Thursday 14 November 2019

9. Kilimanjaro Challenge: Lemosho Route - The Descent, Sunburn and Asante Sana Kilimanjaro!

Jambo Jambo! 

I AM VICTORIOUS AND HAVE CONQUERED THE MIGHTY KILIMANJARO!!!! If you hadn't read my last blog, shame on you that was the best part! (only joking) but if you had (and thank you for reading it) you are aware of the gruelling experience I had in the longest night of my life scaling the steep volcanic slope of Kibo through altitude sickness, the sheer exhaustion of lack of sleep and the oppressive power of the mountain. 

But I did it and felt on top of the world walking on air (which isn't actually that far from the truth!) but mission accomplished and knew I would be going home a summiter!

But what goes up, inevitably has to come down, including us! and the experience of descending for our whole team would be a whole new adventure in its self - and one that potentially could be life threatening when you're up in the monstrous maw of Kilimanjaro. We now had to get down. 

Over 5,000 metres at altitude, it is not possible to become permanently acclimatised so your body inevitably starts to deteriorate - your brain is only 2% of your body weight (no matter how much of a big head you have!) and surprisingly needs alot of your oxygen intake 15%! 

Soon after rejoicing at the summit and the gorgeous icing sugar views of the volcanic crater, with Kenya to the north and Tanzania to the south - I noticed my breathing getting a lot more shallower and difficult as my speech became stuttered. I knew what my body was telling me.... 'Right listen, I've had enough, get me the heck of this mountain!' and had to start descending right now.

'Kotalieb, I think I need to get down now' I say to be loyal guide. Throwing my daypack on his back, he grabs my hand, one of my poles and we run! 

It really was incredible how as soon as you turned backwards down the mountain, life comes back into your limbs, that's how much the power of altitude has on your body and we kicked up sprays of snow over the fissured igneous rocks passing ascending climbers and wishing them well. 'Well done, it's coming up' I would tell them, 'keep going, you will get there'. ('Nearly there', was just cruel and misleading!). Kotelieb practically was frogmarching me down the white crater rim like a naughty schoolgirl with the pulling momentum of the mountain, passing the blocky Rebmann Glacier all the way back down towards Stella Point, which was now free of the previous dawn crowds. It was incredible it had taken me nearly an hour to walk to the summit from this point and was kinda deflating all that hard work was wiped away as we had marched back down here in about ten minutes!   

It must have been 9am now and the sun was now ascending like the climbers after me, turning the sky into a deep ocean of perfect azore blue. My hat, thermal layers and jackets were far too hot now in the tropical heat with the mountain being so close to the equator and I desperately began stripping them off down to one layer. It then dawned on me what myself and the rest of my group hadn't paid much attention to during our gruelling mission to the summit with the distraction of altitude sickness in the arctic temperatures - sun cream. 

The sun's rays are far stronger at altitude because the thinner air can't block out the harmful radiation from the harsh equatorial sun. I had brought factor 50 + SPF Altitude sun cream and lipstick and slathered it on immediately, reaching for my drinks bottle and looked horrified at how much water was left in my Nalgene bottle. It was nearly gone, three litres had not been enough.


Ironically, I had really focused on remaining almost over hydrated with electrolytes and breathing through my nose to regulate my chemical balance and give myself the best possible chance of not succumbing too severely to altitude symptoms the whole time of ascending. As time was ticking on with the sun beating on us, I was become increasingly dehydrated (as did the rest of the team when I caught them up later) and this is my advice - 1. Don't wear a thermal layer as your base layer on summit night because I still had a thermal layer on in the roasting sun! and 2. If you think your body will need alot of hydration or has never been at altitude - take a 3 litre water bladder and 1 litre plastic Naglene bottle. Your blood starts to become thicker with a risk of straining your heart and circulatory system - yikes!

But that's what are Kandoo guides are there for, if you're having problems, they're there to help and save your life!

Another friendly guide/porter who was lingering at Stella Point began chatting and offered to join forces with us to literally 'run me down the mountain' and out of the sun. Koteleib pulled a glucose drink out from his bag for me to get some more energy and we just took off - my new comrade and I with a pole each literally skiing in the snow down the side of Kilimanjaro!    

