04 June 2011
Day 5 Climbing Kilimanjaro: It’s time
At 6:30am I find some tea and a bowl of hot water outside my door as well as a fresh dusting of snow! Once again, it had kept us warm in the night - like a giant soft white blanket. There is a buzz about camp this morning. Today is the day. We’ll walk five hours to Kibo, nap, eat, and nap before waking up at 11pm to begin our summit attempt at midnight. It is then six hours to Gilman’s Point, two more to Uhuru Peak (the summit), then 4 more back down to Kibo. After lunch and a short nap we continue on 3 more hours to Horombo, where we’ll camp for the evening. All in, it is 19 hours of walking in just 36 hours.
The wind is biting as we round the edge of Mawenzi Peak and begin our journey across the saddle between the two mountains. The landscape is a lunar desert - desolate, monochomatic, and seemingly endless. Clouds whisp up and over the edge to our right, roll across the saddle itself, then glide smoothly back down to our left. While Kibo is visible in the distance, our guides assure us that we must maintain our pole pole (slowly slowly) pace to conserve energy and that it will, in fact, be several more hours before we reach camp.
We rest one hour away from Kibo to eat lunch in our own mess tent. At this point, no one has an appetite. Unfortunately, that does not matter. Now more than ever eating food and keep our energy levels high is of the utmost importance. We reach Kibo and find we have been upgraded to huts! That means real walls, real beds, and real mattresses! I am ushering people inside and encouraging them to get to sleep as quickly as possible. We have two hours to nap before briefing and dinner - another meal that we all have to literally force down our throats. Then it’s back to bed for three more hours. This up and down, back and forth, eat and sleep routine works well by now. We have been following similar instructions for nearly a week and everyone does exactly as they’re told without really thinking about it. This is what makes the entire experience possible - letting go and allowing the experts (our guides) lead us up the mountain. The feeling of absolute freedom is incredible.
We are awakened at 11pm by our head guide, who slowly brings us back to consciousness by singing an African hymn. By now, we’re all running on autopilot and doing exactly as we’re told. “Long underwear on, pants on, shirt on, fleece on, outer layer on, shell on, balaclava on, hat on, liner gloves on, outer gloves on, shoes on.” There is only one objective when dressing to summit - put on every item of clothing you have with you. A few other top summit tips emerge as well:
Make your only goal to minimize the amount of “stuff” on you. If you can, leave even your daypack at the huts. You only really need clothes, water, and some protein/energy bars.
Remember that water will freeze mid-climb, which means one liter must be kept inside your jacket. The porters carry extra bottles for you and will refill your bottle as necessary.
Organize your pockets! Keep essential items like protein bars in outer pockets, with your camera stowed in an inside pocket. There is nothing to see until you’ve reached Gilman’s Point, so no need for your camera to be easily accessible the first six hours.
After we’re dressed and geared up, we come together for one final pre-summit warm beverage, some popcorn, and some group singing. Keeping morale high at such a shocking hour is crucial, so we blasted some YMCA, Stand By Me, and Lean On Me while singing at the top of our lungs. It was an incredible energizer and now, it was time to finish what we had started.