Mt. Kilimanjaro Climb: Days 8-11 – The Journey to the Top

Let’s continue on the journey to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro! If you haven’t already ready days 1-4 and days 5-7 I recommend you read them now before continuing. (Note – you can click on the photos to see a larger version)

Day 8 (October 8)

Altitude: 3,900m – 4,000m /  12,795ft – 13,124ft
Acclimatize and trek up and down to 4,000m
Weather: Daytime temp: aprx 5-8 Degrees Celsius early day, aprx 10 Degrees Celsius during the day, Clear skies
Extra comments: Breathing has been ok. Shoulders still painful. Feeling nervous.

My frosty tent

Sleeping was difficult last night. It was a cold and windy night with base temperatures hovering at -5c. Cold air seeped through the tent and attacked my neck and shoulders all night long. Upon waking up you could see ice crystals and frost all over the tent. We got to sleep in a bit this morning and were up for 7:30am. Despite the frigid temperatures all night, I woke up with the song of the mountain stuck in my head – which immediately put me into a good mood. I began to sing, “Pole pole pole…Hanukah Matata” as I prepared for the day.

My badly beaten toes

My badly beaten toes

While getting dressed, I noticed my toes were not in good shape and were bruised pretty badly due to the climb the day before. Ouch!

Breakfast was served outside of the normal food tent this morning. The views were spectacular! Looking up at Kilimanjaro while eating breakfast was surreal. Everyone was excited (except the few people rushing to the blue toilet tents trying to manage their altitude sickness). Eggs, bacon, porridge, and pineapple was served for breakfast and I was glad to eat every bite.

Breakfast outdoors

Breakfast outdoors

Chi and Jeff enjoy breakfast with Kilimanjaro's peak behind us

Chi and Jeff enjoy breakfast with Kilimanjaro’s peak behind us

Before leaving camp I was able to send out a few text messages to loved ones and post updates on Facebook and Twitter. Today was going to be the most challenging yet – climbing the Barranco Wall. It was an intense day full of emotions for a lot of people. The night before we were warned there would be no room for error.

Why no room for error? Leading up to today, you could generally follow a path large enough to fit two people beside each other. However, the path leading to the top of the Barranco Wall was very narrow only offering enough space for the foot in front of you. Single file was the only way to get to the top.

Look closely and you can see climbers!

Look closely and you can see climbers!

Climbing the Barranco WallThere were some elements of technical climbing involved as well. Climbers would need to hoist/pull themselves up and scale the edge of the mountain. Faint of heart? Best not to look down, as it’s a long long way down with no security of a net! There were a few girls in our group that took a while to complete this challenging task and arrived at the top with tears. It was pretty tough but also very exciting. Everyone was rewarded with more breathtaking views at the top. We stood far above the clouds and celebrated with group photos!

Another 2.5hrs down the other side of the Barranco Wall and we arrive at our new camp – with lunch waiting for us. Leek soup, bread, french fries, and a veggie salad are consumed. Shortly after lunch, we are told to all rest to prepare our bodies for tomorrow: Summit Day.

Jeff takes it all in

Jeff takes it all in

Most people napped or spent the afternoon nursing their altitude sickness as best they can. Dinner was served around 6pm and included: rice, beef stroganoff, veggies, and a fruit salad for dessert. Following dinner, our guide Paulo, gave a mini briefing for the day to come. As he spoke, you could feel the atmosphere in the food tent change. Everyone was listing with great anticipation and intensity. He reminded everyone to get lots of rest this evening. We would need the energy for the next day. And that we did. After watching an amazing sunset above the clouds, we all went to bed.

Sunset

Sunset

Day 9 (October 9)

Altitude: 4,000m – 4,600m/  13,124ft – 15,090ft
Acclimatize and trek up to 4,600m
Weather: Daytime temp: aprx 5-8 Degrees Celsius early day, aprx 10 Degrees Celsius during the day
Extra comments: My thought processes slowed down, extremely tired, and altitude sickness slowly started to kick in 

Breakfast!

