26 February 2009

Summit Day!

15 Feb
Day 6 – Summit Day!

Barafu Camp (4,550m/14,930ft) to Uhuru Peak (5,895m/19,340ft), 7 km
Uhuru Peak to Mweka Camp (3,100m/10,170ft), 23 km

We went to bed immediately after an early dinner so we could wake up at 11:00 pm. Wind whipped the tent all night long and I didn’t want to go outside. But I put on my layers and went to the mess tent for a cup of tea.

At 12:05 we started walking. It was cold, dark, and miserable. The headlamp illuminated the boots of the person in front of you and you just followed them.

About an hour into the walk my arms and legs stopped doing what my brain told them to do. I’d take 3 or 4 steps, stop, and Mike would give me a little push from behind.

My mind wandered. You have to let it if you don’t want to dwell on the discomforts. I counted steps in French and English. I sang to myself from the “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack. I repeated over and over again, “We’ll be at the summit by 8 am” and “24 hours from now I’ll be warm and asleep”.

The hours dragged on. Step, step, step, push. Finally, surprisingly early, we reached Stella’s Point. Even at our slow pace we were less than an hour from the top, Uhuru Peak. I was exhilarated, but I still couldn’t get my legs to work. Step, step, step, push.

A few hundred meters from Uhuru Peak I put my poles away and grabbed Mike’s arm. I wanted us to summit together. He practically had to drag me, and he was having altitude problems, too.

We reached Uhuru Peak at 6:05, exactly 6 hours after we started. I couldn’t believe it took us only 6 hours! I thought it would take at least 7 and I had been prepared for it to take up to 8.

We summitted at sunrise, and the pink sky illuminating the glacier was gorgeous. I nearly cried, but I was too cold. We took some pictures and walked around, delirious with accomplishment.

IMG_5471.JPG
The obligatory photo in front of the sign, with our assistant guide Jeremiah

But I didn’t stay long. Due to my Gumby legs the guide wanted me to start the descent ASAP. The assistant guide ended up escorting me whole way down, not letting go of my elbow until we got to the door of our tent. I just could not hold myself up. I saw two other people descending the same way, so I guess it’s not that uncommon.

Back at the tent we both crashed for about an hour. Then we had lunch and packing. We asked for a light lunch but a stew had already been made, so we ate as much as we could stomach.

The afternoon trek to the final campsite was long. But eventually it became very beautiful and pleasant. We descend from the summit and alpine desert zones through the moorland to the edge of the rain forest. The oxygen is great!

We decided to camp one last night. We thought about continuing on to the gate but our pace was so slow this afternoon we might not make it before dark. We will sleep well and get an early start in the morning. It’s not as crucial to eat the camp food for fuel, so we can snack on Lara Bars for the night if we have to.

See photos on flickr

I'm typing up my notes from the trip and posting them with just some light editing. Each day will be a new post.

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