With the momentum rapidly pulling us down the mountain, it was like a cartoon scene, us sliding down nearly on our backs when one of us would slip and bring the other one down aswell! It must have looked hilarious. I could see other people making a descent in happier moods since summitting, trying the technique of sliding on their backs or surfing out of control, taking out other poor unsuspecting climbers like skittles in a bowling alley! We were speeding like a bobsleigh improvising routes down the steep slope as I called 'which way?! which way?!?!?' having to break everytime we took a tumble, Kotelieb sliding down right behind.

I had practically nearly finished his glucose drink which actually was kinda making the dehydration worse from the sweetness. He had another bottle of water too, browny looking, treated but not filtered - there was an abundance of snow all around, could I just face plant and stick my tongue on the snow? My intuition was telling

'Don't you ever need to drink?' I ask Kotelieb puzzlingly, taking his bottle of brown tinted liquid and gulping it down in my parched state.
'Me? No not really, I don't need much water'.

He then took over as my escort and we sped off down the mountain further, hand in hand like 'Jack and Jill' me as Jill tumbling after with Kotelieb scolding me to 'walk properly' with the right technique ha!. We stopped as we came to overhanging small lava ridges that jutted out offering shade and the snow melting into dripping water which I sat under to cool myself off. My feet now on fire as they roasted in the cling film! Another guide helping another woman down got talking to us and voicing my predicament of a lack of water in this burning sun - he suggested to fetch water from somewhere like run-off on the mountain.

'Would it make me sick though?' I ask, trying to hide away from the sun like a vampire out too late, or early?
'Yes, probably' he answered.

I asked how far the base camp was from here, Kotelieb reckoned an hour. That was far too long to go without constant water and I was now serious about the real danger to my health. The kind woman with her guide didn't mind giving half her bottle to me and I would pay the favour back later on in the trip when a solo porter was struggling to pull a 60kg evacuation stretcher up and was in need of water. I was so grateful for her kindness and Kotelieb decided to radio Lead guide Robert for some supply of water to be brought out to us onto the mountain. We were a couple of hours into the descent and he had not got back to Barafu yet but would send out 'water boys' to meet us, Hakuna Matata! 

The irony of the sunshine was funny, the whole of our journey we were praying for warm sunshine to dry our saturated clothing and luggage since day one and now that we were getting burnt to a crisp by it, we were praying for the clouds to come and take it away!

And they did! The mist in classic Kilimanjaro style came crashing in and could see the snaking gravel path - it was crazy how I had spent 9.5 hours of my life vigorously climbing up all this in the night and now was racing down it in a few hours. The sun was taking alot out of you, energy wise, and the trio of me and my two helpers carried on sliding down like Dorothy with the Tinman and Scarecrow through the cool, refreshing rarefied air whilst the sun was blocked for another chunk of time to escape off the mountain. 

And then we saw them, a group of four lads strolling towards us along the path and I knew I'd live to fight another day....

The water boys! 

They had come to the rescue, four of them carrying a litre of water and a plastic cup squash. Already diluted and prepared in the cup and brought up the mountain with them ha! Robert had sent them to relieve me and we all sat together on nearby rocks with me profusely thanking them for practically saving my life as I gulped down the water and squash too!

'Hakuna Matata' they say and I tip them $15 - that's a pretty reasonable price for saving someone from dehydration right? (plus, that's all I had on me).

We were in the the gut of the valley now and about twenty minutes away from Barafu basecamp, I felt refreshed and energised now after my recuperation rescue that I was happy to press on with them and continue retracing our zig zagging steps back on down to the basecamp. I could now see the rest of my team up ahead, starting to amble over the small cliffs at the north of our camp and knew we were nearly home and dry - well for a second I thought that. The temperature dropped and flecks of cold rain from the drifting mist now started to spray at us, forcing me to get my duffel jacket out and march through it. It must have looked so funny me in sunglasses, a big duffel jacket with six men with radios surrounding me as if I was a diva-ish film star with an entourage of bodyguards escorting me back to base camp!

I collapsed into my tent, so thankful I was given the blessing to reach the summit (apparently a third of climbers don't) and that I was still alive! Richard, my tent porter had taken all my wet gear out of my tent and layed it out to dry when the sun came up so I could return to a nice dry tent and luggage - what a sweetheart!I only arose an hour later to have some lunch and exchange descending adventures with the team - some having vomited on the way down and even layed across the track in exhaustion! It hadn't only been me who had suffered with dehydration, pretty much all our team did and some had not brought up suncream with them!

