The much anticipated knock at my tent comes at 11.30pm, it feels like I’ve been sat waiting for it for hours. I only went to sleep at 9pm. This is it, summit night, no going back. I turn on my LuminAid solar tent light and dress as quickly as I can in my 7 layers, 3 trousers, hat, snood and gloves. I’m excited and terrified at the same time. My fear is of becoming too cold to look after myself, never mind anybody else in the group – the wind was so strong during my two hours attempted sleep I thought the tent was going to cave in around my cocooned body!
I triple check everything in my rucksack before unzipping the tent, putting on my boots and entering the darkness. I catch my breath as the cold wind brushes my neck and look up to a maze of bright coloured stars. Beautiful. In the distance I can see a long line of head torches, people already on their journey to the summit.
I make my way across to the mess tent and help myself to some hot tea and biscuits. I force as much food down as possible whilst silently checking the faces of others, tired anxious eyes stare back at me.
There’s something so exciting, so adventurous about getting up in the middle of the night and attempting to reach the summit of a high mountain. Kilimanjaro is one of the best yet. A huge snow-capped mountain resting amongst the flat plains of Tanzania, it stands out for miles. It’s not like being in the Himalayas, surrounded by towering mountains and having to ask “which one’s Everest again?” When you catch sight of Kilimanjaro you know exactly what it is. And for the past two weeks I’ve been catching glimpses of this amazing peak in between the cloudy humid mornings and early sunsets. And now I’m finally here, at base camp, so close to the summit and yet still a massive task ahead.
We set off at 12.30am, our group of 12 head torches lighting the way. The path is an undulation of zig zags over loose rock, into the cold harsh wind, turn and relax as the wind blows you onwards for a couple of minutes, then turn and back into the fight of the wind. Stop for water, check everybody, feed, rehydrate with almost frozen water bottles, and then start again, one foot slowly in front of the other. I constantly wriggle my hands and feet to keep them warm. This process goes on for what seems like an eternity for the withering group until finally I can sense a change in the light. The waning moon fades into the background as the sun starts to rise and new hope for the final ascent seeps through. A new day is beginning to form with every forward footstep, the sky changes from a mixture of black and greys to warmer shades of orange and red.
Once again the white cotton clouds sit beneath us and there’s a poignant moment where I look out at the unbelievably beautiful day forming and realise that this is exactly why I do this, there is a purpose. To feel the way I feel right now, in this moment in time, to experience this beauty, this new feeling of hope, of pushing through the pain to achieve something spectacular. It’s all worthwhile in the end. I’m seeing the world with new eyes.
We finally reach the summit. The views are spectacular, soft clouds line the sky for miles, Kilimanjaro’s neighbouring volcano Mawenze in the distance, a shadowy peak of Mount Meru resting over clouds, people embracing emotionally. I stand and take it all in, proud, elated, relieved. Reaching the top is never the end, it’s just the beginning of something new…