Day 5, Wednesday : Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp (4,600m)
We were able to sleep in until 6:30 this morning – what a delight.
The kind porters once again bringing a very welcome cup of coffee to the tent door and making sure we were OK. We autopilot into our now seamless morning routine – coffee, wash, dress, pack, breakfast, water and kit check.
We hit the path at 8:30 – right on schedule. We have a short but steep ascent across the barren landscape and take in beautiful views on the four hour trek to Barafu Camp.
We’re not in any rush as we have the whole day to relax before we start our summit attempt tonight. It’s incredibly dusty and cold and nasal spray is to hand to help clear the nose – coupled with buff!
L to R: Emma, Lisa and Gemma
We arrive at Barafu camp around midday. Bryson and Ken give us a briefing about the summit attempt and talk about chasing our dreams. I listen to every word intently as I start to mentally prepare for the big night ahead. Nine years of dreaming and in a few hours it could actually come true.
After a bite to eat we all head off to our tents to prepare and try to sleep. I’ve asked Ken to come and take a look at my summit wear – I’m worried I haven’t got enough layers and he agreed, suggesting another warm fleece. I’m literally wearing all the thick layers I have but my amazing tent mate Emma very kindly lends me one of hers.
There’s a lot of activity in camp, and every tent zip, foot step and voice seems amplified, making it difficult to sleep. The sun sets around 6pm and suddenly everything quietens down.
Emma and I manage a couple of hours sleep before our alarms go off at 9pm. By 10pm we’re all in the food tent trying to force down some rice and chicken. Everyone is excited and feeling a little apprehensive.
My little air activated hand warmers come out – one for the inside of each glove and one in each trouser pocket. As a sufferer of Raynaud’s I wasn’t taking any chances and although they couldn’t quite get up to temperature at 4,600m they were better than nothing!
We all sit in the main food tents and prepare mentally, emotionally and physically.
At 11:30pm it was time.
We huddled in a group outside the food tents. Head torches, reflective arm bands and back packs on and walking poles at the ready.
I’ve borrowed Iain’s iPod from home which I’ve not used all week in order to conserve battery for tonight. I put it on shuffle one ear phone in and the other left out so I can hear what’s going on around me. The first song plays – Leona Lewis – A moment like this (a song from our wedding day meal playlist). I smile to myself at the universe’s first choice of song and take it as a sign. I take the first steps confidently.
We’re heading towards Stella Point at 5,750m and then across the crater to the summit – Uhuru Peak at a staggering 5,895m. This is it, we’re off!
Day 6, Thursday : Barafu Camp to Uhuru Peak – the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro (5,895m)
It’s pitch black except for the trail of head lights weaving up the mountain – I can tell it’s incredibly steep. The stars are incredible too and I wish I could stop and just stare at them all night, but looking up for too long makes me feel light-headed, so I have no choice but to simply stare at the ground and literally zone everyone and everything out.
The higher we get the more separated the group become. I’ve broken off into a three with Debs and Bexs accompanied by a super amazing guide.
Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Right – for hours I’m just repeating these words in my mind as I focus solely on my feet and the next step ahead.
It’s -12°C and our water bottles have frozen. Blood and vomit line the rocky path – the altitude is so extreme it causes severe nausea and nose bleeds just cannot be avoided. Men and women looking delirious and in need of serious medical attention are being carried down quickly by guides and some are receiving oxygen.
Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Right – I’m walking to the beat of the music and feel like a zombie. Over the next several hours I am lifted by songs that hold special memories from our wedding day and Iain’s music is on there too, and hearing his voice spurs me on. Two artists dominate my playlist shuffle; Sigur Ros and José Gonzales – these ethereal sounds are absolutely perfect for summit night!
It was really tough, but at 5:47 the sun started to rise. It was a beautiful and much welcome sight as we knew we must be near to Stella Point. Mawenzi Peak was now in sight and we could see where we’d walked over the last 7 hours. Bex, Debs and I breathed that moment and got tearful.
At 6:11am we officially made it to Stella Point and were rewarded with spectacular views of the ice cliffs and a hot ginger tea from one of our guides.
Just one more hour and another 145m higher to go to Uhuru Peak!
This was the moment (excuse the sniffing and mumbling!) taking the last few steps to that infamous congratulations sign on top of the highest freestanding mountain in the world!
We arrived at 7:15am and were only at the peak for a few minutes before the guides ushered us to make our way down as quickly as possible – no hanging around at 19,341 ft. high!
I thought I would have got emotional reaching the peak, but it was quite busy and difficult to focus on anything other than the practicalities of standing in-line to get that picture by the infamous sign!
In fact it was that sunrise and the last few steps to Stella Point that felt like a life-changing moment.
I have not experienced anything as powerful and magical than at that exact moment at 5:47am. A combination of being so close to the top, watching the most beautiful sunrise offering much needed hope, light, love and warmth, Sigur Ros’ Untitled 8 track in my ear, thoughts of Iain and Rosie and the world so serene is what made those tears flow. It was breath-taking. It was perfect. It was my favourite moment of the trek when I truly realised what it meant to be alive.
Read the final blog here in Part 6: The journey home
Catch up on previous posts here:
- Part 1 – Leaving for Tanzania
- Part 2 – Machame Gate > Shira Cave Camp
- Part 3 – Shira Cave Camp > Lava Tower > Baranco Camp
- Part 4 – Baranco Camp > Karanga Camp