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Summit Night Kilimanjaro

TANZANIA | Wednesday, 24 November 2010 | Views [1076]

As we start the ascent on summit night I feel nervous yet determined & excited. I'm proud that Louise and I have made it this far. This is it. The ultimate test in physical and emotional endurance - not to mention battling the altitude and the cold. It's just past midnight.This is our fifth day of hiking plus We have already hiked for 4 hours today. Yesterday we saw a man so overcome by altitude sickness that he couldn't stand. His guides had to carry him down to the camp below. When I saw him I was mesmerised and tears flooded to my eyes. I knew how disappointed he would be to get this far then not even get to attemp the summit and I felt so sad for him. I can't get the image of his weak, limp body out of my mind as we climb tonight. It's pitch black so every climber has a head torch on and as I look behind me I see a long line of hikers in single file zig-zagging up the mountain towards me; their head torches glowing in the dark and the stars sparkling above. In the distance the village lights glisten as a reminder of how far we have come already. Tonight I have my ipod for added motivation and I am listening to Latika's Theme. The singer has such a beautiful voice that the song takes me into a dream-like state. This all feels so surreal and I want to soak up every part of this amazingly unique experience. I start feeling so lucky that I have the chance to do this and hopeful that we will reach the summit. I'm soon awoken from this dream when my guide decides we should start racing past all the other groups ahead. All of a sudden I realise someone has stolen the air. When did that happen? My breathing is so heavy but I still can't find the air. As we clamber over the unstable rocks to overtake everyone else I wonder why he's doing this to us?! My legs start to ache and soon it feels as if someone has slipped some lead weights into my trousers for fun. My hopes of succeeding slip away with the scree underneath my feet. Mackenzie (our new friend from Colorado) starts cursing at the scree...with good reason. She hates it. We all hate it. With every step you take you just slide back down again, plus there's nothing to dig your pole into for support as the scree just slides away instantly. My music changes to reflect the new tempo I need. Louise asks if I'm ok. "I can't breath and my legs don't work!" is my not so cheery response. I ask our guide Bahati if we can take a break and Mackenzie and Bradley give us some "Blox" - they're like gummy bears with energy and Isotones and they work. We gulp down some water. I'm wearing 3 pairs of trousers plus the waterproof ones lent to me by the porters...on my top half I have a thermal top, T-shirt, 2 thin fleeces, a thick fleece, a huge puffy coat, a wooly hat and gloves (curtisy of Laura Smith!) Despite all this it only takes a minute of standing still up here to feel the ice cold air penetrate through every layer. After this one break though I feel revived and even have little dances when songs I love start playing. It's still tough but at least now I have my breath back. Mackenzie seems to be struggling now though and after a while we have another short break. She seems to get better after this and we continue on for a while. I still have the image of the man with Altitude Sickness nagging me but I keep pushing it out and telling myself that won't happen to us. It's now Louise's turn to ask for a break. She says she feels sick. As she sits down I give her some more of the Blox, she drinks some water and we all have a quick break before continuing up. Soon after Louise's condition has got worse, she says she feels like she's going to be sick and can't go on anymore. Thinking it may be exhaustion and the fact we only had tea and biscuits to start us off I grab an energy bar from Mackenzie and ask Louise to have some of this to restore her energy sources. She tries but it just makes her feel even more sick. I feel helpless, I don't know how to make her better. I want her to make it but not to carry on if it's Altitude Sickness. I think she feels even worse at this point and Bahati says we should continue and Freddy will stay with Louise and help her up. I'm reluctant to do this but Bahati says she'll be fine with Freddy. I ask Freddy to look after her and make sure she eats the energy bar. I tell Louise to take it slowly and hopefullyI'll see her at the top soon. We carry on for maybe an hour and a half after this and it gets even harder but we are taking it slowly enough "polepole". I feel like a part of me is missing though and most of my thoughts are with Louise. I notice even Bradley's movements have now become more laboured with each step. The last bit seems to last forever. I'm praying that Altitude Sickness won't come and grab me when I'm so close and that it will let go of Louise. Finally we make it to Stella Point - the crater rim!! I'm so happy. At last! My body starts to wind down then I realise it's still another hour or so from here to the actual peak. Noooooo. I eat my Dairy Milk and hope this will help. That air thief has returned and with every few steps I have to stop and catch my breath. cold. It's SO cold. My hands and toes have been hurting for the last 3 hours. I have windburn on my face (especially my nose) and my nose has been running like a tap the entire time. Severini is one of the porters but he came up with us today in case of any casualties. He stays with me for the last stretch and encourages me up. Mackenzie and Bradley are up ahead with Bahati. I'm close to the peak when Bahati shouts at me to turn around. "Turn around?" I think. "I'm so close please don't make me turn around!!" When he shouts again I look behind and the sun is rising over the magnificent glaciers. I stand, watching in awe. What a wonderful sight. Then I remember I can't feel my toes and continue on towards the peak, a few steps at a time... I see the peak! The signs read: "Congratulations: You are now at Uhuru Peak Tanzania 5895M Africa's highest Point. World's highest free standing mountain." We have the photos taken to prove we got here and then I become overwhelmed with emotion. I feel proud to have made it but I always pictured being up here with Louise. I wonder if she's still on her way up and then I break down in tears. Not wanting the others to see I start walking back towards Stella Point and pull myself together. I pass by the glaciers and am once again amazed by their beauty, glistening in the morning light. I take in all my surroundings as I know I will never set foot here again in this lifetime. I feel relieved. I picture the first night camping when we saw the peak and how far out of reach it looked and then I see us standing right at the top. It doesn't seem real but I know it is. I'm standing on the roof of Africa. My heart sinks a little as I realise it's not quite over. Now we must go down. My knees feel weak at the thought of this. Bahati gets off the phone and says Louise is safely back at camp and feeling a lot better now. I am so relieved and am looking forward to seeing her again. Seeing the route in daylight makes me glad we climbed up in the dark as we couldn't see how bad it was. It took us 6.5 hours to get up and about 3 to descend down the slippery scree. Tip for anyone about to do the hike: make sure you have sunglasses or your eyes will be completely full of dust within a minute. I have mine luckily. When we get down to base camp every member of staff is waiting to congratulate us in turn. I'm quite touched by this as they all seem genuinely happy for us, I guess it makes all their efforts worthwhile too! We have a drink of juice and Louise pops her head out of the tent. When I go in we share a few tears - I'd like to blame our exhaustion... We congratulate each other on getting so far. Louise explains that she tried another 4 times with Freddy and made it to Stella Point but then he couldn't find her pulse and she was feeling dreadful so he had to carry her back down. I feel a huge gratitude towards Freddy. Louise keeps telling me how proud she is of me and again I'm really touched by this and feel so proud of her too, trying another 4 times and still getting up to Stella Point when she could have given up at the first signs of Altitude Sickness. We have pushed our bodies to the limit. We sleep for about 15 minutes then once again we can't really eat much of lunch as our appetites have disappeared. We really try but have to stop at the risk of forcing it and then being sick! Then we have to start hiking again. WHAT? I think this is some kind of joke and then remember the itinerary. Shit. I could sleep for a year but instead have to hike again?? With little in our stomachs, no sleep and no choice we head off again. Luckily it's downhill and we all let gravity take us but our knees are screaming NOOOO!! We make it down to our final camp in 3.5 hours but it has felt like 10. I'm so shattered I am close to tears. I have never felt so exhausted in all my life - that includes Everest Basecamp, The Inca Trail and countless volcano hikes in Central America. Ding ding ding we have a winner! Mount Kilimanjaro. .



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