Mama Loves Snow
Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
By Kevin Foley
Two days ago we took a taxi to the town of Moshi, Tanzania. It’s a typical, rundown African town, but it lies at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro and is therefore the town that most climbs start from. We rolled into town on a dusty afternoon with no reservations for a climb, never mind any hotel reservations. I had done a bit of research before I left on my trip and, combining it with conversations that I had with a number of people in Arusha (including climbers, business owners and other tour operators), I decided that Zara (www.zaratravel.com) was one of the top companies to do a climb with – taking into consideration experience, service and price. So I found out their address in Moshi, showed up at the gates of their private hotel, and told them that we wanted to start a hike four days from now. After a bit of confusion – I don’t think many people just show up at the gates of their hotel in the middle of this remote African town and say “hey, can I hike this hill?” – we had a room and were on the list to hike the Machame Route (a.k.a., the Whiskey Route – as opposed to the easier Marangu Route, a.k.a., the Coca Cola Route) leaving tomorrow, the 13th of February. It ended up being a very good thing that we had 3 days to unwind before the hike, as I started getting another bout of the stomach flu I had at Lake Malawi… actually it’s a bug that most people on our truck had (four had to go to the hospital to get checked for Malaria – none had it – and two had to have IV’s because they refused to drink water, which resulted in a serious case of dehydration… both were doctors in training, go figure). Talking with people at the hotel, I found out that many of the climbers also had the bug as well… the symptoms sound similar to the bad flu that affected much of the USA this winter.
Basically the last three days have consisted of rest, preparation, and listening to tales of heroin feats by climbers who have just returned from the mountain.
It appears that we’re in for far more than we expected, as it looks like most people didn’t make it to the top, even if they trained for 6 months prior to getting here. When we told everyone about our pre-hike training (Eric and I stopped drinking 10 days ago… that’s it, nothing more, excepting sitting on a truck all day or laying in a hammock), we received a few shakes of the head, a couple of sighs, quite a bit of laughs, and more than few ‘huh?’ looks. I think they’re all taking bets against us, but whatever, I’m still confident that I’ll make it to the top. How hard can it really be anyway?
Kilimanjaro – Day 1
Kilimanjaro, a word meaning ‘Mountain of Greatness’. And that it is. Today began the trek that I’ve dreamt about for the past several years. It’s an adventure that has been pulling at my very being since I first saw a film documentary about this mighty mountain four or five years ago. It’s a pull that I could no longer ignore and thus, has been the main motivator behind my decision to come to Africa.
For years now I’ve longed to take on a challenge of this magnitude, a physically grueling endeavor that not only pushes my body to the limit, but also puts my mental stamina to the ultimate of tests. As I first watched the film of Kilimanjaro, sitting on the edge of my seat in that dark movie theatre, I knew I found my challenge: an attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa and the biggest freestanding mountain in the world.
Rising up to 19,320 feet, Kilimanjaro’s mighty mass and snowcapped peak dominate the skyline for miles beyond its impressive base. Staring up the mountainside and gazing at the glaciers glowing in the first light of morning, I wondered if the sunrise as viewed from the summit would be as beautiful as the legends claimed. “Five days,” I told myself. “Five long days and you will stand on the roof of Africa to witness it firsthand.”
After packing the minibus under the watchful shadow of the massive, dormant volcano that lurked behind us, we started on our hour long journey that would take us through the town of Moshi, several massive coffee plantations, and a number of small villages that can be found all along the lush base of Kilimanjaro. With our goal being the staging area several thousand feet up Kilimanjaro’s base, we settled in for the long ride, introducing ourselves to the people we would be spending the next six days with and sharing a mutual nervousness. Tensions were high on the bus, but it was that wonderful feeling you can only get before one of life’s great adventures. It’s that rare mixture of anticipation and apprehension, the stomach turning injection of adrenaline, the clash that exists in one’s mind between doubt and confidence and has you second guessing your decisions, and the pent-up excitement that comes with the realization that a thrilling, deep-rooted dream is about to come true.
