Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tanzania: Day 5 Kilimanjaro-Mawenzi Tarn to Horombo Huts

MAWENZI TARN CAMP (14,160 ft./ 4,315 m) to HOROMBO CAMP(10,200 ft./ 3,110 m)

Did I say that last night was a long night? It bears saying again that it was. Sunita was not feeling well at all so early this morning, she decided not to go any farther in the climb but that it was time to go back down. It was hard to believe from the picture below of us camping high above the clouds that the dust was as bad as it was.  

High above the clouds at Mawenzi Tarn

Long drop toilet
We sat in the tent talking about options and at that moment, I decided that I would go down with her. I could not bear the thought of her going down by herself with one of the guides while I continued. She was not happy about that - saying that we had agreed previously that if anyone got sick, the others would go ahead. I had already decided prior to leaving Winnipeg that if she got sick, I would go down with her. She started to cry because she thought that she was ruining my trip but, honestly, I would not be able to go on without her. I told her that we planned the trip together and I was not going without her.
With that decision made, I went to speak to Godfrey, explaining that Sunita and I would be going down because she was not feeling well. I also said that I was positive that if I decided to go down, Sabena would go with us. Sabena decided she would go down with us because by this time, the wind storm was still raging and even with antihistamines, she was still having difficulty breathing. And we were all covered with a heavy layer of grey/black dust, making us look like coal miners emerging from underground. Godfrey suggested that Sabena and Sunita could go down and I could go ahead to Kibo but I won't go without Sunita. I had another quick look around the camp and got a few more mouthful of dust before deciding to have some breakfast.
Mawenzi Camp with stoen figures on the hill

The others in the group were supportive and Donna even managed to talk to a doctor who was with another group. He came over and checked Sunita out - telling her that she did indeed have mild acute mountain sickness but her oxygen levels were good and she could go on if she wanted to but she may feel worse as she got higher. We decided to go with our original plan and head down to Horombo Huts. But first we had the daunting task of climbing another 300 metres up Mawenzi Ridge which is steep and quite jagged before heading to Horombo. I could not see how we would do it with two people who were feeling less than optimum.

Mawenzi Tarn and Mawenzi Ridge in the distance

Mawenzi Tarn camp below

Mawenzi Tarn where we were this morning

Getting farther and farther away from the rest of the group

Looking to the right at the distant Kibo Huts
Extremely jagged Mawenzi Ridge
We walked for an hour almost entirely uphill, ascending about 300 metres and making several stops along the way because it was so steep. I was so concerned about Sunita and Sabena that I was probably being overly cautious. I asked Godfrey to go back with us instead of one of the assistant guides for no other reason except that for the entire last 4 days were spent with him guiding us. I also felt that if we needed medical attention, he'd be the best person to provide it.  
It's at this point that I was struck by the realisation that I was putting my complete trust in a man who was a perfect stranger only a few days ago. I was trusting him to get us down from the mountain safely and I have to say that at that point, I really hoped that we'd all be able to make it to the top of the ridge and then walk for another 6 hours to Horombo. We finally made it to the top only to look down and see an almost vertical drop which we had to descend. At that moment, I thought that one or more of us would not be able to do it.
We sat at the top of the ridge for a few minutes but when I saw Godfrey go to the edge of the precipice and look down and turn to look at us, I felt a bit of fear for the first time. The look on his face told a thousand stories. The one I saw was "how am I going to take these 3 women down the mountain from this path?" I may have been right because he spent another couple of minutes walking back and forth as if looking for some divine intervention.  

God must have been in our mdist because Godfrey soon explained that there was a path down that was shorter but very steep and not as safe but he would take us on another path that would take us longer to get down but was "less" steep and somewhat safer. That was a bit of a joke that we laughed at a few days later but at the moment, we were trying to put our foot in exactly the same place that Godfrey put his. That was the only way to go down. Looking too far ahead down what seemed like an endless chasm was a recipe for disaster. The only problem with following Godfrey's every step is that he is taller that me by at least 6-8 inches so his leg stride is much bigger than mine so I had to really use one walking pole at a time while holding on to the giant boulders to steady myself while I felt for my footing on the next rock below.
 dared not look down but after an hour and a half, Godfrey finally told us to look back from where we had come because we could hear yelling. There on top of Mawenzi Ridge where we were only an hour before were Donna, Donna, Abbi, Honest and John waving to us!

Donna, Donna, Abbi , Honest, and John on top of Mawenzi Ridge

We started waving and shouting and then the magnitude of where we had just come from and what we had just accomplished sunk in. We started to laugh but then we looked ahead and saw that there were several more ridges that we had to cross before we reached Horombo.

Fossilized rock

We walked for another one and a half hours and finally arrived at a sign that showed Mawenzi Huts as 1.5 km away. I could not believe that we had been walking for almost 3 hours and we had only covered 1.5 km. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry because the distance from Mawenzi to our final destination tonight was 10km and we had only covered 1.5 km in almost 3 hours. That was impossible. Just impossible. I asked Godfrey how that was possible and he said that the short, steep route is 1.5 km away but we did not use that trail. We used the longer one so that's why it took us so long. That did not make me feel much better because I could see the other ridges we still had to cross and by this time I was getting a massive headache so I had to take 2 Advils.
Leaving Mawenzi Tarn at 10:40 this morning was  a bit late and with the walk expected to take 6-7 hours and we still had 8.5 km to go was disheartening. Sunita was still not feeling very good so I was constantly trying to make sure that she was able to keep up. We were at the point where the 4 porters who were accompanying us had already gone ahead to set up camp at Horombo so we had to get to the camp with our individual efforts. 

