Well, I made it!
In all honesty the first 4,500m were a breeze. The days passed quickly and quietly while we hiked across stunning terrain, enjoyed popcorn and multiple cups of tea of an afternoon and I even managed to finish an entire book of an evening! Something I haven’t done in a long time…
But I think I was one of the lucky ones. The higher we got, other hikers at camp started dropping like flies. Some people looked absolutely wrecked walking around camp like zombies and at night you often heard people throwing up outside their tent.
For those that are unfamiliar with oxygen levels; 95-100% is normal, between 75-85% is ‘minimal mental impairment’ and anything below 75% is ‘increasing sensory and mental impairment’.
Kilimanjaro is considered ‘Extreme Altitude’ and as a result we had health checks every evening. Most guides and other hikers dropped to about 60% and for some reason my oxygen levels never dropped below 87%! No wonder I had such a lovely time at camp every evening…
Those last 1,395 meters though. Far out.
I had a sniffly nose from day one of the trek, which I didn’t pay much attention to. But when you start walking in minus 20 degrees in pitch black darkness on summit night, it becomes a problem.
The sound of my own sniffing was driving me mentally insane. It was almost like water torture but instead of a ‘drip’ it was, ‘walk, walk, sniff, walk, walk, sniff’ for SIX HOURS in PITCH BLACK DARKNESS.
And because it was so cold, I had to cover my mouth with a fabric buff to trap heat, but then because I couldn’t breathe through my nose (because it was frozen!) I had to keep removing the buff which ruined my breathing pattern and effectively filled my lungs with icy air at every grasping breath.
After rock scrambling and breathing as if I’d just done a ridiculously hard workout for six hours straight our guides exclaimed, “We’ve made it to the top!” Relief washed over me, but after realising it was still dark and that ‘the top’ looked nothing like the photo’s I’d seen they said, “Only 2 more hours to Uhuru peak…”
YOU DON’T TELL SOMEONE THEY’RE AT THE TOP, WHEN YOU’RE NOT AT THE TOP.
I would have yelled this if I had even an ounce of energy left in me. Instead, I sat on a rock. Sipping my drink bottle. Crying. After about 10 minutes, my amazing guides picked me up off the rock, gave me a swig of Coca-Cola (haven’t touched soft drink in years!) and we were on our way to the peak.
I don’t remember much between this point and reaching Uhuru peak… my chest infection was in full swing, my nose was completely frozen, my eyes wouldn’t stay open and my mind was playing tricks on me. I’m surprised there’s even a photo of me smiling at the peak, because as soon as I reached the top my mind and body was telling me to go down.
I’ve never experienced ‘fight or flight’ mode more intensely in my entire life.
Quick, but important shout out! I strongly believe the addition of CrossFit into my life helped me reach the peak. Every day spent out of breath, pushing my physical and mental limits in constantly varied combinations of movement was the best training I could have done. Most importantly CrossFit has reinforced that ‘hard’ does not mean ‘bad’.
Anyway, if you want to see me cry in a cave… skip to 4 minutes and 30 seconds in.