In all, there were six climbers on the bus; Eric and myself, two staunched faced German guys in their late 30′s who had been training religiously for this trek for the past six months, and two super nice, but questionably athletic girls who just finished their medical residency training at a hospital in New York City. Packed into the bus along with the six of us, was a massive amount of food and equipment, and a support staff of 19 locals, including three guides, three assistant guides, and thirteen porters for the six of us. As we chatted, we all started to realize the massive undertaking that we were getting involved in. This was no day hike up a backyard mountain. This was serious business. Eric and I figured the German guys would make it to the top exactly on schedule – and without breaking a smile – but we weren’t quite sure about the girls. We figured we’d give them the benefit of the doubt and save our judgment until we saw them in action on the trail a bit.
In a typical African fashion that I have become so used to over the past three months, or perhaps it was the Friday the 13th curse, our little bus that couldn’t decided to give up halfway to the Machame gates, the staging area were we would start our trek. Seeing the driveshaft lying on the street behind us, we got off the bus and made ourselves comfortable on the side of the road for what I knew would be a long wait. The two New York girls took the delay in stride, but the Germans, predictably, paced nervously back and forth along the side of the road as this threw off their finely tuned schedule.
After a good hour of waiting, a Land Rover finally showed up to take us the rest of the way. As we were about to climb in, Eric rolled his eyes and pointed at the words painted on the side of the door. “International Tuberculosis and Leprosy Research Foundation,” he said. “The mountain may not have a chance to kill us after all.” Only in Africa.
After finally making it to the staging area, we did a final gear check, packed our day packs and went to sign in at the Nation Park Registration Station. All checked in, we started our trek by entering a deep, lush forest. In an instant, our life went from semi-civilization to a steep, narrow, and winding trail cut into the thick forest that instantly blocked the view of both the sun and any evidence of mankind.
“Polie, Polie,” were the first words that our guide Gabriel taught us as we got underway. “Polie, Polie,” he said, were Swahili for slowly, slowly. It was a saying we would hear over and over throughout the day. “Polie, Polie. Save your energy for the next five days.” Slowly, slowly we did. Plotting one foot in front of the other in a painfully deliberate manner, we push through the forest.
Within an hour of starting the hike, the forest turned into a dense rainforest. Thick with moss that blanked the trees from trunk to branch and choked with vines that hung as if waiting for Tarzan to swing by, the rainforest gave off an eerie feeling that was both creepy and fascinating at the same time. Up we chugged, polie, polie, one foot, then the next. One moment the sun shinned hard on the jungle trees and baked us with the hot, humid air that collected under the thick canopy roof. The next moment it rained like we were smack in the heart of a major typhoon, as a passing cloud hit the side of the mountain and released its moisture in a fury that clearly demonstrated its annoyance with being held up.
Four hours and 45 minutes after first stepping on the trail, we broke through the rainforest and the landscape changed dramatically. We were literally in thick jungle conditions and in a matter of just a few feet, we were walking in a scraggly forest of weak trees and sturdy bush that shared no resemblance whatsoever to where we had just been. As I was to find out, this dramatic change marked our entrance into the second of five distinct climate zones that we would encounter. The first being the Rainforest zone and this one being the Heath zone, which started at about 10,000 feet.
A hundred feet later we arrived at our first camp, the Machame camp. The porters and cooks, who had blown past us several hours earlier carrying bags on their heads that weighted 3-4 times what we were carrying (and chain smoking cigarettes to boot), had already set up our tents and immediately brought us a well needed bowl of hot water for washing down. As clean as we were going to get for the next six days, they then sat us in a tent with tables, chairs, freshly popped popcorn and steaming hot tea. It was a God send after the long, yet not overly difficult hike.
