It’s was another early start from Baranco Camp, due to a very long day of walking ahead of us. After a delicious breakfast (although the porridge is definitely an acquired taste/texture) it’s time to pack up and head out, ready to tackle ‘the wall’.
The Baranco Wall is a very scrambly uphill hike which I actually really enjoyed. It was very different to the terrain we’d covered on the previous days. The kissing stone is a famous stopping point along the wall – not sure how sanitary it is to kiss it (our lips were burnt and dry by this point – lovely!)
Our group was probably slower than a lot of other groups, taking 2.5 hours to summit the wall, however all of us agreed that we didn’t think we could have completed it faster. We were rewarded with an incredible cloudscape at the top!
We were rewarded with a hot lunch at Karanga camp, enjoying a traditional veggie curry, one of my fave meals on the trip. Base Camp, our final resting point for the day, is a dry camp, so we refilled all of our water and used the loos before leaving.
The afternoon was a tough one, with wind whipping across the alpine desert, the pace very slow as we trudged towards Base Camp. We were all exhausted by the time we reach our tents, the hours walking over the past 4 days catching up with us, and the day is far from over. It’s an early dinner, summit briefing and bed for a couple of hours….
Summit Night Diary
‘I’ve slept for perhaps 40 minutes max when our 11pm alarm goes off and it’s time to extricate myself from my warm sleeping bag, don my walking gear and head out into the cold of base camp.
I’m wearing the most clothes I’ve ever worn at one time before, resembling Joey Tribiani (the one where no-one’s ready), with 8 tops, including three coats, and four pairs of trousers, two pairs of socks, two pairs of mittens and two hats.
We congregate in the mess tent and try to force down some food. I’m glad for the Neat Nutrition chocolate protein powder that I’ve brought, mixing it with hot water – the last ‘real’ food I’ll eat for hours.
At midnight we don our head torches, fill every water bottle we can stuff into our bags and head off into the night.
In single file we plod ever upwards towards the Summit, 1200m+ of incline to cover. Time seems irrelevant.
A shout goes up that one of the guys, Nim, seems delirious. He’s stumbling around like he’s sunk 10 pints before our trek. It’s altitude sickness, a lack of oxygen, and the guides swiftly step in, taking his bag and supporting him on his quest to the top.
The rest of us continue, taking regular water and snack breaks, not to mention arctic loo stops behind rocks, never far from the trail. Above us a stream of headlights is all that breaks up the darkness.
I listen to the playlists I’ve carefully saved for the tough moments, laughing at some of Tom’s song choices (Toto Africa was an amazing addition). Hours pass, we chat, we listen, we forge upwards, slowly slowly.
And then it hits me.
Around 5,300m and the dull headache becomes a pounding migraine. My stomach churns, the thought of my Twix no longer providing excitement, but horror. My water bladder has frozen and it takes all my energy to grab the bottles in my bag to sip on. Luckily our incredible guides are skilled at knowing the signs of those struggling, and our CEO Gerald takes my day pack from me, lightening the weight and my mood considerably.
We keep walking, the sun is now up and any thought of reaching the summit for sunrise have faded. Our only mission now is just to make it to that iconic sign.
I feel horrendous. I don’t remember feeling this awful ever. With what must have only been about 300m to go it becomes too much and I burst into uncontrollable tears. I’m not the first (nor the last) to cry on the mountain this morning.
Gerald reassures me that I’m just tired, that I can do this. That throwing up will make me feel better. He grabs my hand and we step gingerly towards Stella Point.
The false summit at Stella Point, 5756m, is around a 45min walk to the real summit, however it was a mini milestone. It is proof that we will make the summit. There are more tears, this time they aren’t just mine and Katies, even the boys are overcome with emotion. The trail is no longer vertical, but a gentle incline that feels far more manageable. But still it is painful, and requires a number of breaks en route, to catch my breath and often to retch or vom.
Reaching the real Kilimanjaro summit, the wooden board that we have been dreaming of for days, is surreal. The pain of the effort to reach this point pales and the relief and excitement to have made it takes over.
We smile for photos, hug each other, congratulate our group, thank the guides, and bask in the sunshine for a few moments. This feels like the toughest challenge I have ever completed, a mental as well as hugely physical test, and I am so proud of myself and our group for making it to the summit together.
And then it’s over and we have to make the gruelling 3 hour descent back to Base Camp.
If we thought it was tough going up, climbing down is no easier. We are quiet, focusing on making it down without falling. The weather is setting in quickly; the snow falling, my hair freezing in it’s plait.
I’m sipping slowly on my water, taking breaks to throw up behind rocks when I need to. Just when I’m having a complete sense of humour failure, I see David, my amazing porter, through the mist. He’s come to take my bag and help me down…walking 1.5 hours from camp to do so. This man is a legend, no where in the world would you get service and support like this.
Crawling back in to camp, it’s all I can do to take my coat off and lie down in my tent. Head pounding still, luckily the decrease in altitude has meant I no longer feel so sick. An hour nap and I wake feeling human again. Despite having hiked for 13 hours already, we haven’t finished for the day, there’s still a 2+ hour walk to our camp for the evening, oh and it’s properly snowing now.
The atmosphere is lighter than it has been for hours, we have now successfully summited Mount Kilimanjaro – we have accomplished our goal for the trip. Despite some unhappiness about the extra few hours walking, we feel much healthier once we reach our camp, sitting at 3900m, any effects of altitude are now gone. I’m not sure courgette soup and hot chocolate has ever tasted so good.
We’re all asleep by 9pm, exhausted but thrilled.’
Don’t forget to watch my Kilimanjaro Vlog!