Start the day @ 6:30am and enjoyed breakfast (eggs, sausage, porridge, and fruit) outside of the food tent. Kilimanjaro was situated behind us this time. Departed camp at 8:30am to start the long day ahead.

The terrain today contained lots of slate rock – which was slippery. As you walked each piece would shift under your feet which made everyone need to concentrate just a little more today on their stride. We all noticed quite easily that our breathing was changing as well. There were many small 5-10 minute breaks as we continued to our final base camp before the summit climb.

Journal entry: “My concentration is on and off and my memory poor…Even as I write this passage, I can feel my breath being very shallow and fast paced. I can only image what it will be like at the summit.

Five hours later, we arrived. As we reached base camp, every piece of land was spoken for. There were so many other climbers ready to complete the journey to the top. Our tents were situated on the side which had a lot of loose slate rock. A lot of people in our group were worried we might sprain an ankle trying to manoeuvre our way around camp.

Slate rock

Slate rock

Lunch was served (potato soup, bread, seashell pasta, and watermelon). Following lunch we all tried to rest before dinner. At this point Paulo conducted the final summit briefing (as he would not be joining us for dinner). During the final briefing he divided our group into 3 groups (based on their skill level observed during the last few days): The Strong, The Medium, and The Slow.

Ten climbers were in the Strong group (including myself), 11 climbers in the Medium group, and 3 climbers in the Slow group. Every 2 climbers would climb with 1 guide. Each guide would assess your health during the entire summit climb and if they suspected that you were suffering from altitude sickness, you would be rushed back down to base camp, not be permitted to continue the climb, and possibly removed from the mountain – as this part of the climb was dangerous. Paulo began to list the symptoms they would be looking for, such as:  vomiting, diarrhea, massive headaches, blurred vision, hallucinations, slurring words, staggering, bleeding nose, etc.  If we were successful, we should reach the summit within 7hours after leaving base camp.

Majesteas

Majesteas Peppermint Tea

Dinner was served at 6pm. I could barely eat. I had a few spoonfuls of porridge. To calm my nerves and stomach, I drank some of my peppermint tea I brought from my friend’s tea shop (Majesteas) in Toronto. (Tell him Jeff sent you and he’ll hook you up!). Shortly after drinking the tea, I headed to the tent to try and sleep. We would be woken up by the guides at 11pm in order to start the climb to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro!

The temperature was below freezing at this point. With wind, we were feeling temperatures at about -10c. It started to sleet and snow. Who can sleep with so much pressure on your shoulders? I pulled out the flag I was going to bring to the top and read all of the words of encouragement and hope. It helped me focus. I was able to get 2 hours of sleep before I heard the guides offering coffee and hot water. We all tried to put as many layers of clothing on as possible. The temperature had dropped even lower. Groggy, I tried not to slip on the slate rock below me to the food tent to try and have something else to eat before we ascended to the top. I was able to eat a few more spoonfuls of porridge. Not many people were able to eat. Everyone was nervous, anxious, or throwing up.

Day 10 (October 10)

Altitude: 4,600m – 5,895m /  15,090ft – 19,340ft
Weather: -25 Degrees Celsius early day, aprx -10 Degrees Celsius during the day
Extra comments: Final Summit Day

Jeff starts the summit climb in the dark

Jeff starts the summit climb in the dark

The time had come. 12am, we stuffed our bags with water (2L of room temp water and 1L of hot water), I was totally bundled wearing: 2 long sleeve thermal shirts, a long sleeve shirt, a fluffy fleece, the Canada Goose Mountaineer Jacket, 2 pairs of wool socks, 2 thermal pants, cargo pants, and a Gortex waterproof/windproof outer layer pant. Canada Goose gloves, gaiter, and hat also kept me warm. My head-torche was also on to help lead the way to the top of the mountain.

