And, shall we go down? Tootled back to the Stella Point – oh **** look what we climbed? 1,000m of slippery, sliding shale…. Now – I can’t see where my feet go – yes? A guide linked arms with me, said come… We get to the edge… Talk about leap of faith – Ye Gods, St Bernard, Patron saint of hill climbers – stepped the front foot out and down – somewhere? That elephant who I had been pushing up the hill was now accelerating fast behind my back and pushing me back down the hill… 6 hours up, a couple down. Basically, you ski down without the skis. As you step, the shale slips and your foot whizzes down, hopefully taking the leg and other foot too. After 100m or so, my porter lets go and says – you go now, you OK, I go back and help others who need help more, bye. But, but, but, I need help….. No, you don’t – bye… Shove – wheeeeeeee…… Hmmm, foot, skid, foot, skid… Came up behind Ben, who was helping Alex, who had got a bit dizzy and world moving. They were belting down at some speed, back to real oxygen filled air, so I tagged along (get it done quick?) – and there was slightly wobbly Alex still leaving me in the dirt – they would fly down, wait, I would catch up. They would fly, wait, I would catch up…. At one point, Ben asked if I was OK…. Well, the world is a bit upside down too? And kind of black around the edges? Ahh, that’s OK then, let’s go, keep up…. I think I remember less of the down than the up, if that is possible. I know when I made it to camp, I bypassed the dining tent with the best sweet orange juice you’ll ever taste (according to Ben) and woke up in my tent a couple of hours later… talk about zoning out.
A quick lunch, pack kit bags, load back packs, and we move. Every step down, the air is thicker and fuller, it’s easier to breathe and move, your pack feels lighter…. And – those feet are still going down on their own, since I can’t see where they are going… Got to the horrible smooth rock between Kosovo and Barafu… Help? Na, you OK. Alright then – extend foot, drop foot, see where it lands… When I went to buy my hiking boots, I said the most important thing was grip – having two left feet, I tend to slip. Ahh, these boots have a 9.9 grip test rating, running over a wet marble floor. Perfect. I think I must look like a drunk hippo when I wear them through airports – my body is travelling quick quick, quick to get where I’m going, and my boots go grip, grip, grip, meaning that I trip over my feet and leave them behind. On that little rock – perfect, thank you boot sellers… From there – well, you just stroll down a wide, smooth highway of a path, a few hours later hitting Millennium camp. At this point, having got up, and now getting down, if I had had the option, I would have kept plodding and gone right through to the end. With only another half day of walking ahead, the thought of another cold, uncomfortable night in a tent wasn’t appealing… But, our final night passed, and a lot better than normal. For one, we were much lower at 3,820m, meaning that our bodies had way more oxygen, which helps to combat the insomnia. And secondly, we were all so tired after our sleepless night and little hill walk, we would have slept lying in a field of rocks. Strangely – exactly what we did…
The guides earn their wage, but it isn’t massive amounts. So, each hiker is asked to please bring US$120 with them, as a tip for the staff. How amazing was this group of people – not only was this hike for charity to begin with, but the tips were about US$1,000 over and above what was asked for, as well as a huge bag filled with hiking boots, sleeping bags, jackets etc etc etc, which would be shared among all who climbed with us… So, the day before summit, all this money was collected, and Ben and Julio, the main guide, used the matrix they are provided with, and divided this out, from our “wi-fi” toilet tent guys, through tent porters, chefs, waiters, water carriers, porters, camp manager, assistant guides and main guides. Everyone gets their cut. On our final morning, speeches, hikers giving groups their envelopes, porters and guides singing and dancing, much cheering, celebrating the successful climb, our safe return and the end of a busy week for most of our wonderful helpers. We never saw the majority again – they packed up camp, ran it down the mountain back to the company offices, ticked all their boxes and went off home to rest and get ready for the next climb. The only people with us now, were our main guides and assistant guides, as well as Jackson the ambulance man, who all stuck with us until the rangers office, with our welcome home sign. Ben, Kate, Alex.
But, I get ahead of myself – the walk down, finally got easier and was more of a stroll through forest than climbing down a rock face. Walking out of open views and into forest was a little sad actually – we said good bye to wide open spaces, to being above the clouds and seeing other mountains around us, and saw – well, stunning trees, draped in curtains of ferns, delicate little flowers, and the colobus monkeys, who always remind me so much of Elvis – their tight little black suits of hair, with the long white fringes along what would be the seam lines, swinging away in the tree canopy as if they are jiving and twisting to rock ‘n roll…. So much more vivid and mobile than the little blues at the start…
And suddenly, we see real toilets – well, kinda real. Long drops with wooden sheds. And then, shock horror – a car. Well, a Land Rover ambulance. And then – back to real life…. And the adventure was done. Just tired, dirty, sweaty people, sitting on a concrete block under a sign saying congratulations and drinking Kilimanjaro beers. Well then….
My lesson taken from this – slow down, smell the coffee. As one of my twinkle pony riders told me – patience is a virtue, virtue is a grace, Grace is the little girl who doesn’t wash her face… I am always in such a hurry to get the job done, I had a hill to walk, come on, let’s get to it, more to do after this one, my next teaching week is waiting, move up, move out… And looking back, for all I thought I was taking it all in, I do think that I could have lived a lot more in the moment – as I have written this, I think I have spent more time thinking of it all than I did actually walking the route. I cannot tell you how much that plod along pace got to me those first couple of days, but by the end, the final descent, when some of our group were rushing off to get there, (beer was calling) I was happily strolling mid group with a few others – it’s not always a race to get things done, sometimes we need to do less, or at least do it more slowly, and enjoy the process. I plan my life by the trip – a week here, two weeks there, and think maybe I count my life down too fast, instead of just being… (As I type this fast to get through it so I can move onto other things…)
Accept help sometimes – Oh My. A lesson not learnt, but at least it is on the radar…. I may like to think that I can do it all myself, on my own, but without Margaret and her smoke, Rama and his hug, 70 odd porters, rafiki and assistants, Ben and Kate, all my sponsors and friends kicking my butt to train, (cough cough) I wouldn’t have got there. And, I would have got there much easier had I let Kate and Ben farm out my day pack… But…. Well, let’s just say that it’s a lesson in awareness but still a work in progress….
And now I need to dash – my to do list is too long, with too much on it, I can’t keep up and don’t have time to dwell any longer 😉 Hmmmmmmm……. Pole Pole.