Nail Biter in the Clouds

The past week has been one of excitement, exhaustion, struggle, achievement, and awe inspiring natural beauty. It has also been uniquely human experience where people of different backgrounds and places came together to enjoy the beauty of this part of the world. During the long days on the trails or moments shared in Chamonix and beyond, bonds were developed and friendships were forged.

Since the weather wasn’t great for our 4th of 5 hikes, a small group elected to visit the Mer de Glace. This glacier, whose name means “Sea of Ice,” descends from the northern face of the Mont Blanc Massif and is accessible to tourists, researchers, and students. The journey begins by taking the Montenvers Railway, a cogwheel train that ascends nearly 3000 ft during a brief 20 min ride from Chamonix to Montenvers. From there, a short gondola ride descends into the glacial moraine, the mass of rock and sediment that is pushed aside by an advancing glacier.

Due to global warming, this glacier has been melting at a rapid rate over the past decades. This is made dramatically clear as you descend over 500 metal steps just to get to the surface of the glacier that has thinned and retreated at an increasing rate over the years. Along the way down, there are signs that mark where the surface of the glacier had been beginning in 1985 with every 5 year increment up to today. The further the group descended, the 5 year increments were farther apart clearly showing the increasing rate at which melting has occurred.

When you finally get to the glacier, a tunnel has been bored thru the ice to allow visitors to experience the beauty of the ice from within… a truly unique and unforgettable experience.

Our fifth and final hike took us to the Aiguillette des Houches, a steep climb of nearly 1000m to an elevation of over 7,500 ft, above the town of Les Houches and directly across the Chamonix Valley from Mont Blanc. Although the day started with some heavy downpours and low clouds, once we hit the trail, the sky lightened and the sun appeared in the sky. The trail started steeply, but it was a pleasant climb thru lush green forest. As we climbed higher, we began to get some glimpses across the valley of Mont Blanc, fully covered in fresh snow from the past two days. The view of the bright white peak with wind blown cirrus clouds above and beyond, made the mountain appear massive.

Mont Blanc enveloped in swirling clouds

As we exited the forest, we began to hear voices even though there was no one else on the trail. Suddenly, we noticed a large group of paragliders right by us as they rode the thermals rising up from the valley below the ridge we were crossing. A short time later, another paragliding enthusiast passed us on the trail, packing all of his equipment up the hill to a suitable launch point. On a small grassy knoll with a steep dropoff to the left, he took about 10 minutes to lay out his wing, arrange the control lines, and rig his harness. One he was ready, we got a front row view as he used an updraft to fill his wing, then began a short run to fully inflate the wing, followed by a half turn to orient correctly and lift off into the sky. He quickly disappeared into the mist, followed by another paraglider that suddenly appeared from behind us. For those of us who missed the opportunity to paraglide on our day off, it gave us a little taste of what the experience would have been.

Once the excitement was over, it was time to make our final push up the narrow summit ridge just as the clouds began to build and the wind picked up. By the time we got to the small patch of grass and rock that defined the peak of the Aiguillette de Houches, we were enveloped by a cold mist and strong wind. Needless to say, we didn’t remain there for too long. Instead, we put on some additional layers and prepared our trekking poles for the steep, narrow descent down the other side. With low visibility, a very narrow and steep trail, and a sharp dropoff to the right, we were all a bit nervous as we carefully placed each foot. After about 10 minutes the trail became a little less steep and a bit wider, making the remainder of the descent more bearable. Needless to say, we would all remember those moments when, as a group, we prevailed and got thru a difficult section together.

A few hours later we were off the mountain, back at the chalet to enjoy another delicious homemade cake, some refreshing drinks, and a nice hot shower. The hikes were over, but the memories will remain. For now, it is time to say “au revoir” until the next adventure.

