As we prepare to tackle Mount Kilimanjaro once again, I decided it was time to read through the blog posts I had written back in 2012 after climbing the 7-Day Machame Route, to remind myself what it was actually like on summit night.
No-one ever talks about summit night, quite simply because it is one of those things that you would rather not remember! It’s tough, really tough, even for those who are not suffering with altitude sickness, but there is only one way to Uhuru Peak, and that is up, up, up….
After reading my previous posts, I’m slowly but surely starting to remember how demanding summit night really was, and while I firmly believe in the philosophy that “forewarned is forearmed”, I have to admit, I’m a tad nervous about tackling Africa’s highest mountain once again!
Here’s the truth about summit night:
While not all routes on Kilimanjaro are the same, many climbers start their summit attempt from Barafu Camp at around midnight. After dinner in the mess tent, you retire to your tent for a few hours’ sleep, and your guide wakes you up at around 11.30pm for sweet tea and biscuits, or if you can stomach it, breakfast. You then refill your water bottles and head off into the midnight sky.
The terrain is completely different at this level, and rather than walking on rocks or gravel, you find yourself walking through loose scree – which is not dissimilar to walking through deep sand. Your feet sink and so every step requires effort, and as there is not much air to go around, you want to conserve as much energy as possible.
For the first 3-4 hours summit night is bearable. Everyone is excited about the prospect of reaching Uhuru Peak and the atmosphere feels almost electric, but once you reach about 4am, the mood seems to change.
By now, you are at 5,600 metres above sea-level, the temperatures drop significantly, and oxygen seems scarce. Every step is a painful reminder of how far you have come, and with no summit in sight, you soon realise that you have a long way to go.
At this stage during our expedition, no one spoke, we didn’t stop for water breaks, and progress was slow, but just when we started to doubt ourselves, the sun lit up the horizon with the most spectacular shades of red, orange and pink. This burst of energy was all we needed to reach the welcoming sign of Stella Point – and our goal was finally in sight.
From Stella Point to Uhuru Peak, the terrain is relatively flat, but you still have over a Kilometre to go, and at high altitude, it feels like you are attempting an Ultra Marathon! However, by now, you have already ‘officially’ climbed Kilimanjaro – and the elation takes over everything else.
When standing before the sign that reads, “Congratulations, you are now at Uhuru Peak 5,895m above sea-level Africa’s highest point”, you forget everything of the past 6-7 hours, and revel in your awesomeness – you did it, you really did it!