In our briefing before our summit attempt, Isaac told us that although the trek was six days, we only had one chance. I still hadn’t been too affected by the altitude; others had been being sick and endured piercing headaches. The main thing I had noticed before this point was that everything took so much effort; I never knew that drinking a single mouthful of water would cause me to lose my breath. So the thought of climbing a further 1400m seemed pretty impossible.
We were woken up at 10:30pm and it was already pretty cold outside and pitch black. We would be returning to the same camp, so there was no need to pack up. There wasn’t very much to pack up as I was wearing almost everything I had brought up the mountain. We had been warned that the temperature could get as low as minus 25C. We had some tea and biscuits, donned our head torches and lined up ready to go. We would be walking in single file for the next 9 hours, taking a two or three minute break every hour or so. We were told we were only allowed to take 1.5 litres of water with us due to weight and that it would cool us down too much if we had more than a sip.
The first few hours seemed to pass quickly and we were well on our way. Although others were already being affected by the altitude, it hadn’t hit me too badly… yet. At 1:30am, it reared its ugly head as I passed 5000m AMSL. That’s three miles vertically above sea level – no wonder it hurt. It started with stomach cramps and a searing headache, then shortly afterwards exhaustion began to set in. At the third break of the evening I couldn’t sit up and just lay on the mountain for three minutes, I took some paracetamol, ibuprofen and an energy tablet, which meant that I could get off the floor and face the next hour at least.
The pace had slowed to a crawl now, and each time the person in front of me stopped I leant on my poles and closed my eyes. I would fall asleep momentarily each time this happened. It’s fair to saw this was a pretty low point for me and it would only get worse. To add to the headaches, cramps, exhaustion and temporary narcolepsy I had a new challenge to deal with… I had started hallucinating and I would later find out I wasn’t the only one. At first I started seeing people that weren’t there, they were in my periphery and when I looked directly at them they soon disappeared. I then started stepping over rocks that weren’t actually there which was particularly unhelpful. And strangest of all, I looked up the mountain and about 20 metres ahead of me I saw a cotton wool like cloud about 20 feet wide resting on the surface of the mountain. The strange thing was that I then heard someone behind me talking about the cloud. It took me several seconds to realise that neither the cloud or the conversation existed.
At this point, I really didn’t think I’d be able to get to the top, but at about 3:30am whilst we had a couple of minutes rest one of the team said they had run out battery on the iPod, so I asked if I could use their headphones (I had my phone so I could call my mum from the top, but no headphones). He obliged and so I spent the next few hours listening to stand-up comedy, which distracted me from the silence. There was no conversation anymore, everyone just plodded on, one small step after another. I would also spend the next few hours longing for sunrise to arrive, partly to see sunrise from 5500m but mainly because I hoped it would take the edge off the cold.
The sun did arrive at about 6:30 and I’ve never been so happy to see it. We were still about 50m shy of Stella Point (5739m) when dawn broke and it would take us a further half hour to climb those 50m. Once there we could see the crater and it was the first time we could see the peak. We had a short celebration and break. Spirits had lifted and it couldn’t have felt more different from an hour before. I felt like making it to Uhuru Peak was a certainty now, whereas a few hours ago I wasn’t certain of anything at all.
The views as we walked around the rim of the crater were amazing. Looking to my right, I looked deep into the crater below, and to my left was a huge glacier. Then finally, looking straight ahead I saw the sign that we had been aiming for stating we had reached Uhuru Peak, 5895m AMSL. Walking up to the sign, it didn’t quite seem real that we’d made it. 30 out of our group of 32 made it to the summit, which is a pretty astonishing achievement, and a testament to our brilliant guides. I felt gutted for the two how hadn’t made it to the top and spoke to them both as soon as I made it back to camp. One girl was too ill to attempt the summit night trek, so had stayed in her tent and the other had made it to 5200m and turned around after fainting six times, clearly the right decision and one she did not regret in the slightest. At the top the 30 of us along with our guides hugged congratulated each other, took in our achievement and posed for a photo or two.
I had joked on the way up that, as far as I was concerned the trek ended at the top and that I wasn’t thinking passed reaching the summit. I would soon learn that, that wasn’t the case and in many ways going down was as much of a challenge, but that I will save for another day.
If you want to see a few more of my snaps from the trek, then you can see them here, any comments welcome.