We walked for quite some time again, stopping to eat our boxed lunch that Chinga had packed for us but no one much felt like eating much. My head was still hurting, Sunita was still quite nauseous and Sabena was still breathing somewhat heavy from her allergy. We walked some more and arrived at Zebra Rock. That made me fell better because I knew that it was used as an acclimatization walk for people choosing the Marangu Route. Shortly after we got there, we saw a couple with their guide doing their acclimatization walk. Sunita had another wave of nausea and found a rock to go throw up but the nausea passed and we continued.

Zebra Rock

Cloud forest

Zebra Rock

Kilimanjari cactus
We were above the cloud forest so I stopped to take some pictures and to ask Godfrey how much farther we had to go. I felt like a little kid in a long car ride asking my parent "Are we there yet?"  Godfrey as only Godfrey can, said "We're almost there."  I was almost annoyed at that because on previous days, when he said we were almost there, it usually meant that we still had at least another hour or more to get to camp. I think he could see that I was not happy with his answer especially when I said: "Godfrey, when you say we are almost there, do you mean another 30 minutes or another 2 hours? You have to tell me in time not in "almost there". I don't know what that means. He smiled and said: " As soon as we get to the next ridge, you'll be able to see the camp below." That was not helpful either because when we saw Kikelewa Camp 2 days ago, it still took us more than an hour to get to it and the same for Mawenzi Tarn.
I made him point to the exact ridge that he was referring to but it's like pointing to a specific rock in a distant quarry that looks like any other rock. I stopped and made him describe the point and it was really only about 200 metres away and not vertical but very slightly uphill. I consoled myself with the thought that it was nearly 3:30pm and with any luck, even though we were very slow at the start, we'd get into Horombo before night fell. Plus I admit that the cloud forest in the distance held some fascination. The only time I am this high above the clouds, I am in a pressurised aeroplane. I actually walked all the way up here! 
When Sunita was till not feeling better at Zebra Rock, Godfrey said that we were still at 4,200 metres. After walking for almost 10 km, we had only descended about 100 metres so the altitude was still affecting her. And my headache which started earlier - probably because I gained about 300 metres of altitude on Mawenzi Ridge - was not going away.  

Cloud forest

We reached the ridge that Godfrey pointed out a few minutes before and there it was - Horombo Huts - only 15 or so minutes to walk to. I shouted out and Sabena looked up and promptly fell. I think this may have been the first fall any of us had. You cannot take your eyes off the path for one second to look around or you'll go down. If you want to view the landscape or flora or take a picture, you literally have to stop in your tracks and do do or you'll be sorry. Every rock looks like it's stable but as soon as you put your foot on it, you realize that no step is as secure as you think it is. So I relied on my walking poles to anchor me every step of the way. We all learned to use our sticks very efficiently on this trip. There was a nice clear path to get down but it was sloping so more care was needed so that we didn't hurl down the mountain from our own momentum.

Finally Horombo Huts but we were not sleeping in the huts. Our porters had set up our tent between the two dining halls where they said would be quite sheltered from the wind. And it was. The three of us would be sleeping in the one tent. It's actually a 3-person tent that 2 people were sleeping in but with 3 tents between the 6 of us, one group would have 2 and one group would have one. We were the group with one. We also decided to leave the toilet tent with the others becuase there are toilets at Horombo Huts.

Horombo Huts

Our tent between the two dining tents
From the picture above, Mawenzi Tarn was way in the distance and we each marvelled at how we had come from there earlier today. That was an amazing feat and if I have to descend, I'm glad that we went there because it really is stunning. Set against the cloud forest below us from Horombo, it's as if I was in sensory overload.
Cloud forest below Horombo

We had our "water for wash" and went off for dinner in the dining hall. There were a lot of people in the one dining hall we ate in and after the solitude of the last few days with only our group of 6 in our dining tent, this almost seemed like an intrusion to share the space. 

We walked around the camp for a few minutes but with the sun going down, it was getting cold and we wanted to get into our tent - which by this time was feeling very cosy (aka crowded) with 3 of us and all our duffel bags. The clouds below were getting quite thick so that I couldn't see the mountain below us for periods of time.

Thick clouds rolling in

Beside our tent was the Kili taxi - the vehicle that is used if someone is ill and need assistance getting down from the mountain. It doesn't look very comfortable and I can't imagine feeling nauseous and having to spend any time on that thing bouncing down a long 19 km rocky path down the mountain.

Kilimanjaro taxi

Godfrey scouted out a good table for us with a light (not lamp) overhead and he and Cusmus served a delicious carrot and ginger soup which was exactly what was good for Sunita's continued nausea. And there was pasta and veggies which was also good because we had expended so much energy walking for 12-14 kms today.

We enjoyed the Horombo sunset and settled into our tent for the night. The moon is so very bright tonight that it feels like the camp is lit with electricity. Full Moon is in another two days so we're enjoying its wonderful brightness. Our porters who had set up our tent could not have picked a more perfect spot. It was right next to a concrete sink and tap which felt like a decadent and unexpected luxury. We set up our toiletries on the "counter" and washed up and brushed our teeth before retiring to our "bedroom" (aka tent).

After a long but rewarding day that did not start out very well, it turned out to be a good ending. I'm looking forward to my bed tonight.


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