Day 4 of Kili Climb: from Kibo Huts (4703 meters) to Uhuru Peak (5985 meters)
What we did: Kibo Huts (4703 meters) to 4900 meters to Marangu Gate (1800 meters)
We woke up at 11:30PM for tea and biscuits in preparation for the difficult 5 hour climb to the peak. We also suited up in multiple layers of clothes because the peak is -20°C. I wore: 3 pair of leggings, fleece pants, rain pants, gaiters, two t-shirts, one sweater, one long-sleeved shirt, one fleece, a rain jacket, a bandana, balaclava, hat, and a head torch. Jon wore: 2 leggings, fleece pants, jeans, gaiters, two t-shirts, two long-sleeved shirts, a fleece, a rain jacket, and a balaclava.
Jon woke up with a terrible headache. I felt better than I had a few hours before, although I wasn’t 100%. But we were determined to try, so off we went at 1:00AM. Omari in the lead, Andy second, me third, then Jon, and Nicholas (our assistant guide) last. Jon was grunting the entire way because his head was spinning so badly. He had to stop every 50 meters to rest, which was not a good sign. So Andy and Nicholas went on ahead, and Omari, Jon and I stayed together to go more slowly up the slope. After an hour and a half, at 4900 meters, Jon decided it was time to go back to the hut.
From Jon: The headache that I woke up with wasn’t so bad, by itself. As we continued slowly up the switchbacks on the scree slope, nausea set in. Next I realized that everywhere I looked it seemed as though I were looking through large, black, soapy bubbles. As we continued the bubbles became smaller and increased in number and seemed to change colour to a brilliant violet. I seemed to have my eyes closed for 2 out of every four slow footsteps, and began to see myself hiking up the scree slope through some sort of out-of-body experience. Next came the pink elephants. Hallucinations, apparently, since everyone knows there is no such thing as little pink elephants and certainly not with little wings fluttering around this forsaken wasteland. The pink elephants convinced me that it was time to throw in the towel!
It is very unusual for my marathon-running husband to throw in the towel. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him give up on a physical challenge. So I knew he was terribly ill and was quite worried about him. Omari tried to talk me into continuing the ascent, but all I wanted was to make sure Jon was OK. I wasn’t feeling fabulous either, and although I wasn’t as bad as Jon I didn’t relish the thought of 4 more grueling hours without him. In my mind, this was an “us” adventure, and if he couldn’t make it then I really didn’t care to. So I helped him back down the mountain and into bed. It was 2:30 AM, and Jon was completely delirious. Omari told me to check on him in an hour, and if he was still bad then we would pack up and head down to Horombo Huts at 3700 meters.
So we went to sleep, and at 3:30 I woke Jon up to find out how he was feeling. He said his head still hurt, but that he felt better than before. He said he didn’t want to go back down just yet, so we went back to sleep for a few more hours. At 6:00, I got up because I couldn’t sleep and wanted to begin packing so we could get down from the altitude. Jon woke up – still with a headache – and threw up (from Jon: FINALLY!). At that timely moment, Omari appeared at the hut wanting to know if we wanted breakfast. He and I agreed that we should begin to hike down, and he said he would have tea and toast brought in. So Jon and I ate a few pieces of toast, Jon had hot water, and I finished packing up our gear. Then we hit the road at 7:30AM.
We went fairly slowly at first, but with every 500 meters Jon was regaining his strength. It was amazing how fast the descent was compared to our slow ascent just the day before. We arrived at Horombo Hut at 9:45AM – a hike that took us 6 hours yesterday took just over two hours this morning. Jon’s dizziness was gone, although a bit of his headache remained. We were both a bit nauseous. Jon didn’t want to stay the night at Horombo Hut, and Omari said we would go down to Mandara and stay there. But Mandara is only 2 hours away from the main Marangu Gate, and Jon and I were both thinking of a much-needed shower (we hadn’t showered in 4 days). So we told Omari that if we were going to go to Mandara, then we might as well go all the way. He agreed, and somehow called the Zara offices to pick us up at Marangu gate.
