I could yammer on about my journey to the top of Kilimanjaro via the (7-day) Machame route, starting from day one, but there are many other blogs that do an excellent job of describing the technicalities of the journey and so I will defer to them if you happen to be seeking advice on preparation.  I will however, describe the last day of ascent and the amazing feeling that awaited me as I reached the 2 peaks, Stella and Uhuru.

To set the tone, we started at 11PM at night so that we could reach the summit at sunrise. Earlier that day, we hiked approximately 3 or 4 hours to the Barranco campsite and it seemed as though our day was excruciatingly compressed - hike from 8AM ~ 12, lunch at 1PM, dinner at 5PM, asleep at 6PM, awake at 10:30PM, breakfast (if you can call it that) at 10:45ish, and hiking at 11PM.

As I trudged up the mountain, "Pole Pole" (slowly slowly in Swahili), each step that I took on the loose gravel seemed like 2 steps back. It was a little disconcerting and I began to wonder if I was making any progress. In the middle of the night, the trail lit only by moonlight and sparse headlamps of fellow trekkers, the summit of the mountain was barely visible. I was told by the guides that distance-wise, it wasn't as far as we had experienced in each of the last few days. I was accompanied by an "experienced porter," Stanslaus, who was a stand-in for the main guide. The main guide was attending to a friend who wasn't feeling well and he decided that dropping to a lower elevation would ensure her health, safety, and comfort.

It seemed as though we had walked mindlessly for hours, reminiscent of the many (predictable) zombie movies that have surfaced in the past few years. Although, I would have hardly called the experience, mindless. For most of the 5 ~ 6 hours, the many personalities in my tiny little brain asked why I was doing this; what was the reward; and did my logic and reasoning take a vacation in an alternate, tropical, warm-temperature, white sand, bikini-rich, and lethargically atmospheric plane. Yet, there in my imaginative mind stood a lone figure, on a soap box telling the other voices that this was yet another obstacle and experience that would enrich my soul, somehow, and that we needed to press on. It was tiring - and I was physically tired too.

As daylight broke and we approached Stella Point, I began to stop more frequently and realized that my gas tank was beyond sipping on fumes. A few times, as I stopped and closed my eyes, I could feel myself instantly drifting off to sleep; and with the primary annoyance keeping me awake - the red gas light indicator blinking. Blinking. Blinking. (The very indicator that my poor 1997 4Runner knows all too well.) It was warning me to hurry up and get through this so that I could refuel at the Barranco campsite, where I started from, with uninterrupted food and delicious sleep. But, I knew very well, that we were hours away from even starting our descent to the campsite.

Stanslaus, who was very patient, encouraged me with what little English he could muster and suggested that he alleviate some of the weight I was carrying in my backpack. He grabbed my backpack to gauge my burden and said, "Whoa... Too heavy. What's in here?" I told him that I had my 3L camelbak, one small bottle of water, and an extra 2L liter bottle of water that I thought would come in handy if any of us, including my 3 travel companions and the guides, ran out of water. He looked at me a "little" perturbed.

It was unfortunate that my camelbak froze as I neared the summit and after reading others' blogs, it seems that this was a common problem. Isn't it wonderful to research things after the fact?

Stanslaus asked me to remove my collection of water (that I so happened to be bringing to a mountain top covered in snow - ?) so that he could carry them for me. What a savior. I kept thinking, in the back of my mind, about my physical fitness. I know that running and hiking up a near vertical face utilizes different muscles and can be quite different. But in the weeks prior to this trip, I ran religiously, every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday; surfed practically everyday; pushed myself to do my "surf exercises" (a DVD by Taylor Knox) every Tuesday and Thursday; and cut out my precious sweets. I felt as though that was enough training to avoid a "beat down" like this. It was difficult - and that's an understatement. I realized that I faltered on 2 key ingredients - eat and sleep. As the hiking days wore on, I was waking up in the middle of the night more frequently and did not get adequate sleep. I was also eating less, in part from the altitude (I hear that it does that to you) and partly because I was tired of eating the same (but, under the circumstances, good) food.