As the sun was setting, not long after a plain, but edible beef and potato soup dinner, the clouds finally broke up on the summit just long enough for us to see our goal, Uhuru peak, the highest point on Mount Kilimanjaro. As beautiful as it was, it was still a long, long way to the top from here.
Night came quickly after that, along with a steep drop in temperature. After a great day of hiking, I decided to call it an early night and climbed into my sleeping bag just after sunset. Rest while I can, I figured, for who knows what the next five days will bring.
Kilimanjaro – Day 2
I’m lying in my tent right now. It is 2:00 in the afternoon and I’m waiting out a nasty thunder storm that just rolled up the side of the mountain and brought in heavy rains and pea size hail stones. Thankfully we made it to our second night’s camp, Shira Camp at 12,600 feet (3,840 meters), an hour ago, so we are able to ride out the storm in relative comfort. The German guys, as expected, made it a bit before us, but the two New York girls, again as expected, are still on the trail – soaked to the bone I presume.
The hike itself was great. It was a fairly short, 4 1/2 hour, 2,500 foot (762 meters) hike up a slightly steeper trail than yesterday, but my legs felt great the entire way. Again, it was polie, polie – slowly, slowly – to preserve energy for the more difficult hike to the summit.
Up and up we climbed through the Mooreland zone, a dreary, Dr. Seuss looking place with the branches of countless dead trees covered in a stringy green moss. Slowly the trees and bushes grew shorter and sturdier as we gained altitude. Clouds raced up the mountainside all day, blocking the sun and chilling the air one moment, then quickly racing off to expose us to the intense heat and increased ultraviolet rays of the sun coming through the thin atmosphere. It was a constant game of trying to keep pace with Mother Nature… one minute I’m fighting the cold and biting wind, decked out in 5 layers of clothes to keep warm and the next I’m stripped down to shorts and a t-shirt sweating under the tremendous heat of the sun. If it wasn’t funny, it would be maddening.
Overall, I’m feeling real good. In fact, I’m in my glory… I love this stuff: the mountain air, the varieties of nature, the views, the challenge, and the blood flowing through my veins. I did feel a big of the altitude affecting me yesterday, in the form of mild dizziness and a very slight headache, so I decided to start taking the altitude drug called Diomox. My travel doctor prescribed it to me back in the states before I left, but I’ve been debating whether or not to take it based on several mild side affect complaints from other returning climbers that I talked to back at the Springlands Hotel. Some were fine with it, while others were complaining of weird and intense dreams. Then again, most people who took it didn’t make the top. I’m assuming that it’s not going to make much of a difference, but I want to make it to the top, so I decided to try it and see how it goes.
It will be another early night again tonight, as we’re up at dawn to start day three’s hike. Oh, and the ‘toilets’???… Well, all I can say is WOW and Nasty. Let’s just say that I’m hunting for a bush tomorrow.
Kilimanjaro – Day 3
Last night I woke up around 12 midnight. Unable to sleep and admittedly more than a little curious what the sky would look like at this altitude, I decided to venture outside my tent into the below freezing night. The ground was covered in a frost that crackled beneath my feet and the dry crisp air filled with steam as I exhaled into the darkness. In front of me stood the beautiful Shira Peak, the smallest of Kilimanjaro’s three peaks standing at 13,000 feet (3,962 meters), while behind me, glowing in the night sky, loomed the ever impressive Uhuru peak of Kilimanjaro. Both were lit up solely by the billions of stars in the cloudless sky, a sky I can never seem to get enough of.
What made the stars all the more impressive though, was the complete lack of any light, natural or man-made, along with the simple fact that I was standing 12,600 feet (3,840 meters) into a thinning atmosphere. I spent a good, awe inspired twenty minutes staring in wonderment at the sky, hopelessly trying to capture every ounce of its beauty, but regrettably the cold of night brought a chill to my bones, forcing me back into the warmth of my sleeping bag. When I woke at dawn, the peaks were still there, as impressive as ever, but the magic of the night sky was sadly gone.
