I MADE IT to the roof of Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro, at 5,895 m above the sea level with the amazing Follow Alice team! And I did it with my Tunisian flag!
On Day 1 of the trek, the guides kept saying, “Walk pole, pole.” This is Swahili for ‘slowly slowly’. At first it made me quite uncomfortable to walk so slowly. But soon, as we climbed higher, the pole, pole pace didn’t seem so pole anymore.
My partner Matthieu and I trekked the seven-day Lemosho route, and it was unbelievable. Summit night-cum-day was the hardest: at midnight on 19 November 2020, we started our summit attempt from base camp at 4,600 m. I remember the first few hours, I was praying the altitude wouldn’t hit me.
It was dark, cold and steep, and harder to breathe. I questioned a thousand times whether it was even possible. But it was, thanks to our guides. At some point close to 5,500 m, they said, “This is the point of no return.” They kept checking if we were fine, and also able to count and divide. “What’s ten minus two?” asked my guide. I said “Eight, now can I have a five-minute nap?” My guide replied, “Nooo …”
At 6 am on 19 November, I was standing on the highest mountain of all Africa. A few minutes for pictures, then back down. Around 9 am we were back at base camp. We had an hour-and-a-half nap before going down to Mweka Camp (3,100 m). In total we did 45,000 steps that day. We called it “Jelly legs day” with our guide.
The whole trip was more than wonderful I could have imagined. I’ve shared my daily journal entries below for those who are interested. Thanks again to the whole Follow Alice team for making this dream come true. Thank you porters. Thank you guides, Florence and Msa Boy Msafiri. And thank you Matthieu Bibou for always joining me on my craziest adventures.
#kilimanjaro #lemosho #kilimanjaro2020
And now for my journal …
Day 1: Londorossi Gate to Mti Mkubwa Camp
Today’s hike took us from Londorossi Gate (2,650 m) to Mti Mkubwa Camp (2,250 m).
On the first day, we met our amazing Follow Alice team in Moshi. We departed for Londorossi Gate around 9 am in the morning. Before arriving there, they dropped us off at a supermarket to buy any emergency supplies and things we might have forgotten. (The guides had also informed me, as a woman, that such an altitude might interfere with hormones, so I had to be prepared for anything. )
So, we’re now at Londorossi Gate. The place is almost empty – Covid reasons, but also because we chose to do the trip during the short rainy season, which is less crowded.
Time to sign up for the adventure, register our names, and weigh our duffel bags (porters are not allowed to carry more than 20 kg each). That being done, we were given our lunchboxes and water to fill our CamelBaks.
Drive to Lemosho Gate
We hit the road again, heading towards Lemosho Gate since we’re doing the seven-day Lemosho route!
Around 1.20 pm we were standing at the gate. And it started raining a lot, so we had to put our rain gear on – good start!
The trek begins!
At 1.35 pm we started walking towards our camp. On the way up, Msafiri, the assistant guide, said he saw potential in me to learn the Kilimanjaro song from Day 1. And he was right. I will never forget this part: he was teaching me the words and we were laughing too much.
I’m always hyped and full of energy, so I taught him something too: I told him that as we go higher in altitude, I won’t be able to sing or talk to him, so I needed to teach him my sign language for when I need a break or a drink, or for if I’m dying. It was funny and he said I was fun, so I took the compliment.
Msafiri also, he taught us about the pole-pole (‘slowly-slowly’) pace, and it was a good lesson. I also had to calm down and listen to him every time he said to drink, even if I was full to my stomach … Otherwise, he said, the mountain would get angry and altitude would come to me like a monster (or at least that’s how I thought about it, haha!).
Check out some of our awesome porters. They marched on ahead of us so they could set up camp before we arrive …
We knew that today was a super short day (with only about 600 m in elevation gain up to 2,650 m). The sign said four hours of hiking, but we did it in two hours.
Mti Mkubwa Camp
Around 3.36 pm we were standing in front of the sign for Mti Mkubwa Camp. A few photos, then time for ‘washy washy’. Washy washy is a bowl of warm water that you use to wash your face and feet (and maybe other parts too if the cold doesn’t scare you ). After washy washy, we were given tea to warm up, and popcorn.
