June 22, 2015 – Mandara Hut to Horombo Hut
Last night wasn’t too bad – I was very warm and only had to get up to use the restroom once. I woke up well before the alarm went off this morning, thanks to a flatulent symphony in the hut. I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I pulled out a granola bar to snack on, but the wrapper was deafening, so instead I just stared at it with hungry eyes and waited for all my new friends to wake up.
Today was a much longer uphill hike than yesterday, but the weather was perfect and we finally got our first glimpse of Kilimanjaro! We also learned that Mount Kilimanjaro is a stratovolcano made up of three volcanic cones, Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira. The terrain changed drastically, from rainforest to the extremely dry moorland. We walked for close to eight hours before arriving at Horombo Huts. When we turned back for a visual of the day’s walk, all we could see were a blanket of clouds.
The guys and the gals were split up into two different a-frame structures and after we claimed our bunks, the guides took us on a short acclimatization walk. We were still out when the sun went down and the temperature dropped significantly, but the porters served some incredible beef and veggie curry stew that warmed me right up. I helped myself to a second serving, then went to put my comfy pants on and go to bed. Then I remembered the horrors of the previous night and mourned the loss of those comfy pants.
June 23, 2015 – Horombo Hut to Kibo Hut
I didn’t have to get up for the restroom once last night! We had another early start since we have to get to Kibo Hut with plenty of time to eat, sleep and rest before we begin the midnight summit.
The hike today was a stead uphill climb and about halfway through the day I started to feel a minor headache – I can’t tell if it’s from the altitude or the fact that I’ve had “Hey now, hey now, Jackamo fee nah nay” looping through my head for the last six hours.
We had an early meal while some of the group blasted tunes from The Lion King to get pumped up. My nerves are starting to kick in. I’m not sure what to expect, since I’ve never gone so high in such a short amount of time, but I’m still very excited. Standing on top of Kilimanjaro has been a goal of mine for so long and by sunrise tomorrow, I’ll have it checked off the list.
June 24, 2015 – Summit Uhuru Peak
Holy cow hard.
Last night I fell fast asleep while visions of Kili danced in my head, but woke up after two hours feeling hot and light headed. I drifted in and out of sleep for the rest of night, anxious to get on up that mountain. And let me tell you a little something about altitude gas: it is real and it is potent. There is not enough room in Tanzania for all of the gas that was expelled in Kibo Hut last night.
The guides woke us up at 11:00 PM to start getting ready and by midnight we were out the door. It was pitch black, so there was an overwhelming view of the stars and rows of headlamps scattered around the mountain. The air was extremely cold, but manageable with constant movement.
I felt great for the first twenty minutes, thinking the whole thing would be a piece of cake. Then, my head started pounding. While I was trying to focus on putting one foot in front of the other, my brain was pulsating, dancing to the rave dropping beats in my skull. I was miserable. I could no long stand the pressure of my headlamp, so I put it in my pocket and followed closely behind one of the guides.
The way up was steep and slippery with lava rocks. We stopped every half hour to sit and rest, but I learned quickly that that only made me feel worse. Noticing my struggle, one of the guides took me ahead, allowing me to continue while everyone else stopped. I matched him step for step, and when the monotony lured me to into a mid-step slumber, he would tap my shoulder and remind me that I had a mountain to climb.
This unenjoyable uphill lasted for about six hours before I saw the sign for Gillman’s Point. Once there was physical proof of progress, I got a second wind. We made it Gillman’s Point just before the first rays of sunlight, then continued the walk to Uhuru Peak. On our way, we stopped, briefly, to watch that glorious fireball come up behind Mawenzi Peak.
I tried to take in my surroundings, but the throbbing in my head made my vision blurry. I only vaguely remember glancing at Furtwangler Glacier and couldn’t even begin to tell you what else is visible from the highest point in Africa. My final steps to the summit were slow and weak, but they got me all the way to my 19,341 ft destination, Uhuru Peak. I stood in front of the sign for Uhuru with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes. I was thrilled to be standing on the highest peak on the roof of Africa, but desperate to descend.
The trek back down to Kibo Hut took a mere two hours and involved sliding down the lava rock in a sort of skiing motion. It was a blast! Back at Kibo, I fell into my sleeping bag and napped until lunch. Left to my own devices, I probably would have slept for another month, but we still had 3-4 more hours of walking. Fortunately, it was all downhill to Horombo Hut.
June 25, 2015 – Back to Marangu
This morning we were up early so we could get down the mountain before lunch. Before we left Horombo Huts, our guides and porters made a big circle around the group to sing a Swahili song about tourists climbing the mountain. It was beautiful and I obviously cried.
The walk down was quick, but all that downhill really got the knees aching and the toenails testing out their fight or flight response. In the rainforest, we passed under a family of cheeky blue monkeys who refused to stay still long enough for a picture. Finally, we made it to the first, or in this case, last gate. Our time on Kilimanjaro was over and I was thrilled.
The group piled into a bus and in no time, we had made it to Kibo Hotel, right back where we started this journey a few long days ago. We all took turns waiting for the water to heat up so we could take showers. It’s amazing how a few days without running water really changes your perspective on the luxuries of a first world country.
We spent our last night together reminiscing about a successful summit and sharing future endeavors. We exchanged contact information, but tomorrow will likely be the last time I ever see any of them. These strangers became my new best friends on Kilimanjaro, but tomorrow I’ll join another group and make even newer best friends on safari. I can’t wait!