I crunched through a dusting of frosted snow as I walked away from Kibo hut just after seven the next morning.
Behind me, switchbacks climbed through the scree until they disappeared into the great waves of fresh white drifts which tumbled down from Gilman’s Point.
I paused and faced back up the trail. I yearned to climb, to pass Kibo Hut and labour on through ever thinner air to the crater rim, the glaciers and Uhuru Peak. But I knew that it would be impossible to do so now; the window had passed. Four climbers had set off for the summit shortly after
I already knew that in a week’s time I would sit on my sun kissed veranda in Moshi’s suburbs and gaze up at the wisps of cloud winding around the summit. And I knew that it would be impossible to imagine the unrelenting, bitter cold that had driven me off the mountain; or believe, whilst gazing at the glaciers seductively cascading over the edge of that innocent looking peak, that such brutal conditions had caused me to retreat after working so hard to reach Kibo.
Soon the clouds had closed around me, swallowing Mawenzi and the saddle. Convection currents brought chilly shadow one moment and faint warmth from the sun the next. As the clouds drifted around me, sucked this way and that by the mountain’s own meteorological system, I imagined today’s contingent of climbers assembling at Marangu gate. A storm was brewing; the mountain was gathering its voice. A rumbling vocal warm-up had already begun as it prepared its thunderous baritone to read the riot act to the expectant huddles of hikers eagerly preparing to start their trek.
I had heard that warning three days earlier. As I descended, I listened with greater reverence.
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Early morning light behind Mawenzi seen from Kibo and below, the clouds roll across the saddle - show over.
Storm clouds gather across Kilimanjaro's saddle.
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Kiilimanjaro the trekking guide to Africa's Highest Mountain: Includes Mount Meru & guides to Arusha, Moshi, Marangu, Nairobi & Dar-Es-Salaam
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"A comprehensive and informative guide." Wanderlust magazine, February 2011
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Portable, pocket-size and cheap, but packed full of useful phrases. Swahili is an uncomplicated language and Tanzanians are patient with beginners. Believe me, a few Swahili words go a long way.