The goal of today’s climb was acclimation; to introduce our bodies to high altitude, then come back down to this same altitude to spend the night. Apparently this helps the body to adjust to the reduced-oxygen, upper regions of Kilimanjaro and thus lessens our chances of running into complications associated with altitude sickness, which, as rumor has it, can be fatal. Our acclimation climb would take us from last night’s camp at 12,600 feet (3,840 meters) to a rock formation called Lava Tower at 15,091 feet (4,600 meters), then back down to 13,000 feet (3,950 meters) to our third camp, the Great Barranco Valley Camp, were we will spend the night.
We left camp at 9:00 in the morning and immediately assumed our old-lady-with-a-walker pace. Slowly, slowly we moved up a progressively steep hill. As we climbed, we gradually left the low shrub area of the Mooreland zone and entered the beginnings of the Alpine Desert zone, which is essentially a cold, grey, rock filled desert with very minimal life. It looked more or less what I would picture the surface of the moon to be like.
Throughout the day we were only afforded a few small glimpses of the snow covered peak that was all but shrouded in constant cloud cover. However, as we were approaching Lava Tower, which is situated at the very base of the peak, the clouds cleared just enough to grant us a beautiful, close up view of the peak and the gigantic glaciers that crown this King of Mountains. Unfortunately that would be our last glimpse of the day as a fairly mild snow and sleet storm moved in to blanket the area in white.
The good news is that both Eric and I felt physically, and more importantly mentally, great… no real fatigue and experiencing nothing more than a minor reaction to the altitude (labored breathing if I hiked too fast). This, our guide told us, was the real test. Feel good here and there shouldn’t be any reason, bar injury, that why we can’t make it to the top. The New York girls, on the other hand, where not doing as well. The four of us hiked together throughout the morning, the German guys aren’t overly social, and it has been anything but an easy climb for them. The good news for them is that they will be spending an extra day on the mountain to rest and acclimate, so hopefully that will be enough for them.
Following our lunch in a snow storm, we started on the long walk down to our next camp. As we descended in altitude the snow and sleet turned into a steady rain, requiring us to put on our rain gear and turning the normally tricky trail into a slippery and dangerous challenge. It also made us wet and cold, and gave me flashbacks to Christmas in London… pissing rain and a bone chilling cold that freezes you from the inside out and is impossible to beat without an exceptionally hot Jacuzzi, which I unfortunately don’t have.
A couple of hours later Eric and I, with the girls 20 – 30 minutes behind, strolled into the Barronco Camp… 7 hours after leaving this morning’s camp. We were cold, wet and exhausted, but still incredibly happy to be here.
At 8:00 in the evening, after a couple cups of extra hot tea and three steaming bowls of soup for dinner, I climbed into my synthetic cocoon… and here I am now, finally warm and minutes away from some much needed sleep, from a regenerating rest to prepare me for tomorrow’s hike to top camp and our midnight departure for the summit.
Kilimanjaro – Day 4
Waking to an amazing view of Kilimanjaro and the famous Barronco Wall (a 1,000 foot – 300 meter – cliff wall that forms one side of the valley we were in… and is also called the Breakfast Wall due to the fact that we’re required to climb straight up it immediately after finishing breakfast), we packed for the day and ate a hearty breakfast under the warm and welcoming morning sun. At 9:00 AM we walked across the valley floor to the foot of the Barronco wall, our first challenge of the day. Zigzagging up the steep cliff face, we squeezed our way along narrow paths punctuated with steep and frightfully severe drop-offs and up and over boulders using only our finger tips.
1,000 feet we climbed, almost halfway to top camp, Barafu Camp at an altitude of 15,255 feet (4650 meters). Not bad we figured… that was until we found out that we not only needed to descend down another valley, called the Raranga Valley that would bring us right back to the altitude we started at, but we needed to do it twice… then climb the remaining 1,150 feet (350 meters) to get to top camp. It ended up being a long 6 hour hike, but at least it didn’t rain today.
