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Photo: Travel: Tanzania: Kilimanjaro: Kili Day 6

Day 6 of Kili Trek

Ascent day, finally! My fitfull sleep is interrupted a little before 11p, and soon we are massed in the mess tent for a fortifying snack before the climb. Everybody is excited and a few a worried. It is easy to tell from the strained jokes that most everyone's mind is on the next few hours. We pack carefully (I have my windpants on, have stashed my SLR in my backpack with batteries removed and tucked away close to my body so they do not get drained by the cold -- I will be using the point-and-shoot Canon for the climb itself), Ivan gives us warming pads, and I feel seriously under-equipped compared to the rest. We head out around midnight, and the path is packed with climbers. We follow Onex and I keep mumbling "pole-pole" to myself. He has set the pace to something between a snail and a limping snail, but it keeps up from getting sweaty, which keeps us from freezing. At our first stop the high-tech drinking gear fails -- the tube is frozen. Thankfully, my decidedly low-tech "bottle-wrapped-in-socks" redeems itself, and I share some water with others. We munch on stone-hard Snickers, and move on. Along the way two girls with a single guide march by us at a pretty fast clip; we will meet them 30 minutes later puking their guts out (the girls, not the guide) by the path. The climb proceeds in near total darkness, my head-lamp can only illuminate the boots of the person in front of me. I still try to snap some photos but I can't operate the camera with the gloves on, and taking them off soon proves a bad idea.

At last the first glimmer of light appears around 5:45a, and we see the glacier. Within minutes the sunrise projects the majestic shadow of the mountain on the cloud cover below -- it is as if another mountain is floating right beside us. We reach Stella Point and Lucy stops dead in her tracks. She refuses to go on, claiming that we're lying about how close Uhuru Peak is. Onex tells us to move on and stays behind to convince her that he's telling the truth. I reach the peak at precisely 6:13a. It is already pretty crowded with people jostling for a pose in front of the rather forlorn marker. We get together for a photo shoot, and I snap a few pictures until my fingers are nearly frozen solid. With fewer than 15 minutes on the top, we start our descent.

This turns out to be a lot of fun: the path down is clear and Onex tells us to go at our own pace and just wait at Barafu. I imitate the locals and run downhill, keeping fingers crossed that I won't misstep and break my neck. I have to say I enjoyed that little run tremendously although the adrenaline rush subsided somewhat when I saw another hiker falling right in front of me: he broke his leg and had to be evacuated on a stretcher. Undaunted, I press on and reach the camp around 8:45a. Over the next hour or so the rest of the group trickles in. Lucy is having trouble with the altitude and Eli has sprained her ankle, and is in pain. Other than that we're good, and we all made it!

We gobble up our lunch in high spirits and continue our descent around 1p. Today we have to escape the altitude, so it is a long day with a lot of walking downhill. The weather is gorgeous despite the occasional patch of fog which makes me repeatedly put my outer layer on and off. At 4:30p we reach Mweka Camp where we will sleep tonight. It has been a very long day indeed, over 16 hours of climbing up and down, but it was very rewarding too. We settle on the ground, too tired to do much but drink beer, smoke, and relax.


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