We were now mid way into Day Seven and would be the longest day of walking for us as after lunch we were going to be descending a further 1,573 metres (13km) down to Mweka Camp at 3,100 metres to camp one more night before leaving the park. That would be nearly a total of nearly 17 hours of walking in one day! I knew my knees were in for a bad ride, but I was willing to take the after-pain for summiting Kilimanjaro.

So after our brief rest at Barafu, we said good bye to the lofty icy realms of the mountain, our quest was over and began our knee-knackering descent south down the Mweka Trail having all our team having successfully made the summit and were looking forward to now going back down towards sea level to the land of hot showers and flush toilets! The descent route was pretty monotonous, marching knee jarringly down broken stone and mist (this is where you NEED walking poles) 

Coming across an evacuation stretcher, a gurney on a sort of uni-cycle style trolley - stats state approximately every year 30,000 people attempt Kilimanjaro with 1,000 people having to be evacuated. You'd have to be feeling extremely sick to be evacuated though and there is only a 0.03% chance of death from AMS on the mountain, thats 1 death per 3,333 climbers. Alot of the camps on the six routes up Kilimanjaro have rocked marked spots for helicopters in extreme emergency cases.      

Pressing on, the vegetation now changed into sprawling valleys of senecios and heathers starting to appear as do our porters whisking through to get down to Mweka Camp for our arrival. We had passed by 'High Camp' on the route at 3,106 metres where you could feel the temperature starting to soar with the sticky, rising tropical air to make us shed layers and then have to pull our rain jackets back on again moments later. 

I now didn't need to worry about taking Diamox anymore or risking Altitude Sickness so I felt alot more carefree to curiously explore the pathside tropical wonders of Kilimanjaro without a headache or needing to pee constantly!    

An indigenous Protea kilimandsharica wildflower a rarity seen on the Mweka trail.  

In my micro adventures, I fell behind the rest of the group with Robert and Abel - trying to figure out between them, how to take a photo on the phone of my summit photo on my camera screen (if that makes any sense) without getting their reflection in it. The project of patience was soon disturbed when behind us we heard the commotion of shouting and gaggling from a group of men speeding towards us pushing one of the iron stretchers. It was someone being evacuated! The Mweka route was also an evacuation route to get people off the mountain as soon as possible, but in earnest, it was the worst route on the mountain littered with massive loose and jutting rocks that the poor young guy strapped into a sleeping bag by (what looked like boat ropes) with his backpack and boots locked in too, had to endure being rocked, jolted and bounced around on the wheel down the bumpy track, possibly for hours. Patients would then be met on a road where a vehicle can get access to take them to further medical assistance and then the stretchers wheeled back up again. Incredible.        

Trying to get the stretcher down a steep ledge - looked really uncomfortable! It was pretty insane to see the urgency of an evacuation first hand and the danger of the mountain. It made me feel very blessed to have made the summit and realise my altitude sickness could have been a lot worse. The mystifying thing that perplexed me later on after they passed us was how they ended up back behind us again rushing through an hour later - things work in mysterious ways up on Kilimanjaro!

After about 6 hours of huge but gradual downhill walking, being caught behind the evacuation, twice, I arrived last at the Mweka Camp (3,106 metres) at near dark with Abel having to use the light on his mobile phone to show the way as I'd put my head torch into my luggage, which of course was already down in my desert dry tent waiting for me! 

All of us were EXTREMELY SUNBURNT and compared 'raccoon faces' of who was the worst (it wasn't me actually) and shared the suffering of our aching knees having been pounded for 13km!   

But we got gifted a really cool cake in congratulations on our final camp night!  

But having walked, a record for me!, nearly 17 hours with less than 3 hours sleep (or no sleep), to the top of Kilimanjaro and down again 13km - we all retired to bed pretty early and it was by far the best night sleep of the whole expedition - I didn't even need ear plugs!  

And look at the phenomenal view with woke up to the on our final my face with wet wipes and brushing my teeth....we were at the top of that 24 hours ago! Amazing how far we had descended.

The Kilimanjaro technique of getting bug spray out of your eye lol! 

Jambo, jambo bwana,
Habari gani,
Mzuri sana,

Our team of wonderful Kandoo Guides and Porters who had taken care of us over the 8 days performed a closing ceremony in the glorious morning sunshine with the backdrop of their Kilimanjaro, singing and dancing to feet stomping traditional Swahili songs. We could not have done the expedition without them and their kindness, prompting us to say a speech of thanks for our experience and keeping us all alive!

