Friday, February 8, 2013

18 -25 Feb 2013 Kilimanjaro via Western Breach

The thought of going to Mount Kilimanjaro came to me when I was flipping a book in a bookstore one afternoon in 2011. The book refers to the top 50 places to go before they disappear. Also, because it is a place where I can experience 4 seasons in just 1 climb. Further, it is in Africa, though not South Africa (the place I have always wanted to go, it's close and good enough for now) Kilimanjaro stood out and I told myself, I wanted to go there.  

Then, I approached a few friends and found out indeed, there's a plan to go to Kilimanjaro. So, somehow I was in. And I wanted to do the Western Breach due to its scenery and spending more days and a longer time on the mountain. Back then, I had had less knowledge of the dangers of the Western Breach. hahaha... But, as I found out more after getting myself into it, I realised the risks that I would be putting myself into. 

Throughout the planning sessions in 2012, there were a few times that I told the leader that I needed to reconsider about it as the costs were high and included buying the new hiking/ camping gears. I was thinking I could use the money for mission instead. Also, the stress and pressure on how other team members trained themselves really got to me. I requested slightly more time and prayed about it. Then, God told me actually I could do both at the same time. From then on (somewhere in Sept/ Oct 2012), I felt less stressful in terms of preparing and training myself. I told God, it's good if I can make it to the top, that's great. Otherwise, I will go and just enjoy myself. 

So, I tried to discipline myself to exercise. I did cycling, small hikes at a hill nearby where I live, and towards end Nov, I took up swimming lessons. I tried to run but it hurt my knees and ankles. So, I decided to just take it slow. Mainly I tried to increase my lung capacity for I have shortness of breath and pant a lot whenever I hike. I also tried to search the internet on what to do to prepare my physical fitness for the mountain. I found out that many said, it's not about speed for Mt. Kilimanjaro, it is our ability to adapt to the altitude. Then, I felt better for I am always a slow climber/ hiker. Only thing that I couldn't control would be the AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). And I am quite hesitant to take medicine (Diamox) to prevent or overcome that. 

So, what exactly is Kilimanjaro and where is it? Let me try to put some basic info/ facts here: 

- Elevation: 5,895 meters (19,340 feet)

- Location: Tanzania, East Africa
- Kilimanjaro is thought to be the combination of "Kilima" and "Njaro", 2 Swahili words which mean mountain and whiteness respectively. The name Uhuru translated means freedom. Some said the meaning of Kilimanjaro is "hard to conquer"
- Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa and 4th highest of the Seven Summits, is considered the tallest freestanding mountain in the world, rising 15,000 feet (4,600 meters) from base to summit
- Kilimanjaro is composed of 3 distinct volcanic cones: Kibo 19,340 feet (5,895 meters); Mawenzi 16,896 feet (5,149 meters); and Shira 13,000 feet (3,962 meters). Uhuru Peak is the highest summit on Kibo's crater rim
- Kilimanjaro is a giant stratovolcano that began forming a million years ago when lava spilled from the Rift Valley zone. The mountain was built by successive lava flows. 2 of its 3 peaks - Mawenzi and Shira - are extinct while Kibo, the highest peak is dormant and could erupt again
- Kilimanjaro has 2.2 square kilometers of glacier ice and is losing it quickly due to global warming
- Kilimanjaro lies within the 756-square-kilometer Kilimanjaro National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of the few places on earth that comprises every ecological life zone including tropical jungle, savannah, desert to montane forests, subalpine plants and the alpine zone above timberline

There were 10 of us in the team which comprised of 7 guys and 3 gals: Peter Lim, Dr. Wong, CK Low, David Yap, KL Chan, Danny Chew, Lawrence Chong, Rachel Tan, Karen Lee and myself. We engaged Khoo Swee Chiow who had done Kili 6 times and recently returned from K2 for this trip. Then, we found out that he had only done the Western Breach once and with us will be his 2nd time. hahaha.. 

As the day approached, we sorted our air tickets, insurance and some other admin related documents. For me, aside consistent training/ exercise, I also tried to take care of my diet. More anti-oxidant food intake. And for the final 2 weeks prior to departure, I rested from all exercise, just relaxed. This allows muscles to rest and also avoids any injury. 

I tried out my sleeping bag,  air mattress and mat by sleeping in them for 2 seconds as it was too hot to sleep in the down sleeping in Malaysia, then rolled them up and stuffed them into the bag. Had to practise with them prior to the mountain. Tried putting them into duffel bags which will be carried by the porters. I started packing all my gears, clothes, checked again, and took out those unnecessary extra items and put more essential items. Basically, we will not have any chance to shower for 8 days, and with cold weather, it is not advisable to wash away the body heat. 

