Climbing Kilimanjaro: The Summit
The day of our summit of Kilimanjaro had finally arrived. Thinking back to that moment puts me in a weird place. A place of reflection of my whole journey up to that point, the journey to get me there, the journey to the summit of Kilimanjaro.
The Beginning Of The End
Our day started right at the beginning of the clock. We were up at 23.00 and started our walk towards the big white mountain at 00:30.
Inside I was so scared. I felt sick to my stomach. I’m not sure why? It was pitch black dark, but thankfully the skies were clear. The storm from the previous day had settled and I could see all the tiny stars above us. The mountain was massive. She was sitting in the black sky posing in white. At one point it seemed to be an almost “glow in the dark” white. When I looked up towards the mountain all I saw was thousands of little head lamps moving up. Slow movements. Hundreds.
I think the darkness of the night is what scared me the most, not because I am afraid of the dark but because I couldn’t see where I was going. The picture at the end, the final result, I couldn’t see it. It took me a good hour to snap out of “it”. I literally prayed my way through that first hour, begging God for the strength to carry on and finish strong.
Another thing that scared me was the fact that it was only a 5 km walk, 1.2 km up and this was to take us 6 hours. In my head that didn’t make sense. How can it take so long to cover such a short distance? That scared me. What weren’t they telling me? What were they hiding from me? I could see on my dad’s face that it wasn’t going to be easy. Thinking back, I still don’t know how he did it for a second time, honestly… I don’t know.
It Was Time To Focus
Salim, our wonderful guide told us that we will stop half way for water. That became my focus. It was a completely different walk to the previous days. It was absolutely freezing. We did the summit in -13C but it was a different kind of cold. It is so cold that you almost don’t feel it anymore. All feelings are gone, you’re numb. My face, my nose, my hands, my feet. It was as if it was there, but not part of me. Spending five seconds in these temperatures while running from your car into a building is a whole different story than climbing a mountain for six hours in this weather.
We stopped after an hour. I had no clue where we were on the clock. I just walked, but when Salim stopped and we found a rock to sit on, I was so happy. Happy that we were half way, only to find that we weren’t actually half way and we had only been walking for an hour. Imagine the disappointment. That nearly broke me.
The Journey Continued
After about a ten minute break it took everything inside me to get back on my feet and continue the journey. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t because I was tired. I wasn’t. It was more a case of mentally and emotionally not completely capable. Thankfully I pulled myself together and the journey continued. Passing tired people. Seeing people turn around. Listening to some people singing. Following Salim. One step at a time. Slow.
For the first time I walked in front of my dad, he was behind me. He would get irritated with the slow steps, so he would take 3 steps and stop. Then three steps and stop. That killed me so I went past him. You can’t walk fast, you have to walk slow. The rhythm of one step at a time worked better for me than three steps and stop.
I’m not sure how far we were or for how long we walked, but I remember getting to a place where I felt sleepy. All I could think of was finding a rock and taking a nice long nap. I remember them telling us if you are very cold you get sleepy, so without even knowing how cold I was, I knew I was cold. So cold that I couldn’t even talk properly. All I did was say to my dad, “Dad I want to sleep.”
He quickly knew what I was talking about and got Salim’s attention. We stopped and Salim suggested I put his pants on. I refused, I couldn’t take someone else’s pants in minus thirteen degrees, like who would do that? He insisted, assured me he does the summit every week and he can handle the cold. So before I knew it I was sitting on a rock and Salim along with Peter were dressing me. I was then wearing two pairs of thermal tights, one pair of ski pants, and two pairs of normal pants. The amazing thing is, the moment I stood up I felt wide awake and back to my old self. That extra pair of pants made such a big difference I couldn’t believe it.
We walked about another hour in the dark when I finally saw the end. I can’t explain it. Finally!!!!! We had reached Stella Point! In the dark. When I saw the sign I started crying. Not out loud, not a crazy cry but a silent throat weep. Grateful. Thankful. I made it to Stella Point. It was a wonderful feeling.
It was freezing up there. There was no more mountain to protect us from the winds and it was blowing like crazy. I had to sit and just breath. I had to just enjoy the moment and take it all in. We were tired, we were emotional. We were there.
Unfortunately Stella Point is not the top, it’s the second last stop before you reach the summit of Kilimanjaro. At 5739m it’s so high up, but it is not the highest point. We still had an hour to walk. An hour to climb. This time it was different though, we could see the end. The sun wasn’t up yet but it was sitting on the horizon and I could see the top of the mountain. We wanted to wait for the sun to rise but then decided to carry on and catch it on our way up.
I have no words. We had reached the summit of Kilimanjaro. To see the sun rise from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro was probably one of the most beautiful things I will ever see in my life. I once experienced a similar feeling when I went parasailing in Mauritius ten years ago. You want to cry like a baby only because of what you are experiencing.
It’s bigger than the biggest feeling you can ever imagine.
We continued our walk and when we finally made it to the top about 45 minutes later. I felt exhausted, cold, and happy, and with an immense feeling of achievement and gratitude. We took our photos and just stood there. It’s so much, the moment is so big. But at the same time you are so exhausted you almost miss the magnitude of the moment.
You can’t stay for long on the summit of Kilimanjaro. There is so little oxygen up there. Good thing we were done with photos and all that because my dad started to feel sick. We had to say goodbye to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the beautiful ice crystals that surrounded us, the icy winds, the cloudy fluffy horizon and the altitude of 5895 m above sea level. I had so many mixed emotions about this because it takes so long to get up there and then by the click of a finger you have to leave and probably never go back again.
The descent is a whole new post for another day. This was by far my toughest giant I faced climbing Kilimanjaro.
Follow the last bit of my story on this incredible mountain to see how it all ended, how we fared on our climb down Mount Kilimanjaro.