Climbing Kilimanjaro

From Chapter 2: Wild Africa

An excerpt from the book, I’ve Gotta Pack

…At midnight I heard the wake-up call, so I slid out of my sleeping bag and started layering for the cold. It was about 30 degrees and very windy. Theresa and I locked eyes for a moment as we layered up as if to say, “let’s finish this.” I pulled on a fleece then a windbreaker and slid on my loaner gloves only to discover I had been given two left handed gloves. So I pulled them on as best I could. Things started out fine, just my left hand looked like a mutant while I walked up the trail in the pitch black. The trail was very steep on this section and all I saw is the small area in front of my feet that 9 headlamps illuminated. The wind picked up about 20 minutes into the summit climb and proved to be very brutal the rest of the way. We encountered winds most of the way around 30 mph or gustier. The wind made the climb more challenging than we all would have liked. Our group put one foot in front of the other or in Swahili, “polle, polle” said our guides to encourage us. After hours of slow trudging, because you can’t move very fast with such small amounts of oxygen coming into your lungs, the group seemed to start to worry a bit about the cold. Michelle slipped and fell at one point and I was struggling to keep my fingertips warm. Theresa was also freezing due to the wind and as we passed 16,000 feet my head was pounding right along with my heart. About halfway up the summit climb, I figured most everyone was wondering why the hell did I pay to do this? Two women in our group contemplated quitting and turning back and I felt a bit dizzy and Theresa was no better, as her vision began to blur. During all of this, Theresa fell behind me 40-50 feet out of my sight and I began to panic and wonder if she was unable to continue for some reason. I could not imagine making it to the top without her, especially since she had talked me into the expedition in the first place. But somehow, we all plodded on and at 6:30 a.m. we reached the rim of the crater near the summit and through glazed over eyes I saw the sun come up over Africa! I would have attempted to take a picture if I could have moved my hands, but after some struggle I realized my camera was frozen anyway. Godfrey (our guide) took all of our cameras and placed them in his inner breast pocket to warm them up so we could try to get summit photos. The sunrise was an incredible sight but difficult to appreciate when you feel so shitty. I was still dizzy from the altitude, but kept going the last 500 feet to the summit called Uhuru Peak. I felt as if I was veering left and right as I walked and could not quite keep a straight line. Theresa meanwhile battling being cold, stayed behind with Godfrey, and behind the shelter of a large boulder she delayered in the bitter cold and added another fleece to try to hold in some body heat. Once she was redressed, they continued on and caught back up with the group. Near the summit, the wind and cold reached epic proportions. I have never felt cold like that before. 8 out of 10 of us reached the top and we managed to snap a photo, posed in front of the sign reading Uhuru Peak the tallest point in Africa at 5895 meters. The group did not dally at the top, but the relief at reaching the summit warmed me a bit. I noticed that Theresa after the photo, practically sprinted for the trail back down to camp. I took in the scene for a moment before descending. The mountain is an old volcano so the rim over time converted itself into a glacier all around the perimeter. It was very beautiful… but did I mention cold. I can definitely say that that was the most physically and mentally challenging thing I have ever done. What a great story to tell though when I get back home, that I made it to the top of the tallest free-standing mountain in the world.

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