Man, what a night! So, after a few hours of not very restful rest we assemble in the Bucky dome for our pre-summit brief. The weather is cold but clear and you can see the lights of the other climbers heading up the mountain in the darkness of New Years Eve. It’s a slow slog up the hill now, bulky in our cold weather gear, sometimes stopping to let quicker parties through. The air’s getting thinner all the time and I’m struggling now to keep up with the rest of the party, feet are going numb as the heat leaks out through the soles of my boots (even with two pairs of yak wool socks). Despite the rest stops I’m falling behind as we ascend into a series of mind and body numbing switchbacks, listening to the porters singing (clearly they are acclimatised). Me, I’m just wondering am I going to get there? Thinking about just lying down I’m so exhausted. Eventually G and I fall out of the line with one of the summit porters and I sit down on a god damn freezing rock to catch my breath. Camelback’s frozen (predictably) so down to water in canteen.
This is the make or break point of the climb, and if it weren’t for G encouraging me I’d probably still be sitting on that damn rock. But I do have G so it’s stand up, stand up, and one small step after another we get back on the trail. So here’s the thing, once we stopped trying to keep the same pace as the rest of the party I stopped feeling like I’m trying to run a marathon through wet cement, just slowing down means I can actually get enough oxygen into my body to burn. The other thing that helps is just good old hyperventilating, again it’s all about O2 debt. Time passes, and the sky starts to lighten in the east, looking up I can now see Stella point and it seems like we’re actually going to make it. With a last hard slog up the rock scree we’re there, Stella point at 5745m. Pretty emotional at this point, even if we’ve still got a 45 minute hike around to Uhuru point, I just couldn’t have made it without Galina’s encouragement.
The air is still, so with the sun up it’s bearably cold as we circle around the crater rim past the glaciers of the southern ice field over Hans Meyer point (then down again) the climbing up to Uluru point, and suddenly, finally we’ve done it. We’ve summited Kilimanjaro at 5895m we’re at the highest point in Africa, altitude wise if we were on Everest we’d have passed through the Ice-fall zone and be on our way to Camp 1. Tired though we are, there’s still time to admire the austere martian landscape of the crater floor. Obligatory picture in front of the sign taken, we retrace our steps back to Stella point and the descent route. We elect to take the quicker ski run through the gravel that cuts around the switchbacks of last night, and it’s a two hour descent to Barafu where we have an hours rest then we’re on the dry dusty and quite frankly trying trek down to our last nights camp at the Millennium campsite. G has trouble going down hill and we got separated on the trail, and for those of you wondering, no that is not the way you should behave at any time when you’re climbing. But we make camp and tomorrow is another day, our last on the mountain.