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Embedded Photos: 1-2.Sunrise at Barranco Camp3.Sunset at Barafu4.Barafu Camp5.My Tent6.Sunrise near Summit7.Uhuru Peak8.Summit Glaciers
Two Years & Twice Around the World...  



August 27. MT. KILIMANJARO - Day Five - THE BIG CLIMB  I had been well awake since before 11:00.  By the time 12:30 rolled around I started to feel anxious to get moving.  I hadn't exactly slept much since we arrived at the campsite but I was feeling well rested.  Most of the otherClimbing Kilimanjaro, Tanzania groups had already started towards the summit and I could see a trail of lights zigzagging up the mountain.   It was an exceptionally clear night and with a three-quarter full moon the sky was quite bright.  The weather had calmed the wind was still.  Aside from the snow that fell earlier in the evening I couldn't have asked for better conditions.  

To arm myself against the cold I was layered with nearly everything in my backpack. On my legs I had a pair of silk long johns, my waterproof rain pants, and the insulated overalls I had borrowed from the trekking company. On the top I had a silk undershirt, a nylon turtleneck, a synthetic North Face shirt, my fleece jacket, all stuffed under the overalls, and finally the thin down jacket from Kili Crown.  On my head I just had a synthetic cap, on my hands I had a heavy pair of wool gloves, and on my feet I had two pairs of socks.  My toes could still wiggle but it was a snug fit.  In my daypack I carried my camelback full of water, a bottle of juice, some biscuits, an extra pair of Rob's gloves, my rain jacket, and the cotton skirt I had bought in Zanzibar that was going to serve as a scarf.  

When we started off at about 12:40 my muscles were initially reluctant to get going but after a steep ascent up the first cluster of rocks I was feeling warm and my legs had relaxed into a comfortable rhythm.  The Spaniards had started about a half hour ahead of us but we caught up with them and slowly passed.  After the rocky start the trail leveled out and it was easy climbing for a while.  We passed a couple of other small groups and kept up a steady pace.  As the trail grew steeper we maintained and even pace, stopping ever once in a while for a quick drink.  The sky was beautiful, the stars went on forever, and we could see the lights from Moshi staring up at us from below.  The thin blanket of snow never got thick and actually turned out to be an asset.  The dry cornstarch snow made for easier traction and with the bright moon reflecting against the white it was easier to see the traClimbing Kilimanjaro, Tanzaniail. As the moon rose it became unnecessary to use the headlamp.    

By the time we reached about 5100-5200 meters the trail had turned into loosely defined rocky switchbacks that were slowly making their way up the mountain.  I could look up and see the groups that were well ahead of us, little dots of lights inching along in the darkness.  The air was getting colder.  I had taken my gloves off at the beginning but finally found it cold enough to put them back on.  My head also started to hurt, my stomach was aching, and my energy was waning.  I thought the effects of altitude were finally bearing down on me until I realized that my headache was due to my head being too cold.  I stopped and put my rain jacket on under the coat.  I wrapped the black skirt around my head and pulled the rain hood over the top to keep it in place.  It took a while but my head started to warm up and the headache went away.  But, I was still feeling at a loss for energy and my stomach was hurting from hunger.  I was cursing myself for not having forced more of the pasty noodles down at dinner.  The PowerBars weren't a lasting source of energy.  I loosened the elastic on my pants and my stomach started to feel better a bit better.  

The steepness of the trail was relentless and I never regained my energy.  We stopped a couple of times and I drank some juice but the tube from my camelback was sticking straight out like a Popsicle over my shoulder, frozen solid.  It was difficult to keep hydrated.  It felt good to stop from time to time but David started to object because he couldn't keep warm.  The cold that had been my biggest worry wasn't affecting my that much.  My feet were warm enough and even after sitting for a few moments I could maintain my body heat.  But, it was better to keep moving.  There was still a long way to go.  I occasionally looked at the altimeter but progress was starting to feel slow.   

