The Summit of Kebo Mountain, aka: “Kilimanjaro” – 2004

It was the best and worst day of my life so far.  A challenge like I’ve never known physically, mentally, spiritually… and something else.  It seems ther

e is nothing to do to truly prepare for the day of the actual climb, aside from having climbed in a few times before.  Somehow I feel a certain kin to those who’ve climbed Everest.  I don’t intend to do such a thing, but I got a pretty memorable taste of what drive they have inside that is otherwise inaccessible in life.

 

The five of us began (Adam, Robert, me and our guides Steven and Dawson) at midnight from Kebo Hut at about 14,500 feet.  Steven led the way with me (the weak link at this point), then Robert, Adam and Dawson to sweep.  At first it was like the previous days walks… uphill with ever-lessening oxygen to breath, but it quickly grew more drastic.  The hill became steeper despite all the switchbacks, the air grew thinner and views of previous hiker’s Speilburg-like headlamp strobes could be seen ahead in the black of night, it was like they were flying since the night blacked out the ominous mountain for the time being.  I tried not to notice how high and steep the trail was and just stay focused on my “pole pole” (slowly slowly) steps.  “Hakuna Haraka” applies even more today, but seems odd not to worry in the face of such challenge.  The climb to Gilman’s Point was to be around 4-5 hours, which in Afrika can mean anything.  Our first welcomed stop arrived and I was feeling miserable just trying in vane to catch my breath.  Water is an exceptional way to intake oxygen at this altitude (around 16,500 ft), so drink, I did.  Soon we began up again, this time the legs felt weaker than before and a chill began to settle into my body which can be deadly to my personal expedition especially with cold my sensitivities (“Reynaud’s Phenomenon” they call it), even with hand and foot warmers in place, my digits were in a good bit of pain.  All I could do was massage my warmers and focus on the small steps taken by Steven just ahead of me in the light of my headlamp. Even today… two days after the climb, I have that image embedded in my mind, and likely will have for the rest of my life.  Focus on breathing is useless, panting is all that the body will allow.  I distract my mind with one of my favorite yoga chants “Ohm mane padme hom.”  It has a nice rhythm not to mention a lovely meaning of compassion for all things.  That was enough to bring me to our second rest stop at about the half way up the mountain toward Gilman’s.  By now I’m chilled and my body is feeling like it’s going to shut down.  No breath is enough to restore my muscles, by heart is beating like I’m overdoing a spin class and I collapse on a rock for a bit, I want to lie down and sleep.  The immensity of this mountain’s silhouette can subtly be seen through a sky that is lit with millions of twinkling stars.  Quite a number of people have already been brought down the mountain from sickness, exhaustion or a wall (personal or spiritual) they can not get themselves through.  Robert offers to change back packs with me since his fits me better than my own, which was mighty generous, although it meant climbing without familiar items in my bag.  Later I find his pack is just as tough on my shoulders as mine … cest la vie!

 

Sunrise as we near Gilman's Point

Sunrise as we near Gilman’s Point

We start off again all too soon… anything is too soon at this point.  I feel I’m in hell and am bent over gasping and about to turn back, physically and mentally, I’m done, but I can’t quit.  We stop for a moment, then Robert suddenly and to our amazement announces he’s not having fun and will be turning back down the mountain.  We were all taken aback, him being the strongest of the group physically.  We’re a little more than ½ way to Gilman’s at this point.  I sort of envied his independent decision in a way, but wasn’t ready to give in so quickly.  I’d worked hard and come a long way for this.  Dawson and the rest of us tried to get him to persist, but he said “it’s not fun any longer and he’s going down” and that was that.  It wasn’t worth using up more of our energy to try to convince him otherwise.  Both guides likely knew I felt at the end of my rope, but had faith.  Steven took my overly bundled hand and said “bing tired is normal.”  Well if it’s normal, then I haven’t anything to keep me from pushing on.  He squeezed and said, “now we’re more than ½ way, it’s not so far just go there!” and something, some unknown non-physical, non-mental, non-spiritual or perhaps some very deep version of all three over came me like a possession.  Inside I feel it was dad’s hand helping out and giving me this determination to go on even though I feel I’m suffocating.  I now know what it’s like to have only one part of one lung to go off of… not a comforting thing.  From this moment it is Gilman’s Point I must make!  My mind went nearly void of everything but Steven’s heals in my head light, the occasional squeezing of my hand warmers for warmth and drinking water for oxygen, hydration and to try keeping the water tube from freezing shut for as long as possible.

 

Steven, Me and Adam continue upward.

Steven, Me and Adam continue upward.

What overcame me I do not know for sure, but I recognize an underlying determination that comes with my English/German heritage in combination with “taurean stubbornness,” things dad and I share and draw strength from.  I wanted the top and that was that!  Friends and family are pulling for me and I want to get to that place where I’m am as close to dad as possible to say hello for everyone.  Dad, thank you for your hand. 

 

The trail became steeper and harder with loose scree making each step slide backwards a bit… or a lot.  Each slide robs energy that is trying to focus upward.  Nearer the top are large rocks to scamper over and around.  Many more people have turned back or are doing so now, but that something remains inside as I crawl with every exhausted fibre of my being and a frozen shut water source to Gilman’s Point.