So, for 8 days in the mountain, I packed:

- 1 shell with fleece (goretex)

- 1 pair of fleece (top & bottom) to wear at night
- 3 shirts, quick dry material
- 1 shell or ski pants
- 3 inner gloves, 1 thick gloves
- 1 beanie (for cold weather), 1 hat (for hot weather)
- 1 quick dry pants
- 2 normal socks, 1 inner socks, 1 coolmax socks for summit, 1 wool socks for sleeping
- sleeping bag, air mattress, mat, sleeping bag liner
- 1x1L drinking water which can hold hot water, 1x1L thermos flask
- sun block, medications, vaseline, tooth brush, tooth paste, small towel, wet wipes, toilet paper, 1 pair of trekking poles, headlamps, whistle, raisins, nuts, canned food, etc.

It was strange that I did not feel any additional excitement about this as the date got nearer. Dad and sister had been telling me on the final week before departure to take it easy. Maybe just camp at the foot of the mountain will do. hahaha... so funny.. 

So, came the day of departure. As our flight was midnight, we hired a van for 5 of us leaving from Seremban. Everyone met at the airport, and we did a group check-in. This gave us benefits in leveraging the baggage allowance. :) Upon reaching Doha for transit, we were informed by the pilot that we couldn't land due to fog, so, we were delayed for another 30 minutes. Note that we only had 1 hour for transit. Once we landed, we ran to clear security, ran to the gate where we found Swee Chiow was there waiting for us. It felt like the Amazing Race where 10 people were running in the airport. So, we were the last passengers who boarded the plane to Kilimanjaro. Prior arriving Kilimanjaro, the flight stopped-over at Dar Es Salem. This being the first time where we didn't need to disembark the plane. With crew change, more passengers boarded. Due to the short transit time, our baggage didn't make it to Kilimanjaro (Arusha) airport with us. So, another round of documentation and the airport staff, Jamal, was very helpful and promised that they would send the bags to our hotel by noon the following day. So, that night, all of us went to bed without change of clothes. hahaha... 

We stayed at The Impala Hotel. Our room had no air-cond or fan. We requested for a fan, and it came pole-pole (slowly), which is perhaps the lifestyle here. I was told no air-cond or fan was needed in the room as normally it is quite cold in Arusha. I then quickly asked if the current weather was hot or cold, he replied hot. phew.. I thought we had different heat tolerance level. pengsan.. 

On Sunday, after breakfast, a few of us went to a church nearby, Zion City Church, an English speaking church. Here, I learnt a Swahili song, "God Is So Good" in Swahili and Mongoli: 

Mungu Yu Mwema
Mungu Yu Mwema
Mungu Yu Mwema
Yu Mwema Yu Mwema

Nzambe Malamu

Nzambe Malamu
Nzambe Malamu
Malamu Malamu

Then, we joined the team to depart for lunch in Arusha town. Yeah!! Our bags arrived before lunch! It was good. :) Lunch was served pole-pole too. Then, we walked to a crafts and souvenir market. I found out many in our team were shoppers. I just sat at 1 of the stall where PL was buying a lot, so, I pretended to help to sell. "Karibu karibu" they will say to the visitors, which means welcome welcome. 

Then, night came. After dinner we needed to pack for the mountain. I fell sick that night, I didn't eat much, and vomited. It could be a combination of indigestion and menses. Anyhow, I prayed that night that I would recover in time for the climb. 

Day 1, 18 Feb. Big Tree Camp, aka Mti Mkubwa (2,780m) Our first day of climb. We separated 2 portions of our bags, those to go to the mountain with us and those remain at the hotel. Paul (the chief guide) came with a bus to take us. It was a busy morning, we loaded our bags onto the bus, started the journey to Moshi town and to the gate. Halfway, we stopped and waited for other guides and porters. We waited for an hour or more. Then, 2 buses departed to the gate to register ourselves. On the way, we saw a few Colobus monkeys, only unique in Kilimanjaro. We arrived at Londorossi Gate at 11.25am. All climbers, porters, guides have to register. All our bags have to be weighed. We had our packed lunch here. And normally, the process will take a long time, but, we were done by 1.12pm. Only 1.5 hours, surprisingly fast. At 1.50pm, the bus stopped. We were told to continue the journey on foot as the road was not good enough for the bus to go further. Thus, we needed to walk an extra 3KM, which makes the day's total of 6KM to Big Tree Camp. The elevation at the start point is about 2,130m. I got my personal porter, Deo, assigned to me. I was glad as we already started conversation in the bus and he started teaching me the Kilimanjaro song. 

