Much like the night before a big trip, the anxiety kept me from falling into a deep sleep. The wake up call at 5:30 am was not a surprise. I had all my gear lined out, and was out of the tent early. Eggs over easy on dry toast… at this altitude I can not seem to eat very much.
The hike will be split into 4 parts
- Ranger hut up over the first wall – the steepest part
- Walking over the loose rocks and scree to stella point – the longest part that seems never ending
- Stella point to the summit – a short gradual incline
- Celebration at the summit and then walk all the way back down
We make the first Wall with our normal quick pace and ease of breath. When we turn to look behind us, we can see the whole camp. But in front of us there is a moonscape of dirt, straight uphill, for what looks like a million miles. We march in single file, behind Urio (who is not chatting on this portion), heads down, pole pole up we go. One step at a time. Don’t look left, right or up. Peer down at your feet to avoid the rocks that trip you. The trail is a winding switch back through rocks, the trail is a fine dirt loaded with stones. Volcanic Ash. It gets everywhere. I’m glad I have a buff to put over my nose to help keep the dust out. At about 8:00 am we start to see climbers coming in the opposite direction – they are the ones that did not make it to the summit. There are only about 5.
At about 9 am we see a solitary woman outpacing her guide. We recognize her from another group, as we have chatted on the trail previously. She stops when she reaches us, “Oh My God, whatever you do, do not look up! I know you feel like it is impossible, but you will make it. But what you see there, that is not the top, you still have to go further. I made it to the summit, took a photo and said get me the #^@& off this mountain, turned around and got outta there. I left the rest of my group up there.” We passed the balance of her group about 30 minutes later.
At about 16,500 ft we take a break and Kerry is feeling out of breath. We start climbing again, but Kerry is having an asthma attack, and cannot breath. Panic is weird – at first you are frozen – you cannot process what is happening quick enough so you just stand there. But the Guides and Hamisi are at her side immediately – I don’t even see where the oxygen canister came from – but she is breathing O2 and normalizing her breath. In 10 minutes she is better. She wants to continue, so we go on. They call down the mountain to have Justin join us. He carries Kerry’s pack for the balance of the climb. We look at each other and she must see the worry on my face – she assures me she is ok and wants to continue.
Kerry’s second attack comes about an hour later. Same routine, same break, Kerry still wants to go on. I start calculating time. This portion has taken us longer than normal. It is the only portion that we have been super slow. The weather is turning cold and the clouds are catching up. I’m afraid that our summit view will be obscured, and start to bargain with God (don’t we all from time to time?) for some sun and a good view at the summit.
All in all we trudged up that dusty mountain face for 5.5 hours below Stella Point. You have nothing to do but look at the trail, the shoes in front of you, and the rocks. You watch your step. You start to count but after awhile you realize that is not a good idea. This is where most people say bring an iPod loaded with tunes. I start to go over the events of the past year, as it has been a stressful one. This helps. I go over each event, I try to put the year in order, I am re-affirming that a little climb up a hill is nothing in comparison to the trials my husband is facing with his health. I go into my meditative mode, going over all the events that make me angry, and talking myself through the anger, into acceptance, into peace with my life. This is why I hike, run, challenge myself.
We finally are at Stella Point and it starts to snow. We are all putting on jackets and rain gear. We have our FINAL box lunch of an odd assortment of food. This time I leave the fruit and eat the cookies! We look up and can see the summit. So we start again, in the cold mist and snow, past the glaciers, along the ridge, looking into the crater on our right.
And then we are there – Summit. Its sunny, warm, and we can see the glaciers on our left, the crater on the right. It’s beautiful. We take pictures, I call Wayne to tell him I love him and to let him know we made summit. I take my celebratory swig of Whiskey! I cannot believe I make it to the top. The whole purpose of the tip has been fulfilled. It was hard, cold, uncomfortable, and challenging and now it is all over. Or, at least all downhill.
After 20 minutes on the summit, we depart. We were the only group up there save one other hiker and guide. The walk back to Stella point is easy. The balance is harder than I expected. The trail turns back into that volcanic dirt/dust and scree. You sink into it as your foot slides downhill with each step. You turn into each step to control the sliding. Its 2.5 hours of sliding through the dirty, bone jarring dust. I put my buff over my nose and mouth to avoid inhaling the dust – which I estimate would be a full cup of dust in my lungs without that precaution.
When we arrive back to Barafu camp, we all rush to clean up. Then a light dinner and we all fall exhausted into bed.