- Date: June 16, 2017
- Kosovo Camp to Uhuru Peak (summit) to Mweka Camp
- Elevation: 15750ft to 19341ft to 10170 ft (3591ft gain then descend)
- Distance: 2.50 miles ascend and 7.4 miles descend
- Hiking Time: 7 hours ascend and 6 hours descend
- Vegetation Zone: Arctic
It was the ‘do or die’ night. Our guides woke us up at 11pm, we put on our layers and got ready. Most of us wore a thermal base layer, a hiking shirt, a down jacket, and a fleece lined ski jacket on upper body. We had a thermal base layer, fleece lined leggings and waterproof hiking pants on our lower body. We wore a pair of liner gloves and ski gloves over our fingers and a pair of liner socks and wool socks on our toes, inside of our waterproof hiking boots. We all had a bandanna, a neck warmer, and a wool cap covering our head and ears.
We gathered really quickly at the mess tent to eat. We asked our cooks to make us some rice and vegetable sauce, and it was ready for us. They also made porridge for us. This was our late dinner/early breakfast prior to the summit attempt. Lodrick briefed us on our game plan for success. We would have four guides and four summit porters going up with the nine of us. One of them would also carry an oxygen tank- to use in case of emergency. We were reminded again to walk `Pole Pole’ which means `slowly’. We got our water bottles filled with warm water. The temperature outside was well below freezing, and our water would freeze in a matter of a few hours despite using warm water. I activated my hand warmers, but it was time to leave, so I didn’t get a chance to slide them inside my gloves. I quickly placed them inside my jacket pocket to be able to put them in my gloves at the next chance I got. It was 12:20am when we started walking.
It was expected that our group would split up due to the differences in our paces. When you hike at those high altitudes and extremely cold temperatures, it is not possible nor advised to stop or wait for your team members, because if you stop for too long, you start getting hypothermia and your body would take more energy to recharge when you have to start walking again, which in turn would decrease your chances of success. The four of us had decided align the pace to each other and stick together as a family. Manasi told me the day before that she and Milly would also like to stay with us. The six of us had a similar pace, so we decided to go on as a group. As Ricky lead the group, he grabbed Anuj’s hand firmly and tucked it under his arm and started walking slowly. We all followed. Bryten stayed at the end.
It was a clear night, the soft glow from the moon and the lights from our headlamps lit our path. We could see a faint image of the summit in the moonlight, it looked really far and high. We couldn’t really see the trail that we were walking on, but we could `feel’ that we were walking on a really steep upslope. I remembered my conversation with Ricky from last night. I asked him for the reason behind the night-time summit push as opposed to the day-time, when the temperatures would be favorable. He said success rates for making it to the top are much higher if you make a night time attempt because the trail is very steep and having a clear sight of summit being so far and so high is intimidating and would demotivate most hikers making them quit. Views of the sunrise from the top of Africa are really stunning, which is another reason for the night hike.
Looking farther out, we could see a few trails of headlamps in front of us, more groups of hikers making summit attempt just like us. The wind was really strong, it was a frigid night. My fingertips and toes were already numb. I didn’t have the courage to take my gloves off to even place my hand warmers inside. I was having a hard time holding my hiking poles with frozen fingers, so I decided to pack them up and continued to walk slowly. Everyone was very quiet, we just kept on hiking. Ricky didn’t allow us to take breaks, other than stopping for quick sips of water here and there. We were very grateful to our guides who were constantly helping us open and close our water bottles whenever we wanted so that we would not have to take our gloves off. I am still not entirely sure how their fingers were still functioning. Brinda started to slow down a bit and Angira and Reshma were walking behind her. Distance between us kept increasing slowly and we started parting into two groups. Ricky led our group while holding Anuj’s arm at a consistent, slow pace. Bryten stayed behind at the end. This was the best time to connect to your mind and conquer those little voices that are trying to tell you that you can’t do this – a true `mind over matter’ moment. It was a long night and the air was thin. I was cold, short of breath and exhausted, but I didn’t come all the way here to fail, I knew I didn’t have a choice and I had to keep going.
Day started breaking in around 5am, Ricky said it was another 45 minutes of very steep climb until we reach Stella Point. It was perfect timing, 5:50 am and a sunrise when we reached Stella Point, the first peak on the top of the mountain. It is hard to describe, but we had this amazing feeling of accomplishment when we got there. We knew that this was not the final destination, but trail to Uhuru Peak from this point on wards was supposed to be lot less steep as compare to what we had been hiking on for the entire night. Anuj collapsed with joy right under the sign that marked `Stella Point’.
Ricky let him rest for a minute and then said that we should continue our walk to Uhuru Peak. I felt like I had a fresh burst of energy flowing inside my body, I started walking way ahead of everyone else. It was 45 minutes of gentle climb around the crater rim to reach Uhuru Peak. We passed the glacier on our left and could see dense fluffy clouds under our feet. Six of us reached there at 6:45am. This was it, this was what we went there for, it was the end of our journey! What a joy, what a moment- to be standing on the top of one of the seven summits- with family. This was the biggest accomplishment for me, to make it here while making sure that my children also made it here at the ages of 12 and 16!!
Views were stunning from the top, and because this is a free standing mountain, we could witness 360 degrees of panorama and the curvature of the earth on all the sides- one of the most rare views of our planet was right in front of our eyes. Dharmesh got the GoPro out to capture the panorama, but batteries were dead due to cold. He forgot to un-mount it last night from the stick to place it in the pocket near the body. Our phones fortunately were in our pockets and they were still working, and so was Canon. It was time to take celebratory photos near the famous yellow sign marking Uhuru Peak.
We spent about 10 minutes at the top taking photos and soaking the views in before we headed back. We met Angira on our way to Stella Point. She was walking with Nick, one of the summit porters and was about 15 minutes away from the Uhuru Peak. We were so happy to see her `almost’ at the peak. She said Reshma and Brinda were also behind her, she said she had to leave them because her pace was little faster. We saw Reshma and Danny near Stella Point walking towards Uhuru peak, slowly but surely. She said Brinda also made it to the Stella Point and was on her way back. It was real nice to know that everyone was safe.
Trail going down from the Stella Point was different than what we used to go up. It was filled with pebbles on a very steep downhill slope. It was impossible to walk down without slipping. Arnav and Milly slid down really fast in front of the group. Dharmesh tried to stay with me. Bryten held my hand and Ricky held Anuj’s and they both helped us slide down in `ski-like’ pattern. Angira caught up with us on our downhill trek.
We finally made it down to our base camp- Kosovo at 10am. We saw Brinda resting at Kosovo. We sipped some hot ginger tea and waited for Reshma to return. We last saw her near Stella Point so we knew that she was at least an hour behind us and the difference in our pace may make her another half an hour behind us. It was after noon when we started worrying. Ricky said Danny was with her and he would somehow contact him if they needed help. We still kept worrying, Ricky sent porter up around 12:30pm to check on them. Apparently they were coming down at a slower pace, she made it to Kosovo at 1pm along with Danny. What a determination, she was the one who suffered the most with the symptoms of high altitude, yet made it to the top!
We ate hot lunch, and took a little rest. We started climbing down at 2:30pm, it was steep three hour downhill trek, was hard on our knees but nothing as compare to last night. We took our time to climb down, we made it to the Mweka camp little after 6pm. Headache was gone, fingers were not numb anymore and appetite was back, we had nice dinner of roti and potato curry that night. This was the last night at the camp, tomorrow we would get to sleep in comfy beds in our hotel room!