Last night was the worst sleep in the world. With the summit climb tonight I was desperate to wake up today feeling rested. No such luck, although at least I can’t see how rough I look on account of the condensation on my mirror from utterly freezing temperatures last night.
I’m tired and packing my rucksack is hard work with the breathlessness, everything just feels like so much effort, I haven’t even bother trying to pack my sleeping mat into my bag today. Thankfully Francis is always on hand to sort it all out for me.
I’m wearing an extra layer as we walk, the temperature has dropped and it’s windy today. It’s definately woolly hat and gloves weather. There are no bushes at all as we walk closer to Kibo, but thankfully lots of big rocks act as great toilet stops – we are drinking as much water as we can this afternoon in a bid to be as hydrated as possible for this evening. We are walking through the night to reach the summit and its going to be very cold we are unlikely to be drinking much.
I’m concerned about Jenn today, she looks ill and is visibly struggling. She is tired and sick, not eating properly and I’m worried about her. Rest of the team are tired but in good spirits, although most of us are anxious about summit night – there is a real element of just wanting to get it done now.
I have had a thumping headache all day and I’m starting to feel faint, it’s getting worse the higher we go/closer we get to Kibo – but I know it’s just the altitude and I know I just need to get on with it.
On arrival at Kibo camp lunch is the first step and then the priority is to rest, which is difficult with all the hustle and bustle. Kibo is, of course, a hive of activity with those that had just come down from the summit and of course those that are going to be climbing tonight. It’s like trying to get some peace and quiet at a festival, its actually a relief when at 10.30pm we are called for tea and biscuits.
I feel a bit like the Michelin woman wearing 3 layers on my legs, summit socks and 6 layers on my torso plus my balaclava and hat.
Kirsty’s final words before we leave the mess tent to climb to the summit are very clear….look out for each other. She is going to be watching us carefully, as will the 4 guides that are coming with us (so a 2:1 ratio of climbers to support staff) – but if anyone starts behaving out of character, can’t remember the names of their loved ones or starts wobbling/stumbling in a drunken manner we must seek immediate attention. We were now in the realms of serious mountain sickness and a very real threat of water on the brain or lungs.
At 11.45 and in single file, team Sparks start the summit ascent. Pitch black with only the light from the stars and our headtorches lighting the way, we are starting to walk.
Something I am finding hard is the isolation, it’s windy and dark and I am very short of breath – talking is difficult and so after days of being together suddenly I feel like I am climbing alone. I don’t like it!!! To keep ‘the voices of negativity or fear’ at bay I have been planning blog posts and trips I am going to take with my children when I get home in my mind, I am also spending time thinking of all the people who helped me get to this point on the mountain – when it feels really hard I try to feel all the virtual hands of my friends on my backside helping to push me up. I remember all the kind words and all the support I’ve had – I even try counting to 100 over and over again to keep my brain busy – anything to make sure that my mind is working as it should.
I am so tired that I can’t find the energy to get the snacks out my pocket, do up my coat or press play on my iPod. Big warning signs looking back!! Thankfully Kirsty and Nicole are on hand to help, at one point Nicole is practically feeding me and Kirsty doing up my jacket – my hands are so cold they don’t seem to work properly…..but in our line we keep walking…..and walking…..it feels like it’s never-ending.
The only way that I can possibly describe the summit climb, is to ask you to imagine walking 7 hours up a 5 mile high sand dune with tired legs, in the wind and in a temperature of -14. Not really being able to see where you are going or have a firm footing. Then add in the altitude and then imagine climbing over rocks for the last hour to get to the summit.
We have all had drugs administered, although only one of us can claim to have had an injection in the backside. Some are physically sick and we have all (I’m sure) thought about throwing in the towel at one point or another.
The sun coming up is a beautiful moment – I can see the summit about 50 metres above me. I’m sitting on a rock crying. I can see the summit but have no idea how I am going to find the energy to get there. I have never felt so exhausted, I have literally taken 2 steps and had to stop, then muster up the energy to take the next 2 steps. It’s soul-destroying.
Getting to the top literally took every ounce of character, strength and determination I had.
When I spoke to people about what I was looking forward to the most about climbing Kilimanjaro, it was reaching the top. I had visions of tears of joy, maybe a little jig, celebrations with my team mates and definitely taking in the view…………the reality was I sobbed like a baby at the sheer relief that the climbing was over, I didn’t have the energy to dance or look out at the awesome views below me and just collapsed on a rock to gather my breath. It was just impossible to take it in. I will be forever grateful to Hilary Thomas for giving me the mother of all hugs at this point. Thank God it was over, I think summit night was possibly the worst night of my life……but I did it….I reached Gilmans Point.
We now had the option to walk to Uhuru, the other summit, another 2 hours away.
I tried to get there, but I didn’t make it, I had to turn back – I so, so wanted a picture at that summit too but I just didn’t have anything left to give.
I was absolutely gutted.
It was an amazing feeling to descent and feel the headache and sickness lessen, some energy start to return and my body start to warm up as we very quickly dropped the 1000 metres to Kibo.
I cried a lot because (stupidly) whilst I’d reached the summit of Kilimanjaro I hadn’t been able to get to Uhuru. In my mind I’d failed. Kirsty sought me out, she’d returned to camp before the rest of the team and was keen to make sure I was ok. She told me I had been suffering with mountain sickness, it was bad luck – there was nothing I could have done. I remember quietly asking whether my mental strength had let me down, whether I could have pushed myself further, she told me it was my mental strength that got me to the top – there were times she thought I wasn’t going to make it.
I’ve never reached ‘my limit’ before, but that day I did.
It took me a few days to come to terms with not reaching both summits, in my life there have been very few goals I have not been able to achieve when I put my mind to it.
And what was originally distress, upset and a failure in my mind made way for a real sense of achievement, clarity, balance and calm.
I stood at the summit of the worlds highest freestanding mountain!!! How on earth could a mind even as crazy as mine put that in a box marked ‘failure’.
So, much more to say…..but I’ll save that for my next ‘deep and meaningful’ post! I learnt a lot and I’m keen to share it with you!!!
Until next time,