We thought it would be fun to share some personal memories from the summit night of Kilimanjaro. I was going to edit into one formal blog, but I thought posting the actual emails that we circulated a few weeks after returning to our homes would be even more special to share. The final summit represented the culmination of a year of hard work and we were fiercely motivated after spending three weeks in East Africa and seeing with our own eyes the real challenges that Africans face. For all us this, this was a very symbolic and intense end to the challenge.
The Kili summit for me….
I was so anxious, but also SO excited. I had dreamed of summiting kili for 15 years and to me it represented the culmination of 12 months of fundraising and training and actually reaching the “peak” of success for three peaks. I decided to go in the earlier group and remember Luce and I tossing and turning and finally just laughing that we couldn’t sleep. We helped each other with gear and gu (thanks luce!!!) and she laughed at me as I duck-taped body warmers to my stomach and back, looking like the uni-bomber. I was so focused on getting to the top, but also so nervous about the cold and getting sick. I got into “the zone” and just kept going. The next thing I knew, it was just me and Fiona and her guide Jacob. Fiona and I kept each other going and things got intense. I think she will tell you that I was threatening to keep her going from behind with a poke of my trekking poles:) The cold was the worst part of the climb and it was tough to see so many sick people. I don’t know how, but we totally lost the rest of the crew and felt really strong going up to stella point. I remember being so happy to get to stella point and the joy of knowing we would summit was uncontainable at that point. We did get mad at one point that it was so early we thought we’d be too early for the sunrise! I remember looking back into the darkness and screaming ‘Three Peaks!!!?” And when we had no replies, I was so sad knowing we would summit without the team. I even got really worried since there were much faster, stronger girls and where were they!!? All of a sudden out of the darkness, we saw Ali! I had tears of joy! We quickly started the final ascent with just the three of us. I can remember being absolutely freezing, but feeling great….and being shocked by that. The enormity of the moment and the accomplishment was overwhelming. I even stopped to make sure my ipod shuffle was playing good tunes….no one wants to summit to the roof of africa to something slow and lame:)
Going that final way was so emotional. When we finally got our turn at the summit flag, we were just so excited and I remember looking around and thinking – we are at the top of the world and this IS what heaven looks like. I had not expected so much ice! Then we headed down and saw Toni and a few steps further Rachel and Kat… So we resummited for a larger team photo. I all of a sudden felt my lungs compress and got the worst cough. My body was screaming “evacuate!” So I just sort of stumbled away and remember seeing Mara and Luce and Sam (in that ridiculous pink-furred coat!) a few steps down and them grabbing me for a photo I am sure I look like a murderer in….and then a ways down seen Leah and then finally Gretchen, who was purple but got up there like a pro! I actually felt worse coming down (thanks Toni, Ali and Fiona for staying together and chatting! I I also remember Ali being the sweetest thing to people we passed who were headed to the summit! She would say “almost there!” And even gave one guy a gu), but made it to the summit base camp to strip layers and eat some lunch. And then the longest “day” of my life continued with the 4-5 hour walk in the rain to the final camp, where somehow Sam and Rachel talked me into drinking a kilimanjaro beer:) fun games of hacksack ensued! Guys, remember my “dolphin” hackeysack move! Haha
Arriving at the school…
So tired, so sore, and yet feeling like we were on top of the world! Upon stepping off the bus I remember being in full tears and not even being able to look at Luce bc we were such softies! Seeing the kids and hearing the songs….the best way to cap off the experience and know that what we did would change things and really make a difference….seeing the kids who won the prizes just sprint up the steps…such a look of pride!
All I know is that I have an entirely new perspective on and respect for high altitude after Kili. To be completely honest, summiting Kili was not an enjoyable experience for me due to feeling like absolute crap. I must say that it is, in fact, the most difficult thing I have ever done… let me explain.
I actually had been feeling great every day, even up to the high camp, which was around 15,000 feet. It wasn’t until my unsuccessful attempt at getting some sleep before our summit attempt that my luck started to turn. First, some background info: I had a root canal done on a tooth in October, and had been unable to get rid of the infection. This is a tooth that now – two months and two oral surgeries after Kilimanjaro – is in a jar on my desk. Anyway, a chunk of my tooth broke loose during dinner and got jammed in my gums, creating so much pressure in my still-infected mouth that I couldn’t get any sleep. I tried flossing it out, which just resulted in Gretchen having to cut the floss out with her swiss army knife in our tent. So, I tossed and turned for a few hours before the guides came and got us up for our summit attempt. My first order of business involved using the loo, of which there were two, but neither had toilet paper. This certainly wasn’t the end of the world, but a bit of an unpleasant way to start the day 🙂
So, in the mess tent while everyone was getting gear together for our 12:30 am departure, I was diligently working on getting the chunk of tooth out of my mouth (thanks to Sam for having more floss). It finally broke loose and I spit it onto the snow, along with (sorry, this is gross) lots of blood. About 30 seconds later, we started hiking. I hate to admit it, but yes, I cried a little. Not a good sign to be crying BEFORE we started. Ugh. But, we marched onward, and I tried to be optimistic through my throbbing and infected mouth which then also tasted like blood.
The first few hours went without incident. I was devastated to see Yvette and Nicole turn back, but knew how dangerous altitude can be and how much further we still had to go. Then it hit me. Hard. At around 17,500 feet, a nausea I had never known started to wave over me. I kept hiking, thinking “no, no, no, not happening, keep going, it will pass, you will not get sick, no, no, no.” But next thing I knew, I was doubled over two feet off the trail, throwing up and asking for toilet paper so I could venture off into the night. It didn’t get better from there. The next several hours involved Gretchen and myself getting further and further behind the rest of the team, then eventually she and I getting seperated as well.