There were 44 crews (guides, cook, porters) + 10 climbers + 1 agent which makes a team of 55 of us for this 8 days expeditions. 

The journey was a bit dusty, rich with flora and fauna typical of rainforest as we tracked to Big Tree Camp (2,780m). I arrived at the camp at about 6pm. As we approached the camp, we saw another 2 Colobus monkeys. The guides said, this is strange, normally, they don't come near the camp site. So, it must be a welcoming sign. :) Since it is the first day, things got a bit disorganised, some of our bags came in late because some porters were slower. This camp site was crowded and busy. We ladies had the privilege of having our own toilet. It's a mini mobile camping toilet. hahaha.... We (at least I) didn't know how to use it and asked Paul to show us. It was cute and fun. It was my first time camping and I like it. Though hard to sleep as we can hear Swahili buzzing at night and they woke up early to prepare food for us.

Day 2. Shira I (3,610m). We got a wake up call at 7am, where a hot drink will be served. Then, a small pail of hot water will be served for washing up. Wake up call is normally where the porters will come to the tent to wake us up. I felt like many-stars camping. oh.. the night.. as I looked up to the sky, it was so clear that I could see the moon and stars so clearly. There after, I looked up to the sky on each camp site to be in awe of God's creation. On a daily routine, after wake-up call and washing up, we needed to pack our bags, take them out of the tent and proceed to breakfast. As we were having our breakfast, tent will be dismantled and packed. We departed at 8.30am to Shira I. 

The journey to Shira I started with some misty vegetation to hot, rocky desertlike or moorland zone thereafter. We stopped for lunch at 11.30am at elevation of 3,150m. We had fried chicken again, and I like it a lot. Best fried chicken. Then, continued the journey across Shira Caldera, a high altitude desert plateau rarely visited, to our camp. Shira is the 3rd of Kilimanjaro's volcanic cones and is filled with lava flow from Kibo peak. The crater has been decimated by weather and volcanic action. I arrived at Shira I camp at around 2.55pm. Along the way, the trek was dry and dusty, and it was flat towards the final 1-2KM. When I arrived, my tent was not ready yet. While the guides and porters were setting up my tent, I told them not to rush and remember my ground sheet. Joseph and another porter were speaking in Swahili, which side to use as both also dirty. I answered them saying, hakuna matata, just ground sheet. Doesn't matter which side. They were shocked that I could understand Swahili. Then, Paul was telling them which side to place the front entrance as it could get windy on an open space at night. Again, I could translate that from Swahili into English. hahaha... From then on, many thought that I could speak Swahili well. hahaha... so funny. Well, Deo (my personal potter) did teach me some Swahili as we trekked along the way. It helped me to enjoy the trek even more.

We had tea time and pop corns was served. Shira I is quite an open and flat place. I enjoyed the sunset, the view, raven, sky, moon and stars. 

Day 3 (20 Feb). Shira II Camp (3,840m). Again, breakfast at 7am. We started the journey contine on Shira Plateau at 8.40am to Shira II. We will have a short prayer everyday before we start the trek. It's small vegetation until where we were on the way to Cathedral Point, where we wanted to climb high and sleep low. However, I felt nausea towards the final 200m to where we should put our bags to climb high. Paul encouraged me to vomit which would make me feel better. I wanted too, but, just won't come out. So, he gave me an option of not climbing higher to Cathedral Point and I could proceed to the camp. After rested for 2 minutes, I told Deo, let's go to the camp. Here, Deo accompanied me. We twende pole-pole (moved very slowly) and he kept talking to me, ensuring that I would not fall asleep. Also, I kunywa maji sana (drank a lot of water). He told me, at least 3L of water everyday. From then on, I ensured I had 1L of water between the time I woke up and breakfast time. Yes, maji safi (water is good). It helps to acclimatise. 

We passed by a helicopter rescue pad where I told Deo, I don't want this. I must be feeling so uncomfortable that time that I was worried I couldn't make it. Then, Deo pointed out to me the road where the 4-wheel drive would come for rescue. And again, I told him, I don't want this. He assured and comforted me that I didn't need it. I was fine. So, he was constantly checking on me every 5 minutes. mechuka? (tired?) and I would tell him, mimi nimechuka (I am tired). 

