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Reaching the Summit! (Part 2)


And so last time we wondered whether Jayme would reach the summit... read her account below, to find out.

September 29, 2015
With very little sleep at Kosovo camp, we bundled on our layers and tried to eat some breakfast on September 29, 2015. After making sure we had plenty of water, we began our daunting task up the volcanic scree. The guides led us up a path with many switchbacks, but it did not help us with the lower oxygen we were getting with each breathe. As the clouds rolled in, the Omani team was frequently asking for breaks. The guides would find a spot with larger volcanic boulders for us to rest, but said we had to keep moving up the scree. My thoughts began to not be as clear as my headache worsened and the nausea began. I kept my head down and focused on the rocks instead of the never ending steep slope we were climbing. The guides kept saying we were almost there and we would get there in five more songs and then they would sing to try to help everyone stay positive. At this point, your mental game had to be positive to help the physical difficulties. 

Interestingly, I noticed that within the volcanic scree were rocks that were a similar shape as the Erebus crystals that are at the summit of Mt. Erebus in Antarctica. I could not focus enough to try to determine the mineral content, but I was still fascinated by these rocks. By this time, five songs were definitely over and we were still climbing AND it began to snow! This was exciting, as it was the first time the Omni team had ever seen and felt snow. Most were too exhausted to show much excitement and instead, the snow and whiteout conditions only made the trek harder. Finally we reached Stella Point and this was truly the end of the steep volcanic scree. Now the sense of accomplishment finally swept over the team, except me as I clearly had altitude sickness. We took a group picture by the sign and the Omani team stayed to celebrate by writing their names in the snow. Finally the concept of snow sunk in and they were having fun. I wish I could have shared that experience with them, but I quickly descended into the crater. I could now see some of the glaciers in the distance and the clouds were beginning to break up. My goal was to hike to the ash pit with the main crater and find the supposedly still active fumeroles! However, due to the altitude sickness, I never accomplished this goal. I walked as quickly as I could through the volcanic ash and straight to my tent where a guide blew up my sleeping mat and gave me peppermint tea to help calm my stomach. My head was now spinning as I was laying down at an elevation over 18,000 feet. I was about to camp at a higher elevation than Mt. Everest's base camp.  Our night at Crater Camp was similar to Kosovo camp – cold and barely any sleep. However, it was an amazingly clear night and the stars were awesome! You could see the entire Milky Way.

September 30, 2015
When the sun did began to rise, the tents were covered with frost and several of us pulled our sleeping bags out onto large boulders to dry in the sun. The frost made it seem like it was snowing in the tent, as the condensation was freezing. We took the short walk over to some of the few remaining glaciers and touched the beautiful blue ice.  Our main guide, Julius mentioned that over 80% of the glaciers on Kilimanjaro have melted. We were looking at direct evidence of global climate change. On that note, we looked toward our task for the day – about 1,000 feet of nearly vertical climbing to the summit and then descend about 10,000 feet and numerous biomes in one day. "Pole Pole, Rafici…" which means: "Slowly, slowly, my friend." That 1,000 feet was very difficult both mentally and physically, but we did it! We climbed out of the crater rim and had amazing views of the Serengeti plains to our west, as well as Mt. Meru (another volcano that formed as part of the East African Rift Valley). After some recovery time to attempt to catch our breathe, as a team we walked the few feet to the infamous sign marking that we had reached the summit of the tallest free standing volcano in Africa. The adrenaline was flowing now and the Omani crew looked as if they had conquered the world. On September 30, 2015, they proudly pulled out the Omani flag and along with the GLOBE flag, posed for pictures at the summit.

A woman stands next to a glacier.
Jayme touching a glacier at the summit.

I, on the other hand, was eager to get down to lower elevation and FAST. The team was still celebrating, taking many pictures, while I was teamed up with one guide and we literally sprinted back to the volcano scree so that we could “ski” down to lower elevation. Apparently we made record time descending, as lunch was not even close to being prepared by the time I got to Millenium camp. I am not sure of the exact time it took, but I went from summit to alpine desert and headaches to feeling somewhat coherent in about an hour. I was seeing others being fully escorted down the mountain, meaning they were stumbling and not able to stand up on their own, so a guide was on each side holding them up and mainly carrying these clients down off of the barren, harsh summit. I felt better and better as I waited for the rest of my team in Millenium camp. Finally lunch came and I was so hungry. The guides had to tell me to slow down so I did not get sick. I had not been able to really eat in about three days and finally my stomach felt settled.

A woman stands on top of a mountain with another mountain in the background.
Above the clouds, at the top of Africa, with Mt. Meru in the background (2015).

After 2 hours of waiting for the rest of my team, the guides told me I should continue to Mweke camp (about 9,000 feet) to meet up with all of the students and GLOBE educators. I was very happy to continue to go lower, so my guide and I set off again and we flew by other trekking parties and even porters.  We went through the heath zone and were hiking alongside another ash flow. More and more vegetation appeared as we approached the rainforest. Torrential rains also began making the rocks very slippery and drenching our gear. I was extremely wet and happy as I signed into Mweke camp.

I received the most amazing greeting from the rest of our team and the students were very eager to hear about their Omani peers. I showed some pictures and then heard about the many protocols and data they had been collecting. The overall atmosphere in camp was joyous. I loved seeing these new friends that I had been without for the past few days.

Quickly, science aside, the international connections continued with learning how to make an Omani dish for dinner – ah, yes, a successful journey with many educational moments ranging from science to culture and song to personal limits and comfort. Thank you for this opportunity and hopefully you have been able to learn and enjoy as well. 

Thanks Jayme for writing such a great description of your experience and for being with us!  -- Tony

P.S. As an aside: In 1988, David Overoye (Raytheon Web Solutions) climbed Kilimanjaro and took a photo at approximately the same location as Jayme's above with Mt. Meru in the background.  What differences do you see?

Two men pose for a photo on Mt. Kilimanjaro with another mountain in the background.
David Overoye with his guide in 1988 on Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Note Mt. Meru in the background.

 

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