Thursday, 22 September 2011


We started our day with a great breakfast from Hamisi. What a great cook. Eggs, pancakes, beef sausages the lot. He packed a lunch for us too and off we went. It was an hour to Ngorongoro and another hour to descend in to the crater. On the way, we passed Lake Manyara. I did want to go there too but it was not on our schedule and from the viewpoint it was apparent why. The current lake was just a tiny representation of it's former self. The 2 years of drought have taken it's toll on this majestic lake which looked pitiful now.

Ngorongoro is a volcanic formation. The 23 km wide crater was formed when the magma chamber collapsed thus sinking the caldera (volcanic crater).
It's absolutely teeming with wildlife because it is almost a closed ecosystem and animals rarely migrate out of it. Thus it is one of the few places where you can get to see all of the big 5 (Lion, Leopard, Buffalo, Rhino and Elephant).
As we ascended the crater side, 2 things became apparent to me. 1: I was hurting badly from the day before and 2: I had underestimated the weather in Ngorongoro. Yesterdays decent had left my legs feeling completely battered. My back was hurting and I was cold. The roads here also jolted us around quite a bit and I had little energy to brace myself. Sarahs words echoed in my ears "you'll be too tired after Kili to care about the Safari" but I was here now and we were bouncing our way to the crater floor.
On our way, baboons littered the road, it felt like the West Midlands Safari Park but you knew this was the real deal. These guys were wild and this was their natural habitat.
On our way down, we caught sight of some Giraffes though they were quite a way off.
Finally we got to the crater floor and it was immediately obvious why this was the safari to go on. Herds of wilderbeast, antelope and zebras walked the plain. A short while later, we caught sight of a cheetah hiding amongst the bushes. There were wilderbeast close by so we waited with excruciating patience for a kill but it lay lethargic as big cats do so we moved on. We caught sight of a lion wandering on his own. He seemed quite an old chap and not too far away from him was a whole pride. A couple of elephants were spotted in the distance; hyenas and jackals crossed in front of our car and we saw herds of African Buffalo. Before the morning was out, we had seen three of the big 5 and a cheetah amongst the many other animals. We moved towards the lake where we caught the beautiful pink of flamingos and the blubberous mass of the hippos. Here we stopped for lunch and kites hovered above. I had taken some pain killers and so by afternoon I was feeling a lot chirpier and it was warm enough to remove my fleece. We drove on, saw a multitude of other birds and animals including ostriches. It must be stressed, though safari is all about the big game, I witnessed some of the best bird and plant life I've ever seen.
Michael was an exceptional guide. He knew all the quirky little facts, where to find animals and all the etiquette's of safari.
We finished up in the late afternoon and headed back to the campsite where we rested and then had an evening meal of quiche fried potatoes and coleslaw. We sat with Michael chatting about all sorts and lit up our cigars... We needed to celebrate...

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We're going on Safari!

Mohammed at MEM had arranged our safari so that that we drive to the campsite the night before, which was close to Ngorongoro. That way we would have a longer game drive there rather then setting off in the morning.

We met our driver and guide Michael a skinny chap of around 60 years old who seems like he has seen a lot in his time. Our cooks name was Hamisi. A bigger chap, as cooks usually are. Both very pleasant people. We had a long drive to our campsite in which we chatted, watched the sunset and dozed a little.

We got to Twigga Lodges and Campsite where the doorman opened the huge iron gates to let us through. They obviously took security seriously. In all honestly, it was the best campsite I have ever seen. It had a recreation room with a good bar, very plush restaurant, toilet/shower block, and even swimming pool. It was lush with greenery. The grass was amazing and it had an army of people hovering around keeping things clean. We stopped at the bar for a coke and the found top gear on the TV the episode where they take three 4x4's to South America. We had an evening meal of spagetti bolognese and then packed in to quite a comfortable nights sleep.

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Back to Marangu Gate

Today was going to be a very long day. We were to descend from Horombo Hut, past Mandara Hut and all the way back to Marangu gate. That’s two days worth of ascent decent in one. We made an early start. Breakfast was at 0730 at we were off at 0800. I took the lead and set the pace. It was a quick one and relentless. With Sab and Ray on my tail followed by the rest, we were determined to make our way down in less then the Guides predicted time of 5 hours. It was 3 hours back to Mandara and a further 2 back to the gate.

With food in our stomachs and the sun beaming some quality heat down, our spirits were very high. We hopped, skipped and even jumped over the rock strewn path, tearing our way down the slope. My knees were feeling good, my heels were feeling good, and my ITB was feeling good. I did fear the decent more then the ascent to be honest because your body takes such a pounding from it. The continual shock takes its toll and my knees especially start aching after not too long. Here however, they seemed mostly fine. Only when the path became steeper did I have to rely highly on the support of my walking poles to brace my step. It had rained the night before and so this very path that was dry and dusty a few days earlier was now moist and slightly muddy in places. We had to take care with foot placements and each of us had the scary ‘slip of the foot’ and so we had to keep our focus tight.

