This is the fifth and final part of my Mount Kilimanjaro Climb. If you missed part 4, you can read it here.
I awoke suddenly from a restless sleep. It was pitch black in my tent as I fumbled around in my sleeping bag to find my phone. Sleepily, I turned it on and squinted at the screen to check the time. 10:55pm. I must have nodded off for about half an hour, and now, it was time to get up to begin trekking to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
I lay in the warmth of my sleeping bag for a few minutes, trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing. I had already trekked for over 8 hours earlier in the day, had only half an hour’s sleep and was now going to get up to ascend 1345m over 7 hours and 7km at high altitude in freezing temperatures in the middle of the night. Let’s not even think about the huge descent back down half of the mountain in the same day. I was clearly insane.
Eventually, I drag myself out of my sleeping bag and clumsily put on all of my layers of clothing. One pair of thermal underwear, two pairs of trousers, one pair of waterproof pants, two thermal shirts, one long sleeve t-shirt, one fleece, one thick outer shell jacket, two pairs of socks, a beanie and two pairs of gloves. I felt like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
After packing my bag I stumbled into the dining tent and tried to force down some tea and biscuits. Everyone in our group seemed just as baffled as I was as to what we were doing to ourselves, and then, at midnight, with headlamps on our heads, we started trekking.
Our guides expertly lead us through the darkness, and as we slowly climbed, I could see the little dots of light from other trekkers’ headlamps up ahead of us. Our group had almost instantly been split in two, with four of us and two assistant guides in the first group, and the rest further behind. The near full moon illuminated the barren landscape with an eerie glow, and I felt that I almost didn’t need my headlamp at all.
The freezing air numbed my face as we began hiking up the first steep rise, and as we zig-zagged our way up the rocky terrain, I realised that I was wearing way too many layers. My leg movement was restricted too much, causing me to work harder on the climb, and I was starting to sweat. This wasn’t a good sign, so when we finally stopped for a short break, I took the opportunity to quickly take off my waterproof pants and unzip my outer jacket.
As we trekked on, the terrain stayed fairly steep as expected, and as we passed 5000m I could finally start to really feel the effects of the altitude. It was getting hard to breathe, I was feeling weak and the pressure in my head was building up. Drinking water was the last thing that I felt like doing, but I forced myself to do it anyway. Just taking a mouthful of water took my breath away.
I could now move much more freely, but I was still exhausted, and as we continued to slowly gain altitude, it just got worse and worse. My legs were weak, my head was throbbing and I felt dizzy and nauseous. At times, I felt that I was going to topple back down the mountain. At this altitude and on the steep scree terrain, every step is hard work.
I kept looking up at the lights above me, and they seemed to stretch on forever. The top of the crater rim never seemed to get any closer and this dampened my spirits even more. I had to tell myself to stop looking up, and instead just focus on the person’s feet in front of me. “Just focus on taking one step at a time. Every step get’s you closer to the summit”.
My head pounded, my legs were wobbly, my face was numb from the cold, my nose was running and I felt like throwing up, but I just kept on going. Our guides told me that this was perfectly normal, and when we eventually stopped for a second rest break, I collapsed on a rock next to some compacted snow, and Fredrick, our guide said “Don’t think about the mountain”. And all I could say was “….but we’re on the mountain!“. He was right though. This was a mental battle just as much as it was physical. My mind was playing games with me. I had to stop worrying about the top of the mountain and just focus on putting one foot in front of the other.
This continued on for what seemed like forever. The terrain alternated between lose rocky scree and compacted snow. It was tough going, and most of the time I was relying on my walking poles to keep me upright. Our guides were fantastic and patient, constantly encouraging us and pushing us on, and as the glow of the first light of day came into view in the east, they pointed to where we were headed. Stella Point was in sight! I could now see where I had to go, and now I finally had a sense of hope. I was going to make it.
With our first goal now in sight, I trudged on, now having to stop every few metres to rest. My legs protested, my head ached and my mind was dizzy, but I slowly kept climbing.Then, just as the sun began to rise, I found myself on flat ground. I had made it to Stella Point! I was now standing on the rim of the crater at 5739m.
I was exhausted and ready to collapse on the ground, but I couldn’t. The sight before me prevented me from doing so. The dawn broke on the mountain, illuminating the ice and snow on the rocky summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. This was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen in my life.
The hardest part was now over, and I now only had a short walk to Uhuru Peak – the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. The snow covered trail wasn’t very steep, but at this altitude I had to stop every few metres to catch my breath. I was exhausted, but with a renewed spirit from my successful climb and the absolutely stunning sights around me, I was ready to trek on and make it to Uhuru Peak.
Every time I stopped to catch my breath, I got to look out at some of the most beautiful scenery I have seen in my life. The morning sun lit up the snow covered peak, and huge glaciers tumbled down the mountain all around me. Far below, a fluffy blanket of cloud stretched out as far as the eye could see.
The short trek to the summit seemed to go on forever with my slow pace, but eventually, I could see the sign that marked the highest point as well as a gathering of trekkers around it. Slowly, I walked up to the sign, congratulating my fellow trekkers on the way. We had all made it to the top of Africa. I was now standing at Uhuru Peak at 5895m. I had conquered the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro!
Due to the altitude, we couldn’t stay long at the summit, and when we made it back to Stella Point, the rest of our G Adventures group was there resting and about to walk to Uhuru Peak. We had all made it to the top of Africa!
Now, with a great sense of accomplishment, I had to begin the huge descent back down the mountain, and as I stumbled down the scree slope, I reflected on how much of a challenge climbing this mountain was. This was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. Kilimanjaro will forever be etched into my soul, and for that, I am now much stronger than I have ever been before.
Mount Kilimanjaro Adventure Series
- Machame Gate to Machame Hut
- Trekking to Shira Plateau
- The Lava Tower and the Great Barranco Valley
- The Great Barranco Wall to Barafu Camp
- Conquering the Summit