It’s coming up to six a.m. A splendid sunrise just begins and we stand together by a wooden sign saying: “Congratulations! You are now at Uhuru Peak, Tanzania, 5895m ....” We are on Kilimanjaro´s main summit named Kibo (5 895 m), the highest free-standing mountain in the world, which rises more than 5 000 metres above the surrounding East African plain.
We got up into a frosty morning and had a few slices of dry toast bread splashed by cold water with chunks of ice. We quickly pack our tent in severe wind. On the way up, there’s a problem. Our guide Eugen continues to feel bad and he can’t find the ideal path in the darkness. So we rather wait for a German couple accompanied by a troop of helpers. Eugen gives up, he will just bypass the summit. That's what happens when you rely on someone else. Yesterday afternoon we had nothing to do. We could have easily looked out of the tent and study the trail …
We go slowly. We take three quarters of an hour to do the final hundred metres!
We proceed along the top edge from the west, passing by the lower advanced summit called Furtwangler Point (5 865 m). The sky begins to get red, and we can already hear the distant cries of joy of those who followed the normal route and woke up pretty early. It’s a scramble to get beneath the wooden sign. Endless crowds are pouring in like a huge snake...people queuing up to take a shot of the rising African sun!
Noise, scrumming and huge crowds at the top of Kilimanjaro ... We did expect this, we read about it. That’s why we are doubly happy that until now we’ve enjoyed the mountain in silence and solitude. Jomo comes in. He looks like a phantom. In addition to his backpack he’s carrying a huge jute sack on his head!
Later on Pavel noted in his diary the following about the initial phase of descent: „I have never seen such a show in my life. It was pretty obvious right from the beginning that we were going to be the only ones to carry backpacks. Each of us his 12 to 15 kg. But the fact that most people did not even bother to carry their bottle of water...that was really striking. Merry scenes of the kind: massive mums being pushed and pulled at the same time by helpers. To proof to myself this way that I was able to make it, that seems simply perverse to me. Of course this has nothing to do with travel or sport. But apparently, it’s IN to pay for it and have it done...“.
Eugen joins us not far from Stella Point (5 725m). It’s a dusty trail to the Barafu campsite (4 600m). Smooth lava and dust allow for fast walking with glides. We pass more and more people going up. People walking on crutches are nothing unusual. Instead, however, we are enjoying views of Mawenzi (5 149m), the second of the three major peaks of Kilimanjaro.
In the Barafu camp Eugen makes us familiar with his plan for today. He wants to make it down and return to the city! After the experience with a long and rapid descent from Mt. Kenya we reject it. On the way to the Millennium camp (3 797m) by the Mweka Route we are thinking about how to do it – to make a break for the night, so as not to totally write off our knees. Mweka Route is very different from Umbwe. There are no shrubs or lobelia, only alpine desert and dust. And unobstructed views of Kilimanjaro.
At Millennia camp (sometimes called also High camp), we are welcome by the remaining trio of carriers. Lunch is being prepared. Eugen hits hard.
„Today we'll go down, it's not far and the path is easy.“
„Eugen, look, in the contract we have two days for the descent, because we simply don’t want any troubles with our knees. Especially Pavel suffers when going down.“
„Impossible. We can’t stay here. We will descend first to the lower Mweka camp and then decide. In any case, we don’t have enough food for another day.“
We lose this game. They will not stay here at any price. And we are bound by fears for our gear that we left in the agency. We try to get round this somehow and save our legs. We change for light shoes. Pavel passes his backpack to the carriers right from the start and I get rid of my 20 kg when half-way to Mweka Hut (3 100m). We partially pretend the leg troubles. Otherwise we would be forced to keep their pace and tomorrow wouldn’t be able to move at all! The only brave is Lada who carries his bag up to the gate. Pavel and I go light, polepole, and enjoying the final miles through beautiful jungle.
This mad, 4 200-metre, slump is over after nine and a half hours. It’s three p.m. Car is waiting. The only thing now is to sort out how much to tip our guide and helpers. For this occasion we set aside a maximum of $ 200. We give 70 dollars to Jomo, he was really attentive and helped a great deal. We give the remaining $ 130 to Eugen to distribute it fairly between him and the other three carriers - except for the second day on our way up to the Arrow Glacier camp we didn’t see those three guys.
One could have expected this. Outside the agency, while we pick up our stuff, they complain about getting too little. We have no idea how much Eugen gave them, but no more money from us, sorry guys.
In the Buffalo Hotel we take just a room for two. One will sleep on the floor, we have to save money (price per day 35 000 TSH). We simply didn’t count on returning one day earlier. Pavel goes to bed right away. But for me and Lada the evening is just about to begin. We are going to have our fling. Steaks in the alcohol-free spot Deli Chez followed by a few beers to splash out a bit after our four-day trip to Kilimanjaro...