Friday, October 14, 2005

Kilimanjaro - Drive For the Summit

ne plus ultra • \nay-plus-UL-truh\ • noun *1: the highest point capable of being attained 2: the most profound degree or quality of state

On just 2 ½ hours of sleep, i arose at 11pm to tackle the summit of Kilimanjaro. I was pumped and excited as i piled on all of my gear from head to toe – head lamp, knit cap, ski mask, 3 shirts, my big jacket, 3 pairs of gloves, 3 pairs of pants, 3 pairs of socks, and of course, my lucky red bandana tied around my neck (which kept me in one piece when i ran with the bulls in Pamplona). Samuel and i set off in the darkness with only our headlamps to light the way. The moon was out and our only companion in a clear sky. Just 4,265 feet to go!

time for my shot at the summit.. giddiup!!

Twenty minutes into the climb i had a frightening realization – my fingers were going numb. While my gloves had been warm when i tested them before, they were not windproof. With a sharp wind the temperature was approaching zero and i knew i was in trouble. I struggled to keep my fingers warm for awhile before eventually deciding to put away my trekking poles, keeping my hands in my pockets as i climbed. This was a big loss, as the poles help tremendously with balance, rhythm, and reduce the strain on your knees and calves. This loss had all the dire seriousness as when Luke Skywalker shut off his targeting computer while making his final attack run on the Death Star in the first Star Wars.

For hours and hours we climbed and climbed. My legs burned and the altitude made it increasingly difficult to breathe. The wind picked up and the temperature was well below zero now. My toes began to go numb (despite my 3 pairs of socks) so i tried wiggling them as i climbed. When we did stop for rare breaks they could not last long – any more than 2-3 minutes and we’d lose enough body heat to begin going hypothermic. Although insulated, i had to take a sip of water every few minutes, both to keep hydrated but also to keep my water from freezing.. which it eventually did.

I knew we’d been climbing for hours now but i forced myself not to look at my watch. I was exhausted, forcing myself to just place one foot in front of the other and telling myself “breathe DEEP, your brain needs the oxygen!” Then Samuel told me that we were just 10 minutes from Stella Point, the crater rim. Twenty minutes went by and he said it again, just ten minutes! I kept looking up in the darkness and could see the outline of the rim against the sky, but it still seemed like an eternity away. Finally, we reached the rim and i was ready to topple over – i had run completely out of energy some time ago. We had already been climbing 5 ½ hours.

After a quick break, my toes numb and water frozen, we made the final push for the summit - Uhuru. The eastern sky began to lighten as dawn approached. My energy long since depleted, Samuel urged me on.. by now i was driven purely by determination. Like a boxer still standing after 20 rounds, i literally staggered the final several hundred yards to the summit.

The money shot - standing atop of all of Africa!!!

We reached the summit at exactly 6:00 am, just over 6 ½ hours after we began. At the same moment the sun burst above the horizon to rise over East Africa – and what a glorious sunrise it was! I felt a surge of exhilaration while Samuel and i high-fived and hugged. I was the very first person to reach the summit that day. I walked over to the crater rim and shouted at the top of my lungs – “UHURU!!!” so that everyone would know.

Nothing like watching the sunrise from the top of the world.. oh yes!

After signing the guestbook (who’d have thought?) and several minutes of congratulations and pictures, we started back down. We passed dozens of climbers on their way up and i urged them on.. “You’re almost there!” I ran into Alex, my Dutch friend and congratulated him, but i was disappointed to hear that his wife had to turn back with severe chest pains. As we made our way down i looked in awe at the glistening and mighty glaciers.

Glaciers in Africa are awesome.. too bad they'l be gone in a few years ;-(

Peering down into the volcanic crater atop Kilimanjaro.

I had given everything i had to reach the summit. Going back down was nearly as difficult. I was so spent i just wanted to collapse and roll down the 4,300 feet back to camp. I could not believe how far we’d climbed, looking down at the spec which was our base camp. It was like standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon peering down to the very bottom.. “we have to get all the way down there??!”

We finally got back to Barafu base camp after 3 hours, where i promptly passed out. After a quick nap, it was time to pack up and keep going. We descended another 5,000 feet to Mweka camp for our final night on the mountain. In all, that day i climbed 4,265 feet before descending 9,173 feet in almost 12 hours, covering 14 miles of mountain! Wow!

I was so close to Heaven i figured i'd shoot God a hello arrow!!

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro was the most difficult thing i have ever done in my life. It was an incredible experience that i will never forget and is something i will always keep with me and that no one can EVER take away. Thanks for reading.

Oh yea.. it's time to celebrate! Make the most of it baby!


At 9:13 AM, Anonymous Mom said...

Great job, kid(as Dad would say) Want to the be the first to congratulate you! ILY, Mom

At 9:28 AM, Anonymous Mom said...

PS - I love the definition you used to start this post - hmm.

At 1:17 PM, Anonymous Tom said...

Congratulations, John. Good job, eh?

At 2:33 PM, Anonymous m. butterfly said...

you're looking pretty grizzled there...what?! no time to shave?!


congratulations, bucko. SPECTACULARLY DONE!!

At 3:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John, I was even physically and emotionally drained after reading about your adventure...I can't believe you did it! WAY TO GO! Kim :)

At 5:51 PM, Anonymous Jen said...

I knew you would do it!! Congrats, John... WOOOOHOOOOOOO!!!! Rock Solid, dude. And what a way to reach the summit... with the sun rising. Keep the trek as exciting and exhilarating as it has already been... as you would say, I LOVE IT!

At 11:14 PM, Anonymous teresa schauppner said...

CONGRATULATIONS JOHN! Good on you! WLY and are so glad you made it safe and sound! Our prayers have been and continue to be with you! All the best for the rest of your trip!

WLY, Uncle Carl and Aunt Teresa

At 4:48 AM, Blogger Sarah Loukota said...

So the saying should be, there are no athiests in foxholes OR on the top of Mt. Kili

Breathtaking John.....Truly.

At 10:54 AM, Anonymous Carole Woltz said...

Thanks for sharing such an amazing experience. You have the ability to make me feel like I'm there. Kili was going to be my 50th birthday present to myself, but I have to admit I am a little more apprehensive about it now... Have to see if Ryanne is still up for challenge after she reads this!

Congrats and Happy Birthday John,
Carole Woltz

At 1:30 PM, Blogger artie6 said...

Nice work Holman... You literally took the amazing journey Into Thin Air... So glad you made it back... You look good in the first picture wearing my LOKI... I bet it eventually froze up on you though, and that's why you don't have it on at the summit? Can't believe 3 layers of clothing wasn't enough!

At 9:17 AM, Blogger Dana said...

I'm so proud of you, Johnny 5! I'll look forward to the in person narrative when you return! --Dana

At 2:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congrats john!The pictures where amazing. Well done.


At 7:50 PM, Anonymous jlao said...

SPECTACULAR!!! I swear my eyes were getting bigger each second I continued to read about your journey! Where is my inhaler?!?!


At 10:16 AM, Anonymous Luxury Safaris said...

This is truly amazing. I really enjoyed the way you told the story, and the pictures were amazing. Congratulations, enjoy Africa!


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