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