At one point, a porter passed me. I was intrigued at the exceptionally high pace that the porters move at so insisted on keeping on his tail for a while; firstly to experience this incredible movement on the mountain and secondly to play with the porter a little and let him know that a walker is keeping up with him. However, after only half a mile or so (it might have been less) I was spent. Try as I might, I could not keep up with his formidable pace and I backed off. 1-0 to the porter!

At one point, I moved out of the way to take a photo as the group all made its way round a bend. I got the picture but lost the front of the group… and never got back there again, those kids on the front were now hard boiled and were sure as hell quick on their feet!

We made our way through the savana, then the scrubland and were now in the lightly forested area. We were passing through climatic zones like courses of a meal and were enjoying every second of it.

Finally we made our way into the Mandara Hut area. 2 hours and 55 minutes later. We were 5 minutes ahead of our schedule. Here the guides had planned a hot meal for us but the cooks had just arrived themselves (maybe it goes to show the speed we were travelling at). The group however had other ideas. We were in good spirits and clearly full of energy. We insisted on a small rest with very light snacks and then were happy to proceed to Marangu gate. As much as we were loving every minute of it. We were now hell bent of finishing it off. We mustered up some snacks from our bags. Little did we know, Safiyah had been carrying a sweetshop full of snacks in her rucksack all the time! I had some chocolate and a packet of Hula Hoops and was ready to push on.

The pace from here back to the gate was a little slower. We were obviously a little beat from the previous three hours of marching. The group also split up a little. We passed a waterfall. Harune and myself decided that we need a picture here. The rest continued on. As we figured it, this was the least stressful part of the journey, there was nothing to worry about “Hakuna Matata!” So along the way, we stopped, took pictures, walked to the river and observed odd bits here and there, and talked to people ascending. Harune advised a couple of lads on taking Diamox and so on.

We then decided to catch up with the rest of the group as we wanted to walk to Marangu gate together. It didn’t take us long before we caught the tail of the group and together we were all heading back on the final leg of this great journey.

As we caught sight of the great triangle structure that marks the entrance point of the Marangu route, we all stopped, regrouped and a camera went on ahead to record this momentous event. We proudly marched our way through the gate with smiles from ear to ear. We started here six days ago, walked our way to the summit and all the way back down again. I was absolutely ecstatic… oh, and exhausted!

The porters signed us out and got our certificates, we insisted on taking photos with them at the gate even though they were blank as yet. Eventually we loaded our stuff back onto the bus and made our way to the MEM Tours office. There we were greeted by Mohammed who congratulated us and provided refreshments. It had to be a Coke for me. I had just completed the ‘Coca-Cola’ route!

Adnaan made a speech thanking Mohammed and all the team that helped us noting special efforts from exceptional guides and porters. We had gathered some money between the group for the customary ‘tip’ which we passed onto Mohammed to distribute amongst the guides, porters and cooks. He is a genuine and fair man so we trusted that he would honour our generosity.

I enquired about our safari and what time we were expected to be ready. This news came as quite a shock. “You have around 40 minutes to an hour and then the driver will come to pick you up”. This was not what we had in mind. Our idea was to get back, have a shower, have a meal with the rest of the team and bid them farewell and then depart sometime in the evening. We were told however that the drive is still quite long. There would be preparations at the campsite and so it would be best to go at the time suggested. We got Jackson at the office to order a couple of pepper steaks at the hotel and we wasted no time in bidding farewell to our guides and Mohammed. We took some more pictures, this time with our signed certificates that were formally presented to us and then piled back into the bus.

Back at the hotel, Harune and myself were not allocated a room as we were not staying and so he hogged Ray’s shower and I Adnaans. A jolly good scrub later we were clean and changed. Our pepper steaks were ready and tasted amazing. We also recorded our final message on camera for Minhaj Welfare Foundation.

Ishtiaq and Fakarul showed up and gave warming congratulations. They looked much better and happier now from the weary guys I last saw on Kili. I don’t think mountains are any places for these guys. It was good to see that they were relaxed and now enjoying themselves. It wasn’t so good to learn that Farkarul, who had reached nowhere near Gilmans Point had managed to lie at the gate and get a certificate. I felt that it insulted the efforts of all the others in the group that had got to a higher altitude them him, but such is life. I guess to some, personal achievement means less then an image.

Our driver showed up and so we bid the rest of the group well and loaded up the car. One journey was well and truly over and another was just about to begin…

The Decent

[this blog will be updated with pictures]

Our time at the top was over. There was only one way to go... Down. This was supposed to be the easy bit. We are supposed to feel better as we decend. The oxygen increases. It's all good. Sounds too good to be true... It was.

As we decended, suddenly the nausea kicked in. Not just me, the whole group. Apparently this is normal. I also think it had something to do with the bare empty stomachs we were running on.
We did as others did to us and wished the ascenders well.

