Day 7, Kosovo Camp, 4 800m
Kosovo Camp is not mentioned in many of the guidebooks nor is it marked clearly on the maps, and you will not find an excessive description of it anywhere. We only learnt about its location during the briefing, when the change to our original schedule had been made.
Kosovo Camp is not a main base camp, but it is used occasionally as one. It is located at 300 meters higher from the actual base camp, which is approximately 1 hour of hiking away from it. The difference in meters may not be that much if it was a straight line, but between the Barafu Camp and Kosovo Camp there is a steep rock wall, that takes one’s breath away.
The plan for the day was to reach Kosovo camp. The weather was good, as was our moods and after our usual morning rituals, we started the hike. The path was crowded and we passed several hikers and their respective crews on our way. Some of the hikers, especially those with shorter itineraries, showed clear signs of exhaustions. Despite it, they were going forward to the next camp.
During the hike it dawned on me that this night was the night. I felt nervous. We needed to take it easy on the way, and we had to have the good rest in the evening, before the final push for the summit. The walk onto the Barafu Camp direction was not a difficult one, despite constant up and downs, and I tried to preserve as much energy as it was possible at this altitude.
In contrast, the last distance from Barafu Camp was quite tiresome, and I had the thoughts of “are we there yet?” every few seconds. The last few hundred meters were steep and slippery, on occasions making us to be even more careful and slowing us down. But we finally made it to Kosovo. It is a much smaller camp, and our tents were the only ones at this altitude. How funny it was looking at 4 of our tents from this altitude and comparing them to the overcrowded base camp few hundred meters below. Majority of our crew had stayed at the lower camp, and only few of the guys stayed the night with us. However, I was happy that the itinerary had been changed, and we were camping here.
Daniel, Raymond and us had a final meeting for the day, taking the measurements and setting the plan for the summit and the subsequent descent. The main plan for that day was to have an early dinner, and go to sleep as soon as possible, because we had to be up at 23.00 the same night. The weather changed rapidly to a typical winter one, with heavy grey clouds, cold winds and hail. The camp is on the way to the peak and hence we watched climbers on the way to the summit even at the late hours in the afternoon. Unfortunately, we witnessed many of them being escorted to lower camps due to exhaustion, altitude sickness, etc.
The kitchen tent with Freddy cooking the dinner was the best and the warmest option, and we spent there an entire afternoon, making jokes and trying not to stress over strong headaches.
Day 8, Uhuru Peak, 5 890m
I slept restlessly to be awoken to the voice of Daniel. I thought it had been few minutes of sleep. The Other Me and I had problems to fall asleep because of the headaches. By the time we were up, however, they were gone.
The final climb of 1 000m was to take place in a total darkness, and with only the five of us; The Other Me, myself, Daniel, Raymond and DJ. The stress started really hitting every part of my body. I had my tea, and loaded lots and lots of biscuits to my pockets. Daniel checked whether we had followed his instructions regarding the outfits: 6 layers on top, 4 layers of trousers, 2 pairs of socks and headlights. I added two pairs of gloves, just in case.
We were on our way before 00.30am. The sky was clear, with thousands of stars above our heads, the air thin, and it was very, very cold, around -18degrees of Celsius.
We were behind only two crews at the time of departure. While we slowly walked up, more and more crews started leaving Barafu Camp, creating a line of lights in a shape of a snake. Daniel estimated the time to reach the peak sometime around the dusk, but sometime 2 hours into the climb, I realized that I badly wanted to go back to the camp. I was truly exhausted! I was actually beyond being exhausted! Every part of my body was shouting that this was it. No more climbing, no heavier headaches, no more tents. I was freezing, sleep deprived, hungry, and I did not want to go further. At this time, I watched people being walked down, and I wanted to do the same.
