Buns of Steal

Crawling To The Top of Mount Kilimanjaro

I am happy to report that I reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro!! 5,900 meters high, bitter cold and no oxygen. It was far and away the hardest thing I've ever done, and I feel amazing.

I'm not gonna attempt to describe the five day hike up to the summit, because everything—the 3 hour stair master exercise of day two, the revenge of the African intestine gods on days one and two, the marriage proposal (my second one thus far!) from our guide— pales in comparison to the bitter, excruciating seven hour midnight journey to Uhuru Peak, the tallest point in Africa and the final destination of my uphill journey. Curiously, the image that truly comes to mind when describing the ascent is of my old tennis coach Nancy, who used to tell me: "I don't care how you get the ball over the net. Shit, get that ball over the net with your p***y if you have to, just get it done."

Obviously my 14 year old self did not appreciate the commentary, but at this point, it seems pretty apropos. Don't know how I managed to drag my altitude-sick, exhausted body up that stupid mountain, but I think through sheer will power and stubbornness, I managed, step by tiny step, to ascend all the way to the top.

We started at midnight from Barafu Campsite (Basecamp). When we asked our guide, "Why midnight?" he replied, quite earnestly, that if we saw the upward path in the daylight we would never venture up. He was completely right. We began at a slow shuffle, and at first it was all okay. I ignored my altitude headache, the cold and the fatigue. But soon, another symptom arose that I could not as easily ignore: dizziness. Bad. As in, I can't see in front of me. I found out later this is a symptom both of hypothermia (it was about 0 degrees on the mountain) and of moderate altitude sickness.

So there we were, our guide Izzy, me, and the others behind me, with nothing but our headlamps to illuminate our path up the jagged rocks, past the groups of collapsed hikers, who were alternating between sobbing and retching, huddled over as their guides attempted to pump them with oxygen. I looked only at Izzy's shoes ahead of me, since looking away would mean inevitable collapse. Interestingly, the others were doing much better: not as dizzy, not as winded, and generally better fit to complete the trek.

Soon it became worse, and I started shivering uncontrollably. Next came an incredibly strong desire to just lay down and go to sleep, right on the bald blistery face of the mountain. Curiously, this sensation jolted me awake as I recognized it to be the beginning of an onset of serious hypothermia. By this point, there was no more air to be had: we were at about 5,300 meters and the oxygen was so rare every breath felt like it ripped a layer from my lungs.

Izzy knew there was no way I was turning around, but at this point, he took me by the shoulders, peered into my eyes, and asked: "Will you make it?"

Afterwards, I understood his concern: A told me that my pupils had dilated so much that my eyes were completely black, and could not focus on a single thing in front of me.

I couldn't answer Izzy so I shook my head in a motion I hoped he understood as affirmative, and continued on.

Step by step. Inch by inch. For about 20 meters I crawled, and at one point I almost cried. But seven excrutiating hours later, there I was, at the top of the world (or at least the continent), too exhausted to take photos (thankfully Izzy took my camera and snapped some for me), thoroughly humbled, demoralized, happy to not be dead from AMS or from a heart attack, and thrilled to have achieved something that two months ago seemed like half joke, half wish.

I think the proudest point for me, is that, four hours into the ascent, I had hit my absolute wall: you know it well, the wall where you couldn't see in front of you, you can't breahte, and you literally fall down on the ground from exhaustion. My legs would not move any more. I couldn't lift my hands because they were shaking so much from the cold. And yet I continued, for 3 more hours after the wall was reached: just bumping up against it, step by step, moving it inch by inch, until I reached the wretched top. I had never done this before: I had hit the wall and continued for 2 minutes,. 5 minutes, 10 minutes. But never, ever, this long and this hard. It was definitely the hardest I've pushed myself, and nice to know what my absolute limits can be.

Uhuru Peak!


so amazing. yay!!!!

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