Can you see the snake trail of head torches?

Can you see the snake trail of head torches?

As you looked up to the top in pitch black, all you could see was a skinny snake of lights trailing across camp and slowly starting to make the way to the top of Kilimanjaro. The zig zagging of the head-torches was mesmerizing. It was also very ominous as you couldn’t see the mountain outline. Just a sea of blackness with a few lights from head-torches.

Pole Pole. One foot in front of the other. Slowly. Slowly. Inch by inch. We climbed in the darkness while the snow and wind hit us from all sides. The first few minutes were exciting, but as you looked up at the snake lights, reality set in. You would need to continue climbing for another 7 hours before you reach the top, in the freezing cold weather.

Breathing was difficult. Every 2 steps we would take a break. Pole pole. Climbing over  boulders, slate, large rocks – there was never a moment where there was flat terrain. You had to walk extremely careful in the dark. Concentration was a must. Breathing was also very difficult. I recall taking a sip of water and I had to catch my breath.

Two to three hours into the climb I started to experience difficulty. Lack of sleep, energy, mixed with the beginning stages of altitude sickness, I could feel my body start to shut down. Pole pole. Then I started to see squirrels jumping out of the boulders. The first few times I saw the squirrels I wondered where they were coming from. How did squirrels get so high up. No one talked as we climbed because it was too difficult. So I didn’t tell anyone about the squirrels. It wasn’t until the 5th time I saw the squirrels I realized it was possibly a hallucination. I quickly recalled what Paulo said…and I didn’t tell anyone I was hallucinating because I didn’t want to be taken off the mountain. So I kept it to myself and continued on. Pole pole. Around 3am  I realized the water I had brought froze. I could no longer sip water from my pack and must wait until I reach the summit before I could replenish my fluids. The temperature was about -25c.

Sunrise

Sunrise

Around 6am we got our first glimpse of sunrise! It felt like seeing sunrise for the very first time. The sunlight had started to brighten everything around us and warmed us up slightly. Looking up to where we needed to go was deceiving. It was a slow incline with a long distance to cover. Pole Pole.

We reached Stella Point around 6:30am and celebrated the first of our achievements. There were tears of joy and celebration jumps as we reached the Stella Point sign: “Congratulations – You have reached Stella Point”. One of the guides helped me take my thermos of ‘hot’ water out of my bag and I could finally drink something! Within minutes we had to continue onward to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

As we climbed higher I noticed other guides and porters running with other climbers in the opposite direction (down the mountain). I soon realized those climbers were in danger and couldn’t focus or ‘not there’ due to the altitude sickness. It was scary to watch these adults being carried very fast down the mountain. There were about a dozen every 20 minutes. As I looked into the climbers eyes, ‘no one was home’. It was eerie.

About 20 minutes from the top, I hit the wall. I couldn’t go on any more. I needed a break. I looked at my guide who noticed I wasn’t doing too well and told him, “Hubert – I need to stop. I need to sit and take a break.” He quickly lead me to the side to sit on a rock. He undid my jacket, took the ‘hot’ water from my pack and slowly poured it into a cup for me. Lifted the cup to my mouth and made me drink the water. He watched my every move with slight concern. “Let’s finish what you started Timon” he said. (‘Timon’ being the nickname he gave me on day 1). With that we stood up, he placed my bag on his shoulders and allowed me to lead the way to the top. Pole pole.

Soon, I could see the gathering of other climbers, celebrating at the top of the mountain. I decided to sprint for it (keeping in mind, at this point the altitude sickness was there and I was on an adrenaline high). My pace quickened and I ran into my two good friends Chi and Richard. We headed to the top together.

Hubert & Jeff at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Hubert & Jeff at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro

When we reached the top, we all cried. We all celebrated. We all hugged. After all of those months training, after all of the fundraising, climbing for seven days straight with little sleep, food, and energy we all made it to the top. Emotions were running high. It was a proud moment for everyone.

