My experiences on summiting Kilimanjaro !
Updated: Mar 25, 2021
'My tryst with Kilimanjaro'. Amongst all the things that I successfully did in physical endurance, right from scuba and bungee, trekking was still something that had never happened. My first attempt at reaching for the stars, was Kilimanjaro.
My excitement covered up the longish journey from Dhaka to Arusha with a break journey in Mumbai and a bus journey from Kenya to Tanzania.
This was the first time that I was trekking, and there were a thousand thoughts blinking like headlights in my head. Their were few who made me doubt myself "huh..really you have never trekked before and you want to go straight to Killi?" but i guess it just made me even more motivated. Time was not on myside because i just had 1.5 months left and their was no time to lose. I physically prepped myself, googled, asked friends, read up, my friend Richa and my husband Shantanu went out of their way to help me oraganise my clothes and all that was required for trekking in this short span.
Sleeping, bathing, nature motions, sleep, water, food, cold etc. etc. That made me have a bath twice as soon as I landed in Arusha base camp, as thinking of not having a bath for the next one week was almost a nightmare. My first impression of the guide at the introductory briefing session was” He smells of alcohol; God save us!!” His reassurance that he had done 400 climbs was the only saving grace.
I knew harsh weather conditions would be the biggest challenge for us trekkers. But I could foresee this as more of a mental challenge. So, my motto was to live in the moment rather than thinking about the summit. I knew, rain, hail, snow, sun whatever it may be, I needed to continue walking.
The first day trek was good fun with us singing songs and enjoying the nature though it was not a normal terrain. Even the small tent felt big and warm, with unpacking and changing done using head torches. I got up to use the wash room in the night around 3:30am, and my jaw dropped to see the sheer vastness of the sky. The feeling of nothingness and we so small in the vast universe. Stars scattered all over like silver powder, was a sight that I witnessed for the first time! Breathtaking!
The second day trek was hot and I was absolutely famished and dehydrated. I had finished my quota of water that I was carrying and managed a drink somehow from others. Started listening to music to keep my wandering thoughts in track. Seeing my despondent self, one of the porters challenged me to keep up to his pace, well my ‘Garwhali’ genes did surface as he later called me ‘fast and furious’, Ha!! The night was chilly, and we just got a bowl of hot water to brush our teeth and wash our face. My closing thoughts on Day 2 was “If u want to grow, then you have to try out something which you have never done before." So, here I am trying something, which is away from my comfort zone and I needed to enjoy it.
The third day ,apart from the changing weather and terrain was hugely motivational. We met three trekkers, one with an artificial leg, the other with no eye sight and thirdly a gutsy lady of 75 years. Indeed, it’s all about determination. Age and physical barriers cannot make one weak for sure. By this time you can feel the vastness of nature. It felt amazing to witness the snowcapped mountains~ black volcanic rocks surrounded with snow. The cold breeze hitting one’s face in warm sunny weather was awesome. The climate had dropped to minus 2 degrees and sleeping at night had now become an experience. The ‘diamox’ medicine that each of us had to take for altitude sickness, made us urinate and eternally thirsty even after drinking six litres of water daily. Consequently, one had to use the loo in the middle of the night as there was no other way. That was hell of a challenge, as getting in and out of layers and gloves, sleeping bag and tent at 3:00 am is a memory to stay for life.
In the morning of the 4th day, I started noticing the water freezing in a bowl and ice particles on the tent. Getting a bowl of hot water to brush was literally bliss as fingers hardly moved due to the cold. The Sun had come out, but it was chilly and windy. The terrain had also become rocky and with a definite incline. In these extreme conditions one doesn’t have a choice but to think. Reflecting on things and people around me, enjoying the loneliness, walking at my own pace in that vast land wondering why am I doing this?? There was a certain stillness living in that moment. Even though I was physically moving I was mentally quite still, trying to absorb everything around me. The still mountain, the feel of the deserted vast space that makes you feel so small yet significant.
By now we all had got quite boared of eating boiledpasta, potatoes, bread, egg and porriage. And while we were waiting for our food i said " how i wish we could have bread rolld, since bread and boiled potatoes are available....in a jiffy i was taken to the kitchen where i found myself making bread rolls at 4,500 meters hight!!!! one of my higest elevation cooking...the cooks helped me and quite relished the piping hot rolls on that cold day. In no time the whole plate was wiped clean by all my friends too.
My tryst with water and cold continued into the 5th day. I remember the guide reminiscing “You drink so much water, that’s why you are so beautiful”. Well some motivation in the middle of nowhere. The pace of the trek had reduced quite a bit as we were getting out of breath very fast. The inclination was about 50-60 and we had to put in that extra effort. Cold was my constant companion and enemy. I had to put heat pads on feet over the socks, and hold the hot water bottle the entire night to keep the fingers warm. Even the gloves did not feel warm enough.
Day 6, the summit day was the coldest and the final trek started at 11 pm in the night. I was nervous as if going to sit for an exam i have been preparing for. I wore 3 thermals below and layered it with waterproof pants, 4 thermals on top and layered it with fleece, down jacket and summit jacket. But the feet and hands were still freezing. The altitude and inclination was quite a lot and the walk was steep. I once managed to look down in the moonlight, the mountain looked scary as we were really high up. After 3 hours at about 5400 meters I could feel the lack of oxygen and I started feeling dizzy. Even though I kept breathing, my eyes were closing and body was completely tired and giving away .The porters and guides were singing and were trying to keep our spirits up, but each one of us, was struggling within ourselves. I wished every step to be the last one towards the summit. A moment came when I thought I will blackout, but then I noticed streak of sun rays in the sky. We were approaching ‘Gilbert Point’, which was our first point to see the run rising. Never knew sun rays would energize me that much, and by that time we had already walked 7 hours and it was 6:30am. Watching the sun rise was beautiful. The hues and colors made me feel like painting it right away.
Summit was still one and half hours away and we had to come back the same route. Mind and body both were giving up. I had started getting a severe headache and feet were getting colder and colder due to the height. The guide saw that I was dizzy, so as we proceeded he just held my hand. At that moment, I felt reassured I can push myself. Mind really plays games at this point and one feels helpless, because no one apart from yourself can help. I started thinking of all good things after the summit. Saw people coming down after their summit encouraging us to go a bit further. Finally we made it through the last stretch which seemed like a never ending stretch and finally seeing the ‘Uheru” summit board @5895 meters i was overcome with a sense of achievement and happiness . We all hugged each other, a couple of them started crying, it still did not dawn on me that I had made it! When we reached back to base camp we were all thrilled but so tired that we just dozzed off on the chair itself while porters were packing our tents.
There was of course another 5 hours of trek that we had to do to reach our camp below at 3200 meters. The trek down on the last day was something that I was looking forward to. The trail down was beautiful with barren rocky land to lush green forest, moors, fresh cold breeze and warm weather. It was perfect and beautiful.
There is so much I’m taking back from this place;
Being closer to nature taught me to appreciate and find happiness in simple things in life.
Living in the present, thinking positive helps one to enjoy every moment.
Challenging oneself, overcoming your fear, going beyond the comfort zone, pushing yourself to the edge has a positive effect on self to stay for life.
There are a lot of good things around us, it’s just that we don’t take the time out to notice, appreciate and acknowledge it.
Jumbo (hi) and Hakuna matata (no problem) and Poley Poley (slow) are Kili terms that everyone needs to internalize for a happy life.
Want to summarize with what I read recently “the best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile”
I have come out a stronger, motivated and confident individual. Thank you Kilimanjaro!