I pause here for dramatic effect and to discuss a few other things we learned from Freddie about "Tahn-ZAHN-ya" as he calls it. (I used "lasagna" as a phonetic reminder.) Some of the things that we read online about the country turned out not to be true. For example, we read that it was illegal to wear camouflage clothing. He said that hasn't been true for a long time. We also learned that the country only recently got it's freedom from the U.K. in 1961. That is when the peak was named Uhuru Peak - uhuru meaning "freedom" in Swahili. Very cool.
He said that Tanzania has a similar education system where they go to "nursery" school from ages 4-5, then primary school from 6-13, secondary school from 14-18 and then 2 additional years after that. He didn't call these 2 additional years college, but I'm guessing it is something similar or perhaps vocational school. However, they go to school year round. But it sounded like they have more intermediate breaks here and there than in the U.S.
Freddie says he likes to play volleyball and football (soccer). He is married and has one 3-year-old daughter.
Back to the climb. It is still technically Day 5. Our alarm goes off at 10:45pm. At 11:15 we are dressed in about 5 layers of clothing and Freddie is calling to us from outside the tent. We take just enough time to have a quick, light breakfast and leave our camp by 12:15 am. It took us at first a little while to just get out of camp because of the size of the camp. Also, we stopped about 3 times within the first 20 minutes for Craig and I to take off a layer or two of clothing even though it was bitterly cold. The exertion of climbing heated our core temperatures up pretty quickly.
Right out of camp the steepness continues as was the case for a lot of the mornings on the trail. We got a little bit of a break at a fairly shallow incline for a bit and then back to the steeps - even a little hand holding. At the top of this rocky area, things started to get really difficult. There is a sizable crowd with us. Everyone is going very "poli poli." There are several times where I ask myself, Why am I doing this? Who do I think I am doing this? Who am I? There were several times where for one reason or another Craig and I were feeling sick or nauseous or when I had a headache. In those cases, the length of my stride (if you could call it that) is about 1/2 of my foot length because I just had to slow down for being ill. Remember, no stopping! If you're going to stop you might as well turn back around. Yes, you can stop for rests here and there but not long enough for your heart rate to slow too much. It's "slowly, slowly" for a reason, not "stop, go, stop."
And talk about new experiences - I had hallucinations, whee! My eye doctor has since guessed that I was experiencing an ocular migraine. I had no headache at that point, but Freddy's feet in front of me were leaving a glowing trail behind them. This started, I think coincidentally, when the trail got so treacherous that the light of the full moon wasn't adequate anymore and we had turned on our headlamps. After about a minute of this, I decided to stop Freddy. We pulled off to the side of the trail and I tried to explain to my Swahili-native speaker in English what I was experiencing. This took some effort and Craig tried to enhance my communication with his own words. Freddie seemed to somewhat understand but also seemed still a little confused. However, he took it all in, paused for about 5 seconds and then with the certainty of a politician making campaign promises said "No Problem!...No problem, I think you will be fine." And with that, we all headed up again. He paused a yard or two later and said that maybe it was because we had turned our headlamps on. We all turned our headlamps off. Again, I don't know if that was it or that just by stopping again for a little bit my brain got the oxygen it needed, but the visions seemed to stop.
There is no question that this is the part of the climb where your mettle is determined. Sometimes the only things that kept me going at this point was all of the practice we had done and making promises to myself that I would never do it again. You need a lot of patience and determination to climb like this for hours. I wondered how many times and for how long I could keep telling myself, just one foot in front of the other. Slowly, the sun starts to rise and relieve us of our headlamps and warm us slightly. We had intended to be at Stella Point by now. That we aren't is regrettable in two ways. One, we've been climbing scree with nary a good bathroom rock to hide behind and are getting desperate. Two, we are climbing with the sun coming up behind us so that, though it is a beautiful, amazing sunrise, we only get peeks of it when we turn around ever so occasionally.
Sunrise behind Mawenzi
Once we are finally at Stella Point, the sunrise is pretty much over. Fred tries to get us a quick photo of the last bit of red-orange, but we're having none of it. We're straight off to the side of the hill where the only possible cover is offered. After that we are able to take a few photos and feel a jubilant victory.
Us at Stella's point
Stella's point - True peak is off to the right. I don't remember if it's in this photo or not.
A milestone has been reached and the scree has ended! This is also the first time we can see the REAL summit.
Stella's point looking at the peak
Stella Point is an exemplary false summit. For those who aren't familiar with this term, you can likely guess it's meaning. It's the point that looks like the summit from the angle that can be viewed from below, however, once it is reached, the climber's heart is crushed to realize that it is not the actual summit. Luckily, the real summit is only about 45 minutes from here and it is not up as much as it is around the crater rim. Unbelievably, there are people that turn back at this point. On the one hand, it is a milestone that can be claimed and many are so tired and sick with altitude that they fear their health in going forward. However, PEOPLE - YOU ARE SEVERAL DAYS DOWN AND ONLY MINUTES TO GO. CAN YOU REALLY TURN BACK NOW?!?!?!
