our last wake up with Jimmy, had our tea and coffee and set off for departure back to the PARK GATES! Huzzah! We hiked through Mandara, said hello, used the Western toilet since were were there, and kept going to the gates. Not going to lie, that was a long and tiring day. Downhill is still rough on your shins and knees, especially since we were moving a lot faster. I don’t wish it had been split into two days because I wanted a shower, to wash my hair for the first time in a week, and to stop wearing the same clothes. I felt really gross, the malaria pills we had to take the entire trip made me break into a cold sweat every night. I was not hot at all when I slept but I woke up drenched in sweat every night that I was taking the Atovaquone. I was really happy to be finished with that one, it was worse than the tingling of the diamox. But, these are things I needed in order to stay well on this trip and I will go to more places in the world with a malaria risk so now I know what to expect.
We made it to the park gates sometime after 1:30 pm on Sunday, after beginning summit day on Friday/Saturday at midnight. We were greeted with lunch, tons of water, and Kilimanjaro beers!!! We all enjoyed lunch, singing and dancing, and then generously tipped and praised our guides and staff. John spoke for the entire group, in English and in some Swahili he’d learned specifically for the speech. There were hugs and tears and lots of smiles and clapping. The staff told us they loved us and Rashid and the other guides commented on how well we all got along and were friends and bonded so early. He mentioned that not every group gets along so well and sometimes they have to mediate or keep people apart. We all had our grumpy moments, but everyone truly enjoyed one another’s company. I don’t know if that will ever happen again on a group of mostly strangers. I joked that the 5 of us ladies were forever bonded because on one of our acclimation hikes, we all had to find a place to relieve ourselves and it ended up all being around the same rock because there was nowhere else to hide and a lot of groups were around! I am glad that I had such a supportive group of kind people to do this trek with, I would travel with any and all of them again. I hope that our paths cross again many times in the future.
And that’s it! The next day, Zoe, Karlie, and I had an early flight to ZANZIBAR so we could relax on a beach and at the pool for a couple of days. So more on that next week.