We reached the Barafu Camp at 3:00 PM, had our afternoon snack of tea and popcorn, then packed for tonight’s midnight summit attempt. Before dinner, the clouds broke for a short moment, giving us a brief glimpse of the top and the route that we would be taking up. Being right at the base of the summit, it looked both seductively close and at the same time impossibly far.
Excited and nervous, I crawled into my sleeping bag around 7:00 PM (after a forced dinner – I’ve lost my appetite, a reaction to the high altitude) to try and catch a few hours of sleep before our 11:30 PM wake-up. With the help of today’s hike, I was fast asleep in about 23 seconds.
Kilimanjaro – Day 5
“Hey guys,” we heard over the ripping wind and the snow and sleet that was pelting our tent. “11:30, time to get up and ready,” our guide called in the darkness. Is this guy completely nuts? Waking up to find that half of our tent was collapsed from heavy snow and wind, I couldn’t help but think of that book “Into Thin Air” where a bunch of climbers died in a snow storm while attempting to summit Mount Everest. Now granted this was not Mount Everest, but it was still a 20,000 foot (5,895 meter) mountain with unpredictable and potentially violent weather… and those guys train for years, whereas my training started 15 days ago and consisted of a pathetically ridiculous and hardly intelligent plan to simply stop drinking.
“Are we really doing this?” I yelled out in complete disbelief to our guide, as if he were telling me that Jesus was outside and wanted to chat with me. “Yes brother, no worry. We go.” There was tomorrow’s headline forming in my oxygen-deprived head, “Two dumb-ass Americans and their equally dumb guide die in Kili snow storm”. The more I thought about it, the more I saw the foolishness and irresponsibility of this summit attempt, but he said it with enough confidence and authority to convince me that this was only partly ridiculous and therefore well within my comfort zone. Looks like the suckers are going.
Getting ready was a bit more of a chore than normal, as the snow forced us to gear up in the small confines of the tent. Two t-shirts, two long sleeve t-shirts, one fleece coat, one heavy winter coat, and one heavy raincoat. Add one pair of pants, a pair of heavy fleece pants, a pair of heavy rain pants, two pairs of climbing socks, waterproof hiking boots, a fleece winter hat, and two pair of gloves, and I looked like Mr. Salvation Army 2004. Might as well look dumb if I’m going to play the part.
Off we go. Amazingly, the storm stopped literally just minutes before we got out of the tent at 12:30 AM. Greeting us was about 6+ inches of fresh snow. It was beautiful, but certainly not what we expected. Smiling, our guide started us on the long trek to the top. First stop, a steep path up boulders covered with snow and ice. It was as frustrating as it was dangerous, but we continued the climb one foot after the other, polie, polie.
Physically (muscle wise, anyway) I was feeling fantastic, strong and ready to go. But as we climbed higher, the altitude started becoming a problem for me. I was breathing like I had just finished sprinting the 100 meter dash. I was gasping for air, but not finding enough. We were walking in half steeps, heal to the middle of the other foot and repeat. I couldn’t go any slower without freezing, so I did everything in my will power to continue.
Eventually, as I plotted up the trail, I found myself feeling intoxicated. It was a euphoria that I intuitively knew to be a side-affect of altitude sickness, yet I had no control over it. I started to sing (it was more of mumble really) silly songs like “You put one foot in front of the other and soon you’ll be walking out the door” in a maddening repetitive way that seemed to last for hours on end. I was doing anything to take my mind off my heavy breathing. If I wasn’t singing, I was mumbling random observations to Eric who never heard me over the whipping wind, or counting my steps like Count Von Count from Sesame Street (One step, ah, ah, ah, Two steps, ah, ah, ah, Three…), or compulsively wiggling my frozen toes with each step, but using every ounce of my concentration like a drunk trying to drive his car home after a long night out with the boys.
