In this final part of the story of my ascent of Kilimanjaro we pick up the story as I am standing looking at the most beautiful sunrise that I have ever witnessed, The deep clear colours are something that I can’t do justice to in words or in the photos that we all took. You had to be there to appreciate the beauty, especially as that beauty was allied with the physical, mental and emotional stresses of climbing at altitude through the cold darkness of the early hours. To be greeted by such pure colour was astonishing, but then I had another dimension to add to that equation – The Kilimanjaro Dragon.
At Gilman’s Point the temperature began to climb very slowly, but our guides soon moved us on. It was still cold, and sitting still at this altitude – some 5685 metres – was not an option for long. A tough decision was made. Though I was very tired I would struggle on to the summit. You can’t come 95% of the way and then not get to the end. Well, that’s how the reasoning went in my head at that moment. All moments are emotional up at that height. Tears are never far from your eyes. Must be the cold wind, right?
As we walked along the crater rim I realised I was walking the spine of the dragon. Sure enough, the terrain began to match the image. The scales of the dragon went up and down, in and out. Sometimes the path was safe, and at other moments you were facing a long drop into a massive crater below. The distances down were vast and almost incomprehensible, and now that the sun was up the perspective was added to the fear factor. Up and down, on the edge, feeling exhausted and occasionally scared. Tip-toe-ing along the dragon’s spine, trying not to wake a beast from slumber.
Next waypoint was reaching Stella Point. This is a point where two paths meet, but more importantly from my perspective it signified the start of the neck of the dragon. This was the hardest part – very steep and difficult to breathe. Each step felt like a Herculean task.I was now exhausted, and one of the guides spotted that I was struggling. He offered to carry my pack, but I refused. Either I was going to make it on my terms or the dragon would end up laughing at me. This was my battle with the dragon. I was St George today, and I was going to succeed. The wonderful guide set a pace for me, and I continued with my laborious task. One more step. Just one more. Now another.
Ururu in sight
At the top of the ridge you are climbing along the neck looking for the head of the dragon. Suddenly there is a sign and you know you have arrived! The emotional outpouring, the release, the sense of overcoming adversity if immense – like nothing I have ever experienced. Head to toe emotion. Many tears.
At that moment there was no head space, breathing space, or spare time to converse with the dragon. I try to tune in briefly and feel a grudging feeling of respect from this immense Spirit of Place, but I am very quickly forgotten and ignored again. The summit is its own reward if you are a human, Don’t expect anything from the dragon. We are all too small.
The path down is faster, but still very tough. At that altitude every movement is difficult, and it wasn’t until we all got past Gilman’s Point that we began to feel better. We could descend at speed, sliding down the slope’s scree that had seemed so difficult only a few hours before. Now we practically skied down, and in the heat of the mid morning this felt like a huge relief.
On the way down the path from the highest huts to the middle set of huts, after having one hour’s sleep, I thought that perhaps I was dreaming. I saw a cloud over Kili that looked like a dragon. When I turned around a second time a few minutes later the cloud had moved to the other peak – Mawenzi. This time I had the presence of mind to get it photographed as the dragon’s head slowly morphed into the shape of Kilimanjaro itself. It was an astonishing moment!
Clearly, the dragon spirit of Kilimanjaro was present and communicating with me on this journey. I’ll never forget it,