Kilimanjaro – Summit Night

I want to begin by saying that if you’ve read anything about summit night, then you think you know what to expect, right? Wrong. You have no idea and nothing I write will truly prepare you for the brutality that is summit night. As you read this, if you think something sounds terrible or painful, go ahead and multiply it by 10. That still won’t prepare you though. Nothing will. With that said, here is summit night:

For the first time since our acclimatization hike at Moir Camp, Fido Dido led the way. I knew this was serious business when he went to the front. For most of the climb Chichi had been leading us and did a wonderful job; however, he was the assistant guide. Seeing Fido Dido, our amazing head guide, leading the way up Kili sent a powerful message to me. Our line order was Fido Dido, me, Arlette, Adrienne, and Babu. Chichi held up the rear but often dropped out of sight. In camp Fido Dido said that they would only carry one pack so that if we needed our packs carried, they could do so. When we left camp, Babu and Chichi had Arlette’s and Adrienne’s packs. Initially, I carried mine and not necessarily out of choice but because no one asked if I wanted them to carry it!

Slowly we left our campsite and moved silently through Barafu past the ranger’s hut and other campsites. Barafu was defrosting and coming alive with activity. Other climbers were moving about in their tents and occasionally we’d hear the nervous chatter of people gearing up, preparing to head out. The noise and banter of other groups contrasted with our own silence. As bizarre as it sounds, I felt like the Angel of Death during Passover as we stalked silently past the tents all aglow from headlamps inside. Who were the chosen ones? Did this tent contain the select few who would experience glory at the summit or did it contain those who would feel the agony of defeat, forced to turn back to camp or worse still, a hospital in Arusha or Nairobi?

This is how I felt in Barafu

By the time we reached the outskirts of camp, my shoulders were aching from the weight of all the water I packed. I had a camel back and three nalgenes full of water. I felt pathetic and weak but I had no choice- I had to ditch the pack. I humbly called out to Fido Dido and told him my pack was heavy and asked if he would carry it. I think he was surprised but he said nothing. Instead, he just grabbed the pack, threw it over his, then pushed on. I paused for a few moments, staring at him in awe through the darkness. How could someone be so strong in conditions like this? My shoulders instantly felt better with the weight of the pack gone; however, the weight of my fear continued to be a burden, weighing me down even more.

At the edge of Barafu Camp lies the steep, winding trail to the summit. Earlier Chichi told me that in the beginning there are switchbacks then it flattens out for a short distance before climbing again. Staring into the darkness and seeing nothing but the tiny lights of climbers snaking their way up the slope, I clung to the promise of flat land. I also began to pray. My prayer was simple but constant throughout the night: I’d push myself to my physical limits to make it to the top. I wouldn’t give up. But if God’s will was different from my own, I’d accept it. I decided that I’d rejoice in each step and be thankful to God for my end point, regardless of where that was on the mountain. In my darkest, coldest moment, I accepted it was never about what I wanted. It was about what God allowed. It was a prayer I prayed and a point I pondered for 9 continuous hours.

Is that a star or a headlamp?

Initially, I was surprised by our pace. After 6 days of walking “pole-pole” it suddenly felt as if we were power stepping up and over rocks. Fido Dido’s long legs stretched easily over obstacles but my depleted muscles struggled to do the same. My eyes constantly scanned up and ahead in an effort to see something…anything. But all I saw was inky, darkness dotted with headlamps. All the books and guides I read said I’d see a highway of lights as other climbers made their way up; however, we left so much earlier than the others that initially, we only saw a handful. I watched them, hoping to see them disappear around a corner or other landmark but it never happened. The lights continued to move higher and higher into the dark sky. So high, in fact, that later in the night I had a hard time discerning between headlamps and stars.

The British are Coming!

We marched on and on, rarely speaking a word. It wasn’t long before a South African man and his guide passed us. They moved at breakneck speed. Watching the Afrikaner move so quickly and seemingly unaffected by altitude made me feel weak. Every time a self-defeating thought popped into my head, I prayed. Eventually the Afrikaner pushed so deep into the darkness that he disappeared from sight. But it wasn’t long before I heard chanting and cheering below us. The British were coming!

