I pleaded with myself.
One step. Just take one step.
My body was exhausted and my head throbbed. The altitude and quick ascent had caught up with me, leaving everything I’d consumed in the last 12 hours, on the trail.
After 4 days of hiking, we were making the final push to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Like many others on the trail, we began our summit at midnight with hopes of catching the sunrise from the peak.
We were at over 18,000 feet and I knew it wasn’t much longer until we reached the summit.
The challenge was that every step felt like a mile and every boulder, a mountain.
My legs were not cooperating and my stomach continued to turn.
Our guide kept a close eye on me, continually accessing if I was fit to continue. It was a painfully slow and laborious few hours and I was happy to have someone experienced with me.
Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest mountain. The summit, referred to as Uhuru Peak, stands at 5,895m or 19,341 feet. Most people hike Mt. Kilimanjaro in 5–8 days and this rapid ascent it what can make it difficult. With less time to acclimatize and get accustomed to the reduced oxygen in the air, hikers run the risk of acute mountain sickness (AMS). Despite taking diamox to help with altitude sickness, I was experiencing a low to moderate form of AMS, with common symptoms like nausea, headache, fatigue, and vomiting.
As I reached the summit and looked out over the sea of clouds, I could see the sun had already begun to peek through the clouds. For a brief moment, I was transported out of my sick and achy body and into the breathtaking beauty that surrounded me.
I had done it.
The celebration was short-lived when I keeled over from nausea.
The descent from Mt. Kilimanjaro’s summit, Uhuru Peak, started a mere 20 minutes after we arrived. How I would have loved to enjoy a beer with fellow trekkers and celebrate our achievements together, but the thin air continued to affect me and I needed to get to a lower elevation.
As I look back on that early morning, it was definitely darkest before the dawn. But with grit, discipline, and a great guide, I experienced the most magnificent dawn I’d ever seen.