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Kilimanjaro diary - day five

Day one  Day two  Day three  Day four  Day five  Day Six  Day seven

The good thing about today is that the air was sparklingly clear throughout. None of the normal midday mist arose to cover Kibo. Here's Roger and Mark standing in front of our goal.

The little shed is one of the dread camp latrines. Squatting in one of these stinking, doorless sheds was easily each day's least pleasant moment. Poised above a (usually full) 12-foot pit, you were doubly disgusted because too many tourists had not mastered the squat technique, with inevitable results. Brushes, old cans of water and (at Barafu Camp) a forlorn bottle of Harpic did nothing to make them less smelly or the process of using them less undignified - or exhausting, as rising from a squat in that altitude involves nearly passing out. Nonetheless not using them and hopping behind a rock instead is greatly frowned on, and rightly too; at yesterday's water-stop at the top of the Barranco Wall I had gone for a pee and was greeted with a poo- and lavvy-paper strewn landscape instead of pristine moorland.

Just three hours' walking today in order to arrive at Barafu camp, the base camp for the final ascent, by lunchtime. We went up the slopes I'd explored last night, pausing to take this shot of a porter against the sea of clouds below. The tiny triangle on the horizon is Mount Meru, Kilimanjaro's smaller volcanic neighbour, sixty miles distant.

We crossed another wide, barren gulch (left), then up on to a sharp ridge which finally broadened just enough to contain Barafu camp which, at 16,000 feet, was as high as we'd got so far.

Barafu really did feel like a base camp. It was an ugly place, a huddle of tents and a tin hut perched on a narrow, windy ridge. The only plus was that at this point one of the easier routes joined our trail and we were rewarded with a boon of civilisation - overpriced tins of Coke and Fanta dispensed from the hut. The Coke is brought up by the porters and once it gets up here - higher than anywhere in Europe - it explodes into a mass of foam as you open it.

We had also finally rounded Kilimanjaro's 'corner' and could see Mawenzi, the second summit. This is a shattered peak of volcanic rock, looking infinitely more sinister and Mount Doom-like than Kibo. I expected vampires to fly out of it any moment. Very few people have climbed it as the spires apparently crumble at a touch.

They stuffed two meals into us and Isaac took us on a final acclimatisation walk up to a corner where we could see the path we were to walk tonight. That's it. the grey stripe leading to the summit, which is behind the glacier at the top.

The last meal was served at 5pm, and I crept into my sleeping bag and zonked myself out on two temazepam, absolutely determined to get every moment's sleep I could before we were woken at 11.30pm for the final ascent.

A note on medications: others may disagree, but I'm convinced the only was I got up Kilimanjaro was by stuffing myself full of so many pills I'd have been hallucinating at ground level. As well as temazepam to make sure that every moment of sleep possible was utilised, and my usual anti-HIV pills, I doubled my daily dose of imodium (I take it anyway, the HIV pills give me the runs) to avoid using the camp latrines any more often than necessary.

I also took Diamox (acetazolamide) which reduces the effects of altitude sickness, and two kinds of painkillers: paracetamol for altitude headaches and Voltarol (a stronger version of ibuprofen) for sore knees and ankles bruised against rocks. I also brought some domperidone, an anti-emetic, for altitude nausea but didn't suffer from this, so gave my supply to Mark.

I did clear this lot with my doctor, but don't take this as a formulary: I'm basically saying this little stroll is not something you do unprepared, so go equipped! About the one good thing is that after the first day you don't have to bother with mosquito repellent, though i also carried on taking malaria prophylaxis for when we got back down.     

Go to day six

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