Summit Day: Day 5 (Friday July 20th)
Summit Day a.k.a the WORST day of my life. Also the best, but mostly the worst. That will make more sense later.
So we woke up at 11pm in the bitter cold (mind you temperatures are below freezing) to eat a quick breakfast before the final ascent. For some reason, I had ZERO appetite and that is not a good thing. Having no appetite is an indicator for altitude sickness. I forced myself to eat two orange slices, but that’s about all I could muster. The others in my group told me to eat as much as I could, but I just didn’t want to. They barely had an appetite as well.
I layered myself in clothing. Three thermal pants, three pairs of thermal socks, winter pants, maybe about 3 long sleeve shirts, a hoodie, a fleece jacket, my big down jacket, gaiters, a scarf, a snowcap. I was stacked and very warm. The freezing cold was no longer a main concern. However, I felt a headache breaching. “Nooo!”
I was viciously sleepy. I could have slept where I stood and I think I did a few times. Nderingo summoned our group to get into a line. Allison was first in line. I was second, Mike was third, Kang fourth, Lana fifth, and Nick was the anchor. And up we went on the snow patched slope towards the summit.
It was pitch dark. All we had were our head torches to see in front of us. We went extremely slow. Pole pole. I needed to. I don’t know what happened to me. Yesterday I felt golden, but now I feel like the start of something terrible. My sleepiness opened up the door to altitude sickness. I kid you not, half of me slept walked up the mountain. We would stop every ten minutes to take a quick two-minute break which I needed badly. And when I say quick, I mean quick. If we rested too long, we would fall asleep and freeze to death. Whenever I stopped for more than a minute, my toes and fingers would grow numb. It happened where I would instantly fall into slumber after pausing momentarily. That’s how insanely tired I was. The lack of oxygen and sunlight didn’t help my case either. The guides tried to give me sugar and chocolates to boost my energy. They literally forced it into my mouth. I had no choice. The others in my group told me no matter what, not to fall asleep. This was torture and I still had so far to go.
As I slugged my half asleep body up the zig zagging slope, a few people in my group decided it was a good idea to start sing-a-long songs. Everything from local melodies to Disney tunes. Then they started to sing “Call Me Maybe”…
That’s when I decided, either I jump off this mountain or I separate from my party. No offense to LX6, my forever mountain family, but I’m gonna do this alone. With little disturbance as possible. The songs were like lullabies and were drowning my eyes even more than what they were. So at the next rest, I went off to find a place to go number 2. I told the rest of my group to go ahead without me; I could take a while. It was the perfect diversion. It was also the coldest poo of my life! Two of the guides stayed behind with me to make sure I stayed alive.
I don’t remember a lot of the night hike because I was sleeping every few minutes. All I could see was that I still had ways to go. I saw my group far ahead; their head torches glistening like stars in the sky. I’ll admit, I stopped a lot. It was so hard to breathe up there. In addition to my breathlessness, my coughs came back a vengeance. The end of each death cough felt like I was going to vomit. My headache grew worse, but it was nothing a little aspirin couldn’t fix. The cold was the least of my worries. The sickness that I had increased ten-fold. I just wanted to sleep for five minutes.
Finally, after hours of zombie-like trekking, the sunlight cracked open the dark starry sky. A sea of light rose from the snowy clouds. I saw blue skies in front of me.
And like magic, my drowsiness wore off. I was still exhausted, but I didn’t feel the need to sleep anymore. However, it was difficult to catch my breath. After every few steps I wanted to lay on the ground and relax to catch air. By this time, my camel-pack has frozen over. I couldn’t drink any water because the hose was frozen solid. No water for this guy! My camel-pack even had insulation covering it, but it was useless. I even did the trick: blow back the water after every time you take a sip so it doesn’t freeze in the hose. I was in such a trance that I forgot to do that a couple of times.
