Summit Night
Mt. Kilimanjaro Glacier
     Sleeping before the summit attempt succeeded like a one-legged man in a kicking contest for me. I lied there,
wide awake, watching the minutes tick by on my glow in the dark Ironman wristwatch. To make it even worse, I
had to lie next to my sleeping beauty of a husband Jarrod, peacefully lost in a restful slumber. Around 11pm I heard
footsteps approaching our tent. It was Florent providing our wake-up call. Time to get dressed and get the party
started. Besides a brief wave of nervousness when I realized it was really go-time, more than anything I was
relieved. These next 14 hours had been a nagging thought on my mind for the last few weeks. How hard will the
summit attempt be? How cold will it be on top of the mountain? Did we bring the right gear? Will we make it to the
top? How will our bodies react at over 19,000 feet? At least now I had the chance to answer all of these questions.
Jarrod and I began the long process of getting dressed. What we unequivocally heard from the climbers who
summited last night was how cold it would be. They recommended if we brought it, wear it. Basically, wear as many
layers of clothing as you can comfortably climb in. With that advice, I donned the following: a heavyweight long
underwear top, a mediumweight long underwear top, a moisture-wicking t-shirt, a long-sleeve button-up hiking
shirt, a fleece jacket and a water/windproof shell. I stuffed my heavyduty down jacket in my backpack to put on
later. On the bottom I pulled on heavyweight long underwear, two pairs of hiking pants and a pair of
water/windproof pants. Along with gloves, mittens and a wool hat, I was set clotheswise. Or so I thought until I
waddled out of our tent and felt cold. I had to remind myself that soon I’d be trudging up a very steep hill and
generating plenty of body heat. It was so bizarre to be setting off on a hike in pitch darkness. I looked to my right,
in the direction of the summit trail, and saw one of the coolest sights. A trail of lights snaking their way up the path
in switchback formation. It was our fellow climbers who were already making their way up the mountain. The lights
were from their headlamps, creating a freeway like scene up the face of the cliff. This sight got Jarrod and I excited
and ready to headout and be a part of the action. We walked up to our porter’s tent for a glass of tea and some
cookies (I managed to keep these down), and before we knew it Florent and Alex told us it was time to go. Alex
was joining us on the summit attempt in addition to Florent. This was in case one of us, Jarrod or I, felt we needed
to turn back. One guide could go back down and the other one could lead the one of us remaining on up the
mountain. This was a terrible thought for us—one of us having to turn around while the other continued ahead—
but better that we were prepared for it than not.

     Florent set the slow and steady pace, followed by me, then Jarrod, with Alex bringing up the rear. When I say
slow and steady, I mean it. Walking at this pace anywhere else would drive you mad, but at this elevation it is
about all you can handle. Even going this slowly, with the incline we were, sure enough, soon generating plenty of
body heat. I could feel the excitement in the cold, clear night air. Although most people were keeping conversation
to a minimum and concentrating on the task at hand, when we passed fellow climbers who we had grown to
recognize and know over the previous five days, we felt a definite sense of community and support. Soon the
tediousness of the climb set in. At least in daylight you have the beauty of the surrounding landscape to distract
you. It was pitch black, besides the two feet illuminated in front of me by my headlamp. I could only see Florent and
the twinkling stars in the sky. After two hours of distracting myself by trying to place my feet exactly in Florent’s
footprints, I began to go to more extreme measures to keep my mind occupied. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I
ran through Madonna’s entire Immaculate Collection repertoire, all of the cheers I could remember from my junior
high cheerleading days (Go Broncos!), and a list of every single person I knew and what I thought they would be
up to at this exact moment in time. After the climb, I shared this little personal tidbit with Jarrod. When he stopped
laughing, he told me he had a different strategy. Basically, he manned up to the mountain. While I was running
through “Papa don’t Preach” Jarrod was telling Kilimanjaro mountain “I own you!”. To each his own.

