THE paralysing altitude has a way of exacerbating every step.

Just putting one foot in front of the other is a victory in itself when altitude sickness sets in.
Imagine climbing a mountain while feeling nauseous, dizzy, severely fatigued and completely drained. Now throw in a headache, loss of appetite and a lack of sleep, and see why the word “loom” is just one letter away from “doom”.
Day six on Kilimanjaro was always going to be the most difficult for People’s Post advertising consultant Sheryl Haupt, her husband Oswald and their four friends.

They woke up at midnight at Barafu Camp, 4 600m above sea level, and then the final ascent to Uhuru Peak (5 898m) started in earnest. All they had with them were their light backpacks and headlamps, but every kilogramme translated into an exclamation mark.

Other hikers farther up the slope resembled a twirling snake of light, but those below focused solely on the next step. “I remember walking but not moving,” says Sheryl, while animating how her progress halted at one stage, “but the guide gave me a push, and suddenly I was energised again!”

She and Oswald, the vice chairperson of Cape Mountain Club, have scaled many peaks in South Africa, but the immense Kilimanjaro pushed their endurance and willpower to the max.
On day six, they had to climb 1 200m, spend a few minutes on the summit and descend 2 800m to Mweka Camp.
“Those five days were the buildup to this,” says Oswald. “We must hike 1 200m – 200m higher than Table Mountain – on the final day! That’s when pole-pole comes into play.”

The constant warning by the guides to walk slower – “pole-pole” in Swahili – will stay with them forever.
Oswald continues, “At that altitude everything is an effort. Getting into your sleeping bag is an effort, putting your clothes on is an effort.
“Even going to the toilet is an effort.”

Even though the group huffed and puffed during the first few days, it was day six that blew them away. “You can’t see because it’s pitch black. You feel cold, you walk so slowly…” says Oswald.
“Stella Point is basically on top of the mountain, but it isn’t quite at the peak. When you get there you are obviously exhausted. You can’t even lift your legs. From there you can see the peak, but it’s a good 45 to 50 minutes to go. I promise you, I can see why people just fall asleep on their feet. It is an easy walk, but it’s a never-ending walk.”

Sheryl adds to this when she gets up and imitates a person walking sluggishly: “This is what you’re doing, and you know if you keep doing this you’ll get there! I think to myself, ‘I’m here, I’m at the top, but I have to apparently get to that peak!’”
When they finally reached the highest point in Africa, the sheer magnificence of the world (and the lack of oxygen) left them breathless.

They stayed up there for a brief 15 minutes, which for Sheryl was probably 14 minutes too long. “You feel as if your head’s about to explode,” she explains.
“I knew that this was too much for me, so I just wanted to go down.”
The group took a few photos and started their descent at 09:00. About nine hours later, and 2 800m lower, the exhausted group arrived at Mweka Camp, where they spent the final night.

As one walks down the barren mountain, the vegetation quickly proliferates into a thick rain forest, and from there it’s just a few steps to terrain so level that it brings tears to eyes of those descending from the “cone of endurance”.
The Haupts have climbed many mountains, but their adventure in Tanzania has given them a whole new frame of reference.

Despite going through difficult periods, their group of six defied the odds – one in four people are forced to turn back before they reach the peak.
The hike up Kilimanjaro was planned for Oswald’s 50th birthday celebration, but when he was asked whether they are going to climb Everest on his 60th, he just shook his head and laughed.