Well, before I begin detailing the events of this BIG day, I want to express some very emotional thoughts and my true inspiration that drove me to not give up…to keep pushing myself to the summit. This year I lost my dear mother. In 2007 she suffered a series of seizures and was diagnosed with brain cancer. There were never any symptoms, and she had always been in perfect health. She immediately had surgery to remove the brain tumor the doctors found, but its roots could not be removed without causing damage. Over the next few months she went through all the chemo and radiation treatments, but modern medicine could not stifle the cancer. She fought long and hard, for almost a year, until the cancer finally took her earlier this year.
She was too young to lose her life! But during her battle, and knowing in my heart that her days were limited, I realized that life really is short.
It doesn’t promise us anything, only that while we have it we best use it wisely. So just a couple of months before she passed away I had decided I would climb Mt. Kilimanjaro during my annual volunteer trip to Africa, and I will never forget the day I went into my mother’s room at the care center and told her what I was about to do. Initially, she looked at me like I had gone mad! And then I explained to her how I wanted to accomplish something like this in my lifetime that no one could ever take away, something that I would never ever forget, and something that I could dedicate to her. After I told her this, all she could do was cry. And then she told me to be careful and take plenty of warm clothes. But I made it clear that I was doing it for her, as much as I was doing it for myself.
On the mountain, there were times I did feel like giving up, especially on the summit day.
But on that early, cold morning, as I watched my feet take each cumbersome step by the light of my headlamp, all I could really see was my mother’s face. This climb was for her, and I was more determined than at any time in my entire life, determined to do exactly what I promised her I would do. And to be completely honest, I don’t know if I would have made it if not for the inspiration of my wonderful mom. I certainly wouldn’t have had the determination I felt that morning running through my veins as we neared Uhuru Peak.
And so at midnight we got our wakeup call and the cook had fixed a quick breakfast tea and biscuits.
Everyone had prepared their stuff earlier, as I had, so we were on the trail pretty fast. The strong wind we had earlier was totally gone and it was a clear night. During the days on the mountain I had my doubts, as I’ve mentioned in previous entries, that I would get to the top. But at this moment I was feeling pretty good and I was just looking forward to the challenge. I was also looking forward to see if my gear would keep me warm :-) I had on woolen underwear, long thick woolen socks, a pair of fleece pants, a thick woolen sweater, Gore-Tex pants and jacket, fleece mittens and Gore-Tex outer mittens, a woolen balaclava and a warm stocking cap and safari hat on top. The only thing that worried me a bit was the fact that my trekking boots were getting a bit moist. I had been wearing them for days and I never really got a chance to dry them properly. I had a small backpack under my sweater and this contained my energy drink. I had the tube hanging out of the neck of my jacket so that I could take little sips at every chance.
We started our walk toward the top at about 12:30 AM. Our main guide was leading the whole group while one of the assistant guides was in the middle and the other one in the back. We walked slowly and I didn’t focus on much apart from keeping a steady pace. From time to time we would stop and I would use the chance to rest on my walking poles and sip a bit of my water. What surprised me after about an hour is that I started getting very sleepy. We continued in our monotone walk in the darkness. We could see the headlamps of people both in front of us and behind us.
After a while we started walking in zigzags and some of the people in our group were slowing down a little. We agreed to split up the group so that some of the faster trekkers would go ahead with our head guide while the slower trekkers would walk with one of the assistant guides at a slower pace.
I was keeping pretty warm, despite the fact that the winds started picking up again, so I guess my gear was a success. I did get a bit cold in the toes from time to time and I guess this was due to the moisture in the boots.
We had a great view of the town Moshi below us, by the way. The patterns of the streetlights made it look like we were seeing it from a plane. The grade was getting steeper and steeper as we climbed and I was hoping that we were getting close to the crater rim where we would take a break. But it turned out that it would get even steeper. The higher we got the slower we walked as the air was getting thinner. It was quite strange to be able to see the people on the crater rim but not be able to sort of just walk fast to get there.
We had to take breaks all the time to get enough air.
As we were in the steep part the sun rose over Mawenzi. During the little breaks we had to catch our breath I started to think once again why I was doing this. Why pay to “torture” yourself, why pay to have a challenge like this when you can relax on a beach in Mozambique instead? Of course, as I thought about my mother, I knew exactly why.
At about 6:30 am I stepped up on the crater rim at Stella Point. It was great to finally be at the crater rim and get some warm tea.
Stella Point is located at about 5735 meter (18820 feet) so it was not that far to get to Uhuru Peak. Although, we were now in the “dead zone”, commonly called this because the air begins to thin out at 18,000 feet and if climbers are going to suffer from altitude sickness, this is where it starts. The weather was great when we reached the crater rim, except for the wind. The sun was shining from a very deep blue sky. On the way up to the crater rim I had a slight head ache coming on but nothing like what I experienced when we went from Shira to Barranco. And as far as I know none of us got sick on the way up this morning.
After the rest at Stella Point we started on the way up to Uhuru Peak.
And this is where you really had to push yourself, but at the same time take short breaks to breathe in what oxygen you could. It was a bit unreal to see some physically fit climbers in front of me stopping just because they reached a small incline. Of course, I had to stop, too. On the way up I had great views to the crater itself and to the surrounding glaciers. The glaciers were bright white in the strong sun. They were so amazing to look at, although we didn’t have time to enjoy them for long. And unfortunately, they are slowly melting away. I guess it must have taken about 50-60 minutes to get to Uhuru Peak and at 7:30 am I finally reached the sign that says “Congratulations. You are now at Uhuru Peak, Tanzania, 5895 m”. I was so excited, but also so tired. I knew if I had to go another 100 feet up I couldn’t have done it. The energy levels were drained and my lungs were stinging.
We took a few pictures at the top and there was a book there that I wrote something in. I’m not sure what I wrote exactly (something about my mother), but I do remember thinking how hard it was just to use the pencil.
We didn’t stay at the top for long. The blue skies were soon threatened by clouds that were drifting in. Obviously, it was much easier to walk down to Stella Point compared to coming up. At Stella Point we started the decent to the Barafu camp site and we could almost ski/slide down in the loose sand/gravel. I was so drained of energy at this point that at times I felt like just lying down and rolling to the bottom.
I will write another entry for the last day coming down, so this will be continued.