We made our way back to Stella Point, then to Gilmans Point. Then down the scramble section to the scree. We were stopping every few minutes to gather ourselves so as not to hurl everywhere. By this time, Nissar and his porter had shot down the mountain way ahead of us three.
We didn't need to zigzag our way down. The whole lot was scree so we just took great strides that sank into the ground and we descended fast, still stopping occasionally due to the nausea.
Somewhere down the slope, Partick had sent some porters up. They took our backpacks and completely shadowed our descent in case we needed water etc. At one point I looked back and the others had stopped for a rest. I was feeling ok and had a rhythm going and so continued down, my porter Patrick2 was continuously on my tail. As I approachedthe path off the scree to Kibo, something dawned on me: if the others are still at the hut, I didnt want to greet them on my own. The whole journey from the start was a monumental team effort and I wanted to be with the summit team (bar Nissar who had shot ahead). So I found a rock on the side and rested a few minutes until the rest caught up. I didn't have to wait long as the rest were only a little behind me. They got to me and we rested a while. Sab hurled once more and threw up for the first and last time on the descent.

Though by some optical illusion, Kibo seemed to be an uphill trek, I knew it was in fact downhill. We made our way into the same camp that we had left some 13 hours earlier but as different people. We left here fresh, strong but uncertain and apprehensive, we returned battered and tattered by the mountain but jubilant and triumphant.
We were met by our cook who After congratulating us and providing some mango juice as a celebratory drink, asked whether we'd like food then rest or rest then food. Though our stomachs were craving some nourishment, we quickly realised that it was imminent that we get rest. I struggled to remove my boots, and equipment and only just made it to my bag on the top bunk. I didn't get as far as zipping my bag up... I was out.

We were awoken about an hour or so later by a familiar voice. It was Patrick! It was so good to see him. He congratulated all of us and immediately brought us some food. Chunky potato soup full of carbs carbs and more carbs. Just what we needed. But of course we were still at Kibo and appetites are challenged here. Most of the group managed a few mouthfuls. My goats stomach didn't see potatoes in the bowl, it saw calories, carbs and energy. I managed most of the plate.
We were being evicted from our abode as others were waiting to pile in. Kibo is not a holiday home, it's a short stay carpark. After a very short rest, you have to descend down to Horombo again. So, thats one days ascending, to the summit and two days worth of descending, all in one day! On the way down, we were protesting to Mahmoud that it was not physically possible for us to descend to Horombo today we were just too exhausted but the rest seemed to give us some new energy. It was all downhill from here so we packed our stuff and faced ourselves down the mountain. An estimated 3 hours walk, we motored back and made it in 2.5 hours. Ascending the same route took us seven hours only a day ago.

The rest of the group would meet us at Horombo bar Ishtiaq and Fakarul. Ishtiaq was sent even lower down and he was stretchered off the mountain and back to the hotel (mostly by choice not necessity). Fakarul decided there was no point being on the mountain and also decended back to the hotel.

Back at Horombo, after visiting the reception desk, we clambered back to our dorm where we met Adnaan, Ray and Nissar who gave us a heartwarming congratulatory hug.

We got out of our equipment, it was meal time. This would be our last and celebratory meal on Kilimanjaro together...

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Day 7: summit day.

We were to be woken at 11pm. By 11:15 we were still in bed. I could see teams of climbers marching out of camp towards the summit. I had meticulously arranged my gear so that there would be no fumbling in the weariness. I had double checked my equipment and taken my last Diamox (altitude sickness preventing) tablet at 6pm. I was as ready as I was ever going to be.

I took no chances. My summit gear consisted of underwear, long johns, trousers and salopettes for the legs and baselayer, powerstretch fleece, normal fleece and down jacket up top. I pulled on my shrunken wool mittens for the first time since Iceland with their goretex covers and had two thick pairs of socks on. I also had a buff for the neck and my ugly hat on the head. I also had three backup hats.

Nine of our group made it to Kibo hut, Ishtiaq was now at Horombo. Most of us went to sleep feeling ok. I had a slight oncoming headache which was quickly beaten to the ground by a couple of tough nut painkillers. However, when we woke up again it was quite a different story. Some of the group were starting to feel a little bad. Adnaan, went to sleep as strong as a ox but woke a different person. The nausea set in and he couldn’t stop vomiting. Ray also had a splitting headache.

We saw more and more groups of people get in line, say a few lines to psyche themselves up and march off with their head torches ablaze onto the moonlit slopes towards the summit. Yet there were still straps to be adjusted, equipment to be organised and leaking water bladders to be sorted in our group.

Finally, the group all mustered in a small and nervous crowd outside our hut. We said a small prayer led by Adnaan, formed a single file with the three girls, Maryam, Safiyah and Sab at the front followed by me, Harune, Ray, Fakarul, Adnaan and Nissar… maybe not in that order.

We marched off pole pole towards the summit.

We quickly realised that the weather conditions were greatly in our favour. There was little wind, it was cold but then it’s always cold and the moon was full, it lit up the whole mountain to the point that we no longer needed out heard torches, in fact, I didn’t use my head torch for the remainder of the walk.

Super pole pole was not quick enough for this ascent; we had a slightly quicker pace, set this time by Patrick our chief guide. As we meandered our way out of the Kibo hut area, the path became noticeably steeper. As the incline continued to increase, the path began to zigzag. The ground also became looser and turned into fine scree. Not only did we now have to put up with tiredness and thinner air, we also had to bear the frustration of the path beneath our feet giving as we tried to step up. It would slip a little each time, slowing our ascent but we pushed on with grimaced faces. Nobody spoke. Every ounce of energy was reserved for making oneself go forward and up. There were no wise cracks and not even one of Fakaruls crazy statements we all grew to love!