We saw 2 climbers sleeping under the shed waiting to be rescued. Then, I saw a porter being carried down on a stretcher. I told Deo to ask in Swahili if that guy was ok? While we stood there and gave way, my tears just came rolling down. As I remembered reading that many porters couldn't make it for the mountain, many risked their lives, and many died. Why? For they could be unwell, but, to earn a living, they didn't have much choice. Deo was a bit shocked seeing me crying, even though I was unwell (ya.. it's a bit funny), and he told me, he checked, that guy should be ok. Don't worry. We moved on, twende pole-pole to the camp site. Deo tried to keep my spirits up by keeping me speaking in Swahili, we ate chocolate whenever we stopped to gain some energy. When I arrived at the camp site, signed-in, the rest of the team members got in too. I was pole-pole sana. Just as Paul said earlier, it's ok, we will catch up with you. :|

At lunch, I had lost my appetite, or was too tired to eat. But, Karen encouraged me to eat, and I forced myself to eat too. I told myself, if I wanted to be well, I must eat to get energy. This was the day where I totally couldn't serve them. Then, Dr. Wong gave me a dose of 250gm of Diamox. With much hesitation, I took it, drank lots of water, went to toilet so often, that I was thinking, how to sleep/ rest with so frequent visits to toilet. As night falls, I felt better. In fact, I didn't have any headache from the beginning. I only felt dizzy. Diamox has no any side effect on me. So, at night, I managed to eat slightly more. Doc asked me to take another dose of 250gm Diamox with 1 dose of anti-inflammation pill. I woke up in the middle of the night feeling very dizzy. Then, I remembered, I could have too much oxygen. So, I took out a plastic bag and started breathing into it to inhale some carbon dioxide. Then, I felt much better. Yes, something new that Paul and Julius learnt too. 

Day 4. Moir Hut (4,165m). I felt much better. Then, I told Doctor that I was alright and I said, I wanted to stop taking Diamox. He said OK. After breakfast and prayer, we twende pole-pole to Moir Hut at almost 9am. As I started to drink more water, I also felt the need to go to chooh (toilet) more often. And as the vegetation changed to more rocks, it made it more challenging to 'toilet'. Julius, Pual and Deo would tell me, if you need to go, just go. Don't hold. It's bad. So, whenever I needed to go, I will tell them, chooh!! Chooh!!! naona ayibu!! (Toilet! Toilet! I am shy!) hahaha.... So, they will help to identify some safe place for me. hahaha... so pengsan.. 

I was told it was only a short walk from Shira II to Moir Hut. Indeed. We arrived at the camp site at around 11.40am with mimi pole-pole. On and off, I had my plastic bag out to breath carbon dioxide. They couldn't understand and neither did I. But, it did make me feel better and the dizziness was gone. As we go higher, with thinner oxygen level, why would I need more carbon dioxide? Maybe I was too panicky and breathed too fast. And my tent, the same tent since my 2nd day, was all ready. We had lunch and thought could hike up higher to acclimatise. However, it started to rain with some small hail stones which put this off. Though the rain stopped and cleared at 3.15pm, we decided to have a relaxing afternoon.

As we trekked that morning, I could see that there used to be glacier here, but, it was gone now. 

When the rained stopped, CK and I got Joseph to show us the elephant bones. Long ago, an elephant came to this area and couldn't go out, so, it died here. There was also a hut where some university students were doing some research on this area which left abandoned. PL and Danny decided to go higher for acclimatization.

Then, I started to help Ericky in the kitchen with cooking from Day 4 onwards. It was warm in the kitchen and many guides and porters would stay inside. And I helped Remi and Casper to serve food, maji moto (hot water). I enjoyed doing it. Mingling with the Tanzanians, talking, sharing and knowing them was really fun. 

During dinner that night, as Paul came to check on us (he did that everyday or sometimes Julius would come) and briefed us on the next day wake up call, he said that once started on Diamox, one should continue to take it especially when we are still going up. I just kept quiet because I don't like medicine. 

Day 5. Lava Tower (4,637m). We twende pole-pole at about 9.10am. The trek started to be semi-desert with almost no vegetation and more stones or rocks. We passed by Shark's Tooth. This route actually will meet with those coming from Machame Route and they will continue down to Barranco Hut at one junction. Then, split into different direction again. We saw a female porter. Only Machame Route would have female porter. 

Halfway on this trek, RT felt the thin oxygen and she needed more. She was tired. Her steps and pace became smaller. I passed her DSLR and her backpack to Godifrey. At the same time, I asked her to drink more. At some point, I was holding her hands to ensure that she continued to walk, otherwise, she would stop. I was not strong myself, just that I wanted to help my team member/ friend, that was the thought I had then. Though she grew weak, she still could talk a lot. Later, she told me, she didn't know what she was talking about. She told us (Deo, Godifrey, Julius and Paul), if we were to ask her what 2 multiply by 2 was, she wouldn't know the answer. Julius laughingly said that you would know the answer if you knew the question. hahaha... funny. 

