So this was the day to attempt to summit the mountain. After a restless night for both me and Phil, we had a hearty breakfast of porridge and set off from camp to trek from 3900 metres to the summit at 4985 metres above sea level. Disappointingly, the rain had not abated at all and it was an incredibly bleak dreary day. It was also increasingly cold and the fog bore down on us like a suffocating blanket. Visibility was also diminishing the higher we climbed.
We started the day by clambering up the side of a magnificent water fall and thereafter, encountered very steep inclines, in driving rain and accompanied by the breathing difficulties associated with high altitudes. The pace was slow which was entirely necessary but over the difficult terrain, it was utterly draining and completely exhausting. My trousers quickly became saturated and felt heavier and heavier as the day wore on. My gloves became soaked, and the side ways rain also seeped into my boots. Phil and I both became drenched quite early on in the day but the hope of reaching the summit drove us forward. I had chosen my trusted woolly hat along side two jackets so was able to maintain some level of warmth for some time.
The moorland landscape gradually disappeared being replaced by high altitude alpine vegetation including Giant Groundsel, Lobelia and Protea. All very beautiful but very different, almost alien like and a stark reminder that we were getting higher and higher. The climb was steep and at times, treacherous with slippery ground underfoot and eventually, the alpine vegetation disappeared, giving way to craggy rocks which required more climbing and clambering, as opposed to trekking. The temperature had plummeted and the rain became sleet, interspersed with snow. The weather was deteriorating rapidly and with the fog, visibility was poor so we could not even take in the landscape. I knew however that there was little to see other than snowy ice clad rocks.
As the conditions deteriorated, concern was cast as to whether we could reach the summit at all. It was becoming increasingly dangerous and I was also becoming so cold that ice was forming on my sodden trousers. Who knew that even on the equator, the temperature on the mountain could reach as low as -10!!? Phil was feeling the effects of the altitude and complained of nausea and I was concerned not only for Phil’s health but for the effects of hyperthermia! After hours of trekking, we reached a camp known as Simba Col (now more commonly called Simba Tarn) at the base of Point Lenana where a discussion was had with the entire group as to whether attempts should continue to reach the summit. It was at this point when, if people weren’t feeling well, (or they did not wish to go on) they could head back down the mountain to the next camp. This would mean missing the summit but this was the point of no return.
After much discussion, Phil and I decided to miss the summit for the good of our health, and because the weather was closing in, and we chose to start the journey back down the mountain to the next camp which was at 4,200 metres so still very high. Other people from our group also made this decision, whilst a couple of others decided to still attempt to summit. We found out later that they could not make it, so nobody from this trip summited because the conditions were just too dangerous.
Upon starting the descent to the next camp, we had to go down a scree bank which, despite my aching and shivering bones, was great fun. Phil and I slid down the scree bank as if surfing in the sea, oblivious to the steepness of the bank and the crumbling surface which, had we fallen may have led to some level of injury!
After the exhilaration of the rapid descent, we came upon Shipton’s Camp which was near to where we were to camp that night. However, the porters had not yet arrived (god only knows how we had beaten them this day!!) and the camp was not yet set up. There are huts at Shipton’s Camp and whilst entry is not usually permitted to non-paying guests, I think the managers took pity on a shivering me and let us take shelter in the huts. I was able to change my saturated socks, as did Phil, and remove my sodden trousers and I immediately started to warm up and come alive again. Phil’s nausea did not subside so quickly but he felt much improved when he had also taken off his wet clothing.
It wasn’t long before the porters caught up and they duly set up the camp, much to our relief although by this time, the other members of the group that had attempted to summit the mountain started to return. The group was reunited and ironically, the rain finally stopped and the fog slowly started to dissipate. We all consoled each other at not being able to get to the top of the mountain but all in all, agreed we had all escaped such extreme conditions with our health which was so much more important. It had been an exhausting day in brutal and extreme conditions and I have accepted that perhaps mountain climbing is not my forte. That said, we had survived, and lived to fight another day so all was good in the world. We just had to get home now so after another splendid dinner, we settled down to an early night to try to recoup some strength for the long trek home.
The tents had been set up in the beautiful Mackinders Valley and just as we settled down for the night, we could hear roaring down the valley…. the onset of gale force winds! A rough night was to ensue…..