The crawl around to the summit is breathtaking literally and figuratively. Views of the crater can only be experienced. Many guides are practically carrying their climbers with them. A lot of climbers just look like they are in a lot of pain, grimacing, crying and yes, sometimes puking. Comparatively, Craig and I are feeling pretty good. Craig is doing better than me. His headache has finally wore off while mine is beginning. And then, an unexpected boost. Seeming to jump and float, climbers come down. I can almost feel the energy coming off of them as they greet us and encourage us with words like "You're almost there!", and "It's totally worth it!"
Then, if anything 6 days in the making can come suddenly, suddenly, a turn around a rock reveals the sign at the summit. The Sign!!! In the actual flesh. With real light and shadows on it. In real, life size, standing there, maybe 40 yards away. Hooooo. My breath leaves me, my senses are heightened, and it's almost like I saw Jesus himself. Tears well up in my eyes.
Craig has a strong emotional reaction too in which he tells me that he is so energized by this sight he feels like he could run to the top. I would have loved to so badly, but I'm still experiencing my physical downturn. He's like 5 steps in front of me from here to the top because he cannot help himself.
I heard angels sing, saw the future of the whole world in a vision and then I evaporated - what I mean is, I had a similarly hard-to-describe amazing, pure moment. WE MADE IT!!!! WE MADE IT TO THE ROOF OF AFRICA! THE TALLEST POINT IN THE CONTINENT! ONE OF THE SEVEN SUMMITS! WE MADE IT!!!!!
We did it!
Jon Jill Craig and Fred at the top
If political conferences could be held in the emotional state that everyone was in on the top, there would never be another war, AIDS, poverty or hunger or environmental crisis. I just know it. There is a little party up there. People are crying (including me). People are hugging (yep, me too - Craig, Fred and Jon, and if I'd had just a little less inhibition, everyone else up there.) People are laughing, taking pictures (politely, one at a time with The Sign), talking, cheering, congratulating. We get our turn with The Sign and take several with both cameras, just in case. Fred and Jon seem genuinely joyous for us even though I know they must get tired of this scene. What frigid cold? What lack of oxygen? We don't notice - we're on top of the world.
And then, Fred asks us if we are ready. Ready? We just got here. That's the thing, you can't stay on top of the world very long. You get sick. I would have stayed there much longer if I could have. Mountain top time is just not the same as civilian time, so it was hard to say, but I think we were there, at the most, 30 minutes. We did try to soak it all in. We took mental and digital photos. Some photos I took just to get Freddie to stop telling me I had to leave. Some I took though because we didn't take any on the way up from Stella Point, the objective to reach the peak taking our full attention.
Glacier and pond
Jill and glacier
Us and glacier
Glacier and crater
Glacier waterfall - about 1/3 from the left
It's hard to photograph glaciers and do them justice, but we did our best with what we had. So clear blue, so out-of-scale big, so majestic. So receding. <sigh> We're glad we made it before they are gone, which I hear will likely be within the next 10 years or so. We wonder later how this might affect the tourist economy here, as fewer are likely to climb after that. We understand now the feeling of those we saw on their way down. We try to pass on the same energy and encouragement to those coming up. You can see the struggle in their eyes. Hallelujah, we're on our way down! This part is easy. We stop for photos that we missed on the way up, the crater, distant peaks around the rim. We even spot a reference for the size of the crater - a small caravan of hikers coming through it.
Crater hikers way down there
Crater hikers, See?
Glacier and people
We're at Stella Point again in no time. Now it's down the scree.
This is where the gaiters and skiing experience come in handy. The one step up, one slide back on the way up has turned into one step down, three steps of sliding. It's pretty darn fun. It is a little tiring too though because you have to stop yourself from sliding all the way back down several hundred yards. Freddie is taking it by leaps and bounds and I am having a tough time keeping up with him. He keeps calling at me like there is a fireball behind me that I need to escape. Definitely no "poli, poli" here. We take a few rest stops. We drink more water. Then, we are finally back at summit camp.
You'd think after 5 hrs of sleep and 12 hours of climbing a gal could get some rest. Turns out it's very dangerous to be at high altitudes for very long and even more so to sleep at high altitude. Fred gives us one sweet hour of rest in our tents before turning down again. But, man what an hour it was! In explicably, it was all that we needed to hold us until the next camp.
We packed up and headed down with the rest of the herd. A light snow turned into a light rain turned into a heavy rain just as we got into camp. We were so happy to see the hut at this camp and that we had decided to stay here at the Millennium camp instead of at Mweka camp. It was about 2 hours from Barafu to Millennium and I could not have imagined having to pass by this camp for ANOTHER 2 hours down to Mweka, the more popular camp. Enough hiking already! We were glad that our crew had long since set up camp for us and we had respite from the rain. We were soaked.
Camp 6 Millennium
I wasn't sure if I'd documented any of the park ranger huts so I took one here.
Millennium camp hut
This shot doesn't give much perspective for size. It's crammed with 2 bunk beds, a small table and two guys that sign us in and offer candy bars. We had waited out the rain here a bit while Freddie found our camp. Another delicious dinner and we look forward to our last night on the mountain, victorious!