Mt. Kilimanjaro Part 6: The final part of the journey

 

Day 6, Thursday : Uhuru Peak (5,895m) > Millennium Camp (3,730m)

The best way to descend from the roof of Africa is to sand surf. The slopes are steep and sandy and the guides want to get you down as quickly as possible to avoid the unfiltered rays of the sun – which are growing stronger by the minute above the clouds.

I am convinced by my lovely guide – who’s been by my side encouraging my every step for the last nine hours – to let go of fear and just go for it. My legs are so tired they don’t even feel part of me anymore but I know there’s only one direction I need to go in and I desperately want to take my boots off and sleep. I hold his hand and clumsily start to surf.

Temperatures plummeted to -12°c through the night. The water in our bottles had frozen and the ten layers of thermal clothes each of us is wearing just about keeps us warm. Descending in daylight, temperatures start to rise rapidly and suddenly those thermal clothes don’t seem like such a clever idea anymore. In that moment, when the sun is on its way up and you’re racing erratically and uncontrollably down the side of a mountain, all you want to do is strip off and throw a bucket of water over yourself!

However, I made it to camp about three hours later. This is what I looked like after summit night on Mt Kilimanjaro … to say this was excruciatingly exhausting is a total understatement. I vowed in this moment, right here that I would never EVER do anything like this again.

Arriving back at the tent and card from Hannah
The morning after the night before!

My lovely friend Hannah had a final card for this last leg of the journey for me. Inside this green envelope was a message of love, encouragement, thoughtfulness and celebration – the perfect words at the perfect time – for whether I had reached the top or not. And of course, I have completely changed my mind since this moment and can’t wait for another mountain expedition but that’s a different story for another day!

And so, I stripped my dusty layers of clothes off, shut my eyes and slept like a dream for three hours. Today would be a long and overwhelming day (we had been pre-warned!). Despite the 12 hours of trekking to the summit and back throughout the night we still had a further 7 hours trek to the next camp.

Stopping to admire the views on the descent
Starting our descent from Barafu Camp to Millennium Camp

So, after a bite to eat, we packed our bags, put on our dusty boots and wearily set off to Millennium Camp. We were about 30 minutes into the journey from Barafu Camp when one of my worst fears came true. One of those irrational thoughts I’d had ten months earlier (covered in this blog post here). I’ll give you a clue, it wasn’t getting eaten by a lion or falling down a long-drop toilet – no, 30 minutes after we’d left the comfort of Barafu Camp, my stomach turned on me.

Looking back at where we were a few hours earlier
Looking back at the majestic summit we’d reach just a few hours earlier

I was walking with Gemma and quickly informed her of my unfortunate predicament. I went into panic mode which she initially found funny then realised my worst nightmare was about to occur on the side of the mountain and her sympathy quickly set in. She took all my belongings and helped me with a plan of action and I soon escaped to a nearby bush and had no choice but to let all my inhibitions go!

Despite my fears, and the fact that group after group of summitors passed me only a few metres away, it was actually pretty liberating! Feeling much better at that point about the rest of the descent, I put that unfortunate few minutes behind me (the thought of it had actually been far worse than the reality!) and enjoyed the rest of the trek to Millennium Camp.

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All smiles now – enjoying the descent

I could feel my body deflate the more we descended. At altitude your body is under so much pressure and I really felt like I had blown up like a balloon. I could feel my body tingling back to normal and with every step down everything became so much easier and lighter.

The views are stunning as we descend through the clouds and back to lush green forest. Weirdly I found the descent much tougher than the ascent – the knees relentlessly absorbing the impact of every single step – it was a killer.

We arrived at Millennium Camp and relaxed for a couple of hours before dinner. The realisation set in that it was our last night under the stars on this fabulous mountain. The camp soon fell silent as we snuggled into our sleeping bags one last time.

Millennium Camp - Kevin Howard
Millennium Camp at sunset – our last night on the mountain under the Kilimanjo stars

Day 7, Friday : Millennium Camp (3,730m) > Mweka Camp (3,100m) Mweka Gate (1,660m) > Moshi

We all woke and had a spring in our step – today a hot shower, running water, a cold beer and a comfy bed would be ours to enjoy!

We packed our now lighter than ever bags, separating the things we were happy to leave behind for the guides and porters. We replenished our water bottles and hit the track enjoying the forest views, searching for black and white colobus monkeys in the trees above us and breathing long deep breaths of fresh oxygenated air.

