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Date: Saturday, August 5, 2017

From: Tom

"slowest ever 5km"

Ferals Steve, Judy, Matt and Tom, were among a group of trekkers from Griffith, Forbes and Scone to recently travel to Africa to scale Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest free standing mountain in the world.

We arrived in Arusha, Tanzania, after a couple of long flights and met up with our team of guides, porters & cooks.  We headed off from Mechame Gate after lunch, in a drizzle suitable for the rain forest we were walking through.  The first night was at 2835m above sea level,  higher than Mt Kosciuszko and at the point where the vegetation changed from rain forest to more open forest and vegetation.

The following day was spent climbing up a single ridge, moving onto more open vegetation until finally it became small shrubs and bushes and alpine flowers.  After about an hour, the porters started overtaking us.  Each porter carried their own back pack and a further load of 20kg which may have comprised of our main pack, food, gas bottles, chairs, tables, tents and anything else needed by the whole party for the trek.  These guys are well acclimatised to the conditions and trot past quite happily with their load perched on their head.  By the time we got to the next camp, it was already set up.

On the other hand, we we going "pole pole", that is, slowly slowly, at a pace set by the guides.  No rush for us, we needed to travel slowly and drink plenty of water to make sure we acclimatised to the altitude and didn't get sick.

Camp on day 2 was at 3750m.  The following morning we climbed to 4600m by lunchtime and this is where the altitude started to take hold.  Breathing started to become harder in the last half hour or so and everyone knows what I sound like when I am breathing heavily.  By this point, a couple of the group were starting to feel the effects of the altitude.  We had a hot lunch in the meal tent under a tower of lava and with a magnificent view of the summit that we were to get to.  The afternoon's walk down to our camp at 3900m was one of great pleasure.  Magnificent scenery and unusual vegetation.

The next morning, we faced The Wall, a steep section which was mainly rock hopping that took us up another 400m in under 2 hours.  From my point of view, it was great fun, paid for by the rest of the day, climbing up & down a few ridges.  After lunch, we had a long slog up to the Barafu camp at 4673m.  We arrived there about 4:00pm, had an early dinner & a rest before we headed off at 11:00pm that night to climb to the top.

What a superbly clear night it was for the climb, with the waning moon rising after a couple of hours.  Unfortunately, that made it very cold.  Water bottles were freezing up, even though they were put in warm socks.  Even the muesli bars and chocolate bars froze up.  Toes and fingers were getting cold and being wiggles constantly, despite double socking and gloving.  All the time, we climbed slowly and every time you looked up, you could see lights ahead of you.  It became a matter of one making it from one corner to the next as we zigzagged out way up.  Would we ever get there.  Finally, we reached the rim at Stellar Point as the light of day was starting to make itself felt.  By this time, the group were getting strung out and my guide had taken my day pack from me, and was carrying it with 2 others he had taken from other members of the group early in the night.

We witnessed a magnificent sunrise over Africa!  Matt & Steve caught me on the final walk to the peak of the mountain, 5895m above sea level, and we walked to the top together.  All of us were absolutely spent and emotional at the top.  A quick photo (with the Ferals T-shirt) and back down to camp, a walk of 4 hours!  Unfortunately, in the confusion at the top, we didn't get a full group photo and I only have an individual one, maybe Steve has one with more of us in it.  Judy reached Stella Point and decided she had done enough and returned to camp.  Still a great job by her, and enough to get a certificate for reaching the top.  Unfortunately, 2 members of the party didn't get to the top.

By the end of the day, we were most of the way back down the mountain and were off it by lunchtime the following day.

What a great achievement by all.  Now, the question arises, do we get credited for the slowest ever 5kms that we have completed on the last climb to the top?  It was on a Saturday, after all........