Foreigners always talk about how loud Americans are but I have to tell you that those people have never been to Kilimanjaro. The Brits on Kili were LOUD! You hear them long before you see them. If they’re not chanting and cheering like their at the World Cup, they’re laughing and giggling and asking Babu where the toilet is (ha! I just referenced an older post. How clever of me!). Good for them! I am happy that they felt so jovial on such a night but frankly, it was annoying! Haha. I say that in the nicest of ways, truly. It’s just that, when you’re feeling like a dead man walking, the last thing you want to hear is a Cockney chirping on about One Direction (just kidding…I don’t remember what they were talking about). Oh one other thing…the Coughing Girl was there barking like a seal with that horrible cough. I felt sorry for her but after the inhaler diss on the way into Barafu, I don’t think Adrienne offered her anything this time.

We hiked for the longest time before we ever took a break. Even then, the only reason was to allow the Redcoats to pass. As they passed I smelled something really good, which seemed odd in this sensory deprived environment. Resting on a rock, we quickly seized the chance to drink water and gobble down a snack. The water was freezing and painful to drink. Worse still, wearing big,cumbersome down mittens made it impossible to actually do anything for myself. This meant that one of the guides had to help me open my Chomps and get them in my mouth. Sure, I could have taken the mittens off but that would have been more difficult than wrangling cats. Remember, nothing is easy at high altitude. All those little things you do with ease at sea level feel like you’re threading a camel through a needle at altitude.

Our break lasted two minutes at the most and we were off again. I looked at my watch and was shocked to see it was already 1AM. Knowing that I had already lasted 2 hours gave me a small boost as we continued on. Somehow we caught up with the Brits as they had decided to rest. Fido Dido chatted up their guide and the guide laughed when he saw us. He referred to us as Fido Dido’s three wives. He joked that Fido Dido was his worst enemy and he was jealous that he had so many wives. I wanted to laugh too but I couldn’t afford to waste the oxygen so I think I mustered a close-lipped smile. I might be mistaken but I think he was the same dude who called me the Queen of Kilimanjaro. As we walked by, I caught another whiff of the “good smell”. It was definitely cologne but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why anyone would bother to wear cologne on this night. Heck, I’d stopped bothering with deoderant a few days ago. What was the point? Also, it was around this time of night when I noticed several people being escorted down the mountain by their guides. These were the poor souls who were, apparently, unable to continue up the mountain. Their Kilimanjaro journey ended, not at the summit, but along some unknown dark spot along the trail. Watching it pained me. Did turning back destroy their souls as much as I had imagined it would mine? While we’re discussing poor souls, it’s worth mentioning that we also saw Mr. South Africa sitting on a rock and looking rough. He was obviously hurting and was being consoled and comforted by his guide. It surprised me because he started off with such gusto! I suspect his eager beaver pace did him in. I don’t know if he turned back or made it because I don’t remember seeing him again after that. Poor guy.

Imagine this but with hiking clothes

I don’t know how much time had passed but sometime after passing the Brits, I started to feel sleepy. Very sleepy. This section of the climb is a blur for me because I slept through most of it. Seriously. I remember feeling so tired and thinking, “I will just close my eyes a little and get some rest.”. One problem though – I was walking! In the dark! On a dangerous mountain! But I did it anyway! My eyes were 90% closed. I guess my brain went into survival mode and used the remaining 10% to focus on Fido Dido’s boots. Like a mindless machine, my body followed his. After some time, I’d “wake up” and think to myself, “Oh my goodness! I was sleeping! I’ve got to wake up!”. But in just a few seconds, the cycle repeated itself. This continued for hours. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest! Adrienne also said she was doing the same thing. In fact, one time we stopped and Adrienne and I actually fell asleep against one another while standing up. Another time we stopped to let people pass and I remember leaning forward to rest my head on Fido Dido’s pack because the idea of catching just 13 seconds of sleep seemed like a good plan. I became really worried and wondered if this desire to sleep was a result of lack of oyxgen. I asked Fido Dido several times if that was the case but he assured me that we were sleepy simply because we were sleep deprived. After all, he pointed out, we only slept for three hours. Regardless of the reason, we felt like walking dead and we moved like them too. My movements felt labored and slow. Breathing was an effort. Whenever we stopped for water, it was impossible to drink and breathe at the same time. Taking just a sip or two of water left me feeling as if I was drowning.