Matthieu and I walked a little bit around camp, then our guides called us for a briefing. They said we did great, and they took our oxygen levels (I was 92 to 94%). Then they briefed us about Day 2, saying it’s going to be a long day.
Around 6.30 pm we were served dinner, then we went to bed. I was in my tent around 8 pm and I remember it rained all night. I also remember that I was soooo stressed I wouldn’t be able to sleep and would be tired the day after. I was hearing monkeys, birds and other animals around. I was trying to meditate, count sheep, then count heavy raindrops on the tent … I refused to look at my phone, and eventually everything faded away and I was able to sleep – surprisingly very well – until 5 am.
Even though I could not contact my family at all on Day 1, I realised how beautiful life can be without network. If I had had Internet access, I for sure would’ve scrolled up and down Facebook and ruined my chances of sleep. That’s a lesson I learned on Day 1.
Day 2: Mti Mkubwa Camp to Shira 2 Camp
Today we hiked from Mti Mkubwa Camp (2,650 m) to Shira 2 Camp (3,850 m). We left camp at 6.45 am in the morning and reached Shira 2 at 2.45pm. Our guides said we are strong walkers, and coming from Kili guides that’s a compliment I like to take. 😛
We woke up around 5 am, had bed tea, then washy washy, then breakfast. My guide came to take my oxygen level (94% this time). I was feeling fresh, strong and super energetic. We were given lunchboxes, we filled our CamelBaks, and then everyone hit the path around 6.45 am.
Even though the guides said the path was going to be steep, I found most of it pretty much enjoyable and easy. Rarely did we ask for a break or to sit down. Maybe a minute or two for photos, and that’s it. The walk was beautiful, through the rainforest first, then climbing up some rocky terrain with wonderful views. We had good sunshine during the morning and even encountered a preggo chameleon.
Lunch break at Shira 1 Camp
Around 11.25 am we reached Shira 1 Camp for lunch break.
Lunch eaten, stomachs full, we then hit the path again towards Shira 2, walking in the heather zone. There we had some brief rainfall, on and off.
I remember after about an hour of walking, I could feel that the air lacked oxygen. It was my first time at such an elevation (the highest I’d been before that was in Switzerland at 3,300 m). I still remember how I kept looking at my phone to check how accurate the hiking signs were, and teasing our guides about it.
We crossed the Shira Plateau; it was so wide and peaceful. I kept asking lots of questions and Msafiri always had answers for them.
Day 2 to me was a complete success. I only remember good things about it. The altitude was clearly not high enough to make me stop singing or jumping, yet. 😅 Also, what I remember the most is that I kept competing with Matthieu on who was drinking more water! When it comes to hiking, the two of us are perfectly synchronised: we get hungry at the same time, and we need a wee at the same time. 😅 I think it’s because we’ve hiked together every single week for two years. “Okunya magi,” my guide said at one point, and I’d already finished my two litres! Rule #2 is to drink plenty of water.
Shira 2 Camp
At 2.45 pm we reached Shira 2 Camp. I remember Florence, our main guide, was saying that we were doing really great, because some people only reach this camp in the dark. I’d been scared about crossing my comfort zone (3,300 m 😛 ), but so far so good. No headache, no loss of appetite, zero fatigue.
After tea and peanuts (instead of popcorn this time, hehe), at around 4.30 pm, I went out of my tent to have a walk and I met two hikers coming up the Machame route: a French girl and an Austrian girl. They were looking for help (remember from Day 1, female hormones and altitude?). Luckily for them, I’d been well informed by Follow Alice about this issue and could help them. 😊
Around 5.30 pm, we had our washy washy, then sat for the guides’ briefing about Day 3. Then it was dinner courtesy of our cook Raja and our lovely Rama (he keeps checking how well we’re eating, and says he’s impressed by our big appetites, haha).
I told him, “We didn’t like this soup.” He instantly felt bad and opened the pan, only to find out it was completely empty. 😛 😋 Good times!
