The alarm rang at 10:30 p.m. on June 25, waking up nobody in particular, to signal that it was go time.
Warmed up by a cup of hot tea and some biscuits, we hurriedly put on all of our thermal clothing, and armed with our headlamps, we were ready to go. In addition to our three guides, three assistant guides joined us as we headed up this final stretch into the unknown.
We were far from alone on the mountain, as many other groups commenced their ascents as well. In fact, after thirty minutes or so, as the two of us proved to be quicker than the rest of the group, we went ahead with Saidi, who surprised us by singing Swahili songs for the next 6-7 hours, to keep us focused and motivated, which was a real experience by itself!!!
The trail was relatively straight up until the Hans Meyer Cave, which has a plaque commemorating one of the first European visitors to the mountain, the Hungarian Teleki Samuel (who had a sweet mustache by the way, to which Dad’s doesn’t hold a candle…)!!
[The next few pictures were all taken on the way down, once the sun was up, but for storytelling purposes they will be put near the paragraphs explaining them]
By this time we were completely and utterly out of breath, and early signs of nausea set in, which could not be relieved by the small snacks we forced down on a regular basis. As the temperature was already below -10°F/-23°C (without the effects of wind chill), we even struggled to keep the line to our hydration packs from freezing solid, and we failed…
Beyond the Hans Meyer Cave, the trail became increasingly difficult with endless switchbacks and zigzags, made all the more challenging by loose volcanic scree that had us slipping back a little bit after every single step. We reached Gillman’s Point (5685m≈18650ft) by 5 in the morning, by which point we were completely exhausted, and nausea turned into throwing up everything consumed the previous day by Attila, after he became dangerously disoriented. Saidi kept our lingering spirits high by his songs and encouraging words.
Gillman’s Point is located at the perimeter of the crater, and in addition to the terrain became rocky and treacherous, the wind picked with all its might, making the cold almost unbearable. However, what kept us going was the knowledge that the peak was only two hours away, and the rising sun would bring some much needed warmth to the mountaintop.
Anybody remember a similar picture from Nepal?
After Stella Point (5795m=19012ft), we were joined by climbers from the rest of the routes- Machame and Lemosho (we were doing the Rongai route,which had joined the Marangu route at Kibo Hut). Seeing many other climbers trekking towards the peak made these final few meters much easier. Also, the sun rose by this time, giving us a breathtakingly gorgeous view of the crater to the north and the glaciers to the south.
Dad and Saidi near the peak
Finally, we were at the Uhuru Peak (5895m or 19341ft) at 7:00 a.m., Africa’s highest point, one of the Seven Summits, and the top of the World’s highest freestanding mountain. It was time for a short celebration commemorated with pictures, followed by an immediate descent to avoid prolonged exposure to the thin air.
Even though it took us eight hours to summit the mountain, the descent back to Kibo Hut lasted only a neck breaking two and a half hours. It was very much like downhill skiing on the loose scree. It was good to see all of our groupmates eventually making it to the summit as well without major incidents.
After a short sleep in our tents and a semi reviving lunch, we hastily continued our descent to the Horombo Huts. These additional four hours of trekking flew by as not only were we exhausted, numb to our senses, but also happy with our accomplishment. A big relief was visible on all of our faces.
Now these are some interesting plants…