When finally the summit has been reached, And your quest has thus been obtained, Alas another peak is there,
More lofty than where you came.
It seems that it is the way with life, For those who dare to dream.
You’re off again on another quest, Because yet others remain.
View from The Top, Poems by Loder '04
Summit from Barufu
Note: This narrative is almost 24 hrs. past the summit experience as I’m sitting in our last camp up early before sunrise looking up 5,000’ at Kili and seeing the big dipper dumping on the summit, under a crescent moon.
Note 2: I’ve never been an avid star/constellation scholar but I do know and recognize a few. I’m beginning to appreciate those who are star gazers, When we go out at night on the dock at our summer cottage to view the expanse of the universe, I locate the few constellations which everyone knows, like the big dipper, and can point me in the north, south, east, west direction. Such is the case here too. So, a familiar face I see even here in Africa. I think this is the connection that star gazers have with the skies.
I’ve lost almost a whole day since my last posting. If I already haven’t said this, today will be one of the toughest days I can remember. (well, dementia may be a factor, but as I contemplate some of my 24 hr or 100 mile runs, this well it might run a close second)
"My Back Pages"
Crimson flames tied through my ears Rollin' high and mighty traps Pounced with fire on flaming roads Using ideas as my maps
"We'll meet on edges, soon," said I Proud 'neath heated brow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now.”(Bob Dlyan, Byrds ‘64).
After sleeping maybe only an hour or so, we were rousted out of our tents by our guide Mohamed 1 for some hot water for tea or coffee. I gave Bill and Craig my last two packets of oatmeal. I had a granola bar with my hot coffee/cocoa mix. The temp didn’t seem too cold. I was quite comfortable with short sleeve shirt under my long sleeve Duofold (like a heavy coolmax), running tights under my waterproof nylon pants with gators. My System 3 shell running cap (yes, I found my Brooks hat I thought I’d lost) with a fleece headband. I packed Fred’s Down Jacket, and several pairs of gloves and a couple sets of chemical hand warmers for later if I needed them. We were given hot water the night before (really only hours before) so I packed one liter of water and another of Gatorade mixed.
Our plan was to leave before midnight. We headed out at 11:50 PM with our headlamps illuminating our path hoping to make the summit by sunrise. Mohamed 1 is in the lead, followed by myself, Bill, Craig with Mohamed 2 pulling up the rear. We kept this order the entire way up.
The path up was snow covered and steep taking us up a rocky rise then across a short flat stretch then up a very long steep climb. It was very dark and we could only see a few feet in front of us. The wind picked up as we “pole, pole” up the trail, and it got much colder. We take small steps one at a time with a water rest every hour or so. My lungs and breathing were fine. After putting on Fred’s Down Jacket under my shell I was toasty warm. Up to this point I had two layers on the hands (wool gloves and the gortex shell). On our first stop the hand warmers went in. It is odd that they really didn’t seem effective at elevation. I’m wondering if the thin air retarded the chemical reaction that produces the heating. So I put one more layer on the hands (my red wool mittens). I had worried about my hands (I have Ranaud’s Syndrome) before the trip, but now I was quite comfortable.
I thought our pace was perfect. My recollection is that Craig was complaining that we needed more rests and Bill was laboring a bit with his asthma and had to take some puffs from his inhaler.
It was really neat to look down at our rest stops and seeing the string of lights below us from the climbers who left after us with their headlamps lighting the trail up from below us.
As we climbed, we came upon a man and woman who were (I guess) in trouble lying down keeping each other warm off the trail. We pushed on, knowing that anyone ascending will have a responsible guide to handle them. Later, we came upon a guide and a man in a similar situation but there was nothing we could do except push on towards our mission.
We trucked on and on for hours which seemed like minutes to me, with only a couple of footprints to follow up in front of us. Mohamed 1 had a good handle on the trail. I wonder how many times he climbed this exact same route. Probably quite a few, just in this year.
We reached Stellar Point which is the rim of the crater and the top of the mountain but not the technical peak, at 4:37 AM. We still had 1 hour hike to Uhuru (Kibo) peak which was an easy climb but still am hour away.
As we headed for the peak, we encountered one small group of climbers which were headed back after summiting to their and our destination. After that we reached the summit (Uhuru) at 5:37 AM where there is this big wooden sign. There was only one other group there as we take out perfunctory pictures. I got my thermometer and GPS to get some readings. Result: 5 F at 19,333’ on a barren peak. Not bad as I know the exact elevation is 19, 340’.
As we reached the summit, the sky was showing signs if pink and a sunrise. “Let’s hang out here a while, so we can experience more and get some great sunrise pictures.” In the light of dawn we could see the images of the glaciers. What a wonderful view/experience; something I could hardly describe. I could have stayed there for hours, but Bill wanted to
return and Mohamed was pushing us down. I remember he was clearly having a hard time with his lungs but I was dragging my feet to get as many pictures as I could. The sunrise and the glaciers (which I heard so much about) above the clouds, were a true sight to behold. I took as many pictures as I could, but it was so cold I wasn’t sure how many would come out clear.
Now comes the bad part. As we descended, we got reports of a death on the mountain just below us. On the crater rim we came upon a body partially wrapped in a space blanket (head and shoulders) with a lonely guide standing next to him. Bill and Craig got close to him, but I couldn’t approach. All I could see was a late aged man, American; with stomach skin exposed looking very grayish. I knew he was dead. Our guide chatted with his guide who kept his post by the body. He speculated pulmonary edema.
There are many who attempt this peak, who are not prepared. It’s scary to think about the 50% who don’t make it as well as how many deaths are covered up because of negative publicity taking away from their potential income. I guess that is a whole other story.
Descent To Camp Mweka just over 10,000’
The descent is very pretty. We see views that we missed coming up in the dark. The sun is peaking over Mawenzi
We were fortunate to be the first to ascend, as we discover on the descent, the trail is loose skree, as the sun melts the hard pack snow. It feels like we are skating downhill on sand. No firm footing and just sliding down like on skis. This would have been murder climbing up.
It took us less than 3 hrs to descend back to Barufu. My legs weren’t too bad at this point, but it felt like we were being pushed to get back. We passed many porters who were positioning themselves to bring down the body of the “fallen soldier” in a relay sort of fashion. Each guide was to provide 2 porters to transport the dead body back down the mountain. I guess there wasn’t any real rush. It was a done deal. More on that later.
At 9 AM we arrived back at base camp with dirty wobbly legs. Our tents were still erect and the sun was warm and bright. It was a homey feeling. I changed down to cleaner dry clothes to prepare for the hike down to Mweka Camp some maybe 6 miles away all down hill. We snacked on tea and cookies and headed back down at 10:25 AM.
We followed the trail down through terrains which still reminded me of a moonscape or desert. Our legs were really getting tired. We reached a part of the trail which I would think you might see in the desert south west USA with flowers I hadn’t really noticed before. My legs were really trashed and downhill walking was really hard. It was hard to appreciate the beauty.
We arrived in camp, warm and sunny, Mweka at 1:45 PM in shorts over 12 hrs since we headed for the summit. As we sign in at the ranger station, “you sell cold beer (Kili) for
$3???, Bring it on!” Had it been one week since alcohol? The party started!!!!!!!!!!! A celebration of a mission accomplished. Veggies and rice for dinner, but after drinks (2 beers) and the long day we didn’t have much of an appetite. Bed by 7 Pm and the best sleep so far. Was this beer induced? Hard to tell!
So, this my tale of a great climbing adventure recounted in 2021 and bringing to mind what I can recall.
Next..... The safari