My oxygen level was taken, and recorded at 87%. I was still doing okay, strangely. 😛
After dinner, the night was short. I went out a couple of times to pee (oh, it got coldish at night, but I have good skin for that). I took a quick look at the stars and the Milky Way. I then read a few pages of my book, and before I knew it, I was asleep. Lala salama! (Sleep safely!)
Day 3: Shira 2 Camp to Barranco Camp
Day 3 on Kilimanjaro, and there was a little altitude incident. But thank you dear body for adapting so quickly to everything I put you through. We went from Shira 2 Camp (3,850 m) to Barranco Camp (3,900 m).
So on Day 3 the plan was to go from Shira 2 Camp (3,850 m) up to Lava Tower (4,600 m), then down to the Barranco Camp (3,900 m). We did this in order to acclimatise our bodies.
In short words, we left Shira 2 Camp at 7.40 am. We arrived at Lava Tower at 11 am, where we had lunch. Around 11.40 am we left Lava Tower and we arrived at Barranco Camp at 1.35 pm.
Rise and shine
So around 6 am, it was rise and shine. It was my first time sleeping at 3,850 m, so waking up was a little bit weird for me. I didn’t feel sick or anything, but I kinda felt my heart racing at every move. Folding my sleeping bag and preparing my duffel bag felt like a heavy task, lol. I think it was a very slow thirty minutes in my life, lol. My partner and I really helped each other so much during the trek. He helped me on Day 3, and I returned the favour on Day 4.
I left the tent to breathe some air, and there was my guide Florence taking his morning shower (washy-washy style). He asked how I’m doing and I said that I can hear my heart, lol. He took my readings (83% oxygen, 110 bpm for my heart) and said everything was fine.
So I remember that my appetite was slightly lower than on the previous days, but I managed to eat everything I was offered. Also, I remember taking this caffeine pill to boost my energy (big regrets …). A few minutes later, I was feeling very well and energetic and I started singing and dancing again.
We were all set to start the walk up towards Lava Tower around 7.40 am. I remember I was feeling very well, and the views were wonderful. No rain, just sunshine! I don’t remember feeling cold but I think we were already using a good set of layers and thin gloves. Also, Rama, our lovely feeder, was doing the same route as us, in order to give us soup once we arrived at Lava Tower!
Before reaching Lava Tower, we stopped for a quick break where I felt hungry and ate a protein bar with banana flavour (details matter, lol). I remember saying this sentence to my guides: “If you don’t see me eating, then something is wrong.” Because I know am the one with the large appetite.
Lunch at Lava Tower
At 11.02 am we were in front of the sign for Lava Tower. I was feeling greater than ever. I didn’t experience any headaches. The only weird thing was that I kept drinking water but didn’t feel the need to wee, at all. I felt like all the water was still in my stomach, lol.
I found a good spot for my partner and me to sit, and Rama served us soup. We also ate our packed lunches. I remember having this weird feeling, like my stomach suddenly started shaking and I didn’t feel like eating anymore. But I forced myself to eat. At this point, I had eaten a full bowl of soup, all my chapati, and a boiled egg. I remember I had slid a piece of chocolate in my pocket to eat on the way down, then looked at my partner saying, “I don’t think I can eat more”.
That piece of chocolate remained there until Day 6 … I ate it after summiting.
Our guides came to check on us, and saw we had managed to eat a bit. I remember one of them saying that it’s okay not to feel like eating, because others usually don’t eat at all. I felt reassured.
Back to hiking
We then hit the path again. I remember feeling excited at the beginning, because I knew this path is the one where I’d encounter the weirdly shaped trees that look like pineapples. But suddenly, I didn’t feel well anymore. My stomach started shaking again. I kept walking down. I remember Msafiri was saying things about the trees, and he showed us a waterfall. My partner even forced me to take a photo with one of the unusual trees. I was so nauseated, but I didn’t want to stop walking. I was even getting angry when they stopped me to take photos (but now I’m grateful).