Patrick began his song. It was a slow smooth calming song that was very repetitive but it was almost like a marching song that got us into a zone and droned us into hypnotically walking behind him.

After some time, Sab suddenly pulled out of the path from in front of me. The nausea had set in so she stopped to contain it but joined the group somewhere close behind me. Much of the group had started to suffer now. No longer was it still a tight formation, it had spread out somewhat as people stopped to catch breath, fight nausea and probably throw up too. Hydration hoses were also starting to freeze now. Even though we were instructed to blow any water back into the main bladder, any remaining drops would quickly freeze to render the system useless. The electrical tape Harune had wrapped over his hydration hose didn’t work, the water froze. I had invested in a neoprene lined hose for my bladder which was holding off any freezing pretty well. You don’t want to run out of water here.

We all made it to the memorial plaque for the Alpine club member and then to the 5000 metre marker. Then it all turned pear shaped.

Fakarul started to get very cold fingers and toes. He complained that they may be frozen and frost bitten. Though it seemed a little far fetched, he decided to turn around and abandon his summit attempt. It was a shame considering he was climbing so strongly. A short while later, Saf really wasn’t looking too great. She began suffering quite a bit. Though it seemed to me that Maryam looked okay, she had obviously also been affected as both were turned around and escorted back to safety (we later found out from Patrick that they are incredibly well trained to spot any signs of acute mountain sickness which is why they spotted the effects in Maryam before we did!). The mountain was also taking its toll on Ray. His condition was deteriorating as we ascended and at one point he fell to the ground. Our guides didn’t take any chances, when he woke, the ground was rushing past beneath him. He was held aloft by a guide who was literally running down the mountain side! That to me sounds scarier then the toilets at Kibo Hut! Probably the saddest news I learnt on the mountain was the turn around of our group leader Adnaan. He was formidably strong on all the previous days and up until we went to sleep at Kibo, but since waking his condition had deteriorated and continued to do so. He put up a monumental fight, as did all of the others but alas the mountain claimed another victim. I wasn’t even sure when this was as I always assumed he was somewhere behind me. We were now down to four: Nissar, Harune, Sab and myself.

We pushed on relentlessly up the zigzagging path. The time was pushing on, I could see first light at the horizon but similarly, I could also see Gilman’s point where most stop to see the sunrise. I could also hear some cheering and wailing coming from that direction, probably from the crowd as another mortal stepped onto the small landing from the rock below. As we made our way up, the top didn’t seem to get any closer. The sky behind us got redder and brighter. The ground beneath us changed from the zigzagging scree path to a rocky muddle that took effort from both hands and feet to negotiate. Each step was an effort of gargantuan proportions that left us gasping for breath. At this point, it was getting ridiculous; surely humans are not meant to be at this place, we were not designed for this.

The sky got lighter still and as we got very close to Gilmans Point, we stopped for a break and faced the horizon. The sun finally burst its light forth and produced a dazzling spectacle for the many climbers perched on their respective rocks hither and thither. All the previous suffering vanished into a moment of pure delight as we soaked up this very special moment.

Our work was not yet complete though. The four climbers, guide and assistant pushed further on. We each used the progress of the one in front to push our own selves forward. To fall behind here meant many minutes would pass before you caught up. Finally at somewhere close to 7am we met with the sign that read “You are now at Gilmans Point, 5681m AMSL”.

We had done the hardest part of our journey. Many stop at this point and call it a day. We were shattered beyond comprehension and our remaining guide Mahmoud didn’t look much better either. He hadn’t climbed in weeks and so the altitude seemed to be affecting him also. It seemed to us that Mahmoud did not want us to continue further, he pointed out that the summit was a further 2 hours trek around the crater rim. This was greatly undulating and so we needed to be very sure that we were able to continue and also make a return journey.

Personally, I didn’t know how I made it this far, whether I could make it there or even make it back. All I did know is that I had dragged myself this far and that I didn’t come here to see Gilmans point. I had an appointment with a few planks that read “Uhuru Peak” and that was where I was heading. Fortunately for me, I was with some fully loaded sons of guns that were as determined and stubborn as myself. We found some new energy from the deepest darkest corners of our souls and turned to the summit.

As we peered across, it was possible to follow the trail along the crater rim to the very end where a massive crowd of people were gathered around what was the summit sign. This massive crowd appeared as a tiny dot amongst the vastness of the crater!
We made good speed on the downhill sections and then back to pole pole on the uphills. The views became incredibly good into the crater and we also caught sight of the first of the summit glaciers. As we moved closer, we passed decending parties whom we congratulated and who wished us well. After an hour or so of trekking, we reached Stella Point, the sunrise viewpoint of all the other routes. There was a hustle and bustle of people climbing up, resting and climbing downwards. Here we removed our down jackets as the sun was starting to warm us up considerably and I added on my waterproof, just to keep the wind off.

We set off on the final push to the summit.

