Breakfast was a very subdued affair. The altitude was affecting us and we were all sluggish. No-one had much of an appetite. Elly had added some honey or jam flavouring to the porridge, but even that didn’t make it attractive. After drinking a bit of tea and trying some mango, Lee went to throw-up outside. Chris went to lie-down again after eating sparingly. I wasn’t as bad as last night, just short of breath and with no appetite – and I suppose, moving sluggishly too.
We were in no condition for an arduous climb back up to Uhuru Peak to watch the sun rise – and, by the time we were packed and ready to leave, we probably wouldn’t have made it in time anyway. Instead we opted to exit the crater at Stellar Point, which involved less climbing. The guides seemed to be hurrying us, which resulted in Huw and Chris leaving well ahead of Lee, who left ahead of me, who was having difficulty extending my walking poles. In the end I set off well behind everyone else, with one pole shorter than the other and grumped all the way back to Gillman’s Point about how we should be walking together.
When we got there, though, my mood improved. Possibly due to half a can of Red Bull and some more Pringles – all of which I was happy to eat now that a bit of exercise had revived my appetite. Even Lee managed to get some down, although he was still rather zombieish.
From Gillman’s Point, we were scree-sliding down towards the Kibo Huts. We must have slid down in fifteen minutes a distance that it had taken us two or more hours to climb yesterday! The slope levelled-out after a while and more normal walking was resumed.
At one point, after encountering two porters coming from School Hut, heading up the mountain, Thomas, who was the only guide with us on that section, launched into an appeal for tips, telling us how unfair Samuel was in distributing them. It was all rather awkward and straight off the page of the Team Kilimanjaro Website which warns you about how some porters try to circumvent the tip distribution formula. We told him we’d talk it over and get back to him.
It probably took us two hours to get from the Crater Camp to Kibo Huts – quite a large installation of huts where groups can stay before attempting the summit. We mostly just sat around enjoying the warmth of the sun, de-layering and scoffing the Kit-Kats that Thomas had produced. I rather foolishly didn’t take advantage of the toilet huts to take off the two pairs of long-johns I was wearing and, consequently, sweated for another three hours along the dusty, desert track across the Kili/Mawenzi plain.
After leaving Kibo, our pace picked up considerably as the ground was much flatter, although with a continual downward slope. It was very dusty too. After maybe three hours walking we started to encounter vegetation again and more undulating territory; that was a mixed blessing as a rougher trail is harder to negotiate, but the air was getting thicker so we were feeling better about everything.
Around 11:30 we stopped for lunch at Horombo Huts, a fairly new installation not dissimilar to Kibo further up. We were descending by the route that most people take on their way to the summit, so this would be a major overnight station for most people.
Our itinerary listed Horombo as our camp for the night, with us completing the descent tomorrow, but we had talked with Samuel previously about pushing through the entire descent today and having an extra night in the hotel. There were a couple of reasons we liked this idea; firstly, after all this time on the trail, the dust and sweat and having completed what we came here to do, the idea of a shower and a hotel bed held a strong attraction for us. Also, the original itinerary had Huw and Chris flying out on the evening we got down – which wouldn’t give them any time to change or get cleaned up before going to the airport. Samuel made some phone calls and confirmed we had rooms in Arusha tonight and he felt we’d be able to make the descent in good time if we kept up this pace.
So that’s what we did; we had a light lunch at Horombo Huts, adjusted our clothing from the arctic layers we’d started with to the hot desert we were now marching through, and set off again.
My left boot had been loose in the morning and it had taken me a while to realise it, by which time I think some damage had taken place to my foot as it started to feel the pace in the early afternoon. Our route seemed to be following a single, never-ending trail down the back of the Kili/Mawenzi plateau, through increasingly lush vegetation. Every now and then Noel, our guide for the afternoon, would stop and point out some flower or plant unique to this region. We came across a Chameleon too at one point. We would admire it, take a photo and then continue the march.
The trail was reasonably good but very, very dusty; every footstep raised a cloud of fine dust, which the breeze would pick up and swirl around. Walking with Chris at the back of the group meant we were enveloped in a pretty much constant cloud. The only thing you could do was keep your mouth shut, breath through your nose and keep going. I was concerned about my camera (the SLR); because my backpack was full of discarded clothes, I was carrying it around my neck and it was getting every bit as dusty as I was – you could feel the grit in the mechanism when you turned the zoom ring.
After a few more hours of this, around 2:30pm, we reached the tree line and the ground underfoot became more solid – albeit more uneven too. As we entered the forest-proper, we got a glimpse of a group of Black-and-White Colobus monkeys in the trees beside the trail. They’re quite impressive creatures, with long white fringes of hair hanging down. I hope the photos I took do them justice.
Shortly thereafter we reached Mandara Huts, an almost Alpine-feeling spot in a forest clearing. We were all pretty weary by then I think – I certainly had no energy to do anything other than take off my pack and lie-down on the grass. After a while I took on some water and a few bits of leftover chocolate.
After that break, though, I was really struggling. My feet were hurting pretty much all over and my knees were protesting all the downhill-impact they were receiving. The trail was now a poorly-kept forest track. At one point it had been ‘cobbled’ with rock fragments, but they’re not especially easy to walk on. There were drainage channels across the path that had to be negotiated along with tree roots and random rock protrusions, all while going down hill. The final slog down to Marangu gate compares in my recollection to the slog up to Uhuru Peak. Because my pace was impeded, I was left further and further behind by the group until it was just me and Samuel walking together in silence. Apart from a short break to consume the last Nakd Bar and a leftover can of Red Bull, I wouldn’t let myself stop. I just kept on going, making the most of clear stretches of path when I could stride along and negotiating the painful rougher/steeper bits as best I could.
