It took us 5 days to get here, 7 hikers, 21 porters, 3 guides and 1 cook. Hiking 4-7 hours each day, slowly gaining altitude. Tonight, we’re camping at over 15,000 feet. Standing up after crawling out of your tent leaves you gasping for breath. The food is good (surprisingly) but the sleep this past week has been non existent and using holes in the ground for a toilet is more than disgusting.
We wake up this night at 11pm and dress in all layers (3 shirts, 3 jackets, 3 pairs of pants, 2 pair socks, 2 pair gloves, beanie, buff & hiking boots.
Have to store camera batteries inside our pockets to prevent them from freezing. Water bottles have to put upside down and blow into camelback tube in order to prevent tube from freezing.
Start hiking at 12am. Departing 15,200 ft. heading to 19,300 ft.
We climb out of camp and begin the hike up the side of Kili. It is a steep incline, cut the whole way with switchbacks. Hike is slow, the uphill is tremendous. It’s pitch black except for the moonlight and we are taking it in slow steps, poleė poleė (slowly, slowly), the guides repeat, poleė poleė. Move too fast and you’re quickly out of breath. Take a break for more than a minute or two and you quickly start to freeze. The temperature is in the negatives. And it’s just one step, breathe in, one step, breath out. A half a dozen small headlamps can be seen above us. The guides begin to sing softly together, songs of Kilimanjaro. It’s motivating and feel part of something special. Back to looking at the ground in front of you, step… breathe in… step… breathe out.
By 3 am camelback is frozen and my Nalgene bottle is turning to slush, my toes are so cold I can’t feel them (this is normal our main guide Elias has told us before departure – if you can’t feel your toes or fingers, its okay, just keep moving).
Around 4 am Michael, my guide, tells me, “Give me your backpack”. I say no I’m okay. He says, “No give me your backpack”. So I take off my backpack and hand it to him. He carries it the rest of the day for me. These guides are amazing, so strong, so patient.
Around 6am the sun rose above one of the lesser peaks, a glorious red orange dash across the sky. We are so high that you can see the curvature of the earth around you. Back to walking.
At 6.5 hrs. I reach the steepest part of the entire climb. This is the most poleė poleė I have ever had to do, so steep, so little air, so tired.
After 7 hours I reach the first summit, Stella Point, 18,200 feet. I am emotionally, physically and spiritually broken. My guide takes my camera to take a photo of me in front of the Stella Point sign and I am holding back tears, overwhelmed with the steep incline being finished.
Still not done I slowly trudge the crater rim another 600 vertical feet to the actual summit. Along the way I cross Patty (my sister) and Rob who have already summited. Patty, with a brief look of hopelessness, agrees to re-summit with me as Rob wants to re-summit with James who is a bit behind me.
At 8 am I reach the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, 19,341 feet. I am standing (barely) at the top of the tallest mountain in Africa and the highest freestanding mountain in the world. The climb is over, I’m not even present in my own body. Dizzy, tired, delirious, Michael, my guide, takes some pictures of us at the summit. We all hug, can’t believe we did it. It is easily the most difficult thing we’ve ever accomplished.
The way down: 4 hrs down on loose gravel which you just slide down. It took forever to get down but the sliding was easy. Its good to be going down but, man, I am freaking tired. I ask if I can just take a 30 minute nap next to a rock here, no such luck.
A 1 hr rest back at our 15k ft camp where we started that morning, some lunch, then another 4 hours of hiking down to 9,000 feet (they want to get us out of the altitude). This downhill is painful, #&*% my knees. Total hiking time on day 6 is 15 hrs.
We finally get to sleep then hike the rest of the way down tomorrow.
Day 7: We reach the gate, glorious no more hiking! Celebration at Chris’s house (Patty’s boss who lives not too far from Kili) and as much sleep as possible before heading off to Zanzibar tomorrow. People’s feet are broken. James’s feet, well, some things are better left undescribed. As for myself, I may lose some toenails after the foot smashing downhills but I am mostly unscathed, glad I did it but unsure if I’d do it again.