Breakfast consisted of biscuits and tea, but not just a couple of biscuits. I ate about twenty of them. I need my sustenance to maintain my energy levels and there is only one way to do that, and that is eat huge amounts. I had snacks in my pack for the attempt and I was ready to eat every single one of them. I headed back to the room, checked my water and my snacks again and brushed my teeth. I was ready to tackle this very intimidating task.
The guides had assembled outside and previously we were told to be ready to walk by 11:55pm. Standing in the dark, with a slight breeze blowing in my face I thought this is it, its now or never.
I heard the command “Lets go!” I looked up and we were put in order to begin. This was not a race and the only person i was in competition with was me. Our guides said “take your time and let us know if you are feeling cold, nauseas or light-headed”.
We began walking out of the camp and into the darkness, only the light of the head torches showing the way. The track slowly meandering upward and switching back as we stepped up “pole pole” my breathing was short and my steps were shorter. At 4000 metres you tend to be slowed to a snails pace and this is what will keep you safe. It felt like time was moving very slowly, however this was inconsequential to what was happening in my mind. I was thinking of my family, thinking about Karine and thinking bout how I had longed to climb this mountain.
My head was a feeling light and I every sip of water seemed to wake me up a little and keep me going. I stuck with this approach and continued on. Step after step as the night went on. I was awakened suddenly by my loss of balance and realised there and then that I had in fact fallen asleep on my feet for a split second. I looked up and Sascha and Corrine we still ahead of me and I was ok. I sipped water, the coolness sparked my body into action.
We stopped at 5000 metres to snack and try to recover somewhat; this is not an easy task given your body is starting to fatigue at a vastly increased rate. I ate chocolate and banana snack bars and drank a little more water. I was feeling good but I knew we had a long way to go. This was an incredibly intense moment for me. Nearly 900 vertical metres ahead of us over the next three and a half hours, I got to my feet and said to one of our guides “Rasta, this ain’t over for me yet!”.
On and on we walked slowly up as the stars began to make way for the morning light. It was still dark but if you turned around and looked back you could see the beginning of that day peering over the false horizon of the clouds below us. Up across the only outcrop of rocks we had to negotiate and a few switchbacks later we were standing at Gilman’s Point. Corrine’s husband Wayne was just behind me and I stopped before the sign and let him pass so that he and Corrine could reach the sign together. They would tell me later they really appreciated me doing that for them.
We were now on the start of the final ridge line and at 5681 metres. Tears welled in my eyes as I realised I was almost on the roof of Africa. The track eased as we descended a little into the top of the crater to head across the ridge to Stella Point. It was a relief to be walking downhill for a change and it felt easy. I was very tired and feeling every step by now and all I wanted to do was sit down and rest, but there was work to be done and a mountain to summit. I now felt like this was very much going to happen.
The team had thinned out a bit on the ascent as coldness and altitude sickness claimed a couple of us. This was not an uncommon thing on Kilimanjaro. You may think its a trek, but it is definitely, most definitely a very serious game to play. This is the hardest thing I have ever done physically and I am accustomed to pain and suffering…….I climb rocks for fun!!!
We arrived at Stella Point and rested briefly while our lead guide discussed the last 140 vertical metres with us. The terrain was easy and the track well carved but this is where you need to be aware. At the summit we have a fifteen minute window to take photos and to take in the scenery.
Looking up at the summit about two kms away, it seemed so incredibly close and the our guide William said “it will take another forty minutes to an hour.
We set off and fell into line automatically as we had done over the course of the night. the sun now sharing it warmth with us as we moved upward to the plateau below the summit. The glacier wall to the left of us was the most unbelievable sight with a frozen lake below it and the sun light shining over it. This lunar surface and ice-scape was so surreal it felt like I was in a science fiction film. As we came up over the rise and moved around a slight corner, people started to walk past me on their way back down and they were moving very fast. I thought they must have cruised it.
As I turned around to look back I realised I was the only one still with William and we were about 300 metres from our goal. Jared was a little ways back and Rowan was further away. Slowly moving towards the summit with my head down I saw a shadow on the ground and and was pleased to see it was Jared. He had pushed on and we were soon joined by Rowan……the shadows were long and they were further away than I thought.
I looked up and William had stopped. We were there………we were there!!!! 8595 metres above the ocean, standing on the roof of Africa and I had summited Mount Kilimanjaro. The highest free standing mountain on earth. I waited for Jared and we shook hand and hugged each other congratulating rowan as he joined us at the top.
I placed my headphones in my ears and hit the play button. Looking out and taking some photos of the sunrise and hearing the percussion sounds in my ears was wonderful as the tears again welled in my eyes. I hear the drums echoing tonight, she hears only wishers of some quiet conversation……..these words rang true for me at this time and I was totally overwhelmed with what I had done.
It was the closest to my father I would be for a very longtime and I was feeling this very deeply at this time. As the song says: Its going to take a lot to drag me away from you, theres nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do. I bless the rains down in Africa……….going to take some time to do the things we never had…….oooooooo…….ooooo.
We took photos of each other at the summit sign and congratulated all of the team who made it.
Realising we were only half way there I said to William I was now going to head down and he smiled and joined me on the descent back down to Kibo for a well earned cup of tea. We were moving very fast as were the people I had witnessed on my way up. I was surprised at my energy levels and we hit the scree slope at about 5300 metres and began skiing with our poles down the mountain……it was truly incredible……..we had dropped to 4800 metres in about half an hour……it had taken us 7 hours to ascend the last 1200 metres and we were back at the huts in 2 hours on the descent.
This was one of the greatest experiences of my life and if you have the desire and will to dream you can really achieve anything.
Thanks for reading and dream on 🙂