Distance: 4 km
Altitude: 4,673 m
Date: Feb. 1, 2018
I woke up early after a restful night of sleep, feeling ready for the day ahead. We were told last night that these next two days will be the most difficult but our guides feel confident that everyone in our group will be able to make it to the summit … I wonder if they say that to all of their groups?
Ahead of us today is a simple 4 km hike to basecamp; however, it will feel more challenging because of the high altitude. Once we arrive at basecamp, the plan is to eat lunch, take a short nap, eat supper, take long nap, and then awake at 11pm to begin our hike to the summit. I can’t believe that it’s almost here! I’ve been thinking about summiting for nearly a year now and tonight is the moment of truth! Tonight I will see if I become one of the few to conquer this great mountain, or one of the many to become conquered by it. I feel quite confident but I don’t want to become overconfident. I’ll just continue to take this journey one step at a time, carefully.
After preparing my gear for the day, I roll out of our tent and am astonished by the beauty of the mountain. Every morning, I think that the scenery can’t get any more breathtaking … and then it does. Today, I woke up on top of the world! To the left of us, is a magnificent mountain with a snow-covered peak; to the right is a panoramic view of the entire city of Moshi.
We sip our morning coffee and breathe in the cool morning air. It’s a quiet morning. I think this journey has made everyone more zen and has given us the ability to enjoy the tranquility of the moment. After a few days on the mountain, my mind has become more quiet; I am not worried about the past or anticipating the future … I am just enjoying the present. Sometimes by trying to control everything, we actually lose that very moment. I have now surrendered and allow myself, instead, to be controlled by the moment. I am enjoying the opportunity to go on this incredible adventure with my husband and I am also enjoying the company of our new friends. Life has been very kind to me and I am grateful for this.
As we begin our hike, I start to feel slightly suffocated. I haven’t felt like this before. I don’t feel bad … but I don’t feel quite good either. It’s a very puzzling feeling. We are walking at a very slow pace but I can’t seem to catch my breath and feel very tired. I begin to question if this is the beginning of altitude sickness and if I am becoming the next victim. I don’t have a headache or nausea but I really can’t seem to catch my breath. I can feel my body teetering between feeling well and feeling ill.
It’s a chilly morning so I’m dressed in many layers, which all of a sudden feeling quite bothersome. I quickly remove my buff from around my face and unzip my inner and outer jacket to have less restriction around my neck. I take a couple of deep breaths and drink water. I don’t like water and I’m not thirsty but I do this every time I worry about altitude sickness.
Approximately 30 minutes into the hike, I am able to tip the scale back to feeling happy once again. We continue our journey along a steep path, which is carved out by the thousands of travellers that have wandered this trail before us. There is no vegetation as far as the eye can see – just rocks and blue skies. Sharp, jagged rocks and bright blue skies. Behind us, a wall of fluffy white clouds are rolling up the side of the mountain, blocking our view of anything that we have left behind.
Once we finally reach the crest of this steep incline, where the earth touches the sky, we can see basecamp just off into the distance on the other side of these deserted lands. The air is so dry and dusty, which makes my eyes feel gritty and my lips feel chapped. With only a few kilometers left to go, we persevere forward as the wind pushes us back with incredible force.
As we arrive at the Barafu Camp sign, I look up at the mountain standing behind it. As I squint in the bright sun, I can see a trail that zigs-zags between boulders up the steep back of the mountain. This is Kilimanjaro and is the trail that we will be trekking tonight. Shortly beyond this is Uhuru peak – the highest peak in all of Africa. I can feel butterflies in my stomach. I take a deep breath. I am filled with excitement, yet still slightly apprehensive.
We continue past this sign to our campsite, where our G-Fighters have set up our tents on the slope of a rocky hillside. As I take in the remainder of the scenery, I notice how the air is so incredibly thin, not only depriving us of oxygen but also making the sun appear so much brighter. I then spot Willie, who is waiting for me to arrive; “Karibu!” he says as he greets me with a high-five (this means welcome in Swahili). He leads me to my tent and I thank him, “Asante sana rafiki!” As I crawl into my tent, I am greeted by its warmth. It feels so nice to be in our tiny sauna, sheltered from the brutal winds that push and shove anything that gets in its way.
After lunch, I begin preparing my gear for tonight. During this time, we are encouraged to nap; however, I’m much too excited to sleep! I lay out my insulted boots that I have been saving this entire trip just for this cold summit night. Next to them, I set aside two pairs of fresh, clean socks. I tuck my ipod (which I have been saving this entire trip) and my freeze-proof camera in one boot and a handful of hand warmers for me to activate tonight in my other boot. I then lay out my thermal pants, fleece pants, hiking pants, and rain pants for me to wear as my bottom layers and then my t-shirt, thermal shirt, fleece shirt, down jacket, and winter jacket for me to wear as my top layers.
As I am settling in to relax, I remember that I have two letters that I’ve been saving this entire trip for today!! I had asked my parents and a friend of ours to write letters of encouragement incase our morale was in absolute despair. It surprisingly wasn’t though. I feel great, am happy, and am very ready to climb to the summit tonight. Regardless, I am excited to read our letters.
I open the first one from my parents. I read it out loud for Sieu to hear but have to speak loudly to compete against the whipping sound of the wind on our tent. The letter is filled with words of encouragement and inspiration. It concludes with the quote, “Pain is temporary but victory lasts forever”. It’s very personal and touching. The other letter from our friends is more similar to a homemade post-card. It has a drawing of Kilimanjaro with a few words of encouragement. It is simple, beautiful and poetic. Although our morale wasn’t suffering, it was still really nice to sit together and read these letters from home. It also makes me reflect on what kind of state that I thought we would be in at this point of our journey. I am so happy that I was wrong!
We lie together in our tent and drift off to the sound of the wind shaking the tent. The warmth hugs my body but I am refreshed by a gentle breeze through a small opening in our doors …
It’s supper time. We are debriefed on the game plan for tonight as they measure our saturation (mine is 88% and my pulse is 90). Albert instructs us to try to wear six layers and to use a water bottle so that the straws on our hydration packs do not freeze. There will be nine guides accompanying our group of eleven so we are nearly one-on-one. We are also told that we will be taking five minutes rests every hour and during this time, we are not permitted to lie down because it is dangerous if we fall asleep. The hike to the summit should be approximately seven hours.
We return to our tents. The clock is counting down getting us closer and closer to our departure time. The angry winds shake our tent as if to give us our final warning. As soon as the sun tucks away behind the mountains, the bitter cold returns. We know that we will not win the war against the cold during this climb but we strategize anyways.
Three hours before we leave. Three hours for this night to get colder. My body is feeling rested, yet restless. This hike has mainly been physical leading up to this point but now its my mind’s turn to take the lead and bring me to victory. I write in my Midori to pass the time. I know that I should be sleeping but I can feel the adrenaline surging through my veins. Non-stop. To the top.
To Be Continued in…
Conquering Kilimanjaro (Day 6: Summit Night, part I)