I have now been home for about 12 hours and am starting to recover. I still haven’t caught up with all the news about Japan etc. but Lorraine is so into keeping this blog going that instead of settling down in front of the TV for a relaxing evening we are …..doing the blog!
So, reaching Gilman’s point is a huge achievement in itself and congratulations to Richard, Richard and Stuart for reaching the summit. It wasn’t easy for any of us but David and I just seemed to have the ability for that extra push to Uhuru.
We weren’t allowed much of a break at Gilman’s, a few photos, a quick congratulatory hug for Richard, then confirming to our guide James we wanted to go on with a quick conversation and nod of the head he led us on our way.
Iam trying to think of how to describe the next two hours it took to reach Uhuru Peak but can’t really find a quick way of doing that. The terrain was mainly inclines but there we some welcome short flat or downhill parts. It was both rocky and occasionally sandy scree. Part of the path was covered in knee high snow that had become like ice and at those places we had to follow the footsteps that had previously been made through it, which were very slippery and finding a place for the poles was difficult as they were on top of the snow but our feet were down below.
At roughly the half way point we reached Stella Point (5756 metres) which is where another trail up joins. I hadn’t heard of this point before but you could see Uhuru from here although it still looked like there were two long uphill sections to conquer.
By now I was pretty tired and breathing was becoming more and more difficult. I needed to stop more frequently but James (the guide) just kept urging us forward. I had learnt a technique of focussing on a nearby object rather than the end which should help in making each goal shorter. So, I set my sights on, for example, five rocks ahead or the end of the next piece of snow before I would allow myself another rest. Often, when I got to that target I would not rest but move the target on again ..and again, until eventually I couldn’t go on without a break. This really did help with the final parts and seemed to make it go quicker with those small senses of achievement giving a much needed boost.
David seemed to be coping better with the altitude than me, but even he was visibly finding it more and more difficult. Then all of a sudden we rounded a corner at the top of a hard slope and about 300 m in front on relatively level ground was Uhuru Peak, our ultimate goal. For me, at that stage, even though we weren’t there, it felt like we had made it and the job was, all but done. I felt like I had more energy and walked on.
About 10 metres from the sign I stopped and waited a few seconds for David to catch up. It didn’t seem right one of us should get there first so we put our arms around each other to get ready for the final few metres, but that action seemed to signal the emotions of completing the trek there and then. We shed a few tears, hugged and walked together to the sign.
We took photos and spent a few minutes at the top but, as at Gilman’s Point there wasn’t any more time available and we had to get going back. I wanted to phone home (albeit at 6 in the morning) but guess what ……no phone signal! I was very upset because I knew they were waiting to hear if I had made it or not and I wanted to share the moment with them. But it could not be and there was nothing I could do about it.
During the trek Stuart had been saying he was more concerned about going down than up, but I hadn’t really given the downward trip much thought. My focus was on reaching the top and I knew that when I had done that I would get down somehow. How long it took to get down, how I felt going down and so on, was irrelevant because me the goal was reaching the top. Perhaps this was a little naive because I found descending the hardest part of the whole trek. Thinking about it now if I would have given it more mental preparation perhaps that would have made a difference, but then again that could have detracted from concentrating on the ascent.
Anyway, we started to walk back but James told us to pick up the pace as it was best to get down as soon as possible. That made sense because there is more oxygen at the lower levels, however the difference in height between Uhuru and Gilman’s is only 210 metres and that doesn’t make much difference. The increased pace was taking its toll on me and I was beginning to feel dizzy and my footing was becoming less certain. I asked James for some breaks or to slow down but he just responded with ‘ We need to get down quickly and you can have a rest at Gilman’s, which is just round the corner’. Well by now we had worked out that the guides ‘just round the corner’ or ‘it’s only 10 minutes away’ were stretching the point! I knew there were several corners before Gilman’s and that turned out to be true. James however helped me in the dangerous sections by linking arms and supporting me. Unfortunately the downhill bits going towards Uhuru were obviously uphill on the way back!
We made it back to Gilman’s in about 30 minutes compared to the 2 hours it took on the way there, which is an indication of how much faster we were going. True to his word James gave us a 10 to 15 minute break at Gilman’s where we could enjoy a warm drink and trying to bite a few corners off one of our frozen energy bars! I hadn’t eaten or drunk very much during the ascent because of the cold and generally not feeling like it, but I forced a third of an energy bar down as I knew this was necessary. By now we had been going for 9 and a half hours practically non-stop and there was still another 3 to go.
Before the ascent Makeke and James had said there was a possiblity of ‘skiing down’ but they would explain at the time what this meant…..however I am getting very tired now and shall explain what that means in the next post!!!