Many people start the hike to the summit at midnight for several reasons. Firstly, it is the best time to leave if you hope to reach the summit to see the sunrise. Any earlier and you might be struggling with altitude and cold in the darkness at the top. Any later and you are climbing in the intense equatorial sun. Patrick says that people can get discouraged during the daytime when they see the very slow progress they are making towards the top and there is more oxygen on the mountain at night than in the daytime which makes it easier to reach the summit.
Eight of us left camp and headed to the mountain: Gizaw, Japhet, Blythe, Nelly and I, plus our two guides, Patrick and Timothy and Wambura, our one mgumu (strong person) who made the trek to the summit with us. As we moved towards the path we joined a silent procession of headlamps that were winding their way up the mountain. We moved at a slow pace in order to reduce the risk of altitude sickness and to conserve energy. It felt good to finally get this challenging section of the climb underway. Blythe was the first to experience challenging symptoms about one hour into the climb as she was having stomach troubles and was vomiting. A couple hours in, Japhet became very tired and started stumbling and babbling incoherently. Gizaw and Nelly were struggling with cold hands and Gizaw’s feet were very cold. My main struggle was with my breathing but I was feeling better than expected. I felt nauseous having dinner and cookies so my lack of nausea on the climb was a pleasant surprise. At some point, probably about half-way up the mountain, Blythe was continued to struggle and told us that she thought that she could not continue. At that point, Patrick told Gizaw, Nelly and me to go ahead with Timothy (assistant guide). This was very challenging for me because Blythe and I had wanted to reach the summit together and this now seemed impossible. Patrick hiked with Blythe and Wambura accompanied Japhet, who now seemed quite delirious. So we had now gone from being one trekking party to three.
Timothy’s headlamp had burnt out and so I hiked close behind him and tried to shine my light so that he could see the path. I spent the next several hours applying my strategies of putting one foot in front of the other and moving pole pole. I also sang motivational songs in my head (out loud required too much energy) and thought about the training that I had put in to be ready for this challenge. I remember anxiously waiting for the sky to lighten as we climbed section after section of the mountain. Breathing became more and more challenging and the temperature continued to dip. I began to feel increasingly light headed and worried that I might stumble and fall from drop-offs so I tried to take great care with each footstep and allowed Timothy to set the pace.
Finally Timothy told us that Stella Point was visble and not far. I don’t even remember seeing it. I just continued to put one foot in front of the other until I was there. People have asked me what I did at the top. Stay tuned for my next post.