Climbing Kilimanjaro – Chapter 5

The ascent

The last day before the midnight  summit ascent was to be a relatively  modest five hour walk to Baranco high camp at 4700 meters, also known for some reason as Kosovo Camp! We were very lucky that Kilele Tours had managed to secure places for us at this camp as it is over 100m higher than the main Baranco Camp, which meant an hour less walking at midnight!

Last night of campOff at 8.30am and we were now like a well oiled machine. Tea in the tent at 7, breakfast at 7.30, sort out water, add purification tablets, add vitamins, put in backpack, eat millet porridge, get kit ready, boots on, jacket on, poles, and away.

One of the group had been very poorly during the night and everyone really pulled together to help her. One guy carried her rucksack, another her poles, another provided snacks. It’s no fun being sick at that altitude and with no creature comforts to make you feel better.

Another of the group, in his 60s was struggling at points and again everyone rallied around. The guides said that it was rare to find a group that had bonded together so well.

The landscape changed again for our walk, this time much more open with some scree and large rocks. Far reaching views and plenty of the sightings of the peak of Kilimanjaro which still looked an awfully long way off. We stared at it – would we really be there tomorrow at sunrise?

At around 1.30pm we arrive at Kosovo for lunch. The weather was dry but very cold and the air was thin. Breathing became noticeably harder especially after any kind of exertion. Once again our trusty porters had managed to overtake us, set up a full camp including our delightful chemical loo, tents, rucksacks deposited, and prepare fresh tomato soup and avocados as well as hot tea.

After lunch there was a final briefing – what to wear for the summit climb and what to take. I sat down on my sleeping bag and took it all in with rising anticipation, excitement and some nerves. It was going to be very very cold and a long walk from midnight.

Summit night beginsWe were ordered to sleep from 7pm until 11pm. Needless to say I found this impossible to do more than nap fitfully for ages, only to fall into a deep sleep around 15 minutes before the wake up call at 11pm precisely.  Then out of my sleeping bag into the bitter cold adding a few layers to my pyjamas so that there were three Merino wool jumpers, plus a fleece jacket and waterproof on top, long johns two pairs of trousers two pairs of socks two pairs of gloves , hat and the essential head torch.

Then the usual routine in silence, collecting the camel backs from the porters, add neutralising tablets, add the disgusting vitamin tablets, attach to backpack, put on my ipod and suddenly it was midnight and time to leave. It was pitch black and we were like a line of miners heading for the coal face as we began to walk with our head torches lighting the path.

We soon fell into a silent rhythmic walk concentrating on each steady uphill step The plan was to walk for an hour, then stop for five minutes and no longer it would be too cold.

The night before, I had carefully lagged the pipe on my camelpack with Duct tape as we were told to do, as the pipe could easily freeze over close to the summit. However, I had made a big mistake by not testing the pipe as my water had not been ready until just before we had to leave.

We make it to the topSo when I came to take my first sip of water, I found to my horror that the pipe was no longer working as I had taped it too tightly. I then tried to clear the blockage but was not successful and had to ask the guide to help remove the tape. Neither of us were able to do this,and it was not until the next stop that I was able to take the entire pack off my back and remove the lagging using a penknife at the risk of cutting the plastic tubing. All this at 1am; it was a very stressful start to the night!

Whilst not a major incident, it was a bad start because of the feeling of panic was one I could have done without. However, once sorted,  my water was free-flowing again. Phew. The not so good news is that I no longer had a lagged waterpipe and the temperature was getting colder and colder, and would soon be freezing.

The next few hours passed quite quickly and soon at around 6am, the sun started to rise and the summit was very much in sight.

The snow by now was very thick underfoot and it was bitterly cold. The pipe on my water had completely given up and frozen over, and I was drinking from a plastic cup with screw top lid which was fiddly. The air was getting thin and I became very conscious of my breathing. But we were getting closer and despite being well into the 7th hour of walking, the adrenaline powered us on.

Finally thereThe first summit that we reached was Stellar Point at almost 5,800m and what an awesome sight it was against the backdrop of the rising sun. I literally felt on top of the world. It was quite an emotional moment – I thought about all the people I knew who could not undertake this kind of journey, and about the kids we were helping back at the nursery. I also thought about the people I loved back at home and wished that I could have shared it with them.

But Stellar Point was only the first summit and after a few minutes and a cup of tea, we had another 100m climb to reach Uhuru, the roof of Africa. This took around 45 minutes along a snow track with awesome views of the glacier to the left and a perfect snow bowl to the right. I reflected that if we were in the Alps, the would be a place for chairlifts and perhaps a cable car. But here there was only nature at its most formidable. The walk to Uhuru was hard but finally we summited properly at around 8am in full daylight. Euphoria and time for photos, it was a moment to savour for a lifetime.

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Debbie Marshall

Founder of Silver Travel Advisor

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