Mount Kilimanjaro Day 6- Barafu to Uhuru Peak (5895m)
Sunrise From Stella Point
The 3 hours in the tent weren’t very restful. They were dominated by wondering how much the wind could rattle my tent without it collapsing on me. When we all woke up at 11PM for tea and hoping we were pushing back to 4AM, I learned that these fears were legitimate. One tent with 2 people in it had collapsed so they ended up needing to hold it up. The tent over the toilet that we brought blew over, leaving the little plastic toilet alone sitting on the rocks. The tent where we ate our meals also collapsed , so we had tea and biscuits in our sleeping tents. We knew it would be a long hike to the top, despite the demoralizing '5km' sign.
Unfortunately, the most interesting part of the day I couldn’t capture on camera. Once we all emerged from the calmer confines of our tents and got our multiple layers and gear all set, we started off. We moved slowly (polepole in Swahili) but steadily. When we looked up, we could see only darkness with a trail of lights leading up the trail until we lost it over a ridge. I went back and forth about whether this was truly helpful. Sometimes it felt good to know you were in this with a large number of people, and other times it was demoralizing to imagine how much further we had to go. I took to convincing myself that the lights that looked too far off or too high were actually stars, with some effectiveness.
Longest 5k of your life
Every break I would drink water (became harder at the end as everything was freezing) and eat a piece of chocolate. One of our guides gave shoulder massages which the others raved about as amazing. Nikki, our guide with the goofiest personality, would occasionally yell something in a fairly raspy voice. I didn’t know what he was saying but decided to repeat him for motivational purposes. I’d initially assumed it was a Swahili phrase, but later learned he was saying, “I miss you, I miss you Arusha!” I’m not sure what I was saying.
If reading these paragraphs without pictures feels long to you, trust me, I agree with you. But it’s not as long as it felt climbing it! At around 6AM, the first rays of sunlight started to become visible on the horizon. Slowly, more and more of the sky became illuminated. Some clouds were white, others were black because they were shaded, and some were turning the typical orange. We were fortunate to be above them, since those who were in the cloud as it wrapped around the mountain couldn’t see the sun.
We reached the ridge of the crater, Stella Point (5756m = 18,885ft), around 7AM, just as the sun was rising. This is really high- for context, Everest basecamp is only 5350m = 17,600ft. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, and I certainly let out a few tears from some combination of emotion and the punishingly cold wind. The golden clouds from the picture at the top of this page were absolutely stunning. After we got a few pictures at the sign, we had to continue- the altitude is punishing and we were all feeling it to various degrees.
The walk to Uhuru from Stella is only 0.7km, and it’s not as steep, but even lifting your pinky isn’t trivial at 19,000 feet. If offered some amazing views of the glaciers- they’re decreasing from global warming but what’s left is still impressive. The crater is pretty cool. There were a few icy clouds which drifted over, and I was surprised to see an “icebow.” I can’t think of anything else to call it, but you can see it in the photo (though photos never fully capture these things). Several people were struggling with the last bit- one was leaning on her poles every few steps. The support and encouragement from the guides got one to the summit, and I linked arms with the other to help her with the last bit of the way to Uhuru Peak (5895m = 19,341 ft).
Reached the Crater!
Crater from Uhuru
It’s striking to be so high up. Since this is the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, there really is nothing like it. I have no doubt that being surrounded by mountains in the Himalayas would be spectacular too, but I just needed to take it in. The clouds, the colors, the surrounding flat plains, everything was fantastic.
On our way back down the crater rim, we ran into the other members of our group who had to break off because of a slower pace. We’d have loved to come back to the top with them but a) it sounded exhausting and b) would be dangerous to spend more time than necessary at this elevation. Regardless, it was fantastic to see them and know that all 9 of us made it to the top. And, of course, what must go up must come down....