When we had left camp at 12:30 this morning, we were the last group to leave and could see the lights of 6-7 groups anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes ahead of us on the trail. About half way up we passed the lead group, leaving our guide to find the trail through the fresh snow fall. This slowed us down a bit, but didn’t help me with my rapid breathing problem. I’d say that I probably thought about turning back over a dozen times, but I was always able to push the thought from my mind. However, at 3:00 AM I had a major set back. I called for a stop with what little air I had and hunched over my climbing poles, wheezing in a desperate (and presumably pathetic) attempt to satisfy my instinctual need for oxygen. I tried, but there seemed to be no tricking the brain when it comes to the essentials. My brain was starting to shut down and I could feel a pang of panic beginning to set in. I had had it. I was done. I knew I didn’t have enough to get to the top, but what was really starting to concern me was the fear that I might not even have enough to get back down.
“Ah, most of my clients want to quit here. Keep going up, you’ll make it. Only 3 hours to Stella Point on the crater rim, and then only 45 minutes to the peak from there,” claimed my sadistic guide over the whipping wind that brought the temperature down to a nasty -30 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit.
“Go on?!?!? I want to die right here!” I felt like yelling back, but couldn’t breath enough to even mutter.
Slowly my breath started coming back and with it a couple of my senses, with the notable exception of logic. “What’s a few hours out of your life?” I asked myself. “It’s the top of Kilimanjaro, for Christ’s sake! And it’s within your reach!”… See: “Notable Exception of Logic” above.
Then I hear Eric say, “Dude, do what you feel is right, but if you don’t mind, I’m going to the top.”
Now lack of logic aside, what kind of man would I be if I let that kind of subtle jab go unanswered? “Let’s go,” I confidently responded and was answered with a shit-eating grin that clearly said ‘I knew that would work.’
Three hours to Stella Point on the crater rim. You put one foot in front of the other and soon you’ll be walking out the door… Stop Singing That!!!!… You put one foot in front of the other…
I really only remember about 15 – 20 minutes of that 3 hours. I remember, more than once, hearing my little sister call my name out as clearly and realistically as if she were standing next to me and picking my head up and answered her, only to realize that I was on the side of Kilimanjaro (hallucinations are apparently a side affect of oxygen deprivation at altitude as well). I remember making up a song, if you can call it that, which consisted of three words that repeated over and over in a “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” manner: “mama loves snow, mama loves snow, mama loves snow…” (I have no idea where it came from, or why, but I do remember laughing at the absurdity of it and at the fact that I couldn’t stop myself from singing it). I remember both Eric and I babbling incomprehensible sentences to each other, then laughing at one another because we sounded like a couple of drunken idiots. I remember gasping for air the entire hike. I remember being startled into consciousness when Eric stopped on the trail and I walked straight into the back of him. And I remember wanting to stare up at the amazing star filled sky, but finding that the process of actually looking up was far too much of a distraction from my one foot in front of the other routine.
Now anyone in their right mind would, at this point, be asking ‘how is this fun?’ Rest assured, I was asking myself this same thing. It was mentally grueling, physically taxing and overall just phenomenally arduous. But then the pay off came. Stella Point was just a few more steps away… the hardest steps I think I’ve ever taken. Like the end of a basketball game, the final two minutes stretched into a painfully long 30 minutes. But we finally made it to the rim of the crater, 20 minutes before sunrise. To celebrate, I laid down in the snow and wanted nothing more to do than to fall asleep from sheer exhaustion. I looked over at Eric and saw him sitting on a rock, wiping tears from his eyes.
“Let’s go to the top,” our guide called out. “45 minutes to the peak. We’ll catch the sunrise on the way up.” That, predictably, prompted another urge to call it quits, but I figured that if I came this far, I had to go all the way. Nursing my weakened body up, we hiked along the crater rim towards a point that would normally take me about 15 minutes to reach at home, but would stretch into a slow 45 minutes with our half step pace.
