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|DAY 5 - FAILING IS NOT AN OPTION, YET IT SEEMS THE ONLY OPTION|
Well…midnight came quickly. Daniel was concerned about Ben’s headache the night before and so he wanted to start the summit hike at 1am instead. We were a bit disappointed, as the summit at sunrise would have been beautiful. As we lay slowly awakening, we could hear climbers packing up and starting the ascent all around us. At 1230am, Jeremy brought over some popcorn and hot beverages for us to enjoy prior to the ascent. It was welcomed openly as this would be our only energy until breakfast, after the descent. We were ready to go before Daniel, I even trekked up a bit to use a bathroom along the way, as opposed to hiking down to ours and then back up again. The least amount of vertical hiked today, the better. Daniel was not concerned about sunrise at Stella’s point – he assumed we’d make it up ‘hakuna matata’ (no worries).
Both Ben and I were nervous. Even though we were at Barafu (the highest camp), the mountain was so high and a stream of headlamps could already be seen on the ascent. It was intimidating. We bundled up in all of our gear and braced ourselves for the next 6 hours of vertical gain. Hopefully our lungs could tolerate the air and exercise, and our altitude sickness would not consume us and destroy our goals.
The beginning of the hike was a rock wall. No problem for Ben but it sure got the best of me within the first 20 minutes. The steps were large, it was dark and wet, and the headlamp barely made the dry spots visible. I have yet to ‘trust my boots’, as I’ve been told so many times on this stuff. Daniel immediately took my pack that carried 4 L of water, my cramp-ons and some snacks for the ascent. We took very small steps and I would take a brief stop quite regularly to try to keep my heart rate down and breathing steady. Ben was scared because he could see the doubt in my eyes, but he was excellent at supporting me throughout this. It was not very difficult for me to not look up, as I would get lightheaded and discouraged by the lack of distance covered. Ben looked up frequently to avoid the painful headache and would also comment on the long stream of hikers ahead and the city lights of Moshi way down below. We could actually see Arusha as well. Hopefully the clouds would stay away to give us the sunrise we so desired. We tried to capture images of the masses hiking through the crevices ahead, but we couldn’t get what we wanted on the cameras we brought along with us.
Step by step….The pace would best be described as a snail’s pace. In fact, each step was likely 1.5 seconds apart (slower than a second hand on a clock) and remained that way for most of the ascent. Personally, every time I wanted to stop (which was often), I thought of my mom’s picture in my pant pocket and asked for some strength. Strength…Courage…Wisdom…. I kept reciting these words and the words that go with them repeatedly in my head. After completing the rock wall, we hiked along a flatter section with a slight incline. Ahead of us was a man, who walked at a pace of an 80 yo man with symptoms of a stroke. We thought maybe he was being rushed off the mountain (there are an average of 7 deaths a year on the hill….2 this year already). It was a young 20-something man – we doubt he made it and we never saw him again.
Although our pace was slow, we caught up to a number of groups. One group had left more than 1.5 hours ahead of us and they were still very low on the hill – lots of breaks Daniel told us. It was reassuring to see so many people struggling on the ascent. I continued to struggle with my heartbeat being so fast and breathing fast with it. Ben only developed a minor headache but stayed strong in every other way. Daniel continued to check my conjunctiva and fingers for central cyanosis (lack of oxygen to my central organs).
Our water began to freeze and my gloves were not warm enough. My ‘hot hands’, hand-warmers, did not work and frostbite was starting to get to all my fingers. We did a glove swap with me using Ben’s gloves and him using Daniel’s. Daniel hiked up the mountain with my pack and his hands in the pockets of his jacket. Ben continuously stopped me for water breaks and we used up his water supply by the time we reached the top. Ben had some energy, I continued to have nothing but self-doubt with frozen fingers…but we kept trucking after another check for cyanosis.
Our first goal was Stella’s Point for sunrise at 6am. I kept asking Daniel how much further we had. Both him and Bryan kept saying we were close and another few steps they would show us the point. We marched on very slowly. Ben and I must have heard the same thing, because after 30min we looked at each other and thought we’d passed it. No. They didn’t want to tell us it was another 1.5 hours! Ha ha…they knew exactly what to say to keep us going. The last pitch to Stella’s Point was long and beyond words, with switchbacks at an increased angle that kept tension on the Achilles tendon for both of us. We continued past another 2 groups at a standstill…then all of the guides started to sing a chant. It was really uplifting and amazing they had that much in them to encourage us all. I felt like a 92yo person with two canes walking up the mountain with a slight shake with every pole plant I did. But the sky started to lighten and we pushed to the Point just as the sun crested the horizon. Warmth was coming and so was the light (physically and metaphorically). Ben ran ahead to get a photo of me pushing on with the two guides…he had the energy and I didn’t want to miss the photo op of the sunrise because I was struggling. But we both made it by the time the sun rose.
The view was sensational. It really was emotional and exhausting and frustrating knowing we still had to make it to the summit. In the distance we could see one of the peaks, Hans Meyer Peak, which showed its ragged profile against the rising sun. We knew the sun wouldn’t last long as the clouds started to swarm the mountain and the fog started to settle. After a quick tea with cookies, we set off for the summit – another 100m elevation gain and who knows how long of a hike more (supposed to be 1 h longer). It felt like an eternity to me. We were both pale and feeling the altitude with exhaustion but mustered the strength to keep going.