Into “Thinnish” Air

Today was a rest day from hiking, so we got out to explore all that Chamonix had to offer. The town is a bucolic French mountain town that is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Located in the Chamonix Valley directly below Mont Blanc, the town bustles with the energy of adventure seekers from around the world. The mountain trails offer challenging grades and stunning views for hiking enthusiasts. The numerous gondola lifts and ski areas double as an easy ascent for mountain bikers who want to experience the thrill of high country biking and sustained downhill rides. As you would expect, the sheer granite walls and high mountains have much to offer climbers of all different skill and style.

Another highly popular activity is paragliding. In the past few days we have seen over 50 paragliders gently riding the thermals for hours at a time. Although some of us had planned to experience a tandem flight with a licensed instructor, the weather on our day off didn’t cooperate and flights were grounded… oh well, it’ll have to be an adventure for another time.

Despite the overcast conditions down in the valley, some of us decided to roll the dice during a brief weather window to ascend the Aiguille du Midi on a breathtaking cable car ride from Chamonix. Rising from the valley floor at 1,040m (3,412 ft), the lift ascends to a granite pinnacle whose name means “noon needle” at 3,842 (12,605 ft).

At this high elevation the weather contrast was immediately apparent and the air was noticeably thinner. Even before our gondola settled into the station at the top, our car was buffeted by high winds causing us to sway back and forth and occasionally bang into the metal rails used to guide the car into the station. Fortunately, our operator payed close attention to the wind readings while we patiently waited for a calm moment to nestle into the upper station.

The cable car station is a multi-level structure built onto and into the sheer rock spire at that defines the Aiguille du Midi peak. Truly and engineering marvel, it houses viewing platforms, tunnels, walkways, restaurants and even a small museum and theater. Those employed to maintain the structure must also be experienced climbers given the work environment.

Glass floor over sheer drop!

Yesterday’s post mentioned the Mont Blanc Tunnel that goes from France to Italy. For the adventurous, an alternate route includes three different cable cars, that combined, form a continuous route up, over the top of the Mont Blanc Massif, then down into Italy.

From the top of Aiguille du Midi another cable car spans a distance of 5 km across the saddle of Mont Blanc, including the Vallée Blanche and the Géant glaciers to another peak called Pointe Heelbronner. From there, a third cable car called the Funivie Monte Bianco connects the peak of Pointe Helbronner to the village of La Palud, just north of Courmayeur, Italy.

Cable route across the glaciers

Bundled up in extra layers, the strong cold wind did nothing to dampen our enthusiasm as we explored all the Aiguille du Midi had to offer, until the clouds closed in and it was time to descend into the white void below.

Cables disappear into the void!
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France vs. Italy

Our hikes during the past two days have allowed us to see Mont Blanc from two completely different perspectives. On Monday we started the day on the local bus to catch the gondola at Les Praz to La Flégère ski resort for a hike to Lac Blanc (White Lake) a small glacial lake high in the mountains above the ski resort.

The trail up to the lake was high up on the side of the valley wall called the Grand Balcon Sud. Far below was a small village on the valley floor, with towering granite spires rising high above. At the lake we enjoyed views of the Mont Blanc massif looking from north to south toward Italy (where we will be hiking tomorrow). After a long descent, it was nice to enjoy a cold beer and the expansive views while lounging in a deck chair and waiting for the gondola ride back down the Les Praz. The local bus ride back to the chalet was quite crowded since these transit buses are also used by local students as schools release for the day.

A nice way to relax at the end of a long day!

Today, Neil and Marta drove our group from Chamonix to Courmayeur, Italy by way an 11.2 km tunnel under Mont Blanc. The tunnel is an amazing feat of engineering and traffic is controlled by a timed gate and a strict speed limit to avoid congestion in the tunnel. The entire trip was only 40 minutes!

Part of our group spent a wonderful and relaxing day exploring Courmayeur and enjoying delicious Italian cuisine. This quaint Italian village is a popular resort destination for hiking and skiiing enthusiasts.