Speaking of water, only a few hours into the climb, it froze. I had read all about this and listened carefully during our briefing as it was explained that our camel backs would freeze first. We were instructed to blow back into the tube after each drink. This would slow down the freezing process and help prevent the tube from freezing up. I did that but by 2 or 3AM it was so cold that it didn’t matter. My camel back froze. That meant I now had to drink from my nalgenes which was far less convenient to do as they were all buried in my pack which, by this time, Babu and Chichi carried. For awhile only the camel back was frozen by eventually, even the nalgenes started to freeze. I clearly remember feeling delirious from fatigue and asking Chichi, in an almost child-like manner, if I could have some of my water. Bless his heart, throughout the night whenever I needed water he’d pull it out of my pack, unscrew the lid, and hold it up to my mouth for me to drink. He took such good care of me that night! In fact, I remember on several occasions, while taking a short break to eat a snack (which was usually just one partially frozen Chomp) or take a drink Chichi grabbed my shoulders and massaged them briskly and moved my head around. I knew he was trying to keep the blood flowing and keep me awake. Because drinking was such a difficult task which required us to ask for a break (which was dangerous due to the freezing temperatures), seek assistance with getting our water, then deciding which we preferred more: oxygen or water – because you couldn’t have both at the same time. It was just as well because every time I took a drink of water, I got a headache. After a few minutes the headache was disappear but as the night wore on, I started to shy away from drinking in an effort to stave the headaches.

Realizing, I suspect, that our focus was fading, Fido Dido and other guides from other groups started to sing songs. I had read that the guides would do this on summit night to keep spirits up but I always assumed they would be boisterous African songs. Nope. The first song I heard Fido Dido sing was “Fix You” by Coldplay. He sang it very softly. So softly that I wondered if he was singing it for our benefit for his. Then he sang “Hero” by Enrique Iglesias. Where was he going with this? I was nervous he was going to crank out “Highway to the Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins but thankfully, that never happened. Whew! *waves of relief wash over me*

During the briefing Fido Dido and Chichi said that sometime around 3AM or 4AM it would get extremely cold. I wondered how they knew this. Did they have some super secret weather station stashed away in their tent? When we started out that night I thought, “Well it’s already cold so their estimate was off.” Silly mzungu! What did I know? Sure enough, all of a sudden it became EXTREMELY cold and my first thought was ,”Wow…we must be walking next to a glacier. Why is it so stinkin’ cold?”. I looked down at my watch and guess what? It was 4AM. What the?!?! How did they know that? Three things passed through my mind: 1.)”They are better than the weather guys at home” 2.) “Holy polar ice caps, it’s freezing!” and 3.) “It’s 4AM? It’s 4AM! Two more hours and the sun comes up! Oh thank you God!”. I remember thanking God profusely to have made it this far!

Much to my secret delight, the Brits were running out of steam! I bore no ill will toward them (I’m really an Anglophile) but nothing rallys the troops like a common enemy and somehow I think it made us all feel better to know we were not the slowest, most pathetic group on the mountain. Our slow and steady pace was working to our advantage. We passed the Brits again but this time their chirpy conversations and jolly songs were silenced. Instead, we saw heads hung low, people gasping for breath, and hands held to heads as if they were in agony. But the good smell was there! I finally said, “Something smells good!” and a young British guy turned to me and said, “What? Did you say something smells good? That’s me!” My friend thought it would be funny to spray my buff with aftershave and now I have to breath it the rest of the night.” I laughed and wondered, once again, why anyone would have a bottle of Axe (or similar) with them. Guess someone thought they might get lucky at 15,000 feet! Does that constitute qualifying for the “Mile High Club” if you’re still touching earth?

Before leaving camp I put on five layers and stuffed my pockets with hand warmers. I was also wearing a balaclava, a buff, and two stocking caps. Despite all of this, I was freezing. As the incline increased, we were no longer moving at a rate fast enough to generate enough body heat. The cold penetrated my skin and soaked into my bones. Slowing us down even more was the scree. With every step we took forward it felt as if we slid back down an equal distance. How much longer could this go on? But, just as that thought passed through my mind, I looked to my right and saw something wonderful – a hint of light on the horizon. The sun! It was starting to rise. I looked at my watch and it was around 6AM. The sky was still dark and we could only see the faintest of lines but it was coming and it was all I needed to know! The sun meant so many things! First of all, it meant heat! Second, it meant we would be able to see more than the boots and butt of the person in front of you. Third, the sunrise meant we were almost to the top! Hallelujah!

