Written by: Simon OChen
I can’t feel my toes. I clench my teeth. Layered with two pairs of socks, shorts, long pants, a t-shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, a thermal shirt, a waterproof fleece jacket, a neck warmer, a beanie and a pair of thermal gloves lacking in the thermal department, I am waiting near the top of Mt Meru, 4,561 metres above Arusha National Park, for the sun to thaw out the icicles.
I am an hour early for the sun and just have to wait, sitting on stone-cold rocks, hands shoved deep into my pockets, chin tucked in, hiding away from the cutting breeze.
Below me a couple appears, their flashlights bobbing through the bluish light of the ¾ moon that had escorted us for the last one thousand metres from Saddle Hut.
I had hiked for three days passing buffalo, zebra, warthog and giraffe. For our protection, an obligatory armed ranger led us up the mountain. Up through shady forests. Up through a big-enough-for-a-car-to-drive-through arched base of a giant fig tree, climbing higher into painfully fresh air. I had spent 4½ zigzagging hours of trudging higher, past Spanish moss hanging down from the branches of tall, skinny trees, resembling Colobus monkey tails, until I reached Saddle Hut.
After lunch I rested for my afternoon ascent of Little Meru, a half-hour climb to the 3,800 meter peak. And at 2am I began the gruelling five-hour, 5-kilometre summit of Big Meru’s peak along a a rim-hugging track hidden in the clouds.
Traversing the last five metres, light-headed from the lack of oxygen, I staggered over the rocks as a deep blood-orange coloured in the horizon, silhouetting Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain (and the world’s highest free-standing mountain at 5,895 meters), a third of its peak covered with snow.
A cliff-edge dropped towards Ash Crater, an almost perfect cylindrical cone rising from Meru’s demolished crater, caused by its last explosion in 1910, bringing an end to its volcanic life.
The sun tinted Kilimanjaro with a warm golden light; a warmth that was taking far too long to reach us. Behind us, Meru cast a long, dark, perfect triangular shadow across the Great Rift Valley and the low-lying clouds covering the earth.
It took three days to climb uphill to reach the peak of this majestic rock.
Now to do it all downhill – in just one day.