What Summit Night Is Like When Climbing Kilimanjaro

Photo By: Demetrius John Kessy

Photo By: Demetrius John Kessy

Written by: Apurva Chandra

When you’re woken up by your guide at 10pm from a restless sleep you’re very aware of why it’s happening. It’s happening so that you can depart for Uhuru Peak by 12am and reach the summit by no later than 8am.  You’re also aware that it’s a pretty weird thing to be doing. You’re up at a time when you should be watching Law & Order SVU and getting ready for bed. Instead you’re putting on a headlamp, bundling up with as many layers as you have, and then heading off into the darkness for a relentless 7-hour climb in the bitter cold.

When you begin your final ascent that night, you’re comforted by the fact that you can’t really see how steep the climb is, but also a little concerned that you can’t completely see where your next step should be. At some point during those 7 hours you will also be aware that you haven’t showered in 5 days.

When I was making my summit climb on October 19th, 2013 I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to make it. Every part of me was in pain, I couldn’t feel my fingers, and I felt like the elevation was getting to me. I didn't really have the energy to engage in conversation with the other trekkers, so my only solace was my own mind-set. I had to convince myself that night to keep going. I had to convince myself that pushing forward was the only option, because I was too far up to turn around now.

I felt a lot better around 5:00am when we all reached Stella Point - at 18,828 ft and about an hour away from Uhuru Peak. This is the point where some weary hikers turn around, but fortunately everyone in my group were in good enough spirits to keep going.

As we approached the final stretch I saw the biggest full moon I’ll ever see in my life ahead and on my right - and it was blood orange. It was orange because directly across it the fiery sun had begun it’s steady ascent through the clear blue sky. After being mesmerized by this site I could make out the iconic Uhuru Peak sign in the distance - and as we got closer the ledge opened up and beneath us we saw the massive Arrow glacier running the length of the cliff.

The tears came out shortly afterward and group hugs followed suit.

After an exhausting 7 hour battle of wills to top off a 5 day journey we had made it - and it was a surreal experience. With the aforementioned sun, moon, glacier, and Uhuru Peak sign mixed with the euphoria of accomplishment it all made me feel incredibly blessed. It didn’t feel real. It felt like I was in a movie. But I wasn’t - and it’s a feeling everyone who’s ever been at that point can relate to. My friend Tara said it’s the closest she’d ever felt to God. I felt the same way - and not just because it was the highest point on earth I’ve ever stood on.

As we soaked it all in, we took our cameras out and tried to capture the experience as best we could. Looking at the pictures now the memories come flooding back, but I also know that they don’t do the feeling we had up there justice. No one’s pictures, videos, or blog posts can. You need to go experience it yourself.

I promise you’ll feel like that 10 pm wake-up call was well worth the hassle.