Are you sure it is time to leave already-my first thoughts when our guide made his rounds to our tents. There is no way it is 11:30pm already. Nonetheless, I slowly packed my things, put on every article of clothing I owned and made my way to the food tent for a quick breakfast. It was cold here, very cold. So much so that I definitely should have ditched the many books I brought up the mountain with me for a proper pair of long johns and cold-weather gear.
Breakfast was quick..some toast and jam, tea, and fruit. Hardly enough food for energy-if only I had an appetite. A quick snapshot of the next 6-7 hours was provided by Frumence (our guide) and we began the grueling climb in freezing, hurricane type winds without the guidance of the moon. Each step of this climb was terribly slow-where at times it seemed as though we were moving backwards. Breaks could not come soon enough and the only light we had was that of the torches (flashlight) attached to our heads. Maybe his was a good thing-not seeing where we were going. At one point, the wind was so strong and to our left was straight down for as far as my torch could provide light to-surely without my poles, in incoherent, improper footing of conditions I could see how many die each year trying to reach the summit. As each stepped became progressively heavier, the times we stopped only brought tiredness and an unwillingness to continue on. Knowing who and what this climb was for and how many lives would be impacted propelled uncertainty into determination and fortitude. I remember at one point we stopped-Stellar point (this stop was different in that after climbing for hours and hours we had to make our way around a rock where there was only inches of space to move-to the right nothing but a vast expanse of open air. Being so tired and cold made it easy to navigate around) to take a 40 minute break-time was unknown until after the break was finished. I picked the first available spot to lay down and shut my eyes. Off into the distance I heard through crying wind the girls calling me to come sit next to them so we could warm each other. Sadly, as cold as I was, I couldn't be bothered or moved, so there I lay. "Alan, Tuende"? (shall we go?) the guide proclaimed-and as though I was moving an unmovable boulder I slowly picked myself up off the rocks, put my head down and continued on.
Today was a cloudy day and any chance of seeing the sunrise was slowly fading away. Although we were nearly 5590m above sea level-clouds still seemed to engulf the surrounding sky. The only thing that was going through my mind for over an hour-partially to lesson the pain of taking each step for some incredulous reason was…I want my baby-back, baby-back-Chili's baby-back ribs! And I don't even like ribs. The summit crept up on us and before I knew it the girls were skipping, that is right, skipping their way to the boarded up-riddled with stickers Uhuru Peak Sign. Where they got their energy from, I don't know-so I continued to walk, slowly of course, to catch up to them.
At last-although tired beyond words and cold to the bone I reached the highest point in Africa and the tallest free standing mountain in the world, Uhuru Peak. After four very long days, becoming ill, sliding several feet down a rock face, jumping boulders, and mountain climbing in the dark I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. Thank you to everyone who supported me in my climb and in particular thank you to everyone who has donated to the Jane Adney Memorial School. I can't begin to express, describe, animate how much this means to many secondary school girls in Muhorini, Kenya!
After having spent only 20min at the summit we began making our way back down the mountain-not as fun as one would imagine. In doing so, we were able to see just how crazy of a climb it was and it appeared as though our guides couldn't get down fast enough. At one point, it felt as though I was running down rock slides and in-between rock crevices. After only 2 hours we made it back to Barafu for a quick nap before we continued back down for another 3 hour hike. Upon making it to our camp for the nite-we had spent a total of 11 hours climbing and descending that day-sleep was all I could think about.
The next morning, after sleeping for nearly 12 hours I was as refreshed as I have ever been and honestly at that point could have done it all over again. Now, if you would have asked me 12 hours prior to such a great nights rest at a normal altitude whether or not I would climb Mt. Kilimanjaro again, I would without reservation say no. Not because it was cold and I was tired-but honestly jumping off the couch to climb was wrong on so many levels. With better conditioning the climb would have surely been more enjoyable if at least more manageable. For now, this midwest transplant will spend the next few days in Moshi before I depart to Dar Es Salaam to catch the Tazara to Lusaka, Zambia.
Maybe in the works-running the entire coastal outline of continental Africa. Has it been done yet-probably not, but just think how many lives could benefit and how much money could be raised by taking on such an incredible journey.