By guest blogger and sculptress, MaryAnn Eikens – www.maryanneikens.com

We woke shortly before 10 p.m., after sleeping 3 or 4 hours at Kibo Hut: 15,530 feet above sea level and the final stop before attempting the summit.   At 11 p.m., under a  pitch black sky, with a layer of fresh snow under our feet; we set out wearing all of our layers of warm clothes.  A beautiful still night – but very cold.

We started up the switch-back trail across the scree; which is loose rock and dirt, in single file.  It was hard to see much more than a few feet with our head lamps. We were one of the first of many groups to start the climb, and after a while we could see all these other lights snaking up the mountain below us.  I heard the guides softly singing around me as we kept going up.  I had to focus on each step and each breath, or I would start to get light-headed and loose my balance.  At Kibo, my oxygen saturation level was 77 which is quite low, and it was only getting harder to catch my breath as we went up.  I had no sense of time or place as we continued on to Gilman’s point.  To get to Gilman’s Point we had to climb many steep rocky switchbacks, sometimes more like scrambling on rocks than hiking up a trail.

Arriving at Gilman’s point (over 18,000 ft.) felt like a major accomplishment.  Though it was still quite dark; we could see some city lights and mountain peaks below us, and even into Kenya very far away.  We took a break and tried to eat and drink, which was incredibly more dificult at this altitude.  I couldn’t even open the water jar without help.  We set out along the crater rim still going up, but at a more gradual angle.  I felt like I was going slower and slower.  The guide urged me to pick up the pace more than once.  We were rewarded with a spectacular view of the sunrise.  Finally, we got to the short steep trail up to Uhuru Peak, the highest point.  So many others were waiting to summit that we had to get in line and wait our turn.  At the top, we could see the glaciers and the distant African plains, and  the volicanic crater.  I was totally in awe of Redman’s glacier.   At 19,340’, I felt like I was at the top of the world.  After group photos and a break to enjoy the views,  I was totally ready to get to a lower, warmer altitude, and breathe real air again.  Some of the things I was later told I said at the top, I had no recollection of!

By the time we headed down we were broken into 3 or 4 smaller groups with different guides, instead of one large group of 15.  Our group got back to Gilman’s Point and  past the rocky switchback area, and decided to run straight down the scree!  This we so much faster and easier than the slow switchbacks that you could really fly, on the edge of being out of control.  Paul and I ended up going ahead and were first back down to Horombo hut.  We had covered 15 miles since midnight and having been at such altitude for a length of time we were exhausted, and thrilled to drop into our bunks and sleep at 3 p.m.  One more 15 mile downhill-day and we are back to the Gate with an ice cold Kilimanjaro beer to celebrate our twenty-five years of marriage and one amazing mountain summit.  Oh yeah, with more songs and dancing!

People from 10 years old to 94 have climbed this mountain and you could do it too…

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