THE MIDNIGHT WALK
This is the last post going up Kilimanjaro Mountain. The rest will be descending. So on the night of day four we are at the Base Camp. We went to bed at 18:00 and we were woken up at 23:00.
We thoroughly cleaned ourselves. We were told that a tiny grain of sand logged between your toes could be a source of agony should ice form around it. So we had to use fresh set of clothes, and had to be dry everywhere.
We put on thermal wear to guard against the cold at the top. This was a special day indeed. Soon we were ready and stepped outside the tent to join the procession going up Uhuru Peak.
Normally, within the camp, we would walk in any formation. Then immediately outside the camp the guide would form a line. But on this night, the line was formed just outside my tent. I was elated. This was it. In the next 7 hours or so, I would be on the peak, or dead. I was not going back without reaching the peak. That much I knew, and that much I did not share with anyone else.
We had torches installed on our foreheads, and as far as the eye could see, there were points of light going up the trail. We started the walk in very deliberate slow steps. I didn’t challenge the pace. It was clear this was going to be a difficult walk.
Our technical team was reduced to three: David the guide, Ronald the assistant guide and one summit potter. The Summit Porter was to offer any assistance, and carry emergency oxygen. The rule is that once you have been administered the emergency oxygen you will be sent back. That will be the end of the adventure for you. I had no intention of using the emergency oxygen.
The walk was laborious and very slow. When it looked like we were not making any progress, I chanced a look back and I saw a ribbon of lights going all the way back to the camp. So, we were making some progress then. And when I lifted my eyes in front of me, the ribbon went higher up. These must have been the early risers. If only we could exchange places.
David, our fellow hiking member, who had been suffering in silence was now in a life threatening state. The guides took a critical examination and decided to cancel his ascent. We all felt sad, but in a way, were glad that a timely intervention had been made. Few more minutes and mostly likely David would have died. Our team was now reduced to Kelvin, Hilary and myself. Kelvin was in front, I came in the middle and Hilary came last. Our guide led the team, and the summit porter was behind Hilary. Ronald, the assistant guide, went back with David to the Base Camp.
It was on this trail that I got to witness the most beautiful dawn. We were above the clouds and saw a tinge of red touch the fluffy top of the floating carpet. The sun first appeared like a red dot, hesitated for a moment, then just popped up like a balloon. I had never witnessed that, and I wish I get to see it again. This was beautiful beyond description. For a moment the struggle of going up the peak vanished.
Stella point is the beginning of a plateau on Uhuru Peak. Once you reach this point you are awarded a certificate by the Government of Tanzania. Stella Point stands at 5,756 m. We were advised that once we reached it, we would not stop for photos. Experience has shown that if you stop there for too long you might find it difficult to resume your hike to the peak.
When I was about 10 metres from Stella Point I stopped moving. I could see the guide lift his legs, and Kelvin following suite. Instead of lifting my legs in turn, my body just stood numb, fixed to the ground. I could not command my body to move forward any more. C’mon! If I failed here, I would not even earn the certificate for reaching Stella Point.
I called for help and the Summit Porter came right up. He grabbed my elbow and got me moving. Hilary, who was behind me all the time, came to my rescue as well. I could feel him gently nudge me forward. A few metres from Stella Point, David the guide took over and we reached the plateau with a huge sigh of relief from my end.
After resting, rather briefly, we started off for the official highest point on Uhuru Peak.
THE SUMMIT ON UHURU PEAK OF KILIMANJARO MOUNTAIN
At this point, the fingers were hurting from the cold that was sipping through the gloves. There was ice forming in our drinking bottles. My nose felt numb, and my mouth could hardly move. It felt like they might just drop off my face at some point. This was a very harsh environment. I told David to keep moving forward.
I could see people disappearing behind a small hill in front of us. I asked if this was Uhuru Peak. “No!” came back the reply. The peak was further away than that. It looked like this would take forever.
After going through the bend that I had seen from Stella Point, I was still on support from David. I needed him to hold my elbow. As long as his hand was there, I was able to move forward. As soon as he took it off, I would stop. Up to this day, I cannot explain that condition of my mind.
Then I lifted up my eyes and behold, the Uhuru Peak was in sight! There was a sign suspended on two tree pillars. I immediately threw away David’s hand, felt adrenaline pump through my body in gushes of excitement. And I took off like an athlete. I walked like a madman disregarding anything around me. When I reached the highest point in Africa, I was overcome with emotions.
I’m told I don’t cry often. Well, you should have been there to see me fighting off tears. I had made it. Finally, I was standing on the highest point on Uhuru Peak, the tallest location on Kilimanjaro Mountain.
This was it. I had reached the summit of Kilimanjaro Mountain.
Oh God! Oh my goodness! Oh Lord Jesus!
I didn’t know how to express it. I couldn’t feel the cold anymore. The fatigue was gone. The pain vanished.
I always enjoy reaching the summit, but this one experience will remain with me for the rest of my life. This was better than all the money in the world, all the fame, all that life has to offer. I felt alive. I felt like a conqueror. I felt like I could do possibly anything in life. I felt no limitation whatsoever. I felt different!
Soon I was joined by Kelvin and Hilary. David the guide was hovering around to make sure we were not going too crazy. Hilary was crying. Kelvin was ecstatic. We all hugged. We pumped our fists in the air. We celebrated our victory with emotions. Little was said, but a lot was expressed. This was truly an unforgettable moment.
Join me in the next post, as we begin our descent, …alive and very happy!