Connecting with Kilimanjaro
“Jambo, Jambo Bwana. Harabi gani, Nuzuri sana”
I’ve been listening to the guides singing for over five hours and I’m finding myself humming along. We started the final leg of our six-day journey to Uhuru Peak, the true summit of Kilimanjaro, at 11pm.
Five hours in and I’m dragging my feet, often slipping on endless scree. I notice that everyone is stopping to ‘catch their breath’ more and more often, easier said than done at high altitude! I glance upwards, wondering how much longer this scree slope can possibly continue for. My answer comes in the form of the tiny lights of others that seem to continue endlessly into the distance. The sound of our guides singing spurs me back into action.
Gilman’s Point comes as a complete shock. One moment I’m stumbling in the darkness and the next I’m being told to rest. A small metal sign tells me that I’m now at 5685m. The sun is starting to rise over Tanzania and it’s one of those magical moments where all I can do is focus on the view in front of me. After a while the spell is broken and I realise that my drinking water is frozen and my hands are completely numb. As if reading my mind, a guide hands me a mug of tea, which goes some way to warming me up again.
We rest for long enough to watch the sky lighten, before setting off for the final ascent. I’m really starting to notice the altitude and feel quite unsteady on my feet. I’ve started breathing in slow, deep breaths, as though trying to absorb as much oxygen as possible and I keep reminding myself that each step takes me a little bit closer to the top. Luckily the path isn’t particularly steep as we walk around the rim of the volcano. My head throbs but nothing is going to hold me back now that I’ve got this far. Despite my headache, I can’t help looking around and smiling to myself. Everyone seems to have developed a ‘zombie walk’, with their heads hanging and their legs dragging.
The final hour of the trek is the hardest hour of my life. I stop for a rest frequently and I’m often leaning over my walking poles gasping for air. It crosses my mind more than once that I must be crazy, but the sight of the glaciers around me, remind me why I’ve decided to be here instead of sunbathing on a beach.
At long last I reach the summit - dizzy, disorientated, yet on top of the world. Our group poses for a photo, all strangers only a week ago, and yet now forever bonded by our achievements. I try to remember as much of the fantastic view as possible, but it is almost too much to comprehend. Five minutes later I start heading back down, forever leaving a little bit of my heart on ‘the roof top of Africa.’
Hayley Mallery travelled on Kilimanjaro & Zanzibar (TYZ) and
is the winner of our travel writing competition.
Why is it a winner?
Hayley’s article eloquently conveyed the immense effort required to conquer Kilimanjaro with its carefully crafted descriptions of the trials and tribulations of getting to 5895m. Reading it, you are with Hayley every breath-gasping step of the way, willing her to reach the summit. Well done Hayley for your efforts both in walking and writing about it afterwards.
To read the four runners up stories, please select from the links below: