Day one, 30th June: We all gather at Uhuru Hostel, Tuesday morning for the Pre-climb briefing. We are introduced to Maggie from African Zoom Adventures and the head guide and they go through the requirements and everybody has to confirm that they have all the gear so that what they don’t have can be leased before leaving Moshi for the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. A few people take pictures during the briefing. I sit quietly because it is beginning to dawn on me what we are about to embark on. The grandiosity of the task entrusted with the group of 18 climbers from Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Estonia and Germany – the task of inspiring generations of African youth and around the world to campaign against and raise awareness against the mining of Uranium in Africa and to abolish Nuclear Weapons around the world. This especially in a continent where we don’t pay much attention to debates about Nuclear Weapons, being a NW-free continent but also remaining, ironically being a place where some of the raw materials for NWS come from.
Eventually after a quick stop at the leasing shop in town, it Is time to load up and head up to Marangu gate, 1879 meters above sea level. As the bus lumbers up the tidy mountain road, quiet jokes, veiled manners and many anxious questions to Maggie from the tour company about the climb as she has already done it a few times.
Arrival at Marangu gate is greeted by a cheer of relief from the big team going up with us. I don’t think any of us expected the team to be so big – there is 1 guide for every pair of us, 2 porters for each climber and 2 cooks! We go through the slow registration process and finally the guide is picked to lead the first 8km hike to the Mandara hut 2720m above sea level. It is late in the day and we have to make it before it is too dark through the rain forest. The walk through the gate is a daunting moment for me. It defines the next few days – the big challenge. I still have no idea what kind of challenge stands before me. I know the mountain is nearly 6000 m above sea level but that doesn’t tell you what lies ahead exactly. I think about the fortitude that will have to be displayed by each climber. I think about the ‘Kilimanjaro philosophy’ I read on a door at the gate: ‘Respect the mountain and leave no trace of your ever being there’. I found it goes well with the theme of this campaign, to leave the uranium in the ground where it belongs and leave no trace of nuclear weapons on earth. A few hours hike leads to our late arrival at Mandara huts just before the clouds cover the shining moon. All everyone can think about is hot tea, dinner and then sleep! That night dinner is fantastic (the carrot soup heavenly), as is every meal thereafter. I still have no idea that warm showers are not an option. That night, it hits me!
Day 2, 1st July: As per previous evening’s briefing, we get up at 7 a.m., breakfast follows and we get a few moments with the sun in our faces before we have to leave after the lunchboxes are handed out. The trek to Horombo is longer and it promises to be colder, and with the potential for rain, we have to dress accordingly. Mist and reduced visibility along the trek is all we get that day. We stop a few times to strip off a layer or two as we all warm up on the hike trail, ‘sip sip’ for hydration and chat. The mood is good and spirits are high on the team but this is the day we start to suffer losses. Some people are lagging behind, weighed down by nausea, headaches and early fatigue. “Keep you strength up, eat and drink,” they said. We soldier on. One of the team members, Racheal, who has done the climb before warns of a steep climb before the lunch point and we all soon find out what she was talking about. The most welcome break so far is when we clear the incline and sit for lunch and boy, Racheal was not kidding! It gets a bit colder and the extra layer comes back on. Even the cold quarter chicken is welcome. It’s delicious in fact!
We march on after pictures and short interviews. No one knows what to expect and by now, the group is splitting into the pacesetters, a middle group and the ones who are already feeling the effects of the changing altitude. The whole group makes it to Horombo, 3720ms. We are now above the clouds but no views yet. The fog has followed us all the way here! We have had sketchy network and can only make calls back to Moshi for updates.
All the same the resident bloggers – Arashdeep and Kelvin are determined and they try to keep their gadgets charged. Dinner time and not many have their appetites about. Sleep is sketchy due to the cold. Briefing indicates the same morning routine in readiness for the fairly long trek to base camp at Kibo.
Day 3 is anything but routine. We start to marvel at the work ethic of the guides and especially the porters in providing an indispensable service. That means we have hot meals, guidance and our big packs at our destination before we get there without fail or excuses. The service is flawless, all with smiles and positivity all through! Excellent! Anyway, we trudge on and the signs of sickness are with us. More feeling the altitude and one has had to turn back unable to carry on. The fatigue starts to show when it takes most of us more than an hour and a half to cover the last 1.5 km to the base camp. IT is late afternoon by the time we arrive and the wind chill is freezing. The worst news comes with the pre-dinner briefing. We have to be up at 11 pm for the midnight final ascent to the top. We barely have 4 hours to sleep if anyone can in the frigid weather. Some complaints because we are literally spent and since nearly everyone has no appetite, that also means no way of replenishing that strength. There aren’t any options however, as we cannot spend too much time at this altitude. 11pm finds most still awake, if only starting to fall asleep. Nearly everyone is sick. A few more people announce they cannot manage the final ascent. Team morale is dipping but the determination to complete the task is on the faces of the majority. Everyone wears their 5-7 layers and we line up in the dark for final ascent. The climb is slow and everyone takes it on at their pace. The task seems simple enough but in the end, it will be the toughest anyone of us has had it thus far.
The most inspiring thing about K-Project for Peace is knowing firsthand how much it took each individual despite where they got on the climb, to overcome themselves, to find that little ounce of energy and courage; fighting sleep, fatigue and altitude sickness to get as far as they could for something they truly believe in – Africa free of Uranium and the world free of Nuclear Weapons.
(photo credits to the amazing ujuzi team – Katja, Jonathan and JJ. We are eternally grateful)