We passed many a descending climber, each was wishing us well, some already congratulating our efforts. It seemed that most people were on their way down and by 0830, this was very true. We were heading to the summit quite late. However, the weather was so good, it didn’t seem to make a blind bit of difference and to us, we were past caring. To think that we were now almost there was good enough for us.

Finally, at around 0900, we caught sight of the Summit sign. There was a very small crowd now… it was the Irish group that we walked up with, taking pictures with the sign. We walked up to the people and absorbed the majestic view that surrounded us. The summit sign, the glaciers on all sides, the rising sun, the horizon on all sides, it was a sight beyond description. As a climber, to say that the emotion got to me would be an understatement. Tears were streaming down my face as I stood on the summit of my first high altitude peak, the first of the seven summits. The culmination of months of planning, training and preparation. We congratulated each other with a triumphant hug and proceeded to the sign armed with cameras ready to fire. Needless to say, as we had the luxury of time, we took group shots with and without guides,

family shots,

shots with flags,

shots with cigars

and even shots with Superman T-shirts! (see above) We also met Alex, the Romanian climber whom we met at the previous huts. It was good to catch him here so we took a picture with him…

and the glaciers.

Yes, this is a time to capture moments and so every opportunity was milked.

Our time at the summit had come to an end. It’s a great place to be, but not a great place to stay. We turned to the way we came there was only one way to go now… down…

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Saturday, 17 September 2011

Day 6: Kibo... We're coming

This day would take us to Kibo hut. It lies at 4750 metres above sea level and is known as a godforsaken place. It's a high altitude hut where people's summit attempts are fulfilled or shattered. We were all scared of Kibo and what it could possibly mean for us. The people who were stretchered down from it and the people at Horombo who warned us of it only confirmed our fears but our journey only led us in one direction... to it's front door...

For our climb to Kibo hut, we knew one thing for sure, the group was gonna be slow and so we conjured up a strategy. We would get all our water the night before, pack our gear wear our warmer clothes and so all that would be needed in the morning was breakfast.
However that was easier said then done as a combination of nerves and altitude meant that some of us nibbled a little and others nothing at all. It was going to be a long day.
Ishtiaq being incredibly slow due to his suffering at altitude started a least half an hour before the rest of the group. We all got ready, got in line, I was to set the pace today... "super pole pole" as we coined it. We kept in line and made baby steps onward continuously reminding reach other to drink water. This was a total team effort. After not too long, we passed Ishtiaq. However, the Irish passed us, the aged Japanese passed us, but we plodded on. We got to the saddle area and the weather changed somewhat.

It's more exposed as there is a change in the ecosystem to 'desert' from the savana of the previous day. We put on jackets and hats for the first time and continued to our lunch stop. Walking, drinking, drinking, walking but then suddenly, I sucked on my Camelbak tube and disaster, I was out of water! I had been through three litres in only half a day! Patrick, our chief guide assured us that we could refill at our lunch stop and so I took some water from Harune and Nissar and we continued to our lunch stop.
We were spewed across some rocks this time rather then the usual feeding stations. The place was crawling with mice but otherwise fine. Our cooks brought out soup, then the usual mix of chicken, boiled egg, and banana but this time added a bread and jam sandwich that had been battered and fried; sound crazy? It taste awesome! Some time later Ishtiaq arrived. After having a rest, Patrick came to speak with him. There was little point in him carrying on to Kibo as he would only have to turn around again as his condition was deteriorating. Though he protested or suggested that he be wheeled to Kibo, Patrick insisted on him walking to Horombo. Patrick ushered a porter to take Ishtiaqs duffle back down. It occurred to me that all the other bags were already enroute to Kibo and so Patrick had decided earlier to turn Ishtiaq around. It made sense as conditions only deteriorate at higher altitude and so it was more important to get Ishtiaq to a safe place... Horombo.

We refilled our water, loaded bags and continued to Kibo. The last stretch was tough going. It got steeper and though the hut came into sight a long way back, it never seemed to get any closer. Eventually we stepped foot in the high mountain base they call Kibo hut.

It, as with all the others, is not a single hut but a group of huts. Here there were two and a third was being built. The place was crawling with porters all huddled in various groups hawking the newly arrived climbers. Probably assessing our worth.
We signed in as usual and were shown the only dorm left. Our late arrival meant that the better accommodation has been taken. The hut was simple, very simple. We'd obviously been spoilt at Horombo. End to end lower and higher tier of bunks with not much space for anything else. We set the matresses out and waited for food. In the meantime, we ventured out to visit the famed Kibo toilets.

These toilets are special. We were warned about them but now it was time to experience them. There were five cubicles in all, three for climbers and two for porters. As I stepped in, one thing became immediately apparent: these were litterally the worst smelling toilets ever. I kid you not, I have a tough stomach and I was hurling in there. The cubicle consisted of nothing but an elongated hole in the ground. Once straddling the hole, all thoughts were answered. The toilet block is built over the end of a cliff, looking down, not only can you see your defacation splat on the rocks below, you can also see it join 30 years of climbers faeces... And that's the fun part! What isn't fun is the updraft of air that carries the stench of putrid crap from the cliffs below and it's that wind that gives this toilet block it's famed loathing. The boys made it fun to stand and watch the pitiful faces of people as they exited these torturous loos.

