When I hugged my Dad at the summit, I asked him, “Is THIS what you wanted? You crazy bastard!”
63-years-old and he wants to climb a mountain…
I told my Dad, I told Subash, and I told our guide Jonas – this was the single greatest day of my life…
It sounds cliche to say, “I can’t even begin to explain how bla bla…” but I truly won’t be able to convey to you all what this trek was like.
Of course, that won’t stop me from writing 1,600 words on it!
Day Five and Day Six blended together in an odd and almost cruel way.
We hiked to Camp Five on Sunday – School Huts, and then went to sleep at about 7:00PM.We awoke at 11:00PM and got our gear in order. We all tried to choke down a cookie or two as the nausea was at its peak, and then at about 12:15AM on Monday morning, we began our trek.We left from School Huts and headed for Hans Meier Point. That’s 1.8 KM away.
I’m what you might call a “goal-driven” person, so when we were staring a brutal 4.8 KM, seven-hour trek in the face, I broke it down into smaller pieces.
To Hans Meier Point – 1.8 KM
To Gilman’s Point – 0.8 KM
To Stella Point – 0.7 KM
To Summit – 1.5 KM
The final assault on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro is daunting, to say the least. That’s why I broke it down into the four “goals” above.
It was kind of neat at first – wearing those head-torches and trekking in the moonlight, but as the elevation rose, we slowed to a crawl.
My Dad was having trouble with the terrain at first. He has no ACL in his left knee and he’s not good at pivoting or contracting the knee joint like when you step up onto a giant rock face!
So by 2:00AM, we had yet to reach Hans Meier Point. I had asked Jonas to keep us informed as to where we were, and how far we had to go.
At 2:30AM, my Dad finally said, “Jonas where the hell are we?”
Jonas said, “We are 0.6 KM from Gilman’s Point.”
At 16,000 feet, I wasn’t thinking clearly. I didn’t realize that he said “Gilman’s Point” as I was waiting for Hans Meier! It was a blessing in disguise – we had already passed the first checkpoint!
But then, everything changed.
We had 0.6 KM to the top of Gilman’s Point, which doesn’t sound that bad.
But the terrain was something out of this world.
Look up “Skree” on Wikipedia, since I can’t do it from my Blackberry in Africa.
Skree isn’t quite sand, and it isn’t quite rocks. It’s like a mixture of sand and pebbles, and it’s impossible to walk in.
The skree was about five inches deep and you can never get your footing. Every time we took three steps, we’d only net out with ONE! It was like walking on an escalator the wrong way…
Now at close to 17,000 feet, we were already moving with one step per breath, which is brutally slow. But when your steps don’t go anywhere – that’s slower than slow – that’s just not moving at all!
We were all tired, but for some reason, I seemed be the weak link.
And after two hours in the skree and moving only 200 meters – I had given up.
I’ll admit it – I did not see any way how I could hit the summit.
I fell several times just from lack of energy, and our guides had to pick me up.
I probably gave up about a hundred times in my head, and every thought was negative.
But as you all know, I didn’t give up.
The man is a rock.
He’s 63 years-old and he just kept on moving. If he had said to me, “David, I can’t do this,” I probably would have opted out with him.
But he never did, and he never would.
The man is a stone cold killer.
I remember at my brother’s wedding after I delivered a tear-jerking best-man speech, and everybody in the room was in tears – about 119 out of 120 people.
My brother and I were bawling and my Dad came over and calmly reminded me, “Remember now, buddy, you’re only half-way there. You’ve got a job to do – you’ve gotta see this MC thing through to the end.”
Nothing fazes the man.
And after three hours in the skree as we approached Gilman’s Point, he had the same breathing, the same pace, and the same sense of optimism.
He was the reason why I reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Now I’m not going to lie and say that this summit was easy. It took us almost nine hours, and I’m sure some people can do it in four. But not everybody can serve a tennis ball like Roger Federer…
Our guide, Jonas, basically pushed me up the final 100 meters. I was DONE and I think he knew this, so he walked behind me and pushed on my waist.
But I was barely moving.
Remember the scene in Kill Bill when Uma Thurman can’t walk and she talks to her feet: “Now, wiggle your big toe.”
That’s how I felt. Jonas would say, “Dabed my brotha, just three steps a-please.”
I would look at my foot and wonder why it wasn’t moving! There were many instances where my own foot faked me out by flinching but not taking a step.
The thing I should mention about the 0.7 KM to Gilman’s Point is that it’s 39-degrees in slope, thus you have to zig-zag across the mountain. You aren’t doing 0.7 KM – you’re probably looking at double!
The last 200 meters before Gilman’s is all rock face. I never thought I had a hope in hell of getting through it.
And at about 6:00AM, the sun came out, and it was like a whole new trek.
We reached Gilman’s Point at 6:45AM – it took us about four hours and fifteen minutes to hike up a 0.7 KM hill.
It was the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
I started to cry as soon as I sat down.
Jackson handed me a Red Bull, and after one sip, the can had a mysterious red liquid on it. Apparently, the wind can rip your lips right off at 17,000 feet, and mine were bloody beyond belief!
All I had consumed in the last six hours were three Power-Bar Gels, and now I was washing them down with some taurine! Yummy!
And upon sitting there on a rock at Gilman’s Point, very emotional, and obviously dead-tired, suddenly I said to myself, “We’re gonna summit. Yeah, we are.”
I had basically conceded defeat hours earlier, but now we were at the top of the mountain crater, and all we had to do to reach the peak was basically walk around the outside of the former volcano.
We were only 2.2 KM from the summit, and suddenly everything seemed peachy.
Would you believe that it took only a little over two hours to complete the last two legs of the hike? Gilman’s, to Stella, to Summit.
We arrived at the roof of Africa just before 9:00AM.
I cried, again, and gave my Dad a hug.
Our guides broke out in song, as they always do, and to my surprise, they presented me with a few unexpected birthday gifts – including the Warrior garb I’m wearing in yesterday’s photo.
We stayed on the roof of Africa for about ten minutes snapping off as many photos as humanly possible.
At 19,334 feet, we were all stoned beyond belief.
While walking the final 200 feet, Jonas asked me, “What’s your name, where are you from, are you married, what route did we take…”
You can get really messed up at 19,000 feet!
I wouldn’t quite say that the high wore off, but at some point, it occurred to us that we had to get back down the mountain!
When we asked Jonas what route we’d be taking, to our surprise, he said, “Same way we come up!”
From the Summit to Gilman’s, which was two hours and change on the way up, was only about an hour on the way down.
But then Gilman’s reared its ugly head again. It took about three hours to get down, and we arrived at Kibo Huts with roughly 13 hours and 12.4 KM on the odometer.
But you know what?
Not only was it the best birthday, I’ve ever had, it was the greatest single day of my life.
Tomorrow we trek 20 KM back to Marangu Gates, and get in a van, and go home.
Its been an interesting week with lots of ups and downs and new experiences.
But you know what I’m looking forward to the most when I get back to the hotel?