It really felt like it would never end – especially when Samuel’s estimates for how much longer it would take kept being proved inaccurate (although possibly because my pace was slowing) but eventually, across the path was a triangular gateway, beyond which was tarmac. I have never been so relieved to see something in my life.
It’s ironic, really; a shell of a man had started the day, shambling out of Crater Camp at 6am, I had revived as we’d descended, but faded away again as the day went on, so it was another zombie which crossed the putative finish-line at around 5:20pm that same day, four kilometres lower than where I had started on the mountain.
The Marangu gate was pretty much deserted when I got there, so it wasn’t hard to find the other guys, filling in the register with the park authorities. I sat on a bench and watched the world happen around me for a while. Eventually there was energy enough to open my Sigg flask and drink some water (my Camelbak had been exhausted some time earlier.) Contact with water only brought home quite how filthy I was though. I took advantage of the toilet facilities to first relieve myself and then wash my hands. It’s amazing how dirty the water was that came off them!
Lee was doing some stretching and I tried to join in, but could barely do anything. I eventually made do with some wobbly squats with the support of a fence. We returned the gear we had rented – although most of it, like the arctic jackets and gloves, and my bright-red gaiters, had already been handed over. I collected cash from each of the boys to make up our tip to the porters and passed it on to Samuel with the phone SIM Card he’d lent me on the first day.
A little while later he stopped me to ask whether the tip had been just from me or from the whole group. I told him the whole group and he looked concerned, asked if I’d read the website and said he would get back to me later – which sounded ominous; I really dislike the whole concept of tipping and struggle in places where it is expected.
Apparently the tour includes lunch at a restaurant in Moshi on the last day and, although it would be much nearer to ‘dinner’ than ‘lunch’ Samuel asked whether we wanted to do this or go straight to the hotel. The consensus seemed to be we would have to eat either way, so may as well take advantage of the included meal. There was some more hanging around then while appropriate transport was arranged, but eventually we headed down to the bus to say goodbye to the porters and pass on any of our trekking gear that we were happy to part with. Then we squeezed into a seven-seater minivan and headed off towards civilisation.
Samuel passed back a printout of the tipping page from the Team Kili website and I passed it around the group. Roughly speaking we had given as a group what was recommended per person. Nobody seemed to really resent being expected to give extra (it was about in proportion to what you’d tip in a restaurant) but it meant we had extra messing about at cash machines in Moshi.
Chris really came to the fore here though. When I was quite pissed off with everything and wanted nothing more than a shower, he took over organising the tip exactly as the website recommended – in meticulous detail. He got a list of all of the porters, a note of which ones had special responsibilities (our table waiter, the chef, the guy who emptied the toilet bucket, etc.) and allocated percentages to each of them, from the Chief Guide down. He then allowed Samuel to tweak the percentages as he felt appropriate, collected everybody’s cash (which now came in both US Dollars and Tanzanian Shillings) and worked out how much each person should get. He then had both me and Samuel photograph the sheet of paper so we both had a record.
His view was that, if that’s how the company says it should be done, then that’s how we’ll do it – and quite right too, really! I’m glad he had the drive to do that, as I would probably have just let it go and handed over a wad of cash.
Anyway, we had burgers at a cafe/bar/nightclub place variously called ChrisBurger or Cafe Alphonso, depending on what time of day it was. Sunday night seemed like an odd time to have a nightclub running – there certainly weren’t any clubbers in evidence – and the patrons all seemed to be in the bar area, watching Manchester United play Southampton on the satellite TV. We ordered cheeseburgers and chips and drank beer or coke, depending on our tastes. As we ate, burnt chip-fat and barbeque smoke wafted over us from time to time. After the food and the tips had been sorted out, there was a bizarre little ceremony at the table of handing over certificates recording our completion of the climb. We each stood, shaking hands with Samuel across the table as he handed us our certificate and someone took a photo.
Then, at long last around 8:30pm, we were on our way to the hotel – a journey of another hour and three-quarters! This time we were back in the big bus, with some of the remaining porters who were going to Arusha. Back at The Outpost Lodge hotel they unloaded our bags and we said our final goodbyes, got our keys and headed to our rooms.
Lee, Chris and Huw headed straight back down to the bar but I had to have that shower!
Taking my boots off revealed one extremely bruised big toe, blisters on each of the toes of my left foot and on the big toe of my right. There’s also some blood on the right little-toe nail somehow. It’s ironic that I made it all the way up to the top without issue; it was the one day coming down that ripped my feet to shreds!
The shower was every bit the time of bliss I’d been expecting; the colour of the water coming off me said it all. I washed myself completely all over, twice, and still left grey deposits on the towel when I dried off. Nevertheless I felt like a whole new person, put on some shorts, gingerly put on my deck shoes and hobbled down to the bar.
The Wi-Fi wasn’t working in the bar, so Lee had headed off to find the computer room to Skype Grace. I joined Huw & Chris for a beer and we sat there for a while, enjoying the camaraderie of the moment and of having reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, before heading up to bed.