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The Long Descent

The Long Descent
 
 

FANTASIES aside, I had not conquered the mountain yet. There is a common saying amongst mountaineers that you have not conquered a mountain until you reach the bottom. Until then you are still on the mountain and therefore still subject to all its dangers.

I was now faced with the pressing issue of a long downhill with very sore legs from the long hike yesterday. My legs were rather badly chafed and my right hip and ankle was starting to get a bit painful. Also my lips had almost no feeling in them having dried out so much in the past couple of days. Perhaps carrying the heavy camera bag wasn’t the best idea for downhill. Maybe in future I should keep the big camera in my main bag during the downhill and use the little camera.

It's a long way down
It's a long way down

We left the hut and started the long descent. As expected some of the others went rather fast. As there were no longer any requirements to acclimatise, Jaseri was quite happy for us to go at our own pace, so long as we all met up at Mandara.

We went up and down, though mostly down, across the gullies gradually descending towards the small volcanic cone in the distance. Jaseri was right behind me and the others were all ahead gradually gaining distance from me.

There were a lot of porters coming down going past me at their rapid rate. The guide I had met at Masai Mara a week ago was right about the locals here being so good at walking. They just didn’t think anything of walking down the hill at a fast walking pace carrying their heavy loads on their heads and backs.

It was very dry now and as they walked past they kicked up a lot of dust, which mixed in with their body odour, which was terrible now they had been up here for five or six days without washing. It made the journey more painful.

Final glimpse of the summit
Final glimpse of the summit

I heard a thumping sound behind me. Looking back I saw Jaseri rolling on the ground. He had fallen over again as he had done twice yesterday. He struggled up, dusted himself off and started walking again. He was very quiet now.

I continued along at my pace, rather slower than I hoped. He didn’t seem to mind though. It seemed to be his pace too. The others were all a good distance now, but still visible on the same section of track.

We reached the section where the track workers were digging up the dusty trail to improve it. It provided soft padding to walk along as I continued walking. Jaseri was talking to his sons in Swahili, though I didn’t understand what he was saying.

We were not far past the workers when he fell over again. I was getting very worried about him. I may have been pacing a little slower than the rest of the group, but at least I wasn’t falling over like Jaseri. Perhaps he was getting a bit too old to do this, but not wanting to admit it.

Finally we reached the forest and a few minutes later the most welcome sights of the Mandara Huts. I was just about ready to drop by now and really struggled up the short steps to the balcony of the dining hut where everyone else was sitting around waiting for a porter who was finalising the preparations for lunch. He had carried lunch up from Marangu this morning.

I asked everyone else how long they had been here. Gary had arrived first about an hour ago - he had run most of the way. Everyone else was slower and apparently arrived around ten minutes before my arrival. I wasn’t that far behind.

We started our nice lunch of fresh sandwiches. As we ate Jaseri approached me and said there was a van taking the track workers back to the start of the track and would I like a lift with them. The idea was very tempting so I said I’d think about it.

Now I really wanted to walk down the rest of the way, as there wasn’t a huge distance to go at all. We had done nearly two thirds of our walk today. However I was worried about Jaseri who had fallen four times since Kibo and was perhaps a bit too old to be doing this. I think he was asking me as he definitely needed a lift down. He said there were a few other people who will be getting a lift down as well.

I thought of Mark and how noble he had been with forgoing the summit to help his son when he got serious altitude sickness at Gilman’s Point. Perhaps I needed to forgo my aim to walk right to the bottom for the sake of Jaseri.

Forest around Mandara
Forest around Mandara

Lunch was over and it was time to leave. Both Jaseri and I were still very tired. He approached me again and I could tell he really needed a lift down the rest of the way. So I agreed. I’d take the smart way down the rest of the mountain.

The others left about ten minutes before Jaseri and I. He negotiated the details of our lift with some of the workers who had been working at Mandara this morning. We walked down through the forest where surprisingly I had more energy than before. I was now tempted to change my mind, but Jaseri had already radioed the vehicle from the warden’s hut so there was no getting out of it now.

We walked through the dense cloud forest about a third of the way back down the track towards the park entrance before reaching the intersection where the porters left the main track to follow a wider road. We walked about fifty metres further through the forest to where a large four wheel drive was waiting. We climbed on board – I had a front seat, though too tired to take out my camera. Jaseri climbed into the back with a group of workers, and a couple of other hikers who had also been offered a lift down.

After quite a fair wait, the driver climbed in next to a young local lady and I, and we started down the bumpy road at about twenty kilometres per hour through the forest. About five minutes later we passed the rest area where we had stopped for lunch on our way up the other day. The dirt road wasn’t steep at all but it was quite muddy indicating quite a bit of rain had fallen here during the climb.

The porters' road
The porters' road

About fifteen minutes of travelling along the bumpy road we suddenly stopped at the signs marking the start of the track. Jono and Mark had already arrived at the start, probably having run down. Jaseri and I climbed out and we signed out at the large A-framed hut. I then used the loo, and by the time I had come out, all the others in the group had arrived and were signing out too.

We all staggered down the stairs to where our minivan was waiting for us. We quickly piled in and headed down the steep road back towards the hotel. It was great to be travelling along sealed road again after all this time up the mountain.

Now Ashley had arranged a van to take her to the airport tomorrow morning. With the mountain conquered we had to decide the most efficient way to get to the airport given the huge cost of the taxi. Most of the rest of us had organised the same flight – or so I thought. I had organised a taxi, so will need to check. A couple of the group were leaving late tonight to catch very early morning flights, but I could go out early in the morning with the rest of the group.

Finally we arrived in the hotel where our porters had left our packs. Desmond was there and he asked us if we had made it to the top. I said I had reached Uhuru. He warmly congratulated me as I collected my pack and staggered with it back to my room. I had about an hour before we were all going to meet and say our farewells to the guides and the porters.

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18 August 2011

 

Mount Kilimanjaro

Tanzania

 

3°12'S
37°29'E
3720 - 1400m ASL

 

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