Everything became blurry in my head. I didn’t feel any difficulty walking down a very rocky terrain; I was rather like a robot. All I wanted was to reach the camp and maybe vomit. I think I said the words, “I want to vomit,” like a hundred times.
A few minutes before we reached the camp, it happened. There it was, my first puke on the mountain, haha. My guide was laughing and saying, “Now you’re going to be fine. Now Kilimanjaro has said ‘Hi!’ to you. He welcomed you. You’ll see everything will be great. Welcome to my office.”
I was really scared at this point. I was scared that even while I was at my fittest (which was I was on this climb), I wouldn’t be able to summit because of my stomach. I don’t know, but I had these ideas spinning around my head, and I guess it’s actually normal.
We met our porters right around the corner. I told them about what had happened and were sorry for me. But everyone was so positive, except me. But hey, since I had vomited, I started feeling like a new person. Suddenly everything went away and I was feeling fresh again. I guess it maybe was Kilimanjaro saying hi, actually?
After that I was then in the tent with washy washy, tea and sweet popcorn. My guide kept checking on me and I was feeling better and better. I ate the popcorn and drank the tea and went for a nap. I took lots of videos showing how weird my face looked.
At 4.30 pm I woke up and took another video of my face and I saw it was looking better. I was actually hungry, so I had managed to get my appetite back. Florence came into my tent. He was sooooo sweet and reassuring and funny. He was telling me lots of jokes, about jelly legs, and about people sitting in their tents and not wanting to wake up because their heads ached and they felt nauseous. He was trying so hard to make me feel safe because I had kinda panicked.
He also said that when he saw we were taking our evening tea sitting on chairs, he knew we were fine. I can’t recite everything here, but I remember every single joke he told. I feel grateful we had such a crew. Honestly, everyone was working towards one goal: for Matthieu and me to summit …
At 6 pm we took a little tour around camp, where I bumped into the French hiker. She said she’d found the hike from Lava Tower down to the camp hard. I said I didn’t remember most of it. Haha.
It was growing dark and I saw the big mountain crow again. I decided he was following us to every camp. It felt good to have company. I read a few pages of my book and then I slept like a fat baby. Lala salama!
Day 4: Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp
Day 4 was a short day. The plan was to leave Barranco Camp (3,900 m) to climb Barranco Wall, then go down to Karanga Valley and climb again to Karanga Camp (3,995 m).
Today I was feeling my absolute best since being on the mountain. It felt like my body had adjusted well to the altitude. I woke up feeling fresh and strong, and didn’t have a hard time preparing my duffel bag and folding stuff like I’d had on Day 3. I helped Matthieu to pack this time.
I went out of my tent to look at the sky and birds. I took a small walk and photographed Uhuru Peak. The Barranco Wall was looking majestic and I had no clue how it was ever actually reachable, haha.
Breakfast was at 7.30 am. I had my big appetite back but I didn’t want to drink any coffee. Just tea and hot chocolate (like Msafiri). The weather was sweet. Everyone was feeling great and happy and ready to smash the day.
Florence took my oxygen level and it showed 83%. My heart rate dropped to 94 bmp as well. All good.
At around 8.30 am I was looking at the French hiker and her two mates, and wondering why on earth they’re still at camp since they were doing two days’ distance in one. They have to reach Karanga Camp and then still carry on to Barafu Camp (base camp). We didn’t want to do that because on the Lemosho route we already did two days in one on Day 2.
The whole mountain is definitely doable on a six-day version, but we were advised to go with the seven-day option. Around 8.40 am, we left camp for Barranco Wall, and the French girl and her team left right behind us.
Barranco Wall was my favourite! It’s basically hiking with some scrambling areas. Since I’m very familiar with climbing, I actually loved this bit and wished it was longer and harder. We took many photos on the way.
Msafiri was named Paparazzi today. He was scrambling ahead, and stopping to film us from afar. But I don’t know how I managed to catch him every single time. Like literally, they shared their videos with us last week and I saw I was always looking at the camera and saying “Hi!” Haha.
