Getting ready for the summit climb
on Brian's Vista C GPS did not wake us up at 11pm. Instead, something
inside my head woke me up just minutes before - something that
often happens to me on important occasions like this. Outside, the inky
blackness of the sky was studded with countless starts, and far, far
below I could see the lights of Moshi, just as one does at night from
an airliner. It was precisely new moon - bad news for us, since it
meant we would get absolutely no help from moonlight on our climb;
Moshi at midnight
It would be only Combo and Luckas (the assistant guide) going up the mountain with us today. The rest of the porters and the cook would be heading down and across at a lower elevation, where they would meet up with us at a camp on the other side of the mountain. There was no point in lugging up all of our non-essential gear over the top of the mountain, and besides, most of the porters did not have adequate clothing for a summit climb.
Breakfast was short and simple. Lots of hot fluids and simple snacks. To my surprise, we actually did get started just about at midnight (I find late night starts often tend to get started late!). Chombo led the way up into the darkness.
Video: A Midnight Breakfast
It's up at 11pm for a midnight breakfast, as we get ready for the climb of the western breach. (2 minutes, 3 seconds)
Climbing up at this kind of altitude was quite a chore. I had a slight altitude headache -- fortunately, nothing major. In fact, that was not really a problem at all. I found the most difficult aspect of climbing to be a kind of tiredness or lethargy. I just didn't feel like putting the energy into taking steps. Kind of a strange feeling, really. Unpleasant, but not really painful.
Climbing the Western Breach
It was quite dark, so I could not see much of the climb of the Western Breach. For the most part, there were long periods of steep gravel trail, switchbacking to and fro. Occasionally, there would be a patch of hard snow, and on a few of these, I insisted that we put on crampons. I had seen enough nasty slips on steep snow slopes to be sufficiently cautious, especially with people who did not have a lot of snow travel experience. Higher up we encountered stretches of scrambling. Again, nothing particularly hard, but combined with the altitude, a fairly tough chore. There was always very good footing, and lots of handholds and footholds. Of course, it was pitch dark, and the cone of my headlamp was mostly what I focused on, so maybe I was missing out on some good exposure! All in all, I'd say that probably 95% of the climb was on dry ground or rock.
Luckas helps Markus
We had several stops on the way up for rest and hot tea. Markus, Caroline, and Yi all were having a hard time with their packs, and so Chombo and Luckas took and carried their packs for them. Markus had fallen behind, and Chombo asked me to shout down; he wanted to keep tabs on where Markus was.
Shadow of mighty Kilimanjaro
Markus was feeling especially bonked (my guess - probably from lack of food over the last few days). He had a very hard time getting started after our break. Luckas stayed behind with him while the rest of us continued up. The guides kept telling Markus that he had to continue, that he could only go up, and that descent of the western breach was too difficult (which, after seeing it, I don't agree with - we've descended trickier slopes than this!). Perhaps this was a form of encouragement, to get Markus up to the crater rim, or maybe it was logistically easier for them as guides to get us all up and over to the other side of the mountain together. Whatever the motivation, it worked, and eventually Markus slowly made his way up the mountain. It was now light enough to see clearly. Up above, a few last cliff bands and slopes remained before the crater rim; most of the western breach now dropped away beneath us. Off in the distance, a long cone of shadow - the shadow of Kilimanjaro - reached westward to the horizon.
Video: Climbing the Western Breach
A video account of our slowly-but-surely nighttime ascent up the western breach. (4 minutes, 7 seconds)
Nearing the crater rim
Up to this point, I had not taken any medication for altitude. Given the feeling of lethargy, I decided to try a tablet of Diamox to see if it would make any difference. Of course, this is not the usual or proper way to take Diamox; instead, you are supposed to take it 1 to 2 days before getting any benefit from it. I noticed no immediate effect, in any case.
We reached the top of the Breach (and the crater rim) at 6:45am -- just after sunrise. The terrain around us changed abruptly. It was like I had entered a different world. The crater floor was a huge area - kilometers across, it seemed. Off to the left, a large wall of vertical ice marked the edge of the Furtwangler Glacier. The ground we were on was very flat volcanic scree. Easy walking for a while!
At 18,750 feet, even the flat walk across the crater floor was a bit tiring. The just-risen sun streamed directly into our faces, warming and blinding us at the same time. I now could see Uhuru Peak - the elongated steep-sided ridge that sat on the southern edge of the main crater. This was Kilimanjaro's highest point. I could also now see the snow covered slope that was the easiest way up this ridge. Again, in the context of a low-elevation mountain, it looked quite easy. Up here, though, just the thought of climbing it was exhausting.