We continued our arduous push through the scree and the increasingly steep slope and found ourselves walking side by side the Brits. As more and more light started to filter down from the sky I saw snow for the first time that night. My excitement grew! Once again I looked over to my right and saw orange taking over the line on the horizon and also saw the beautiful sillouette of Mawenzi, the other peak of Kilimanjaro (the summit is on the peak of Kibo. Kibo and Mawenzi make up Mount Kilimanjaro). The chatter in both groups seemed to pick up, bouyed by the knowledge that soon we would see the sun and then, feeling a bright glow kiss my face, I looked over and saw it happen (click on the link…this whole build up of the sun will be much funnier. Also, while you’re at it, keep watching until the 40 second mark. You will see why. I swear it all happened JUST like this – hahahaha)

– the sun emerged from the horizon! It was glorious…more glorious than any sunrise I’ve ever witnessed. I wanted to cry! A British guy, upon seeing it unfold, actually sang the lil intro of the Lion King when the sun rises (sorry, I wish I could take credit for that but like half of all my comedy, I stole it from the British).

The sun was up! I can’t even put into words how it feels to witness the sun rising from the rooftop of Africa. Honestly, I really can’t I just spent 20 minutes staring at my computer screen, pondering the best way to explain what that moment was like. It cannot be done. You must witness it for yourself. I cannot wait to reminisce with those who have and can’t help but feel brokehearted for those who never will.

Despite the sun being up, the challenge, this journey to reach the top was far from over. With the blazing sun illuminating our path, I looked up and saw nothing but snow, rock, and more ground to cover. Once again I wondered, “Will we ever get there? Does it ever end?”. We pushed and pushed ourselves through the scree, digging our poles in deep in an effort to not lose ground. I was exhausted but this late in the game, I refused to lose heart or give up. No way, not now. Then suddenly, I looked up to the ridge above and saw a sign that said:

“Congra” and just below that I saw “Stel”

It was the Stella Point sign! As soon as my brain registered what I saw, I burst into tears and turned to Arlette and exclaimed, “Stella Point! There’s Stella Point! We’re going to make it!”. I continued to cry for another few seconds before discovering that it’s difficult to cry and breathe at the same time at 19,000 feet. For those who aren’t familiar, there are several “points” near the summit. One is Gillman’s Point which climbers on the Marangu and Rongai routes pass. Stella Point is the location on the trail when climbers on the Lemosho and Machame route finally reach the crater rim (Kili is an old volcano). It’s not the summit but it’s darn close (45 minutes or so). From our angle below, all I could see of the “Congratulations. You are now at Stella Point” were parts of words. Still, it was enough to know where we were and what we had accomplished. When we finally pulled ourselves to the crater rim and walked towards the Stella Point sign, I felt so much emotion. I tear up right now just thinking about it! People we standing around the sign so we walked past it to some rocks and sat down. Adrienne was freezing and in desperate need of heat so she pulled out some hand warmers and attempted to warm up. Arlette ate a snack and I sat there, in a daze, but anxious to continue on to the summit. As we rested, I felt a slight headache come on after drinking water. It wasn’t bad enough to worry about Advil though. Instead, I sat there, taking it all in. From where we sat we could see down to the crater. It was gorgeous and filled with black, volcanic rock. After sitting for just a few minutes, I started to get very cold and knew I needed to move or I was going to become hypothermic. I told the others I was going to start heading towards Uhuru, the actual summit. I could see it in the distance and was eager to get there.