Courmayeur, Italy

The hike started with a bit of a climb from the Val Ferret (the valley that flanks the southern side of the Mont Blanc Massif) up to the Bonatti Refuge. The trail then meandered thru rolling pastoral fields, a stark contrast from the rugged, rocky trails we had experienced so far. Since we were now in Italy, the standard trail greeting changed from “Bon Jour” to “Buon Giorno!”

The views of Mont Blanc from the south were spectacular, rising vertically and dramatically. It was easy to see how the Alps are formed from the African tectonic Plate “crashing” onto the Eurasian Plate to form the mountains to our north. It is also remarkable to see so many glaciers from such a close vantage point. Although receding, it is impressive to see how thru pressure and motion the glaciers have carved their paths.

Mont Blanc view from Italy

Once again we ended our day with a refreshing soak of our tired feet in a cold glacial river. I can’t think of a more effective way to rapidly recover from the hours of hiking… of course some good wine, limoncello, and cold beer are pretty good for relaxing at the end of another spectacular day!

Chamonix… Gateway to Mont Blanc

The next adventure has begun! Over the next week, our group of intrepid adventures will be exploring the absolutely stunning vistas of Mont Blanc. Located on the border of France and Italy, this iconic mountain is the highest point in the Alps at 15,777 ft, and the second highest mountain in Europe (after Mt. Elbrus).

Our home for the next week is a traditional mountain chalet, named Chalet Chocolate, located in the beautiful town of Chamonix, France in a narrow valley at the base of the mountain. The chalet hosts, Neil and Marta, warmly welcomed us after a long, tiring journey to get here. True to the chalet name, Neil presented a delicious homemade rich dark chocolate cake, making us feel right at home.

Our group of 13 includes 10 Americans representing Virginia, New Jersey, Michigan and Illinois, and 3 Brits hailing from Plymouth and London. Our guide, Aglia, will lead us on 5 different hikes in the days to come. She hails from a mountain valley a little further south.

After a good night’s rest and a nutritious breakfast, we all made our lunches for the day ahead. Marta set out baguettes, a variety of meats and cheeses, some pasta salad and fruit. Needless to say, we had a tasty variety to choose from for our trail lunches. We took a local bus to the next town to begin our first hike for the week. After a short 30 min ride, we hit the trail for our 10 km hike that featured a rugged 850m ascent to the top of Aguillette des Poisettes (2201m). Our effort was rewarded by the clear blue sky and unobscured views of the Alps all around us.

After enjoying our lunch at the peak, we headed down… which always seems longer and harder than the uphill part. Luckily there was a small mountain stream at the end to soak our tired feet… what a refreshing feeling! Our trip back to Chamonix was on the Mont Blanc Express train, a nice way to wind down and begin our recovery for tomorrow’s hike.

The Finish Line

It’s been over two months since the last time I shared an update on our home construction project. While I was off enjoying the experience of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, and in the weeks since my return, a tremendous about of work has been completed on the house. We are clearly in the final weeks before occupancy and there is significant progress to report, so let’s get to it…

While in Tanzania, I got frequent updates that showed a lot of progress on some of the major exterior work and interior installations. The most visible changes to the outside were the installation of the vinyl siding, shakes and shutters, plus the addition of the decorative stone accent on the front of the house. Additionally, the stone floor for the screened porch was laid, adding a nice, finished look to this outside space that we expect to use quite frequently. Finally, excavation was completed to set and bury the septic tank, distribution box, and perforated pipes for the drain field; while a 500 gallon propane tank to fuel the furnace, fireplace and stovetop, was buried and the gas lines were connected.

Inside, the wide-plank engineered-wood flooring was installed, followed by delivery and installation of the kitchen and bathroom cabinets, and countertops. Work also continued on some of the interior trim, particularly the fireplace mantle and the built-in bookshelves and cabinets in the living room. All in all, there was a lot accomplished during the time I was away.

