It’s dark. It’s cold. Fortunately there’s little wind.
Amy and I crawl out of our warm sleeping bags. We get ready in our tent by headlamp. We slept in most of our clothes so we only need to add our top layers. After a quick bite to eat and some hot coffee, we’re ready to begin our ascent. I’ve been training for this night for over a year. All the hiking, all the weight training, running and yoga is for the next 7 hours. I know I can do it physically, but will my brain get the best of me? Will the altitude?
Because of the dark and cold, I don’t pull my camera out of my backpack, so I’ll have to narrate this part of the climb for you.
At our first stop, both Amy and I shed layers. It’s much warmer than we expected, which we’re very grateful for. I put my iPod on. I need all the mental distraction I can get. The route is steep and winding. Soon we’re passed by other groups attempting the summit. As we hike, I get sweaty, but when we stop to rest, I get so cold. It’s hard to find the right balance of layers.
We continue on. It’s impossible to see where we’re going. There’s no indication of how far we’ve come, or how far we still have to go. The trail is an endless stream of tiny lights from the headlamps of other climbers, stretching above and below us. I check my watch. 2:30am. 4 hours until sunrise. It seems like forever. Temperatures drop and I add back the layers I took off. I’m struggling to breathe. Every few steps I stop to catch my breath. I drink water to distract myself from it, but all too quickly it runs out. I add more to my Camelbak, but it eventually freezes in the tube.
We stop for another break. Innocent takes my backpack and puts it inside his own, making it easier for me to continue. I’m so grateful for this. I check my watch again. It’s 5:30am. I look off at the horizon and see the faintest glimmer of light. Ahead of us, the tiny lights are disappearing. Have they reached the summit? Are we close?
Slowly, so slowly, the sky gets lighter. I still can’t see how much further we have to go, but I know now I’m going to make it. The difficulty I’m having with breathing was making me worried that my lungs would give out, but nothing will prevent me from getting to the top now.
Finally, I see it. I turn to Amy and say, “Look!!” and point up. The sign for the summit!!
We made it to Stella Point!! This is the crater rim! The top of the mountain! Innocent starts to tell us that Uhuru Peak is another 45 minutes from here, but I stop him and tell him we’re doing it, I don’t care how far it is. We’ve made it this far, there’s no way I’m not getting all the way to the end now. Attley pulls out some tea for us to drink while I take a few photos as a reward.
Then we head towards Uhuru Peak. Everyone always says, “It’s an easy 45 minutes to Uhuru once you get to the summit!” but let me tell you; none of this 45 minutes seems the slightest bit easy! I keep thinking with every turn we had to be there, but we still have further to go! So I distract myself with more pictures.
And then, we’re there!
Words can’t describe what I’m feeling. I try to take it all in, but I’m exhausted and still having a hard time breathing. I’m trying not to cry from it all. The glaciers are beautiful and constantly changing as the sun rises.
My camera is pretty frozen from the temps during the night, so I have a hard time getting pictures to turn out right, but I still manage to get a few shots.
After about 20 minutes at the summit, it’s time to head back down. As exhausted as I am, I’m about to get more so.
The path down is loose dirt and scree, and you have to sort of glissade step your way down, kicking up dust and ash. It’s incredibly rough on my knees and I can’t wait for it to be over. Amy goes on ahead as she’s much faster at this than I am.
Part way down, I look back up at where we came from, still not quite believing I was able to make it all the way.
It takes me nearly 3 hours to get back to base camp where I crawl into our tent and rest for an hour until lunch. Then we pack everything up and zip down to the jungle and Mweka Camp at 10,000ft. We descend below the clouds, but they clear up for one last view of where we had been that morning.
The next morning, we finally get to meet the entire team of porters who helped us successfully get to the top. There’s no way we could have done it without them.
They sing us the Kilimanjaro song and shake our hands, and then we say goodbye and begin our last descent to the Mweka Gate.
It takes us about 2.5 hours to get there. Shortly after we arrive, it rains for the first time on the entire trek.
The drive back to Springlands Hotel takes roughly an hour, and we stop at a souvenir shop along the way to pick up a t-shirt and a couple other things to remember the climb. Being back in civilization is a bit jarring, but also a relief. Back at the hotel, we have to go through the confusing process of figuring out what to tip. Zara has their guidelines, but we still debate back and forth over what to give. We had each planned on tipping $300, but since we hired an extra porter for our toilet, and really wanted to make sure we tipped well, we each ended up putting in an extra $75. Since the process is so confusing, I wanted to show you what we did in case anyone else needs clarification. Below is how we broke it out (thanks to Amy for the picture).
With that, our guides hand over our certificates, shake our hands and are on their way. It’s a bit anti-climatic after all we’ve been through, but I’m sure for them, it’s just another day in the office. And I for one, am ready for that shower!
After our showers, we head into Moshi for our celebratory dinner at Kilimanjaro Coffee Lounge. The food and beer taste so good after 8 days of camping, and we truly feel like we’ve accomplished something amazing!