Then it was time for the Kissing Rock. It’s a big rock on the Barranco Wall that you can’t miss: you need to hug and kiss the rock before passing. And of course I did that.
The porters were heroes today; with all the weight that they carry, they were singing and jumping around … amazing.
Then we were at the top of the Barranco Wall at 4,200 m. They say usually you get a view. But we got clouds. I wasn’t sad though. I took my phone out and started interviewing my guides for a fun story. A few minutes in, and we were ready to go. Then we saw our Machame hikers coming as well, so we waited to say hi, then left for Karanga.
The path to Karanga Camp … and some rain
The path was lovely, even though it started raining and it was a little cloudy. But since I was feeling at the top of my game, I managed to take many photos and videos. I took the blog buster photo of my guide and he loved it. I think it should become his profile photo.
Walking down, then up again pole, pole, we were caught by the rain and advised to put on our rain gear (what I call the teddy bear gear).
Rain gear up, some water, and we saw our Machame hikers coming from afar. Hello, goodbye, we left again. Msafiri now took the lead. He has a strong pace. We were at Karanga in no time.
Karanga Camp and heavy rain
It started raining so, so, so heavily and I was waiting for my Machame route friends but they didn’t show up as quickly this time. I lost hope and went to my tent because it was flipping cold.
I remember listening to the heavy rain and hearing the wind and enjoying my cup of tea as I said to my partner, “I’m glad we don’t have to carry on to Barafu right now in this weather.” I felt very empathetic towards my Machame route friends and was happy when I finally saw their lunch tent being set. I wished them luck for the rest of their journey, from within my tent, then went for a nap right after lunch, which was majestic (chicken halves and fries – nom, nom).
Like I said, today I was in heaven. I woke up around 3 pm feeling so good. I was walking around camp, climbing little hills, talking to birds. Then as soon as I heard the porters, I went to check on them and they invited me into their tent for the first time. I went in and it was warrrrm in a good way, haha. I saw the cook and his assistant Abedi making our dinner. I made jokes with the others. We had a good laugh, then I left. I think they could tell I was feeling my best, or maybe I’m always funny?
Next came washy-washy time, then tea and peanuts. After that, the genius idea came …
The ingenious idea
I don’t know how on earth Matthieu struck upon this awesome idea. But he said to me, “Check your sleeping bag”. I slid my hands in there and it was warrrrrrm. I saw what he did: he filled my bottle with the warm water meant for tea. I thought it was a genius move.
So we started this habit: every time Rama would bring us a tea flask, I’d drink a glass then wink to my partner and fill the bottles with the rest. It became the best part of the day: having a warm bottle on Kilimanjaro. Heaven.
Don’t worry Follow Alice, we were drinking the water as soon as it got cold (which didn’t happen until the morning after, luckily!). You can tell Rama, in case he wondered why we suddenly became big fans of tea.
Nighttime at Karanga
I grew dark and we had dinner and some ginger tea (stomach engineer says it’s good for us). The storm passed, leaving behind a wonderful sky of shining stars. I had my quick walk around, then went to bed. I didn’t read this time, I just scrolled through my photos (since my phone finally got to eat) with a smile on my face, then fell asleep. Lala salama!
Day 5: Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp
The goal today was to go from Karanga Camp (3,950 m) to Barafu Camp (4,673 m). To sum up, we left Karanga around 8.45 am and reached Barafu at 11.47 am.
I remember waking up a few times during the night. First around midnight. I don’t know why, but the first few hours of sleep from 8 pm to midnight were the best. I was having this thought in my head: it’s good that I feel well at midnight; tomorrow by this time I’ll be making my summit attempt.
Then I remember I started thinking about my Machame friends, the French and Austrian hikers, remember? They were making their summit attempt right then. How were they doing? Oh, also, the weather looked fine. I didn’t hear any snow, and it wasn’t hailing either. Lucky them! Would we have this weather? Thoughts like that kept spiralling in my head until I slept again.
Around 4 am I woke up again but fell asleep quite quickly.