Mweka gate - half way down Kilimanjaro
The final stretch – two more hours until we reach the main park gate

We made it to Mweka Camp – half way between Millennium Camp and Mweki Gate and the smiles grew wider. Only two more hours until we arrive at the main park gate.

Those last few steps felt wonderful. We’d all achieved something amazing, raised a phenomenal amount of money for charity and lived to tell the tale! Posing for pictures by the Bon Voyage sign, we took a few moments to reflect on the last week and what we’d been through before making our way to the hut to officially sign out, enjoy a beer and sit down.

We were there for about an hour before we got on the bus and drove to a little shop and art gallery where we could buy souvenirs and gifts before moving on to an outdoor bar for some lunch.

After we’d eaten a ceremony was held for the guides and porters to say farewell and to distribute the well-deserved tip we’d all contributed to. From waiters to the cooks, those who tended to the port-a-loos to the guys that set up our camp every night or led us to success at Uhuru Peak, it was our opportunity to thank them with a high five or a hug. It was an upbeat and unforgettable send off.

We finally made it back to Weru Weru River Lodge in Moshi and all raced up for showers before congregating in the hotel bar as a group to mark our achievements at a celebratory dinner. Certificates and medals were handed out and we were serenaded by music, fire walkers and acrobats – a great night.

The next day we enjoyed a few hours round the pool in the morning and had a bite to eat before heading off to the airport for our long trip home.

Relazing round the pool
L to R: Gemma, Emma and I – relaxing by the pool
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L to R: Emma, Lisa and Gemma – a bite to eat before we leave for the airport 

It was amazing to come home and see my little Rosie and Iain after 11 days away. I missed them so much. I’d picked up two rocks at Uhuru Peak – a heart-shaped rock for Rosie and a Kilimanjaro-shaped rock for me that sits pride of place on my desk at home to remind me to be brave, that dreams can be achieved when you set your mind to it and of one of the most amazing and crazy experiences of my life to date.

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Our Mount Kilimanjaro rocks – dreams come true

A special thank you

I cannot recommend a challenge like this enough – especially if you book through the amazing Global Adventure Challenges, and are lucky enough to be led by the adventuring legend ‘Commander Ken’! It’s an incredibly rewarding and memorable experience and great opportunity to make new friends!

HUGE THANKS to my amazing tent buddy Emma and to Gemma, Alisa, Bex, Louise, Lorna, Lara, Imran, Carl, Kevin, Roger, Geoff, Mike, Debs, Bobby, Ashok, Dan, Neil, Jay, Tom, Nick, Jake, Clare, Dave, Mel and of course Commander Ken, everyone at Global Adventure Challenges and all of the guides and porters who took care of us every step of the way. Without all your support and banter this experience wouldn’t have been half as fun as it was.

MEGA THANKS once again for everyone’s support in the run up to Kilimanjaro. There are so many people to thank and everyone’s contribution is truly appreciated from cards of support to words of encouragement. There’s too many people to thank but I’d like to give some special mentions to…

  • My training buddies and life-long friends Gemma and Hannah for getting me trek ready and for the special cards to open during the challenge
  • The kind and thoughtful Laura who’d reached the summit of Kilimanjaro a few months earlier for sharing all her helpful insight and equipment with me
  • My super friend Alex for picking me up from Heathrow airport at 5am and bringing me back to my Rosie and Iain – and for the flowers and champagne treat too! 🙂
  • The lovely Angela for arranging Royal Chauffeurs to take me to the airport and to Royal Chauffeurs for giving me one less thing to stress about!
  • Gillian from Muscular Dystrophy UK for all the support and encouraging words throughout
  • My wonderful friends Katherine and Grazyna for pulling off Rosie’s Charity Ball bonanza
  • The most amazing thanks ever to each and every person who supported me in this challenge through Virgin Money Giving or Rosie’s Charity Ball helping to raise over £11,100 for Muscular Dystrophy UK – AMAZING! Thank you Thank you Thank you
  • To all family and friends for everything, always – I love you all
  • And finally to Iain and Rosie for their special love and support throughout. You mean the world to me and I love you both with all my heart xoxoxo

Not forgetting to say thanks to everyone who listened to me harp on about this in the year run up to the challenge and to those who’ve listened to my endless stories since I returned (sorry about that!) … anyway … anyone for a 600 photo slide show?!! OK, how about a video of our trek (thanks Imran for creating this great memory)…

Mt Kilimanjaro – over and out. Thanks for a great time and returning us in one piece. You were awesome!

Catch up on all previous posts here:


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