Holy hell! Can’t believe I was on the roof of Africa this morning…what a ridiculously insane past 36 hours.  After humping up the plateau from Camp 2, we crossed around the bottom of the peak, down to a valley on the other side.  The whole way we had sweet views of the peak, saw cool lava formations, and at one point we passed under an old summit route called the western breach.  A few years ago this whole side of the mountain collapsed and slid, killing 3 trekkers and injuring a bunch of porters.  Ummm..we don’t go that way anymore.  But it was kinda cool because the rockslide had unveiled all these yellow and red rocks and stuff.  The valley was sweet, bizurd joshua-palm tree things towering over you, icy waterfalls, great views.
 
The next day, we basically slogged out of the valley, then up, then up, and then up some more.  Finally we got to our summit ascent point, Barafu Hut (Barafu is swahili for ice.  Course these days there ain’t no ice there anymore).  I then did a little acclimization hike up another few hundred feet, which most people don’t do.  But I was skilled in the mountains of Nepal and knew how important it was to "climb high, sleep low."  Uh, yeah, big mistake.  When I got back down I was completely exhausted…and then came on the ol’ altitude crushing headache thing.  The kind that feels like someone is squishing your head.  I won’t try squishing anyone’s head again, I promise.  Really.  So much for Nepal helping me out by the way.  Course at least my right eye wasn’t going bonkers and getting blurry on me.
 
We had our "last supper" quietly, everyone was thinking about tonight’s summit attempt.  God Listen’s (our guide) came by for a little pep talk and final instructions.  With a name like his you find yourself hanging on his every word.  I laid down to toss and turn for a few hours before my alarm went off at midnight.  It was "go-time".  Now, we’d all read Star’s book (another trekker from the good ol’ US) and knew it was going to be an insanely tough hike.  Nearly 4000 ft straight up are you kidding?  Plus it was midnight, no moon, and freezing cold.  We got quietly dressed into all of our clothes, and then our little gang of stuffed penguins was assembled, under the brilliant black starry sky.  Its so clear up here, the stars practically burn your eyes they are so bright.  And so many.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many stars, even in the desert.
 
It was tense at first so I tried to get some jokes going, but before we even got much past my original acclimization point, Maya had already dropped out.  She was taking altitude pills but they had backfired and made her stomach upset.  A blow to the crew pretty early in the game.  Good thing it turned out though, no way she would have made it and the further you go up the further you have to climb down.  A couple difficult hours later we hit the bottom of the infamous switchbacks.  These seem to go on forever and are composed of soft loose rock that you slide back down a bit with each step.  Its time to go pole-pole sana (swahili for very slow-slow) at this point, its like the weed-out course at university.  If you give up this is where it happens.  From here it was another 4 hours to the rim.
 
Spirits recovered and we finally got some jokes going.  But soon Stu and then Star got nailed.  Our pace bogged down to a snail’s crawl, or at least it seemed like it.  Stu had to stop after every couple switchbacks to catch his breath.  Star got the heaves.  All of a sudden things were looking grim and we were only at about 5200 m, still 3 hours away.  They both soldiered on for awhile but eventually Star had to throw in the towel.  Better to be safe than sorry I guess.  A bit after that, Stu and an assistant guide stayed behind.  It didn’t look like Stu would make it, I felt really awful.  I couldn’t believe it really, I mean only 2 of us would summit?  We were all healthy.  Cruel luck, it didn’t seem fair.  But the rest of me was so numb from cold and exhaustion that I didn’t really care and just wanted to finish it.
 
Gerard and I soldiered on.  I felt ok but I figured it was from my experience in Nepal.  Gerard on the other hand was doing his first climb like this but was rocking and rolling on Diamox.  The little drug dealer who had fixed my runs was powering up on some kind of steroid that helps your body prevent altitude sickness (or at least the symptoms, which I suppose is kind of scary).  I was jealous and wished I had drugs myself.  At that point some Coca would have been just fine.  We must have been making good time at that point because we passed a couple other groups.  It seemed like we were going pretty slow, but its all relative up here.  Then all of a sudden my stomach clenched up.   I felt woozy and a little nasueous.  Its scary to get hit, you want so bad to summit, but its pitch dark, you are freezing cold, and you’ve just seen half your party get sick already and give up.  I couldn’t believe this was happening, I mean I had felt great the last few days, until I finally got that bad headache last night.  I had to take some Paracitimal to get to sleep, and I think it messed up my stomach.
 
Now, high on the final ascent, I was starting to get woozy and weak.  It was still black out and even though I could see the dark shape of the peak it was impossible to tell how far it was.  Plant, step.  Plant, step.  It went on forever until you lose track of time and your mind becomes numb.  It dawned on me that I might not make it.  But as soon as that thought surfaced I pushed it back down.   I was still strong enough to keep going, right?  I was going to summit no matter what.
 
