On day 6 we woke up at 1 a.m., had a large meal and got ready to roll.
The guide is looking at my huge backpack, puzzled at why I'm carrying all this, insisting I take a lighter one. Instead I grab another thing from my friend Zhenya and stuff it into my backpack for more weight.
Starting at 2:20 a.m. Just 1, 500 m ahead of us, but it's in fact 6.5 km and 7 hours of hiking.
In the mountains you can't just calculate the distance between the two points. You need to consider the angle, the climbs and descents. And so 6.5 km turn into long hours.
The Kilimanjaro climb is really steep and rocky. In the dark it's easy to miss a step and fall down. There's no snow, and it's unclear whether it's a good or a bad thing.
As usual, the first third of the hike is easy, there's still the energy and the body is adapting well to the height.
However, the further we go, the harder it gets, and the headaches start. The lack of oxygen lowers the pace.
A distraction is much needed. I turn on the music, get out the earphones and start singing along, which is not easy at 5, 000 m high. The breathe is uneven, but it's still a distraction.
Guys are asking me to turn up the music for distraction. I plug the earphones out and go to the head of the group, so that everyone could hear.
Before we know it, we reach the first significant point – the Stella Point at 5, 756 m.
Had some tea, rested a couple minutes and went on. You can't rest for a long time, because it's getting harder and harder to make oneself to keep moving. Plus, the nausea, weakness and headache is more pronounced when at rest and not so noticeable while going.
The last bit of the route is left, about 1 km. 130 m still to go to the top.
This is the hardest part of the route. The body starts to give up on you. I keep going like a robot, stumbling a little. Pain and discomfort stand down to make room for taking step by step. Each step is an endeavor. I feel like my backpack is 30 kg.
The inner monologue begins. I'm forcing myself to keep going, searching for motivation and reasons. Forcing myself not to stop.
The power of will comes up at moments like these. It's becoming clear who is willing to pay for their goal, whether they're able to go on their own or need to be pushed by others.
I'm pushing my limits, ready to pay any price to reach my goal. The only way I won't be able to complete the mission is if I die. This is the only way to win, sacrificing everything in the name of the higher cause.
The last bit of the route seems endless.
Finally, I have reached the highest peak in Africa – the Uhuru Peak at 5, 895 m. An adrenaline rush, immense joy and pride. Basically, a winning euphoria.
I'm shooting and resting a bit. It's impossible to stay there for long, very tough on the body. So I try to descent as soon as I can. Someone suggested to see the volcano crater, but it's another 3 hours to go. I feel that I won't be able to make it, I'm absolutely exhausted. Time to get back to the camp.
I'm going back, Artem joins me on the way. The descent is easier, sliding off. But the slope is very steep and running, gotta be careful not to break the legs. We're moving fast and careful.
We meet the Chinese on the way and they give us directions for the shortest way back. After a while we realize that we're lost. Getting lost in the African mountains is not the same as in the Russian Taiga. There's nothing but rocks, huge distance between the camps and the chances to find people are very slim.
After a while we meet a local and he shows us the way, and we find our camp, still don't get how. Finally, after two hours of wandering in the mountains we're back. Absolutely exhausted, with a terrible headache, feeling sick, the insides are in pain, as if I was kicked and punched.
Although the joy and victory surpass all other feelings.