It's hard to explain, but climbing Kilimanjaro isn't exactly a huge physical challenge. The climb itself is actually quite doable (like I've mentioned before, going down is the difficult part), although dealing with the altitude can be tricky. The lack of oxygen, the shortness of breath after taking the smallest steps, the mental determination needed to continue on in the freezing cold after only a few hours of sleep - these are the real challenges.
For me, giving up was never an option. M joked that even if he had to cut off his own leg and carry it up with him, he'd reach the summit. All of those people who doubted his ability only helped fuel his drive to succeed.
I thank my lucky stars that I felt great the entire way up the mountain. I felt badly for the people who were obviously ill from the altitude and even worse for the people who were headed back down the mountain after only a few hours. I could hardly believe it when we saw a woman climbing down the mountain ALONE, in the pitch dark, at about 4am. I hope she found her way down safely. I strongly believe that if you take the proper route, go pole pole, and are in okay physical condition, you can successfully reach the summit.
Taking a break at about 5 or 6am.
The climb to the summit is long (8 1/2 hours for us), cold, and a bit solemn. Other than the sound of breathing or an occasional "How's it going?" from the guides, it's pretty silent (by choice I suppose - can't waste energy on talking). I wore three layers on the bottom and six on the top. Imagine stripping it all down when you have to pee. Not fun. I also wore two layers on both my hands and feet. At one point I remember concentrating so hard on wiggling my toes for a good 20 minutes before the numbness went away, only for it to return again in a few minutes. It went a bit like this... step - wiggle, wiggle - step - wiggle, wiggle - step - please don't let me get frostbite - wiggle, wiggle. This process repeated itself the entire climb.
Seeing the sunrise gave me so much hope!
Sun = warmth! I like warmth! Plus, no more headlamp necessary!
Our guides from Team Kilimanjaro were great. They offered to carry our camelbaks to lighten our load, constantly encouraged us, and force fed us redbulls. Blech! Jonas also acted as our photographer, which is where most of these pictures came from!
At some point, maybe six hours into the climbing, our guides starting singing the Kilimanjaro song. I love this song! It's all about the route you've taken, starting from the first camp you stayed at to the last. Listening to them sing made me so emotional because it reminded me that - holy crap - I'M CLIMBING MT. KILIMANJARO! THIS IS AN AMAZING JOURNEY! I'M SO FORTUNATE TO BE HERE! I got a big lump in my throat, which made me almost start hyperventilating because I couldn't get enough oxygen. So yeah, for future reference, don't get all sappy while climbing a mountain or you won't be able to breathe!
Glaciers. Huge, huge glaciers.
At the seventhish hour, I started to get antsy. How much longer?!? Our guides kept saying that we were almost at Stella Point, but I misunderstood and thought they meant we were almost at Uhuru Peak, which is the very highest point. Once we reached Stella Point I realized we still had another hour to go and I pretty much wanted to kill someone! Luckily, that last hour was the easiest and we saw a lot of people who had just been to the summit who kept encouraging us, saying, "It's so worth it! You're almost there!"
And we were almost there! You can see Uhura Peak in the distance in the picture above. We just had to do some more of this...
and then some of this...
and voila, we made it! Easy peasy :)
Our guides, Thomas and Jonas, and us of course.
Here's the video I took when approaching the summit. It's just a short, simple old thing, but I love it (even though I call it Uhuru Gate instead of Peak). I've watched it countless times and I really, really love it. Reaching the summit is quite unbelievable. You're exhausted but so relieved and happy. You've accomplished what you've set out to do and that's the most rewarding thing in the world.