This story is by Valerie Jones and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
The last 200 yards of day 7 takes us over the rim and down into the crater. The view is going to be the perfect reward. If I make it. The Western Breach was amazing, but the climb took all my strength. My legs never hurt this much before in my life, my feet are numb, and I am not even sure I am really breathing in this thin air.
“Pole, pole.” Deus, one of our Chagga guides, encourages us in Swahili to take our time and go slowly. The mist and clouds that hung around the mountain all day are clearing out giving way to beautiful Tanzanian vistas in the distance. The sun feels good on my face and its warmth delivers a sense of renewed energy. We will have a beautiful evening at Crater Camp.
“Why did we say we wanted to do this?” Stacy pants over her shoulder. Struggling a few feet ahead of me, she looks as exhausted as I feel.
“To conquer Kilimanjaro, remember? One of our life goals.”
“Oh, yeah. Note to self. Take any remaining mountain climbing off life goals.” Stacy laughs as she stumbles over a big rock and drops one of her trekking poles.
“Stop talking and concentrate or we may not conquer.” Pausing for a minute to catch my breath, I see our lead guide Medad at the front of the group waving everyone up. I think he is standing at the edge of the rim. Not too much farther.
Gradually each member of our group reaches Medad and moves onto the relatively flat ground at the edge of the caldera. Medad and Deus allow us a few minutes to enjoy our accomplishment and the gorgeous view looking out from the rim. The panorama before us is magnificent. The sun is bright, the sky is azure blue with the remaining puffy clouds brilliant white. The massive Kibo summit is all around us. In front of us beautiful African plains are so far away they are barely discernable. Way out on the horizon is the curve of the earth.
“Great job reaching this point. We are at 18,799 feet above sea level. Let’s get to camp for a hot meal and some rest. You will have time to explore this afternoon, then tomorrow is an early morning to reach the Uhuru peak.” Both guides have seen this view a hundred times so they keep us on schedule.
Turning for Crater Camp, we face a lunar landscape. The crater area resembles what I imagine the moon must look like up close. Gray, chalky dirt with lots of small rubble rock lying around. I can’t see it from this elevation, but I know the inner crater, Reusch Crater, is close with the Ash Pit inside. My plan is to go over after lunch if the legs recover and my oxygen saturation is ok.
“Hello! Welcome to the roof of Africa. Let me take your pack for you.” Our porters have been so proficient, always going ahead of us to set up the tents, prepare meals, and have hot water ready. “I have French toast, macaroni with meat sauce, bread and your hot coffee ready for lunch.” Simon is very attentive to detail making the trip enjoyable in the harsh surroundings.
“I’m not sure how I will get along without you after this trip, Simon.” Only two days left on the trek. I am beginning to wish it wouldn’t end so soon.
“Today was amazing. I can’t believe we are here. Well, my body can.” Stacy breaks away and heads to her tent. “Let’s eat and then go over to the Furtwangler Glacier. I want to stand next to it and touch it.”
“Sounds good. Deus is going to walk to Reusch Crater with me after we eat and rest. Do you want to go?”
“How far is it?”
“About 30-40 minutes to get there.”
“Ok – I’m game.”
* * * * *
The wind that pummeled the tent all day has stopped. Wrapped up in double layers, full of our delicious evening meal and holding hot drinks, Stacy, Deus, Simon and I sit in silent euphoria. My mind is going back over the wonderful views today on the climb up and then the contrasting eerie black volcanic hole of the Ash Pitt inside Reusch Crater.
“The incredible landscapes I’ve seen on this trip make me think of God.” I break the silence. “I love God and am more in awe of Him after seeing this amazing part of His creation.”
“Are you Christian?” Deus responds.
“Yes. Stacy and I are here in Africa on a 6 month missionary trip. We planned an extra two weeks to make the trek up the mountain.”
Deus shifts and wraps his blanket closer around his neck. “My family are all Christian, but I have not accepted yet.”
“What’s holding you back?”
“I don’t know. I do feel I should, but, I just haven’t made the decision yet.”
“There is no better time than now. How about you Simon? Do you know about Jesus?”
“I have heard stories of Him.”
“It is a story of love. God is holy. We all sin which separates us from God. He loves us so much, He sent His only son Jesus Christ to redeem us. Jesus left His position of King at the right hand of God to live as a humble man without sin. Jesus gave His life as a sacrifice to pay for our sins. If we accept Him as our Savior, we will live forever with God and Jesus. That is an amazing future. Would you like to accept Him now? We will pray with you.”
“I know all these things you speak of. Thank you. I will pray tonight, alone.” Deus looks away.
“I too must think about this.” Simon smiles.
Stacy reaches over and squeezes the tops of Deus’ and Simon’s hands. “We will pray for you. Please don’t delay. You never know what life will bring tomorrow.”
* * * * *
Summit day. My boots crunch on the scree as we make our way over to the Uhuru peak sign in the pale light of dawn. The Tylenol worked its magic and my headache is gone. Too many hours at high altitude for me with the overnight stay at the top. Although, it was nice to sleep in until 5:30 and trek only an hour to get over to the summit. Kilimanjaro is conquered. Well, except that we have to get down. That’s 9 hours descent to Mweka camp today. Tomorrow the trek back to the Mweka gate.
The sunlight begins to brighten the beautiful blue sky. I stand at the sign with our group and look out from 19,341 feet above sea level. It feels like standing at the edge of the earth’s atmosphere. A blanket of fluffy clouds cover our view below. Just like flying above the clouds in an airplane. Mount Meru pierces the cloud cover miles out to our right. The glacier walls in the crater rise up just below us. The sky is crisp and bright. The air thin and very cold. Beautiful. Another world.
An unexpected rumble from behind me, and the ground shifts. I look over and my eyes meet Stacy’s. In an instant, we are pulled into the clouds. I see Stacy, Deus, and several others of our group suspended in the beauty of the sky. I am warm and feel incredibly energetic. Looking around there seem to be billions of people scattered about with us. I think of the saying in the Bible, “innumerable as the sands of the sea.” We are all young and beautiful.
The light changes causing me to look up.
I feel I am bursting with joy as I take my first glimpse of our beautiful Savior. His features shine bright like the sun, yet we can look directly at Him. His eyes are like flames of fire. His clothes are brilliant white as lightning.
In rapture I gaze at the glorious Son of God. He is the light of the universe. I am with Him. That is all that matters.
* * * * *
After two years working as porter on the mountain, this is my first assignment to Crater Camp. My very first time to go to the Uhuru summit. Why is this happening? There is Medad.
“Medad, some of the group disappeared. I don’t understand. What do we do?”
“Simon, we must get everyone down, now. Kibo is awakening. Look, do you see the steam from the Ash Pitt? I talked to Mweka Camp and to Barranco Camp. There are people missing all over the mountain. They said there are people missing in town, too. This is very big. Go, go.”
As I help people move across the rim and begin the descent, my mind flashes back to the words from the missionary last night. Perhaps I should not have waited…