After all that excitement, it was dinner time. Soup and bread followed by spagetti bolognese. We struggled to stomach the food, not because it tasted bad. It was actually delicious, rather it was the altitude and our nerves. Very quickly after, we tucked into bed for a few hours as we were to awake at 11pm for our summit climb. We all seemed in pretty good health. I didnt sleep a wink though. A million thoughts were running through my head all about the climb. It was a long few hours...

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Day 5: Resting with zebras

The days have since lapsed and I am now sitting in a campsite near Tarangire national park, so the memory is getting vague...

The day after getting to Horombo was a rest day, otherwise known as an acclimatisation day. this day we climb to a higher altitude and then decent back to Horombo again.
We started the day a little later with breakfast at 0800 and we started walking at 0900. We all set off as usual but paid paticular attention to the pole pole rule of going slowly. It was a relatively short and uneventful walk till we got to zebra rocks.

Much to Harunes disappointment, there were no Zebras at zebra rocks! Rather we encountered a rock outcrop that was striped black and white. They were quite amazing. Though I knew better, it was the thought of many that the rocks had been painted, in fact they had become striped as a result of minerals running down the face in rain.
We rested. Climbed the face. Nissar climbed a rock... as usual... and we had the mandatory photos in various poses.
Then it was our first attempt at a decent. I was actually quite apprehensive because I didnt know how my knee or iliotibial band (ITB) would behave. It wasn't the wisest idea when I left Zebra rocks with a sprint either! One of the guides walking up the other way up reminded me to save my energy as we still had the hardest days ahead of us. So we stomped our way down and after not too long, we were back at Horombo. My ITB was hurting and I didn't fill me with confidence.
That evening, we met a guy who had just returned from the summit. His advise was stark. "take Diamox... Don't waste any time, take it!" He explained that as an experienced mountaineer, it was the hardest thing he had ever done. "It's unbelievably cold up there, my fingers and feet were absolutely freezing, wear the warmest gloves you can, take it slow, very slow."
In truth, his advise gave me the shivers. I was petrified, petrified that I might not make it. That night I did not sleep well at all. I knew that the next two days were going to be the ultimate test.

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Day 4: out of the forest and into the dust.

Our second day started early as bladders needed to be emptied. We woke around 6am. Got set and headed to breakfast which today consisted of a floury porridge, egg and halal beef sausages with the usual copious helpings of tea.
We packed, loaded up on water and started trekking at around 0830. It was a misty start but after not too long, the vegetation thinned out and eventually we had better visibility too. The picture below shows what's supposed to be our very first view of the summit!

The most notable thing about this day of hiking is that it is very very dusty. The man made path is very dry and loose and so dust gets kicked up everywhere. To the point where it was seriously affecting Sabs asthma. After wrapping a scarf over her mouth she felt much better but for the rest of us, the dust filled our noses and made it very uncomfortable.

Today Ishtiaq, the oldest member of our group set of ahead of the rest of the group as he really struggled with the previous day. We trekked nearly 5 hours before lunch but we stopped at an official feeding station where our cook had prepared a hot lunch for us. It consisted of leek soup, fried chicken, boiled egg, bread, a cup cake and a juice. Very nice.

Here we also experienced a proper hole on the ground latrine too!

Finally after a good break, we plodded on pole pole for a couple of hours the effects of altitude were finally beginning to show as any over exertion got us feeling out of breath. A few people were also feeling the onset of a headache. But, whilst chatting and walking we made good pace and landed at Horombo hut.

None of the huts are just one building by the way; they are a cluster of many buildings including a registration office, a couple of mess tents, toilet blocks and 10 or 15 smaller huts which are all dorms. It's like a small climbers village with a great hustle and bustle of climbers, guides, porters and cooks.

We had the usual popcorn and tea for a refreshment with roasted peanuts as an extra. This was followed by our main meal which consisted of cucumber soup followed by pasta and the nicest beef sauce ever!

Most people pack in quite early. Ishtiaq who has really seen the effects of altitude and exhaustion tucked in very early, even without an evening meal, we all kept an eye on him.

After one final toilet break, I am also planning on hitting the sack... Or should that be bag?...

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Day 3: On the mountain

On the morning of the trek our schedule was strict. Have breakfast and bring luggage down before 0830 as that's when we leave the hotel. We all loaded up and set off. We made a few stops. First at MEM then at a couple of butchers. We drove for quite a while, maybe an hour or so, gradually ascending up and up on narrow winding roads. Finally we parked at Marangu gate which is the starting point of the Marangu (cocacola) route.
We were given our water and lunch box for the day ( beef burger with egg, fried chicken, banana and cake ) which looked delicious. We then headed to the registration office where we spent a good hour registering and waiting whilst our guides sorted stuff out.

Finally we set off and immediately headed into a forest track. It was quite level and had some gentle inclines along the way but was amazingly scenic. Mossy trees towered over the man made path and the whole route was easy going. Along the way, we caught sight of some monkeys in the trees jumping from one to the other and then at lunch time a mongoose and raven. We pressed on and finally reached the Mandara hut in the late afternoon.

