Kilimanjaro Day Six, Uhuru Peak, Descent!
Today was hard. Possibly the hardest I've ever had to push myself.
We started the climb shortly before midnight, and it was immediately apparent how unpleasant it was going to be. There was a lot of cold wind, even though the outside temperature was only -3°C. After a few hours of this, it was impossible to generate heat, and getting very hard to breathe. It was all I could do to just keep my eyes open. It felt like I would pass out every 10s or so. At times, I actually did, and it resulted in a stumble, sometimes a faceplant. I was asked several times by a guide if I wanted to give up my backpack, but stubbornly refused.
By the time we got to Stella Point, at the edge of the crater, the five layers of clothing were not keeping me warm and my fingers were numb. Every time we stopped, my head would start to throb. It was -10°C here. It was very welcome when the guides pulled out hot ginger tea from a thermos. Still, every moment spent sitting grew the headache and chill.
Six hours or so after starting, we finally made it to the top of Uhuru Peak, 5895m. At this point, I was so cold and worn out that I got my fake-smile photo with the sign and just wanted to start the trip down. I didn't even go explore the glaciers with the others. Seeing photos, with the beautiful colours of sunrise, perhaps I should have, but I certainly wasn't receptive to the suggestion at the time.
One thing I did manage to do at the peak was to send a text message to family and friends. Amongst all of the wonders of this mountain, and our Africa experience as a whole, where power comes and goes and hot water is unreliable, it is pretty amazing that the cell phone coverage was a solid thing on the entire journey up, right through to the summit.
The descent was, if possible, even harder. The entire trail down was separate from the more composed path up, and consisted of loose volcanic scree. There was no traction at all, and every step was both tiring to the limbs and dangerous. A lot of equipment and body parts got damaged just sliding down. At one point, during a break, my backpack started rolling away on its own. At least the headache and breathing issues went away.
All in all, the summit experience was unpleasant. There really wasn't much to enjoy there. It is cool to have gotten there. But when I speak of climbing Kilimanjaro, summitting will not be at the forefront of my thoughts.
After making it back down to Barafu Camp, there was some time for a nap and a good lunch. Then, it was time to pack up and continue the descent. On the way down, the landscape changed from the arid cold desert, to slight shrubbery, to small trees, to rainforest, all quite quickly. We ended at Mweka Camp, at about 3050m, right at the edge of the rainforest. It would have been possible to make it all the way down, but it was already a very long day.
On one hand it is sad that this is the last evening camping out. On the other, it will be nice to get back to having a shower and catching up on internet.