After our rest at Gilman’s Point it was time to get going and we started to clamber down the highest section of the rocks which, as expected was difficult. Tired legs were beginning to tell and my thighs in particular were starting to complain. Nevertheless we were now descending quite quickly and it was refreshing to see the summit becoming further and further away knowing we were getting more and more oxygen.
Eventually we came to the loose screed section which was now unfrozen and looser so we asked what the ‘skiing’ was all about. James explained that in order to go down as quickly as possible it was a skiing effect that you could do by making large strides but at the same time just letting your footing slip as far as possible before taking the next step. It was kind of a continuous long-jump motion and James demonstrated how it should be done. David and I started off and eventually got into some kind of rhythm. It was important to miss the large rocks which would catch your feet and make you fall over but overall I found that it was fairly easy to do. The slope was very steep and wide, we could see the zig zag path going across it that we used on the way up but could ignore that and just use the whole slope. You have to remember that we are still at around 5,500 metres so breath was very much at a premium. I gave the skiing technique a go for several minutes, after which my legs were becoming so tired I didn’t feel that I could carry it on. By this time David seemed to have moved quite a way ahead with the guide that was helping him and I was left with two other guides, Hope and James.
I opted for walking down the zig zag path but even that was difficult as your footing slipped away but I was finding it easier than the skiiing technique. After a few more stops I seemed to get some more energy and so started to slip into the skiing technique once again. It was now warming up and I was able to feel the suns’ heat which was very welcome as was opening my top coat and unzipping some of the layers. Eventually I could see the Kibo huts at our base camp and I stopped once more for a rest and chat with James and Hope wondering how long there was left to go. I thought it was about 45 minutes but James said it was only 30. What a relief, we were almost back.
I set off once again making way down to the huts and after a few minutes sensed that there was no one with me. I looked behind and could see Hope and James quite a way further up the hill where we had stopped. Nothing on the trek happens by accident and I then decided they had decided to let me go down the last 30 minutes on my own. I didn’t look back or wave or request confirmation of that from them because I thought that if they had not wanted me to do that they would have been right behind me. So I carried on on the last section on my own, in the middle of a vast area where I could see no people, no buildings (as the huts had become obscured by the ridge) and behind me was the Kilimanjaro Summit soaring in the bright sunlight. The skies were clear blue, the air fresh and crisp and I found the whole experience to be deeply moving. I felt hugely insignificant, looking around trying to take everything in, reflecting on the days that had been, the summit and everything. I thought about my family, Lorraine and the kids and really became quite emotional and tearful. I think those few moments were quite a release from everything that had led up to the trek and everything that had happened so far. I just kept striding and skiing down the hill, stopping whenever I felt like it and being totally inspired and struck by the beauty of the place.
Nearing the camp I thought I had better pull myself together and get ready to meet everybody once I got back. I really didn’t want those moments to end so slowed down quite considerably. I could now see David was quite a long way ahead and I wasn’t really worried what time I got back to the camp. However, it was such a huge relief to get back and know the ascent and descent were over. I returned around 12.30p.m. having left some 12 and a half hours before, totally physically worn out, emotionally drained with highs and lows but so happy with what had been achieved that day.
Near the camp the terrain flattened out and you could slow down to a nice walk. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I got back, whether any of the lads would be around or not, but when I got back there was not a single sole outside. There was no one to congratulate, ask how their day went or to congratulate me either. For a few minutes I was a little bit upset but then again I suppose I shouldn’t really have expected a fanfare or cake or a welcoming committee, but it just would have been nice to see someone! I went to my tent and had a look inside wondering how Craig was going to be but saw that his mattress, sleeping bag and trek bag had gone. I was a little bit concerned but thought he must have been moved down to the next camp as soon as possible, which, after investigating, turned out to be true. It was still gloriously sunny and when I got into the tent I was able to remove most of my layers including my boots and socks and rest in the warmth of the sunshine.
I had about an hour to sleep but took about 30 minutes to wind down and I took that opportunity to make a few notes about the ascent night, which I have used for making this blog. Eventually I fell asleep but was awoken after 30 minutes by a very strange drumming sound on the tent. This turned out to be quite heavy hail, it had clouded over. I quickly zipped up the outer section of the tent and moved my boots inside as I didn’t want them to get wet and then put on quite a few layers because without the direct sunshine the temperature had dropped quite dramatically. I was really quite upset that the hail had come down at that stage because walking in the rain isn’t one of my favourite things and I knew we had another 4 hour trek to do after we had had a bit of food. Nevertheless, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it so I got out my waterproofs, put them on and made my way to the mess tent to meet up with the other guys and refuel a bit before our afternoon walk. We also had to pack up everything and get our bags read once again and this was really quite difficult, being tired with still very little oxygen. Just stuffing the sleeping bag inside its pack was very hard work, although by this stage it didn’t really matter how it was packed as most of the trek was done and whatever happened we would be back at the hotel the next day and stuff could be sorted out at that stage.
You may have noticed there are no photos in this section so far. That’s because mainly I was so worn out I couldn’t be bothered to get the camera out, it also wasn’t really on my mind at the time! Also my main camera had run out of battery by now and I was using the back up Jason persuaded me to take with (thanks Jason- a great idea!). But I have inserted a few from day 4 approaching Kili so you can understand where we went.
This photo is of Hope leading us, Stuart being 1st in line. Follow the line of the path we are on to a few figures that look like they are near the start of the slope ( but are still a few miles from it!) Then to the left is a large dark cluster of rocks and on the top right of them is the Kibo Huts camp. Our route up and down is the grey line about a third of the way in from the left that starts towards the right turns left then right. The actual path is perhaps 100 m wide in places and you can start to see just how steep it is.
This photo shows a zoomed in view of above. You can see some long buildings which are the “huts” and get a greater sense of the slopes. Getting the perspective is difficult but remember the altitude difference between Kibo and the summit is about 1,000 m 0r 2/3 of a mile! And that’s straight up, the path will be a lot longer.!!
Well, that’s all for now, I will try to finish off the rest tomorrow. There’s still quite a bit left with 4 hours to the next camp, the final night and trek, working out how to shorten the final day as much as possible, Craig and his oxygen, the last night at the hotel and journey home!