At 11.30pm we set off for our final climb to the summit. It was to take 7 hours, always uphill and with rarified oxygen the pace would be slow. People had said it would be cold but I’m not sure that anyone we spoke to could have anticipated this nights temperatures. By the time we made the summit it would be nearing -20C.
Shortly after we left High Camp the wind began to pick up again which not only made the walking more difficult but, with the dark, made walking more dangerous. Added to this the snow had turned to ice and was now blowing horizontally across the slope. Eyes stung and exposed skin smarted with the abrasive effects of the ice. We all wore head torches and the beams reached out in from to reveal swirling patterns in the night. As we looked up we could see our part in a line making its way up the slope like a giant illuminated snake. Our party was now numbering around 20 with supporting porters almost half the party having been lost to the altitudes effects and some to sickness, We also learned later that during the nigh, due to the deteriorating weather, the mountain had been closed two camps down.
Attempts to keep hydrated became increasingly difficult as canteens, flasks and camel packs froze. The temperature was by now well down. To my amazement a number of the porters were poorly equipped for this weather with no gloves or waterproofs, footwear we would have been dissuaded from using and a lack of warm layers. The following evening, when we were safely down in Camp we leaned there had been a number of fatalities that night including a porter who had died of hypothermia. Fortunately all our group remained safe.
It is hard to describe a 7 hour trudge up a steep track in these conditions while you try to take on sufficient oxygen. Our exposed skin was red raw from the wind blown ice. I think for most of us it was the fact that we had spent 6 days climbing around and up the mountain that pushed us on to complete those last few hours. We were not going to give up at the last hurdle whatever the discomfort.
And so, at 7.00am, we reached the final plateau as the light began to break into the day. A warm cup of honey sweet tea was being brewed. Now we had only a relatively short walk and small ascent to the peak. Spirits in the party began to rise and humour returned.
The wind had by now lessened although the snow continued. 15 minutes later we arrived at Uhuru Peak. I had joined this trip based on a wonderful view across the plains of Africa as the sun rose. You have probably seen the photos? But visibility was perhaps 30m. The sun could would not be seen at all whilst we were on the peak, We could have been anywhere where there was snow.
W/ So Chris, the moment that you have come all this way for. You can plant your flag in the summit.
P/ Yes Chris, and we’ll take photos of this gweat event. Maybe you should shake the icicles off your antlers.
C/ No. They are a testimony to the hardship I have endued. How I supported you both on this great venture. How I made this all possible.
Polie and Wic stare at each other with looks of astonishment. Chris unpacks his flag.
C/ Yes guys, I know I have been an inspiration to you, but still, I want to congratulate you on your effort.
P/ Wic, can I push him down the slope?
W/ I know how you are feeling Polie but lets get him focused on planting that flag and ignore the rest.
P/ Wic, he’s insufferwable.
W/ Yes, but he’s not moaning.
P/ I suppose that’s a blessing
W/ Come on Chris. Where do you want to place the flag? Over here?
P/ No over thewer. Neawer the edge.