1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. And repeat. One step in front of the other all the way to the top.
Summitting Mount Kilimanjaro is no easy feat. Although it is not the worlds tallest or most complicated mountain, reaching its summit takes the mental dedication similar to what is seen in Buddhist monks. In fact those that have climbed to Everest base camp, which sits at 17,598 feet or 5,364 meters, say that summitting Kilimanjaro is far more difficult.
It was 11pm when Franky, our trusted and dedicated waiter/porter, came to our tent to wake us. "You're welcome for tea," he said as we laid there in our warm sleeping bags thinking about the journey that was just about to begin. "We've got this. Hakuna matata." I said as I unzipped my sleeping bag and geared up for the many hours that laid ahead.
The temperature was well below freezing as we started our walk at 12:40am and all you could see in the distance was the glimmer of head lamps slowly ascending the mountainside. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 I counted in my head trying to keep pace and focus my mind. My eyes, glued to the circle of light in front of me, concentrated on the moving scree below my feet. Keep the pace. One foot in front of the other. Drink water and you will make it I kept telling myself.
At around 1:30am Arshad stopped. I paused and looked up. My headlamp moved upwards towards a woman that was being guided down the mountain. A wave of fear came over me as I watched her pass me trying to not look her in the eyes. "Okay, let's keep going. Pole pole." Arshad said as he moved forward up the mountain. Slightly panicked I took a deep breathe, told myself I've got this, and stepped forward.
When summitting via Kibo Huts there are many stopping points before reaching Uhuru. The first point on Kilimanjaro's crater rim is Gillimans peak and from Kibo it takes around 5 hours. This portion of the climb is grueling because you are not only walking in complete darkness and fridged temperatures but you are also climbing at a 45 degree angle on sliding scree. Once a climber reaches Gillimans peak it is another 1.5 hours and 200 meters to Uhuru peak.
4 hours have passed and my slight headache has now gotten significantly worse. I am dizzy and feel slightly drunk. I am nauseous but cannot throw up. "How much longer to Gillimans?" I ask. "1ish hours," my guide responds. I can do this, I tell myself. My mother lost her ability to walk. Come on. This is nothing.
Roughly an hour later, as I am climbing up rocks trying to keep balance, I pause and look up. The sky is now streaked with red as the night sky starts to disappear. With one final step up the rocks I see a sign that reads: "Congratulations. You have reached Gillimans peak". Tears well up in my eyes for I now know the hard part is over.
The sun rose as we walked our last 1.5 hours to Uhuru. The views were breathtaking but with each movement my head pounded harder and I knew that I had to keep going if I was to make it to Uhuru. Many that we passed were swaying, trying to stay upright. The path was dotted with nose drippings and vomit. We moved slowly but at a steady pace.
At 7:30 am, on our final uphill, I saw the Uhuru sign. Tears streamed down my cold, wind burned cheeks as I quickened my pace. My head throbbed with each step and my stomach protested every movement. I can taste it. Uhuru is there.
Just a few more steps.
At 7:40am, as the clouds parted over the African plains, I tasted Uhuru. Uhuru, which means freedom in Swahili, is indescribable. It is, quite simply, the most magnificent thing I have ever experienced.
A few notes for those wanting to climb:
1. Training for Kilimanjaro is necessary. Being physically fit is essential. Running and stair climbing definitely helps. A huge thank you or "Asante sana" to November Project Madison for the tough workouts and constant support. Running Bascom Hill and the Capitol steps in snow and ice definitely prepared me.
2. The nights are cold. Bring warm clothes and a good sleeping bag.
3. Hand wipes are a valuable commodity. Bring them.
4. More then anything climbing is a mental challenge. The constant support from family and friends is motivating. I brought a book filled with positive messages from friends and family. Everyone's notes made each day easier. Your words carried me through the summit night and helped bring me to the top. I am forever grateful.