Kilimanjaro, my last great mountain: Part Seven

Mt Meru from just above Barafu camp

If one has the time, the best way to prepare for Kilimanjaro is to climb Mt Meru, a neighbouring volcano, first.  Not having done this, I know that the final push to the summit will be very difficult – 1262 m of rock and scree at an elevation where the lungs struggle to extract oxygen from the thin air.

We rise at 0500, depart at 0600.  Only a skeleton crew will go to the crater while the rest of the porters enjoy a leisurely day in camp.  Tobias designates Frank, a porter, to carry my day pack. The first part of the trail traverses smooth rock, after which we begin an endless series of switchbacks in scree.

Switchbacks on way to summit ridge

Thanks to Tobias, who took these photos, I can view the scenery that I completely ignored on the way up; all I saw was the path in front of my feet.  I’m so slow that Ernest has to ease the load on his back, repeatedly racing ahead to sit and wait.  We begin to meet climbers from other parties who are descending with the help of porters; they have failed to make the summit.  I put my head down and keep going.

As we approach Stella Point on the summit ridge, a huge glacier comes into view.

Glacier on summit ridge

After ten hours and 1000 m of one foot in front of the other, I reach Stella Point, with Frank and Ernest singing and clapping encouragement.  I collapse on a boulder and Tobias sticks the oxymeter on my finger: 68!  I didn’t think one could live with that level of O2 saturation, let alone walk.  Tobias wants to go on to the summit, about two hours away.  I refuse; I want to enjoy the summit.  So we drop down into the crater and reach camp in an hour.

Summit crater and glacier

Crater Camp

While I rest in my tent Tobias walks over to photograph the glacier.  These fragile spires of ice rising directly from the crater floor will sadly be gone in a few years.

Glacial remnant

Glacial remnant

Tonight I sleep like a baby and wake fully rested.  We watch the sun round the higher slopes, glisten off the ice and gradually warm the valley.  Our route remains in shade, however, winding steeply up rock,then snow.

Looking down on Crater Camp from trail to ridge

The only snow we walked through on trip

Frank walks ahead of me with my pack in  his arms.  Ernest follows with his enormous load.

Pause to rest

Summit ridge at last, Mt Meru in background

Two hours after leaving camp we sight the ugly sign that marks the roof of Africa.  As an emotional moment, it would be hard to equal.  I thought of my friend in whose memory I had made the climb.  I thought of all the joy that climbing had brought me over a career that saw me on summits from Denali and Logan, to Huascaran in Peru, to Nepal, and to countless peaks in the Alps and in Canada from the BC coast to Baffin Island.  I knew that this would be my last great mountain.  Overwhelmed, I wept.

We took the obligatory photos, happy to have the summit to ourselves, at least for a few minutes.  Then we turned away and started down.

Summit of Kilimanjaro, 5895 m

3 thoughts on “Kilimanjaro, my last great mountain: Part Seven

  1. Amazing, bittersweet journey. I appreciate your simple way of telling the story through sparse words and lots of pictures. I’ve never been on a guided trip. Having 11 porters would take some getting used to. Having a cook sounds great, though.

    68% SPO2 is amazingly low. (I work as a firefighter/EMT, and you’d probably be headed to the hospital with lights and sirens here).

    • 68% SP02 is not unusual above 26,000 ft. Kili is only 19,000, so mine should have been higher, but old lungs don’t work as well as young ones. Amazingly, I had no other high altitude symptoms such as headache, nausea, fluid in my lungs, mental confusion, etc.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s