We had a brunch at Horombo, and left the Huts at 11:00AM. By this time, all we wanted was a shower and a bed, so we were practically running down the mountain. We reached Mandara at 1:45, where we stopped for snacks and water. Now – if you think about it – we’ve descended from 4900 meters to 2700 meters in just over 6 hours. Omari was amazed at our pace, and we were kind of surprised too. But we didn’t realize how bad it hurt until we got to Mandara. While we stopped for snacks, our muscles tightened up and everything suddenly hurt: quads, hips, back, feet, calves. You name it. We knew we were still going to continue, but the next two hours through the rain forest were going to be tough. We hit the trail at 2:00.
The rainforest was muddy and slick, but at least it wasn’t hot. Despite slow-going over over slippery rocks, we were still making great time. Omari estimated that it would take 2 hours from Mandara, but we hit the half-way point at 2:45! We made it to Marangu Gate at 3:45. Unfortunately, our Zara ride wasn’t going to show up until 5:00 so we laid around on the grass until the bus showed up.
At Marangu Gate: tired and dirty, but in good spirits
Just to summarize our descent: ignoring 2 hours for brunch and water breaks, we descended from 4700 meters to 1800 meters in just over 6 hours. This was a 20 mile run down a mountain, which means that we were cruising at about 3.5 miles per hour. Ouch. Our muscles ached so badly when we got down.
From Jon: Since I unfortunately won’t be running either the NY or Marine Corps Marathons this year, I have decided to view this 20 run down the mountain as this year’s marathon effort!
The Dream of the Shower
Ironically, the Springlands Hotel was booked for the night and couldn’t fit us in ahead of schedule. So Zara booked us at a place called the Green Hostel. It was ridiculous. The floors were dirty, there was a single bulb hanging from the ceiling, and a spider the size of the palm of my hand was hanging out in the bathroom. The nightly rate was $10, but I’m not sure it was even worth that. After rescuing me from the evil spider, Jon took a shower (we’d been wearing the same clothes for 4 days) and washed himself twice. I was in the bedroom trying not to sit on the sheets because I was so dirty. There was a sign on the door that listed some of the rules of the hostel. Apparently, there are to be “no unchristian acts” done in the room. We really don’t know what that means, but you can probably interpret it according to how orthodox you are.
After 20 minutes, Jon got out of the shower and I got in. The shower was disappointing because it was a tub with a hose extension on it, but no place to put the extension and no shower curtain. So you had to wet yourself, lather, and then rinse – trying not to flood the bathroom. I really just wanted to stand mindlessly under a stream of water while I washed. It’s funny how we used to take those little things for granted. The shower was also disappointing because my husband – in his desire for cleanliness – used up all the hot water! Is that grounds for divorce, I wonder?
By the time I got out, it was 8:15PM and Jon had gone ahead to the “restaurant” (room with two tables) to order us dinner before the 8:30 cutoff. When I went in to find him, I saw that he was sitting with two people we knew from the Springlands! Vanessa and her father had come with a group from South Africa, where Vanessa had just married Jamie. For their honeymoon, Vanessa and Jamie came to climb Kili with their friends and family. Quite an ambitious honeymoon! They followed a different trail than us, so we hadn’t seen them since they’d left the hotel 5 days before. Vanessa and her dad had come down a day early because they were both so ill, and had the same problem getting into the Springlands. So the four of us sat around and compared nightmare stories about the mountain and bemoaned our fate with the hotel situation. It’s so funny how – when you share an experience like this – all sorts of etiquette goes out the window. We had no problems discussing bodily functions with each other, and we actually wanted to compare notes to see how sick we really were!
We all retired early. Jon and I went to bed and tried to read, but I was asleep by 9:30.