Around 5.30 am, my eyes were wide open. I was thinking, did they make it? Are they at Stella Point? Will I be there tomorrow? Or will my adventure stop earlier? I remember hearing sounds near the tent. I thought it was Rama and Raja (the cook) waking up, or maybe someone else? Anyways, it gave me courage to go make a toilet trip in the cold and look at the sky before the sun came out.
I remember that despite a very good sleep, I was quite stressed about going up to 4,600 m elevation again. It didn’t sound nice to me because my memory of that elevation was nausea. So as soon as I woke up, I went straight out to annoy my guide again. “I am afraid I’ll throw up once we reach Barafu. Do you think I’ll be fine? Do you think my body is acclimatised?”
I was a pain in his ass. And he was so funny in response. “Who told you that? Who told you that you will vomit? Do you know the future? Do you speak with the mountain? This is my office, I know my office. I have been guiding many, many people, and I can tell you, you’re one to summit.”
I want to thank both guides again; their words still ring in my ears.
So Florence took my measurements. My oxygen level ranked a flipping 88% this morning, my heart 93 bpm. And I was flattered. Also, I remember we were making these jokes about how the device wasn’t reading Florence’s measurements since a few days before. So we tried it on Trevor (one of Matthieu’s porters) and it worked. We tried again on Florence, and it didn’t. He had no heart beats. We said that he’s dying. Anyway, my guess was that his hands were too cold, ’cause once he’d warmed them up, it worked again.
Washy washy was quick this time. I washed my face, then had breakfast. I remember my appetite was quite fine, and I was drinking lots of hot chocolate.
Back on the trail
We filled our bags and bottles and started walking. On the path, I was thinking of my Machame route friends. Did they summit? Will we be able to meet them at Barafu? (Because if they made it to the top, they’d be down again to Barafu by the time we reached it!)
As we got higher, the climb got a little harder. But it was still okay. I didn’t experience anything in particular and didn’t feel the need for a break. My partner had a slight headache and asked for a pill. But we were both doing great. I remember I was trying to walk slower than I could, in order to avoid altitude sickness. I don’t know if that’s how it works, but I was more cautious that I should have been, maybe because I hate nausea that much.
I was drinking lots and lots and lots of water on the way. And peeing a lot. Peeing is a good sign. I learned that. If I wee, my body is doing great. If I don’t, then all the water isn’t going down and that’s bad.
Three hours later and we were at Barafu Camp.
Rama and his delicious food were waiting. We were welcomed with barbecue sticks and quiche. My appetite was very good and I ate all I could eat, haha. I think I ate better on Kilimanjaro than at many other stages of my life, haha. Thanks Follow Alice!
Florence came to check on how well we were eating and told me to worry less, haha. Then it was time for a nap.
I went into my tent. What did I do? I filled my bottle with warm water, supposedly for tea. As soon as I got into my sleeping bag, along with my bottle, it started snowing like mad. Big balls of snow. Huge ones. It almost sounded like someone was attacking my tent. Lol. And I started worrying again. What if the weather is like this until the summit?? But I was too tired to stay awake.
Around 4 pm, Rama came to wake me up, saying, “Tea time, Artour”. I didn’t realise he was calling me at first. But then it all made sense. From Day 1, that had been my name. It does not sound like Arwa, but it’s cute. Trevor called me Arou, so why not Artour as well.
I had a good tea, as it was my favourite (popcorn). Then we did washy washy.
After that we had a briefing about summit night, which was starting at midnight that same day. Florence was looking me in the eyes, trying to see how I was feeling. He talked lots about jelly legs, and made many jokes. He took my oxygen level, which showed 74%, and I freaked out.
Dinner and lots of emotions!
I won’t go further into details, but the night was quite short. We had early dinner at 5.30 pm, as we were super hungry and wanted to sleep as much as we could before the summit.
I think at 7 pm I was already hugging my warm bottle and fighting my scared thoughts again. It was weird, a very weird moment. I felt happy and sad. Happy because I’m closer than ever to the summit, but also sad because it meant this experience is going to be over, forever.
