We had reached basecamp at Kibo hut, 4720m. Towering above us was Mt Kilimanjaro.
Arriving shortly after 1pm, we were instructed to rest.
We would have dinner at 5pm, bed shortly after, then be awoken at midnight to begin the climb to the summit.
The afternoon was sunny yet cool. Everyone was either sitting in the sun, or resting in their tents.
Around 3pm I went to the restroom and on my way back vomited. This continued for about 2 hours. Luckily we had a doctor in our trekking group who I could ask a few questions of. Our lead guide was also there to advise me. We tried to replenish my electrolytes, but I couldn’t hold anything down. I didn’t have a headache, but did have an extremely sore neck and shoulder. My blood-oxygen levels were plummeting, which was not a good sign at all.
Step 1: I waited to see if the vomiting would cease. It didn’t.
Step 2: I needed to make a decision on what I would do next.
Would I wait through the night and see how I was in the morning?
Or would I go down then?
I had witnessed another lady from a different group wait through the night, only to be airlifted out the next day. Unfortunately the helicopter couldn’t come until early afternoon due to weather. I didn’t want to be in that position.
I had trained, looked after myself, been in top mental state for the climb, had been higher in the past without trouble, but today wasn’t going to be my lucky day. Altitude sickness had won. It wasn’t worth risking my health or life for.
After weighing-up my options, I decided that I would go with a guide and two other support personnel down the mountain to a lower camp in order to negate my symptoms. This meant walking through the night for 4.5 hours. After saying goodbye to my fellow trekkers and wishing them well, we set off. I managed to stop vomiting half way into our downward trek when the altitude had dropped low enough for my body to equilibriate. This allowed me to hold-down some much needed fluids and electrolytes, so I so I could continue.
I was grateful that I was in such good physical and mental condition to withstand this trek after being dehydrated from the vomiting and tired after already having walked about 7 hours that day. I also had no regrets about making the decision to act sooner rather than later. I knew my body and I knew not to dice with the mountain.
To be honest, I was damn proud of myself. Someone said that it takes more courage to make the decision I did than to attempt to summit when unwell. I agree.
After what seemed like an eternity, I was very happy to see the camp lights of Horombo around 10.30pm. Our guide managed to get me into a tourist hut (rather than tent), for which I was truely grateful.
After food and fluid I slept.
Waking about 3am, I went to the toilets. Looking up I could see a row of head-torches making their way up the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro. Shedding a quiet few tears, I sent my best wishes and said a quiet karakia for them.
In the morning, my guide and small crew treated me like a queen. I had breakfast in bed, a picnic lunch outside in the sun and plenty of fluid.
With plenty of time on my hands, I reflected on the events of the past 24 hours. I was truely grateful to the team who supported me, the experience so far and to be in better health.
Looking out the window at the māunga, I waited in anticipation and excitement for the team to join me…
As the day wore on, I continued to rest and wait for the team.
Around 5.30pm the first of the support crew came down the long path towards camp, I knew the others wouldn’t be far behind.
Finally at around 6.30pm I saw a line of trekkers slowly snailing their way down the path towards camp. Making my way towards them a lump formed in my throat. Foot-sore, covered in dust and extremely tired, they continued to place one foot ahead of the other.
Tears of joy and relief flooded me as I greeted them one by one at the entrance. I had never seen such a tired group of people in my life. Their dust-caked faces and blood-shot eyes showed they had experienced some huge highs and challenging lows. These stories would be shared, but for now they needed a wash, fluid, food and rest.
After an extra hour’s sleep in, we sat around the breakfast table and shared experiences. I heard of the 10-15 hours it took them to get from basecamp, up the māunga and back. They then had to walk another 3 hours to reach Horombo hut at lower altitude. They shared their experiences of their jail-mate line-shuffle up the māunga in the below freezing conditions and bitterly-cold wind. Summit photos were shared and the realization they had completed a mammoth feat was beginning to sink-in.
After breakfast we packed and began the 19km walk to the national park exit.
Walking down through the clouds it began to drizzle. We passed from alpine desert to moorland, then finally through tropical forest. We were a lot quieter on the journey down, minds considering what life would bring as we re-integrated after our hikoi. Every one of us were irrecoverably changed by our experience, for some it was an affirmation of the important elements in our life and for others it stirred unrest around factors that were no longer serving us. When you do such treks, inner change is a given.
Arriving at the gate, we had a group photo and signed out of the national park. The 2 hour bus ride back to our hotel was very quiet. People were tired, reflecting on the experience and dreaming of a hot shower.
Finally arriving, we showered and changed, transforming from wilder-people to civilised humans. We had a certification ceremony, where we received bracelets and certificates for those who summited. Amidst tears, laughter and bear-hugs, we said goodbye to our support crew.
Over dinner that night and breakfast the next morning, we shared contact details. This is definitely a crew of people I will stay in contact with.
The next day it was time for a bit of R&R poolside with another of my group members. This was heaven after days of dust, long-drop squat toilets and minimal sleep.
What an incredible experience!
I have been immersed in Tanzanian culture, nature, landscape, rituals, and people.
Their joyful smiles belly laughs and humour were a delight. They are professional hard-working people who have such huge hearts.
As a woman travelling solo to a totally different country, I also felt incredibly safe.
As for the climb, there was nothing I would do differently. Sure, it would’ve been great to do the final summit, but I wouldn’t have missed this experience for the world. It has changed my life.
The highlight was the human to human, heart to heart and soul to soul connections made that give hope that when people come together, aroha grows.
I have no regrets; only the deepest of gratitude.
Asante sana Tanzania. Xo
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