Sunday, September 11, 2016

Stage Six: The Summit Recap

In case you didn't read the previous blog, the Delaware crew all summited at 7:40am!  The Christofferson boys called us right after summiting, but could only speak a few minutes due to the altitude, the cold, and the challenging descent ahead.  After the summit, they hiked for over 3 more hours to get back to Barafu Camp at 15K, where they spent about 90 minutes packing up the gear they left behind, changing into lighter clothing, and eating a quick lunch.  At that point, they were are exhausted, but had to hold it together for another 4 hours and a 5000 foot vertical descent to get to Mweka Camp at 10,065' where they are spending the night.  Randy and Alex called in from Mweka Camp to share a little more about their journey, almost falling asleep on the phone as they were talking.

I'll start at the beginning of their summit push on Saturday. They climbed up from 13.1K to 15.2K on Saturday morning to get in position for summiting.  At that Barafu Camp, they spent the afternoon prepping for the ascent -- they ate, packed their backpacks, changed into warmer clothing, and tried to rest.  After an early dinner, they all tried to get a few hours sleep before their 10:45pm wake up call.  Alex slept for 3 hours. Randy said he didn't really sleep, but just rested, thinking about the night ahead. After their late night wake up call, they ate breakfast, bundled up, and left for the summit a little after midnight.

Randy said this is his favorite part of the climb, when everyone is finally all geared up for the summit attempt and the guide says, "Ok, let's go". At this point there's no more planning, no more worrying about having the right equipment, or what to bring with you in your pack, or whether you fitness level is up to par. At this point, it is what it is and it's game time.  So off they went, headlamps on to light their way up this monster of a mountain.

The weather was clear and very cold with a 10 - 15mph wind.  Most of the team wore 4 layers of clothing, with at least an hour when it was so frigid some added 2 more layers, basically wearing everything in their backpacks. The night sky was amazing, with millions of stars above and and the twinkling towns of Arusha and Moshi far below. The sun finally rose while they were ascending providing very welcomed warmth and illuminating their path. The climb was really, really tough for everyone. As would be expected on this grueling ascent, many of the team struggled at various times. That is not surprising; what is unbelievable is that they somehow summoned up the strength to keep going. For about 500 of the 4000 feet ascent, Alex's heart rate was spiking, and he was weaving and wobbly.  Randy had Alex stop for a moment and take some breaths, then a guide took his pack so he could keep on climbing.  Alex said he thinks at that point a 15 minute rest might have helped his heart rate settle down, but since they wanted to keep everyone together, he just kept going and appreciated the help from the guide. I haven't spoken to Paula yet, but Randy said she and Dan definitely had their periods when they were struggling too, and the guide helped Paula with her pack for a while also.  But the amazing Barr powerhouses all just kept pushing on with the team. Alex said for a stretch he was trudging up next to Dan and Caroline, all of them huffing and puffing together, putting one foot in front of the other, and no one ever talked about stopping.  They were all going up to the summit no matter what it took.

When they finally reached the summit, after 7 hours and 45 minutes of crushing and brutal effort, they all stepped on the cratered terrain and were overcome.  Randy and Alex hugged and cried, as did Dan, Paula, and Caroline in their own group family hug (although Dan probably won't admit he cried).  But when you consider the intensity of the effort, the enormity of their accomplishment, the appreciation of experiencing this together, and the magnificence of their surroundings, anyone can imagine that this is an emotionally laden moment. The team all hugged and congratulated each other, posed for all the requisite summit photos, and marveled at what has been described as the "otherworldly"landscape of the summit itself, a vast crater with an inner crater rimmed by massive 300 feet ice walls. The panoramic views from the top of Africa sound just breathtaking.

One touching side story for the Christofferson family is that Randy and Alex had dedicated this effort to our very sweet and lovable dog Roxy who we very sadly had to say goodbye to this summer. They brought a picture of Roxy to the summit and some of her ashes, so our little adorable Roxy will forever be honored on this magnificent natural headstone. Alex filmed this on his Go-Pro so I'm sure that will be a special (and emotional) keepsake for our family.

One would think that this is enough of a work out for one day, right?  But these guys had a tortuous road ahead, almost 10,000 feet to go before they slept.  Isn't there a song about that, or is that 10,000 miles?
I'm sure Randy will fill in this later with many pictures and details, but he and Alex both described this long descent as "relentless, exhausting, steep, tricky footing, unstable, stones and rocks all over, slip-sliding terrain, 100 different places you could fall if you didn't carefully watch your footing, treacherous in spots, never ending, the last 3 miles were just miserable."
As Alex summed it up, "We were just so exhausted and so tired and then this steep, rocky trail just kept going on and on and on.  And we'd been going for so many hours and knew we had 1000's more feet to descend and hours more to go, and you'd just think "come on, really?"  

Yes, really, they did accomplish all that!
The Stats:
Over 15 hours of climbing and descending, with one 90 minute break at High Camp to pack & eat
4118 miles up to the summit (19,341 feet)
4118 miles back to High Camp(15,223 feet)
over 5000 more miles down to their rest stop for tonight Mweka Camp (10, 065 feet)
They started (their time) at midnight and ended up stopping finally close to 5pm

At Mweka Camp they are "tired but good". The Christofferson boys last called about 8pm their time, both lying in their tent about to pass out. Randy is definitely sore, but very happy and thrilled his body and his knee held up so well.  He never had a real issue on this climb, said he felt better than on any other mountain expedition, so was very thankful for that. He said it was a novel experience not feeling completely depleted on the summit. He was most grateful to be with Alex and very, very proud of Alex's accomplishment.  They loved sharing this experience with the Barrs, who all said this is the hardest thing they had ever done but truly were outstanding. The whole Delaware team rocked the rocks! I can't wait to hear all the perspectives and highlights from Dan, Paula and Caroline, and I'm hopeful to talk to Paula tomorrow when they're back at the hotel.

They all have a million stories to share, hundreds of photos, and will soon fill in the details.  I'm sure Randy will be correcting some things I may have heard incorrectly since we typically had a sketchy connection and frequently were cut off mid-conversation.

Tomorrow they have an "easy" 4700 foot descent down to Mweka Gate, and a bus will meet them for the 2.5 hour drive back to the hotel where warm showers are top on all their lists! Maybe Randy will even have Internet tomorrow afternoon and take back blogging from me.

Thanks for all the support and cheers for our amazing team!


vvoros said...

Can't wait for the stories !!!!!!

Susan kirwin said...

Amazing feat!!! Kudos to you all!!