In the frosty morning we say goodbye to our three carriers. Unlike Eugene and Jomo, who continue up with us, these guys will run down to the Millennium camp (3797 m) on the Mweka descent route, where we are supposed to meet up again tomorrow afternoon.
Above us rises almost a thousand meter wall of rock. Bordered on the right side by the steep Breach Wall and by the remnants of northwest glaciers on the left (Little Penck Glacier and Great Penck Glacier) - they look majestically only on the photographs taken in the 1960´. An unimpressive ridge leads right through the Western Arch. And that’s where our way will lead us as well. We start to climb up the Western Breach Route (sometimes also referred to as Western Arch Route or Arrow Glacier Route). First steps are done in the scree, but the route gradually gains in steepness and in the second half it’s more about light climbing and balancing on blocks of rock rather than about simple hiking.
We split up. Lada and I go in the front, accompanied by Jomo, who’s showing an incredible fitness. Pavel follows, together with our guide Eugene, who in turn seems to have considerable difficulties. Initially, everything goes smooth, we keep excellent pace. However, with the 5 500 m limit approaching, I begin to suspect a problem. As always, I have never passed this altitude without this medical time-out! As if my guts had a built-in altimeter.
The trouble is that after this forced break, I can’t catch up. I feel terribly exhausted. We’re carrying all our stuff on our backs. Jomo is watching me with sympathy and offers to take off a piece of my misery. I carry my horribly heavy reflex camera and several lenses – I gladly pass it all to him. At the hardest moment Jomo comes back to me and helps me to carry my backpack for a couple of metres. I have to carry on and fight back! I put on the backpack again and slowly crawl up the rocks. We agree with Lada and Jomo to meet up on the edge of the western arch.
I look back to Paul. With Eugene they are some 200 metres behind.
„Today I will not overstretch myself, I want to be safe. I just don’t want to drop out just one step from the summit.“ Pavel was saying at breakfast. Now it seems even to him that Eugene's pace is too "polepole"!
„Eugene seemed to me less and less ok. He paused more and more often and in the steep passages I was not even sure he was going to make it and falling down to the deep. After about two thirds Eugene just sat down murmuring "headache" and started banging his head. What was I supposed to do? I just pulled some Aspirin and Panadol out of my bag and started to feed him by that stuff by handfuls. After fifteen minutes he pulled himself together and we continued slowly. To Eugene’s relief, Jomo returned and helped him out with his backpack.“
This is how later in the afternoon Pavel was describing what was it like to climb up the Western Breach Route in the company of our lead guide.
With twenty minutes difference, I made it to the top, although crawling. There’s strong wind blowing and carrying clouds of very fine-grained volcanic dust. With Lada we stand on the edge of the Kilimanjaro crater at an altitude of roughly 5770 meters! A view of the plain beyond the edge is just amazing. To the right rises a rock arch with the main peak of Uhuru (5 895 m).
It’s just an easy walk to the campsite called Crater Camp (5790 m). We are feeling so good that after four and a half hours we are finally here. We pitch the tent and are happy to observe that we have no problem with altitude. Not feeling particularly dizzy nor gasping for breath. Pavel joins us after an hour.
We sit down and relax. It’s quite hot inside the tent. For the afternoon we plan to climb to the inner summit of Kilimanjaro - Reusch Crater - hiding the so called Ash Pit - so that we can have a peep inside the ancient volcano. Even here it smells sulphur, so we wonder what it will be like up there. After a bit of thinking we decide to leave the main peak for tomorrow. We just don’t want to overdo it.
After 2 p. m. we set out to have a look around. We go between the Furtwangler glaciers and head towards the edge of the crater Reusch. We slowly overcome the hundred-meter altitude difference and…what we see is just breathtaking. Beautiful symmetry of several circles with the giant volcanic pipe. Not far from us there’s a top cross. Erected only a couple of days ago (September 4, 2010) by a team of German alpine club (DAV). In an incredibly strong wind we are on top of the Kibo Reusch Crater (5852 m) - mere 43 meters below the main peak of Kilimanjaro.
On the way back, we take water from the disappearing glaciers. Today we cook ourselves. We give our stove to Jomo so that they can cook something warm for themselves too. In the tent I am the only one to lie with the head downhill and it makes me pretty sick. I just have to turn around! Other guys do not sleep well either, so we swallow some pills, just not to underestimate it. We prefer our favourite universal panacea - Aspirin.
Night at the peak of Kilimanjaro can be pretty long. I listen to MP3, counting the hours and minutes remaining before the alarm chimes and trying to ignore colleagues´ twitching. All of us are feeling somewhat sick, but hopefully we will keep the contents of our stomachs in until morning ...