We passed a few more headlamp trains and it occurred to me that we might be one of the leading groups.  Even though we seemed to be going so slow.  Suddenly Prosper announced we were only 15 minutes from Stella Point, the crater rim!  I was re-energized and we pushed on up to the point.  The ground leveled out, and I found a rock and collapsed on it like a sack of beans.  Just head between my knees, sucking wind for a full 5 minutes.  Eventually I was able to stand back up but vertigo ran through me, like I was leaning out over a hundred story building.  Even though I was in no danger at all.  I broke some frozen water loose in my bottle and managed to gnaw down half of a frozen snickers bar before my belly warned me not to push it.
 
We were at Stella Point ~about 5800 m.  Uhuru peak was still another 100 m up, or an hour away around the rim.  I fell back inline, plant-step, plant-step.  Except that I noticed I was starting to meander.  My feet stepped in the wrong spots causing me to wobble around.  I felt like I had shot-gunned a 6-pack in 5 minutes.  The most bizarre part was that I was fully aware of how drunk I was and I might’ve enjoyed it if my legs hadn’t turned to mush and my stomach wasn’t flopping around.  I told Gerard if I had to take a DUI right now I’d fail misearbly.
 
Behind us an incredible sunrise appeared benearth the cloud layer.  I glanced at it and a part of my brain realized this would be amazing if I wasn’t on a death-march to the summit.  Dark glaciers appeared on my left, and I hoped that on the way back I could stop and concentrate long enough to enjoy them.  We kept trudging, I don’t know how long.  The light began to grow and the huge crater appeared on our right out of the blackness.  Presper said to look ahead and there it was.  The famous Uhuru Peak Signpost.  Ice and snow appeared on either side of the path, and then we were there.  I collapsed beneath the sign, excited to have done it, but too tired to take pics at the moment.  Gerard mugged and got some pics, and after about 5 minutes I got up and snapped a few myself.  WIth the growing light and the realization that I’d made it, and especially that it was literally all downhill from here, I started to feel much better.  Then it dawned on us, we were the first ones up here.  We weren’t one of the leading groups, we were the leaders.  It was strange, it had felt like we were going so slow.
 
By the Dawn’s Early Light: The Last of Kili’s Glaciers 
Prosper encouraged us to not linger too long as the weather could turn quickly.  We strolled back down the crater rim, passing the 1st groups arriving.  We gave them a thumb’s up and offerred words of encouragement, and sympathized with their delirious expressions.  As the sun climbed, it actually rose a 2nd time above the cloud cover.  It was visible as a red ball beneath the clouds before and it finally rose above and bright unfiltered light lit up the summit.  As we descended all the vague dark shapes we’d passed earlier were revealed.  The glaciers were massive and thick.  They abruptly cutoff as if someone had cleaved them with a giant butcher knife.  Rumbling noises explained the  appearance; blocks of ice calved off the face as the sun heated the rocks below.  The glaciers were beautiful and it was sad to think they would not be around for the next generation to see.  Global warming right there smack in the face.  Unbelievable what an impact we are having.
 
We saw a German dude who launched into a tirade as soon as the hellos finished.  "I was here 16 years ago and it was all ice here!  Its all gone!  Horrible.  Tears my heart out."  The guy clearly was lecturing anyone who came within earshot.  He had a valid point but I felt sorry for his group, yikes.  And then I noticed Gerard talking to someone: it was Stu!  He’d made it.  That was cool to see.  He seemed ok until he asked us to take some pictures of the rabbits when we got back to Stella point.  Uhhhh….dude what rabbits? Cockroaches can’t even survive up here.  I took a photo of him smiling, but when I got back down and looked at it his eyes weren’t quite focusing in my direction.  And the smile was kinda like Stephen King in The Shining.  Good lad.  Back at Sharkeez it’d cost you at least $50 in tequila to get that sloshed.
 
Stu had made it and was even in the middle of the pack, it made us realize we’d actually gone too fast.  And I wondered if Star would have made it if our guide had been a little more pole-pole.  After giving him congrats and watching him stagger off in the correct general direction, we steeled ourselves for the long 2 hour trek back down.  At this point you are completely exhausted and just want to crawl into your tent and sleep, but somehow you will yourself to stay upright until, finally, running on absolute fumes, you fall back into camp.
 
Great Rewards Await
After a little nap, we were back up and had another 4 hours of hiking ahead of us!!  Slowly, as we descended back below 10,000 ft, life returned and we found ourselves in a peaceful and scenic mossy forest.  Tomorrow its supposed to be an easy hike back down to the gate, and that’s that.  Pretty insane when you look back at it.  I mean its 6 hours trekking, dinner and a nap, 8 hours trekking, breakfast and a nap, and then another 4 hours!!  No wonder they call it the whiskey route.  Can’t wait to grab a shower, a burger, and a cold one when I get back to town.
 
Being on top this morning already seems like an old dream.  If I didn’t have the pics I might not believe it.
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