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February 16, 2002

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(Hiking time: 14 hours) Awake at midnight and climb a mountain for 6 hours, then trek back down to camp for an additional 8 hours; that's the torture they put you through if you want to reach Kilimanjaro's summit. Only 50% of the tourists that try to get there actually succeed. Altitude sickness is the main obstacle. We felt out-of-breath and nauseous as we scrambled up the last 1200 meters of rocky shale. But the worst part came on the return trip. A sleet storm hit us. If we swam to camp we wouldn't have been wetter. In a sense we did swim; the storm turned our path into a river. Ice lined the path and made our feet slip into the water. Worse, lightning crackled around us as we stood, foot deep in water, holding metal ski poles, in a landscape where nothing grows over 2 feet high. Our choices: lie down and die of hypothermia, or walk upright and risk lightning strikes. We chose lightning because it sounded warmer.
Feeling a little sick, but happy to be at the peak at last. Our guide pushed us and got us to the top first today, in time to catch sunrise.
Cold, bleak, barren, one thought crossed our mind: we came here voluntarily?!
Jill has a brave smile, but she's ready to puke from altitude. Behind her lies Kilimanjaro crater and Mawenzi peak.
Scientists say Kilimanjaro's glaciers are retreating and may disappear if global warming continues.