Note:This post is written by my climbing partner and friend Chris. You've met him in all of the previous Kilimanjaro posts, and I asked him to write about his summit night. Even though we summited on the same route at the same time, he had a very different experience which I think is important to share. I have made no edits (besides adding pictures). Chris is writing the second part of his experience (the descent from the summit back to Barafu) and I'll post when that's done.
DAY 10A / 23 JANUARY 2012 / MONDAY
START: Barafu Camp (4700m or 15400')
END: Uhuru Peak of Mount Kilimanjaro (5895m or 19341')
Me and Emily on the acclimatization hike from Barafu earlier today.
It's around 7 pm and Emily and I have just finished our dinner. Godlisten comes over and tells us to GET SOME SLEEP! He says there can be problems when people don't get any sleep before the summit bid. I take his advice with a grain of salt; we've had no problems yet, why would have them now? I'm about to find out.
By the time I lay down, it's already too dark to see without my headlamp. By this time in the trip I have already finished the third and final book in the Hunger Games series and am pretty much out of things to do. I am not as prolific a writer as Emily and I'm thankful that she decides to record the previous hours of our trip in her notebook as it gives me an opportunity to steal her book, Undaunted Courage, with only a small pang of guilt.
After reading for maybe an hour, the wind really starts to pick up. There's a constant deep "buzz" of our rain fly flapping in the wind, making it impossible for me to focus let alone get any sleep. Emily gets up to go to the bathroom at one point and it's then I can really feel what the wind is doing. As I'm laying there, her side of the tent gets lifted off the ground every time a gust comes by. When she gets back I ask, "Is it as bad as it sounds out there?"
"It's pretty windy." she replies.
The next few hours are hardly restful for me. I think I maybe get an hour of sleep or so as the wind noise combined with the anticipation is too exciting. I'm thankful when Mchame comes and lets us know that we should be getting up. Ha! Did he really think we were sleeping? I pull on my ski pants, 3 long sleeve shirts and my jacket to go and see what this wind is actually like. I'm pleasantly surprised to find that the wind isn't as bad as it sounded in the tent. Looking up toward the mountain I can already see a steady stream of lights heading up slowly into the blackness.
We start our trek at around 12:00 midnight. Walking through the camp I can see that we're leaving around the middle of the pack. I've got my balaclava, wool knit cap and hood on and I feel quite warm. I'm using wool glove liners as well as my Novara biking gloves to start. In my pack I've got a pair of heavy wool and leather mittens, and about 4 liters of water (2 in the Camelbak and two in my Nalgenes). I've also got some Clif Bars and some of Emily's honey energy things. My plan will be to finish all of the water by the time we get to the top, as well as eat at least one of my snacks.
We hit the trail going polepole. Or it feels like polepole until we start passing everyone we encounter. By the time we get to where we stopped on our acclimatization hike earlier that day, we've passed maybe 5 groups and haven't stopped once. The trail turns relatively flat for maybe 20 minutes until we start the seriously upward hike again. The wind is constantly in our faces, but as the trail steepens it turns into a switch back. We get some relief as we turn each corner only to be pounded in the face 20 feet later.
As we gain elevation, the temperature starts to drop. My gloves, I realize, are not going to cut it. I call for a stop and get my mittens on. It's a good call as the temperature just keeps dropping and the wind does not let up.
At around 2 hours into the hike my hydration hose starts to freeze up. I honestly didn't think this was possible, but here I am. I try my best to un-stick it, but no luck. I realize to my dismay that I'm pretty much useless at doing anything. I don't want to even get my Nalgene out to try to take a sip of that. All I can seem to do is focus on the feet ahead of me.
An hour later we have passed all the groups and are leading the pack up to the summit. I am feeling horrible at this point. There's this rocky flat patch we come to and as I'm trying to walk over it I get this feeling like I'm floating on air, that my feet are not touching the ground at all. I keep my balance, but yell to everyone that I need to stop. This is maybe our third stop on the ascent so far. When I try to sit down on a rock I nearly tip over. Mareme grabs me and takes my poles. He also tells me to unbuckle my pack so he can carry it for me. There's not really much in there anyway, but the weight off my shoulders helps. He basically picks me up and sets me on my feet and we're off again.
I really don't remember the next 1 (2? 3?) hours of the hike at all. I curse the wind every time we turn a corner and it blasts me in the face again (that's what she said). I look up every once and a while and I can just make out the shape of the mountain against the black sky above. Just when it seems like we're not making any progress whatsoever, we reach the rim of the crater and Stella Point.
Me, Emily, Mareme, and Godlisten at Stella Point.
I almost break down in tears right then with the happiness I feel. "If we've made it to the rim, we're practically to the top!" I think to myself. The wind that had been hitting us on our way up is worse than ever. As we walk slowly towards Uhuru, I lose one of my contact lenses. The combination of wind and ash and the fact that I've hardly been drinking enough water has completely dried out my eyes. We continue on half blind.
The walk to the peak is comparatively flat. It's maybe a 30-45 minute hike and we are only gaining a few hundred meters in elevation. I'm not told until later, but I am apparently walking like a drunk person. I can't keep a straight line at all. My three companions have set up a triangle around me to make sure I don't stray off the path and I don't.
Me at the summit!
The sign indicating the peak emerges like a neon green beacon in the night. It's completely anti climactic, but I am just so happy we made it. I think if I am hydrated I would cry. The wind is blowing maybe 60mph steady and I am in a horrible mood. We take the requisite pictures and 3 out of the 4 of us just want to GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE. We retrace our steps back to Stella Point. Along the way I lose my second contact lens. Now I am all the way blind, and it's still at least an hour until sunrise.