Summit day begins at midnight of the third day. For every hour of ascent, it gets a bit colder and it becomes a bit harder to catch your breath. Somewhere in the ascent, the temperature drops below zero and you start to notice the snow accumulating around you. The last leg of the Coca-Cola (Marangu) route is only 7km. Don’t let that fool you though. The 7km of zigging and zagging on steep loose gravel between Kibo Hut and Uhuru Peak is 6 hrs of pure agony.
It is said that to truly conquer the Roof of Africa, one must summit all three peaks of this dormant volcano: Shira, Mawenzi, and Kibo. Kibo is the highest of the three (5,895 m) and is the one most climbers go for. Shira can be reached if a longer more expensive route was taken. Mawenzi (means "broken head" in Kiswahili) is quite technical and not for the average tourist.
The entire Marangu route is approximately 70km, spread out into 5 days of non-technical ascent and descent. Due to its short time frame, accommodation huts, and relatively cheap price, it is the busiest route to Kibo’s Uhuru Peak. Often underestimated by the cocky weekend hikers such as myself, it has a reputation for low summit rate due to a short acclimatization period. To account for that, I got a prescription for Diamox and popped Ibuprofen and Pepto-Bismol tablets like candies.
Here is a breakdown of the Marangu route:
· Day 1: 8km of rainforest from Marangu Gate to Mandara Hut
· Day 2: 12 km of alpine meadows to Horombo Hut
· Day 3: 11 km of moorland and alpine landscape to Kibo Hut; Summiting at midnight
· Day 4: 7km of ascent to reach Uhuru Peak; 17km of descent to Horombo Hut
· Day 5: 20 km of descent to Marangu Gate.
Altitude sickness kicked in around the end of Day 3 in the form of fatigue, nausea, lack of appetite and increased exponentially as I ascended. Summit Day consisted of 5 km of brutally steep ascension to Gilman’s Point, 1 km to Stella Point, and another 1 km to Uhuru Peak. A few hours into the climb and I was stopping every 10 minutes to catch my breath. Then the drowsiness kicked in. I was struggling to stay awake as I stumbled around the steep side of the pitch-black mountain. My limbs were numb and my body begged me to go back down but my mind was sober enough to know that it was a bigger risk to try and descend in the dark. I reached the summit at 6:35 AM.
As bad as ascent was, the descent turned out to be worse. With the sun above the horizon now, you now get the full view of the steep drop around you…