Friday, June 20, 2014

Why Do We Climb at Night?

On each of the seven days of our Kili climb we hiked for a minimum of six hours.  As I said in a previous post, I forgot to keep notes, but if I remember correctly this was the rough schedule of our climb (I am confident most of these start/end times are correct):

Day 1- depart entry gate at 12:30pm, arrive camp 6pm
Day 2- depart 8am, arrive camp 2:30pm
Day 3- depart 8:30am, arrive camp 4pm
Day 4- depart 8:30am, arrive camp 3:30pm
Day 5 (Part A)- depart 8am, arrive camp 12pm
Day 5 (Part B)- depart 11pm, hike all night until sunrise, keep hiking until you have had enough, and then return back to camp sometime on Day 6 between 7am and 10am
Day 6- return from hiking through the night on Day 5, sleep a few hours, then depart 2:30pm, arrive camp 4:30pm
Day 7- depart 7am, arrive exit gate at 1pm

During one of our evening chats Tom and I wondered why it was necessary to attempt the summit at night.  Well, in the wee hours of the morning on Day 6 we found out: If people saw how far they had to go they would never make it.  It is a total head game.

On summit night I was so sick and miserable I couldn’t wait for it to be over.  It is hard to walk because you have so many layers on to stay warm and then you are trying to climb over huge rocks, many of which are slippery and icy.  And the wind seems to never end.  My dad coached both me and my brother in lacrosse when we were younger and the one thing he would constantly tell us was, “always keep your feet moving, never let them stop even if you are moving in place.”  I tried to repeat that to myself over and over again on that night.  I also thought about lots of other things.  I think I was slightly delirious at times, but I remember thinking about how I had to write a funny blog post about the freezing pain I was in at the time, how I was looking forward to moving home in a few weeks, and debating what color nail polish I should select when I got a long awaited manicure and pedicure as a reward for climbing Kilimanjaro.  I think the nail polish debate may have lasted a very long time: It’s summer in the U.S. so I will be wearing flip flops when I go back.  Maybe I should get red like I normally do, but splurge and add some flowers.  Or maybe I should go for a fun color.  Hey! Kelly! Remember that time you painted your toenails blue and then had N* in yellow for Navy when Tommy was playing lacrosse?  Maybe you could do that.  But if I got blue on my toes, what would I get on my fingers?  I didn’t say these were deep thoughts, simply thoughts which let me know my brain hadn’t frozen.

In the end I did not reach the summit.  I turned back about 400 meters short of the peak (so I climbed 94% of Kilimanjaro- but I am a professor after all and that equals a grade of an A).  I cried as I made the decision to turn around, but it really was the best choice for me.  I had been incredibly dizzy and my depth perception was completely messed up so I was tripping and having a very hard time keeping my balance.  On top of that it was blizzard like conditions and my energy was zapped.  Initially I was disappointed, but the next day when I heard there were six evacuations off the mountain and someone had died that night I was sure I had made a wise choice.

The one thing I will say about the guides is that they really know how to assess your condition and then give you just enough information to help you make the decision that is best for you.  My guide on summit night was Willie.  He kept checking my eyes and while he didn’t say anything to me about how I was doing, he knew.  When I was wavering about whether or not to turn back he told me, “IF you keep going and can’t make it then it will be difficult to get you off the mountain safely the higher we go.  And IF you do make it to the top we are going to have to bring you down in a stretcher.” As soon as I heard I would be brought down on a stretcher I decided to sacrifice my pride instead of my dignity.  I hiked back down on my own, I did not catch a ride in one of these:
The three AF boys all made it to the top and I am happy for them.  But none of them stayed more than five minutes and you couldn’t see a thing in their pictures.  So in a way I don’t really feel as if I missed out on too much in the end.


  1. For your next pedicure.
    Have the letters MK on one big toe and a drawing of the mountain on the other big toe:)

  2. Excellent idea! Thanks Anonymous.