Snows of Kilimanjaro…to the roof of Africa!

Day 5 – Karanga to Kosovo 
A short 3.58 km hike today to allow ample time to relax or sleep in preparation for midnight summit push.
We decide to sleep at Kosovo Camp instead of the traditional summit night sleep at Barafu Huts Camp.  WHY?
We’ll be an hour closer to the summit AND will have navigated the slippery car-sized boulders perched at a 45 degree angle to the horizon at noon instead of midnight on summit morning.
The down-side for the crew is the non-existent water facilities at Kosovo…meaning they need to slog water up that treacherous slope.

A couple notes on climate change:
1. Barafu Camp was named for the extensive ice field that once covered the area (none of our crew have ever seen ice at Barafu), and
2. For the first time in TWENTY years, heavy snow fell during April to early June smothering the upper 500 meters of Kilimanjaro with several feet of snow.

Today’s hightlight? Spotting two Lammergeier’s soaring above Barufu Huts! Also known as Bearded Vultures, these dramatic birds exist solely on bone marrow, accessed by dropping bones from their beaks onto rocks. WHAM! Out spills lunch.

Were these scavengers hoping for one of Kili’s “zombies,” so-called trekkers who’ve rushed to the summit without adequate time for acclimatization? Though Kili is a trek not a technical climb, the impact of reduced oxygen should not be overlooked. At Sea Level, oxygen comprises 21% of the atmosphere but decreases to 9.9% at Kili’s summit (19,341′).

What happens without sufficient oxygen? When oxygen supply to the brain is reduced, changes in functioning may start to occur. Early signs and symptoms of cerebral hypoxia (HACE – High altitude cerebral edema) include headache, nausea, drowsiness and dizziness. More serious hypoxia interferes with reasoning, gives rise to unusual fatigue, and finally, can produce unconsciousness, and…death.

We saw several glassy-eyed zombies staring into space, moving mechanically, step-by-step, held upright by one and sometimes two porters.

Day 6 – Kosovo Camp to SUMMIT
Summit day prep:
15:00 -17:00 – attempt to sleep (lots of noise in camp from shouting by other group’s porters erecting and dissembling tents)
17:00 – spaghetti dinner with vegetarian sauce  (starch more easily digested than protein at higher elevations)
18:00 – 23:30 – another attempt to sleep
23:30 – toast & coffee
00:15 – Headlamps: ON. We’re OFF!

We’re matched 1:1 climbers and assistants. In addition to Kefas, Ibrahim, & Nelson, we are accompanied for the summit push by Osca and Emmanuel aka “Cheeksi,” providing encouragement, extra hands, sweets, and delicious ginger tea!

Without the help of these great guys sharing knowledge gained by a collective total of more than 200 hundred successful summits, I wonder…would we be able to do it?

07:00 WooHoo UHURU! We did it!
Can this be true? Are we really on the top of the world’s tallest freestanding mountain: 5,895 meters or 19,341′ ASL?!!!!
None of us experienced altitude sickness. Diamox likely helped but so did adhering to the dictum “climb high/sleep low.”

Today’s km total? = 15.5 km 
Summit + descent to Kosovo and onto High Camp (aka Rescue Camp)

Day 7 – “Coming down IS the hardest thing”
For some ridiculous reason, we four thought descending 8,000′ in one day would be cake walk. Tom Petty wasn’t singing about scaling mountains but he was right.

Didn’t help that we were tired from the previous day (screwed up sleep schedule and trek to the summit). Or that the weather finally stopped cooperating. 7AM mist (Is it raining? Or are we walking through cloud?) that morphed into heavy rain making descent slippery and muddy for the entire five hours, not just in the rain forest.

We slipped, slid, crept, and fell through the boulder-strewn pathway.  After a couple hours of continuously poised leg muscles, my quads started to complain. I couldn’t wait to get to the 4×4 roadway. Once there, I decided if I had needed a rescue due to a bone broken from wedging my limb into the rock-pile-path, I’d pick “shoot me first.”

And then. It was over. Mweka Gate.
56.3 km to the top.
18.1 km to the bottom.
Total km = 74.4

But the best thing about today, was the great thank you’s we received from our crew!  Without these great guys, we might have summitted – but it wouldn’t have been F-U-N!