It had rained during the night and when we awoke, the weather was still a combination of mist and drizzling rain.
There were eleven people in our group. Four of the group, including Mark and myself, were intending taking six days for the climb. The other two being Peter, a German doctor, and Hans, his eleven year old son. The rest of the group were attempting the climb in five days. They were, John, who was taking a year out before going to Oxford University, Jo who had just graduated in medicine, David, a Captain in the British Army, Vincent, an Irish medical student who had just spent six months working in a Tanzanian hospital, Koji, from Japan who spoke little English and Rene and Franck from France.
After apparent chaos, the six day group was assigned its porters. Mine was a young lad called Nikas.
We then started up the track which was extremely muddy due to the recent heavy rain. We walked and slid our way up to the Manadara Hut (9,000 feet, 2,700m) through the rain forests that surround the lower slopes of the mountain. We reached the Manadara hut at around lunchtime still in mist and rain. Everything had got damp or wet and we had only just started.
after some lunch, we took a walk to the Maundi Crater. It was very peaceful, with views of mist swirling around the trees of the forest, which were covered in 'Old Man's Beard' as our porters called the strange plant that dangled from the branches.
We returned to the hut and talked until dinner. It went dark around 6.45pm so we had an early night.
After a breakfast of hot muesli, we set off for the Horombo Hut. Soon after leaving the forest, we left the mud behind. We were now in the giant heather zone, the path was bordered by heather about three feet high, this was as much as we could see as we were still in the cloud.
At around 10,000 feet (3,000m), we left the cloud and were presented with magnificent views of the main Kibo Crater and the jagged, rocky Mawenzi peak. I got my camera out and dropped back from the front few in the group while I took photographs. I soon ran out of water and became quite thirsty. To avoid altitude sickness, we were supposed to stay well hydrated so I had to search awhile for water and then had to wait for my purification tablets to take effect.
It took four hours to reach the Horombo Hut, on the uphill stretches, I could start to notice the thinner air. After my porter arrived, I took a walk up to 13,000 feet (3960m) to get a better view of the Kibo peak. The final scree slope looked long, steep and quite daunting given that its base was still about 3,000 feet (900m) above me.
That evening, three climbers from Liverpool arrived. They were planning a climb of a steep ice route on one of the glaciers. We talked for quite a while, and it turned out we had met before, rock climbing in the English Peak District.
After dinner, we played cards with Peter and Hans before bed.
I awoke early, dressed and went for a pre breakfast walk up the route to about 13,500 feet (4100m). There were good views of the Kibo peak in the early morning. At 8:45am I turned back to get breakfast, on the way I met the five day group, making their way to the Kibo Hut. This was my day off for acclimatisation, so I wished them all luck and continued down to the hut to find Mark.
Around mid morning, Peter, Hans, Mark and I walked up the now indistinct old route to the Kibo Hut. Along the way, we passed a black and white stripped rock face, appropriately named Zebra Rock. Just after that, Mark and I left the path and crossed some low ridges to get a better view of the route up the scree slopes to edge of the crater rim. From these ridges, we got a good view of the route as well as being able to see Mount Meru 14,948feet (4657m) poking through the clouds some 50 miles to the west. Peter and Hans continued to a small hill called East Lava Hill which took two more hours.
When I got back to the Horombo Hut, I started t suffer the first signs of altitude sickness. Feeling nauseous and with a headache, I went to sleep until the evening. Unable to eat anything for dinner, I forced down a packet of glucose tablets and drank a lot of water to stop my self dehydrating. The result of this was that I was forced out side into a strong wind and freezing conditions in the early hours of the morning to relieve myself.
When I woke, I was fully recovered. We left our tent with the caretaker of the hut and started towards the next hut, the Kibo Hut. Our friends in the five day group would now have made their summit bid and be on their way down. We looked up at Kibo and wondered how they had fared.
The vegetation became less and less and soon we reached the 'Last Water Stream' at 14,000 feet (4270m). As the name suggests, from this point on we would have to carry all the water we would require. Soon the vegetation ended completely and we entered the Alpin Desert zone. The slope had lessened and we now walked through what has been described as an almost Martian landscape of red, brown and grey rock. A few clouds were being blown across Kibo and Mawenzi, below us, there was still complete cloud cover hiding the East African plains.
