Excerpt from Jean’s Diary: Ascend 15,000+ ft to 19,340 ft, then descend 19,340 ft to 10,000 ft
Wake up call was @ 11 pm and I didn’t sleep a wink in nervous anticipation of our summit bid and because it was really cold! I slept in my clothes and quickly cleaned up and headed to our midnight snack of mush, a pancake, a slice of French toast & some fruit. John told us if we didn’t eat, we were done and he wouldn’t let us summit, so we ate what we could. I decided not to take my camelback because I was told it would freeze if it was in my backpack and the rigged straps to hold it against my body were uncomfortable, so gave up and carried only 2 liters of H20 in my parka pockets. Not enough!
I had candy stuffed in my pockets. We were told to bring a pound of snacks each. And I had tissues, eye drops, chapstick, and my camera. Neil carried the 1# satellite phone for me. Off we went with our headlamps on guided by the recent full moon- pole pole on our 4k ft trek. The path was steep and rocky and it was cold and foggy, but soon the fog lifted and we warmed up a bit and Mehru was revealed to us – spectacular!
Sunrise in Tanzania from its highest point (not there yet)
The ground was covered in frost & it sparkled in the moonlight. It kept me going how beautiful the mountain looked by night. The porters quietly kept vigil on our group quickly appearing at our side if we needed to adjust a pole or glove. At one point I found myself tearing up at the thought of how much they helped us summit & were there for our every need, including carrying my water bottle which had become too heavy to carry. John took Jill’s backpack and strapped it to his own for the entire summit as she and I were both suffering with lower back pain form the H2O bottles in our pockets – not a good idea! We took several breaks but couldn’t rest long because it was so cold. You could feel the altitude gain with every half hour of climbing and I found the exhale breathing trick really worked to help me adapt. Soon the sun started lighting up the sky and I drew inspiration from it because it was so beautiful. The guides refused to tell us how far we had to go and wouldn’t let us look at our watches to avoid discouragement. I tried not to look up at the peak which still loomed far in the distance but instead look at Mehru which was gradually appearing lower than us, to feel good about our progress. I was feeling good and didn’t really want or remember to eat.
I consumed both liters of water mid climb and started to panic a bit about dehydration at such high altitude. About 7am we approached Stella Point which is above 19K ft and early explorers thought it was the high point, but we had been warned. The last hill to Stella was super steep and sandy and I just ran out of energy. I literally couldn’t lift my legs. Edward (porter), Niel and Garrett tried to push me up, but that didn’t feel right.
Niel fed me almonds & gave me his water and I slowly made my way to the top. I collapsed in heap & Joachim served me hot, sweet tea and it tasted so good and I felt hope.
Stella Point – so close to the summit on a gorgeous day; Joe with his glacier glasses complete with duct tape to block out peripheral sun
The group began final ascent to Uhuru but I needed to continue eating and Niel continued to patiently prescribe M&Ms and 3 almonds & a sip of H2O – his water.
Eventually I got up and we started our pole pole death march to Uhuru. We passed about a dozen people on their descent and Niel congratulated every one of them and every one of them told us “you are almost there” in an assortment of international accents.
What’s left of the Kilimanjaro glaciers
Our path along the rim & the now distant Mehru peak
The view was spectacular! We were surrounded by an enormous crater on the right and glaciers on the left. You really felt like you were on the highest point on the continent. This walk was across the rim of the crater to get to the highest point. An hour later we saw the famous stickered sign and the rest of our group. I burst into tears and could not stop crying/sobbing for 10 minutes.
My summit saviors: Niel and Edward
We took pictures and I called Ellie on the Sat phone and she put me on speaker and some group of friends (Dina? Others?) all cheered making me cry again. Then I called Danny fast as the group was gathering for the group photo and singing the Kili song and I could barely hear him but I could hear joy in his voice.
Jambo, Jambo Bwana. Habari Gani, Mzuri Sana. Wageni, Mwakaribishwa, Kilmanjaro, Hakuna Matata.
Then the work began…the part I’d been dreading with my knees for months – going back down. We started our descent @ 9:30 am. The mountain looked so different by daylight and the first part across the crater rim was fun. I was filled with such joy! Then the steep part began and we weren’t moving quickly enough for the guides who knew what was in store for the rest of the day and how tight our time was. So Romley grabbed my pole & under arm and dragged me down the slippery slopes keeping me from falling but KILLING my toes. It kept going and going & I never even looked up to view the mountain, forget pictures. It was hard! At 1:00pm we reached high camp Kosovo and quickly ate, packed our tent/stuff from the night before (emptied pee bottles, stuffed boundary bags etc) and refilled water for the remaining 4 hours descent. No way, we can’t possibly do this; Arghh!!!!
At 2pm we departed despite my aching throbbing toes – I couldn’t believe I was hiking again after 13 hours of summiting & descending!! The going was slow because everyone was exhausted and in pain and we took breaks to cope with it. After descending for 2 hours through the Alpine desert, we hit the nasty river bed (which turned out to not be a river bed) with steep steps over big rocks. It was painful! We stopped for Cokes/Beers at the Ranger station passing a helipad and dreaming of a mechanized fossil fueled way down – no such luck. 2 days earlier hikers had to be rescued and it was $7K each way. We joked about splitting the cost, but there were 16 of us .
6:30 came & it got dark. Half of us had headlamps & the terrain was brutal with no sight. Kate’s ankle started flaring up and we spent the next two hours complaining & discussing retaliation in an effort to vent our frustration & pain. Talk about a bonding experience! The porter went on ahead & left us & we had no idea how much longer we had to go. We had been told 30 minutes more 2 hours earlier! Romley finally found us and ran ahead to tell Frank to stop and wait for us. We finally stumbled (did I mention that Bill actually did fall?!) into camp @8:30 pm. Yes, that’s 20.5 hours after our start. Our guide John avoided us and went to bed as he knows people are NOT happy about this day and he doesn’t want to encounter their wrath.
We found the remaining tents and quickly downed some dinner & collapsed into bed. I slept until 6:30 am wake up barely urinating once (As compared to 3-5 times most nights). This was, without a doubt, the hardest day of my life.