Saturday, June 28, 2008
THE ROOF OF AFRICA!!!
Now that I have a space bar that works, I can elaborate more...
I MADE IT!!!! On June 26th at 2:26 PM Tanzania time (7:26 AM at home), I made it to the summit of Kilimanjaro! It was easily one of the greatest experiences of my life. After nearly a week of climbing, and a net gain of over 12,000 feet, I reached Uhuru Peak, the Roof of Africa, at 19,340 feet.
This time of year, there's quite a bit of snow on top, which makes for both pretty pictures and tricky climbing - thank God for trekking poles and mini-crampons. The weather throughout our journey was excellent - sunshine every day, with a few clouds and misty weather at lower altitudes. Apparently, it was rainy in Moshi (at the base of the mountain) all week, but we were literally above the clouds, so it didn't matter. We began at about 7,000 feet in rainforest, sometimes almost knee-deep in mud. On our second and third days, we passed through a heather and grassy moorland zone - the heather reminded me a lot of the fynbos of South Africa, and then I remembered it's because they have a lot of the same plants since they originated from the same place millions of years ago. Finally, we left living things behind as we climbed through the dusty alpine desert and eventually came to the snows of Kilimanjaro.
After summiting, I was one of three in our group (out of ten people) who felt well enough to camp at Crater Camp at 18,370 feet! It was just the three of us girls, a guide, and a few porters at the top of Africa. The next morning, we hugged a glacier and hiked up to see the inner crater and the ash pit, which still spews out sulfur gas, so we couldn't stay long. I'm really glad we spent extra time on the top of Kibo - we didn't just run up and down to bag the summit, we enjoyed the views and savored the moments that were our reward for a week of hard hiking.
Our climbing company, Tusker Trail, was excellent. The twice-daily medical checks, where they asked how we were doing, checked our pulse-ox, and listened to our lungs, helped put me at ease since I'd never been about probably 11,000 feet. They were very proactive about solving any health issues, and at the first sign of a high-altitude headache, they gave me some dexamethasone, which relieved the problem and meant I never felt really bad, even at 19,340 feet. No nausea, no hallucinations that I know of - just a mild headache.
The people I met were great. We had quite a diverse group - I was the youngest, there were a few other college-aged girls, and the oldest were two guys in their 60's. Despite the age range, we all got along really well, and I sincerely hope to stay in touch with all of them. They are all so accomplished, too - one of the other girls has been living in Oman for the last year teaching at a school there, a couple of people have climbed Mt. Rainier, one was a plastic surgeon, the other two girls just graduated from Yale, two women are marathon runners and one recently quit her job and sold everything to travel and live in Italy for a while. Seriously, amazing people.
I never saw the mountain before I climbed it, but the day we got back to our hotel, the skies were clear and Kili was in full view. Looking at the mountain, I couldn't believe I had just climbed it, and that I spent at night at the top - it's huge! I stared at Kili for probably an hour and watched the setting sun illuminated Kilimanjaro's southern glaciers. It was the perfect ending to my expedition. I felt almost like it was Kili's reward for me, for having made it to the top - I finally got to see the mountain in its full glory.
Leaving was hard. I haven't let myself get emotional on this trip (or haven't had time), but leaving Kilimanjaro and Moshi behind left me with a few tears in my eyes. I've dreamed of Kili for so long, and now that it's over, it's hard to move on. It was a milestone, and it made me realize how blessed and lucky I am to be able to do these things in my life. No matter how many more mountains I climb in my lifetime, Kilimanjaro will always hold its own place above the rest.
It's really hard to summarize my climb in just a few paragraphs and a photo or two. If you'd like to hear more about my climb, I'd love to tell you more, and I could go on for ages if you want - just ask me and I'll tell.