Annotated view of the summit area. [note:
this image is not expandable]
Caroline and Yi next to the Furtwangler
Furtwangler Glacier's wall
Markus makes it to the Crater
Annotated view of crater walk
Climb to the top, Annotated
We had one final rest and snack break at the base of Uhuru Peak. Markus flatly refused to even consider going up the last slope, so Chombo assigned Luckas to guide him across the crater, bypassing Uhuru Peak. Reluctantly, I stood up, and we made our way to the base of the final slope. Chombo set a very slow pace, as usual. In this case, I was quite grateful for the slow pace. It was, as I wrote earlier, simply very tiring to move. I didn't have any strong physical pain; I don't recall having much of a headache even. It was just that upward progress required a lot of mental effort. A very difficult mindset to describe.
We only had to ascend about 400 feet. This took us the good part of an hour to accomplish. The thought grew slowly in my mind that I would definitely make it; that soon, I would be standing at the highest point in all of Africa.
Climbing Uhuru Peak, annotated
Gaining the top of the slope, I could see that the top of the ridge was quite flat, and completely bare of snow. Off to the right, bare ground sloped downward slightly before reaching the top edge of the Kersten and Decken glaciers. These formed impressive ice cliffs; Beyond, a sea of clouds receded off into the distance. We were wayyy above them.
To the left, I could see much of the main crater 500 hundred feet below. It was a land of gentle volcanic scree slopes, completely barren. I was struck again by how much land there was up in the summit crater. The very center of the main crater on Kilimnjaro has this very cool ash pit that has active fumaroles and such. From where I was, on Uhuru Peak , I could see the gentle slopes leading up to the ash pit, but could not see at all inside it. Off in the further distance I could see the eastern and northern ice fields. The eastern icefields especially looked broken up, with disjoint chunks of stagnant glacier ice all ajumble. On a side note, I finally started to notice an effect of the Diamox. Certain parts of my body started to tingle - strangely enough, mostly in my chest. This is a well-known side effect of Diamox. Rather strange.
The most significant sight, though, was a very familiar signpost off in the distance, surrounding by a group of people. The actual summit! It was only a short flat hike now.
Video: The Final Climb
A video montage of the final push up to the summit. (2 minutes, 15 seconds)
At 8:30 am, we arrived at the roof of Africa. We congratulated each other, and thanked Chombo for his efforts. The weather was simply glorious. I'm guessing that it was only slightly below zero, with absolutely no wind whatsoever, and completely clear.
I pulled out my Canadian flag, Shannon 's Juicy Fruit gum, and my box of Dare Cinnamon Danish cookies (symbols from back home that I had brought with me up the mountain), and posed for many pictures. I pulled out the satellite phone and passed it around, each of us calling friends or loved ones back home. I called Jenn (and woke her up, since it was 1am back home in Ottawa), and found, suddenly, that it was hard to hold back tears as I talked with her. I couldn't believe I was up here, and the emotial impact of making it to such a symbolic goal suddenly came flooding out. I've experienced this on some mountains before, and the impact of it always surprises me.
was my impression of this peak? Well, it was both easier AND harder
than I had expected. Terrain wise, even via the Western Breach, this
is not a hard mountain for anyone reasonably familiar with mountains.
The effects of altitude were, I have to admit, a bit harder than
I had expected. I was certainly glad we'd chosen the extra acclimatization
days. They made the summit a much more enjoyable experience. A somewhat
more sobering thought was the fact that this mountain, as big mountains
in the world go, is quite easy - fully catered, with porters carrying
much of your weight all of the time. A bigger world-class peak, thousands
of feet higher, colder, and with no porters to fall back on, would
be a much more serious and challenging undertaking. All in all, it
was an excellent intro to high altitude, and I felt better prepared,
in many ways, for other big peaks.
Uhuru Peak / Summit Glaciers
Chombo said '15 minutes and we head down', which we heard, but we dragged on at the summit for quite a while, taking pictures, making satellite phone calls, making sound recordings, and generally enjoying ourselves. Courtney and Julia were also on the summit, and we congratulated and chatted with them for a while as well.
Video: On the Summit!
A video clip of our wonderful time spent on the summit of Kilimanjaro. (2 minutes, 56 seconds)
Analysis, Day 7 (Summit Day Part I) : Arrow Glacier to Summit
Speed (including all stops)
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Day 7: Arrow Glacier to summit via Western Breach - click map to view
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