I’m hunched over with my head in my hands at 5756m high, rapidly forcing the remaining drops of water out of my desiccated CamelBak. The ringing in my ears and the drumming thuds that haunt my head are an everlasting alarm. My body is caked in the dust that normally coats the mountain and for the first time in my teenage years, I’m fairly elated to be awake so early.
For there is only one place that these problems are treated like a trophy: Mount Kilimanjaro.
For the last seven hours and one thousand meters of elevation, I had been ascending in zig-zag movements under a night’s sky filled with Milky Way and illuminating head torches. As each glow vanished into a misty morning haze, my gruelling vertical trek was over, at least for now.
And that’s how I ended up in this languid, yet remarkable position shadowed beneath the sign of Stella Point.
I’m not the first this morning, but I’m certainly not the last to reach the penultimate benchmark of my trek to the roof of Africa. Porters march on in hope that I’ll remove myself from the desert rock I’m resting on, gazing out in an ambitious attempt to retrieve some of the breath I lost many hours ago.
My view is a vast plateau of a singular path winding downwards into a thick layer of ash-like cloud that is being lit by the twilight sky. I’m looking out for one thing in particular, but the sun has other plans. Instead, the shape of a more conventional mountain summit stands in its way.
“What’s that?” I ask the porters, delaying our journey for a few more minutes.
“The unclimbable Mawenzi Peak, it is too rugged and dangerous to climb” This is a good answer for someone adventurous, as I dazed a little longer, casting my mind to what it would be like to climb it. This is nothing but a pleasant distraction from repetitive, altitudinal vomiting.
More porters pass, as do fellow climbers. In the background: the sound of cascading stones beneath ongoing hiking boots and a thin gust of wind. In the foreground: the porter’s marching chant “JAMBO, JAMBO BWENA!”
Then came no chorus. I’m silent in awe as I stand in the vastness of this remote and gracious peak, as the first of the orange rays appear above distant cloud and land. Night turns to day in a lucid transition that to this day remains the best moment of my life.
The rising sun is my final painkiller, and this natural awakening gives way to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro calling my name. I gear up and put on my rucksack for one last time.
Goodbye Stella. Hello Uhuru.