This is the second part of my hike on Kilimanjaro. Find out what happened before, here.
I’m right in the middle of one of the most challenging hikes I’ve ever done. Uhuru Peak (the top of Kilimanjaro) is 20km ahead of me, and so is Marangu Gate (the entrance to this hiking route). Last night my right knee was giving signs of “no-go,” but now, after a relatively good (yet cold) night’s rest everything is back to normal – painless. For now, at least.
The morning starts with the same routine as yesterday, and the walk follows the same pattern, only with less talking – much less talking. Altitude is slowly creeping its way on us. We drink more water, we lose our breath faster, and we tire quicker. So far no serious altitude sickness on any of us.
Our surrounding no longer looks like anything recognizable as an African environment. It looks more like a foreign planet, and we are here to conquer it. We are definitely on a volcanic mountain, and we are too high for any plants to grow and survive. Only a few mountain rodents and birds are seen now and then.
By about 4 pm we reach our camp, have a quick dinner, and immediately go to bed to take a nap, rather than sleep. We still have more walking to do today – the hardest part of the whole hike. The last 1,200m in height and the steepest terrain.
Day 3 ½ and 4
10pm… We all wake up tired and groggy, have a quick snack, and get ready to hike again by 11 pm. This is it. The last run. The challenge.
The reason for hiking overnight is to be able to reach Uhuru Peak by sunrise and to enjoy it from the top of Africa. But, this is an immense challenge as these last 10km are the steepest, coldest, and hardest part of the trail – and we only have seven hours to do them. Sure, 10km in seven hours sounds easy – but not on Kili, not on this terrain.
We start hiking as a group, accompanied by our porters for any assistance we might need. We are quiet and exhausted and the porters know that, so they start singing cheering songs in Swahili. Among those, the Kilimanjaro song:
Jambo. Jambo bwana. Habarigani. Mzurisana. Wageni, mwakaribishwa. Kilimanjaro, hakuna matata.
(“Hello. Hello men. How are you? Very fine. Tourist, you are welcome. Kilimanjaro, no problem.”)
I have to say their cheerful singing works! It’s a little spark of energy that makes me want to keep going. Also, hiking with a group has been very helpful for me, psychologically at least, since I want to keep up with them and I want to reach the top – as a group. There’s no room here to quit, at least not for me. Oh, and the knee? Still quiet… thanks God!
The path, only lit by our headlamps on this moonless night, zigzags up the endless mountain. We are recommended not to look up. I look up, but seriously, there’s absolutely nothing to see. Not even the faintest outline of a mountain. I’m hiking up to nothingness.
We take 5 minutes rest stops once per hour. I feel like I need them more than once per hour, but I keep the pace, not stopping, and waiting for the scheduled stop to drop dead.
I’m dressed with five layers on the bottom half and seven on the top. I feel warm enough, especially when walking. But my hands; oh my hands! I have them out the whole time handling the walking poles, but my two pairs of gloves have nothing against the -10 degrees Celsius temperature. They are freezing! It’s time to ask for help; and help I get from one of the porters who trades his gloves with me. They warm my hands a bit.
The water in my daypack is starting to freeze. I drink as often as possible to keep the water flowing – thus not freezing as quick. But, I don’t want to run out of water, so I drink not more than the necessary.
The group is no longer hiking together. While some are still walking as a group, some have stayed behind, due to altitude sickness, and some are walking at a slower pace to make sure they get to the top.
After about five hours of hiking, a porter asks me again (for the third time now) if I want help with my daypack. This time I say yes. I have already slipped a few times on the steep rocky path, and while my body is walking in “automatic” (giving steps without any though on the action or even looking where I’m stepping), I’m finding it harder to reach the rest stops. Liberat, the porter, takes my daypack and we both continue.
While not having my daypack is helping in a way, it put another challenge on my path.
My water froze.
Luckily, in my backpack, I’m also carrying a small 20oz bottle inside a sock (for insulation). That will do, partially, since it’s not enough water.
A few of us reach Gilman’s point, about 200m below the summit, and we start seeing the first rays of sunlight. The sun is slowly waking up from behind the mountains on the horizon.
There is something rich about reaching Gilman’s Point. The hardest part is over, and it is a sign that you are almost there!
The mountain is now covered with snow on most parts, and thankfully there’s no wind today (otherwise the wind chill would have made this walk even more strenuous).
It’s a race with the sun, and there’s no clue who will win. In the distance, I can now see the shape of the sign that crowns Uhuru Peak. It is all I need to get a boost of energy. My tired body speeds its pace, and the cold doesn’t bother me as much. It’s the adrenaline.
I reach the top, just in time as the sun makes its entrance. It’s a tie. Part of the group is already here, and part is still behind.
Dave, Hugh, Ryan, Vik, Matt, Laura, and I make it to the top by sunrise.
Right when I arrive Matt says, “You made it! How do you feel?”
“Great and miserable at the same time!”, are the only words I utter, with a smile.
I watch the sunrise and tear up a bit. My tears not only come from watching the sunrise, but also from the fact that I just made it to the top of Kilimanjaro! It is the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen.
We celebrate for a while, take pictures, and not long after we start hiking again.
What goes up, must go down; and the path is the same.
Walking down the steepness of the mountain is easier, though painful on the knees. At points, we run down the mountain –like gravel skiing– to ease the shock on our knees.
Now, what lies ahead of us are two days of backtracking, a lot of happy and adventurous stories to be shared between us, and a good celebration dinner in the end.
I have conquered Kili. Now I wonder, which one will be next?
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