There she is, clear as day. We reach the look-out point after about an hour and a half of trekking, and are now soaking up our first perfectly pristine view of Mount Kilimanjaro’s peak.
Suddenly, all the hours of trekking we’ve done so far take on a new meaning. We are almost there – so close, so terrifyingly close.
The group buzzes with a nervous, excited energy.
Kibo Camp, our next stop, is just visible – a small black dot at the foot of the mountain’s snowy cap.
Between here and there, however, lies a long saddle of colourless gravel and gently sloping shingle, scattered with giant boulders which look like they’ve just been dropped from space. It’s another world, sucked of greenery and life.
We set off along the rough track, thankful the steepness has dropped away. Porters carrying our entire camp and supplies on top of their heads practically sprint past us as we walk on, slow and steady.
But an hour in, I am flagging.
With no scenery to distract us, I am all too aware of the plod, plod, plod of my aching and swollen feet. Each wee is a serious chore, with boulders to squat behind few and far between. Handfuls of coloured sweets shoved between my chapped lips have lost their sugary magic.
Somehow, that tiny speck hasn’t grown any larger.
Gradually the hill starts to climb and a burst of sleet falls from the now overcast sky. But we plough on.
I stop looking up at the camp – I can’t handle the reality of the distance that remains between us and it. Instead I glue my eyes to the ground, and breathe as my body starts to work harder.
Finally, after another hour, I nervously glance up again. The camp is still a minuscule blip.
My body is aching, and I’m now seriously hungry. And, to top it all off, I think I’m about to cry. Yep, I’m definitely going to cry. How. Embarrassing.
I breathe deeply and dig my fingernails into my palms. Eyes back down towards the floor. Keep moving, keep moving.
30 minutes more, and I allow myself one more look. The camp looms above us, wrapped ominously in whispy puffs of cloud. Nearly there, nearly there.
The next few minutes feel like an eternity.
Don’t look up, I tell myself. Just don’t look.
Then suddenly, we’re surrounded by climbers, tents, hustle and bustle. We’re there. Kibo Camp, at 4,703 metres, is where trekkers from all of the six established routes up the mountain finally converge before taking on the summit.
But the relief of arrival finally sets the bottled up tears loose. Thank god my tent is already set up. I dash inside for a quick, emotional sob. If I found that journey hard, how hard am I going to find the next leg of the journey – the ten hour trek to the Uhuru Peak and back??
But I keep the waterworks brief – it’s lunchtime after all, and I am famished.
We fill up on a tasty root vegetable stew and then disperse to our tents to try and nap. We need as much sleep as we can get before we take on the peak.
More food at dinnertime, and then back for more snoozing, wrapped up in every layer of clothing we can muster as the freezing temperatures set in.
In just three hours, at 11pm, we’ll be up and it’ll be time. Time to take on the summit.