I have heard stories about what happens to people at high altitude. I’ve read all the books about K2 and Everest, and quizzed my friends that have done Denali and Aconcagua, but discovered that you never really know what it’s like until it is actually happening. It didn’t hit me so bad that I needed to get rushed down, but I kept wondering what the breaking point would be. After each time I stopped to throw up, I would look up at Ayubu, half expecting him to tell me we needed to turn around. I have never felt so helpless in my entire life. As I trudged along behind Ayubu, facing the realization that I still had HOURS to go, I knew that it was literally the most difficult thing I would ever do. I had never felt so awful with such a monumental task ahead of me. I HAD to summit, but it was going to hurt.
My camelback was frozen and there was NO WAY I had the energy to get a different water bottle out of my pack. The sun was rising over Africa and provided one of the most incredible photo opportunities I’ve ever seen, but the thought of taking out my camera was far too exhausting, so I didn’t take any pictures. I took a glove off (don’t remember why), but couldn’t muster up the energy to put it back on, so I didn’t. I knew I was too far behind to summit with the team or even get a photo with the team at the summit, but couldn’t go any faster.
When we reached Stella point, I finally felt confident that we would make it to the top. Sure enough, we met the whole team, little by little as they made their way down. Hugs from everyone, and I was in tears. At the top, I finally started to feel better. I hadn’t thrown up for a while, and knew I was horrifically dehydrated. I had regained a little bit of mental clarity, so I finally put my other glove on and took out my camera for a few pictures. Gretchen wasn’t too far behind, so we took a few pictures together at the summit flag, drank some water, and headed back down.
Now, going down is usually my least favorite thing, and I have historically claimed that I would rather go uphill twice than downhill at all. Kilimanjaro was definitely an exception. Ayubu asked me if I wanted to go fast, I nodded, and so we ran. It was sort of like skiing on dirt, and I felt better the lower we got. Ahhh, back at camp… I drank some water and fell asleep.
Of course, the following days were wonderful! A fantastic assembly and bbq with St. Jude’s, followed by team celebrations!!! We finally had the opportunity to enjoy a few cocktails without facing one of the peaks the next day. Extra props to Sam for rallying with me until 7 am (that probably shouldn’t be mentioned on the blog)
Captain Kili, where do I start?
After the summiting Mt Kenya and Mt Meru, I was prepared for the worst. As I had never climbed anything higher than a sand dune before my trip to Africa so the technical (scary) parts of the climbs shocked the socks off me. To my surprise Kili was not nearly as frightening as I had assumed — until summit night.
Like Luce and Brookie I was not sure which group I should leave with, after much deliberation I chose to go in the second group. Rach and I were camped right next to the mess tent so I could hear the first group up having tea and crackers whilst preparing to leave, I could not help myself and go up and had a cuppa with them and wished them well as they left. My group then stumbled in to the mess tent and I had a second round of tea and those delicious coconut biscuits! Num Nums!!
As we left it was overwhelming, Godson and the guides sang in perfect harmony whilst we stumbled behind them following a trail of headlights flickering up the mountain and disappearing into the height of the night sky.
The first couple of hours were mystical and exciting. The mood was an overwhelming mixture of sheer delight and complete anxiety. It had just stopped snowing so the ground was covered with velvety white snow that disappeared up as far as our head lamps would allow us to see. As we moved slowly “pole pole” up the mountain chanting with our guides we were all privately distracted by the enormity of the lack of knowing what we were in for. We chatted nervously amongst ourselves until the weather started to cool off dramatically. The chatter soon subsided and we broke up into groups.
After about 4 hours I started to battle. My hands were freezing, a simple task like putting on a pair of gloves seemed so difficult that I stupidly opted not to. Thankfully Mara noticed and insisted that I have her gloves with hand warmers, she took mine out of my backpacked, hugged me and continued. THANK YOU MARA!
I slowed down and Sam (my brother from another mother) stayed with me. I started to feel very sick and was concerned that I still had another 5 hours to go. I didn’t want to eat and my water had frozen, my stomach was screaming at me.
I still laugh when I remember purchasing my whizz-bang ski pants before leaving Australia. I recall looking at my reflection suggesting to myself that I should get the smaller size because they are more flattering and that they will be a great addition to the “ski drobe”. Silly fresher… I did not factor in that I would be wearing five layers under them on summit night. The pressure around my stomach from my “ski bunny” pants started to consume my thoughts. Something so minor ends up being a huge problem once you start to get higher and colder. After some tears I collapsed to the ground in an overly emotional and dramatic manner and clutched at my ski pants ripping the button and fly undone, the relief was overwhelming! Within minutes I began to feel better and quickly caught up with the rest of the group and summitted soon after with my fly undone!
The summit was incredible. As you round the corner after Stellar Point all of a sudden a huge plane of dusted glass opens up before you and the horizon is a perfect, welcoming white. There are huge jagged, glaciers that make you feel like a tiny spec of glass that has chipped off the side of their awesome structure. The fact that you are so exhausted both physically and emotionally adds to the thrill of the summit as you are at wits end and trying to absorb everything around you. It was overwhelming, completely beautiful and extremely rewarding.
Fortunately, I managed to capture some “Hell Box” footage at the summit, I am sure that reciting this speech was part of the reason that I managed to endure my tight pants for so long!
After summitting I ran and “skied” back down to our lunch camp. This was one of my highlights as I was in ore of the girls skiing down the other two mountains while I was forced to resume the “fat spider shuffle” on decent!
Every step, tear, fundraising effort and dollar spent was worth every effort over again.