Every single day is different on the mountain. The sceneries are changing every hour of the day. It is like you haven’t got enough eyes to see every tiny detail. The whole experience is overwhelming and this is why I recommend to keep a daily diary during the whole hike. I did that and it helps to rediscover the whole adventure in each aspect and feeling. I cannot describe the whole adventure in every detail but I will recount some parts that were very special to me.
Every morning John woke us up around 6h-6h30. He brought us a nice cup of coffee and we took the time to admire the view, the sunrise, the nature, the silence of people waking up, all these little details you tend to forget when you live in a big city and of course it gave us the time to recount the few hours we slept. Let me tell you something about sleeping at high altitude: When you are not used at it at all, sleeping is a myth! Every night I woke up at least 4 times and I had a lot of dreams that I could remember very well. But when you come out of your tent and you see this amazing nature in front of you, you totally forget a bad night sleep.
(View from my tent)
We had always a very rich and nice breakfast: porridge, pancakes (yes, I’m serious!), fruits and so much more (I am still impressed about all the things they brought up to the mountain). One tip: Eat well while you are in lower altitude, you will need the strength for later because you will have less appetite when you’ll be climbing higher. Every morning I had my little cocktail of: Diamox, Malarone, a hydration tablet and some magnesium (I think it is clear: I really did not want to become sick on this mountain). After that, we packed our bags and we were ready to go. An advantage of being in a small group was that we never had to wait for anybody. I think I was the slower person of the group but every time I felt my heartbeat go up, I slowed down my pace which prevented me of becoming sick. One of the guides, Jackson, stayed always a bit back with me but in general we were a tight group sticking together.
The hikes vary every day: some days longer then others but you actually don’t care about the hours. The beauty around you makes you forget time. My favourite day was when we went on the third day up till 4600m (the biggest challenge in the hike before the summit night). That point is called: Lava tower. When you reach it you see this amazing tower made of lava stones popping out. It was breath taking! It is also the first stop were a lot of people become aware of the altitude sickness. I luckily got spared (Filip on the other hand got really unwell). Beside this, you cannot avoid the beauty of nature up there. It was mind-blowing. I couldn’t realise that this was real. After taking a break up there we continued the hike and it start snowing (a small magic moment). I was so happy not to be sick and felt just free in the nature.
After this amazing hiking-day we arrived at my favorite campsite: Barranco Camp (4000m). Where on the left you have the Barranco wall (which you climb the next day) and in front of you a big valley where at the foot of the mountain the clouds were going away and Moshi town appeared. This campsite had something magical because of the scenery, the accomplishment you had reached till now and the view you have on the top of the mountain. I think I cannot describe the feeling you have when you are up there but to me it was magical.
The last day before summit night is an easy one. You only hike a couple of hours. Because of this fact, we were discussing to go on the summit in the afternoon instead of in the middle of the night. We arrived at Basecamp (4600m) and I felt more then ever ready to climb up there. Filip was again sick so they decided not to do it. I looked at Jackson and said: Let’s go for it. So there we went, my guide and me, up on the mountain to reach that very highest point of Africa: Uhuru peak.
The beginning of the climb started of really well and easy. We saw a lot of people coming down from the top from the previous night. They were explaining how amazing it was and how sick they were also. I got a bit stressed but I think I was well prepared. I took my last half Diamox at lunch and 2 anti-vomit pills to not get nauseous. We took really slow pace but the first two hours past really fast. People were telling us we were crazy to try to get there before sunset but Jackson had a good eye on it and kept me going.
After the first two easy hours you realise what you had started and you think about how long the way still is. They always told me: ‘It is not about training when you climb this mountain, it is just about keep putting one foot in front of the other’. Now I know for sure that this is true. I was following Jackson watching his foot go and trying to keep the same pace by putting my footstep in his. It became long, slow and I wanted to give up. I felt lonely. Yes Jackson was there but he is used to this and I was there alone trying to go up there, to make it to the top. Each time I was just thinking of returning or thinking of the fact I should have gone with the others at night, Jackson looked at me and could kind of read all this on my face. ‘You’re almost there Little Lion! Keep it up!’
Then came the biggest mistake I made on the whole summit-hike: I looked up. This is my biggest tip: DO NOT LOOK UP. It was still so far! I was so discouraged. The point of reference is Stella Point. This is the last checkpoint, the point of no return. If you reach there it is only 45 min easy hike away from Uhuru. And you keep on going because you are actually so close and you find this inner strength to go further in the slippery sandy rocks where when you put one foot forward you slide a half one backwards. It was difficult. Not physically but mentally. Nobody else was trying to get there before sunset and that was the hardest part. But then you have Jackson saying: ‘Look how amazing this view is!’ And you turn around and lift your head up and you see these amazing glaciers popping out of the mountain. This is the moment that you just go further.
Finally after a lot of mental fights, you reach Stella point (5700m) and you just want to cry but you can’t because it is too cold. Jackson took a quick picture of me with this forced smile and off we went to the peak to see this beautiful sunset. This last part is just an incredible part. You look around you and see these glaciers, the crater, Mount Merou a bit further. And then at last you see the sign that you have reached the highest point of Africa. You see the board with 5985m on it. And there I was, all alone, the highest person of Africa on the 7th of September at 18h30. We made a very funny video were I’m just screaming how happy I was having reached this highest peak. (FYI: You can’t really take a lot of pictures because it is incredibly cold!).
You cannot stay long up there because of the low oxygen level. So I admired the view one last time and then the race to the camp began. While you complain going up about the sandy rocks, well these same rocks are a lifesaver when it comes to the going down part. You just slide down like if you were on skis. It is a funny feeling because where I climbed 5h30 to go up, I got down in 2h. I was tired, my legs were trembling and I was eager to get at the camp. But I was so proud of myself. It became dark while going down and billions of stars came out. We arrived at the camp and Jackson called in the cook to make us some food and hot drinks. We talked over the whole amazing hike. Filip joined us because he couldn’t sleep (he would start the climb that night with Matilda). I shared my story with them and wished them good luck (they made it both of them!).
It was an adventure that will never be forgotten. I realized on that mountain what a body is capable of but more specific what mental strength can give to a person. I am happy to have climbed the peak alone and to have find all the strength needed to climb up there and I am most of all proud of this accomplishment. I can only recommend it to everybody. It is worth a try! My goal of 2016 was settled. What is it going to be in 2017?
Happy New Year to you all and make some beautiful dreams come through also this year!
(Next week I’m going to put together a photo album of this trip. So stay tuned for the visual side of this story)