Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro – Day Six Midnight Summit Push
I can’t tell you truly about anyone else’s experience on the push to the summit since this is a time when you pull all your mental and physical energy together and turn inward to see what you are made of. This is where you see how your determination and training pay off. The mountain is the mountain and you can’t cheat your way to the top. It is unforgiving and either you have enough to make it or you don’t.
For Jerry, he pushed it to the absolute limits of his physical being. Since his pace is slower than the rest, he decided to depart two hours earlier at 10:00pm with one of the guides. Jerry had trained hard for six months, lost about 20lbs and trained to an altitude of 13,000 feet. Yet, I think it was the multiple days of climbing, the steep ascent and the altitude that stopped him short of summit at 17,000 feet where he turned around. We are very proud of Jerry’s accomplishment for few people in this world have stood at that elevation having arrived there by their own two feet.
For Pete, like all of us, standing on the roof of Africa was bucket list dream. Nothing was going to keep him from it. He methodically, slowly slowly (pole pole as they say in Swahili) made his way up 4300 feet to the top.
For Jimmy the challenge was the greatest physical day of his life. He started the climb that night with wet boots and at one point he stopped to add foot warmers for fear of frost bite.
For Val, he simply went. Quieter than the other climbers, I’m never sure what Val is thinking but I know that mentally there was no question in his mind he would summit.
For Ridlon, Kilimanjaro was the first of the seven summits. His ultimate goal, to stand on the highest point of each continent. It is not the highest he has been by far, having stood on the summit of the 6th highest peak in the world just 18 months before at 26,900 feet. But Kili proved to be quite a challenge tonight as he came down with a bad stomach. He reached not only for a hiking pole but to the depths of his strength to climb despite his protesting body, standing on the summit just 6:36 minutes after starting out from camp.
For me, it was a much greater challenge than I had expected. The climbing throughout the week (except for being sick) was either easier than I expected or I had simply trained well. But summit night truly took my best effort.
The night started out clear and we all felt blessed that we would escape the rain for this night. But to clear out the clouds took wind and it proved to be the night’s nemesis. The wind blew upwards of 30mph at times causing us to stumble on the path.
For six hours we slowly moved up the mountain stopping at short intervals to suck much needed oxygen into our lungs. The moon was clear and bright and most of us turned off our headlamps and climbed by natural light. We didn’t talk that much, each of us lost in our own rhythm of stepping and breathing and encouraging ourselves up the mountain.
At 4:10am, our guide indicated that we had now reached the coldest part of the night. We were all bundled in our warmest gear, hats, mittens, face protection and multiple layers of socks in our warmest boots. The wind continued to howl. Just before 6:00am the light rose up out of the sky. I felt an extra surge of energy as I knew my climb would culminate around sunrise. The mountain began to lighten and I could now see the immense beauty as I neared the top.
The point where we reached the rim of the volcano is Stella Point almost 19,000 feet. When you reach there you feel the overwhelming emotion of success. This morning as we crested the point the sun rose up over a snowy and icy summit and the wind blew even more fiercely. I turned to look at what I had accomplished and hugged my fellow climbers and became teary as I embraced our guides.
However, we were not at the summit. To reach Uhuru Peak you truly have to reach inside for your ultimate reserve energy for another 30 minutes and 600+ feet up the rim to the highest point. I literally stumbled my way to the top, fighting the wind and my freezing fingers and toes.
The summit was absolutely incredible this morning. A weak sun rose above clouds that raced up and over the summit. The glacial ice glistened and the crater looked cold and foreboding. It was a magnificent sight and one I will never forget. There is nothing like standing on a mighty mountain top high above the world and feeling humbled by the largeness of the earth. Forgotten are the adversities of getting there and all that remains is the awe.
Unfortunately, the summit is not a place to spend too much time. It was frigid and blowing a gale and we needed to get our photos and get off the ridge quickly. Even so it was an emotional time for us all and we held back tears, or not, and I was so choked up I had a hard time congratulating the team. We quickly snapped as many photos as possible and headed back to Stella Point and down the route we had ascended. Exhausted, we stumbled as much down as up for the next almost three hours back to camp. The sun was shining and the clouds still whipping across the mountain. The descent was steep but sweet!
We triumphantly arrived back in camp by 10:00am and celebrated with a round of fruit juice, a chair and then a quick cat nap. But our day was hardly over. We had a huge descent ahead of us. We had come down 3000’ but still had another 6000’ to go. Sometimes descending can be almost harder than the ascent as it takes good quads and strong knees.
So we set off and all too soon, in came the clouds and the rain to pound our already tired bodies. All the way down back into the rainforest we went to Moika Camp at just under 10,000’. We arrived still in the mud and rain and collapsed into the tent. Over the last 36 hours we had climbed over 9000’ feet up as well as 9000’ down. We had set our goals, worked tirelessly and achieved a great accomplishment. This time we celebrated with a Kilimanjaro beer and a rousing game of Uno in the mess tent.
Tomorrow we’ll have a short three hour 4000’ descent through the rainforest to the road and our waiting Land Rover. Eight days after starting out we would welcome our first hot shower and soft bed. But for now, we basked in the glow of our success, a first of seven summit, a bucket list, a life dream…..
Well Done Team!