Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The climb continues (by Juli)

Sorry about not finishing the last blog. Africa is very far away, so the internet is really slow here and I didn't have the patience to finish the post. The internet speed is also why we haven't posted many pictures, so we are going to have to wait till we get back home to post more of those.

Okay, so after making it through the first day, we enjoyed a fantastic dinner of potatoes and meat served in our warm mess tent. The porters, guides and service staff were amazing. The porters (there were 16 of them for our group of 8) carry 25 kilos a day and make only $7 a day. The head guide, Jacob, was in the Imax movie 'To the Roof of Africa'. Jacob is pretty old and a smoker, I don't know how he climbs Kili so effortlessly. Day 2 through 5 were kind of a blur. We hiked a lot and then ate a lot. Typically we were walking for 5-6 hours per day, slowly making our way closer to the summit. We slept when we could - my sleeping bag mattress had a leak so it was hard to sleep. Luckily Todd traded with me for a couple of nights, I don't think he wanted to deal with me after 4 nights of not sleeping. It was freezing at night (especially when a midnight bathroom run was required) but very comfortable during the day.

On the fifth night, we were camped at about 4900 meters, our last camp before making the charge to the top. Thus far nobody in our group had experienced any altitude issues. That evening after an early dinner we went to bed at 7pm and were awakened at midnight to start the ascent to the top. We quickly dressed, drank tea, and tried to get our handwarmers to work. We brought six hand warmers and none of them worked, we think it might have had something to do with the altitude. 8 trekkers and 4 guides left camp the camp around 12:45 AM. I knew it would take about 6 hours to make it to the top, but I didn't think it would be that hard. It was grueling. For those of you in SF, it was like walking up California street in sand in the freezing cold (and I mean cold, all of the water in our nalgene bottles and other folks' camelbaks froze). For most of the trail up it was a basic dirt path, but then near the top it turned to clambering over ice and rocks on a fairly vertical path. The altitude also makes it tough to breathe (the highest I have ever been before Kili was the top of mammoth at about 11,000ft). Along the way we saw a few 'casualties' from other groups, either huddled on the side of the trail or being helped down the mountain by a guide. Around 3:30AM, one of our group fell behind for good - she was getting too sick and could not continue. The headlamps of climbers above us clearly communicated we had a LOOOOONG way to go to the top...I hated to look up because every time I'd see a few lights really high above our current position, which meant we still had a big climb ahead.

Just before sunrise, seven of us clambered up a stretch of glacier to get to Stella Point, which meant we were just 45 more minutes from the very top. Amazing glaciers were all around us at the top, there was definitely more ice than I had expected (I have heard that the ice will all melt within 10 years). Slowly, the seven of us made it to Uhuru Peak, the highest point of Africa at 5,900m/19,000 ft. Todd and I both made it! I was so happy, I didn't think it would happen. The last hour was slow going on the glacier, but being able to see the peak made it bearable for me. I think Todd has a different feeling about the last hour :(. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. Even Lynn who has run marathons and triathalons, said it was the hardest thing she ever did.

So, we made it, but we still had to get back down. We were at the peak for about 20 minutes taking pictures and than we headed back to the camp at 4900m. We got back around 11:30, passed out for an hour and than set off again for the next camp, which was at about 3800m. In all, we hiked for about 15 hours that day. It was rewarding, but I will never do that again.

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