Barafu Camp (4640 m) – Uhuru Peak (5895 m), 4.5 km, 1255 m, 6.5 hours. Total trip distance so far: 42.1 km, total elevation 5032 m, total hiking time 28 hrs 10 min.
Uhuru Peak (5895 m) – Barafu Camp (4640 m), 4.5 km, 1255 m elevation loss, 2 hours. Total trip distance so far: 46.6 km, total elevation gain 5032, total hiking time 30 hrs 10 min.
Knock, knock tea came quickly at 11 pm. We got dressed as quick as we could. Laura commented that she had never been out of breath before just putting on her socks! The effects of altitude. We had 1255 m of elevation to the summit, but it is not the amount of elevation that makes summitting Mt Kilimanjaro so challenging, it’s the altitude. It would take us about 6.5 hours to reach the summit. For comparison back home there is a mountain that I use for training (starting elevation 1300 m) and with a day pack I can hike 1100 m of elevation in just 1 hr 40 min. Which means our ascent up Mt Kilimanjaro was at a pace only 25% of what I could do at a lower altitude.
Since it was projected to be around -15C at the summit we had concerns about keeping our feet warm in our hiking boots. As a family we speed skated as the girls were growing up. Sometimes races are held outside and speed skates do not offer a lot of padding or insulation, so to keep feet warm on very cold days you can purchase neoprene over-boots that cover the top of the skate boot and attach with Velcro underneath the boots. We borrowed some of these neoprene booties and they worked wonders keeping the feet warm.
After a “breakfast” of tea and biscuits (none of us had much of an appetite), we headed off at about midnight. We were given instructions not to check our watches or ask the time. It was going to be a long hike in the dark. The biggest challenge hikers face at this point is mental, the doubts that creep into your mind as you slowly ascend the mountain. We were nowhere near the first group to set off, but neither were we last. A line of headlamps bobbed up the mountainside in the dark above us.
I do not have any pictures from our initial ascent, as I had put my camera in my backpack so I could focus on the hiking. We slowly plodded up the mountain. No need to remind us to be pole pole, it came naturally. We stopped to rest frequently and drink. I had a great deal of difficulty with the blow back of the water hose. My hose froze frequently, but I was able to thaw it out by having Laura stuff the hose down my back. Inevitably I got a little rough with the end and snapped it off in the cold. Luckily, Siobhan had kept her hose clear so we shared her water as we headed up.
I remember a few bits and pieces of our hike. I remember passing a group where a guy was using hiking poles on the rocky path. All I could hear was the “clink, clink, clink” of his poles on the rock and I can still remember how irritating I found it. I wanted our group to hustle so that we could drop the other group and I would not have to listen to the continual “clink, clink, clink”.
I also distinctly remember pausing at one point to look around. We had approached a little switchback and I was now below our group. Instead of walking to the switchback I decided to step up a couple of rocks to the trail right above me. This involved a little power move of the legs to step up the couple of feet. I remember the burning sensation this left in my legs and how it took a few minutes for me to recover from the short burst of energy I had used. I decided against taking any more short cuts.
One big plus for us as we hiked up was that while it was cold there was no wind. This made the hiking pleasant as long as we kept moving.
Emily kept a journal of the trip and below is her recollection of the initial climb to Stella Point.
- Set off at midnight
- Really long
- Tons of headlamps
- Blow back camel backs until eventually they all froze
- Keep tripping
- How many hours is this?
- Very steep
- Very cold when stopped
- Time is irrelevant
- Want to stop but freezing when stopped
- Think we all doubted at times
- Brain please stop
- Brain won’t stop
- Keep going up rocks, scree
- Dad tells me time (forbidden!) but its actually very reassuring we’ve been going for 4hrs
- Quickly lose track of time again
- Maybe a little lighter out
- Can barely see with headlights on
- HOLY SHIT STELLA POINT
I remember my brain talking negative to me. A couple of times I had thoughts that it would be okay to quit, as I had almost made it and was close enough. It was an internal battle to keep going. The arrival at Stella Point I think surprised everyone. After hiking for so long with our heads down, pole, pole all of a sudden, bam….Stella Point. It was 5:26 am when we arrived there.
The trail was wide and flat as we left Stella Point and headed for Uhuru Peak. The sky was getting brighter to our right illuminating the glaciers that were below us to the left as we walked.
Taking pictures caused me to fall behind the group. Usually this is of no concern as I can catch up quickly. It was much harder to catch up at almost 6000 m.
We caught site of the top summit at Uhuru Peak. It was so close.
As we arrived at the summit no one knew yet how much Emily was suffering due to the altitude–she was the only one who hadn’t been able to take altitude pills, due to her illness at the beginning of the trip. Some guy was hogging the sign post drinking a beer so we took in the sunrise that had waited until our arrival at the summit. It was 6:25 am when we arrived at the summit. It had taken us 57 minutes to cover the 1.2 km from Stella Point. Laura felt that was the toughest bit.
We finally got our turn for the obligatory summit picture. Siobhan was very exuberant and if you notice Emily was not able to stand for the pictures. It was Siobhan who realized that Emily was in a state of distress and together with Amiri they beat a quick retreat from the summit.
Taking a few minutes to look around at the world that was being lit up by the morning sun, I never realized that Amiri, Siobhan and Emily had departed the summit. Emergencies are another reason why you have one guide per two hikers.
We took a different route down. We hiked to a steep scree slope and scree skied all the way down. I found this to be a lot of fun and a great way to release the tension of the climb to the summit. I was, however, by this point quite anxious about Emily.
Amiri had kept Emily moving quickly down the slope. She had no pack but was carrying Frosty Paws all the way down. Once they arrived back at camp, Amiri questioned Emily and determined that she was okay to stay at Barufu Camp and we could all leave as a group after lunch. If he hadn’t been satisfied with her answers, he wouldn’t have hesitated to keep dragging her down to a lower elevation. Altitude sickness can cause a variety of symptoms that can be life-threatening, so if there had been any indication that Emily had a serious headache, felt nauseated or was incoherent, it would have been critical to get her to a lower elevation immediately.
It took only a couple of hours for Laura and me to arrive back at camp after leaving the summit. There was much rejoicing and celebrating among the porters for our success. After checking with Emily that everything was okay, we headed to our tent to get a few hours’ nap before we headed down to Mweka Camp. We still had some hiking to do this day.