Kilimanjaro summit day! By today, the fifth day of our trek, our guides had gotten the hang of Emid and my trekking speed. Most treking groups seemed to leave the campsite around 11:00 pm for the push to the summit, but since we were moving so quickly we got to sleep till about 12:30 am. When awoke we were served tea and biscuits, and then headed up the mountain.

The view looking down was amazing. The moon was so close to being full that you really couldn’t tell the difference, and it illuminated the trail so well that after about 10 minutes we realized we didn’t need our headlamps and turned them off. The night was completely clear and cloudless and we could see for miles in every direction. South of us we could see the town of Moshi ablaze with illumination from it’s streetlights. Mt. Meru stood maintaining it’s silent vigil to the west, and across the saddle of the mountain to the east we could see the jagged and foreboding Mawenzi peak. Ahead and about 4000 feet up was Kibo, the snow capped peak that was our ultimate destination.

We began climbing up steep scree lined paths. For once our guides had no need to tell us pole-pole (Swahili for slowly) as I don’t think that we could have gone any faster if we’d wanted to. Despite this, we were still moving quicker than most other groups. We passed two large groups at about the 15,500 foot mark, and they looked at us like we were crazy. Around 16,000 feet we began to see the first patches of snow on the ground. The next couple of thousand feet passed in an almost dreamlike state. As we got higher, my thoughts turned more and more random. I kept thinking of friends and family back home, wondering how they were spending the Christmas holiday, and if they appreciated properly their ability to take a hot shower any time they wanted.

Physically, I was feeling fine. I was’t experiencing any physical symptoms of altitude sickness, but I did notice that Allen, our guide was weaving around the trail like a drunken sailor. We checked to see if he was ok, and he mumbled something about being fine so we just kept on going. We’d been warned that the trail would get dramatically steeper near the top, so we were trying to conserve enough energy for the final push to the top. The trail had gotten a little steeper, but I didn’t think that it was the killer slope that we’d been warned about. Suddenly, we arrived on a flat spot where the guides were all grinning at us. We’d reached Stella Point, the place where one is at the rim of the crater looking down into the volcano itself. It was about 5:45 am, and sunrise was about 45 minutes away. Allen the guide said that it would take about that long to get to the highest point, so we headed off for Uhuru peak.

Towards the east the sky was already beginning to show signs of color, encouraging us to move faster. Despite the altitude and the freezing wind we felt a new burst of energy pushing us on. As we walked to the peak we could see the colors of the sunrise reflected in the glaciers all around us. Finally, we saw a wooden sign decorated with Tibetan prayer flags announcing that we were now standing on the highest point on the African continent. We ran to the sign and popped open a bottle of Moet and Chandon champagne just as the sun peaked over the horizon. We couldn’t have timed it better! We shared the champagne with our guides wishing each other a Merry Christmas. Next we took turns taking photos of each other, and finished off the bottle. I think that we may have wasted as much as we drank; it was so cold at the top that the champagne was freezing to the glass as we drank it, and trying to pour anything carbonated at that altitude just made it fizz out of control.

Finally we’d had enough and began the long trek down. We quickly realized that coming up had been the easy part, and the descent was steep, slippery and extremely hard on the legs. The three hour descent was fun at first, but by the time we reached our camp our knees and joints were screaming for relief. We took an hour nap and had lunch before heading to our final campsite another long vertical mile beneath us. By the time we got to camp, Emid and I were walking like a couple of decrepit old men, much to the disgust of our guides who had kept encouraging us to move faster. After we had a quick supper we crashed hard around 7:30 and slept like dead men till early the next morning.


About The Author

Henry has spent three winters living in Antarctica which funded his early explorations and adventures around the world. Now he holds down a full time job in Denver, CO and continues to make travel a priority in his life, both internationally, and on weekend warrior type trips.

4 Responses

  1. Georgette

    Wow! What a fabulous way to celebrate! David had to work a late shift Christmas Eve, so I rode out with him and the city was very quiet for a Christmas Eve night. After he got off duty, we went home, changed and went to midnight Mass. We slept in late the next morning, picked up the kids from their mom’s, and enjoyed watching them tear into the presents under the trees. (Yes, we did two Christmas trees this year!) We had a friend over for dinner that evening– pork loin medallions, glazed carrots, mashed potatoes– and enjoyed some champagne as well.

    Look forward to reading more of your adventures!


  2. Robert

    Happy New Year Henry!

    Just a quick question. You’re a bit closer to the Indian Ocean than we are… what are you hearing and seeing about the tsunamis?

    I visited Phucket a few years ago, and my brother was in Bali over Thanksgiving, so I keep thinking about the places I saw and wondering if they exist anymore.

    You’ve been to a lot of these places too, are there any that you know of that are gone?

    Sorry to bring things down, and I hope you’re still enjoying your trip.


  3. Henry Malmgren

    Well, I was near the Tanzanian coast when it happened, but luckily they were far enough from the epicenter of the quake that nothing happened for them..I doubt they even got a surge of a foot or so.

    Unfortunately, one of my favorite places that I spent time in was an island called Pulah Weh, just north of Banda Aceh. I’ve sent a couple of e-mails to the dive shop there, and haven’t heard anything back at all. I’d be surprised if anyone there survived, or if there is anything left of the place. It’s a bit sobering to think that if this had happened in Feb of ’03, I’d be dead.

  4. Roger AC Williams

    Congratulations! What route did you take? I climbed it in Mar 73 by the huts route, a solo backpacking trip; they didn’t have all that red tape then w/guides, porters, permits that afflicts too many mountains (I had to take a guide up Bukit Kinabalu on Borneo). No sign then, and no bare ground: the summit was a big snow dome with just a pole stuck in it. I made good time, watching the sun rise from Gilman’s Point on the crater rim, though the last climb to Pt. Uhuru was slow, take 2 steps, stop for breath, repeat. As I started down, I passed 2 CZ motorbikes making the first and probably last ascent by dirt bike!

    I tried again with Mt. Travel.Sobek in 96 by the Shira Route, but we turned back at Arrow Glacier due to bad weather. 23 years older, I was just ~clapped out at 16 000′ anyway. Came down by the Mweka Route; it was awful. I did climb Meru, a goal since 73.

    Happy trekking, a great avocation; I’ve done a lot of it, from Peru to the Centre. Roger Williams, Boulder, Colorado.


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