Kilimanjaro Day 7 – Going Up

  • Journey: From Barafu Camp to Uhuru Peak
  • Hours Walked: 8
  • Starting Elevation: 4,600 m
  • Ending Elevation: 5,895 m

Summit day officially began at 10:30 p.m. on day 6.  Focus woke me up with some Milo and glucose biscuits and left me to get ready to go in 30 minutes.

I layered up.  On top, 7 layers: thermal shirt, 2 t-shirts, fleece, light down jacket, heavy parka, and rain jacket to act as wind breaker.  On bottom, 5 layers: thermal tights, regular tights, fleece tights, cargo pants, and rain pants to act as wind breaker.  Two pairs of socks, my light gloves inside my fleece-lined mittens, my fleece-lined wool cap, scarf around my neck (though I was all zipped up), headlamp with fresh batteries, trekking poles and I was ready.

Elly said a prayer in Swahili, I said one in English and we were off on time at 11 pm with the aim of arriving at the summit at sunrise.

What came next was the most gruelling 8 hours of my life.

We started out before anyone else in camp because Elly knew that I am polepole and would need the extra hour to get there.  This was what all the carb-loading of the previous 6 days had been for; I was very thankful for all the food Elly had forced me to eat.  There was no stopping to have breakfast on that mountain.  After about 4 hours of walking, we snacked on a little ginger tea and a couple of biscuits; that was all the nourishment we would have.  We couldn’t even have more than the occasional sip of water because it was too cold to stop and pee up there (think about that – too cold to pee!).

The wind that had started up during the afternoon of day 6 had picked up during the night and blew fiercely our entire way up the mountain that night.  A few times it was so strong that even Elly, the seasoned mountaineer, stumbled back a step or 2.  At times, it felt like we would be blown off the side of the mountain and I prayed as I never had before; I rebuked, I decreed and I declared, out loud softly when I could spare the breath and in my mind when I couldn’t.

I could only see what my headlamp illuminated ahead of me, which was Elly’s feet.  I honestly didn’t want to see more than that – I just wanted to see where to put my foot next (I stepped where he stepped) because I knew if I saw the conditions around me I would probably want to curl up right there and wait for a rescue team to come get me.

We persevered through the long night.

You know how time slows down and speeds up sometimes when you’re having an intense emotional experience?  This was one of those times for me.  All I could focus on was putting 1 foot in front of the other.  Step, breathe, pray…repeat.  That was how I spent the first 7 hours of our walk that night.  When we got to Stella Point (basically, the beginning of the peak, at an elevation of 5,756 m) at 5:42 am, I couldn’t believe that it had been almost 7 hours since we had started out.  And we still had to get to Uhuru Peak.  I could see it, so close and yet so far away.  Though dawn was just beginning to break, it was still too dark to get good pictures at Stella Point so we drew a few deep breaths and continued the trek to the peak.

It took another hour to get there, but at least we weren’t scrambling over rocks and ravines.  It was the longest and shortest hour of my life.  I must have asked Elly a thousand times why we weren’t there yet since it was right there.  And then we were.

When we finally got to the signpost marking the highest point on the continent of Africa, I did the only thing I was capable of doing in that moment.

I doubled over and I sobbed big heaving tears of relief and awe that I had made it.  Even now, writing this, I have tears in my eyes because the goodness of God never fails to amaze me.  I had struggled to get here, I had fought for every breath and every step and now here I stood at the top of Africa, 1 of the first 15 or 20 people to see the sun rise over the continent that day.

There was a group coming behind us and Elly knew that once they got there we would have to wait a while to take our own pictures, so he had me pull myself together and asked a kind hiker to snap a few pictures of us.

Then he took me around to the back of the sign to show me the altar that his prayer group had set up there some time before.  We knelt to pray and I broke down again.  I wept and wept as I said my benediction, which was the only appropriate thing I could think to say in that moment:

And now to You, the only wise God, who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above and beyond anything that I could ever ask, think or imagine, be glory and honour and dominion and power forever and ever.  Amen.

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That’s me, on my knees in prayer, a sobbing, grateful mess

It came out a garbled mess around my sobbing but God knew what I was saying and He saw clearly what was in my heart – nothing but awe and gratitude for taking me on this life changing journey.

I pulled myself together again and Elly and I started back to Stella Point.  Halfway there, it all struck me again just where I was and what had just happened and I doubled over again and started wailing.  The other hikers must have wondered what was wrong with the crazy Black lady but I just couldn’t care.  I was loving God and revelling in his grace and mercy too much in that moment to care about how I appeared to others.

Elly walked back to me (he was always ahead so I’d know where to follow), took my arm and gently ushered me while I kept repeating, “God is so good, Elly.  He’s just so GOOD!”  He agreed and we eventually got back to Stella Point, where we took a couple of pictures and a few deep breaths.  We still had a hard day’s work ahead of us.

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