It was on this trek that Deo told me, too much pole-pole is not good. I heard this from Julius and Paul on, I think Day 2. And Deo told me silently, RT can go down fast, very fast, but, her going up is not good. Deo further told me and many times on the trek that, we (he and I) had to trek together on the summit day, I cannot afford to wait for RT if she were like that on summit day. Deo could see that I was hesitating, I didn't want to leave RT alone (regardless if the situation were reversed and how I will be treated), I shouldn't abandon her. Deo said, don't worry, RT had Paul and Julius and Godifrey who could take care of her. 

After about 30-45 minutes of hand holding we came to a place where it is flatter and easier to walk. Julius actually told me, I think she can walk on her own, no need to hold her hand. I felt a bit put-off initially. Then, I let go. I chose to obey. Then, Deo and I twende pole-pole on our pace towards the campsite. As we approached Lava Tower, I could hear KL Chan and a few shouting from the top of Lava Tower to me. I shouted back (hahaha... unsure where the energy came from). As we arrived at the campsite, Deo told me not to attempt to climb Lava Tower as it was dangerous and I should rest. So, I stood at the rim at 1.30pm, shouting to RT to joh! joh! (come! come!). After about 30 minutes, they arrived, Paul came to my tent just to inform that they arrived, at the same time, I asked him if I were doing ok. He checked on my eyes, tongue and nails comforting me saying I was doing alright. 

At lunch, RT had no appetite to eat at all. Though we tried to get her to eat, she didn't have the energy and appetite. Then, she took a Diamox. So, the rest asked her to go back to her tent and sleep. I went to her tent, helped her to lay out the sleeping bag, ensured she laid down ok and slept. Then, I went back to continue my lunch. PL told me to check on her later, which I did and will do that even without instruction given. During the lunch and tea break, discussion took place on RT. As the next day is to go even higher, her condition was critical to make it or not. So, discussion between PL, Swee Chiow and Paul took place. 

I checked on RT around 3.30pm or 4pm and found that she was sleeping soundly. I observed her breathing a bit, then, I left her to continue to sleep. Just before dinner, PL asked if RT should stay with me in the same tent that night. Without hesitation, I agreed subject to RT's consent. So, she was agreeable with the idea. Note: we all had individual tents. I started to move some of her things and sleeping gear. I shouted saidia (help) as I was carrying too many things and couldn't go into my tent, funny me, so, Casper came and gave me a hand. And I ensured I knew the tent locations of PL, Swee Chiow, Doc and Paul just in case I needed help. 

That night, during dinner, Paul came and talked about RT's situation. Basically, he said that, RT could continue the next day, but, it would be her decision whether she wanted to continue or turn back. And from Arrow Glacier, whether she wanted to summit or proceed to Milennium Camp where some porters and cook will go from another route to wait for us. For me, it sounded serious. And if I were her, I would be worried. I dared not talk to her about it that night. 

After dinner and another dose of Diamox, we slept. I didn't really sleep. I was praying in my heart, most of the night. At midnight, PL came by and asked me from outside of the tent on RT's situation. I told him, everything was ok. He prayed and then went back to sleep. Shortly after he left, the wind started to blow. In my mind, I was thinking, this must be the work of the Holy Spirit, healing shall take place that night. Throughout the night, I knew RT woke up a few times for water and toilet, which was good. And she could continue to sleep. So, I was glad. 

Day 6. Arrow Glacier (4,871m). The next morning, I saw she was well and was so glad about it. Team members asked about her condition. Julius, Deo and Paul asked whether I was fine? I told them, mimi nimecuka kidoko (a bit tired) because I didn't sleep the whole night. They assured me that it was ok, just a very short walk that morning. Julius said, he could hear me talking at night, I told him, PL came to pray. Not talking. I didn't know he was in the tent right in front of me. 

I noticed for a few nights, my tent was surrounded by porters, guides and situated near to  the kitchen. hahaha... what a privilege. :) By chance or design, I don't know. 

Throughout the trek, Julius had been wanting to take pictures with me, but, did not get a chance. Because I had been naughty. hahaha... So, I told him, we could take pictures at Arrow Glacier. There were few times when Julius was leading, I would shout from behind: Simama, Julius. Twende pole-pole. Saidia mimi!! (Stop, Julius. Walk slowly. Help me!)... hahaha.... yes, I was naughty. 

