It's 10pm, outside the cold wind and the storm rule. I (georgi) hear the first group of people to departure for the final summit push. Envy them! Our schedule is to leave the camp at 1am...3 more looong hours left, but neither Alex nor do I can sleep.
Finally it's midnight! Quickly we put 3 layers of clothes and prepare the day packs with the essentials to survive out there.
After we open our tent's zipper we notice the camp is totally sunken in the darkness of the night.It's extremely cold! Probably the temperature is around -20 degrees. The storm is completely gone...
Alex looks to the left towards the mountain top and discovers a long thin string made of the head lamps of all those who departure 1,2,3 hours before us.
Power warm breakfast and it's already time for us to go!
First we had to climb extremely steep slope. It's so quiet..no wind. The only sound we could hear the people walking in front of us.The pace we have is really good 3km/h (for the other days we had about 2.5km/h). Just the right speed to push Alex outside of his comfort zone, but still been able to follow the pace. Soon, we bypass the first group of climbers,and the second one, and the third one...
We have been walking for already 30-40 minutes and we notice a group of two people who are descending. It looks very suspicious...and soon afterwards we discover. The first person is a mountain guide and the second one its client (fat muzungu from UK) who was coughing and choking. His lungs were bleeding. This guy looks like suffer from HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema)or HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonar Endema).People say it's highly painful and if you don't descent quick enough, get some help, dead is inevitable. I must say, this moment wasn't very motivating for our group, but to forget what we just have witnessed, we start pushing even harder to the top. Soon we bypass one more group.
One would have the feeling that you can go on like that for hours but cold was slowly creeping in. The higher we got, the stronger the wind started to blow and with each ministop we could feel that the frost was all around us. Alex was clearly out of his comfort zone but our guide knew how to keep him motivated. It worked as we passed the first group of climbers and it worked as we passed the e group but at one moment we were out of energy so Josephat recommended we stopped and had something to eat. Alex had a few energy bars prepared but surprise... they were rock solid frozen... It actually took some energy to eat them.
Soon after we were on our way again. Josephat told us that it gets easier once you reach Stella Point and I (Alex) was just rooting for that. 5700 something meters... that was the immediate target. After some more of the same walk-behind-someone-and-see-only-their-shoes-with-your-head-lamp business, we got there and we were so excited that we did not even want to stop. In retrospective, I guess it was a good idea as we understand that there are a lot of people (about 20%) that stop there and can not make it any further to the top. We did not stop and excitement was making us go faster and faster. We could sense the peak as a lion senses a wounded antelope and just does not give up the chase.
Well... almost like a lion. The wind was really strong now and it was even colder. Georgi's hands turned blue and we were really scared about frostbite. We had maybe 30 minutes to sunrise but they can be so painful with those blue hands. Moreover, we decided to add an extra layer by putting the down jacket on. Easier said than done. It was so cold that the backpack zippers were stuck and it took some time to open them. In addition, the down jackets were frozen and the down just did not want to get full with the air that is so critical in making that jacket warm.
Everything was forgotten when we made eye contact with the summit. We were the 2nd and the 3rd person to reach it in that day... 5895masl baby... and remember... we were among the last to leave the camp. This should tell something about our guide's ability to "read" our potential. Oh... and if you really want to see how great Josephat is... he managed to get us to the top just 5 minutes before the sunrise. How can one manage a 5 hour walk to the minute???? Well... Josephat can :)))) Georgi did not even have time to unfreeze his photo camera!!!
The peak itself is not fantastic. The sunrise is very nice and the shadow the sunrise creates on the other side, close to Mount Meru is fantastic. But the best thing is not this. It is the sense of accomplishment... the joy of finally being there. This was short lived though, as the guide did not let us stay there for more than 25 minutes... to avoid health problems.
The sunrise is about to start in few minutes.
Since 1912 Kilimanjaro has lost 82% of its ice cap. Today, the total glacier area is about 2.5 km2 and based on the latest forecast it will be gone within next 30-40 years.
The sky above the glacier turns red. It's sunrise time!
A moment to remember for life...
We made it. Bulmanians are on top of Mt .Kilimanajro the top of Africa, the highest free standing mountain in the world.
The shade of Mt. Kilimanjaro covers part of Mt. Meru.
Our 25 minutes of glory on the top went very fast. Josephat (our guide) reminds us our 25 min time on the top are over so we have time for one last picture and we descent.
Going down actually felt longer than going up... maybe because we could see where we are walking but there were a few things that made it cumbersome. Alex's boots were not quite ok... he already managed to damage his nails on a one day trip in Romania so this descend was really painful on his feel. Then, the sun was up! A nice thing in general but we were wearing windbreaker pants and that is not a good combination. Once we made it to the camp, the underpants were so wet with sweat that I could literally squeeze it out of them. On the other hand, the sun was strong enough that a one hour break was enough for them to get dry.
Making it to the first camp was easy. We had to find our way to Mweka camp now and that was a little bit longer. About 14 kilometers to be exact. 14 kilometers that started easy with a sandy terrain and an acceptable slope. Unfortunately this changed quickly after 3-4 km and it was replaced by a rocky road where you had to go down on something that looked more like irregular stairs than a slope and that is a pain on the muscles. I think Alex used all the arsenal of Romanian, Russian, Bulgarian, German, French, English, Hindi, Indonesian swearing as he stumbled on one rock or the other.
All in all it was not as pleasant as going up. The excitement was gone and so was the adrenaline. There was no tempered pace, no more pole-pole. Just a big hurry to the camp. The game was over and now we wanted to go on with our plans.... I was already imagining the 132324 beers I had to drink that evening. WRONG!!!! 80% of fatalities happen on the way down exactly because of these reasons. Fortunately, nothing happened to us. Close to Mweka camp we passed the British guy we met earlier that night. Seems fat people are not fast... not even on the way down.
As we reached Mweka we had to make a decision. Go further or stay there for the night. The tour we booked allowed us to stay there but I was afraid that all the effort from this day will go into muscle pain tomorrow so we decided to do the rest of the descent in the same day.
We had an awkward moment as we had to pay the porters here and seems that a minimum of about 40USD per porter is expected. We gave 20 as we decided that the people who should have more are the guide, assistant guide and cook but they did not comment in any way. Josephat explained to us later and he was honest enough to tell us that we gave him a little more than he was expecting. I guess they have a sense of equality since he was expecting the difference in tips to be smaller even though that meant his tip was smaller.
The rest of the descent consisted mostly of some other type of more regular steps but still not easy on the muscles. Alex repeated the swearing just like the songs in a radio station's heavy rotation... actually...swearing were his only rotation for the rest of the descent.
Each step was screaming BEER!!!BEER!!! and after 8365825435 more steps we were there. We got our diplomas from the final gate and we were off to the hotel.
There was one more thing I noticed though. I had a pair of old base layers with me and some extra energy bars that I did not eat. I decided to give the base layer to our guide as we was basically using only a shirt and a sweater under his jacket (pretty much as you would use in a normal December day to go to work) and to give the energy bars to the assistant guide. I gave them the gifts separately so that they would not see what the other one got but even so, the assistant guide went to Josephat and shared the bars. Why? Out of loyalty it seems as we asked. Surprising and admirable in the same time!!!