Part three of four in a series of blog posts written by Deborah King of how she conquered Mt Kilimanjaro this year despite the challenges she faced along the way due to Usher syndrome.
Night 4 – After two hours of shivering in our sleeping bags and getting very little sleep, we were up at midnight to get ready for the final walk to the summit. At this point It was actually warmer outside the tent to be honest. Inside the tent there was a thin layer of frost over everything, it probably didn’t help that there was a lot of wet kit in the tent, so the moisture was freezing as the temperature continued to drop. Sitting up in our tent, we assessed the clothing that we had stuffed in to our sleeping bags to see if it had in anyway dried out but, just as we had thought, it was barely any dryer than when we had put them in there. Now wondering how we were going to continue with no dry clothing, we sat deep in thought for a minute. Finally, we had a eureka moment! I mentioned to Gavin that there was a space blanket inside my medical bag, Gavin suggested using this to make ponchos that we could secure to our bodies using the roll of duct tape that he had packed, the roll that I couldn’t understand why he had brought with him. When we were packing to leave for this trip I confronted him about the duct tape and asked him, “why an earth do you need to bring that?”. He answered me that you could always rely on duct tape to get you out of a hole! Well a hole we were certainly in so why not I thought.
Gavin got out his knife and began cutting the space blanket in to two ponchos, then we placed the cut pieces of blanket over our heads and secured it in position with the duct tape. There was a small amount of blanket left over so I also made a pair of pants for myself, so proud of them of them I was! Voila, we had successfully made space vests out of the blanket. The blanket trapped warm air against our bodies and we could instantly feel the benefit. We then pulled on our wet clothes over the top of our new garments and for the first time in a few hours, I felt like we could actually go on. The space blanket was waterproof too, so it acted as a moisture barrier between our bodies and our wet cloths. There was one downside to wearing our space vests however, they did make rather a loud rustling noise every time you moved. Oh well we thought, it was our turn to be noisy now. We had some plastic nappy sacks left in our bag, so we also decided to put these between two layers of socks to hold back the moisture from our wet boots, this worked a treat. I kept Gavin’s coat which was massive on me, but I had no choice and he had more jumpers and his rain coat to wear. This was a very hectic fifteen minutes scrambling around in our tent with only a head torch for light. Once we were ready we got out of the tent, had a quick cup of tea and a bowl of porridge, and we were then ready to face the final accent.
We finally headed off from camp at around twelve-thirty am. I was petrified as I really could not see anything other than the spot where the head torch shone, which was as you probably guessed it, the back of Gavin’s feet. He was trying to hold my hand but it was hard work as it was quite a narrow path.
I kept going but I was really struggling. We had breaks often as it was steep and we had to allow time to acclimatize. The guide saw me struggling, so he made me walk behind him and hold onto the straps on his bag, this really scared me as he didn’t know about my condition and I only trusted Gavin. Gavin said it would be okay and that he would walk directly behind to keep an eye on me. My head torch shone down at Omari’s boots and I followed his footsteps, every now and then I would feel Gavin push or pull me slightly in a direction as I was getting too close the edge. I had no idea where I was walking, I was just putting one foot in front of the other and hoping for the best. I did learn that if I wanted to sit down for a rest, I just had to tell Omari that I felt sick even though I didn’t, and he would make the whole group take a quick rest. I am pretty sure that everyone was grateful for these extra couple of rest stops. Sneaky I know, but because I couldn’t see it felt like I had no control and didn’t know what way round I was or which way to turn. The darkness really threw me off balance and made me feel very nervous as I really was putting all my trust and faith in someone else’s hands. As we continued up the steep rocky face of the mountain I thought I may as well have slept walked as I couldn’t see anything. At least that way I would have got some sleep at the same time. By now my eyes were very tired from straining so hard from trying to make out anything around me, my neck was hurting too from spending the past few days constantly looking down at the ground, but on a positive note, my clothes were finally drying out.
After six and a half hours of walking in the dark we were almost at Stella point. Stella point was five thousand seven hundred and fifty-six meters above sea leave and it was around a forty-minute walk to the summit from there. Not much further I kept thinking as the sun started to rise through the clouds in the distance. I was very happy to see the sunlight and wow now I could actually see where I was walking again. This section of the mountain was very steep, it felt like it wasn’t far off being vertical. Once we arrived at Stella point the final section was still uphill but looked like a much steadier incline.
We had a little rest at Stella point, before pressing on to conquer the final hurdle. We saw a few people reach Stella point and then turn around and head back down. I think they must have been too exhausted to go on any further, and it was a shame to see though as they had come so far and were so close to the summit. I was determined that I wasn’t going back down until I had reached the summit. I hadn’t struggle all week to get here just to fall at the last hurdle. Up we got, and onwards we went. By now Gavin was really struggling he was absolutely exhausted, he even nodded off for a second a couple of times when we were standing still. I tried my best to look after him and to make sure that he was okay, as I knew he was stubborn like me and would rather die than give up. I think perhaps he used all his energy keeping me safe in the dark. I did feel like I had a little more energy now but really, I was just relieved that I could see again now that the sun was coming up. The path to the summit was covered in snow so it made the path brighter. After an hour of pushing on through the pain, the hard work finally paid off for we had made it! We had made it to the summit of Kilimanjaro and what an adventure it had been. The feeling was unreal, and I forgot about all the pain that I had come through to get here. Such a great feeling knowing that despite the odds being stacked against us at all times, we had made it! The views from the summit were quite obscured by the clouds but It was still the top of the mountain and it wasn’t raining.
Day 5 – The best thing about challenges that we had completed in the past, was crossing the finish line and knowing that it was over. Sadly, this was not the case here, for we now had to get back down to civilisation…
Read Deborah’s final post here >> Conquering the Mountain (part 4)
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