The guides told me once I get to Stella Point (the point before the summit) its smooth sailing from there. They said it was a straight path to the peak. This was extremely encouraging as the last part before getting to Stella was the steepest. The guides literally had to push me up because I was sinking in the gravel with each step. But finally, I made it to the point and joined my comrades who were resting there. I fell to the ground and felt like I could have died right on the spot. They seemed to have an easier time than I did. That’s the thing about the altitude, it doesn’t matter how great of shape you are in, it effects everyone differently. I knew for certain now at this point, the altitude hates me. She hated me in Peru, she hated me even more on this mountain. I laid on the ground and saw my group look as if they wanted to pass out too. Nderingo pointed to the summit of the mountain, Uhuru Peak. The guides lied to me. They told me it was smooth sailing from here. It turns out I have to ascend more but this time through an icy crevice to reach the peak. I motioned for my group to go ahead of me. My guides suggested I go with them but I wanted to rest a bit more before my last trudge up to summit. I caught my breath, stood up like it was my first time standing on my own again, and slugged away.
The scenery changed almost instantly. I was surrounded by masses of snow, ice, and what looked like huge icebergs just hovering in the clouds. I felt like I was an explorer in the antarctic. I literally stopped to look around and thought to myself, “Daniel, what in the hell are you doing up here?”
I saw other trekkers coming from summit with a happy smile on their face. They glanced at me and asked if I was okay. I guess I looked pretty pitiful haha! “You’re almost there! Just a little bit further.” One of the guides told me to put on my sunglasses. I told him no. “You will get snow blindness!” he said. I’ve read about snow blindness before coming up here. Apparently the sunlight gleans off the pure white snow more so at this high elevation which can cause a nasty glare to the unprotected eye. I was too focused on trying to breathe than to worry about snow blindness, but he insisted that I just put them on. I then let him in on a secret of mine. Sunglasses make me motion sick. I know it’s strange. Don’t ask me how or why but they do. I put them on anyways to please them.
As I was hiking, I stopped and just about collapsed on the ground. My energy left me and I was struggling for air. I remember the day before the hike when the guides went over safety precautions and showed us an oxygen tank they will bringing for emergencies. I remember thinking to myself that I won’t be the one needing it. Oh how I wish that was true! They whipped the oxygen tank out of their backpack and strapped it to my face. After a couple of minutes, they asked if I was okay. I felt the same. I’m not sure if the oxygen helped, but I felt like it did nothing. I nodded my head anyways because I was starting to become worried that they were going to make me stop if I said no. So I slugged along. I’ve never felt worse in my life.
It was the last stretch. The guides pointed to the summit but it was hidden in clouds. I knew I was close. So close in fact that I saw most of my group heading my direction. They just left the summit and were surprised to see me. They thought I had passed out and wasn’t sure if I would make it, otherwise they would have waited for me at summit. They thought I was down and out for the count? I couldn’t really blame them, I looked like a dead man walking. They showered me with excitement and momentum. “It’s just right around the corner Dan!”
Each step I made took a little life out of me but I pushed through…and then finally…
I SAW THE SUMMIT!
I threw off my hat. Tossed my sunglasses. Stripped off my scarf and dropped my walking poles at my feet. All of my ill fated symptoms, headaches, coughing, breathlessness…everything went away. I wasn’t even cold. I was fully conscience.
I made it.
I could of cried. Everyone else certainly did. This was by far the hardest thing I have EVER done in my life. I’ve never felt this level of accomplishment before…ever! I was in a state of euphoria. All of this hard work paid off. I was standing over 19,300 feet in the sky and it was the most amazing feeling in the world. 9:20am is the time I clocked in. I was overwhelmed in relief and excitement. It’s hard to explain in words the feeling you get from this.
I can be honest with you. As much as death grabbed me by the legs the entire summit day, not once was I even thinking about giving up. Not even a little. I knew from the get-go that I would make the summit, no matter how long it took me or how hard it was. That small ounce of determination is what I needed to keep me alive and sane. There was no way I could live this down. I literally felt like I was going to die where I stood, but my strive to get to the top was the stronger force in motion. I never looked back. I never gave in. I came way too far to turn around without any consolation. With that, through all the odds, I found sweet success. My sickness before climbing definitely played a part into my struggle. Even if you have the slightest cough I do not recommend you do this. I learned the hard way.
Kili, you put up a good fight…
Now time to get the f*%* off this mountain!