We passed a smaller group of Americans a couple of times.  They were having problems with their one guide who didn't seem to be able to handle his altitude.  One of the guys was trying to get the guide to stop his erratic dancing and irrational behavior.  We could hear him yelling periodically but it was a difficult situation.  They couldn't send the guy down and he just wasn't able to make the climb.  The last time I saw them they were huddled in the crack of a large rock, protecting themselves from the cold.  At that point they were just hoping to see the sunrise before having to begin their descent.  For all of the complaints that I had about my lonely trip I had to feel fortunate that my guide was  competent.  It was rather boring to just slog along by myself but at least I had a better chance of making it to the top.  Climbing Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Eventually the sporadic rocky landscape gave way to just dirt.  Sunrise was still a ways off and I was feeling awfully tired, very hungry, and incredibly thirsty.  The moon was on its way down so the sky was getting darker.  My head was getting cold again so I asked David if he could hold a flashlight on the trail, like I had seen several other guides doing.   I didn't want the headlamp adding to the discomfort.  He was rather testy about it and it turned out that his knit gloves didn't protect him well against the cold metal of the flashlight.  I retrieved Rob's gloves from my backpack and told him to put them on.   Rob's gloves looked much thinner but with the Thinsulate lining David's hands warmed up again.   He seemed surprised that such thin gloves could be so warm.  Aside from the glove problem he looked adequately prepared and had just returned from a climb the day before we started.  I kept asking him if he was warm enough and he said "yes" but he couldn't keep warm long if we stopped. The gear worn by the guides and porters was all used and certainly less robust than what the muzungu came equipped with for their climb.  

As the morning wore on I could feel my motivation start to fade.  I told David that maybe we could just stop at Stella Point, on the rim of crater, still some distance away, but he kept urging me to go for the top. It did seem silly not to go all of the way after making this ridiculous attempt in the first place but the logic behind the whole thing was starting to seem weak.  It was definitely a tremendous physical challenge but the greater challenge was mental. Just how bad did I want to stand on the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro?  As I shuffled along - hungry, thirsty and tired - I kept asking myself that question but wasn't coming up with a solid answer.  Camaraderie with other people always helped when pursuing irrational goals.  I didn't have that.  My love of mountains wasn't driven so much by bagging summits as it was in the pleasure of the scenery.  With the moon going down there was less and less to look at on Kilimanjaro.  Still, something that I couldn't quite put my finger on kept urging me along and David, doing what a good guide should do, urged as well.  He knew how I didn't like the Spaniards and when they started to come into view behind us, inching along like a geriatric army, he egged me on to reach the top before they did.

About 50 meters below Stella Point the sky started to lighten and we stopped briefly to watched the sun break out over the horizon.  I took time to drink some juice and chClimbing Kilimanjaro, Tanzaniaoke down some dry biscuits.  They helped a little bit but the final scramble to the ridge at Stella Point was a defeating experience.  I tried to put on some sunscreen but it was useless. The tube was frozen.  With every step up my foot would slide backwards in the soft ground.  There wasn't really anything resembling a trail at this point, just a final destination in sight at the top.  I had to stop every twenty feet or so and take a few breathes, telling myself that it wasn't much further.  More and more I was feeling satisfied with just making it to the ridge.  I made a couple of runs at the mountain that just left me totally zapped of energy and not much farther along for the effort.  When I finally reached the top I met a British couple and there was that instant kinship people feel in just having gone through something horrible.  He turned to me and said "That is the worst thing I have ever done!".  I had to agree.  The woman was quite sick from the altitude so they were stopping there.   David pointed to the summit of Kilimanjaro.  The remaining climb looked deceptively easy after what I had just completed so I sucked it up and said "Okay, let's go."

After a brief rest I kept moving along the ridge.  The trail ascent wasn't steep in comparison to Stella Point but I had no energy left.  I wasn't feeling cold, my head didn't hurt, and my hunger pains were gone, but my mouth was pasty from dehydration and my will was very thin.  Every twenty or thirty feet I sat for a break.  The altitude was making it  difficult to take deep breaths.  If I moved slow I was okay but the progress was defeating.  With our late start David was starting to worry about the weather turning sour so when were about a 100 meters from the top he hooked arms with me and we walked along more quickly.  When I started breathing very heavily we stopped.  He did it a second time and we were up and over the highest point.  I could see the sign that marked Mt. Kilimanjaro's summit at the end of the ridge and, with my eyes fixed, I just kept moving.  When we reached the end I didn't waste any time pulling out my camera.  I took a photo of the sign.  David took a photo of me.  I took a photo of him. Then, we turned to leave.

