You might think that feelings of failure followed my decision not to summit Kilimanjaro and I think, fleetingly, you would be correct.
I did indeed feel regret for my partner who decided to stay with me; but he rejected the notion. He enjoyed sharing the space at Kibo with me although he couldn’t resist the guide’s offer to stroll up a little way in the morning. I watched them winding their way up the path, following porters who were winding their way toward the weary summiters. My partner could obviously have made it, outstripping the guide within minutes.
But I did not feel like I had failed; in fact, I had an opportunity to sit and watch and enjoy the time I had there and slowly begin to acclimatise to the 4700m height that I was sitting at. And it is beautiful there.
I had been fortunate enough the previous evening to catch sight of the amazing bird, a lammergaier or bearded vulture, a pterodactyl sized bird, swooping over the camp looking for bones! Apparently quite common here but it was the only sighting on the day I was there. Moorland chats are appear in ones and twos, croaking like frogs through the night. They look like fat plain coloured robins in the mornings, their feathers puffed up against the cold.
People slowly return to the camp; “everyone is sick and exhausted,” a French girl told me. “I got to Gilman’s. It was so hard and people are having to be rescued.” She looked sunburnt and exhausted. I knew I had made the right decision for me. I would have been “rescued” long before Gilman’s Point, the first ‘summit’.
About an hour after our companion, who had made Uhuru, returned we were on the move; his legs were wobbly and every step was hard. We were walking down to Horombo Camp at 3700m, a 9km walk downhill. For me, every step down meant that I felt a little more energetic but even at Horombo, I was disappointed to take one bite of dinner and head out to vomit. My headache persisted and it was the coldest that I had been in the tent. Despite four layers and my duvet jacket, I was still cold, shivering. I was back to breathing with forced deliberation and I slept uneasily, wishing for the vice like headache to lift.
The following day, we head out again, downhill to the final gate, stopping at Mardara Huts at 2600m. Blue monkeys entertained out final steps to the camp and it was then I realised for the first time in days I was hungry, achingly so and my headache, gone. At lunch, I slurped greedily on two cartons of tropical fruit juice and nibbled on the fruit. It was such a sudden feeling, the euphoria of oxygen changing everything around me. From there, I was trotting downhill, the rest of the group in my wake, finding it difficult to match my increasing levels of energy. At Marangu, 1900m, we signed the book and walked away; “no certificate for you!” Mussa told us.
I didn’t need a certificate; it was the hardest thing that I have ever done, and one of the hardest decisions not to summit but I wouldn’t have missed one minute of that experience for anything!