In the five weeks since my return from Kilimanjaro, many of the last major pieces have been completed and it is clear that we need to begin focusing on packing and moving. We opted to add blue porch ceilings to both the front and screened porches. This distinctive feature, popular in the south but widely seen throughout the mid-Atlantic, originated with the Gullah/Geechee people (descendants of enslaved Africans who were brought to Charleston, South Carolina in the 1500s). The Gullah believe in wandering spirits, called “haints” that are lost souls that might wish evil on the living. According to lore, a blue porch ceiling, meant to resemble water, brings luck and protection to a home by warding off the lost souls since they are unable to cross water. The soft blue often used on porch ceilings is commonly called “haint blue,” which really isn’t a color. Since only one blue option, called “Savannah blue” was available for the vinyl soffit, we went with it and are really happy with the subtle hue it adds to the porches. Now we have our own “haint blue” ceiling to protect the house… I figure we’ll take all the help we can get!

Upon completion of the porch ceilings and siding, the electricians returned to install all the interior and exterior lighting. The era of energy efficient LED lighting means that we needed to think about the “color temperature” (measured in units of Kelvin) of the LED light bulbs used throughout the house. Generally, LED lights can range from color temperatures of 2700K to over 6000K. The higher the number, the brighter and whiter the light. We opted to keep all of the lighting in the 2700K to 3000K range to ensure adequate brightness, while avoiding an overly stark and bright illumination.

After the lights had been installed, the plumber returned to install all of the faucets, fixtures and toilets; while the trim carpenters measured, cut and installed the quarter-round trim on the baseboard molding, along with all of the door handles. Outside the gutters were installed and our excavator returned to dig the trench and lay the piping on the long run from the water meter up to the house. Once this was buried, all that was needed was the final connection to the water supply lines inside the house, which occurred a couple weeks later. With the completion of the water line, all the major excavation work was complete. Subsequently, several loads of gravel were delivered and spread to smooth the driveway, and the final grading and seeding of the yard was done. Now we are truly hoping that April showers will result in May flowers (grass) on Hope Rise!

With the addition of insulation on the bare-concrete basement walls, and the anticipated installation of appliances this week, the construction team has begun to focus on punch list items to take care of the final details prior to the occupancy inspection. We hope to have the occupancy permit near the end of the month and are excited about our pending move!

Welcome to “Hope Rise”
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Epilogue: Beautiful Tanzania

The past two weeks have been absolutely amazing. Although we sumitted Mt. Kilimanjaro and experienced the vastness of the Serengeti, both indelible experiences, we will never forget the wonderful people of Tanzania.

On Kilimanjaro, our team truly made us feel part of a very large family… not simply paying clients. Their joy in our achievement (which would not have occurred without all their incredible support) was palpable and deeply genuine. It is these friendships that we will cherish and remember, as much as our experiences on the mountain.

After the Kilimanjaro experience, we spent long days in the landcruisers as we drove hundreds of kilometers through the countryside. The scenery was striking and the sights somewhat exotic. It was quite normal to see zebra and giraffe grazing in the same roadside fields as cattle and sheep. A sight both strange and wonderful.

One team, one family, one success!

Everywhere we went we saw young children walking to or from school, easily identifiable in the standard school uniform worn by all who attend the nationalized school system through the age of 13.

We visited two orphanages and were heartened and humbled by the generosity and commitment of the men and women who care for these young kids, providing a loving environment along with food, shelter and education. There is a lot of need for steady resources to sustain these sanctuaries for those who have so little.

None of us will forget this experience; it left an imprint on our hearts and in our minds. Tanzania is a wonderful place, the people are generous and kind, and the sights are wonderful to behold. Thanks sharing the adventure!

Safari Trifecta (part 2): The Serengeti

We spent our first of two nights at a tent camp on the Serengeti. This was a small encampment with 10 large tents, 6 for guests, and one each for dining, kitchen, camp staff, and safari guides. Our first night was restful with the sounds of various nocturnal animals nearby. Interestingly, the camp staff includes a Masai warrior who stays up all night to protect the camp. A heavy rain fell throughout the night, so the large safari land cruisers will definitely be needed to travel through the muddy savannah.

