Climbing Kilimanjaro Part IV: The Kissing Rock

Andrea woke me up at 6am by tapping on my tent, “Good morning.”

“Good morning!” I unzipped my tent and he handed me the tray holding the hot water thermos and the containers of hot cocoa, tea, coffee, milo, powered milk, and anything else I’d need for an early-morning hot hydration beverage. He also handed me a bowl of hot water and a bar of soap. I noticed the bowl of water he gave me the night before that I’d left by my tent was a solid block of ice.

I had 30 minutes to get dressed, brush my hair and teeth, use the toilet tent, and pack my duffle and backpack.  I left my packed duffle in my tent, brought my daypack with me to the mess tent, and had breakfast with Frank.

Breakfasts consisted of porridge AND bacon or sausage AND eggs AND toast AND pancakes or French toast AND fruit and juice. Plus, the ubiquitous hot water AND fixings for coffee, tea, milo, hot chocolate.

Then, after one more trip to the toilet tent, we were off for the day’s hike. Each day it varied from five to seven hours of hiking.

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As we walked, our team of 11 broke down camp, and then passed us a couple hours later. It was shocking that these guys were carrying so much stuff, and whizzing by like they were walking on flat, even land. We were always being passed. By our crew and other camps’ crews. I loved the energy of it. I loved the sound and rhythm of Swahili; it made me feel like I was in “The Lion King”.   Most of the porters were very friendly and happy to say hello on their way. “Jumbo, Jumbo.”  (Which means, “Hi, Hi” in Swahili.)

It was anything but flat, even land. There were long uphill switchbacks, followed by some downhill bits. And, mixed in is some pretty scary rock scrambling.

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The higher we got, the harder it was to breathe. But, I was doing so well on pacing myself that, on the third day when we arrived at our lunch spot three hours too early, we delayed lunch until we reached the camp and on we trekked, no problem.

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After a particularly steep series of switchbacks, I was sucking wind trying to get some oxygen into my lungs. We stopped for a water break, and Frank pointed out the rock face ahead.

“That’s kissing rock.”

“Huh?” I asked, trying to slow my breathing and clear my head.

“Kissing rock. 100 yards ahead of us.”

I looked up. It looked like our trail ended abruptly at a rock face that jutted out from the side of the mountain. I closed my eyes and opened them, but it still didn’t make any sense to me.

“The only way to pass it is to kiss the rock,” Frank explained. As we got closer, I could see there was actually a tiny ledge that was the continuation of the trail. So we were supposed so inch our way along the ledge, facing the rock, praying we didn’t fall backward.

I was happier when I was suspicious that Frank was somehow trying to come onto me about some kind of tradition about kissing under a rock or something – the Tanzanian mistletoe, so to speak.  This was worse. Way worse.

I should explain that I was terrified of heights. And, more specifically, terrified of falling from heights.

Frank wanted me to go first, but I couldn’t.

“You go first,” I said. I needed to see how it worked. I was stalling for time, praying for magical Kiwi helicopters (when I was hiking in New Zealand, we were chopped over an avalanche. That was just a few months before this climb, so the image of helicopters was fresh).

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Frank opened his arms so that he was facing the rock and spread eagle. He maneuvered himself slowly along the ledge, and then disappeared from view.

“OK, your turn. Kiss the rock,” I heard him say.

I took a deep breath, and then kissed the rock. I shuffled along the ledge, and before I knew it, I was on the other side, safe and sound.

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Stay tuned to Part V for the climb…

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