Saturday, July 21, 2012

Summit Day

Barafu Camp (4673m) - Uhuru Peak (5985m) (and back down to Mweka Camp 3100m)

The Morning of Summit Day
I woke up thanking my lucky stars that out of sheer exhaustion I fell asleep with 4 layers and a down jacket on as the tent door broke as Kyra and Emma were heading to bed. The freezing temperatures and pitch darkness was somewhat disorientating as we headed to our mess tent for breakfast. Morale was pretty low at breakfast but I tried my best to keep everyone going and Dan's Lindt chocolate brightened up  our faces and our porridge. After breakfast we said a prayer under the starts in respect of the guides and tradition and by 1am we were plodding along at summit pace.

Sunrise on Kibo
Doing the final ascent in the dark had it's advantages, as you couldn't see quite how far-and how high- you had left to go. It also showed how impressive the guides were as they were able to navigate the footpaths in the dark. The actual walking was pretty monotonus other than the obvious steep gradient, much steeper than previous days. Breaks were becoming much more regular and the guides came round with an ominous white powder and told us to take it, thankfully it was nothing more than glucose powder. A few members of our group had to slow down and wait behind as altitude started to hit and we also passed several people having to descend due to altitude sickness. Thankfully for me I wasn't experiencing anything more than breathlessness of every other day but combined with general exhaustion didn't leave me feeling exactly on top of the world, yet. Kyra and I tried to rectify the mutual feeling of fatigue by singing but low levels of oxygen didn't make that an easy task!

I promise you this is frozen Berrocca, not pee. 
Stella Point was the first major rest point the guides had told us about, but the walk seemed never ending. Stella Point is at 5745m, over 1000m from Barafu Camp which was our starting point that evening. You could see the light from the head-torches of climbers dotting the sky like stars, reminding us how far there still was left to go. The temperature was also dropping to below freezing and our platypus' were starting to freeze The ascent to Stella Point was the worst we all had felt, but just as we were given up, the sun broke through the horizon and managed to warm our cold fingers and dampened spirits.

Stella Point
When we finally reached Stella Point the sun had risen high above but was still producing a cacophony of colour as the clouds started to dance around Barafu camp but left the view of Kibo crater unspoilt. You could see the summit and fellow climbers around the sign celebrating and if the sun didn't boost your morale then that did. The walk to the peak was only about 200m away but because we had to go "pole-pole"  it was going to take us and hour and a half. For the first time during the climb I plugged into my ipod which was also cheering me on as I had "I will survive" in my ear as I reached the summit. As we walked up climbers on their way down were spurring you on and when the sign was in sight any aches and pains banished as Msechu (one of the guides) and me were dancing and singing our way to the top. Msechu was great for keeping spirits high throughout the climb which was important as I think having a positive attitude was a very large part of what got me up to the top.

Many people say that reaching the summit is like a drunken night out – you need photos to piece everything together. You remember seeing the sign and hugging everyone but details are blurred. Never-the-less, we had such a huge sense of relief and satisfaction that we had finally made it that any tiredness was banished by complete euphoria and relief. There was only time for a few photos as we had to head back down again after about five minutes. Everything felt so easy and you forgot you were still over 5000m asl. This time you were doing the cheering on to those heading up and when we bumped into the girls we had lost on the way up everyone was over-joyed as it meant every single one of us had made it to the top!
At the Summit!

On the way back to Stella Point I even managed to get signal on my phone and phoned home, forgetting it was actually 5am back home and my parents were actually in Spain so woke up my poor aunt who was dog-sitting. Thankfully she is the type who appreciated a call from the top of the world regardless of the hour. Our walk back to camp, well I say walk but we were essentially dry skiing down Kilimanjaro, took two hours even though it took us 8 hours on the way up . However by now my knees were ready to fall off and so a welcome rest at the bottom was just what I needed. Unfortunately we were only allowed a two hour nap before the turnover of brave climbers at Barafu Camp sent us packing all the way down to Mweka Camp at a mere 3100m.
View From Stella Point

Our body clocks had skipped several time zones over the past few days and so any sleep was better than none. Twelve hours after heading out to the summit, we were heading out on the road again and we all thought we would be fitter since we had got to the top but even a trip to the bathroom resulted in a minor aneurysm. After a brief lunch we headed along  several stony ridges and before we knew it we were surrounded by the same foliage as day one. We all headed down at our own pace which was nice but we passed several more people who had severe altitude sickness, some even had to get a piggy-back back down again. 


Heading back down again.
Mweka camp is the first camp on the Mweka route but also the last camp for most routes. Compared to the rest of the camps this one seemed like a hotel. For the first time there were toilets with a seat and there was even a sink, alas minus running water. I had arrived before Kyra and Emma and so I made sure that last nights freezer experience wasn't going to happen again but scouting out one of the remaining tents that had a working zip. Our dinner that evening felt like the best we had had yet, however that might have had something to do with the fact that we had descended 2000m and our appetites had come back with a vengeance. Our heads hit the pillow for a well deserved rest after conquering our Goliath and prepared us for leaving the mountain behind.

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