In what seems like no time at all, I hear Lorien’s voice outside our tent. Time to get up. It is 10:30pm. It is time. It is so cold. I am tempted to wear all the clothes I have. But we have on quite a lot as it is. As Dickson had stated, we have five layers of clothing up top, three layers at the bottom, at least three pairs of socks with the first one being a new clean pair we have not used before, balaclavas, hats, inner and outer gloves. I put sunscreen on and keep in my ruck sack my sunglasses for the top. My headlight is on. I’m as ready as I will ever be. Other climbers are also up at this time as well to get started. As usual the guides are ready in record time. Kelly and I look at each other with knowing expressions and girly exclamations. This is it.
We get going. It feels like every 10 to 20 steps I have to stop to catch my breath. It is so annoying. My breathing is challenging. Dickson takes lead, Kelly follows him, I am next and Lorien is behind me. I am getting slower, breathing is harder. It is so annoying. Is this what it is like for asthmatics? Lorien goes on ahead with Kelly and Dickson falls back to see guide me. Before he leaves me, Lorien says ‘yeeeeeeaaahhhhh, you will make it’…
My journey to the summit is unbelieveably slow. It is still dark. I look up and all I can see are the headlights seeming to go up to the heavens in a staggered line of lights to meet the stars. Kelly is long gone with Lorien. I assume she was one of those lights. So many guides and climbers pass me by. I give them way. They encourage me to continue. The guides say ‘pole pole rasta, you can make it. Do not think of those before you. You will make it sister, you are a strong sister with African roots’. I can still hear their words, their smiles of encouragement, the pats on my back, the squeeze on my arm. Absolute strangers offering me words or touches of encouragement. I say my thanks. Asante sana. I know I will make it. There is no alternative for me. Me getting to the top is never in doubt. WHEN I make it to the top. Now that is the question. Dickson waits as I catch my breath for the umpteenth time.
I see guides heading back down the way we came with one or two climbers. They could not have made it as this is not the route down once you have made it to the summit.
I remembered a conversation with Dickson about why he was a guide during the first or second day. He said he loved doing it and he loved the mountain. At the time I told him ‘It is great to have a job you are passionate about’. This is whilst we were in the serene forest climate. Now? in this Arctic penguin preferred conditions? I tell Dickson, ‘You are crazy to be doing this all the time!’
Still climbing. As we ascend, the cold does not bother me. Maybe the challenge to breathe gives me some warmth. Or maybe my tunnel vision makes me indifferent to the cold. My world and existence is reduced completely to three things and three things only now; breathing, following Dickson and the summit. The summit. I repeat it in my mind like a mantra or a prayer; the summit the summit, I will make it to the summit. We climb for hours, over rock increasingly covered with snow.
The sun rises. Dickson and I are still going. He continues the slow pace. How is this man so patient? If it was any other guide, they would have given up by now. But he is not giving up on me. And more importantly, I am not giving up on myself. At no point will I say ‘I have had enough. I want to go back down.’
And there it is! I make it to Stellar’s point! Such a relief! But no rest. Just enough to take a picture and then onwards forwards. A further hour or so to Uhuru’s peak, the highest point of Africa. The route to Uhuru’s peak reminds me of the beginning of Alien vs Predator with Sanaa Lathan. I see the unbelievably big glacier on my left, this magnificent and daunting wall of ice as I walk with Dickson. This is more of a leveled walk than climbing. Everywhere is covered in ice. So different from the forest climate at the start of our climb on this mountain. I wear sunglasses to prevent blindness from the light reflected on the ice. I see other climbers returning and they tell me I am almost there. The sense of camadarie amongst climbers is so refreshing at this height. The ones who have made it urging you on and you want to urge others on. You are almost there, you can do it.
And there it was. Uhuru’s peak. I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life. I was exhausted but there it was. My goal and dream for so so long. I wanted to hug the damn notice board. I take pictures, with Dickson with my St. Lucia flag. I need proof that I did it, that I was here on the roof of Africa, the highest point of the continent. I thank Dickson profusely for slowing down,waiting and staying with me. He grins and says I am happy to share this with you. There are other climbers with large grins on their faces. We all have this foolish grin plastered on our faces. We all know what it took to get here. And with these strangers at that time, I share a bond. We made it to the summit. We are at this point together. And the struggle of the climb to the top of Kilimanjaro seems like child’s play compared to the descent and what was to come.