     After four hours the cold and the elevation began to take a serious toll. Despite my fleece gloves and heavy
duty trekking mitts I could no longer feel my thumbs. The terrain had also taken a turn for the worse. The steep
incline had now been joined by scree and loose sand making it difficult to keep your footing. I was having
flashbacks of climbing the sand dune in the Sahara desert. We started taking more frequent breaks, although it
was hard to stay awake when we did stop. I know that sounds weird, but with the lack of oxygen up there, the
only thing your brain wants to do is close down and go to sleep. I nodded off a few times while standing up leaning
on my poles. When we stopped to refuel we found our energy bars were now rock hard, frozen solid. After trying to
gnaw off a corner and getting nowhere I ripped open a packet of the energy gel I swore I’d never eat. The gooey,
sickeningly sweet gel did the trick. We continued on up the mountain, now within an hour to and hour and a half of
Stella Point, the first peak we would reach on Kili’s summit. I asked Florent to give me updates every thirty minutes
on how much longer we had. We were close enough that I knew I would make it, but I was definitely running low
on energy at this point. With each step I could feel the burn in my legs, and each rock I passed looked like a good
place to take a quick nap. All of a sudden, I heard shouts of celebration raining down from above. Florent turned
around and told us that we were almost there. We powered up the last, steep incline and found ourselves greeting
the sun just peeking over the clouds from the top of Kilimanjaro.
After six hours of slogging uphill we reached Stella Point on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in time to see this beautiful sunrise.
     The whoops of congratulations surrounded us as we celebrated with fellow climbers and guides. We had just
reached Stella Point, which is the first milestone on Mt. Kilimanjaro's summit. Despite the excited chatter and click of
cameras around us, the air had a serene atmosphere. The gentle light radiating from the rising sun, the
undisturbed snow fields surrounding the peak, and the crystal clear sky above the clouds made us feel like we had
entered hallowed ground.  From Stella Point it is another arduous 45 minute hike to Uhuru Peak. Uhuru Peak is the
official highest point on Mt. Kilimanjaro, and is the spot where the famous wooden sign proudly proclaiming
“Congratulations you are now at Africa’s
highest point” stands. Despite the fatigue we
were just experiencing a few minutes ago, we
were re-energized by reaching Stella Point and
decided to push on to Uhuru. Never had 45
minutes felt so long. With each bend in the
trail or crest of a hill I prayed to see that darn
wooded sign on the other side. My legs now
felt like jelly and I was having serious issues
with walking in a straight line. The wind was
howling up here as there was literally nothing
to break its path around us. Kili’s famous
glacier stretched out to our left. This glacier
put the one we were mesmerized by in
Norway to shame. It dominated the landscape
on that side, with sinister crags and crevices
carving through its side. It has to be seen to
be believed. Finally we came upon the wooden
sign. I could hardly believe it. We had made it
to the end of, or top of, the path. This was it. I
don’t think anyone really knew what to do. We
pulled out our camera, which thankfully had
not frozen up like a lot of other people’s
cameras. We snapped a few photos of the
sunrise, glacier, and each other in front of the
official sign. I even attempted to record a
movie. You can tell by my voice and lack of
focus how out of it I was at this point. It
makes Jarrod and I laugh to listen to it now.
Check it our for a chuckle.
      Reaching the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro
was the highlight of our trip thus far—the
challenge, the beauty, the excitement of the
     As we made it back to base camp I swore I
would never do something like that again
though.  I was thoroughly exhausted, both
mentally and physically. It was all I could do to
take off my boots.   Jarrod and I sprawled on
the floor of our tent, alternating between
exclaiming how tired we were one minute and
how excited we were to have made it to the
The immense ice field leading up to the glacier on Kilimanjaro's summit.
top the next.  A week later, after
going on a photo photo safari, we
boarded a plane to fly to Zanzibar.
As our plane broke through the
clouds and headed west I spied a
familiar sight. There was Mt.
Kilimanjaro, the only thing visible
above the endless plain of clouds.
Suddenly my adrenaline surged
and I thought perhaps I could be
up for climbing another mountain.
Just not anytime soon.
The official highest point in Africa!
return to tanzania overview         next tanzania journal >