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Aug 29th, 2010 – Day Seven

9.20.2010 | My Blog

Barafu to Summit – Part One…

This is the day that I’ve been dreaming of and dreading. The day when I work as hard as I can to get to the Highest Point in Africa. I know that it will be hard, but there’s such a reward at the end. I just hope I know what I’m doing.

Long past the time when I had actually enjoyed a morning cup of tea, Reggie came and offered me yet another. But this time it was 11:30 at night, and I had been dreading this particular cup of tea for about four days. I knew it was the last thing that my body would consider sustenance for about 12 hours.

I was also given half a dozen cookies, which I couldn’t eat due to my nervous stomach, that I shoved in the side pocket of my daypack for later. Aside from 4 litres of water, those cookies were the only things I would carry on my back, given that I was wearing every piece of clothing I had. In fact, I had slept in everything except my boots, so I was ready to go shortly after I was woken up.

Before we left for the Londrossi Gate seven days ago, we sat down for a pre-climb briefing with one of the owners of the Marangu Hotel. When it came to giving us the run-down on the final ascent, he explained that his rule is “one, two, three, four, five”: one pair of boots, two pairs of socks, three layers on the legs, four layers on the core, and finally toque, sunglasses, headlamp, balaclava, and of course, sunscreen. When it came to clothing, I was certainly ready. I was certainly confident that I was ready, anyway.  I think.

My stomach was already moving with nerves, but I was heavy-footed and scared. Although I was excited, I also knew that my performance over the last six days was less than stellar, and that this final assault was going to be so very, very difficult. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to be at home, in my bed, with a good book and no tea.

I looked up into the dark of midnight and saw the stars. Millions upon millions of stars, looking down on me and promising to be something that I could focus on for the next 5-6 hours. I looked toward the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro,  and saw a line of slowly moving light, the headlamps of 100 climbers, showing the way to the top. I hated them.

We’re ready to go.

Packed tight in layers and “anxietment”, we click on our headlamps, grab our hiking poles, and we start climbing. Slowly, inching, painfully we ascend. 45 seconds into the climb, I get a hard dose of reality as I realize that I am completely unprepared, and totally scared. What the hell am I doing here!?

The trick to the final ascent is to find a rhythm, and to keep your steps as smooth as possible so as to avoid wasting energy. I would gently sway my body back and forth as I climbed, my steps keeping time with my breathing. This would work for a short time, and then we would come across a flat section of rock that we had to navigate, and that totally threw my rhythm off. I’d have to start again. Again, and again, and again. I became frustrated early on, and that didn’t bode well for the upcoming hours.

I had been reading all about the ‘Scree Slope’ that had to be climbed on the ascent day, and I dreaded it. We were currently walking on loose gravel and volcanic ash, and that was hard enough! But I knew I had to save energy for the scree slope, so that I could tackle it with full strength.

Pro tip: always, ALWAYS double-check your sources and your definitions. The loose gravel and volcanic ash that we were on WAS the scree slope, but I wouldn’t figure that out until I reached the crater wall. My definition of scree was NOT the same as the definition of scree that I had been researching for eight months.

This was terrible. The climb was killing me! I couldn’t believe how difficult it was, and how tired I already had become. My body began to shut down. I was counting my steps and realizing that I could take fewer and fewer before I had to take a break. I was holding my team up. I was humiliated. I wanted to sit down and cry, and let them go on ahead while I beat myself up with shame and disappointment. This was not altitude sickness, it was attitude sickness. I carried on, despite the fact that I was so terribly embarrassed and ashamed with myself. I had been told that this is a psychological climb more than a physical one, and even though my body was drained slowly with each step, I knew that it may very well be my thoughts that kept me from succeeding. Something had to change, and it had to change fast.

I knew that we were scheduled to arrive at Stella Point at sunrise, and so scanning the night sky for the merest hint of light was simultaneously driving me forward, and driving me insane. “If I could just see light, I’d know that I was getting close!” I would stop, turn to look behind me, and be simply sick when it remained dark. I began to hate the stars.

Slowly, pathetically, I climbed. Up, up, up… step after step after step, hopes dashed by the seemingly endless ‘false summits’ we kept seeing. What we thought was a ridge was merely a rise that showed us miles of trail beyond it. It was truly devastating at times. But we kept on. We had to. The summit was up there somewhere.

Wasn’t it?

Next Time: I see the Light!



[…] Me label for 2009 proved so damn fulfilling! And what an adventure I’ve had in 2010… I climbed a mountain, I fell in love, I wrote. As for next year, I think I’d like to be learning more, in any […]