Climbing Kilimanjaro is an exciting adventure, but if there is one thing that makes the most confident of climber quiver at the knees, it would have to be the thought of summit night. It’s long, it’s cold, and it is probably one of the most challenging hikes you are ever likely to face your life, but is it really as bad as everyone makes out?
Having tackled the mighty Uhuru Peak twice, I can tell you from experience that summit night is tough, tougher than you could ever imagine, but with less than 5km between you and your goal, its one of those occasions where you have to dig deep, remain focused, and rely on your willpower to get you to Stella Point, where things get a little bit easier.
99% of all Kilimanjaro Climbs finish with a night-time summit attempt, and while this may seem a little odd, there are specific reasons for it. First up, some people need a long time to climb from Barafu Camp to Uhuru Peak, and by a long time, I mean up to 12 hours! If they were to start their ascent during the day, they would never make it down to Mweka Camp for their final night on the mountain and would have to spend a second night at high altitude, which is never a good idea.
Secondly, by summiting Kilimanjaro during the night, you get to reach Uhuru Peak before the early morning clouds start to gather on top of Kibo, and thus witness the most magnificent views of Mother Africa below you. As soon as the clouds arrive, the view becomes strictly limited, and it would be a shame to go all that way and not see how far you have come.
Walking in the dark with nothing more than the moonlight or your headlamp to guide the way is somewhat relaxing, and when you are relaxed, it is easy to get in to a rhythm. Instead of concentrating on the pressure in your head, the nausea that’s threatening to overcome you, and the bitter cold that penetrates so deep it hurts, you think about nothing more than putting one foot in front of the other, and if you do that for 5 or 6 hours in a row, you’ll be at Stella Point before you know it.
From Stella Point your journey to Uhuru Peak should be relatively easy. The sun will be up by now so you’ll be starting to feel a little warmer, the steep gradients that you have tackled for the past few hours will level out, and you’ll begin to feel a sense of victory, although that will still be overshadowed by pain and exhaustion at this stage. It is only when you turn the final corner and see the iconic Kilimanjaro summit sign in all its glory that you will understand just why you have put yourself through this. And then the tears will come.
There is no way to describe the feeling one has when standing on top of Africa’s highest mountain. It’s life-changing and it’s magical, but is it really worth all that pain? The answer is simply….YES!