This is the second of a two-part post about an expedition to climb Meru and Kilimanjaro in East Africa and of Sunrises seen from near their summits.
If you missed ‘On the Roof of Africa’ – a general overview of my ascent of Kilimanjaro 5 years ago with Jagged Globe – then you might want to click here to take a look at that for some background information.
And if you missed Part I, posted 2 days ago, of ‘Sunrise over the Roof of Africa’ featuring images of a spectacular sunrise during the ascent of Mt Meru then click here to open that Post in a separate window.
Climbing Kilimanjaro was a totally different experience. It’s height (19,341ft) in itself makes it a serious undertaking, and brings with it the risks associated with high altitude climbing in a remote area where rescue is not easy. On Meru we stayed in basic huts, on Kili we camped. On both climbs, porters carried loads for us including some of our gear, tents, mess tent and all the cooking gear and food.
Our Kili climb took 5 days on one of the more arduous ascent routes. Day 1 was through dense jungle and rain-forest, in mist and light rain, with camp that night in a small forest clearing. On Day 2 we exited the forest and tracked through heath and moorland with our first views of Kili, camping that night at Barranco Camp just short of 4,000M (13,000ft).
Click on any image in this post to see an enlarged version.
Our route then followed the Southern Circuit for the following 2 days across bleak, mainly barren and inhospitable terrain known as high alpine desert. For much of the time we were in swirling mist and cloud cover that obscured views in all directions. The route contoured at about 4,000m but with some steep ups and downs, particularly over the Barranco wall.
We stopped at Karranga Camp at the end of Day 3 where we had up-close views of the formidable south wall of Kili, and then on Day 4 we reached our final camp – Barafu – at 4,600M (15,088ft) in the early afternoon.
Time then to rest, eat, hydrate, and prepare for the summit climb, before retreating out of the cold into sleeping bags to attempt to sleep. I don’t think any of us got to sleep, I know I didn’t.
We were up at 11pm for a hot drink and some high energy bars. Then at midnight it was time to don down jackets, 2prs of gloves, etc, shoulder rucsacs, and set off into the dark for the 4,250ft summit climb. It was a long uphill slog, zig-zagging up through lava fields of small rocks and dusty scree towards Stella Point on the crater’s rim. The night was still and clear with a three quarter moon and a myriad stars overhead, the ghostly shape of Kili far above us. We climbed by the light of head-torches – each of us cocooned in their own personal pool of light. On a climb like this you slot into a metronomic slow pace, breathe-step, breathe-step, trying to keep to an economic stride, maintaining balance, plotting the next foot placement, using trekking poles to provide extra thrust and support. Stay in the rhythm, and bit by bit we gained height. The feet stayed warm, the body stayed warm, but fingers occasionally lost feeling. A flask of what was once a hot drink, cooled with each stop until late in the night it was ice slush – at the point when it most needed to be warm. Those with platypus drinking systems were in deeper trouble with frozen pipes.
We reached Stella Point on the crater’s rim at 5.15am and from there the route eased for the last 1 hour or so. The sky was lightening and Dawn approached through swirling cloud.
Dawn on this mountain was totally different from Meru. On Meru I sat and waited and experienced the ‘drama’ of the Dawn and Sunrise through a clear sky. On Kili, Dawn was the backdrop to progress.
It was wilder, savage and fragmented, but awesome too.
Sunrise too stole up on us, glimpsed in vignettes through the mist: its arrival took us almost by surprise as we doggedly stuck to our task
Getting to the summit was the priority – a bit like Marathon running where you dare not stop in case you never re-start! And also because now we were moving as a team, the ones doing OK encouraging those struggling in the increasingly thin air. Most members didn’t want to stop, understandably. We were all, as they say – ‘in the zone’.
Taking images were grabbed moments on the move, a fiddly business to operate a compact through thick gloves. But I did manage to grab a couple of quick shots on the Sony compact.
Finally we reached the Summit at 6.10am, just over 6hrs after we left camp. A continental summit achieved – one of the seven such summits. The mist was billowing around but finally cleared allowing us a perfect view of the rising sun. There was the obligatory shot to prove one was there and then there was time and opportunity to look around.
At the summit I felt surprisingly good, no problems with the altitude – others were nauseous, suffering headache and feeling chilled. I got the Nikon film camera out and shot the final image – a pure fluke that the flare formed an almost perfect circle – an achievement I suspect I will never equal.
And certainly the experience of sunrise over Africa is something I suspect I will never see again. I would have been happy to linger on the summit but our leader turned us round sooner than I would have liked, because others needed to descend and there were concerns that conditions could deteriorate into a whiteout – thankfully they didn’t.
It was a long way down. We dropped back through Barafu 2.5hrs later where we stopped for a late breakfast and a rest and then we pressed on to Mweka Camp – another 3.5hrs in thickening air. A total drop of 9,200ft on tired legs.
And from there late afternoon we looked up and couldn’t quite believe where we had been early that morning.
You will find more images on my Flickr page: click here for images from Meru and here for images from Kilimanjaro. I highly recommend Jagged Globe to anyone contemplating climbing Kilimanjaro or any other major summit for that matter.