While I write this post from the comfort of my hotel room in Arusha, Jo, the kids, and Carol left Austin this morning. Or they tried to. After an eight hour delay they finally made it to JFK past 1am, then to their hotel for a short rest before continuing on to Doha and Arusha tomorrow. Jo was in low spirits at one point. I tried to cheer her up by saying that we’ll only be doing this for one year. She wasn’t amused. I hope to see their shinning smiling faces tomorrow afternoon here at the hotel.
If someone tells you to start climbing from Barafu camp (elevation 4,680 m or 15, 354 ft) at midnight, and reach Uhuru Peak (5,895 m or 19,341 ft) , the highest point in Africa, by sunrise you should rightfully tell them to bugger off.
So the six of us, and three guides and three other support crew headed off up the steep rise north of camp with our headlamps on and dressed in all of our warmest clothing. By the time we got to the Rock – the first steep climb, you could see a snake of headlamps reaching towards the stars. We knew we’d be climbing for six or seven hours.
Soon I was an automaton. Just putting one step in front of the other. Not letting the wind push me over. Climbing. Stopping and forcing a sip of half frozen water down throat. Then getting back up and following Nita’s backside up the mountain. My eyes were glazed and I felt like a sleepwalker. My hands were freezing. So was my snack – the Kit Kat in my pocket. The snake of headlamps went higher and higher and I followed. I stopped at one point to put on my balaclava. It made my face feel warm and dry for 10 minutes. Then my snot froze around the nose opening and it felt like I was wearing a block of ice. I was too tired to take it off.
I was aware enough to analyze how I felt and while the easy answer was “like shit”, there was really nothing wrong. So I kept at it. Still – this was firmly in the no fun zone.
Then dawn came and a glorious sunrise lit up the whole continent under me (thanks for the photo, Nita). My senses were all pared down to just keep me climbing, but even in that state I felt the sunrise. The snake of headlamps faded out in the daylight and the abstract was replaced by a huge mountain still above me. I had been steadily climbing for five hours in the darkness. How could there still be so much to go? But the sun was on my back and I put one step in front of the other. Stella Peak finally appeared. I was on the crater rim. Yassin gave me a huge hug and pointed the way up. I could see the wide sweep of the rim to my left, towards the final prize, Uhuru peak. I had expected the rim to be flatter. But the going did get a lot easier. I started looking around. Enjoying the white blue-green vertical ice faces of the glaciers. Looking down into the crater floor. I met Aaron and Bernard returning from Uhuru. Only 20 minutes, they said. Like the last round of a workout, I walked faster than all night and suddenly there was Uhuru, with it’s shabby chick wooden signage. It was 8:45 AM.
There was a big contingent from a cancer or urology group from Omaha taking photos at the peak. It took them for ever, but by then I was a functioning human again. I could speak and eat and drink and look around. Gaspar and I took photos. We chatted. I thanked him. After a while we headed down. In three hours we were back at Barafu camp. I still couldn’t eat, but rested a bit. Then the walk to Mweka camp – at least four hours below. It was pitch dark by the time we got to camp. We started that day in the dark and ended it likewise. Still couldn’t stomach the thought of food. But got a good night’s sleep. Next morning, Day 7, was an easy 9 km hike from Mweka camp down to Mweka Gate and suddenly we were out of the park and Kilimanjaro was behind us.
Done. I climbed the mountain, but with a ton of help and support. And I learned more about myself than I did about Kilimanjaro. Would I recommend it? Absolutely. About 5 hours of feeling miserable out of a week of fun. I can work with that.
Thank you, Gabriele, Onsemo and Yassin, for putting a great group of people together to take us safely up and back down. Thanks, Jen, Sam and Kevyn, for keeping the old bones moving. Thanks, Aaron for agreeing so readily to jump into this adventure. And thank you, dearest Jo, for giving me the time and space to continue to do stupid shit. And you thought I’d fall off the mountain… : )