Arlette and I, along with Chichi and Fido Dido, took off towards the summit. Adrienne wasn’t far behind with Babu by her side. My oxygen deprived muscles didn’t want to move and I felt as if I was making very little progress up the crater rim. I looked back and didn’t see Arlette with me anymore but I was too delirious to really question it. I just kept moving slowly towards the sign. To my right was the crater and to my left were the famous snows of Kilimanjaro – the glaciers! They were magnificent! As I walked along, I passed so many zombie-like people who were obviously very sick from AMS. Some were sitting with their heads hung between their legs and being comforted by companions. Others were simply walking slowly but with a look of agony stapled on their face. As for me,my legs felt as if I was walking through the Molasses Tar Pits in Candyland.  I must have started to fall apart because I remember Chichi taking the pole out of my left hand and holding my hand and arm as I walked. I thought that was so sweet of him! Chichi was Mr. Cool throughout our climb and though he was knowledgable and excellent at his job, it wasn’t something I expected from him. But there he was, our Captain Boolah, literally guiding me towards the summit. My hero!

When we reached a really narrow, icy section of the trail, he turned me loose and I resumed my “Walker” ala Walking Dead pace. As I got closer, people on their way down passed me and said, “Congratulations!”. That’s when it started to sink in….”Oh my god, I’m almost there. I’ve done it. I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro!”

I wish I could say that reaching Uhuru, the summit of mighty Mount Kilimanjaro, was an emotionally charged moment but to be totally honest, it was a little anti-climatic. Many reasons for that I think. First of all, Arlette and Adrienne hadn’t arrived yet so it was just me, Chichi, and a dozen or so people I didn’t know. Second, it would be hard to match the emotion I felt when I saw Stella Point. Stella Point snuck up on us. We had no idea we were almost there and the moments leading up to Stella were painful and full of doubt. On the other hand, after reaching Stella Point I had zero doubt that I’d reach Uhuru. Third, as soon as Chichi started to take my picture at the summit sign, my head exploded!

Victory!

Victory!

Under ideal conditions, I would have hammed it up in front of the sign but I didn’t care when the headache started. It was all I could do to tie the donor flag I made (for the charities I raised money for) to the sign and sit down. I sat for a few minutes but the pain was starting to overwhelm me. It felt as if someone was driving nails through the back of my skull and seemed to be intensifying to the point I was no longer able to appreciate this monumental moment in my life or notice who was around me. In fact, I failed to notice that Arlette had arrived. When I started to feel nauseous, I knew things were getting serious. I began to feel nervous that I was experiencing the beginning of HACE. After having my photo taken, I quickly took my “donor flag” and tied it to the sign. Then I turned to Chichi and told him my head hurt. I remember he said in his typical low key tone, “Your head hurts? How bad does it hurt?”  but his facial expression showed deep concern. I explained that it was hurting really badly and I can’t remember now how Fido Dido got into the mix, but I remember telling him that it hurt badly and he said I should go down. I asked if I could wait long enough to get a group shot with Arlette and Adrienne but he said no and that I needed to go down immediately. This freaked me out, honestly. The fact that he was so concerned that I didn’t have a few minutes to spare for a group shot made me wonder if I really did have the beginning of cerebral edema. I saw the look of disappointment on Arlette’s face and I felt so torn. I wanted to stay and take the photos we all talked about…but I didn’t want my head to explode. So I followed orders and headed down the path towards Stella Point. A few minutes later, I saw Adrienne and told her what was going on. She wished me well, gave me a hug and walked on. Babu, bless his heart…he gave me a hug too! Have I mentioned how much I love him?

Glaciers

Glaciers

As I started down more and more people were heading up the trail. I paid little attention to any of them because a wave of nausea swept over me and for the very first time on Kilimanjaro, I wondered if I was about to lose my lunch. Actually, in this case I would have been losing the three Chomps I ate on the way up. Remembering that I had stuffed a cracker into my pocket at dinner for an occasion such as this, I pulled it out only to discover it was smashed and broken to bits. No matter! I stuffed some crumbs into my mouth in an effort to calm my stomach. It didn’t help.

On my way down the path to Stella Point, I exchanged congratulations with a few people. Some seemed fine, others looked awful and near death. Oh, remember all those Brits who power walked their way past us day after day? Most of them were struggling to move beyond Stella Point. On one hand I felt badly for them because it would stink to make it that far but not get to Uhuru…but another part of me secretly delighted in their struggles after blowing by us like we were patients from a geriatric unit.

By the time I got to Stella Point, I felt slightly better. The nausea was gone but my headache remained. Chichi and I made the turn and started down the steep, scree filled path. In the brightness of day, I could see the ridiculously steep, rocky trail that we covered the night before and cringed. We have to go down that?!, I wondered. My knees started to ache at the thought.