As my guide Hubert really saved me at the last minute, I wanted him to celebrate with me and asked him to hold the Canadian Breast Cancer flag with me at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. If it weren’t for him, I would not have made it.

Jeff & the ice caps on the top of Kilimanjaro

Jeff & the ice caps on the top of Kilimanjaro

One snap of the camera and we were told to descend immediately. Yes – seven days to reach the top only to spend 5 minutes then you have to head back down and do it all over again! Haha!

Out of our group of climbers, only 2 did not make it to the top. The 3 climbers in the ‘Slow Group’ got to the top faster than the ‘Medium Group’…and the one girl in our group who many people thought wouldn’t be able to make it to the top, surprised us all. Not only did she make it to the top faster than some, but she was the fastest to get back down to camp. She was an all-star. Kudos to Claire! 🙂

We would spend the next 6 hours descending back down to camp (Barafu), only to arrive for a late lunch, pack, and leave camp immediately to reach the next camp (Millennium Camp) before dark. Dinner was quick and I went straight to bed. The whole day lasted 21hours. It was exhausting but soooo worth it!

Day 11 (October 11)

Altitude: 5,895m –  1,650m/  19,340ft – 5,413ft
Weather: 8-10 Degrees Celsius early day, aprx 10-15 Degrees Celsius during the day
Extra comments: Last day climbing down Kilimanjaro

Thanking all of the help!

Thanking all of the help!

Starting at 5:30am, we had a long day ahead of us. Immediately after breakfast we gathered around and thanked all of the guides, porters, cooks, our medic, and our lead Paulo. It was a joyous sendoff that allowed all of the climbers to personally thank everyone involved and provide cash tips for a job well done.

Trekking down a different route, we would need to reach the bottom of Kilimanjaro by early afternoon. My legs were very sore and my knees hated me for the entire day. We quickly descended as everyone wanted to rush back to the hotel to take a well deserved shower. As we continued downward, the temperature got warmer and warmer and finally I was back in t-shirts celebrating in the warmth!

Hiking back through the rainforest with our 2 guides

Hiking back through the rainforest with our 2 guides

We reached the Mweka Gate and enjoyed a boxed lunch, purchased some souvenirs from the locals, and jumped on the bus to head back to the lodge in Arusha. That evening at the lodge, (after showering of course!), we all participated in the celebration dinner where everyone was awarded a medal and certificate of achievement. 🙂 The party continued until after 2am. The next morning everyone departed the lodge and headed back home to face reality.

I’d like to thank EVERYONE for cheering me along the way. It truly was an amazing experience that will never be forgot. The overwhelming support and words of encouragement before, during, and after the climb was astounding. I could not have done it with out you all. In addition to that, we helped raise $7,474 for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation!

Cheers,
Jeff

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2 thoughts on “Mt. Kilimanjaro Climb: Days 8-11 – The Journey to the Top

  1. thanks for sharing. I’m preparing for a trek to kili right now, I will be leaving Hawaii on June 30th. I’m training in the gym on the elliptical and walking/jogging 3 miles every other day. Do you have any other suggestions for training?

    • Hi Lorna – Thanks for checking out my blog. You’re going to have a blast up the mountain. 🙂 I would highly recommend that you train with your climbing pack on your back with about 15lbs inside to simulate what you’ll be doing on the mountain. In addition to that, I recommend you train for ‘climbing down’ as this was something I forgot to do and paid the price. Your leg muscles will scream at you all the way down. So find a tall building where you live, and climb up and down the stairwell as many times as you can before you head to Tanzania. You can also try deep lunges with and without weights. Check out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMjDN6lNOys for a video on how to lunge properly. 🙂 Also, if you get a chance, on weekends, go for long walks or hikes lasting at least 6 hours. You’ll be trekking for 6-10hrs a day on the mountain and you should prepare your body for those long lasting treks back to back. Hope this helps and feel free to ask any other questions!

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