The last hill up to the Kibo Hut at 15,500 feet (4725m) was extremely hard work in now much thinner air. Once in the hut, we found the five day group resting on the bunks. They were exhausted, all, except Jo, having reached the summit. Jo had got close to Gillman's Point on the crater rim and was happy with her achievement, having enjoyed the climb.
I was now well and truly over my altitude sickness and had fully regained my appetite. As the next day was summit day, this called for the preparation of a huge freeze dried curry. Having eaten a great deal, we went to bed at 6:30pm with the prospect of little sleep due to the thin air and the early hour we would start out the next day.
At just after midnight, a guide knocked at the door of the hut. Well this was the big day. As we dressed for temperatures of around -20°C, there was little talk. We ate a breakfast whose main ingredient was sugar and drank the tea a porter had brought for us.
At 1am, Mark and I were ready to leave, however, Peter was trying to get hot water to make his peppermint tea. As we wanted to start, we asked the assistant guide Faustini if we could leave with him and allow Peter and Hans to follow on with the chief guide Happy. Faustini seemed uncertain about this so I discussed it with Happy who agreed to this arrangement.
We were the first to leave the hut at just after 1am. It was good to have the mountain to ourselves for a while. We each carried an absolute minimum of equipment, virtually everything had been left at the hut to reduce weight.
The climb up the steep scree slope was slow and laborious. Our head torches showed us just a small circle of light around our feet as we climbed with our heads down. It was a 3000 foot (900m) climb to the crater rim at Gillman's Point. We zigzagged slowly up the scree, sometimes loosing the indistinct path and stopping often to catch our breath in the now very thin air. When we stopped we would look down and watch the torches of other parties far below us at one of rest stops, we found a plaque marking where a climber had died a few years earlier. It was a long time until the moon rose.
Suddenly, the crater rim appeared much closer and we realised we were nearly at Gillman's Point. At 5am we scrambled up the rocks that formed the crater rim and signed the Gillman's Point register by torchlight. The route then descended to just inside the crater rim. We were now on our way the the summit, Point Uhuru. It felt much colder inside the crater and it was possible to make out the glaciers. We were now over 18,700 feet (5700m) and height gains were becoming very hard work.
The route was on rock and ice shaped into sharp pinnacles by the wind. we reached several false summits as the sky became lighter behind us. When the sun rose, it was a small orange disk appearing through a sea of white clouds now 10,000 feet (3000m) below us.
Eventually, Faustini pointed out a strange metal tripod that marks Point Uhuru. Mark went on ahead and reached it, Faustini and I soon joined him, it was 6:30am. We all shook hands and signed the summit register including Faustini. When we asked him if he signed the register every time he climbed the mountain, we found out he had never been there before!
We spent about half an hour on the summit, looking at the spectacular views of glaciers, ice cliffs, the inner crater and the tops of the clouds so far below, now with the shadow of Kilimanjaro being projected onto them. We took some photos and collected a few small stones as mementos. Faustini sat and rested and smoked a cigarette, which lasted a long time in the thin atmosphere.
Although the route from the summit back to Gillman's point was overall a descent, there were enough uphill stretches to make it hard going. having reached the summit, we now realised how tired we were. When we reached Gillman's point, we rested and took more photos. Below, we could see small Hans climbing up with Happy the guide, further down we could see Peter standing by a rock. Towards the bottom of the scree slope, we could see dust clouds following the people who had turned back without reaching the summit.
We started to descend the scree and soon met Hans. We gave him encouragement, but he was very tired and was to take quite some time to reach Gillman's point. We descended further and talked to Peter who had reached Gillman's Point and was now waiting for Hans to return with the guide.
When we reached the Kibo Hut, we slept for a few hours before descending to the Horombo Hut. We managed to get a hut at Horombo even though we were supposed to camp because we had added a day to the climb.
After group photos with the porters and guides, we left Horombo on the long descent to the park gate. We descended past the Mandara hut and back into the mud of the forest where we saw a few monkeys in the trees. At the park gate, we signed the 'coming down book' and received our summiteers' diplomas. We handed out tips and gifts to our guides and porters and shared a taxi back to the YMCA in Moshi with Peter and Hans.
At the YMCA, we met some of the five day group. They had decided to have a rest day and had been out on the town with Janus, one of the guides. He had taken them for some banana beers, brewed and fermented in three days he told us.
Our trip to Tanzania continued with a safari, car crashes, a dhow sinking in the Indian Ocean and many other adventures, but those are another story...