Barafu Camp to Summit to Mweka Camp
• Elevation: 15,331 ft to 19,341 ft (and down to 10,065 ft); 4673 m to 5895 m (and down to 3068 m)
• Distance: 5 km ascent/12 km descent
• Hiking Time: 7-8 hours ascent / 4-6 hours descent
• Habitat: Arctic
With a cup of tea and few biscuits in our belly, headlamps on and dressed in full winter gear (snowpants, down parka, hats, gloves, handwarmers, and layers below), we began the gruelling seven-hour ascent of Kibo Peak at 12:15 am. Marching single-file behind our guide Rashid kama kinyonga (chameleon-style), we slowly ascended the 1100 vertical meters to Stella Point. Our difficulties in the endurance test of physical and mental will power included: freezing toes and fingers, uncontrollable “crop dusting*” and frequent “downloading*,” relentless snot-dripping, the hypnotic delirium of staring for hours at the feet of the person walking in front of you, mistaking stars for headlamps further up the trail, and dealing with the slowed reactions that naturally come with hiking at extreme altitudes.
Finally, as the sky began to turn light and the glacial ridges of Kili came into view, we reached Stella Point just as the sun first crested the horizon, much to our joy and relief. The final push to Uhuru Point was the most exhausting and yet most exhilarating stretch of the trail, and this final leg seemed as if it would never end. At long last we reached the 5895 meter peak…(“58-95, that’s our number!” pace Toots & the Maytals). We recorded our achievement with the requisite “we made it” photo at the sign marking the summit and slowly made our way back toward Stella Point passing weary hikers still struggling to reach the top.
We marveled at the views as we gazed down at glaciers that floated above a blanket of clouds glistening in the sun. The scene was truly overwhelming. We paused for tea and energy bars back at Stella Point before beginning the long descent down a soft sand slope, “skiing” the whole way. Despite the exhaustion we were all in a buoyant mood.
Here’s our account of making it to the summit. Please forgive the sound quality—it is super windy at 19,000+ feet.
Four hours later we were greeted back at Base Camp by our crew with high fives, fist bumps and big smiles. After a quick nap and a warm lunch we resumed the descent. Leah was suffering from an intense headache which gradually improved as the trail steadily dropped in elevation. Three hours later we reached Mweke Camp just as the sun went down. Barely able to keep our eyes open through dinner, we collapsed into our sleeping bags for a peaceful slumber at this lower altitude—only a mere 10,000 feet. What a day it had been! From midnight to sundown we had ascended 4000+ feet to Uhuru Peak and then descended over 9000 feet—almost two miles straight down—to reach our final camp on the mountain.
We all felt an incredible sense of accomplishment to have successfully reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, especially after seeing so many fellow trekkers on the trail suffering, some with debilitating headaches and nausea, others with the blue lips of hypoxia. Still others had to be physically supported up and down the mountain by their guides. We saw one poor girl who had strained her Achilles’ tendon and was being carted down to Mweke Camp, strapped to a bouncing, one-wheeled stretcher with her guides and porters struggling to keep the medieval-looking contraption under control. It would be hard to imagine a more uncomfortable ride!
As we slipped into our well-deserved deep sleep, we were relieved to have the challenging day behind us, and we felt utterly thankful to have made it down safe and sound.
*Mountain slang for passing gas 🙂