Lori Higgins
Lori Higgins

Summit Day
Wednesday, March 01
On days six and seven of our trip we made our journey to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I had no idea what this portion of the journey would bring but I suspected it would be the most difficult yet incredible trek we would have. Once we had made it as far as we had come, the only thing to do is to keep going and get to the top. 
 
We had a morning trek to the next camp up followed by a rest period. We ate our "breakfast" around 10 p.m. and set off for the summit in the dark of night at 11 p.m. Although we were all prepared with gear, it is hard to describe the bone chilling wind and cold you experience at 16,000 feet in the middle of the night.
 
The ground was frozen and terrain steep and rocky. Everyone seemed to be in their zone with a guide both in front and behind them to help them navigate. As I looked up, all I could see was a steady tiny trail of headlamps from all the surrounding camps who had also begun their final ascent. It was very surreal.
 
I often looked up at the sky which was so black yet sparkling bright with stars. At this elevation they seemed so crisp, like you could identify every constellation and appeared close enough to reach up and grab. I more than once shook my head in disbelief and tried to imprint it in my brain knowing I would never see this scene, with this amazing team, again. With my loss of my husband, I have really taught myself to live in and appreciate each moment. This one was extraordinary.
 
It was so cold and windy those first five hours. If there was ever a time I was doubting my endurance this was likely it. Luckily, Sunday, the guide whom I had come to know and adore was right behind me. Sunday had a running joke with our team that he has five wives (he actually is happily married with one wife) but needed a sixth so I agreed. He would see me along the trail and yell out "my wife!" and hug me. He is a big guy with a very gentle spirit and huge heart. He often gave my shoulders a squeeze and a reassurance that he was still there. He carried my pack for me so that I could conserve my energy.
 
At one particularly hard point I was overcome with emotion and thinking of my husband. I started crying and turned and Sunday just hugged me and patted my back. I asked him to please remember, in case I became too confused at the summit, to take Tom's favorite Yankees ball cap out of my pack that I had carried to wear at the summit. He assured me he would.
 
During those brutal five hours before sunrise, it dawned on me that here was this big Tanzanian guy with whom I have not much in common, yet he and I talked and trekked together for so many hours along this trail and had formed a bond. He, at that moment, along with our entire team of almost 100 people including the porters had everything in common which was to get us safely to the summit. We had the shared human experience of love of life, love of family and the longing to enjoy this day and then safely get back to our homes.
 
As a team our goal was to raise money to fund research for this rare disease we all have in common.  However, along the way to the summit we all got to know each other and have this extraordinary experience together that will be unforgettable.
 
Just before sunrise, we were greeted by porters from our team with some hot tea. I don't think I've ever been so happy to see a sunrise in my life. We finally got some relief from the cold and trekked onward and upward. At 18,900 feet we hit Stella Point which was an amazing accomplishment. We took a team photo with the banners including my teammate Gary's who had pictures of patients who have passed away. Gary went to great lengths to get that banner to the top and I can't thank him enough for including Tom's photo. 
 
We moved onto Uhuru Peak and Sunday once again assured me all would be fine. We had a momentum going but I was unprepared for the beauty and exhilaration of breathing at over 19,000 feet. The views including the glacier were unbelievable. About 20 yards away from the sign at the Peak I was totally overcome with emotion. Sunday hugged me tight and practically picked me up to get in front of the Peak sign, and said "you did it Mama, you did it!" I don't think that feeling of gratification from that moment will ever be replicated. The other members of our team began arriving shortly thereafter and many hugs and tears were shared. 
 
I'm so proud to be a part of this team and consider them all dear friends. It was an incredible accomplishment that we achieved together. I also cannot say enough about our support team, guides and the people of Tanzania. The beauty of this country and the kindness and generosity of its people will remain in my heart forever. It is truly their spirit that helped get this MMRF team to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
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