Join Gary, Chief Project Manager at Nature Discovery, as he attempts to summit Kilimanjaro with a small group of guests. A midnight start to reach the summit – the group make the final push to the Roof of Africa.
Sleep deprivation can affect anyone. Is it the altitude and trying to sleep with less oxygen above 4700m? Is it the excitement of summitting or is it nerves of what to expect? I go through checklists in my head of what I’m wearing and what layers will come off first; what I am packing in my day bag, and will my snacks be easily accessible, and hopefully they won’t freeze. Do I have enough water? Hopefully, that won’t freeze too. I must remember to pack my mobile phone in an inside pocket so it gets body warmth as batteries have a tendency to stop working when they reach freezing temperatures.
11pm and it’s time to wake up for breakfast time. I also have no appetite – what’s going on? Cyprian says it’s pretty normal so don’t fight it. I order some porridge as its warm and full of energy with dates and honey. Others have eggs or toast and I need coffee. Our bladder packs and water bottles have been filled with warm water and I pack 1 bottle of warm water inside an insulated cover in my bag to prevent freezing. We check each other to make sure we have everything, we confirm our packs are secure, and that we are warm enough and ready to go.
Midnight and we set off. It’s pitch black and we see a group a short way ahead of us with head torches on. We set off step – rest – step – rest as we leave the camp and walk into the unknown.
After trekking together for almost 3 hours and stopping every hour for a 5 minute rest, we discuss with the guides that Annie and I have more energy and would like to walk faster. This happens often and we split the group into 2 teams with Cyprian leading ours and Polite leading the other two. We continue into the darkness at a steady pace, keeping warm with our hands in our pockets and our jackets zipped tight up to our necks.
After about 5 hours we reached the Hans Meyer cave at 5150m. This was reached by Hans on his first summit attempt in 1887 before he turned back. We met up with the group that was ahead of us and it’s a group of German men with their bicycles. There was no way they could cycle up such a steep mountain so they were carrying their bikes with their porter’s assistance. They set off ahead of us as we rested and sipped our water and ate some snacks.
The incline gets steadily steeper from here on until we come across huge rocks left behind from a volcanic blast many years ago. It’s starting to get light now as the sun is rising behind Mawenzi Tarn. Another 1 ½ hours and we are at Gilman’s Point at 5681m with amazing views of the crater on one side and Mawenzi and Kibo on the other. A cup of very warm ginger tea and some cookies are given to us by our medical porter as we soak up the view and the sun peaking over Mawenzi.
We set off in the snow towards Stella Point. We don’t need crampons as it’s not too icy and we use our poles to steady ourselves. The scenery is amazing – the crater, glaciers, snow, and ice – as we pass climbers on their way to see Gilman’s. We hardly stop at Stella Point which is the first stop for those who stayed at Barafu base camp on their summit trip.
We proceed to Uhuru Peak which is another hour from Stella, greeting people coming back from the summit with huge smiles on their faces and words of encouragement “you’re almost there”, “well done, keep going”. We are approaching the Roof of Africa which we can see in the distance and what a special feeling.
Suddenly we are there. WE DID IT!
Hugs and cheers and smiles and tears as we line up for photographs with the two guys who accompanied us all the way there. We take pictures of other climbers who take pictures for us. What an incredible feeling and a sense of achievement to be at the highest point on the continent. The sky is blue and the views are incredible.
We head back down and pass the other half of our group who are on their way and are feeling strong and excited for us that we made it. “Your turn next. Go for it”.
The descent from Stella is scree, or volcanic ash and little stones. It’s very steep and it’s slippery and you need to rely on either your trekking poles for stability, or the guide’s shoulders. Make sure your boots and gaiters are tight to prevent anything from getting in your boots. We strip off layers as it gets increasingly warmer and then after 6 ½ days of great weather we get sleet, light snow and even rain. We make it to Barafu just as it starts coming down. We pull out ponchos and slip them on as we proceed to the dining tent that has been set up for our lunch. We arrive at around midday, 12 hours after starting and as we are waiting for the others before eating, a nap seems in order.
Lunch is served as the others arrive. Warm soup to start is so welcome as we jabber excitedly about the emotions being on top of Africa, how the weather Gods waited for us to summit first before chucking it at us, and how delicious and welcome the food is inside a dry tent. Coffee and cookies taste so delicious afterwards.
The day is not over yet. We need to put on our ponchos and backpacks and proceed further down to Millenium camp where our tents are and where we will spend our last night on the mountain. We arrive to cheers and congratulations from the team, lots of back-slapping and asking how it was and how we feel now. Surprisingly fresh after such a long day and I’m sure the lower altitude has something to do with this. After a wash with warm water and a change of clothes, we reconvene in the dining tent and discuss the tips for the crew.
It’s traditional on the last evening for the climbers and crew to partake in a Celebration Ceremony with singing and dancing, where the team show their gratitude for a safe trip up and back down the mountain, and also being grateful to have made new friends.
Next, we the climbers show our gratitude in the form of tips, which we hand to a porter representative to divide the combined porter tips evenly amongst all porters; tips are handed to the chef and waiter; the assistant guide and then to the head guide. Nick represents us and dances with the staff as they all show their appreciation.
Dinner is tender Rosemary and garlic fillet with a lovely jus, roast potatoes and vegetables. We eat early and hit the sack for a well-deserved sleep after our 16-hour day.
Nature Discovery opposes the planned Kilimanjaro Cable Car Project.
The Tanzanian government is planning a new cable car project in order to double the number of climbers on Mount Kilimanjaro. However, the impact on the environment and communities could be irreversible. Learn more about it here.
Stay tuned for the next blog in this series to find out what happens next!
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