By this time, there was enough light for me to see the top of the mountain and I could faintly see the green of the Stella Point sign. Stanslaus, who would be no more than 15 feet ahead, would stop frequently to make sure I was alive, ask how I was doing, point to the sign, and encourage me. "Almost there, Matt," he would say.

We were approximately 30 feet from the top and Stanslaus pushed on. He looked over as I stood there, looking up at the sign, wondering how this mountain "kicked my ass." (It was truly a humbling experience to say the least.) I gathered the energy and crested the top; the incline turned from what seemed near vertical, to flat. There were droves of people posing with the sign to document the proof that they were there. I don't blame them. When I eventually returned to an altitude that provided my brain with a decent level of oxygen and subsequent cognition, I too had to check my camera to see if really made it to the top!

I walked. Step. By step. By tiny, little, time-stopping step. Damn. I made it. I looked to Stanslaus who had the biggest smile on his face. He walked over to me, gave me a big hug, "Congratulations Matt, we made it!" "Thanks Stanslaus, I'm so tired," I explained. All I could do at that point was bend over with my hands on my knees and stare at the many pebbles and dirt granules that made up the top of Kilimanjaro. I was completely exhausted and left everything I had on the trail, behind me. As I closed my eyes, I could see my high school wrestling coach, Coach Schroers, smiling and claiming, "Good job, Okahata." I smiled. Stanslaus pulled me by the arm to stand up straight, spun me 180 degrees and pointed to the sunrise, "look, sunrise." "whoooaaa..." I whispered. Although my response hadn't expressed it, I was taken back by what seemed to be the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. And remember, I live in Hawaii. It was as if an craftsman artistically flattened a rainbow and laid it across the boundary that separated the earth and the sky. Stanslaus grabbed my shoulders and spun me 90 degrees to face what seemed to be north. He pointed off into the distance, "look glacier." My eyes slowly focused like an old camera begging to be retired. I couldn't believe it. It was like being 5 again, on a Christmas morning and opening present after present of every toy that I didn't think I could have or existed. In the distance, the marveling blue of the glacier shimmered. I was as if many elements had come together to paint a picture - the clear blue sky, the peaking sunrise, and the cold temperature inherent at high altitudes. The 10 miles that separated Stanslaus and I and the glacier resembled a dish laden with untouched, pure, and unadulterated snow. I couldn't believe it. My emotions rose like a unattended faucet filling a bucket. I thought about how I left it (my energy) "all out on the table" and how rewarding it was to be at Stella Point and my eyes welled up. I had to take a moment. My ears instantly tuned in to a woman who too, was congratulated by her guide, and by the sound of her voice, was about to cry tears of happiness. I thought to myself, this is how you SHOULD feel with any significant accomplishment. Otherwise, what's the effort worth?

Stanslaus suggested that I sit down for a minute and then gave me the "bad news." (Which, really, it wasn't.) He explained to me that we still had to walk over to the next peak, Uhuru Point, which was the true summit of this mountain top. He pointed to another green sign approximately 1/4 of a mile away. Crap. Who the hell put this (Stella Point) sign here? The walk to Uhuru Point did not have as much of an incline and took me roughly 45 minutes to an hour to get there. I past my trip companions and they encouraged me, "almost there, Matty." "ok, tha-thanks," I replied. The walk was very slow, I was completely out of energy, and I was feeling ambivalent. This was certainly a difficult test for me and yet, the reward was something I could not have fathomed. The views were amazing. The glaciers sat beautifully yet, hauntingly at the peripherals, the sky was an emerald blue, and the clouds seemed to float hundreds of feet below us.

We finally arrived at Uhuru Point and as cold as it was and as numb as my hands were, I forced myself to pull out my camera and snap a few photos. I asked a man standing nearby to snap a photo of my guide and new friend, Stanslaus, and I. All of this beauty surrounded us from every angle and it took me a lot effort to get here. I was overwhelmed and amazed! I know we still had to hike down a few hours but, the hard part was behind me.


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