I have decided to listen to Paul and Julius for they are more experienced with the mountain, so, I started half a dose (125gm) of Diamox per day as we continue to ascent. So, I took half on Day 6 and decided to take another on Day 7. Especially, I was lacking sleep on Day 6. 

Indeed, the trek to Arrow Glacier was short. It's alpine-desert, steep and yet short. From the beginning of the trek, I announced that I would sleep/ rest once we got to to the camp and many agreed. We arrived at the camp site at 11.05am. Nice short 2-hour trekking. From Lava Tower, the guides lined us all up to trek in a group. RT was right at the beginning of the trail, while I was at the end, Deo told me to wait, wait. So, we ended up last. It was good. I was happy with that. 

Upon arriving at camp site, the ladies' toilet had not been set up. And being me, always looking for chooh, so, I went into the normal camp toilet, then, off I went into my tent to rest/ sleep. Arrow Glacier is on a slope. In fact, a few other camp sites too. Something unique about Arrow Glacier is that it is filled with stones, on the slope, and there's snow on the other side. In my tent, I could hear others climbing higher, I could hear RT's voice from far. Then, I knew she was fine. I remained inside my tent until someone came and informed that lunch was ready. 

After lunch, I crawled back into my tent to continue hibernating or resting. I really wanted to take as much rest as possible for the following day would be a big day, the summit day. One part of me felt envious and jealous that others had so much energy to climb higher and have fun and take pictures, but another part of me just told me to rest. So, there I was hibernating in my tent. That evening, before I helped Ericky in the kitchen, I shared some of my food, nuts, raisins, milo, ginger tea with the guides and porters, I knew there weren't enough. But, better than nothing. I also gave them all my canned food. :) Then, I asked Augusti and Julius out for a picture. I knew I had a tired look, but, since I suggested and promised, I would do it. 

I had a good talk or sharing with Julius outside the tent, in the cold. The weather was nice. We shared so much. I shared about my feeling about the climb, unsure why the excitement was not there even till that moment for the following day would be the summit day. He (Julius) was shocked. However, I really enjoyed the company of the Tanzanians. He also shared with me on disappointment on how the promises of others to him were not met. I felt sad when he told me that he will not give me the email for future contact, but, that's his choice, I should respect that. For me, I have been disappointed by people too, so, I truly understand to a certain degree how he felt. I encouraged him to let God soften his heart, not to wait for 3 years. 3 years is a long time, we should start now, let God do the work. For me, it was a really nice chat. Then, we went into the tent, I missed the tea-break, it didn't matter. Though they wanted to bring me hot cocoa, I declined for I enjoyed the time with the rest. I sang a Hokkien and Chinese song in the tent for them, I wish they could learn too. 真正好, 来信耶稣, 真正好。。。 

It was such a nice evening that many of us took pictures of the beautiful sunset.

Till dinner time, they chased me out to have dinner. mbaya sana (so bad of them). hahaha... At dinner, Paul briefed us about the summit day which he had told me in the kitchen earlier. We would start at 4am because of the pole-pole and our team likes to take a lot of pictures. hahaha... pengsan.. Everyone went back to the tent at around 8pm that evening. For me, I started to feel a bit sad as it also meant the journey was coming to an end and time to say good-bye is always hard for me. 

Day 7 (24 Feb). Uhuru Peak (5,895m). It was a long day. Woke up at 3am to pack my things into the duffel bags, ensured I had all the gear I needed. Had our early breakfast. Paul was checking and ensured the oxygen tank was working well. All set and ready. Again, we were asked to line-up. Ericy came quickly to give each guide and porter a cup of coffee to warm them up and keep them awake. Then, a few of them came to adjust my hat, my clothes, zipped for me, my gloves, few pats on the back and shoulder to wish me all the best. Ericy gave me a hug and whispered all the best and see me at Milennium Camp later. It was encouraging. Finally, we twende at 4.50am with Julius leading the way. And I was last (or almost last) again. We had our headlamps on. As we twende, Julius will shout out "ice" whenever he saw ice on the path to ensure we didn't step on that. It was dangerous and slippery if we stepped on ice. The trek had many loose stones, thus, we were careful with our steps. Some parts, we needed to step on the snow. At around 6am or 6.30am, we stopped, switched off and kept our headlamps and drank some water. Then, we moved on. 

