Last year I wrote a post about climbing Kilimanjaro in celebration of the 5th anniversary of our adventure. In it I talked specifically about Barranco Wall … a difficult challenge on day 3 of our adventure – both physically and psychologically – when the high altitude started to affect us.
This time I’m going to focus on the night – after 2 more days of climbing – when we made the summit of the highest mountain in Africa.
We had completed a full day of climbing into the deepening fog before we made camp. We would be able to sleep for a few hours and then be awakened around 11 pm to start the midnight climb. The idea was to hike all night and reach the summit as the sun was starting to rise.
We awoke to several inches of snow on our tent and the surrounding ground. We were experiencing the famous snows of Kilimanjaro!!
I REALLY did not want to do this final climb. At 16,500 feet, the altitude was already more than I thought I could bear, but I was *promised* I could turn around any time it became unbearable. I knew our guides were lying shamelessly to me. Their job was to get us to the summit and they were prepared to do whatever it would take to get us there.
An assistant guide was assigned to help me through the long night to the summit. Mario sang songs to me for what seemed like hours and finally he simply chanted 1 – 2. My shuffle upwards matched the rhythm of his voice.
At one point, I wanted to lie down and just go to sleep forever. I understand now how easy it is to simply give up, lie down, and want to die … but Mario kept me going, one foot in front of the other.
We didn’t make it to the summit for sunrise. We were still over 90 minutes away when the first rays of sun reached us on the side of Kili. I remember thinking the sunrise was THE . MOST . BEAUTIFUL thing I had ever seen.
The final kilometer to the summit took 45 minutes to climb. At 19,340 feet / 5,895 metres, the lack of oxygen was seriously affecting all of us.
At the summit I burst into tears and sobbed …. and then we gathered with huge smiles for silly pictures while panting for air.
… and then began the 2 day journey back down from the summit.
There are big holes in my memory of the climb on Kilimanjaro. The oxygen deprivation and physical effort do strange things to your mind. There are however some moments that are so crystal clear, it’s like it happened yesterday. That includes the mixed feelings of jubilation and achievement, combined with bone-deep despair, that will be with me forever.
Without question, it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Thank you for visiting today. Please help yourself to some Key Lime Tarts.