It was very cosy and our dorm was above the main mess hall. After settling in, we were provided tea and popcorn... I lurve popcorn!
Not long after we had our meal which consisted of cucumber soup followed by roast potatoes cabbage fish and a vegetable broth. It was actually all very nice. We also met our cooks that evening.
We retired to our dorm for the evening and pondered on how to entertain ourselves. But ultimately we tucked in for an early night. Though it wasn't to be as a group of Irish climbers became very merry and had the loudest of sing songs. Adnaan had to clamber down the stairs and kindly request that they keep the noise down. I think they got the message and pack up for the night. And thus so did we. There was quite an orchestra of snoring in the night but some time in the early morning my bladder was the only cause of my disturbance...

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Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Day 2: There is something wrong

After the mammoth journey yesterday. We were thankful that we had a rest day before the climb. That to me meant sleeping to my hearts content. I woke at around 11.30 and jumped into the shower. I missed breakfast but I remembered the crackers I'd bagged from the flight and made a meal of them.

Luckily we managed to catch a fantastic cup of tea in the restaurant at the hotel. We then organised all our trekking gear and lay it out on the bed so that our guides could inspect it.
We had a meeting with them at around 1.30 in which we were introduced to Patrick, Dawus and Mahmoud, our guides. Our organiser Jackson held the briefing in which he told us just general stuff about the climb, what will be provided etc. The best thing I learnt was that the huts will have powerpoints. My blog might be saved!!

Mahmoud did our inspection. What a nice guy. He climbs Kili twice a month on average but others like Patrick climb more often. Our gear inspection went great. Mahmoud went through all of it and said "my god you are well prepared... You are ready to kill the Kili!"
Immediately after this. Me and Harune went to the MEM office where we finally met Mohammed O. Shabhay. He is an absolutely amazing chap. So warm hearted. We went to sort out our safari arrangements and Ishtiaq and Nasser joined us as they were also interested. However, they couldn't change their itinerary on flights. We however got our safari so that we drive out the same day we come off the mountain and also spend time in lodges. This way we get more game driving and we stay in better accommodation. Fantastic.

Tahseen and Adnaan had arranged something very special for the afternoon. A visit to an orphanage.

We were supposed to meet up at 4pm but with the ridiculously slow service at the hotel restaurant, this got pushed to 5pm... We did order beef steak for lunch! We all set of and drove through some really run down areas till we reached what seemed like an educational compound. It was all well laid out inside with trees, gardens and play areas. We met Sulaiman the head of the orphanage who lead us to a group of girls sitting ouside one of the buildings. We sat down on some benches they set out for us.

We looked at them and they looked at us.

Adnaan who is experienced at visiting orphanages broke the ice. He gave them all salaam then asked various questions like 'do you all like it here?' and 'can anyone recite some Quran for us?' and toyed with them as to reciting long and short verses of the Quran. Then one of the girls started reciting in the most beautiful of voices. We were in awe. Then they sang some nasheeds in english, Arabic and Swahili!
We then went for a tour around the various buildings. On our way back, we spotted some girls playing skipping. The type with two girls swinging the rope and one jumping. We egged each other to go and join in. Eventually we all walked up and asked to join in. Ray was first up. It looked promising but all went tits up when he failed epically and didn't make one jump. Harune was up next and seriously dropped the gauntlet by making something like 50 jumps in a row! Safia was up next and did pretty well too. Then it was my turn. I missed on or two and it was looking pretty bad but then I made it... I was jumping the rope, it didn't last long but long enough for me to keep my credibility. We then decided to teach the a playground game... The hand clapping one. They took to it really well and it was great for bonding with the kids.

By this time, the rest of the group came back and joined in the fun. We gathered all the kids and took pictures. We then went to the car and bought out some books, pens, rice and stuff that we bought for the orphans. They took to the pens particularly well!

Finally we departed from the orphanage and most of us were quite emotional as we had learnt much from the trip. It really bought home the essence of what we were doing the trek for.

We got back freshened up and then went to get some food at the restaurant. All I have to say is that the service in Tanzania is exceptionally slow. But it's something beyond comprehension. We waited over one hour for our food which they cooked from scratch ( one steak for Harune and three spicy chicken wings for Sab, Ray and me) but when the food finally came out, it was cold. How does that happen?? it seemed as if they made the food after 40 minutes and then left it for 20 minutes before serving it.
The restaurant closes at 9 but by the time we finished out our food it was 10pm. Too late for a cup of tea according to the waitress but we got one of the cooks to make us some. She got told off by the waitress but we got out tea !

Some of us then retired to the top floor where there is a swing seat. We sat for quite some time chatting as we knew it was the last night of relaxation for some time. Finally at nearly 1am I am finishing my blog so that I can call it a night. Alarms are on for 7am so that we can start the first day on the mountain.

