By Sheila Lackershire
In our five-hour day, we conquer the great Barranco Valley and up the Barranco Wall. This stretch is brutal and as we approached the “rock wall” I looked at our guides and asked, “Is this the kiss rock wall?” They nod their heads, yes. I distinctly remembered this stretch with my papa, not knowing Machame Route also passed through this area. I had to totally focus—memories aside for now.
Ian and Lucas take our hiking poles as it is now time to climb the rock wall—not looking too far ahead, never looking back and certainly not looking down. (The guides have our cameras on our trek and took some awesome and amazing pictures for us.)
We come to a section hugging a huge rock of the wall. Ann is close behind me and I call out, “Ann, kiss this here.” I do. She’s not sure why—she watches me. I look back and tell her, “It’s for papa.”
She smiles her big pretty smile and says, “Absolutely, you got it.”
I glanced back and see my friend kiss the rock as my papa did. I am overwhelmed with joy to share this special memory. Focus!
Adrenalin is pumping as we make it safely through and to the top of the wall. We take a short break. I “take five” by myself. As I walk off I hear Ann say, “She’s OK, she just need a moment.”
“Asante sana,” (thank you) I say to my good friend “Nannie.” She and the guides hug me. We continue the trek on the South Circuit Path through the Karangu Valley.
Mid-afternoon we reach Karangu Camp (13,255 feet). It is misty and cold. Back to our tent to rest after lunch. A mix of rain and sleet falls hard. Ann and I go through our bags pulling out the next layer of clothing we will need for the night and for the morning. We organize and re-organize our day back packs.
We were told that before dinner we would be going to hike around the area of camp to help us acclimate if the weather was good. Again blessed, the weather subsides and we are able to hike up and down the steep, rocky, wet surrounding of our camp.
As night falls we are finished with dinner and say our good nights. As we step out of the tent, no flashlights are needed as the moon is bright and full. Another magical moment on this special day.
Ann and I get settled in or tent and quietly talk about the day—finally we drift off to sleep.
Feb. 22—Slowly opening our sleepy eyes and trying to get focused. Brrr, it’s cold! We are cocooned in our sleeping bags. It is time to wiggle out and try to stretch. Jackets and hiking boots on, we gracefully try to crawl out of our tent. Zip...we peek out and see the smiles of our porters and guides waiting to greet us good morning.
Each morning gets a bit harder to crawl out of the tent. The cold air and aching muscles do not help so, OK, it wasn’t always graceful and accompanied at times with a moan or two, then giggles.
During breakfast, Ian and Lucas tell us it will be a short day. Ann and I bust out in laughter. This has been kind of a joke between all each day. Ann and I are guessing the time we will arrive to camp. Many times we would see our camp in the distance and think, yes, we are almost there. And it’s another two to three hours away.
As we leave, around 9 a.m., we guess the time to our next camp. I say 5 p.m., Ann guesses 5:30 p.m. The guys just smile and do not say a word.
It is a tough trek again, making our way pole-pole to our final base camp. Much to our surprise it is 1 p.m. when we enter Barufu Camp (15,360 feet). Funny how this short day felt long.

Knowing the terrain
Our camp is exposed on a ridge so it was necessary for us to familiarize ourselves with the terrain before dark. No wonder the bathrooms were so far away! After our routine of “signing in” at each camp, we find our way to our campsite. Our porters/“rafikas” (friends) always did their best to find the perfect area. But this one was tough—nestled in between rocks we had to make our way down a rocky slant to our dining tent.
Base camp was full with fellow climbers who had already summited (or not) and those of us in anticipation.
After an early dinner, we are strongly encouraged to try to sleep. We will leave camp at 11:30 p.m. in hopes and prayers of conquering the highest point in Africa.
Tossing and turning, we don’t sleep—anxious, nervous, adrenaline pumping. Shortly after 10 p.m., we hear the gentle voice of Lucas (porter), “Hello” (jambo), outside our tent. He unzips the door and offers us a thermos of coffee and a sleeve of shortbread cookies. We thank him and kindly accept the tray—knowing neither of us could drink or eat anything.
It is time to “gear up.” We strategically lay out our clothing, inserting foot warmers and hand warmers. We check and re-check our head-lamps and backpacks, trying to keep them as light as possible.
It is really cold and the wind is howling as we meet Ian and Lucas outside our tent. They take some items from our packs (cameras and some extra clothing) to help lighten them. They will carry these items for us.
Pole, pole as we begin the methodical climb upward, made more difficult by the strong winds and the thinning of oxygen in the air. It is brutal. This section is considered one of the steepest areas on the paths of Kilimanjaro.

Other climbers ascending
We see head-lamps glistening all over of other climbers making their accent. Within the hour Ian has us take our head lamps off. Accompanied by the star-filled sky, the moon was so full and bright we didn’t need them.
Scaling through steep cliffs of rocks, stopping often, if only for a few seconds, which helped tremendously, we move slowly into Tuesday, Feb. 23.
Feb. 23—We ascend towards Stella Point on the crater rim. This to me was the most mentally and physically challenging portion of the summit. I think Ann would agree, as at this point she starts to suffer with the “lack of oxygen” headache and is extremely tired. Our hydration packs are now frozen. We pull of to the side as Ian and Lucas are watching us very closely. They give us sips of electrolytes from their packs. We had to keep moving. They didn’t want us to “shut down.”
They take Ann’s backpack from her at this time (mine was also taken later on the ascent) making it a little easier for us. They are both patient and encouraging.

