Like most vacations, I wish I could go back. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
I never did find out the name of the flower whose nighttime scent welcomed me to Africa. As I deboarded the plane in Tanzania and walked across the tarmac, and the aroma was spicy and pleasant in the dark.
Day 1: Shira I camp (3550m/11,686ft)
Day 4: on our way to Lava Tower Camp
Dust was everywhere. It was windy everywhere. Our noses ran and dried up and were raw, and we practically choked on dirt and sand. It was cold at night and in the early mornings, but once the sun came out it became rather toasty.
Each time we reached a new high altitude (a record we would break daily), I marveled that I was higher than the tallest peak in my state, higher than I'd ever hiked before on three continents, and that mountains around the world can be so vastly, beautifully different at the same elevations.
Everybody but me took Diamox. I tried it once on Day 4, but it made my vision blurry so I stopped. Three of us had emergency oxygen, which I tested during an acclimatization hike on Day 4 and used for about an hour on summit night until it broke. Maybe that was kismet after all: in the end, I underestimated my own lung capacity and adaptability because as long as I walked pole-pole and followed our head guide Mussa's advice to "Walk at your own pace," I didn't need the backup oxygen. If it's possible to owe a debt of gratitude to a mountain, there's a part of me that thanks Kilimanjaro for teaching me not to cop out so easily or question my own abilities. I made it to the summit on my own, at my own pace.
Day 6: Barafu Camp (4600m/15,091ft),
less than 8 hours before summit push
I had enough layers on both my upper and lower body to keep me warm, but during the coldest wee hours of the morning I honestly thought I might lose my fingers and toes to frostbite. My godsend of a guide, Julian, kept saying "The sun is coming, don't worry. Keep going."
|Day 7: sunrise at about 6:15am, after|
7-8 hours of climbing in the dark
Reaching the crater rim at the top was the first tangible milestone. Like Rainier's Muir Snowfield, it is seemingly close but a never-ending anguish; like St Helens above the tree line, it is nothing but ash and pumice boulders and a humbling testament to the Earth's geological forces.
Day 7: Uhuru Peak, the summit of
Climbing Kilimanjaro and going on a safari (accomplished three days later in Kenya with close friends from college) have been on my bucket list since before I knew what a bucket list was.
Somewhere back in time, teenage me feels the eerie tug of a future unknown accomplishment. The intervening twenty years will teach her that, through 6 deaths and 7 births, anxiety and depression, love and loss, two lessons from the rooftop of Africa can reorient her.
The sun is coming. Just walk at your own pace.