 

I’d made it!  As stepped up to the rim, the massive snow-covered crater opened up in front of me,  I could almost hear dramatic music resonate in this moment, the Ancient Glacier walls stand proud but melting on this majestic mountain.  Tears welled and I cried to shed some emotion. Steven, Adam and I hugged and waved hi to dad.  Of course pictures were taken.  I felt about every emotion there was to feel, and an overwhelming closeness to my dad.

 

Uhuru Peak at 19,340 feet is the highest point in Afrika, the tallest free-standing mountain in the world and offers a 2 hour hike/climb over volcanic rock and snow to get there from Gilman’s.  Having reached this place I was feeling slightly better, a bit of a “high” had flushed through my being.  I could turn back and feel I made it, but as any determined Farwell will do, I wanted to go for the whole deal.  I’d come this far and worked so hard to get… “Let’s do this!”  Adam had more energy in this oxygen-free environment and of course Steven is acclimatized to such a place having climbed it 2-3 times a month for the past 15 years.

 

I could hardly believe the magnificence of what I was experiencing.  I was by far the slow-poke of the bunch making us the last in line, which turned out to be for the best, as all prior trekkers were beginning to head back down. This portion of the trek began ok since it was fairly flat, but a series of false peaks and large icy hills stood in the way… and I couldn’t access my frozen water!  I was like a dehydrated puppy in the middle of the Sahara.  I began eating ice and later turned to begging others coming down for unfrozen drinkable water.  A generous group of Aussies happily gave me a spare plastic bottle they’d had in their bag, “no worries, mate!”… a life saver to say the least… I am completely grateful to them because it was enough to keep my feet moving in slow ½ step increments over the ice glacier and torturous false peaks. Gotta love the Aussies! Adam and I called it a state between the living and the non-living… “the zombie walk.”  I’d made it, 19,340 feet in the open air overlooking the whole of Afrika!  It’s as close to the heavens as I’ll ever be (as far as I know) without a plane and I got here myself… Now this is a feeling like no other!

 

Summit of Kilimanjaro, July 7, 2007

Summit of Kilimanjaro, July 7, 2007

Again tears welled in my eyes to let out emotion, exhaustion and gratitude.  “Uhuru” in Kiswahili means “freedom” and I’ll admit freedom isn’t what was going through my brain at the moment, but by the days to follow, it began to permeate my soul.  Something special happens to a person who overcomes such a challenge.  Once I sort of caught my breath (as much as one can at this altitude) I stood and turned slowly taking in the panoramic view from the “roof of Afrika.”  It was a chilling experience having nothing to do with the cold.  The glaciers, frozen water falls and immense crater put me in another dimension far from anything.  Below the clouds, below the surrounding volcanoes, was Afrika… a continent that has lived in my veins somehow since birth!   I’m here, “I have arrived” (as Nora has us chant now and again) and I found a part of me only a few ever get a chance to find within their being.  Beyond the physical, beyond the mental and beyond spiritual… a hand from the universal heavens I held today!

 

It was 8:30 am when we finally summitted… the last to reach the peak giving us the top of the world all to ourselves to stand in amazement.  Adam found a sticker on the sign from an underground radio station he likes in Melbourne, what a small world.  I planned to fly a kite in dad’s honor, but was wearing Robert’s pack now, mine being back at Kebo Hut where we began so many hours ago and Robert now ponders his decision.  I was so bundled I’m not sure I could have done such a thing anyhow, but it doesn’t diminish any part of the experience in any way.  I shed yet another tear feeling so close to my dad whom I miss dearly, said a hearty hello from mom and (my brother) Steve too.  He knows how things are and he is proud.

 

I kept looking around at this other world when Steven said we’d better begin heading back before the afternoon clouds roll in.  Hesitantly we left, but I lingered a moment to take in a bit more before heading off, exhausted with yet another large task ahead.  Downhill parts are a bit easier by nature, but even the occasional little “up-step” is a huge effort.  Just getting back to Gilmans took unbelievable effort, but the views and experience are what took my breath away.  A short rest at Gilman’s and the climb down begins over the rocks and boulders, then the scree.   Gravity working in our favor this time by allowing us to bypass the zig zags and “ski” down the mountain, steadying ourselves with our poles.  Fun – definitely, but rest stops were still needed to take in oxygen.  I was cautious not to twist a knee or ankle in my nackered state as well.  A few fell to such misfortune and were being attended to.  I focused on getting to my tent and collapsing and that is just what I did.  After an hour or so, Jackson (the cook) woke me up for a light lunch before taking off for another 3 hours down the mountain to our camp site for this final night… yes, that is 12 hours of mountain climbing plus three hours of trails.  Needless to say, tonight was the best I’ve slept this whole trip.  Filthy, exhausted like I’ve never known, bruised all over from our hard sleeping pads… ahhh, bliss!

I’d done it!!!

What an experience!

What an experience!

 

Categories: Africa, Menu

3 Comments

  • Marcia Mohler says:

    This is my very favorite of all of your adventures. I loved reading about your Thank you for keeping me posted, Marcia Mohler

    • admin says:

      Hi Marcia,
      I hope things are going well for you. Thank you for reading my little stories… such a joy to share! I just posted another and hope to get the follow-up out in the next couple days.
      All the best,
      Sandy

  • Paul Gelder says:

    Hi Sandy,
    Well done!.. I know how it is to achieve a personal goal it will stay with you always and the success of it will come back in so many other aspects of your life it’s not just a mountain it’s a determination of your willingness to overcome life obstacles ….
    thanks for the read Paul (Slovenia)

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