I started thinking about what was to come next. About work and life. About the people in Tanzania, and how I’m going to miss them. And what do I want to do with my life? Oh gosh. It was a mess in my head.
I remember it like it was yesterday, the moment I said to myself: “Calm down, Arwa. One step at a time. Now you sleep. Later you summit. After that, you think about life.”
And like that I fell asleep, knowing we’d be awoken at 11 pm. Lala salama.
DAY 6: Summit day!
So on Day 6 we started walking around midnight. At 5.15 am we were at Stella Point, and roughly 6.10 am we were at Uhuru Peak. We started climbing down around 6.35 am, and reached base camp exactly at 9.03 am. From base camp we started climbing down around 12 pm and reached Mweka Camp at 2.55 pm.
Okay, so in my last journal entry, the story ended with me being asleep around 7.30 pm or so, as I expected to be waking up around 11 pm. I slept in my inner layers, so I’d just have to put on the outer ones when I was woken up.
My eyes were open a little bit before that, I think. I didn’t even have the courage to look at my phone, but I’m guessing it was something like 10.45 pm.
Lightning and jitters
I remember it was super cold and dark. I was hearing thunder and lightning. It got me really scared. I was thinking: what on earth is this storm? Are we going to walk under this lightning? Is the summit going to be cancelled because of that? Why don’t I hear anyone? Why isn’t anyone waking us up?
I started thinking about lightning when there are no trees and imagining I would get struck, lol. I’m laughing at myself writing this …
But these thoughts kept coming and I literally thought that midnight was already past and imagined that my guide had decided we wouldn’t summit because of the weather …
Camp starts waking up …
Then I heard them waking. And I heard them walking. Then I knew they were coming for us. I stepped out of my tent, and went straight to the toilet tent, shivering, thinking the lightning would strike me (silly me). Then I stopped for a moment and looked at the sky.
I said to my partner, “Are you sure it’s not dangerous? There are no trees … I don’t want to die here under a lightning strike.”
He laughed hard and said, “The lightning you see is down in the rainforest. Chill.”
A few moments later, Rama came with popcorn and biscuits. It’s what we’d asked to be given at this time. I knew I’d always eat popcorn, even with no appetite.
I managed to eat a handful of popcorn and one single biscuit. I wasn’t hungry.
Florence came and asked us how we were doing. He advised us to eat. And said we’d be walking at midnight. He also introduced to us the porter Abedi who’d be summiting with us.
At exactly 11.58 pm I wanted to pee. I remember Florence said, “You have two minutes, then we start walking.” I did my business and headed back to the summit tea, which was me, Florence and Msafiri as the guides, Abedi as an assisting porter, and Matthieu. I had on all of my layers and two pairs of gloves.
The summit hike begins!
I remember that when we started walking, Florence looked at us and said, “Now, I know you’ll feel the urge to ask me, like all the other clients, every ten minutes, if we’re close. I don’t want to hear any of this before 4 am. At 4 am you can start asking.”
I got it. I didn’t want to know the time either because it would stress me out. I only knew we were set for six to seven hours of walking before we reached the summit. That’s all I knew.
We started walking. Florence was in front. It was dark. A little bit cold, but not so much. Pace was good. I was walking, just walking. I remember that I tried to get by telling myself that we would stop every thirty minutes or so. So that meant if we stopped about twelve times, I would be at the summit. Funny right? Funny and powerful how mental things can be. It was a simple trick I played in my head and it kept me going.
So that’s how it was. I stumbled through the darkness, seeing only what my headlight lit up in front of me, and waited for the next break, which came every thirty minutes. I wasn’t suffering yet. It was still manageable.
I remember Florence saying, at some point, that we’d completed one of the steepest parts and done great. It gave me an instant boost, I must say.
I resisted the temptation to ask what the time was, or what the elevation was. I simply didn’t want to know.
