A climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro before the storied snows turn to dust
To reach the summit at the end of a grueling day’s climbing, we needed to leave the comfort of the lodge at an ungodly hour on a sun-scorched morning. We’d arrived in time for breakfast at 5 a.m., only to have to dash early for the final hour of the climb.
On that early morning drive, we crossed a ridge line, passed through patches of dense bush and finally reached our car, parked as we climbed to the top of the first ridge, or, at that distance, the second. At the top of the ridge, we found that the top half of the summit was already lost to us.
It’s a climb that demands the best of us – patience, strength, balance and, most of all, humility. We had each of us come here, a young American couple who had no experience to speak of, and it was our first big mountain climb; we had made it out alive, and we had to admit we felt like fools standing there, crestfallen at our failure.
As it happened, what happened was far different than anyone had ever imagined. When we set out, we thought it was going to be a small, low-key climb, a few hours of hiking along the rim, then a few hours to top out. We figured that if we went, we’d be done by 4 p.m.
We were so wrong. We quickly found ourselves in the middle of a battle zone, where the wind whipped our sweaty clothes, the sky clouded over, and temperatures plummeted. We found ourselves, at times, with nothing but our heads above water. We spent 12 hours at the summit, and it still felt like 12 hours.
But when we arrived, we thought we knew why we had to go at it. Many expeditions climb all 365 miles of Kilimanjaro, as climbers have since the late 1800s; yet we had only climbed one mountain so high. We thought we knew why