I think that pretty much sums up how I'm feeling right now! It's nearly 0900 and I've been awake for two hours reading all the finer points of this trip - something that may have been wise to do weeks, or even months ago, but fortunately, it appears that the tips such as, 'Get proof from your travel insurer that you are covered for high altitude, or you can't climb.' 'Get a yellow fever jab, or you can't enter the country' and 'only get US dollars printed post 2004, or you can't use them in Tanzania' have all fortuitously worked out - the insurer told me what I needed, I had YF anyway and the notes are all new post 2009. Simples (and phew!).
I have also discovered that the accomodation in Zanzibar is top end luxury and although it appears we paid a little more than I would have agreed, had I read the breakdown more thoroughly (!), I am now glad because I actually think we are going to be very glad of a few luxuries after this...
Kristin keeps posting footage of previous summit successes and You Tube videos of previous climbs, all of which vary from fun and lighthearted, through to near horrific and I'm trying to pitch my expectations somewhere in the middle.
The girls are on their way and should be mid flight right now and I have a few last minute packing bits to do and am ready to meet Sam at Heathrow at 1500 for a few pre-flight beers.
For anyone who's interested, the itinerary is below, in full with a blow by blow account of our trip, which if I'm honest, sounds pretty damned fantastic I think!
Depart from the lodge at 07.00hrs. From the hotel, head first to Marangu Gate for registration formalities and then head off around the mountain to Rongai, which is a 2 to 3 hour drive on rough track through the villages. After a short walk through the attractive banana and coffee farms of Rongai village, the trail enters an attractive pine forest. This can be a beautiful walk in good weather, with plenty of interesting flora and fauna. Most notable are the black & white colobus monkeys and some excellent bird-life. The path underfoot is generally wide and clear, but there are a lot of tree roots, so sturdy ankle-supporting boots are required from the start. This side of the mountain does not receive anywhere near us much rain as the western flank and the underfoot conditions do not deteriorate into the thick boggy mud that is not uncommon on the Machame route. That's not to say it won't rain though.
The path continues climbing steadily through the forest until gradually it emerges out of the forest and into the next climate zone, The moorland. Soon after this, around mid-afternoon you will arrive at the first campsite, where your camp should be already in position and a nice cup of tea waiting. It may well be misty at this altitude during this latter part of the day.
Early morning is normally clear at camp and as you make your way up across the moorland you should get increasingly good views of Kibo, the Eastern Icefields and to the left the jagged peak of Mawenzi, especially after the Second Rongai Cave at 3450m. After lunch, leave the main trail and head left out towards Mawenzi. This is the start of the extra day acclimatisation trek. The campsite is in a sheltered valley near the Kikelewa Caves.
A short but steep climb up grassy slopes is rewarded by superb all round views and a feeling of real remoteness. Shortly afterwards the vegetation is left behind and the immensity of the mountain begins to loom. The next camp is at the glass-like Mawenzi Tarn, spectacularly situated in a sheltered cirque directly beneath the towering spires of Mawenzi. This is good terrain for the famous giant senecios to grow into impressive specimens and the afternoon will be free to rest or explore the surrounding area as an aid to acclimatisation.
You are now at 4330m and may well be starting to feel the effects of altitude. Don't worry too much as it is a necessary part of the acclimatisation to come up a little bit too high and then descend. It is not impossible for the effects of Acute Mountain Sickness to occur even at this altitude, in which case your climb-leader will call for an immediate evacuation down the mountain. Under these circumstances, do not let any other thought of the summit cross your mind, but just get down as fast as reasonably and safely as possible. AMS is quite rare on these more considered routes, but plenty of climbers experience headaches, slight dizziness, loss of appetite and irregular digestion.
Today the trek leads directly across The Saddle between the two volcanoes of Mawenzi and the towering Kibo. As you come out from the Mawenzi massif it feels like you are walking out onto centre stage. Keep an eye out for the elusive eland, the largest antelope in the world - horselike in proportions - which inhabits this high altitude zone. As you cross the alpine desert, the open landscape affords all round views and right the way through the day Kibo looms every closer up ahead. Eventually you can make out the winding summit path high above on the flanks of the mountain, wherein lies tomorrow's nightmare.
Throughout the day you should try to eat as much as possible in preparation for the summit attempt very early tomorrow morning. Keep snacking through the afternoon if you can, although your appetite will probably be diminished by now due to the altitude. You should get into camp early afternoon. The remainder of the day is spent resting in preparation for the final ascent. You should pack your day-sacks for the morning and change your clothes in advance so that you are wearing the correct underlayers for the summit day. Again, try to eat in the late afternoon, before having a very early night, going to bed around 18.00hrs and hopefully getting to sleep soon after.