Before we left the final point I quickly snapped some more photos for posterity.  It seemed such a shame not to document the event with more than just a few photos.  We were too far away to see much below the mountain but the glaciers were stunning.  With a deep breath I turned my back on the sign and started back down the mountain. What remained of the Spaniards were just coming up the hill.  There were only about seven out of their seventeen.  We passed one of their guides farther down, the one who had been very friendly to me during the climb. He was walking with one of the women.  David stopped for a moment to talk with him. The woman became restless and asked, in Spanish, how much farther to the top. Neither David or her guide could understand her so I translated. She wouldn't look me in the eyes.  

As we started to lose altitude David asked if I felt better.  Quite truthfully, I didn't.  I was just so hungry, tired and thirsty.  He gave me time to rest back at Stella Point but I failed to get anything close to a second wind.  Eventually I decided I just wanted to get the day over with and we started to slide our way down the mountain.  If the last scramble to Stella Point had been a test of my little hiking shoes, the long sliding descent pushed them beyond their limit. It didn't take long before my toes started to hurt.  I should have thought to take off my second layer of socks, and it might have helped, but I was too dazed.  My toenails were cut short but it didn't matter.  The constant ramming of my toeClimbing Kilimanjaro, Tanazanias into the end of my shoes just became more and more painful.  I rested from time to time but it didn't matter much.  David wanted me to move faster but I just pushed back.  We still had time to make our new camp that day.  Any plans to go all of the way to the bottom gate were already shattered in my mind. My feet wouldn't make it that far.  

The Spaniards started to pass me on the descent, skiing along in their heavy hiking boots.  I played leapfrog with them for a while before just letting them move ahead.  Their second guide was urging me to go faster, like it was any of his business.  I think David must have been complaining about not being able to get back to Moshi that day.  I just shrugged.  After all, it was my climb.   My descent was slow but my climb was within the target timeframe.  I didn't feel any need to make myself miserable.  The guide offered David and I some peanuts.  I tried to say "no" but they both looked shocked, knowing that I was hungry.  So, I threw some into my mouth and, just as I expected, hardly any of them made it down. Instead the total lack of saliva just made them stick to the sides of my mouth in an unpleasant film.   At the end of all of the dirt sliding there was a short hike uphill and then we went back down the same rocky slope we started up in the morning.  When I reached the bottom of the slope I sat down on a nearby rock.  

David looked antsy and I was relishing some time to myself so I told him to go on ahead.  The tents were within view.  He told me I should rest in my tent.  I looked over to the campsite and saw the whole hoard of Spanish sitting on the rocks next to my tent.  The noise they made carried all of the way to where we were sitting.  I didn't say anything but gave David an insistent look and told him I was going to rest for a bit on my own.  He eyed the Spanish and decided not to push it any further.  As he made he way towards the campsite I noticed Sefir coming my way.  They passed and exchange words but then Sefir kept coming.  It was an incredibly kind gesture, to bring me a bottle of juice.  I was very thirsty but now that the whole ordeal was over my desire for peaceful solitude was greater than the desire to quench my thirst.  By the time he arrived I had taken off one pair of socks which relieved my toes a little bit.  I expected him to give me the bottle and return to camp but, instead, he stood next to me like a dedicated little soldier and refilled my cup every time I emptied it.  After a few cups I felt the urge to scream so I just gave up and started back to camp.  

By the time I got back the Spanish were getting packed up to go.  I had a few moments of peace inside my tent while Safir served me some soup.  My nose felt encrusted with gunk so I pulled out a mirror for the first time since Moshi.  When I saw my face I was shocked. My complexion was red and splotchy.  Every blemish I'd ever had seemed to be radiating like a scar.  Blood vessels were bulging in the circles of my eyes.  On the apples of my checks there were puffy purple bags.  When I touched tClimbing Kilimanjaro, Tanzaniahem wiggled like they were full of water.  I pushed my skin around and the purple turned red, then white.  I also noticed other odd white circles on my cheeks and started to wonder if this was some odd effect from taking the Doxycycline.  I hadn't taken my pill the night before because it increases sensitivity to the sun but I had been on it for over two months already.  I felt a twinge of panic but tried not to think about it and told myself I just need some rest. Before long we had to break camp for the next group that was arriving.   