Oh the adventure we wonderful guide Kotelieb, the man who helped me to the summit of Kilimanjaro and practically saved my life - I should name something after him shouldn't I?

And so the final leg of our Kilimanjaro adventure began. We were sadly not going to see the porters again, so bid them farewell as they took off one last time to head down to deliver our luggage to Mweka Gate. We were going to be descending the last 1,300 metres of our trip over 10km through cloud forest on a surprisingly fully restored trail but our joints I think were just begging for the flat stuff now and would just have to soldier on one last time - c'mon tonight we were going to have a hot shower in reward! 

I wanted to take my time in this last leg, I'd never be on Kilimanjaro again and wanted to breathe in the cloying air and savour all the beautiful flora and possible monkey sightings in the towering moss thickened trees with cute little wild flowers lining the trail as we crossed over the border into heather forest - 'slow and steady' gives you memories too...

Speaking of jungle noises from wild animals, as I was trying to appreciate the beauty and serene sounds of the last stretch of the heather forest - the slightly incongruous sound of loud braying voices coming from an all male British group belting out 'Sweet Caroline!' like on a pub crawl were slowly coming up behind us......I couldn't move my sticks fast enough, ducking into the forest for a call of nature to let them past lol! 

The Finish! 'Team Seo Cac' cross the line as we finish at Mweka Gate, exhausted, relieved and ready for showers after 8 days. 

Ta dah! Home and Dry - I've officially finished my great Kilimanjaro Expedition! 

Waiting to sign the last registration book - I'm officially leaving the National Park!

And get my shoes cleaned! What 5 star service! 

Later that night back at the hotel, we had a 'tipping ceremony' with the guides and porter representatives, deciding to tip them double the recommended amount for all their hard work in the harsh weather conditioners we were under and for taking good care of us. We didn't do what Hans Meyer did, the first man to summit Kilimanjaro who treated them to a fireworks display where a spark from a rocket accidently burnt down their huts.... what a way to say thank you! 

Everyone made it! 'Team Seo Cac' with our proud Summit Certificates with the guides who got us there, Robert, Evans, Abel, Kotalieb and Edwad. 

And the name 'Seo Cac'?'s Irish for 'shit show', apparently.....and we weren't!

The danger of Altitude, wear sunscreen. My bottom lip was severely blistered and my nose and cheeks peeled skin to red raw patches, like a horror movie!

And so my great Kilimanjaro Adventure was over and I look up at the lofty mountain, its seemingly inaccessible summit shrouded in shifting clouds, rising heavenly out from the town of Moshi and cannot fathom the enormity of what we all had achieved up there in the sky over 8 days. It was by far the most physically and mentally challenging thing I have ever tested myself to do and when the going got tough, I proved how tough I could be when I needed to, enough to achieve my goal of getting to the top.

Memories of every good and bad emotion possible is forever attached to my incredible adventure on that mountain, the hard work, the battle of resilience, the kindness of the Tanzanian people and that with a dogged determination and fighting spirit to not give up on a goal, even through some pain and difficulties, you could see yourself through it and the reward is amazing. I've seen what the world looks like from on top of there and was so privileged and grateful to have the opportunity and good health to be here and experience it  - The Roof of Africa.

I still look at it and think - how did we all get to the top of that !? And that's just nuts. But I am nuts :).

Thank you so much for you all who have followed my epic Kilimanjaro 2019 Challenge from Day One (or even more since my first training post in Richmond Park!) and for your kind support and donations to my chosen charity 'Action For M.E' who are a lifeline to over 250,000 sufferers of M.E and Chronic Fatigue in the UK, like my sister, who can only dream of the day they have the good health to travel to Africa and see the wonder of Kilimanjaro themselves. If you would like donate me a last 'reward donation' for my achievement - please do! I'd super appreciate your awesomeness at my Just Giving page.  

I hope I have raised awareness for her illness and the struggles that go with living with it, as I did on the mountain during those 8 days. I hope you've enjoyed reading my blogs and become inspired yourself to work hard and follow your dreams! 

Anything else after summiting Kilimanjaro, I will consider relaxing lol! 

And hey, I got some great advice now for you if you ever want to attempt it yourself!

'It always seems impossible, until it's done'

                                                       - Nelson Mandela

One final word for you.....from the summit

Equipment and clothing I used were from Ultimate Outdoor and Cotswold Outdoors

Meindl Boots
North Face 
TYTNY Walking Poles
Regatta Outdoors 

Really, Asante sana and Hakuna Matata!

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