A travel moment in Kilimanjaro

Ahead of me Kilimanjaro reared its crown above the mantle of cloud that shielded the Tanzanian savanna. This was what all the physical and mental torment had been for. This fifteen minutes with the awe inspiring view from Socialist Peak of Mount Meru.

Three days previously myself and my group of friends were standing at the base of the mountain looking up at the razor sharp ridge of the half caldera we were about to climb for this leg of our month long community work project. I do not think any of us ever conceived what Meru had in store for us.

The first day was merely a grinding hike through Jurassic Park style forest motivated by shouts of haraka (faster!) by our Tanzanian guides. The second day, however, was when reality turned to fantasy; the mist suspended in the trees turned out to be cloud. We rounded a corner and were suddenly standing on the edge of a cliff looking out over the billowing clouds seemingly within touching distance.

Summit day. We woke at 1-am aiming to reach the summit for sunrise. It was bitterly cold and pitch black with only our head torches to guide us. The path was very narrow with a sheer precipice on one side, and with the wind buffeting us our guides changed their previous words of encouragement to hatari! (danger). At one point we had to clamber over a damp, angled, natural rock bridge - Rhino Point - with vertical drops on either side. Walking poles were quickly abandoned as the terrain alternated from deep ash prone collapsing underfoot, to solid rock faces with few hand or foot holes. Altitude sickness was beginning to strike; I myself could feel reality slipping away to dizzy sickness, but it was too cold to stop with ice now dusting the rocks.

After hours of scrambling, climbing and hiking we finally reached the summit, missing the sunrise but still wonderstruck by the utterly magnificent panoramas before us. Two of our group did not make it to the summit, but our guides believed we were the first group of teenagers to reach the 4562.13m high summit.

On the way back down to base camp we saw for the first time in the light the ash crater that had developed in the heart of the former crater. It was a stark reminder that this volcano was by no means extinct. The climb down in the light was possibly more frightening than on the way up as we saw the full extent of the dangerous terrain we had traversed.

Climbing that mountain was something I never thought I could have achieved. The sheer power of the natural world I experienced will never cease to amaze me. One day I hope to stand at the summit of Kilimanjaro looking across at Meru, proud of what we achieved.

N Watts

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