Hiking down after making a summit like Kilimanjaro can be very anti-climactic.  With the throbbing of my bruised toes it wasn't much fun.  The scenery did start to change back into lush green surroundings but I was rather unenthusiastic.  In retrospect I wish I had taken some photos but just didn't have the gumption. The trees were densely packed and covered the lower part of the mountain like a blanket.  It was unlike any of the vegetation we had hiked through on the way up.  David knew I was uncomfortable and tried to stop a couple of times but I told him there wasn't much point.  It wasn't unbearable and it would only get better once I was done with the day.  I just winced with each step and wondered how long it would take for my tone nails to grow back, a fairly common hiking affliction.  

As the day dragged on I started to reflect on the whole Kilimanjaro experience again.  It had been a particularly rigorous 24 hours.  Overall I had faired pretty well, better than I had ever expected after months of sitting in overland trucks, on beaches, and in safari vehicles, but I was feeling increasing doubt about the whole purpose of making the climb.  It had been severely unpleasant at times and the end result was somehow less than I expected.  I had to deal with an obnoxious tour group for five days.  I hadn't slept very well. The food had been pretty bad.  My feet hurt.  I was starving and tired. And, I may have permanently done damage to my face with the intense sun exposure.  Why, exactly, did I want to do this?  The answer was escaping me.  

By the time we reached the new camp I was on the verge of losing all patience.  For well over an hour we had been able to hear voices from the camp, echoing across the valley, but it seemed to take forever to actually get there.  David promised that my tent would be apart from the Spanish so I could sleep but when I arrived it had already erected right in the middle of their enclave.  I felt too tired to have it moved and just crawled inside to lie down but the high pitched chatter of the Spaniards from all sides rousted me from the tent with some new found vigor.  They found a more isolated place for my tent in the campsite on the other side of the trail.  I settled inClimbing Kilimanjaro, Tanzania quickly and waited for dinner.  For some unknown reason they served up another starch bomb of rice and beans.  With only a short hike to go the following day I don't know what they were thinking.  They were gluttons for punishment if they wanted to carry all of this heavy food up and down the side of the mountain.  I drank all of my soup and played with the rice and beans before setting it outside my tent.  

I was all wrapped up in my sleeping back and ready to crash when David came knocking on my tent.  He danced around things a bit with how the day went and how I was feeling but ultimately got to his purpose.  He wanted to discuss their tips.  Having talked to many Kili climbers I was ready for the topic to arise but couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed.  I didn't take David for the type to harass me for tips before the trip was over.  But, in any case, I was prepared. I didn't have the tip money on me, deliberately.  I told him we couldn't get all of the money from the ATM before the trip so we would just have to sort it all out in Moshi at the end.  He probed again, wanting to know how much they could expect.  I pushed back politely and said we would sort it out in Moshi.  He broached it again, making a case for why they wanted to know ahead of time since some hikers apparently didn't know about the tipping, etc... I told him I was well up on the whole tip thing, having talked to many climbers in Moshi, and that they shouldn't worry.  That finally seemed to put it to rest.  I took one last look at my puffy face in the mirror.  To my dismay, there wasn't much improvement.   I put the mirror back and crashed.

Day Five Stats:

Barafu Camp - Uhuru Peak - Barafu Camp - Mweka Camp

Altitude Change: 4580m - 5896m = 1316m (peak)

5896m - 3073m = (2823)

Walking Time: 12:40a - 8:55a (peak) = 8h 15m

9:00a - (15m break/2h lunch) - 5:50p = 6h 35m

Total = 14h 50m

ZANZIBAR Stone Town July 11 July 12-14 Nungwi July 15-18 Stone Town I: July 19-23 II: July 19-23 Paje July 23-27 Stone Town July 27-Aug 1

TANZANIA Dar Es Salaam Aug 1-3 Moshi I: Aug 3-31 II: Aug 3-31 III: Aug 3-31 Safari Circuit Aug 17 Aug 18 Aug 19 Aug 20 Aug 21 Mt. Kilimanjaro Aug 23 Aug 24 Aug 25 Aug 26 Aug 27 Aug 28

KENYA Nairobi Sept 1 Sept 2 Sept 3 Sept 4-5

UGANDA Kampala Sept 6 Sept 7-16 Kampala Short Stories

RWANDA Kigali Sept 16 Sept 17 Ruhengeri Sept 18 Sept 19 Gisenyi Sept 20 Kigali Sept 21 Sept 22

UGANDA Kampala Sept 23 Sept 24-26