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I arrived at Kilimanjaro International Airport at 7:40 PM on the evening of Monday, August 3, 2015, after enduring a 15 hour flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York that included a stopover in Amsterdam. Members of the climb team received a warm welcome from airport ambassadors of the outfit sponsoring the climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. After clearing customs we were transported by Land Rovers to Kia Lodge, a resort in Arusha, a few minutes’ drive from the airport where we spent the night in splendid accommodations that provided hot water showers and excellent food.
The third day of climbing was not as fatiguing as day two. But it was no cake walk and proved to be quite demanding. After the morning rituals we continued our climb into the moorlands.
On the third day several trekkers opted to climb up into a rock formation of steeples, also known as “The Cathedral.” After abandoning trekking poles and backpacks we ventured up into the steeples. It was a treacherous climb but our guides made sure that we adhered to safety precautions. The view from the steeples was spectacular. It was impossible to see the terrain floor on account of the height and the clouds that enveloped us, creating a surreal experience.
After descending from Mawenzi we made our way to Shira II Camp where we completed registration formalities with the park rangers, ate dinner and participated in the nightly trek briefing. I made my way to my tent, turning in a little earlier than usual in order to get a good night’s rest. I knew that day four was destined to be extremely challenging in more ways than one. After four hour of trekking we had now climbed to 12, 795 feet.
Day four consisted of six hours of tortuous and steady climbing to an extraordinary rock formation called Lava Tower. Along the journey, guides frequently erupted in song singing a gospel song that lifted the spirit of trekkers. The song had a familiar tune to one that I am familiar with and I accompanied them with my version as they sang in their native language. They were happy for the accompaniment. I was continually amazed by the floral display of exotic plants and the unusual rock formation that surrounded us. Eagles swirled high in the sky, their black bodies silhouetted against the brilliant blue sky. After four hours of trekking we had arrived at 15, 213 feet, the third of five climate zones that we would encounter on the way to the summit of the mountain. After completing the nightly routine I turned into bed early, aware of the fact that like day number four, the following one was destined to demanding.
Day five consisted of seven nerve-wracking hours of trekking, dropping from 15, 213 feet to 13, 231 feet into a torture chamber known as the great Barranco Valley. The descent from alpine desert environment to moorland was the fourth climate change that trekkers would encounter on our way to the top of the mountain. It enabled us to acclimatize for the night at the lower elevation.
During the first hour of the climb on day five trekkers were compelled to scramble 240 meters (800 feet) up and 40 meters (120 feet) across the Great Barranco Wall, a formidable obstacle that every climber attaining to the summit of Kilimanjaro has to contend with. The scramble across the wall entailed two hours of climbing that taxed each trekker’s endurance. It also required the abandoning of trekking poles while grabbing on to handholds and securing reliable footholds.
As I scrambled across the rock face my lungs were on fire on account of the strenuous task that I was engaged at the high altitude. I took rest breaks whenever possible to drink water and catch my breath. Looking out from my precarious perch into the wide open space I was unable to see the valley floor that was at the time concealed by thick clouds. I was five days into the climb and over thirteen thousand feet up on the mountain——a point of no return.
After successfully navigating the Barranco wall we emerged into the Karanga valley that stretched out before us like a huge writhing snake. The long steep climb down from the Wall into the valley was at times just as strenuous as scrambling across the Wall. Water seeped out of rocks that formed numerous streams across the valley floor. The desert landscape was littered with huge lava rocks that supported little plant life.
It took a little a little over two hours of travelling from the Great Barranco Wall to Karanga Camp. As we approached the camp porters emerged and met us on the trail at which point they relieved us of our back packs. After navigating the Wall that sapped our energy, the gesture was greatly appreciated.
After being directed to my tent by my porter who assisted me in taking off my boots as he did on a daily basis, I collapsed into my sleeping bag and took a nap to regain a semblance of strength. To say that I was exhausted would be an understatement. Reflecting on the events of the day I gave thanks to God for sustaining me physically and spiritually and enduing me with strength to navigate the Wall. After enjoying the customary cup of coffee and freshening up, I completed registration formalities with the park rangers. After dinner and the recording of oxygen levels I could hardly wait to get my tired body into bed.