Masai Camp Security

After a wonderful breakfast, we loaded up the vehicles to begin our explorations for the day. Within 15 minutes we sight a large group of 15 vehicles arranged in a circle. Our two vehicles join the circle and we are rewarded with the sight of three cheetah consuming a fresh wildebeest kill. It is fascinating to see the circle of life play out in front of our eyes. After observing for about 45 minutes, we continue on. Very shortly we spy another trio of cheetah enjoying their own wildebeest while several vultures waited patiently in the nearby Acacia trees for their turn at the scraps.

The Serengeti is active with all kinds of wildlife. In a single field of view we see two female lions and a young male, 5 giraffe, and off on a nearby hill a massive herd of wildebeest and zebra.

Everywhere we turn their are new sights to behold. A small Dung Beetle proudly rolling a large ball of its namesake on the ground, an Impala with its spiral antlers, a pack of Mongoose scampering through the grass, and majestic Tawny Eagle quietly perched high in a tree, alert and ready.

Impala

Simple photographs cannot capture the scale of what we are seeing. Serengeti means “endless plain” in the Masai language, and it is an apt name. The vast landscape before us teems with animals and truly does feel as if it goes on forever.

Wildebeest and Zebra herd

We return to camp for lunch and a bit of a break from the rough terrain, then head out again. A storm is clearly looming off to the north and appears to be headed our way. Before long we are in the midst of a ferocious downpour, and our guide decides the prudent thing to do is hunker down in the landcruiser and wait for the storm to pass before proceeding. I suspect we are experiencing the leading edge of the looming wet season.

Lunch on the Serengeti

After a full day on the Serengeti, we return to camp for another fantastic meal and good night of sleep. The next morning, our last, we begin the long drive back to Arusha where we will spend one more night before returning home. As we head out, we are rewarded with yet another iconic sight, two lions resting in a tree. They are then joined by two more lions as we watch.

Lions resting in a tree

Due to the heavy downpour from yesterday and some additional rain during the night, the dirt tracks and stream crossings were a muddy, boggy mess. One of our Landcruisers got stuck in the mud, but fortunately the other, with a slight assist from a third vehicle was able to pull the stuck truck from the axle deep mud.

Final preps to get unstuck

Finally, just when we thought we had experienced all the Serengeti had to offer, we stumbled on a family of elephants forging among the trees. A great way to end an unforgettable experience!

Family of Elephants
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Safari Trifecta (part 1)

Today we embarked on a four day safari with guides Daniel and Johnson, that will take us to three different locations. First we head to Tarangire National Park, then the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and finally Serengeti National Park. As we head southwest out of Arusha, we pass through the Cultivation Zone that surrounds Mt. Kilimanjaro. Along the way we see many Masai tribesman herding cattle, goats and sheep, dressed in the brightly colored Masai blanket that distinguishes these nomadic tribesmen from the more than 120 different tribes in Tanzania.

Masai

The farmland is comprised of rich volcanic soil used to grow two primary crops for the Maasai, maize and beans. These are perfect crops to sustain both their families and their herds. Other crops grown in the region include coffee, carrots, potatoes, and bananas.

Masai village

The first of three safari locations is Tarangire National Park. Tarangire is translated as Warthog (gire) River (taran). The vast park has broad views, with a rolling terrain of hills and grasslands. The thorny acacia trees and broad-trunked baobab trees span the landscape.

As we drive through the park we see giraffes, ostrich, impalas, elephants, baboons, warthogs, zebra, water buck, a variety of colorful birds, and the smallest antelope, called dik dik, in their natural habitat. We even get to see a trio of cheetah off in the distance. It is remarkable to see these animals in their natural habitat. Meanwhile, Daniel and Johnson share their encyclopedic knowledge when answering the many questions we have.

