Kilimanjaro Diary: Day Seven

2:43 PM

It is, and feels like, the middle of the night when I drag myself out of my warm sleeping bag for the final push to the summit of Kilimanjaro. Friendly faces peer out of balaclavas, neck gaiters and wooly hats as we force down our dinner.
It’s bitterly cold, the moon not in site, and a line of head torches snakes ahead of us as we leave the embrace of the mess tent and head out into the gloom. 1095m of climbing to the roof of Africa lies ahead. We are aiming for the summit rim at Stella point in time for sunrise!
Accompanied by Edward, our chief guide, 3 assistant guides and 3 summit porters, our summit group has expanded to 18. ‘Pole Pole’ is the name of the game tonight and we are in a closely packed line. Even though there isn’t much of moon light, views of the summit glaciers, Mawenzi Peak and the surrounding African plain seemed so bright and unforgettably beautiful.

But make no mistake; the summit climb is one of the most physically demanding things I have ever endured. We started off the hike up from 11:30pm in the freezing cold by the light of a head torch. Every 50 meters you climb you feel the air becoming thinner and thinner. I was unfortunate that I had a high fever with a blocked nose while climbing up which made the issue of thinner air even more agonizing. The only mode of breathing I had was through my mouth which proved to be a difficult and sometimes suffocating task the higher up we went. Hours on pass by and your legs are tired but still continue climbing up for hours on end. To help ease the process I compiled a playlist for summit night all knowing that it will be tough and that I needed something to take my brain out of the thought process of how difficult it was. The music helped in keeping my mental state in check and into autopilot mode where I just kept on going albeit on a very slow pace due to my breathing that left the ones behind me from the team bypass me. 

As I was climbing I apparently would go unconscious for a few seconds until I'd breathe again. This was happening more often as I was reaching to the top. I myself wasn’t noticing that I was passing out as everything seemed like I was in a daze of some sort. After a final push with 40 minutes left to Stella Point, I was told that I was done and should head down since my breathing has dangerously taken a turn for the worst and add coughing to the mix, it was somehow unbearable. I had three guides and a team member telling me that my health was in jeopardy and that I should call it a night; I flat out refused and was adamant to reach the top. I really didn’t care what would happen to me as much as I cared to put in the effort to reach the top and raise the flag that I so carefully decorated my tent with up in the clouds fluttering so high. At that point, I gathered my strength enough to be stern and scream ‘NO you WILL take me to the TOP’. Seems like I intimidated them enough for all of them to give in and say ok with shrugs and worrying looks on their faces. Come hours later with the sun peaking up the horizon and there I was on the top of the ridge; rewarded with the feeling of being on top of the world, above the clouds while the hues of red, oranges and yellow took center-stage as they intermixed with the sky’s blue.  There you were standing atop with stunning glaciers and a beautiful crater surrounding you. The only thing is you are freezing, your hands ache with cold and the wind is biting and nearly blowing you over, then you realize the actual peak is about 150 meters away; another 2 hour trek left, as you shuffle along with your head down, hands in pockets feeling incredibly emotional. 

The experience was grueling to say the least thanks to the combined effects of cold, altitude, tiredness, the dark and physical excursion. This final day was an ultimate exercise in mental toughness, but I do believe that with the right support, a conservative itinerary and a “can do” attitude climbing Kilimanjaro is within most people’s capabilities.

Having got to know the entire group really well over the past week, it was really moving seeing each one of us fighting our own personal struggle and achieving the summit on such a glorious morning.  The group successfully made the summit and chaos reigned as we all tried to get that all important summit photos for the family album ( which I didn’t get much out of sadly because I was in a daze).

The freezing wind was playing havoc with cameras and it was quite a fight to secure your personal piece of the roof of Africa for at least a few minutes. After the celebrations we turned and with a spring in our step and smiles on our faces we headed back to Kosovo Camp.
The loose, steep descent flew past but was a struggle on its own thanks to my fever and blocked nose and despite suffering from wobbly knees as I neared Kosovo Camp, the sense of pride washed over me. I was soon enjoying a cold cup of passion fruit juice sat under the sun. It seemed a million miles away from the icy windswept experience I had gone through a few short hours before and it was hard to believe that it was around 11 hours previously that we had set off on our summit bid.

Kosovo Camp seems so far away.

After that refreshing glass of juice, I stayed up talking to a few of the group who already made it back but after that I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer and collapsed in my tent for a few hours till lunch time.
Lunch was a sober and sleepy affair as we all swapped stories and tried to fend off sleep and aches and pains. The unspoken fact remained that we still had to descend another 1700m to Mweka Camp before our day was over and shortly after lunch we managed to cajole our tired bodies into moving off down the trail. The promise of a rewarding dinner and sleep was waiting at Mweka Camp certainly spurred me into action, even though my breathing was becoming a burden to those who were staying behind for my sake.

Bye Bye summit
We descended quickly and the vegetation soon changed to heath and moorland, a lovely change after the high desert of the past few days. Mweka Camp is nestled among lush trees and the best part about it has to be its warmth in comparison to Kosovo Camp at night.

Yay! We made it
Only one last day on Kilimanjaro remains and we celebrated it with an awesome cake baked and presented to us by the crew…

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