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Summit Day

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

Opening the tent at 11:00 pm, we are thrilled to see that the snowstorm has passed and the sky is filled with millions of twinkling stars.  It is time to get ready. We are scheduled to begin our ascent at midnight, and can’t sleep anyway.  So we start putting on layer 1…  and layer 2…and 3… and once layer 7 is complete, we step out of the tent (it is going to be cold up there).

Our waiter serves tea and cookies while we wait for our guides. Jaimi, who is chomping at the bit to get going, ends up delaying departure while everyone waits for her to get her gloves on.  But at 12:02 we are off!

The moonlight is so bright, that we don’t even turn on the headlamps and wonder why the other groups bother.  But later on we decide it’s a nice gesture from them, as we can then easily see where the they are, and it looks a bit like Christmas lights strung up the side of the mountain. We began a windy path up Kibo peak, passing one group after another as we go.  We focus on simply putting one foot in front of another as we watch for our landmarks to eventually appear.  It doesn’t seem like we are walking fast, but our hearts are pounding and we are taking about two breaths per step.  The first landmark is Williams Point, which marks the barrier of 5000m; at this point, Jill has mentioned that the pace might be too fast, but says she will wait until Hans Meyer Cave for a break (which we should hit in 30 minutes).   Eventually we reach Hans Meyer Cave, the halfway mark up to Gillmans Point (which is where you come out on the crater rim, but not the highest point). We took a break – of sorts – it certainly was not more than 3 minutes and then we headed into the “zombie” switchbacks; so-called, because the best technique to get over this part of the mountain is to assume a zombie-trance state.  At one point, Jaimi says, “Jill, we are almost to the scrambling rocks!”  Jill looks up and sees that the scrambling rocks are actually a couple of miles away, but doesn’t comment – just keeps walking.

We do eventually make it to the scrambling rocks, the last major obstacle before Gillman’s Point, which usually takes about an hour to get over.  About halfway up, Jill starts to feel nauseous.  We make a medication stop, administering Metoclopramide and Advil, and continue on.  By this point, we were truly “in the zone”  and it is hard to even recall the climb over the rocks; we just kept following our guides. Finally we scaled the last large rock structure and came out directly in front of the sign for Gillman’s Point.  There were cheers and hugs all around, and hoots from our guides down the mountain to let the others know we has already made it – far ahead of anyone else!  Crispin does a time check, and then announces his watch does not work and asks to see Jaimi’s.  We all lean over, and see that it matches Crispin’s time, showing 3:30am.  We all do another cheer, as this is at least 1 hour before anticipated arrival time at Gillman’s.  And then, Jill starts searching around, and we ask what’s going on.  She says, “I have to vomit now,”  and disappears over the crater rim.  A minute later, she re-appears looking brighter and announces, “I’ve never thrown up with such a good view before!”  We all laugh and head off again towards Uhuru (the highest point on Kibo peak). During all this, a thunderstorm hit the plains below us; it was quite a sight, to watch the lightening flash and be looking down on it. So with the flashes of light below and behind us, we began the walk around the crater.

We are amazed at the silent landscape in front of us; we are the only people atop the peak and it feels like our mountain.  We walk around the crater, plowing the first steps into half a foot of fresh snowfall; the moon is so bright, and the snow sparkles around us.  It is a dream landscape. The path between Gillmans’ Point and Uhuru is supposedly 1.3 km; it seems though like forever, like those dreams where you walk down a hallway and it stretches as you go.  We now know what people mean when they say they are “high;” we were, and felt it.  Brain function fogged and as we rounded a corner and saw a tremendous glacier to our left, we were clearly in the grip of altitude sickness; ataxia had set in and every second step was a stumble. 

We keep thinking we are almost there, forgetting that our Kili book warned us of many false peaks along the way.  Each time we reach one, we summon our strength for “only a few more meters” and then are frustrated that the sign is not there!  The only remaining thought is “where is the god-forsaken sign, so we can head back down!”.  At some point along the way, Jaimi leans over on the top of her poles feeling completely expended; from behind her comes a frantic Swahili dialogue between the guides;  afraid they might turn us back, she waves them off, says she is fine and starts taking steps forward again.  And then, Jill says, “I think that’s the sign.  Am I hallucinating?  I think that’s the sign.  Is that the sign???”  Jaimi just keeps walking.  And then, a few minutes later, we are actually there at Uhuru, the highest point in Africa. 

hpim1330.JPGhpim1332.JPGhpim1346.JPGjilljaimi-uhuru.JPGhpim1338.JPGsd-card-147.jpgThe Scrambling Rocksthe Zombie Switchbacks - looking down