Our day 2 safari destination is the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Ngorongoro is an ancient caldera that was formed when the volcano magma chamber collapsed to form a 2,000’ deep caldera that is nearly 12 miles across and comprises 109 sq mi of grassland, marsh and a large alkili lake.

Ngorogoro caldera

The descent into the caldera is steep, but once inside it is easy to see why so many different animals flourish here. The food is plentiful and the presence of predatory lions, hyena, jackals and leopards do not seem to alarm the wide array of grazing herbivores.

The crater is home to 7,000 wildebeest, 4,000 zebras, 3,000 eland, 3,000 gazelles, 600 hyena, 200-300 elephants, over 60 lions, 30 rhinos, and many others. In all, over 25,000 wild creatures call the Ngorongoro Crater home.

We spend several hours driving all over the crater floor and see all of the following animals and more: Thompson Gazelle, Cape Buffalo, Wildebeest (Gnu), Lion, Zebra, Pelican, Stork, Egyptian Geese, Flamingo, Hammerlock, Crown Crane, Grant Gazelle, Sacred Ibis, Grey Heron, Golden Jackal, Hippopotamus, Hyena, Rhinoceros, Eland Antelope (largest antelope), Warthog, Ostrich, and Baboon.

Arriving at our camp on the Serengeti

We end our long day, ending on the Serengeti as we arrive at our camp at sunset. When I get access to some of the pictures from those with telephoto lenses, I will update this post.

Day 7 (part 2): The Grinding Descent

Day 7 (Summit Day): Uhuru Peak (19,341′), then descend to Mweka Camp (10,171′); 9.2 mi.

Day 7 route after summiting

The first part of summit day occurred from midnight to 6:00 a.m., the time we reached Uhuru Peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro. Now it was time for the long descent. First, from the summit back to Kosovo Camp, our starting point for the day. When we entered camp, we were greeted by the entire Ian Taylor Trekking Team with an uplifting and spirited series of songs to celebrate our successful summit.

Celebrating our success in song

Then after a brief 2 hour stop to rest, breakdown camp, and eat a quick meal, we headed down to our final night on the mountain at Mweka Camp. Already awake since midnight and tired from our climb to, and steep descent from the summit, we summoned our last reserves of energy to make the long descent to Mweka Camp, located far below us at the top of the Rain Forest Zone.

This was not an easy descent… we were all tired, but the main challenge was the trail. Kosovo Camp lies in the Alpine Desert Zone where the steep trail is mostly comprised of uneven rock and sections of hardened lava the looked like very rough concrete. As we descended through Barafu Camp, which was located about 700’ below our camp, we were thankful that our day hadn’t begun there. First it would have added a very hard additional hour for the summit. Secondly, the camp was large and crowded, located in a steep, rocky area that probably spanned at least 500’ of elevation change from top to bottom. As we descended, we passed large groups of trekkers on their way up, who would be stopping for the night at this rugged outpost to begin their own attempts for the summit later in the night. We passed along our best wishes as they congratulated us on our achievement.

The rock scrabble trail through Barafu Camp

Below Barafu there was a dramatic change in the weather. For the most part, we had experienced about the best weather any of us could have hoped for during the past week. That changed when a cold sleet began to fall. We stopped briefly to put on our rain gear, then resumed the jarring descent. As we went lower, the air got thicker, but the sleet turned into a steady, cold rain that only made the rocky trail slick. By this point we were all ready to get to Mweka Camp and the warmth of the rain forest, but we still had hours ahead of us. Along the way we began to notice metal stretchers, and wheeled stretchers haphazardly lying on the side of the trail. These are pre-positioned along the trail to evacuate anyone who is too sick or injured to walk. Given the rough trail, I don’t think it would be a pleasant ride!