Alphabet focus
I silently prayed. I was so worried about Ann. I decide in my mind to do what I do when I am at home on a walk/hike. I say the alphabet and as I walk I look to see the amazing things God has created and has surrounded me with or what my feelings are. “A” amazing. “B” beautiful. “C” cold. “D” dangerous. “E” exciting. “F” focus. “G” God. “H” help. “I” incredible. “J” Jello (my legs). “K” Kilimanjaro. “L” life. “M” mountain. “N” near. “O” onward. “P” porters. “Q” quick. “R” rough. “S” Stella Point-Summit. “T” tired. “U” unbelievable. “V” view. “W” windy. “X” was X. “Y” yippee! “Z” Zanzibar.
I do this over and over in my mind. It makes me think and keeps me grounded. Worried about Ann as she is still suffering a major headache. We must pass through Stella Point. I will have my time to “reflect” on our descent.
7:11 a.m. We reach Stella Point (18,871 feet) We watch the sunrise before reaching this point.
Ann is so strong and determined to move on. We can see the summit from Stella Point. One more hour to Uhuru Peak and the rooftop to Africa. We can do it!
As we hug the rim of the mountain, Lucas goes first, then me, Ann and Ian to follow. Their arms are stretched out. I think at this point the wind will blow us off the mountain. We make it and continue on. Ann and I are like turtles. I will not leave her side. Lucas stays next to Ann, watching her closely. Ian is close, but unknown to us, snapping a ton of pictures. We were so thankful for both of them.
As I stop to look around, I am shocked as I notice how much the “snow-capped” mountain has changed through the years, especially in the past two years when I was with my brother Richie. I remember my papa saying to me, “I think by the year 2020, there will be no snow (global warming) on the Kili.” I believe he will be correct—the very smart man that he was. This saddens me. My mind flips back to the moment I am on and on my friend Ann.
We are now at the point that we meet fellow climbers who have already summited and are now making their descent. They are not only happy and jolly, full of smiles, but also very encouraging. I can tell the summit has given them a renewed positive adrenaline rush. I remember happily they tell us, “good job,” “you are almost there,” “you can do it.”
Ann is still fighting with her severe headache. I try to encourage her by saying, “Nannie that will be us soon—encouraging others on our descent.”
She gives me a faint and sleepy smile. Side by side we reach the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,340 feet) at 8:30 a.m.

Tears of joy
It is so cold our tears of joy freeze as they roll down our faces. Due to the cold gusts of wind and wanting Ann to descend as soon as possible, we stay abut 15 minutes and take a lot of pictures.
Now it is our turn to encourage others struggling to reach the summit.
We take a break at Stella Point. Time for me to reflect and pray in memory of my papa.
As we eat our frozen power bars and take sips of electrolytes, Ann is already starting to feel better.
Our bodies are weak and it is just as hard, if not harder on our way down. With gravel flying in all directions at times, it was like snowboarding on loose rocks. Happy to have our hiking poles.
We were surprised when we saw familiar faces coming our way. Two of our porters came to greet us bringing us mango juice. After a 15-minute break we continued on. The porters also took not only our backpacks but the guides’ as well. Their kindness spoke volumes.
Ann and I were so happy as once again we thought “wow we must be close to camp for them to come meet us.” But to our surprise it was another 2-1/2 hours.
Greeted with huge smiles, cheers and hugs from our porters, we safely arrive back to base camp. We “sign in” and after that are told the plan. We will have something to eat, pack up and continue to our final camp for the night. It would be six more hours onto our already 18-20 hour day. Ugh!

Shortening the day
I think the look on our faces was part of the deciding factor to change our final camp to the Millennium Camp as this would only take three to three and one-half hours. We were grateful for the change.
Drained, we arrive, sign in, eat and off to our tent. Lala Salama! Good night!
Feb. 24—Bittersweet feelings—our last day on this beautiful mountain.
Ann and I gather items we would like to give our porters. Our winter jackets, snow pants, socks, hats, shirts, etc. After breakfast Ian and Lucas hand out our items. As each porter graciously accepts our gifts, they hug us with great thanks and appreciation. Following, our “team of friends” sing the Kilimanjaro celebration song to us, clapping and dancing, we are all so happy. God is good! Before we leave, at 8:30 p.m., Lucas fulfills his promise and sings “Raise Me Up.” Ann and I will never forget this special moment. “Asante Sana Lucas” (thank you Lucas) we tell him with tear-filled eyes.
2 p.m.—Sweet success! Thanks be to God as we reached the bottom of the mountain safely and in good health.
Honest is there to greet us, so happy with our success. Ann and I are totally overwhelmed with emotions as we take our final pictures on the mountain.
Honest takes us to “sign out” and receive certificates.
Since my first trip to Africa in 2005, I have always said, “Once you’ve been to Africa, in a way you will never be the same, it is truly a life changing experience.”
I can attest for Ann, she feels the same. The pure beauty of the country and the people (especially my considered “family” in Africa and friends) are memories that will never leave me, or Ann.
With each of the four routes I have taken (one remaining to conquer), I have set out to climb a mountain and came back a different person—each time enormously appreciative to all I have been given.
I give great thanks to the good Lord above and also my husband, mom and all my family and friends for their continued love, support and prayers—all making my dreams come true.
Proverbs 16:3 Commit to the Lord whatever you do, your plans will succeed.