Summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro
October 12, 2019
Our crew wakes us up at 11pm.
The wind is howling and shaking the tent as hefty sheets of what sounds like rain threaten to break through.
Surely we’re not going to hike a mountain in this?!
Still huddled in our sleeping bags, 11:30pm rolls around. We haven’t heard any change of plans from our guide, Salim, so, reluctantly, on the layers go.
As Mike unzips the tent he sees white crystals creeping in–it’s snow, not rain!
I breathe a sigh of relief that we won’t instantly be drenched.
At midnight we begin our ascent.
I started prescription medication last night for a suspect case of water contamination and send up a quick prayer that it does the trick.
As we start hiking, I quickly get an assessment of how weak and exhausted I feel from the sickness and lack of eating the last couple days.
After an hour of wallowing in self-pity, I decide to distract myself by resolutely focusing on my breathing.
This works fairly well but when the stronger waves of nausea come, they still win out.
The guides start to sing and it is a welcome distraction from all that’s happening within.
Unsure whether by choice or pure exhaustion, I frequently let my eyes drift closed. Each time, unsurprisingly, wobbling and coming close to falling over.
The climb had started out fairly warm despite the snow but as we reach higher elevations the wind picks up and the air continues to cool.
A layer of frost builds up on our clothes and gear. My headlight is getting dimmer and dimmer from the cold, eventually shutting off completely.
Cowering behind a rock for some relief from the wind, we learn our assistant guide, Emmanuel, is carrying a thermos of hot tea. I gladly gulp down the scorching hot beverage, ignoring my now burning mouth and the appreciating the warmth it spreads from within.
What could have been minutes or hours later, I’m disheartened to learn the prescription medication didn’t work. Amidst the darkness and distress to quickly find a rock that will shelter me from view of the oncoming stream of hikers and the beams of their headlamps, I’m fairly confident I stepped in another human’s feces.
Dignity long gone, I desperately want to turn around, but, with encouragement from Salim, I continue to pole pole (slowly, slowly) my way up.
At 5:00 am we reach 18,045 ft (5500 m) and I have the first glimmer of hope that I may actually reach the summit. Only 1,296 ft (395 m) to go!
Around 5:30 am the light from the sun breaks over the horizon and starts to pierce through the misty clouds.
I can feel everyone’s spirits start to lift. A second wind. Or at least a gentle uplifting breeze.
We power on.
I pray for the sun to quickly burn the clouds off so we can feel the full effect of its sweet warm rays.
We make our final push to Stella Point after which Salim ensures us that reaching the summit is a “piece of cake,” only 456 ft (139 m) of elevation to go!
Shuffling one foot in front of the other, now thinking of cake, the summit sign comes into view. It’s a gratifying sight after 7 days of hiking!
At 6:50 am, we’re able to declare we made it at last! A feat that surely would not have been accomplished without God or our incredible team from Zara Tours.
We battle the other tourists and snap some pictures on the blustery 5°F (-15°C) summit.
Once satisfied with our victory shots, Salim informs us it is no longer time for pole pole and instead we haraka haraka (fast, fast) our way back down.
The sun is in full force and we take in views of the glacier and the valley as we allow the dirt under our feet to slide us closer and closer to camp.
We arrive back at base camp at 9:00 am for a short nap, lunch, and packing. Then we begin our 4.7 mile trek down to Mweka camp for higher oxygen levels and our final night stay.
The amazing Zara Tours crew celebrates our successful summit by clapping and dancing as they sing us the Kilimanjaro song.