Saturday 28 March 2015

Kilimanjaro - Summit Day

I wake up and my lips are flecked with dried blood. At 4600M, my nose is blocked with volcanic ash and the air is painfully thin. It's 11:07pm and the full moon casts a silver glow across Barafu Campsite. Today marks our summit attempt of Kilimanjaro.
We set off on a steep and rocky trail, gently lit by the moonlight and the glow of head torches. I try not to glance upwards. The trail looks almost candlelit with a line of headlights from other walkers, a beautiful and oddly captivating sight that also showed the long distance we had to cover. 'Pole Pole' says Florence, our mountain guide, a phrase in Swahili we are well accustomed to. Slowly slowly... 

I bury my face into my jacket to retain warmth. It’s 1,295M up to the summit and it is a slow and winding route. I’ve never worn so many layers in my life, yet the cold seeps through to my skin. My limbs feel stiff and there is a gentle hush as we walk, our bodies quiver with the cold and the altitude snatches away my ability to process thoughts quickly. The walk is cloaked in darkness, making the trek feel gruelling and timeless. “Your-shoe-lace-is-undone…” wheezes a fellow trekker behind me after a number of hours. I stop. Bereft of co-ordination, I falter and shake in an attempt to carry out the simple task I am presented with. Florence steadies me with a firm grip. He ties the shoelace for me whilst the group continue ahead of me, disappearing into the darkness.

I have no concept of time as I walk on. Separated from the group, I follow Florence alone and I start to sob, breathing in ragged air that felt too raw to process. I could no longer be quietly defiant. Overcome with waves of emotion, I cry whilst I trek, feeling defeated and disappointed in myself for falling behind. Florence turns, whispering ‘Never give in’ as he reassures me not to cry. I quietly beg for the night to end.

As we climb, a brilliant streak of orange pours out of the sun and across the horizon. Dawn breaks as I reached Stella Point, bringing warmth and soft rays, lighting the crater of Kilimanjaro like a crown. I spot my group huddled together with tea and I feel a rush of affection towards them. We hug and take in the sight of phantom-white glaciers, ice fields and the jagged pinnacles of Mt Mawenzi opposite us.

Watching the sun-rise after 6 hours of trekking in the dark
Walking on from Stella Point, 5,685M

With a final, determined push to Uhuru Peak, we set off together, following the snow wreathed crater along the topmost ridge of Kilimanjaro. 

The walk from Stella Point (5,685m) to Uhuru Peak (5,895m),
approximately 45 mins - 1hr
Snow filled craters
Kilimanjaro Glaciers 
Within an hour, the sign marking Uhuru Peak bobs into view. My heart explodes with joy, ‘is this real?’ I wonder. I gaze at the sign and touch it, feeling a burst of happiness and an elated sense of revival. Seeing the sign felt like an elixir for the soul – a feeling I will not forget for a lifetime.

Uhuru Peak! 
My group :)
We set off as 7, 4 made it to Uhuru, 2 to Stella Point and 1 had to descend due to breathing difficulties.
Summit reached on Friday 6th March 2015 at 7:30am. 

Summit Day Tips 

  • I wore:  Top: x1 Icebreaker merino wool base layer, x1 fleece, x1 softshell, x1 Mountain Equipment down jacket. Bottoms: Icebreaker long johns, regular trekking trousers and a waterproof outer layer. Extremities: x2 gloves (1 regular pair, 1 warm mountain mitten), x1 snood, a fleece lined hat, x2 heavy weight trekking socks. Basically x4 layers on top and x3 on bottoms. My toes felt numb and frozen whilst I walked, my top tip is to wear as many layers as you can.
  • I used walking poles for trekking up to Stella point. I left my poles from Stella Point to Uhuru but they were an absolute necessity for descending - I was too tired to walk unsupported!
  • It wasn't particularly cold when we set off at midnight, the temperature dropped in the middle of the night at approximately 3:00am, keep moving to stay warm. The guides restrict the breaks to just a few minutes, the longer you stop, the more you feel the cold.
  • I found dextrose tablets invaluable during the trek. A burst of orange flavoured energy that was easy to chew on - the last thing I wanted to do was fumble with packaging or snack on anything that took too long to eat.
  • Fill your water bottles with warm water, liquids will freeze by Stella Point so drink regularly.
  • I took painkillers before the trek as a preventative measure for headaches. 
  • I went on a Full Moon departure and for most of the walk, I did not use my headtorch. 
  • The guides are invaluable and an integral part for helping you reach the summit. I would highly recommend Exodus/The African Walking Company, as the best Kilimanjaro operator out there.
  • I didn't get a wink of sleep before summit day due to nerves. Don't worry, a lot of people don't :).
  • Breathing will be harder and altitude can/will affect your coordination and how you think. We stayed at the summit for 10 - 15 minutes before descending again.
  • It will be the hardest and best day of your life - enjoy it! :)
  • If you have any further questions at all, please feel free to comment here or email me.

                                  Stumbling/Walking up to Uhuru Peak next to the Glaciers