They say that you push for the summit at night because if you saw what you had to climb during the day, you’d never do it. They may have a point! Chichi took the lead and we sort of slid our way down through the scree. It felt really dangerous to me. I’ve heard of people “skiiing” their way down to the bottom on the scree but I just didn’t have the confidence for that. Instead, I turned my foot sideways to ensure I didn’t hyper extend my knee and slid in small bursts. This seemed to last forever. Occasionally Chichi and I took water and rest breaks. I don’t know about his but this was tough on my knees. During one of the breaks, I realized I felt infinitely better than I did at Uhuru and this caused mixed emotions. On one hand, I was really happy to feel better – the thought of possible cerebral edema is a scary one. Yet, on the other hand, I felt sad that I had to leave my friends at the top and not get the group photo that we had talked about. This is my one regret out of the whole adventure. Later, when Arlette and Adrienne returned to camp and shared their stories from the top, I felt waves of sadness overcome me and kicked myself for not being strong enough to stay up there just awhile longer. But I kept telling myself that I had accomplished what I came to do and that was summit Kilimanjaro. I was there. I stood next to the sign, I saw the crater, and I saw the giant glaciers – the snows of Kilimanjaro. But you see, once you’re on the mountain, Kilimanjaro becomes so much more than reaching the summit. It’s the sort of thing that I cannot put into words and only those who’ve been can truly understand and appreciate what I mean by that.

After Chichi and I hydrated and snacked, we picked up again and started down the trail once more. We said very little but did talk a bit about our families and I asked him about porter life. Once I felt tip top, I offered to carry my pack but refused and sweetly said, “Maybe later”. I owe so much to him. I couldn’t have made it to the top without him and I doubt I would have made it back down without him either. I guess for him it’s just another day at work and I am sure he will forget about me if he hasn’t already. But I will never forget Chichi…Captain Boola!

As I scanned the horizon to see where we had to go, I noticed a downhill section of the trail leading up to summit. What?! Did we go downhill last night? I don’t remember that. I asked Chichi if what I was seeing was true and he confirmed it to be so. I guess in the haze of the night, my brain failed to acknowledge that we went downhill. How could that be? Downhill going up  meant uphill for us as we worked our way back to camp. It was tough but not nearly as tough as the night before and knowing that our camp lied just on the other side, it was a climb I was willing to make. Finally, I could see Barafu ahead and my steps quickened. I was eager to crawl into my tent and sleep. In the past 24 hours I’d had 3 hours of sleep. I felt wrecked.

Barafu was quiet. I guess most people were either A.) still at the summit B.) asleep in their tents, or C.) had moved on to another camp. The plan for most people is the same. After summiting, climbers return to Barafu camp for an hour or so of sleep before packing up and heading out to the next camp. It’s a frustrating thought to know that after climbing down from Kibo, you still have hours of hiking ahead of you. Fortunately, you’re allotted an hour of sleep in-between. How merciful!

Chichi and I climbed down the rocks and into our own Climb Kili camp and we were greeted with cheers and singing! All of the porters came out to congratulate me with high fives and fist pumps. I was surprised by this. How did they know I made it? I assumed that since it was 10:30AM it must have meant that we were victorious as we would have been back sooner had we failed in our attempts.  Nestor brought a chair out of the mess tent and presented it to me like it was a throne! It sure felt like one. To sit on a chair after such a grueling night felt wonderful! Best of all, he brought me a Fanta! Life was good!

After enjoying my first fizzy drink in 7 days, I got up and headed to my tent. I checked my booby traps and everything was fine. I pulled my sleeping bag out of my duffel but was so exhausted I didn’t bother to even get in it. I just draped it over my body and passed out. I woke up an hour or so later to the sound of Arlette and Adrienne returning. I was glad to hear them back in camp and to know they were well. I drifted back to sleep. My sleep was restless. Because our tents were next to the trail I heard every single word exchanged between climbers as they left camp. Interestingly, everyone used the same word: brutal. One conversation that stands out was between some British guys. One of the guys said, “Wow – that was brutal. Totally worth it but brutal.” He was right and that sentiment was echoed by everyone we came across thereafter. Summit night is brutal.

