Punchline first: we did it! We reached Uhuru Peak on June 27th after more than 10 hours of hiking in the dark and the cold. It was everything everyone said it would be: challenging, intense, rewarding, amazing. I cried three times on summit night: once when the sun finally started to rise. I was so cold for so long and I just kept telling myself that as soon as the sun came up, I would be warm. As soon as that first stripe of pink appeared on the horizon, I felt the greatest sense of relief. The second time was when we reached Stella Point. It seemed to take forever, especially the last 50 meters, but seeing that sign was a gift. It meant we were almost at our destination. And finally, a few tears were shed when we finally approached that infamous “Congratulations” sign at Uhuru peak, 5,895 meters above sea level. I will never forget our tired but triumphant group walking those final steps together to the peak. It was bright and sunny and beautiful and we did it together, as a team. Of 19 people that attempted the summit, all 19 people succeeded. A statistical rarity.
So why the hell did we hike through the night? That’s just the way it is apparently. For those that don’t know, the Kilimanjaro climb is 7 days. On Day 5, you go to sleep at 5pm, wake up at 10pm and leave for the summit at 11pm, hiking all the way through the night. It’s dark and cold. It was -7C with a wind-chill of about -13C. Of the whole trip, this is definitely the part that pushes you to the limits – both physically and mentally.
Summit night is really all anyone talks about when they climb Kilimanjaro. But all the days leading up to summit were amazing and challenging too. In fact, the entire trip was far more physically demanding than I was anticipating. I went into this adventure a bit arrogant. I didn’t really think it would push me as hard as it did. It was a very humbling experience.
A few weeks ago, I asked the question: which is harder? Running a marathon or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. When I got to Uhuru peak, I said to myself: marathon. Marathon was definitely harder. But when you run a marathon, you get to stop when you cross the finish line. When you climb Kilimanjaro and you reach your destination, you still have to keep going. This was definitely harder than a marathon. As soon as we were done our picture-taking and high-fiving, we turned back the way we came to head back to camp, suddenly very aware of the massive distance we covered through the night. We gave it everything we had to get to the peak, but somehow, we all had to dig deep and find some extra energy. It took 3 hours to get down. And after a short rest at camp, we had another 2 hour hike. If you had asked me to walk for another 5 hours after I finished my marathon, I would have flatly refused. Getting to the summit and back down again in the same day was a true test of physical and mental strength, and one that I do actually think was a greater challenge than running a marathon.
I could blither on about each day of this trip for pages, but I recognize that I have derailed my blog focus from running lately in favour of this adventure. So, for those of you who want to read the detailed account of my Kilimanjaro climb, I have transcribed my daily journal from the trip here. In this journal, you’ll get all the details – what I wore, what I ate, where we slept, the state of toilets en route – you name it. It’s all there. Happy to answer any question in the comments section as well.
Finally, a few thank yous. Thank you to Zara Tours – the best trekking company in Africa! Thank you to all the guides and porters who made this trip possible. You are all superhumans and I am in awe of you. Thank you to team leaders Asa and Chombo. I trusted you fully and you didn’t disappoint. Thank you to my husband Graham for being fun and adventurous and for managing to live with me – conflict-free- for 7 days in a tent. Thank you to Mother Nature for not sucking. It didn’t rain once the whole time. And finally, a big thank you to Acacia Mining and CEO Brad Gordon for having this vision and making this trip a reality. I am proud and honoured to have been a part of it.
Want more details? To read a transcript of my Kilimanjaro journal, click here.