Wheeled evacuation stretchers

Finally after several hours of precipitation, the sky brightened and the rain stopped, lifting our spirits. Leaving the barren Alpine Desert behind, we enjoyed the change in scenery from rocks to shrubs, bushes and small trees covered with hanging moss as we re-entered the Moorland Zone.

This meant we were one ecological zone closer to the top of the Rain Forest Zone where our final camp was located at 10,171’.

Finally, our long day that began at midnight, included a successful climb to the summit, a 2 to 3 hour descent back to Kosovo Camp, and an additional 5.5 hours to Mweka Camp ended. After 16.5 hours we were greeted by some of our great porters who relieved us of our backpacks as we walked the final, tired steps into camp for a well-earned rest.

Day 7 (part 1): “Embrace the Suck”

Day 7 (Summit Day): Kosovo Base Camp (16,010’) to Stella Point (18,885′) to Uhuru Peak (19,341′), 2.0 mi.

All the planning, training, and anticipation has led to this moment… the moment we step out of our tents at the Kosovo Base Camp into the frosty air at 16,010 ft, just 2 miles of trail, but still a very steep 3,331 ft below Uhuru Peak, the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We begin our summit attempt promptly at 1:00 a.m. layered in every piece of clothing we have to protect us from the cold we expect to encounter further up the mountain. Just days ago we were in the rain forest, enjoying balmy temperatures and lush vistas. So much has changed… the terrain is rocky and bare, with no discernable vegetation. It’s probably best that it is nearly pitch black as we slowly exit camp and begin the final push to the summit. There is a hint of moonlight through the wispy clouds, just enough that we can make out the contours of the challenge ahead.

The long climb in the dark

Due to the elevation, we are being very deliberate about our pace, maintaining the strict “pole-pole” pace (pronounced “poh lay poh lay”), which means “slowly, slowly” in the Swahili language of our guides. The pace is great for making this very difficult climb achievable, and surprisingly we warm up fairly quickly and begin to strategize about which layers to remove at the first break. Athumani has set a strict schedule that allows for a three minute break every hour, with the plan to reach Stella Point (the point that marks the crater rim and where the trail significantly flattens) at 5 a.m. From there. it is one more hour to Uhuru Peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro at 19,341’.

Stella Point… the point where the hard climb is over

This is a tough climb given the elevation, steepness, and lack of sufficient sleep. But, this is what we signed up for when we chose this adventure… we knew it would be hard, and at times uncomfortable, knowing that all the pain and suffering are worth it in the end to stand on the breathtaking summit of Kilimanjaro. Our mantra for the summit push is: “Embrace the Suck” a term I learned from my friend Jesse… simply stated, it means: To consciously accept or appreciate something that is extremely unpleasant but unavoidable.

The route is steep and the trail seems to ascend endlessly into the dark ahead. All we can see is the few feet in front of us, illuminated by our headlamps and the reflection of ice crystals in the frost covered lava rocks. We are definitely reliant on our trekking poles to stabilize us and support us from falling during the occasional foot slip in the loose scree. The pole-pole pace helps us to move steadily, albeit slowly toward our goal, but the thin air and the cold are the predominate factors.

For this nighttime push to the summit, we have packed light. No sense in carrying any extra weight than absolutely necessary. The heaviest thing in our packs is the one liter of water that is packed inside the pack to prevent it from freezing. We hydrate and snack during our scheduled breaks.

There are three additional guides assigned for the summit climb, ensuring one guide for each of us if assistance is needed either going up or down.

Heading to the summit on the crater rim

After four hours of steady climbing in the dark, we finally crest the crater wall and see the frost covered sign that marks Stella Point. This in itself is a significant achievement, both emotional and uplifting. From here it is a relatively easy climb along the crater wall with steep drop offs on both the left and right. Behind us to to the east the sun is brightening the morning sky. Finally after nearly five hours of tremendous effort, we arrive at Uhuru Peak, the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro and the highest point on the African continent. We are exhausted but thrilled to be sharing this moment.