DANIEL MUNSLOW experiences the perfect moment atop Stella Point and beats body with mind
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro changes your outlook on life. Afterwards, a part of the mountain – cherished moments and lessons learnt – lives with you forever.
We were aiming for Uhuru Peak, 5895 meters above sea level, through the farms, rain forest, moorlands and highland desert.
The seven-day hike took us along the beautiful Machame Route. We went high up to Lava Tower (4630m) on day three and back down nearly 700m for an overnight stay at Barranco camp (3950m). The “climb-high, sleep-low” principle is key.
I had read a few websites beforehand for my summit attempt last month (January 2012) but nothing prepared me for the amazing scenery or the challenges ahead.
From Tanzania, we boarded a bus in Kilimanjaro that took us to Sol Salinero our overnight hotel in Moshi, at the base of the mountain.
The first leg of our trek took us from Machame Gate at 1490m to Machame camp at 2980m, a seven hour 15km hike through Montane forest. At the campsite we met our team of 42 porters and guides from cooks, to servers, toilet managers, and tent crew.
The next day our climb to Shira 1 camp at 3840m took seven hours across two segments. We lunched at the half way mark. We arrived at the campsite after 15:00 and repacked for the next day’s challenges. Two words you learn are “Pole Pole”. This means Slow Down. The guides ensured we climbed slowly to manage our acclimatisation.
Truly the unsung heroes of Kilimanjaro, the porters literally lift you up the mountain. Many have been ascending for decades. Our Chief Guide, Raj, has done it 250 times; Edwin, who has worked on Kili for 30 years, has reached the summit 400 times. So next time someone says they did one or 10 summits, think of the Kilimanjaro porters! Raj, believes so strongly in getting everyone to the summit that he stayed with a woman lagging behind. He did not leave her or hand her over to another guide. He led from the back – a quality sadly lacking in today’s commercial world. Raj told me he was honoured to take us up the mountain but truly the honours was ours.
The trip to Barranco Hut took us to 3870m across semi-desert terrain. We reached an altitude of 4,600m ASL at Lava Tower before descending to 3870m ASL to rest at Barranco, the “climb-high sleep-low” approach again. Our bodies would feel experience a level only 1,300m below the summit. Breathing is more difficult as atmospheric pressure changes. You need to work harder to suck air into your lungs.
An eight hour morning hike took us through desert terrain under the boiling sun with a break for lunch before heading to Lava Tower. The afternoon trip encompassed thick fog and chilly conditions. You can experience four seasons on the mountain with temperatures from 30 degrees in the morning to 5 degrees in the afternoon.
The trek to Karanga Valley started with a two-hour climb up the famous Barranco Wall, before we headed out across desert terrain and through the valley to reach the Karanga Hut four hours later.
When she reached the top of Barranco Wall all one Norwegian hiker could say to me was ‘Holly Sh*t’! That summed up the climb. We had experienced drastic temperature changes, cloud cover, sweltering heat sharp ascents and steep descents all on one challenging day.
Before we left for our summit attempt on day five, the team of Porters sang the Kili Song, highlighting each of the major obstacles we had covered so far. It brought tears to our eyes.
We left at about 08:40 walking on steep and slippery terrain as we made our way to Barafu. The walk took two and a half hours with two short breaks, we queued to register at the camp and after a short rest, it was time to tackle the Roof of Africa, Uhuru Peak.
With butterflies in my stomach, I left Barafu Hut at about 00:15 for a seven-hour uphill trek on stone scree through the Alpine Desert to Stella Point on the crater rim at 5,685m.
We used headlamps despite the gibbous moon. It was a lonely, long slog to the summit and I had to draw on all my strength just to get through the night. I battled fatigue; AMS (altitide sickness – headaches, nausea and vertigo; thirst, hunger, and aching muscles as I pushed my body to its limits.
We trudged at a rate of approximately 90 minutes per kilometre.
My mind kept telling me to give up, go back to camp, have some tea and get back into bed. My circadian rhythm told me the same thing. Our guides – or rather, Guardian Angels – kept telling us to keep moving, ‘pole, pole’, as they navigated us through the bitter night and dangerous terrain.
I just kept walking, oblivious to the pain, dripping sweat and snot that froze on my lips giving me frost bite.
I just focused on reaching the summit. Pain is just a thought; your body can do so much more … “pole, pole”.
Imagine my joy when I had covered 100 meters and reached the sign for Stella Point.
We stood tall and proud after crouching over our walking poles for hours. We turned around to see the sun rising from above the clouds. A new day had dawned. I experienced a perfect moment; when time seemed to stop and I felt as though I could live forever. I had earned it.
But that wasn’t the end of the trip. From here, we had to reach Uhuru Peak – the highest point in Africa. After Stella Point and the hot tea served by the porters, we felt reborn. We headed up the 170 meters to Uhuru.
We moved painfully but I hadn’t come this far to quit. Time felt like a predator stalking me like a shadow but finally we came over the last horizon. Before us was the sign we had worked so hard to reach – ‘Congratulations: you have reached Uhuru Peak. The Highest Point in Africa.’ The shining sun reflected off the ice caps and crater.
We took our photos and started our descent to Barafu. I arrived back at 10:10 – ten hours after I left.
I made it. I reached the roof of Africa. I saw the best sunrise ever. I experienced the perfect moment. I saw a Kili miracle. I beat body with mind.
- Day 1: Machame Gate (1738 m) (start of trek) to Machame Camp (3018 m)
- Day 2: Shira 1 (3756 m)
- Day 3: Barranco (3972 m)
- Day 4: Karanga (4000 m)
- Day 5: Barafu (4633 m) (high camp before summit)
- Day 6: Uhuru Peak (5895m) down to Mweka Camp (3102 m)
- Day 7: Mweka Camp (3102 m) to Mweka Gate (1649 m) (end of trail)
- This expedition was an Italtile initiative to raise funds and awareness for the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI), whose volunteers assisted with the recovery of the company plane that crashed in February 2011.