Halfway up, and true to legend, I witnessed one of the most amazing sunrises I’ve ever seen. Being nearly 20,000 feet up, we were thousands of feet above the clouds, which granted us a spectacular 360 degree panoramic view of the world around us coming to life with the impressive red-orange sunrise. However, when our guide asked us if we were going to take pictures, both Eric and I were so drained that we couldn’t be bothered. We literally couldn’t find the strength to take off our backpacks, grab our cameras and take a picture. “Come on. Top of Kili, Top of Kili,” he urged us. Reluctantly, and thankfully, I pulled out my camera and took a few commemorative shots, but at the time I remember it being more to shut him up than to capture the moment.
Up we go, continuing to the top. Too cold to stand still. Small half steps. One foot in front of the other. 20 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes, 100 feet to go. I start running. Adrenaline starts pumping. I feel alive again. I reach the sign. I’m there. I made it. THE ROOF OF AFRICA!!!! I won. I beat the brain. Beat my natural, self-persevering instincts to turn around. I overcame the forces that wouldn’t. And as if the demons were expelled by the simple wooden sign that says “Congratulations”, I instantly felt like I was on the proverbial top of the world. I was still babbling like a Billy goat that ate the wrong weeds, but I was dancing too. Emotions were high, ‘Wahoos’, hugs, and high-fives were exchanged with broad grins that stretched from ear to ear and the emotions of relief and joy welled up in me to the point of bringing tears of delight to my eyes.
This is why I hike. This is why I do the things that I do. It’s these few precious moments on top, no matter how big or how small the mountain is, that make it all worth while. They can’t be bought. They can’t be found in a drug. They can’t be imagined or dreamt in one’s mind. They can’t be put adequately into writing. They can’t be burned onto film. And they certainly can’t be replicated by Hollywood. You can only find this reward in one way, and one way only, by walking up the hill with an open mind.
Kilimanjaro – Day 6
After a long, long climb down from the peak to the top camp yesterday morning (a total climb time, up and down, of 10 hours), I walked straight to my tent and promptly fell asleep for about an hour. It was one of the deepest sleeps I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, and much to my dismay, our guide woke us up at about 11:00 AM, reminding us that we still had another four hours of climbing ahead of us and we need to eat, pack and be ready to go in one hour.
As we emerged from our one hour hibernation, I saw several climbers that we had passed on the way up who were just making their way back into camp. They all looked like hell. I also saw the two German guys who we had passed as we were coming down and they were still 20 minutes from the peak. They had made it, they told me, but just barely. They also told me that less than half of the 25 people who attempted the summit last night made it. Only the four of us and six others had made it all the way to the top. They then began to wonder aloud how, without training, Eric and I had blown by everyone on the way up. Easy, I told them, it all stems from a steady diet of pizza and buffalo wings. They didn’t find the humor.
After a quick brunch that went uneaten (my appetite was completely gone at this point), we packed up for the dreaded four hour decent to our last night’s camp, the Mweka Camp at 9,186 feet (2,800 meters). This was the last thing in the world that I wanted to be doing, but our choices were limited to either walking down or walking down. So we stared walking down, and my legs immediately started to burn with exhaustion. By the time we reached camp, my legs were shaking like a chicken leg in a bag of Shake’n Bake.
After another uneaten meal, I went straight to bed… and reveled in the fact that after spending the last two months in a tent and sleeping bag, this would be my last for a long time.
Waking up early this morning and again passing on food, we made our final three hour walk to the Mweka Gate. We’re done. Finished. Goal accomplished. We made it. I would have jumped up and down with joy, save for the fact that I could barely walk down the steps of the Registration building. Instead, I settled for a high five with Eric and our guide Gabriel.
With the presentation of certificates over – I got a nice shinny one to show off – we crowded in a van and headed back to the Springland Hotel where we plan on resting for the next two days by the pool before heading to Nairobi for our flight to France.