As far as trekking holidays go the Kilimanjaro climb is one of the big mamas, up there with Everest and Annapurna. Upon staking my claim at the summit with the obligatory picture I felt a sense of achievement and fulfilment. Reaching the summit is not something everyone manages, only around 75-80% of climbers actually make it. High altitude and the biting cold would dampen any other holiday but Kilimanjaro is one of the last true physical challenges available to the less experienced trekker. No ice axes or ropes required just a hardy constitution and a desire to succeed. We went in August and there were relatively low numbers of walkers on the path which encouraged the less able in the group. It gave us time to slow down and allow for acclimatisation to the altitude. Of course we had our resident moaner but even she managed to reach the summit with much cajoling. There was an air of relief and amazement upon reaching Uhruru Peak, the challenge was tough and I was beside myself with wild sense of achievement.
With the task done I sat to contemplate my success. As I looked across Africa from the peak it was obvious why thousands of people flock to Tanzania every year to make the climb. It is a test of physical and mental endurance across varying terrains of moorland, forest and glaciers. Trekking holidays are not just about reaching the 'top' though, it is the journey taken beyond that peak. We had travelled through Machame villages, wondered lush rainforests and been spied on by curious monkeys. Our Chagga guides had provided lessons in their culture, a world at the bottom of Africa's tallest mountain of bananas, wild birds and bustling markets. The trek itself had seen new friendships born in mountain huts and campsites. The camaraderie lifting spirits when the going got tough and the celebrations upon reaching Uhuru Peak made this trip the trek of a lifetime.
Our guide called me back from my musings to get us started on the journey back down, this time east towards Mweka camp. As we began the slow descent I wondered what new encounters were ahead of me. Dinner in a Mweka village? Partying in Arusha? Everest? Only time would tell, or more precisely about 6 hours of walking.