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Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Day 1: Crunch time

The day of days has arrived. I woke for morning prayer and stayed up. I treated myself to fried egg bread n beans and a quality cup of coffee. Then sorted out bits of paperwork. The kids rose for their first day at school so it was uniforms, lunches and breakfast... an old routine I really haven't missed for 6 weeks. I dropped them off, picked up Shaz and headed to her college for her enrolement then Asda for more photos but to no avail, the machine was dead.

I can't believe.. or actually I can. Me and Harune made a last mad dash into town to buy bits from Cotswold outdoors (waterproof bags and energy stuff). We also got money exchanged.

We had to dash back because our bro-in-law Tahir had taken time off work to bid us farewell. That done, I rushed home and finalised packing. Lo, Harunes friend came by around 4pm to pick me up. I bid farewell to my family as they weren't coming over to mumndads. As I got in the car, Ishaaq started his crying. It was heartbreaking to see but we had to go. We filled up with Petrol and checked tyre pressures etc and were off to the parents house.

There all my family awaited us. They weren't too happy about waiting a long tine but hey ho. We said a prayer and said our goodbyes. We were finally on our way... Oh after picking Mo up that is!

Obviously, leaving Birmingham at nearly 5pm meant that it was inevitable that we would get stuck in commuter traffic, but after grinning and bearing it for a while, we were full speed in the direction of Manchester Airport.

We were supposed to be there at 6pm. We got there at 7pm. We met the rest of the team, yes we were last. It was very good to finally put faces to names. Especially Adnaan.

[the rest I have to keep as brief as possible as sooo much happened... if you wanna know more, ask.]

We got through customs fine. Still did last bits of shopping boarded and set off.
Meals on board were great. I had a smoked salmon starter and massive lamb steak. We got to Dubai and went in the hunt for a Maccie D's. We all had a big Mac meal for breakfast.

We also picked up some Monte Christo and Romeo y julieta cigars. Back on track we boarded for Dar es Salaam. It was still Emirates but the plane was slightly older. Our lunch consisted of fish and rice or chicken and rice for Harune. I tried to get as many drinks down me as possible! Water, juice, coffee, tea and more water. Also my hopes for Arabic revision disintegrated as I watched Fast 5, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Greatest Movie Ever Made and some of Toy Story 3. We got to Dar es Salaam and it was amazing. We were finally in Africa! Dar es Salaam is a special one. There was a mad dash for the visas and as much as we planned. We were last in the queue!

We were walking through odd corridors and alley ways. It didn't look anything like an airport. At one point we walked straight into a police interrogation room!

We made our flight on time though. The plane was much much smaller this time on one of Tanzanias own airlines.

We got a can of drink and some cashews but the journey was only an hour or a bit longer.
We arrived in Kilimanjaro airport at night and had Tahseen meet us there. It was more or less a walk through as we didn't need to remove our boots at the check desks like every other time since leaving Manchester. We must have removed our shoes at least 10 times!
The guys at MEM had cars ready. A people carrier and one of their 4x4 safari vehicles. I jumped at the chance of trying one of these out. We got to the hotel and it was very pleasant. Our rooms were clean and massive.

The place is new and modern. But we threw our gear in and jumped back in the cars as we had a meal booked at one of the local restaurants.

I have one work to say... STEAK!

Our meal was meat ball starter, followed by an amazing steak
hat came sizzling and with chips. This was followed by a fruit salad, marble cake and desi cooked tea. We were knocked out.

Back to the hotel, we dipped our toes in the swimming pool and realised it's too cold, then most people retired. Rooni, Sab and Ray were playing blackjack and are now learning speed whilst I sit and update the blog whilst listening to dodgy African music on the television. It's been one long day...

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Sunday, 4 September 2011

It's the final countdown

Well, after leaving Lancaster my week has been jam packed with work and celebrations of all sorts. Most of the last bits of shopping are done.

I went out last Sunday with Harune (and Imran... Other brother) for Eid and Kili shopping but it was the mundane bits like shoe laces and sleeping bag liners.

Oh. That's a picture of all the bargain purchases from Blacks.

The flag is also totally ready. Check this out

I'm very excited. It looks more amazing then I could have hoped. I have a great picture of my boys holding this flag but I might not be able to post it because they are in school uniform.

Wednesday was Eid celebrations and a fantastic day all round. It came at a good time really because I got to spend some quality time with the wider family. It usually spills over on to Thursday too. However, Thursday was my birthday 33rd to be exact. I still went round visiting all the extended relatives. Though I'm not really a big birthday person, I insisted on having a cake... With all 33 candles on it!

I can't even remember which day we went now but me and Harune finally tracked down our malaria tablets for an affordable price. I've seen them sell for nearly £4.00 a tablet but Superdrug were selling them at £2.28 a piece. Hardly a bargain but cheaper then anywhere else. So £54 each for those. I also got hold of Diamox, the altitude sickness tablets but I'm not sure whether I'll take these or not.

I started my Malarone this morning though. It's a good feeling because the trip is fully in motion now!

On Friday the Birmingham climbers all gathered at my parents house to go over equipment, preparations and transport to the airport. It was good to meet everyone, especially Ray and Ishtiaq who I met for the first time.

This weekend I have a list. A very long list and I'm working through it. Fixing satellite dishes and printing photos. I might even get out and celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary!

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