And now for the thrilling (and long delayed) conclusion to my Kilimanjaro hike!
No one sleeps the night before summit. This may be partly from the fact that we attempt to go to sleep directly after dinner, at about 6pm. It may also be partly from the fact that once the sun sets and night kicks in, the temperature drops to near zero fahrenheit. But mostly no one sleeps because of sheer anxiety (and excitement!) of the grueling trek that lies directly ahead.
Layered in essentially every article of clothing I owned and still bundled deep in my sleeping bag, I let the hours of darkness tick past, wide awake and knowing the rest of the team was no better off.
11:30pm, Day 5 (merging into Day 6). We “woke” to a minor windstorm, 35mph gusts that left our tents flapping wildly and our weary bodies aching with cold. We hadn’t even hit the trail. A cup of tea and a power bar was most we could manage before our midnight departure.
Traveling by headlamp in the pitch black, our initial ascent was marked primarily by grogginess. We were more tired than we thought. The porters and guides chatted excitedly; to them, this was just another day at the office. Their talk, though indecipherable to us, kept us focused and alert (as one can be at altitude and under relative sleep deprivation). We made only a handful of stops in those early morning hours. With the freezing wind as fierce and continuous as it was, these moments of inactivity grew less welcomed with each stop.
Most of the team opted to travel as light as possible by ditching loaded packs at camp for just a water bottle. I kept my pack on me and kept it relatively heavy; it gave me balance and kept me warm. Warmth was a luxury. I wore my buff around my neck as a scarf, a balaclava around that, a knit hat atop this, and an insulated down cap atop that. I could have used more. The wind sucked the energy right out of you.
Traversing the final summit push took all remaining strength. Our steps were slow and methodical and made a plodding pace look like a jog. Somehow, we maintained a steady pace over the next 6 hours, barely talking, hardly thinking, just moving. Moving was key.
By 5:30am we approached the beginnings of the crater rim, a faux-summit known as Stella Point, altitude 18,652ft. Still on the trail, I turned around enough to see the skyline ablaze with the early morning dawn. Orange flames stretched seemingly infinite to the left and right.
We reached Stella Point within 10 minutes and from there we stood and watched the sun rise over Africa. And right then and there, I felt infinitely small yet so accomplished and so proud and so alive. Together, we stood just below the roof of Africa as our porters and guides celebrated in song and dance. How they had the energy still baffles me.
With the sun increasingly thawing our chilled limbs, we finished the remaining 45 minute trek to Uhuru Peak. We snapped pictures as quickly as we could. Though we stood at 19,341ft, we mostly wanted to just get down; down into warmth; down into air.
Summiting Kilimanjaro was different for me than most peaks because of the cold and lack of sleep. Still felt incredibly accomplished and proud, yet ready to head back.
How do you feel once you summit? Is the summit the best part for you?