Shortly after that, someone from the top shouted: Rachel! I noticed a walkie talkie falling, I tried to use my stick to stop it, but, I couldn't. It's about another 2-3 inches away. I felt sorry and saw the walkie talkie continue to fall further. As I walked another 100m higher, I turned back and saw Deo going down. I think he was trying to retrive the walkie talkie. So, I shouted: my porter, Deo! They thought I had no maji. But, I did and Deo knew it. So, again, I shouted, Deo! Be careful. He asked me to go ahead, he would catch up later. 

At this time, about 2-3 hours after we started, RT again felt weak with less oxygen. I was behind her, not wanting to pass her and trying to give her encouragement. I was with her for about 30 - 60 minutes. 

When Deo returned, he said, he couldn't get the walkie talkie, it was too dangerous to descend to retrieve it. And we passed RT. Julius now was waiting for RT so we (at least I felt alright to move on) knowing that RT would be in good hands. As we got nearer to the rim, there were certain parts where we had to use our hands to help to pull ourselves up. I must say that there were certain parts with very narrow paths and one had to be very careful. Any mis-step could be life threatening. And yes, there were a few small rockfalls. All these caused by those in front whom had accidentally kicked the rocks down. A few times, I had to lift my feet to let the rocks go pass me. 

So, I passed the rim and all rested for 10 minutes to have a short lunch break. Danny decided to go to the ash pit with Paul, while the rest continue to the peak. As we passed the glacier, I saw many go very near to touch it. For me, I didn't. I learnt while I was in NZ that, glacier is very active, can be lengthen and shorten very fast. With global warming, it's better not to touch it, to shorten the life, even walking on glacier in NZ has to be on certain height of the glacier. So, I told Deo, it's ok. I don't want to destroy it, just take a few photos and we moved on. 

The final 150m sounds short and walking on snow might be fun. Ascending with the thin air, it was a tough job. I enjoyed myself at this part. I had to anchor myself firmly by really putting my feet hard onto the icy ground, and using my poles. PL was behind me. He was tired, falling left and right and couldn't stand and walk straight. I spotted him sitting on the snow, and I urged him to get up as he would get cold. So, I told Deo, I could take care of myself, while he took care of PL. As I walked, I used my fingers and sometimes poles to write on the snow as I waited for PL. And I kept asking Deo the correct path to take as the footprints from the faster climbers were not very visible when we got there. Perhaps they had melted.

Halfway through, I turned back and saw RT make it pass the rim. I saw Julius and Godifrey clung her to them, one on each side. We shouted and waved at them. I was happy until Deo told me that RT could not proceed to the peak. As we reached the top, again, I looked down. I figured RT was eating then. I was so sad that she couldn't make it. Deo told me, we will meet each other at Stella Point. They will go ahead later and we will meet there.At 1.30pm, I arrived at Uhuru Peak. How did I feel? OK, I guess, since I didn't go with high expectations. They had waited for me for about 30 minutes. All guides and porters came and gave me a big hug and congratulated me. While PL and Danny returned from the ash pit who were behind me went ahead and took pictures. Then, before the time for the group picture, KL Chan told the other team members to wait while he proceeded to take 20 shots of my individual pose at the peak. hahaha... after 4-5 shots, I told him enough though he still wanted me to pose longer. We started to descend right after the group picture. I didn't spend much time up there. But, the view was magnificent. I was standing on the Roof of Africa. I thought I will not make it and yet I was there. :) 

On the way up, I shared my water and some food with the guides as I knew they needed that too. Some of them didn't even have a water bottle. 

Then, the descending started. We met RT, Julius and Godifrey at Stella Point. RT looked so tired. She would be alright when she got to a lower altitude with more oxygen. I was holding a pack of juice and she drank. Halfway, she slept, I was worried, and called her for at least 5 times to wake her up. We could not allow her to sleep. It was too dangerous to sleep. Then, they went off, while I had my portion of food. 

The 1st part of the descent was all on screes and stones. A lot of dust as Deo and I tried to ski down. It was fun, literally skiing down. But, we waited for Karen on and off. We were almost the last. Paul was helping PL and holding him as PL was so tired. It's a big desert, and we could not walk alone here. Yes, and toilet was a challenge, but I still did it. hahaha...

At first we wondered why we didn't camp at Barafu Camp. When we arrived at Barafu Camp, we immediately knew that we could not camp there as it was packed with hikers. Here we caught up with Paul, PL and KL Chan. KL Chan was walking on bare feet as his shoes were giving him problems. He was in shocks. arh.. this was not good. And Karen joined them.

I ran out of water after Barafu camp, and so Deo and I both started to develop headache. So, we continued on. Milennium Camp seems really far. Along the way, I kept telling Deo, Ericky should have maji and chakula cha jioni tayari (water and dinner ready) by the time we got there.

