We have some summits here!!!
Team Supreme (that's us) bolted out of the gates at midnight on Saturday (a.m.), on a full-moonlit night. The weather had been hail all afternoon and cleared up to absolute perfection just as we left. We couldn't have asked for better weather and the moonlight was so bright it made our headlamps as necessary as nipples on a breast plate. Lovely.
We were pumped. We scarfed down some stale toast and porridge (ameliorated with some copious amounts of sugar and/or Milo), then packed up and left at midnight, on the dot. On the DOT!
8 out of the 9 of us suddenly found ourselves on the way up to the Roof of Africa ('ol papa Bill decided to sit this one out. Smart man, knowing his limits). For the next 7 hours we plodded up the mountain, negotiating rocks and skree. At first, doing well, chatting up a storm with a bazillion "would you rather" questions and debating which Bill Murray movie is the best (definitely 'Groundhog Day' for me). Then at about hour 4, everyone shut up because the altitude was starting to make some of us puke, develop severe head-pounding headaches, and question just what the hell we were doing.
I've climbed much higher and much more dangerous peaks, but I will say that climbing 4000 feet of elevation in 7 hours when you aren't really acclimatized is no joke. I must admit that I was suffering near the end because of that. I had one of the worst headaches imaginable. Either way, that isn't something to stop me (nor anyone else from our awesomely strong team, for that matter). We all pushed through.
As we approached Stella Point (the lower summit at the rim of the volcano crater) at about hour 6, the sun started to rise and coat the whole mountain with one of the most beautiful orange-reds I have ever seen. On our last switch back, I finally saw the sign for Stella Point and about a dozen people surrounding it. I let out a resounding "YES!!!" and marched upwards with a new sense of purpose.
Everyone else followed in line moments later, and we were soon hugging it out like men celebrating a winning touchdown. Aaron, who carries one of the most prophetic ginger beards I've ever seen, even managed to pull through despite puking a few times on the way up. Props to him. His beard-brother (a British fellow from another team carrying an equally prophetic, yet less dense, ginger beard) followed shortly and their beards gave a high five. I believe time stood still at that precise moment (and I'm pretty sure some kittens lives were spared as well). Quite a sight.
Our mission wasn't done yet though. We had 45 more minutes to the true summit, which was visible from Stella point but on the complete opposite (and slightly higher) side of the crater. So we plodded on.
As the sun rose higher and made everything even more beautiful, we increasingly struggled. Every new step was more painful than the one before it. It got even more painful hearing people who had already summited, pass us on the way down saying in a way-too-jovial-for-how-i-was-feeling kinda way, "you're almost there!" and "you can do it!" I ignored them and kept on, focusing rather on the beautiful scenery around me. It was right then that I was reminded why I do these climbs. Moments like that just remind me how amazing this planet is and how tiny and insignificant we all are. It puts your life into perspective in a flash. There's nothing else quite like it.
We powered on and finally we found ourselves at the true summit of Uhuru Peak. HELL YES. We all hugged, danced, and celebrated. I memorized a deck of cards (more on that later), while others took pictures of flags and random trinkets they had slogged up there. I can't say this enough, but what a fucking beautiful day it was. Stunning.
Young Bill and I headed down together after spending about an hour on the summit. We agreed to try and run down the mountain as fast as possible (for shits and giggles) with one of our guides (whose name was, wait for it.....Nelson. Yup). The way down was one of the most fun descents in recent memory for me, and we basically skree-skied it down, zipping by everyone (even porters) while sliding and spraying dirt all around us. We made it down in impressive 53 minutes. Ha! 7 hours up and less than an hour down. Amazing. I should have GoPro'd the whole thing, but I forgahhhht, DOH!
Everyone else from Team Supreme followed down to High Camp a few hours later and we rested, rehydrated, ate, and then headed down to a lower camp (this time at a leisurely pace). We all slept like babies and arose to our final breakfast, followed by an amazing singing of African mountain songs by our lovely 32 guides and porters (which sounded like Paul Simon's "Graceland" album, it was that good). We then shot down the rest of the mountain in about 3.5 hours where we bathed in the sun, drinking Kilimanjaro beers as we waited for our bus back to town.
An amazing trip, with amazing people, and an amazing new experience and more importantly....a new memory. I loved that every morning Zack (one of our team members) would shout out, as he firmly secured his Scottish plaid, newspaper-boy cap on his head: "Let's go make a memory!"
And so we did.