Summit 1 : Gillmans : 5681mSummit 2 : Uhuru : 5896m
Your climb-leader will by now have assessed your levels of fitness and will have decided how early you need to set out. You will thank yourself if that extra fitness training earns you another half an hour of sleep tonight. On his decision, you will be woken with tea some time between 12.00hrs and 01.00hrs and set out shortly afterwards. Your porters are not coming with you, so it is just a case of getting yourself out of your sleeping bags, boots on and off you go.
The ascent is by torchlight and the plan is to get to Gillman's Point on the crater rim in time to watch the sun rise over the jagged peaks of Mawenzi. This is the nightmare. Five to six hours of trudging up generally well-graded zigzags, this way and that, backwards and forwards in the dark, uphill all the way. On some stretches the ground is stable, whilst in others the loose volcanic scree scrunches and slides underfoot. Head up past Williams Point (5000m) and keep going to Hans Meyer Cave (5182m). All the way your climb-leader is keeping you going - not too fast, not too slow, taking regular rest stops to drink and catch your breath.
But the air is now incredibly thin and nausea can easily set in. If at any point your climb-leader says that it is time to stop, then that is final. His decision is not to be disputed. If he counts you out, then you are out. We have had a couple of instances with climbers whose commitment to get to the top is so strong that under these extreme conditions they have lost it completely, refusing to turn back. In both cases the climb-leader had to physically force them into submission. Both climbers were grateful when they descended and the thicker air brought them back to their senses.
Anyway, after about 5 or 6 hours you should reach Gillman's Point at 5735m. Actually, after all the endless false ridges it can come as quite a surprise to some people. If you reach this point, then the park authorities will grant you a certificate, but unless you really are dead-beat, you should rest for a short time before pushing on to the summit. This two hour round trip is the highlight of the climb, around the crater rim, passing close to the spectacular glaciers and ice cliffs that still occupy much of the summit area and finally on to Uhuru Peak at 5896m. It is this summit experience that climbers talk most enthusiastically about when they get off the mountain. That might seem like and obvious thing to say, but there is something strangely surreal about the summit in the early light of the day. The light plays tricks on the ice and the thin air plays tricks on your mind. Many people talk of perculiarly uplifting experience. Some people even forget to get their camera out and have to rely on Photoshop to graft their faces onto other people's pictures when they get home. Another rather surreal thing is that there is a good chance your mobile phone will work on the summit, if it doesn't freeze to death. Chances are you won't be up there for long, as with the wind-chill it could be forty below zero, strangely enough in both Celsius and Farenheit. As if that were not enough for one day already, it is still only about 07.00hrs and now you are faced with the descent.
Coming down may not be as tough as going up, but it does present its own set of difficulties. The main problems are usually knee and toe related. Knee problems can be alleviated by proper use of two walking poles. Toe problems should be alleviated by tightening your boots up before the descent in order to prevent your feet from crushing your toes inside your boots. You can easily lose a toe-nail if your boots are too loose or too small. The descent between Gillman's Point and Kibo is the steepest and most challenging, with some long scree slopes. If you have the confidence and energy to scree-run, then this can be quite fun. If not, then it is a long and tiring slide. Either way you will really need your walking poles on this section.
Your camp will still be at the base of this descent and if you have made good time you will have the chance of a lie down, some tea and maybe something to eat if you can manage it. It is here that you will find yourself waiting or being waited for, as members of the same climb often separate off into groups of different paces. Of course some of your group may not even have attempted the summit, in which case they might even still be asleep. The descent from Kibo to Horombo is a long and generally gradual descent that is generally underaken in a kind of post-summit daze, the fact that you are now on the busy Marangu Trail is neither here nor there, your aesthetic appreciation having been replaced almost completely with a simple desire to get back down. Arrival in camp comes as an enormous relief.
By now you have probably lost all interest in your surroundings and are thinking only of a shower, a massage, a good meal, a drink and above all a comfortable bed. The descent returns back through the forest to the park gate at Marangu at 1650m. Sometimes alternative descent routes are used at the instruction of the park authorities, but they are all pretty similar. A vehicle will be waiting for you at the bottom of the hill. Usually you will part from the climb-team at this point. Over the days you will have created a real bond with them on the mountain, so this will usually be quite a sad moment. The drive back to the hotel takes only a few minutes.