About 1km before the camp, we saw a few porters came to rescue us. Ali, the one who carried my duffel bags and tent came. He took over bagie (bags) from Deo and we twende to the camp. Arrived Milennium Camp (3,810m) at 6.45pm. I told Remi and Casper: saidia mimi.. maji.. maji.. saidia mimi.. maji.. maji.. I was in desperate need of a drink of water. They quickly gave me a cup of hot water. I drank, it was good. Maji safi. Next was to chooh (toilet), and then, I went into my tent, unpacked, got ready my sleeping gear, changed and cleaned up. 

Paul, PL, Karen and KL Chan came in around 7pm. We asked a few porters to assist them too. 

Chakula cha jioni tayari (dinner is ready) and served. PL was too exhausted and he couldn't eat. I made him a milo, he took some panadol and went to sleep. Later, I passed him his hot water. Other than my legs being a bit tired, I felt ok. Ericky came and gave me a hug congratulating me.  

So, indeed a very long day. 

All slept very well that night. Lalasalama. 

Day 8 (25 Feb). Started breakfast at 7am. It was the final day. I had a lot of mixed feeling. Remembering Deo has been telling me few days earlier that I will be missed by many of them after this journey together. So will I, I will surely miss them too. A few of them asked me if I would stay back in Tanzania, or even come back again. I wish to visit again, if opportunity arises in the future. 

The group sang a few songs including the Kilimanjaro song, Swee Chiow and Paul gave out the tips, and took a few group pictures. Then, it was time to bid good-bye. If we wanted to give extra tips, the average amount was about US$20. After that, we continued the descent at 8.30am. Again, we (Deo and I) were the sweeper. 

We passed by Mweka Camp and I decided to carry both the porter's and my backpack. Deo let me try for 5-10 meters before he took it back. But, I insisted to take my own backpack for he still had not recovered from his headache and I didn't want to burden him. As Augusti passed us, he told us that Julius and Paul were behind, so, Deo and I haraka off leaving David and KL Chan. Deo went so fast that we passed almost everyone on the team. I could feel my toes were aching, but, I decided to go faster tham my normal pace of descent for Deo said that, if we went too slow, the ache would sink in. So, to divert my pain, I started learning Swahili (again) take a few pictures of this and that. 

Just as we saw the Mweka Gate, Deo stopped and told me seriously: "When we are at the gate, you just ignore everyone, just follow me." I was shocked, I didn't know what he meant, he repeated himself 2-3 times. So, I didn't ask much but just agreed and obeyed. As we arrived the gate at 11.50am, many sellers swarmed to me and tried to sell me things. Then, I understood. We saw Ericky there preparing lunch for us, Godifrey was there. Surprisingly, I was the 2nd in our team to arrive. Geee... I have never descended so fast before. 

Went to the toilet again. Here, there was a mirror. Gosh!! Shocking to see myself in a mirror after 8 days on the mountain without one. I looked tanned, my lips were dried, cracked. No wonder I was in pain.

Then, we proceeded to lunch. Someone must have cooked the lunch and brought it to us. It was so yummy.... According to Swee Chiow, this was the first time ever lunch was served on the final day. Wow!!!! :)

All of us hopped into the bus and it took us back to civilisation (Arusha town). And there it ended; my 8-day climbing expedition and a fantastic time with the locals. I will treasure the warm memories. 

After we arrived at The Impala Hotel, I washed my hair 4 times to clean all the dirt. The initial 2 times, the shampoo had no suds and the water was brown in colour. hahaha... A very good experience indeed. 

At night, we invited Paul (chief guide, Pauli gyongozi) and his family and other guides (Julius, Joseph and Augusti) and Ericky (main cook) over for dinner. Joseph and Augusti couldn't come. It was also the certificate award night. I was glad that I came and made it. When my name was called, Julius and Ericky cheered me on (Rachel! Rachel! Rachel!) to get my certificate. 

It is truly an experience I will remember for life. And Julius gave me his contact, he said, what I have told him on the mountain made him decide to change. That was a big encouragement to me. I didn't know I could encourage someone while on the mountain. 

For this trip, I really didn't know that the time I spent with the locals actually encouraged and blessed some of them in Tanzania. I was so glad that I did that and allowing God to use me anywhere and in all circumstances. It was those moments that I treasured and enjoyed the most. Not really the climb. The climb was more like a tool where God has put in my life as an access to reach them. It is all by God's grace. 

I thank everyone for making it such a great time to me. 

Nakupenda Kilimanjaro and Tanzania! :)