Kilimanjaro Summit Night October 2nd 2012
* See Addendum
Tuesday Oct 2nd 2012 – 11PM (Tanzania)
Base Camp Barafu
Elevation: 15,000’ AMSL
Weather: 23F Wind 10 MPH Light Snow
A familiar voice came through the vestibule of our tent with a familiar saying, “You Okay?” It was Nimus, our full time waiter and often part-time butler. “Hey Nimus, we’re up,” I said. I had managed a few minutes of badly needed sleep after getting warm from the many layers of mountain gear I was wearing; it was the first time I had been warm to the core in days. Randy would later recount not having slept at all that evening, most likely in anxious anticipation of the climb ahead.
Randy and I gathered our things and headed to our dinner tent to meet up with Marsu and Gaudence, our mountain guides, to go over last minute preparations. There were a few snacks waiting on the table but I don’t recall having eaten anything. I hadn’t eaten anything in days, the spices in combination with the Diamox, had all but eliminated my appetite. I stuffed hand warmers down into the toes of my boots to help avoid frostbite and finished putting on my gaiters as we waited for midnight to begin our journey up the mountain towards the summit. Some of the slower climbers, as determined by their guides, had already started up the mountain that evening.
We left the dinner tent at midnight and because of our great position on the mountain we immediately began our accent up into a dark abyss, one arduous step at a time, a light snow was blowing in the wind. Marsu had told us they like to climb at night because it’s much cooler and also, if people could actually see more than a few feet in front of themselves, many more would turn back and never attempt the climb. Only 41% of those who attempt the climb ever make it and Randy and I were taking on the toughest 8 day route on Kilimanjaro.
Only moments after we had begun to climb Randy had to stop a few times for adjustments and each time we stopped I could feel myself getting colder. I reasoned that if I was to have any chance of making the summit I would have to set my own pace and Gaudence and I started off without Marsu and Randy. I hated to leave my friend behind (we had talked previously about what we would do if one of us couldn’t go on) but I knew I couldn’t keep stopping and have any chance of making the summit. I silently prayed that Randy would make it. I just knew that once he found his pace he would be okay. Occasionally we’d stop for a break and Gaudence would yell for Marsu, each time the yells went unanswered I wondered if they had turned back.
After the first couple of hours I was still feeling pretty good, not knowing how much further it was or how far we had come. The only hint at progress was the endless stream of headlamps that could be seen headed up the steep mountain slopes of those that had gone before us and because we had nearly a full moon we could occasionally see the top of Kili itself. In fact, the moon was so good that evening that Gaudence didn’t use a headlamp at all. I would often look ahead as far as my light would shine to see as much of our path as I could in anticipation of the next crux. I had also devised a plan to keep my cognitive abilities in check for HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema). I would count each step off to a hundred and then start over. If I missed a number I would then run a series of calculations through my head, 2×2 =4, 2×4=8, 2×8=16 and so on to 512. If I missed these calculations I had planned to stop my accent and decide if I was experiencing HACE before making a decision to descend or continue. I believe I missed the counts about 3 times, but each time I was able to correct the mistake and continue on.
Weather: 18F Wind 10 MPH
Time continued to pass into the third and fourth hours and breaks were coming more frequently now. Unanswered calls were still being made down the mountain for Marsu and Randy and I began to feel certain that Randy had turned back. Somewhere into our fourth hour Gaudence realized that my pace was beginning to slow and he took my backpack. To say that we would have never made it without our guides would be an understatement. If it hadn’t been for Gaudence I would have never made the summit and I know Randy feels the same about Marsu. Like prize fighters being beat down round after round, each time we’d stop for a break by locating a rock and leaning into it, our guides were right there with water and encouragement to keep going. “Pole, Pole”, they’d say. Slow down, in Swahili.
Weather: 13F Wind 10-15 MPH
Hours five and six were the toughest for me, we still hadn’t seen Marsu and Randy, it was getting colder and fatigue began to set in to the point that all I wanted to do is lay down and go to sleep. I knew that if I stopped I would never get back up, so I had to go to a place many never find and dig to depths I didn’t realize were possible. It was in these final hours that God, Family and Friends were the only thing I had to cling to. I felt that I could feel myself coming and going into and out of consciousness with each new step and I knew that I couldn’t go on much further without some kind of breakthrough. It was at just about this time that the sun began to rise off the right side of the mountain (see photo) and Stella Point finally began to come into view. What’s more, I was finally able to look down the mountainside and for the first time get a glimpse of Randy coming up only a few minutes behind. I had found my second wind, my friend was going to make it, and the end was finally in sight!
Once I reached Stella Point I found a place to sit down for a quick break and wait for Randy to make it. We had had the opportunity to yell down to Marsu and Randy and knew they were okay and that they were going to make it. At 7:08AM (Tanzania) Randy and I had our photos taken (see photos) in front of the Stella Point marker and shortly thereafter we began to make our way up to the summit together.
The official record records my reaching the summit, Uhuru Peak at 8:15AM (Tanzania) and Randy just moments later at 8:18AM.
We had conquered one of the Seven Summits at 19,340’ AMSL, the highest freestanding mountain on earth and we’d earned every inch of it. We were standing on the rooftop of Africa (see photos), tired beyond all measures but we had made it!
* Notice flag is backwards in this photo. Randy and I were exhausted and oxygen deprived, we didn’t realize it until we got home. Photo on the right is of me holding a copy of Southeast Christian’s weekly publication.
Most people were not aware of how sick I was just three days into our eight day trek up Kilimanjaro. I managed to keep it secret from perhaps everyone but Randy. Just three days in and I was running a fever and had developed a cough and chest rattle. I did everything I could to conceal it from Marsu and Gaudence although, now that I think of it, it’s likely Nimus (our full time attendant) knew, having helped me dress into rain gear (it was snowing heavily) after reaching Lava Tower at 14,950. I could barely put one foot in front of the other and we still had a strenuous journey to the base of the Barranco Wall ahead of us. I knew that if our guides discovered how sick I really was, my trip nearly three-quarters of the way around the world would soon be at an end and I’d be heading home.
I’ll never forget the sat-call home that evening asking for prayer, I knew I couldn’t make it any further (see photo below). I would either be airlifted off the mountain or I had to recover and find the strength to scale the Barranco Wall the next morning. I remember laying on my back and praying to God not to let me fail. Meanwhile back in Baltimore Maryland, a friend of ours was praying and praying hard. In fact, she had had a vision of angels lifting me up by the arms and carrying me up the mountain. As miraculous as this sounds, I can attest to having set upright almost immediately after my prayer with renewed vigor and determination. I wasn’t a hundred percent but I could lift my head and felt well enough to carry on.
I would make it up the Barranco Wall and on to both summits of Kilimanjaro. It would be a painful journey but I know that without intercession and Gods angles lifting me up, I would have never made it to the top of Africa’s highest mountain. God had a plan, as He always does. A meeting with a soon to become friend, Emanuel that would change both our lives forever.
Blessings To You and Your Family,