Mweka Camp (February 16th)
It was brilliant! I was so happy to see the stars and at that point nothing else mattered! No storm! I grinned for an hour straight as I looked to the right at the beautiful silhouette of Mt Mawenzi that we completely missed in the last morning’s storm. Mt Mawenzi is the second tallest peak after Kibo on Mt Kilimanjaro. Everywhere I looked there were little dots of light. The unpolluted African sky with its million stars, the headlamps of resolute people moving in a single file. When you looked up in the darkness, you could mistake the headlamps for the stars, which is well and good. We had a long steep climb. But that didn’t bother me a bit. Instead of being in the tent and counting sheep, I was just happy to be out here, in a place like this, with people like this. This was better than the dream I dreamt about Kilimanjaro. I never felt better than I felt now. I followed Herment and just kept going. Somewhere along the way, Freddie brought out some hot tea in a thermos and we had tea in pitch darkness sitting on rocks. We saw some people returning as they couldn’t go on. It was probably heart breaking for them after having come this far.
We reached Stella point as the sun rose over Mt Mwenzi and the clouds way below us. If I could hold my breath any longer, I sure would have. A sun rise that will stay with me for life. Sat down and enjoyed the moment and then continued on to Uhuru peak (which is the highest point on Kilimanjaro). We were almost there. To the right we could see the Reusch crater and to the left was the Furtwangler glacier. None of the photos that I have ever seen of this place does justice, which is why we went there to testify that. I just can’t imagine what Kilimanjaro would look like without the ice cap. We were there- on the Snows of Kilimanjaro, leaving our foot prints. Sadly, the foot prints and the snows are all transient. By 2020, it is said that this would all disappear due to global warming. But what would remain etched permanently in the Rosetta stone of my mind are these memories. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of this unbelievable sight.
The last strech was the most grueling and killing. I had to keep stopping to take a breather. The dawg was walking like Shankar Dayal Sharma had got into him. Pi had severe headache and was squinting and would sit down every 10 meters. Lee kept moving towards the goal, ‘I just want to get this done with!’ and she kept going with the kind of determination that is so characteristic of her.
The four of us reached the famous marker on Uhuru peak (19,340 ft) together at 8.45 am that day. As I approached it, my weariness withered to give way to a strange kind of sadness. When you know you have reached the top and there is no where else to go, but down. The jubilation was in the journey and not the destination. Somehow for me, seeing the final point didn’t hold the significance it held for everyone else. I know Pi shed a few tears of joy. So did Lee. We spent fifteen minutes on the top of Africa hugging each other, clicking pictures and generally hanging around. Suddenly everyone regained their energy. The power of achieving something was incredible. There were times on this mountain when I felt I couldn’t have come this far. All that was forgotten now; we had done it! The view from the top of Africa was stupendous! I could see years of bragging rights apart from the vast African plains. And mountains that once looked formidable when we were on them, looked like mounds from up here.
We started descending quickly so as to alleviate any symptoms of altitude sickness. We reached Barafu camp for lunch after sliding on loose gravel for most of the way down. Layers were being peeled as we headed down. After we reached Barafu Camp, Professor brought out our celebratory pineapple juice. It was a wonderful feeling to be congratulated by all. Feeling accomplished and in good shape, I decided to venture out and brag to the climbers who were yet to summit. Just then, I had a horrible fall on the rocks (face first). I was lucky to have not broken my skull. I looked like I had a small bar fight with a cut lip, a slit on the forehead, bruised hands and feet.
Leaving the gloomy miserable Barafu camp, we limped down to Mweka camp (10,101 ft). Since we had a late start (with everyone feeling out of sorts) and stopping for Kilimanjaro beer, we reached Mweka camp at 9 pm in the dark after maneuvering some treacherous downhill (slippery granite rocks). I fell three times again and by that time I was aching from butt to head. At one point I just sat down in the middle and refused to move. Somehow after the summit, you don’t expect anything more difficult, but this downhill part butchered me.
We had our final dinner in the mountain after 17 hours of constant hiking without a wink of sleep. It was the toughest, yet most exciting day of my life. Every part of my body was badly hurt, but sleep evaded me and for the first time in 6 days, I was out like a lightening. With the summit in our pockets, I guess nothing really worried me now. I could sleep.