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Jamaican Rocks

Jamaican Rocks

IT WAS 2:20 AM. Half an hour had passed since leaving William’s Point. Out of the darkness I could see we were approaching another big rock at Sebastiaan Meyer Cave Point, now 5182 metres above sea level.

I continued climbing and climbing, wondering when the rocks would begin. I noticed the track was going from side to side of the steep scree slope. It was now too steep for us to walk directly up the slope as we inched our way tiny step after tiny step in the insanely cold conditions.

After what seemed like an eternity, it was still dark at four o’clock in the morning, but I could just see some large boulders up ahead in the inky black darkness clinging to the top of the scree slope, looking like they could dislodge themselves and roll down the precariously steep slope any time soon.

These were the Jamaican Rocks. The altitude here was around five and a half thousand metres. There are stories as to why they are called this. It certainly wasn’t a Jamaican climate up here. A local legend says they were named because a Jamaican once reached this far up the mountain, looked up, and said “Bloody shit!” before turning around and walking back down. Another local legend says he slipped here falling to his death. In truth no one really knows what happened up here, but somehow the name has stuck.

Climbing near Jamaican Rocks
Climbing near Jamaican Rocks

Well so much for this being the easiest way up the mountain! I was very tempted to do the “bloody shit” thing and turn around myself.

However I recalled Desmond saying the area around the boulders was the most difficult part of the climb. I had recalled other volcanoes I had climbed in the past. In every case the most difficult to climb parts had always been just before the rim of the crater. I was encouraged. If I could just get through this vertical maze of boulders to Gilman’s Point, then it will be relatively easy from there to the summit – hopefully.

The route became a lot more erratic weaving between the boulders. I thought that very soon it will become like the pile of boulders at the summit of Mount Kinabalu necessitating scrambling, except I was now a good kilometre and a half higher, and wondered if I had the energy to be able to climb over them in such thin atmosphere.

Fortunately the gravel underfoot seemed to stay with us as we negotiated our way around the boulders. Fortunately we had Jaseri who had obviously been up here so many times that he would know every boulder in this area intimately, and with that he would know the best path towards our unseen goal of Gilman’s Point.

Suddenly we passed between two boulders and the slope levelled off. What a relief, a brief reprieve. There was a small clear area about two square metres in size surrounded by huge boulders. At the back of the clear area was a wooden sign that read; “You are now at Gilman’s Point 5681 M. AMSL. Tanzania. Welcome and Congratulations.

It was 5:03 AM, five tortuous hours after leaving Kibo. The sky was still completely dark. We had reached the top of the crater making good time. From here there was another two hundred metres ascent to the summit over an hour and a half. Many climbers do not go any further than here - just two thirds of the climbers who make it to Gilman's Point successfully reach the summit. Would I be one of them?

Gilman’s Point is named after Clement Gilman, an engineer and geographer working in Tanganyika from 1920 till his death in 1946. He climbed the mountain in 1921 and was the first to use the boiling point of water to determine its altitude. At this altitude water boils at eighty degrees Celsius.

Amazingly I was not as exhausted or disillusioned as I had been going up the final part of Mount Kinabalu last year. Given the steepest part was behind us now and that I had done the last part surprisingly with relative ease. I decided so long as I don’t think of the downhill, the walk around the crater to the top should be relatively easy after the long climb.

My energy was restored. Before pressing onwards I gave my camera to one of the guides Imara to take my picture. He took several with the flash, and most of them weren’t lined up. I didn’t realise it at the time, but this guide, who I would later find out was one of Jaseri’s sons, would be my guide to the summit, and back to Kibo. Thankfully a few of the photos turned out okay. Others in the group had a photo or two taken of them before those of us brave enough to venture to the top went on.

Now I needed to make the decision - is this it, or do I go up to the summit. I felt in very good condition, so the choice was obvious. I will walk the final hour and a half to the summit.

A few of us set off from Gilman’s Point around the crater towards the summit at 5:08AM after just a couple of minutes rest. At the time it was too dark and we were too rugged up in the minus fifteen degree temperature to tell who was who. I recognised Gary, Dawn and Vicky though, and had assumed Ashley would be back at Kibo by now. I guessed everyone who had made it up this far would press onto the summit. The conditions even up here were perfect with not a breath of wind. That surprised me. Most mountains I have climbed in the past had been windy at the top. I especially recalled one climb of Mount Ngauruhoe in New Zealand where it had been so windy at the summit I could hardly stand up, and when I did I was very worried about being blown into the deep crater. Other mountains though had been calm at the top, and thankfully this was one of them. It was bitterly cold as it was, so I was happy not to be contending with wind chill as well.

The odds were looking good.

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17 August 2011


Mount Kilimanjaro



5000 - 5681m ASL


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