I woke up about an hour later and got out of my tent. I knew the porters were probably anxious to get packed up and down to the next camp so I did my best to get all my things situated. Once I did, I got out and walked around Barafi camp for a while. I even picked up several flat rocks near the ranger station to take home as souvenirs. When Babu and Mugambo saw me with rocks in my hand, I explained they were “Kilimanjaro gifts”. They gave an uneasy laugh. Secretly I know they were thinking I was one crazy mzungu! 🙂 As I sat admiring my rocks I started to see the “new batch” of climbers trickle in from the trail. They all seemed eager and excited which contrasted with the used up, destroyed demeanor of those who had attempted or reached the summit the night before. I called out to a couple as they passed and said, “Are you summiting tonight?” and they cheerfully exclaimed,”Hopefully! haha”. I smirked and said, “Well good luck! It’s brutal.” (there’s that word again…I’m telling you. It’s the only word that describes it). The woman then said, “Oh wow, did you just do it?” and I said, “yes”.  Then they asked me for advice and I outlined all the advice I had and detailed all the horrors they would experience and once I was 3/4 of the way through explaining how tough it is, I noticed the look of horror sweep across their face. Oh no, I thought. Now I’ve terrified them. Way to go Rhonda.  I quickly backtracked and assured them they’d live to see their families again – haha. No seriously, I assured them that they’d reach the top. They left looking as if I told them I killed their puppy. After that I stopped talking to “newbies”. I’d done enough damage for one day.

I don’t remember the conversations I had with Arlette and Adrienne after they woke up. We were all pretty tired and our conversations didn’t fire up until we were down the trail again. But I remember that as the three of us walked out of Barafu for the last time I felt pretty victorious and proud of us. Here we were, a nurse, an architect, and a teacher…and we had just pulled off one of the greatest adventures a person can have. Though we all reached the summit a few minutes apart, we all did it. We went all the way to the top!

*this isn’t the end of the story. Stay tuned for Day 7 and Day 8).

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10 thoughts on “Kilimanjaro – Summit Night

  1. You are so incredibly awesome to have done this….it brings tears to my eyes.

    • imwanderingbutnotlost

      Aww, thank! Just typing it and remembering it all is an emotional experience for me

  2. Congrats! So glad you made it! And Climb Kili too — aren’t they amazing?

  3. Karthik

    Hi, congrats!! Its just awesome that you managed to go all the way.

    I have been following your blog with interest since I am planning to climb Kilimanjaro in Sep 2013!! And I also have ITBS – quite a nasty one at that in my right knee. ( cannot jog beyond 2.5 kms)

    Did you have any issues with your ITBS at all during the trek? Any recommendations in terms of preparation or things to avoid?

    • imwanderingbutnotlost

      As much trouble as my ITBS causes me, it never gave me an ounce of trouble on Kili! As far as preparation, just make sure you’re doing cardio, leg exercises, and used to carrying a pack. A guy who ended up in my group turned back on day two because he had blisters. So make sure your hands, feet, and shoulders are used to some hard work. You don’t have to be in ridiculous shape because the pace is slow. Thanks so much for following my blog. I have a few more posts left about Kili and then I will write about my safari.

      • Karthik

        Hope that stays true with me. Don’t need one more when the altitude itself is looking like a tough enough challenge!!

        Been doing regular walks with the trekking shoes and will start doing those with a 8 kg backpack starting this weekend. Unfortunately, no preparatory hikes are possible at this time of the year (I am based in Dubai).

        Also, did anyone you know do the trek to the Reusch crater after summiting Uhuru. I am told its a 3 hour detour to go from Uhuru to the crater to Stella for the descent.

  4. TD

    Way to go Rhonda! A group of us from Summit County Colroado are headingup Kili with ClimbKili so I was gald to see your blog. Did a lion get you on the safari as there is no entry for your descent?

    • imwanderingbutnotlost

      Thanks for reading my blog! I can’t wait to hear about your adventure on Kili. Keep me posted. You will enjoy Climbkili. I thought they were great. I’m working on the descent posts now! “)

  5. TD

    Way to go Rhonda! A group of us from Summit County Colorado are heading up Kili with ClimbKili in September 13 so I was gald to see your blog. Did a lion get you on the safari as there is no entry for your descent?

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