I looked up towards the silhouetted rim of the mountain and wondered if the stars that I saw twinkling in the night sky just above the rim were actually just head torches from other people, beaming brightly in the cold night.
“I just hope it’s stars,” I thought to myself, “because that’s one heck of a climb still to go to reach my final goal at the top of the highest free standing mountain in the world.” Then I realised that the stars were moving, pressing on, “pole pole” (slowly slowly in Swahili).
So that’s what I did, pressed on – one foot in front of the other, with the altitude, the scree and the rocks making every inch hard work – until I could see the sun peeking its weary head over the glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro. Then my spirits rose, my steps became lighter and I knew that within a few minutes I would be standing on top of the mountain that had seemed such a distance away last January yet now was no distance at all.
So it was that at 6am on 24th September 2009 I reached the plateau at 5,895meters and walked the short distance to the sign which stated that congratulations were in order because I was standing at Uhuru Peak, Tanzania (where Simon Milward had stood all those sunrises ago) and I let out a short breath and said . “I’ve done it!”
Now reality set in, as it was damned cold up there, but you have to try and take it all in quickly because you have so little time. I gave my camera to Jason and he kindly took the photograph of me in the place where many a weary soul has stood, by that very unique worn out piece of wood.
Gloves off and it’s my turn to take snapshots of the beautiful landscape around me, but intense cold has a habit of making you want warmth so after about 15 minutes it was time to leave the summit of the volcano and start the 6-hr-plus climb back down to camp Barafua at 4,600 metres.
It’s always a strange feeling to leave somewhere you have always dreamed of being, so I stretched out my arms to feel the last blast of cold air and to thank the wind that took me to this place before I started weaving my way back down Kilimanjaro.
The rest, as they say, is history but on my eight days of trekking up and down Kilimanjaro I have come to respect anyone doing the same. Believe me, there are few that walk its sacred paths because this is not an easy climb. OK you may have porters carrying your tents and various other bits for you but you still have to conquer your weariness and the altitude, and you are still roughing it on a mountain that can turn misty and cold and wet at anytime.
Some nights were cold but, hey, I still got up at 2am to have a pee in the woodshed they call the “long drop” (ooh that smell!) and walked back to my tent looking up at the clear night sky with millions of stars looking back at me (well really it was minus something, because I couldn’t feel a thing!) But the point is, you have to push yourself to make the summit of Kilimanjaro, so fair play to everyone in history that has made it there.
To all my friends, family and all the folks who put their hard work into helping me raise the money for Motorcycle Outreach in memory of Simon, I thank you very much.
Also all that donated their hard earned cash.
Also those that should have, but didn’t. I forgive you.