Friday, October 07, 2022

Part II

Summiting and Descent

A few hours later, we awoke about 11 p.m. and prepared to leave at midnight for the final climb to the summit. All the climbers of Barafu Camp were also rising to begin their ascent about the same time. The headlights were so plentiful, it looked like a swarm of fireflies taking flight. We all planned for an early departure with the goal of summiting around 7 a.m. for sunrise.

We all began the walk to the first summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Stella Point, which was at an intimidating altitude of 18,864 feet or 5,750 meters. Each step felt like it lasted forever, yet somehow the six hour trek to Stella Point was over before we knew it. The trail up was a series of switchbacks so we weaved back and forth for hours. It certainly helped pass the time as the air got thinner and thinner. Our pace remained slow but steady throughout the climb. We all felt the altitude with each step and thankfully the altitude medication, Diamox, did its job.

We reached the first summit at about 6 a.m. and stopped briefly for a photo op. We continued our trek to Uhuru Peak, which was an additional 477 feet or 145 meters. As we reached the final summit, it hit each of us that we had been climbing for about seven hours. We finally made it to the sign, indicating we had reached the second summit of Mount Kilimanjaro—the mighty Uhuru Peak. The excitement and sense of accomplishment were palpable. The views were limited as it flurried and there was a thick shroud of clouds at the peak. As we began our way down the mountain, the clouds cleared to show off the beautiful icy views. The walk from Uhuru to Stella Point seemed much faster on the way down than on the way up.

The hike down was steep and was primarily sand and small rocks. It was more of a rapid slide downhill than anything else. Our legs were tired and we were slipping and sliding all over the place as we descended. We met at Barafu Camp again for a two or so hour break before continuing to Millenium Camp, which was our camp for that evening.

We went through every weather pattern from leaving Stella Point to Millenium Camp—from fog, to rain, to snow, to some brief periods of sunshine. We were all soggy by the time we reached Millenium Camp in the late afternoon. All the hikers we had summited with earlier in the day also arrived in Millenium Camp, so it was quite packed. Our group agreed we’d rather wake up earlier so we could begin the final descent before the trails got congested.

We left the exotic moorland trees and began the long, steep hike downhill to our long-awaited finish line. The hike was approximately six hours and the views were stunning as we descended. The thought of a hot lunch and a shower kept us moving, slowly but surely. We reached the end of the hike and met Sam for a brief shuttle ride to lunch. We were greeted by all the guides and porters from throughout the trip and they taught us the Kilimanjaro song. It was a lively ballad and we joined in their singing and celebration before digging in for some food.

After refueling, we had another shuttle ride back to the resort to get cleaned up before our celebration dinner at Sam’s house. He presented us with medals and certifications in honor of summiting, less than 48 hours before. It was a wonderful way to end the trip together, before we split up for our various travel plans.

Overall, the climb was a fantastic experience! The expertise of the tour guides and porters made the trip a breeze. They were friendly, kind, and patient. Their high spirits kept our spirits high, even when the weather was bad or our energy was low. Dr. Pieter took care of the group and any stomach issues, blisters and other medical concerns throughout the trip. It was a pleasure to have this once-in-a-lifetime experience while being able to observe Judaism and keep Shabbat in Africa on the side of the mountain—all while fundraising for Shalva, which made the trip incredibly rewarding. If you’re looking for a challenge and enjoy giving back, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to support Shalva is the perfect way to do that!

By Lisa Applebaum

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