Fortunately, we could see the Kibo peak and crater on the backside of the mountain, as well as large and old glaciers across the valley from our hike. We couldn’t get enough photos of this area with the fog rolling in…but it was sure spectacular to the eyes. The glacier itself was huge and indescribable. Ben wished he could ski it. No picture could really capture the moment with our emotions, the rolling clouds, the fatigue, the summit in sight, the breathtaking views and the support from all around us.
Finally, we rolled into the 5895m sign proclaiming we had reached Uhuru Point – the highest peak in all of Africa. I was sucking back the tears, as I knew crying would mean more oxygen consumption. Our guides, Daniel and Bryan, both reached open their arms and gave us both a big congratulatory hug. Ben and I then hugged, the ‘up’ was finally complete and we couldn’t believe we both made it. Me – with my doubts, and Ben- willing to avoid signals from his body telling him to descend. We’d done it…and we were both elated. There was a small line-up of people for the picture in front of us. I saw a couple with the Team Canada Hudson Bay gloves on, in honour of the Olympics in Sochi at this time. I had purchased a pair myself for the photo – I should have bought a pair for Ben too, but I knew he wouldn’t have wanted that. Turns out, they looked familiar and were from Calgary, Canada, as well. Not sure if we’d met them on a plane or seen them around town. Very nice couple and kind of wished we had gotten some information from them. All of our headaches, falls, vomiting, and fatigue was worth every second we had on this summit. I had brought a special picture of my mom that I carried in my wallet and raised it to the sign for a picture as well. Somewhat emotional and meaningful for me – the closest I’ll ever physically be to my mother, that is, unless Ben convinces me to do Everest. LOL. Like hell!
Jen took the time to take out her moms picture for such a exciting moment. We were both a bit emotional.
Finally we made it back to ‘base camp’ at Barafu. It was around 9:45am (summated Uhuru Point at 7:40am) and time for a 1-hour rest. Ben had a moderate headache at this point and I was sick again. I didn’t vomit, although I wish I had, as I likely would have felt better. I’ve never been able to purge myself – oh how I wish I could have though. The idea of food was nauseating. Ben went for breakfast at 10:45am that was a deep fried sandwich and stew. He brought the food to the tent (as I love greasy meals) but I just couldn’t look at it without feeling sick. Bryan was concerned and then Daniel came to speak to me. I just could not do it. They said it was common but the concern was for the 3-hour hike down to our next camp and not having enough energy. Nevertheless, we packed up quickly and started a slower descent down the Mweka Route.
At ‘High Camp’ (3775m), we still didn’t feel quite well. Ben’s headache persisted and even grew a bit. I felt better but still a bit nauseated. During this descent, the rains came HARD. We were soaking wet and layered up from the cold. The rain washed out our trail but we found refuge and good footing in the low bush adjacent to the trail. The High camp hut provided some shelter as the rains slowly abated. We then followed a trail down the hill that was very slick with porters falling everywhere. “Pole-pole” continued for me, however, Ben had to keep up a good pace to avoid the impact on his bum knee. Slowly the valley appeared with rain forest beside us and the foliage started to become prolific. Camp couldn’t come quickly enough. We scurried to sign in when we arrived and then we rushed to rest in our tents. What a long day! Two meals later (lunch and dinner – which included Ben’s favorite salad and my French fries) we were in bed feeling a lot better and looking forward to the final 3 hours out tomorrow. Oh shower….how I crave thee….
DAY 6 - ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE
Day 6 was different from the rest. It was a day knowing we were done with the cold nights, the annoying headaches, the dirty so called outhouses, and the protein and carb packed meals. It was a day knowing we would be done in 3 hours or less, and knowing we would have achieved what we set out to do… summit kili in 6 days. It was a beautiful morning, not a cloud in site. Some groups had left very early. We decided to be out of the camp just after 7. This would give us time to avoid the main rush, and have more time at the motel for the much needed shower (boy was I due!). We were a bit disappointed we were still served cream of wheat porridge (try having it 6 days straight as a starter in large volumes), and a plain egg. Jen was ready to get off this mountain!
We started down the well-maintained path, and at first, I was quite relieved, as this looked quite manageable with my knees already sore. We started at a brisk pace…no more pole-pole, it was all downhill from here. Soon after, the trail started to disintegrate a bit, and what was once a smooth trail, now turned into an uneven staircase with steep pitches here and there. Now I started to feel my knees and calves again, but Jen seemed to be unfazed. She was focused on seeing that finish line.
There were very brief moments on the way down where there would be an opening to see Mount Kilimanjaro. It was quite a site. Hard to believe we were on top of that behemoth. The base of the mountain alone was 60km long and 40km wide….insane big.
Nearing the bottom, the path widened into a small road to allow emergency vehicles up when needed. We were told approximately 7-10 people died every year on the mountain, so it was truly needed. We also spotted a few horned billed birds on the way…which I enjoyed, and also some cool Columbus monkeys which I previously had seen in our own Calgary Zoo. We now increased our pace to a small jog, and zipped passed a few more groups, which I’m sure were annoyed at our eagerness to finish.
We were done!!
Now for that shower….