I told Daniel I could not do it. I told him that I wanted to go down to the camp. Of course, the easiest way would have been to turn around and descend. But instead, Daniel asked me three very simple questions “Do you have a headache?” “no”, “Do you feel sick?” “no”, “Are you just tired?” “yes”. Then he said to me “start moving, take one step at a time, slowly”. I was angry, but I am also very stubborn, so I drunk more tea, had four biscuits, and started moving my feet forward. The Other Me was right behind me, supporting every small step I was making and making sure that I did not turn back on my own.
I could see very little in the darkness, but after several hours of swerving slowly in between the rocks, the ground under our feet changed to a soft path. Our feet were sinking in the sand and old ash. It made the climb even harder, but it meant that the Stella Point was getting closer. It was still extremely cold.
Sometime after 4,5hours of climbing, the sky lit up and was about to welcome another day in Africa. This was also the moment when the sign post with Stella Point details appeared above our heads. I was still struggling physically, but I was pushing forward. Ash under our feet was not making it easier either. In the daylight we also discovered the surrounding habitat. Actually it was the lack of any habitat. It looked like a typical volcanic environment, with glaciers stuck to the sides of the peak.
The hardest path I have ever taken was from Stella Point onwards however. It is only 200meters difference in an altitude but it took us an hour to complete this last phase of ascent. Our small team passed climbers from other routes, and climbers who had already started their descents. We also passed few Japanese climbers taking thousands of photos with victory signs. When I reached the Stella Point, something changed in me. Suddenly my mind got into a higher gear, so to speak, and I felt additional strength kicking in. I know it may sound strange, but this is what I felt exactly. The thin air did not allow me to run, but I was moving forward.
August, 24th, 2016, at 06.20am, the Other Me and I stood at the Roof of Africa, Uhuru Peak, 5 895m.
One is only allowed to be at the peak for approximately 15-20 minutes, and then one should commence a descent. This is also what we did. While standing at the top, I looked around, and what I saw was breath taking. While the raw environment of ash and ice was less then welcoming and it was still freezing cold, as the sun was slowly lifting its face up from behind the clouds and, it revealed a stunning scenery.
The descent to the camp took us little more than 2hours. The path down was a different one then the one we had used at night, and we slid down in the ash still watching climbers on their way to the summit.
We had 1.5h in the camp only, because we had to reach Mweka Camp the same day. It was enough time to have more water and tea and I had the mandatory toast with peanut butter, we managed to change the clothes, and I even managed to take a nap. In the meantime the crew cleaned up and packed the camp, and we were on the way to Mweka Camp, at 3 100m.
Before climbing, I had been afraid of how my body would react to the altitude change, how many blisters I would get, and other pains. But no one ever told me that it was the descent that might pose some challenges. It took me 5 hours to walk down from Kosovo Camp to Mweka Camp, the last camp before leaving the Kilimanjaro National Park, and only then my knees started giving me signs of pain.
Despite descending from 5 895m to 3 100m in the same day, my brain still did not process all the events from the night before and the day that followed. Daniel took our vitals, I had Freddy’s tomato soup for celebratory dinner, and went to sleep, exhausted.
Day 9, goodbye Kilimanjaro
The last day on the mountain. This was my first thought after walking up, still not realizing what both of us had accomplished in the last week. Two bowls with hot water appeared in the “bathroom”, marking the time to leave. I heard the crew preparing to pack the tents, and we rushed our morning activities.
The Other Me and I said our goodbyes to the entire team, thanking them for all the smiles, songs, jokes, and the running competitions the Other Me had with Masais. They witnessed our moods, whatever little crisis we had, and we witnessed their hard work and smiles they shared with us on the side of the mountain.
The last part of the itinerary was to descend from the camp to the exit gate, which is about 3hours walk in the lush forest. At that moment, my knees were screaming with pain, but we were in a rush to reach the airport on time to embark on our next adventure.
The realization of our accomplishment came only few days after reaching the summit and it came rather suddenly. I realized that I had pushed my body and my mind beyond the limits, the limits I had set for myself. But damn… I am proud of myself!