|Kilimanjaro rises near the Kenyan border in Tanzania. It is one of the highest (5895 m) self-standing mountains (not part of a mountain range) in the world and also the highest mountain on the African continent (one of the seven peaks). Hiking Kilimanjaro doesn't require special expertise nor equipment. Even a pencil neck geek such as moi is capable of summiting the mountain - but I have to admit that it is quite demanding feat.|
The mountain has 5 distinct vegetation levels. The lowest levels are cultivated, producing among other things coffee, corn and various fruits. The national park begins from 2000 meters above sea level. There we start to see proper rain forest. Each vegetation type changes as if cut by knife.
Jungle makes way for moor land similar to scenery up in Lapland. After the final fresh water source at 4000 meters, there is very limited amount of any fauna and also flora is quite non-existent on this windy desert. The final stretch from 5000 meter upwards is barren rock face of the volcano and covered by snow and glaciers.
Mountain sickness steals appetite
|Potential quick way down if needed|
On the fourth day of the hike we crossed a desert called the Saddle between the two peaks of the mountain: Higher Kibo and steeper Mawenzi. The heat of the equator and the rain fall of the rain forest had been replaced by biting wind and particularly harsh sun shine. Shy Kibo had hidden beneath a layer of clouds for the most of our hike on the previous days, but while lumbering across the Saddle, our final goal was right in front of us the whole day.
|End is nigh|
On the final hut before the last stretch I was preparing for what would be the most demanding 18 hours in my life thus far. Few measly hours of nodding cannot really be considered sleeping, but at least the weariness of crossing the desert had vanished and I felt absolutely springy when preparing for the summiting at the dead of the night. Our mandatory guide, Aloyce, was explaining that there are two main reasons why the final ascent needs to take place in the dark: the frozen path is easier to travel than when the sand is loose but more importantly the incline of the cliff is so steep that many travelers would call it quits if they saw that in day light. The night sky opening above was a marvel on its own. I have never seen so many stars shine as brightly as I did on that night ascending Kibo.
The ascent started to slow down to a crawl and eventually crawl to continuous halting after each odd few steps. Our guide kept on chanting "pole, pole", which coincidentally in Finnish suggests to keep on pedaling ones bike. We had a good pace in the beginning, but our pit stop tactic started to take its toll and pretty much all of the fellow hikers kept on overtaking us -- the ones who had made it this far. When I was completely exhausted from never ending zigzagging and quite literally out of my breath, I started hearing voices right above me. We were just a final scramble away from Gillman's Point.
Apparently some might consider reaching Gillman's Point as summiting Kilimanjaro as it is located on the volcano rim, however the ultimate goal of Uhuru Peak is still some distance away. The overflowing feeling of the endorphin rush from reaching this key milestone accompanied with reluctant gnawing of a frozen candy bar gave enough power to continue the journey after just a moments rest.
There and back again (as quickly as possible)
by 2040. Dragging my feet like a lazy teenager through the snow I started to be officially dizzy. Over 70 % of the hikers attempting to climb Kilimanjaro experience some symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and apparently I made it into majority.
Eventually I slouched on top of a boulder. I had trouble walking straight, which is quite unnerving with serious potential of fatally tumbling either left or right when traversing the rim of the crater. Additionally I was completely out of juice and I needed to consider about the eventual way downwards as well. I was able to see Uhuru Peak relatively close by. So near, yet so far. My father, who was with me on this climb, was urging us to turn back. That seemed like the most sensible thing to do. Our guide mentioned that there was no more ascent, but just level walk for yet another 30 minutes or so. Finally, I made my mind: if I was to turn back here, I would regret it so bad afterwards. Thus one more time I mustered whatever strength there was in me and started taking one wobbly step at a time towards the goal.
The walk back through the huts in reverse order was relaxingly uneventful. We kept offering motivational words to hikers we met on our way down. One exception was a group of senior citizens from Finland. We were lost at words when they asked us if their group of "old hags" (their words, not mine) will make it to the top. With the hindsight I guess I could have offered to them that Kilimanjaro did not kill us, but we did suffer a lot.