Distance: 5-6 km, 7.5 hours
Elevation: 1300 m climb from 4600 m to 5895 m
|Resting in our tent the afternoon before Summit Night|
Well, they are lying. Or they haven’t attempted to summit Kilimanjaro yet. This is hard. Sooooo hard. While I carefully set one foot in front of the other, I train my mind on two thoughts to keep me busy. The first is this: What was I thinking? What is wrong with the Southwestern most point of Africa, which I've already seen and which was perfectly easy to reach? Why in God's name did I have to focus on the highest point? My second thought is this: Why the hell do we have to do this at night in what must be minus-20 degrees Celcius when it would be so much more pleasant in the sunshine?
I suspect I know the answer to the latter question. No one in their right mind would keep going in the daytime, when they can see the steep mountain ahead of them and how far it stretches, and how insurmountable it is. People would take one good look, shake their head with incredulity, say "no thanks" and turn around, pronto. It's bad enough at night. You see the dark outline of the mountain ahead of you, and a few twinkling stars at the very top. You walk and you walk and you walk, and yet the outline never changes, and the stars never move down one inch from the periphery of your vision.
|Our view for most of summit night: Headlamps of the groups in front of us. Photo: Martin B.|
And yet it is so serene and beautiful. We start out with our headlamps on, but realize after a while that the moonlight is sufficient to light the way. When we turn off our lamps, the mountain is instantly transformed. It is bathed in soft moonlight and we see the occasional twinkle of lights from groups ahead of us. The air is absolutely still and crisp, proving once again that it can always be worse - we could be in a storm, it could be snowing, we could be covered in sheets of ice. I tell myself these comforting words, only I am so utterly cold.
Weeks afterwards, as I'm sitting at my desk writing this story, I'm trying to recall the most beautiful moments on the mountain so that I can recreate these incredible emotions that climbing Kilimanjaro brought with it. Slowly, and sadly, they are fading from view, but the one moment I will never forget is when we finally reached Stella Point and crested the ridge overlooking the crater. I was so mindlessly following in Goddy's footsteps that I failed to notice he had stopped and almost bumped into him. He turned around and simply spread his arms open wide, and I stumbled into them, holding on for dear life and feeling as happy as never before. And yet I think I was sobbing, big, heaving sobs, and unwilling to let go.
And then came the sunrise. I've seen many African sunrises and they've all been beautiful, but this has to have been the most beautiful of all. Standing on top of the world like this, overflowing with emotion, and wishing with all your heart for that little bit of warmth that for now was nothing more than a promise creeping over the horizon. I don't have enough words to describe it, but simply recalling that sunrise will always bring back the miracle of our week on Kilimanjaro for me.
|Another look at the sunrise over Stella Point. Photo: Martin B.|
|Brief rest at Stella Point. I'm the one in the white jacket bending over my poles, because I|
was quite certain that if I sat down I'd never be able to get up again. Photo: Martin B.
What's funny is how wildly our stories differ from this point on. Some in our group will tell you that that last bit from Stella Point to Uhuru Peak was pure agony and next to impossible to overcome. There are actually quite a few people who make it to Stella Point but not Uhuru, having spent their last ounce of energy to drag themselves over the crater rim and collapse. But all I can remember is that it felt more like a walk in the park. Not nearly as steep as before, and with the end point in plain sight, right over there and up a bit. It must have taken us another forty minutes or so, and then we were there. On the roof of Africa. The entire continent at our feet. Finally, we had made it!
There were more hugs to go around and more crying and sobbing fueled by all sorts of emotions everybody had carried along with them, but the thing I most vividly remember is how very lonely I felt. I was here, and yet the person I had most wanted to share this with, the person I had wanted next to me under that sign having our pictures snapped was Zax. Though I know he would have hated the picture taking part, and the fact that the picture had to be taken again and again and again, each time with a different camera. He would have scoffed at such a waste of time ("why don't people trust each other to send the pictures?" had been his earlier words) and this thought almost made me smile.
Zax wasn't in this for the glory. He wasn't in it to prove any point, or to tell anybody about it afterwards. He hates to be recognized for achievements. He really only was in it, from what I can tell, because I asked him to. Which makes it all the more special to me that he came.
|I found the view of the glaciers they most beautiful of all, and the most fascinating.|
|People who've come before us say that what you see here as scree used to be covered in snow. |
And that the glacier came right up to the summit, whereas here it is receding into the distance.
|With climate change and changing weather patterns, and seeing how much water flows down Kili in |
those muddy rivers we saw, it is amazing that this much of the glacier is still there!
|A vast space around us, with Mount Meru in the distance. Photo: Martin B.|
|I battled a long time whether I even wanted to post this picture. It still doesn't feel right.|
|The other two boys who made it up, hoisting the school flag (and cursing a few weeks later|
because they were made to give a talk about it at school).
I was the first to be off. Naiman, and I will always be grateful for this, recognized that I wanted to get down fast, and stayed with me the whole way. We were flying down that mountain. The closest I can come to describing how it felt is the way you ski down a black diamond slope around moguls. I cannot tell you how happy my poles made me that morning, because without them it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun or fast. I'd plant the poles far in front of me, hop down, and slide about another meter in the deep scree, then plant the poles again, and so on, all the way down, always careful to navigate around large rocks. I might have been even faster, had Naiman not sat me down every once in a while and forced me to drink what was left of my water. After just five minutes of this, my toes and hands were thoroughly thawed and pulsing with circulation, and it didn't take long before the first layers had to come off. Occasionally we'd encounter a climber and his guide who were still making their slow ascent, huddled under their balaclavas and hoods and looking miserable. The contrast was almost laughable. Just an hour earlier I had looked and felt exactly like that, and now here I was free as a bird and having a grand old time, fueled by my anticipation to see Zax again soon.
|Descent from Uhuru Peak. What a change from just a few hours earlier.|
|View of Barafu Camp from above. I love how you can see the curvature of the horizon here.|
|Naiman, my slalom partner on the way down.|
Lance might have set a record for climbing Kili in 9 hours 45 minutes, but how about his descent back down? I'm quite sure that in the world of Kili records, I created my very own that morning. The fastest forty-something housewife from Joburg between Uhuru and Barafu in 2012, I'm certain of it. It took me one and a half hours to traverse what had taken over seven just a short while earlier in the other direction. I was back down in camp sunning myself on a rock together with Zax for a good long while before the others appeared.
Zax, of course, was fine. He had gotten a good night's sleep after a good long drink once back in his tent, where Hillary had temporarily moved in with him to watch him closely and make sure he was alright. He bears no physical scars, though I can't even begin to imagine the emotions he must have coped with that scary night, and beyond, grappling with the fact that he didn't make it when everyone else did. He is quite certain that he will be back to try it again.
Who knows, I might even come with him.
Previous Kili posts:
To Climb or Not to Climb Kili
A Pair of New Boots... And a Countdown
Countdown to Kili: The Shopping List
Countdown to Kili: A Garden Trowel? Seriously?
Countdown to Kili: The Test Hike
Countdown to Kili: Just Give Me a Mountain
Kili Here we Come
Kilimanjaro - The Most Incredible Experience
Kilimanjaro Diary, Day One: Pole Pole
Kilimanjaro Diary, Day Two: TeeTee the Toilet Tent
Kilimanjaro Diary, Day Three: The First Big Test
Kilimanjaro Diary, Day Four: Barranco Disco
Kilimanjaro Diary, Day Five: Tent with a View