Battling my own thoughts
The hardest part for me, wasn’t the climb itself, really, it was rather me thinking about altitude, being afraid of it, and waiting for it to strike me down …
Suddenly my phone started ringing. Why on earth would my phone ring right now? I recognised the song … It’s a stupid alarm I had set, maybe seven months ago for a reason I forget … But I had to stop it. So I happened to see the time: 2.33 am. It made me sad. I didn’t want to know what time it was. But well, it happened …
So now I had to start over. How could I trick my mind into forgetting what time it was, and keep walking? Usually hike, I hike during the day. So I have views to look at, and things to enjoy as I ascend. That night, I didn’t have any distraction other than my guide’s green pants, and the rocks and snow …
Drink, drink, drink
The high altitude still hadn’t hit me. I didn’t feel sick. But after about four hours of walking, I suddenly felt the need to stop for a few seconds and drink. Even though I kept drinking while we hiked, I didn’t pee, while my partner did. He had peed maybe four times since we started walking. I hadn’t. Not even once. And I knew deep down what it meant for me. The water was stuck in my stomach, lol.
We walked, walked, walked, and then I asked for a water break. I remember I loved how I would suck on the hosepipe for a few seconds, and then I would reach the warm water. Ahhhh … little moments of comfort. What a night!
The point of no return
At about 5,400 m above sea level, our guide said we’d reached the point of no return. I asked for a break, was given a quick one, and then we carried on. Florence said that he knew we required a real stop soon …
We kept going and at about 5,500 m Florence asked me if I was fine. He asked me what eight plus two is, and I said ten. I then added, “Five plus five is ten too, Florence! I am fine.”
Abedi was awesome. He was singing and motivating us so much. Also, I really, really, really loved how Florence was whistling. It gave us a rhythm.
A little later Msafiri took the lead. His pace is a little stronger, remember? It was still okay. But I felt that little lack of oxygen. And I finally dared to ask, “Where the hell is this Stella Point?”
I asked because I felt like my mind was playing all sorts of tricks on me. I didn’t have any further distractions, haha. I sat down on a rock and said I needed a break. I sat for ten seconds and Florence, Matthieu, Msafiri … they were all so lovely. They kept saying I can do it.
So I stood up again, arched my body to the front and suddenly rejected all the water I had drunk. It was weird because I hadn’t felt nauseated, nor did I have any stomach pains or discomfort. But still, it happened and it was only water. And after that I felt like a new person and didn’t ask for a break again.
They kept saying Stella was around the corner. I knew it wasn’t, but the promises helped. I hated Stella at that point, lol. But I was happy to reach it. And they promised us a cup of tea there.
And then were were at Stella Point! We were 5,756 m above sea level. We sat down, had a cup of tea, then carried on.
We reach the summit!
They said from Stella to Uhuru is easy. Only a 45-minute walk. Tambarari, lol. I don’t know if it was any easier, but I just kept going. At least it wasn’t so dark anymore. Now I could see some snow, and glaciers, and peaks. How beautiful.
Before I knew it, I was standing on Uhuru Peak. It felt good. Also, for the sake of details, the first thing I did when I reached it was to pee! It felt good; it was a sign to me that my body had adapted again, lol. Then I took photos, and we sang and played around a bit. It was good. I felt good. I didn’t feel sick at the time. Weird.
The long descent
We then started going back down. For some reason, I was full of energy. I was really, really fast this time. It felt good. I’m good with rocks. I handle them well. I was following Abedi and I hadn’t even noticed we were already ahead of the rest of the group. But then I realised I couldn’t see Matthieu.
But I looked back again and there he was. He wasn’t feeling great. He was a damn hero on the way up. He didn’t complain or stop a single bit. I had my vomit, but he didn’t. So now he struggled with a heavy headache. We had to slow down. It was a long downhill. And it was weird to ‘discover’ the same path we had gone up in the darkness. It didn’t look like a piece of cake. I guess we were actually quite fit not to feel it that much?
Despite Matthie’s headache and discomfort, we made it back to base camp by 9 am. I was impressed. Our guides too. They told us we could have a little rest (just ninety minutes), because we still needed to climb down to 3,200 m.
Day 7: Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate
I didn’t write a journal entry for today. But obviously we made it down! I’ll let a few of my photos tell the story of our final day …
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