Kilimanjaro has long had a personal and spiritual significance for the people who climbed it. For me, the snows of Kilimanjaro called to me through the pages of books. And no wonder that Kili continues to challenge and inspire people.
One of the most amazing things about Kilimanjaro is the dreamlike beauty of its landscapes. Starting from lush rainforest, you descend up through heather and moorland, wandering through alpine desert in the mist, and finally reaching the freezing arctic desert at the top.
During this time, you will find yourself camping above the clouds, and looking up at a sky so full of stars like you’ve probably never seen before. The Milky Way stretches out in front of you, clear and bright. And as you look down again over a cliff, your eyes eventually meet the clouds, or on the rare clear night, even the lights of the town of Moshi, many kilometres below you.
The summit night more than any other has a real dreamlike, mystical quality to it. You’re woken up at midnight and leave your camp in the middle of the night. As you make your way up a steep incline, you see little points of light, weaving zig zag up the hill as different groups of people climb up with their head torches. The head torches and the sky full of stars above us were the only points of light on the mountain. It was at this point that our guide began to sing. The tune was in Swahili and sounded like a religious hymn. Between the stars, the moving lights and the solemn music, the moment had this mystical, almost otherworldly beauty to it. You trek through the night, and eventually, the first rays of sun begin to reach you. It is dawn, and you’re almost at the top of Africa. We drink warm sugary tea as we watch the sunrise.
As you reach the summit, the dreamscapes begin to shift, and instead take on a fragmented, confused, almost hallucinogenic quality. The landscape changes into something unexpected, and you find yourself trekking a long, steep, winding road made up of shifting sand. With every step you take, the sand shifts and takes you back down. The path seems nightmarish and endless. Between the lack of oxygen and lack of sleep, everyone struggles up in their own comatose way. For all of us, these are some of the longest hours we’ve ever experienced.
Yet somehow, magically, we reach Stella Point.
From there, the journey is a victory lap – once you’re at the rim of the crater, the walk to the top is an easy one. There is no snow on the path, but to our left, we can see giant glaciers that have over the years slipped down from the top. They look like something out of a fairytale – gigantic structures of frozen castles and cities. I wonder what supernatural creatures exist within them, and what stories they could tell.
And then finally, we are at the top. We rush to take pictures. We have 10-15 minutes before the lack of oxygen gets too much, and we head down. This time we run and slide down the scree that was so difficult on the way up.
The next day I ask people questions about it, and check through pictures. The photos are the only reason that I’m dead certain it wasn’t all a dream.
- The hare, the tortoise and the mountain
- Mountain genetics part 2: Reaching the summit