“Above the clouds”
Comments and pictures by Kasia Janota:
Kilimanjaro is an exceptional mountain - the tallest mountain in Africa, an extinct volcano, a distant and desolate place above the clouds written about by Hemingway. In retrospective, Kilimanjaro was the highlight of the whole trip across Africa and I would recommend the climb to everyone.
The climb was totally exhausting. We started around midnight and reached the top after 7 am. Without wearing crampons, I followed Ben my tour guide in small steps on a hardly visible and narrow path. Initially it was dirt and rocks, later just rocks, and near the top snow and ice. It was so dark and uneven that we had to use flashlights. There was no single soul of any kind while the air was pure and freezing. I was thinking that being there on the edge was far more risky than living on the edge below.
And below surrounding plains were peacefully stretching and setting the boundaries of the horizon. The wind and cold were getting worse while gaining in altitude. Although I was covered thoroughly with multi-layered warm clothes, I was freezing. Meanwhile my face was covered with some sort of “fancy” masque of sweat and saliva and would not show any smile that might have been used for the pictures.
The breathtaking moment was on the edge of the mountain somewhere in the midpoint, when sunrise brought beauty of pinks, yellows and reds on the horizon. The silence held though. No sounds of animals or people followed therefore being there was so unnatural.
Then there was Stella Point. There were neither people drinking champagne snacking on shrimps with guacamole nor anyone to give us high five. Instead, I saw a huge crater, frozen in time just like everything else around and rocky foundations that filled characteristic valley-like bottom. All was covered by icy snow. Then Ben said that it was not the top, only Stella Point. Uhuru Peak was yet to be reached on the other side of crater.
Not too many people are aware of glaciers that are located to the left on the way from Stella Point to Uhuru Peak. Huge mountains of ice and snow, a carved masterpiece accomplished over time by wind and sun. Who would have thought that in Africa one might feel as if at the North Pole.
When I reached Uhuru Peak, I stood supporting myself on the two poles because I had no strength to stand on my own. I felt completely drained out of energy and I was dizzy. There was a sign made out of few pieces of wood stating that this was the highest point in Africa. I looked around and saw Ben dancing. He yelled: “Come on Kasia! Dance! You made it!”
And I smiled and stood there paralyzed by fatigue and hypnotized by the beauty of the surroundings. Physically I was maimed by exhaustion while mentally I was ecstatic. I saw huge sheep clouds below covering plains and all forms of life and above the blue sky. There were only two colors white and blue that dominated the landscape in the stark silence. The immensity of open space, totally uninhabited and incredibly still, was liberating and at the same time overwhelming. Finally, a passing plane below reminded us about the time to descend.To future climbers, I would strongly recommend taking a pair of polar glasses, because the sun light blinds the eyesight at such high elevations. In addition, the walking poles are worth taking to avoid sliding back and the total ultimate polar cover all over the body is a must. Although the climb is not technical, one death per year is an average and is due to weak physical condition. Frozen bites happen to practically everyone and are not pleasant. Facial frost bites may hurt for at least a week.I want to dedicate this trip to my Mom, who even though thought that I was completely insane to climb Kili, gave me all the support to realize my dream: “Be on my own and above the clouds”.
I would like to thank Tomasz Hilsberg, for putting up with my moods during the whole trip and for lending me his special glasses and poles. I am also grateful to Ben for his last words of support near Stella Point.If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me at [email protected].