Yesterday morning shortly after 6am local time, I stood on the highest point in Africa and watched the sun rise. It was magical.
It had taken us 6 days of trekking to reach the high camp. Mileage-wise, we could have got there sooner, but we had to allow time for our bodies to adapt to the altitude. The peak of Kilimanjaro is at 5895m (or 19,340ft), where the oxygen content of the air is only half what it is at sea level. Even though the ascent is non-technical, i.e. you don’t need crampons, ice axes etc – it’s just a (very) stiff hike – the altitude alone makes it a challenge. I found that even though my resting heart rate was around its usual level of 44 beats per minute, as soon as I did anything remotely strenuous it would sky-rocket to 140+. Doing that for any more than 6 hours a day would have been exhausting, leaving me severely depleted even before attempting the summit. So we took it easy.
The first few days of our trek had started out sunny, with the rain starting early afternoon. But after that the rain had come at any and every time of day, making our campsites into squelching quagmires. We didn’t have enough sunshine to dry out our clothes from one day to the next, so we had to just dress in whatever was least wet (or least smelly). And this was supposed to be the dry season.
Summit Day started at 11pm on 1st Feb. We got up, packed up, and were out of camp by midnight. The moon was just one sliver shy of a full moon, so we hardly needed our headtorches in the bright moonlight. The reason we started so early (or was it late?!) was in the hope that we would have better weather earlier on in the day. But given the excessive precipitation on the way up, I secretly thought it unlikely that we would have any kind of a view from the summit.
My hopes of favourable weather rose as we toiled up across the famous snows. The clouds parted enough to allow the moon and a number of stars to peek through. One of mental snapshots of the day was the moon shining brightly up ahead of us, shining down into the crater of this dormant volcano, highlighting the contours of the rock and snow below us.
6 hours after we had left our high camp, we arrived at the summit at 6am on 2nd Feb. The sunrise was already brightening the eastern sky. We took the obligatory summit photos, and then, just as we were making ready to start our descent, a sliver of pure red appeared. It grew into one of the most spectacular sunrises I have ever seen. It lasted only 10 minutes before another belt of clouds closed in, but those 10 minutes made the 6 days of muddy slogging worthwhile. It was a moment I will never forget – my moment on the roof of Africa.