The business end of Kili
Day 5 is a really short day. But it is all upwards from Karanga Valley to Barafu Camp. Even though the sun will be shining, the wind will be cold and the dust off the mountain desert floor will parch lips and dry eyes as you shuffle into camp.
The camp is perched percariously on a ridge, so the views from tents and toilets are staggering. And as impossible as it seems, the sunsets are even better here than anywhere previously seen on the mountain.
As day 5 is short and relatively easy, night 5 is not. Night 5 is different. Because tonight is THE NIGHT. The night through which climbers will travel upwards into the night sky toward the Roof of Africa. Tonight is the night that climbers will get to meet a part of themselves that they may not meet very often, if at all.
From the midnight start, in the cold dark hours of the ascent from 4700m to 5895m, climbers will retreat even more into themselves and get to know themselves all over again. Once all the last-minute checks and kit faffs are done, of course!
After a good hot lunch, the afternoon is spent getting themselves ready. Sleep, gear, water, food and thoughts. Eyes continually sneak glances towards the heights and path they will follow later; and they will wonder what the coming night has in store for them. As the sun sets, they will be asking themselves, very seriously, if they will be getting up there.
The air is so thin that all available oxygen is directed to the brain to tell the legs to keep going, and not the lips talking. The air here is so thin, and the slope so steep, that walking is out of the question, no matter how much you wish you could go faster! Walking tonight just becomes a slow shuffle to the top.
Dawn is met upon the rim of the crater at 5700m with much relief, gratitude and exhausted tears. The summit is only but a scant 1km and 200m higher away. But at these heights, in air this thin, Uhuru Peak is still a mind boggling 90min shuffle away!
After an exhausting eight or so hours of near continous shuffling, the views from Africa’s highest summit, are simply stunning as you grasp the summit sign in appreciation. And the views are ample reward for all the work already done. The nearby summit glaciers, the far distant dwarfed mountains all around, the scattered clouds drifting far below and the horizons curving gently away.
No photograph can scarcely do any of the views justice, so oxygen starved brains and weary eyes are commanded to take it all in and remember every detail for prosperity.
Once the descent begins, arguably the hardest part of the trip begins. For the next two days, it is all down hill upon weary legs and ever more painful toes! Even though it is another 4hr back down to last night’s camp, the promise of hot food, a quick snooze and the air getting thicker make it seem easier, and quicker, than it is!