THE SUMMIT AND THE DESCENT
We left for the summit at 6:30 am yesterday as planned, and arrived at noon sharp–five and a half hours, much less than the eight to twelve hour average. This is partly due to our being a party of one, and largely due to the weather, which couldn’t have co-operated more, at least on the way up. It was a sunny and mild fall day, which meant that I was way overdressed. I’d heard stories from people I know who were so cold they were worried about frostbite, though they did the overnight climb, when it is much colder. So I shed a couple of layers and put them in my day-pack and was much more comfortable.
It would have been a lot harder in the dark or if the weather were inclement, but it wasn’t easy even in ideal conditions (it wouldn’t be worth doing if it were easy). There is a fairly challenging rock wall shortly after you leave Barafu camp (the highest camp on the mountain, 14,900 feet), but most of the climb is just trekking uphill. It requires more stamina than skill. The hard part is that there are no downhills or even flat areas to enable you to catch your breath. You just keep climbing and climbing, 4500 feet up, as you gasp for air as the oxygen gets thinner and thinner. Your daypack seems to be getting heavier and heavier all the while (it actually is heavier on summit day because you have to carry more water and clothes). I recommend it to anyone looking for a good cardio workout.
When you see the sign at the summit it feels much like seeing the finish line at the Boston Marathon as you turn on to Boylston Street. The end is literally in sight.
I was emotional at the summit. Kombe and I gave each other a congratulatory hug (he is the one who deserves the congratulations) but I was too choked up to thank him out loud.
We took photographs at the peak (with the disposable camera that had been delivered a couple of days earlier), including one of the Furlinger glacier, but by then the weather had started to turn, so we didn’t stay long. An alpine storm made the descent a challenge, with blowing snow and high winds. If we had taken six hours rather than five and a half on the ascent we would have had to deal with the storm near and at the summit. So we were lucky. The weather can change dramatically on the mountain in minutes. I have never had to change my clothes as often as I have over the last week.
The descent was quick–we were back at Barafu camp by 2:30– so we were gone eight hours in total. I think the advice you keep hearing on the trail– pole, pole (slowly, slowly) applies only to ascending.
Last night we decided to descend all the way to the gate today instead of stopping overnight at a camp half way down. So we descended all the way from Camp Barafu over about six hours today, and I’m now back at the Bristol Cottages in Moshi (yes, I did have a hot shower as soon as possible after I got here). The descent is easier on your heart and lungs, but harder on your legs and feet.
So that’s my last report from Mount Kilimanjaro. Thanks to all for tagging along.