Returning to Kilimanjaro

Five years ago this week, I was climbing Kilimanjaro.

With a little luck and a whole bunch of help from my African friends, I reached Uhuru peak around 6:45 am on March 12, 2010.  A couple of weeks after I returned, I wrote 6,500 words documenting the experience.   Since that time, I haven’t re-read or edited what I originally wrote.  Jennifer has consistently encouraged me to, not only write more about that trip, but to share my experience with others.  This feels like a good time to do so.

After re-reading the original document, my initial thoughts were to take some time and edit what I believe was a hastily written story clumsily crafted in a format for the intent of submitting to a magazine or newspaper travel section.  But I think doing so would diminish the spirit and the frame of mind I was in just weeks after climbing the mountain.

So below is the original story…..

 

And to begin – a little background about Kilimanjaro

At just over 19,300 feet, Kilimanjaro is the tallest free standing mountain in the world and the tallest mountain in Africa. It is one of the seven summits which are the tallest mountain in each of the seven continents. When viewed from the plains of Tanzania Africa, it stands as we think a mountain should stand; rising from the ground and towering over the entire plain. The mountain is so massive, you pass through four climate zones from the bottom to the summit: rain forest, heather moorland, alpine desert and arctic snow. There may be 15 higher mountains in the world, but few are more beautiful and tantalizing.

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What is also alluring about Kilimanjaro is the accessibility to the average person. No technical mountain climbing skills are needed and people of all ages and skill levels can attempt to climb. Interestingly, the fastest climb was completed by a french runner in Oct 2007 at the amazing time of just under 5 and a half hours. The youngest to climb has been 7 years (although today you must be at least 10 years old to attempt) and the oldest being 87 years old. Just under 41,000 attempted the climb in the 2006/2007 climbing season; most believe at least 25% don’t make it to the crater and only 6 out of 10 reach the peak.

In short, while the climb isn’t easy, it is achievable.

Mount Kilimanjaro is located within the Kilimanjaro National Park, which is similar to a national park you might find in the United States. There are entrance fees, entrance gates, well marked trails, park rangers and a regulated system for trekking in the park. At the beginning of the trek, all climbers must register, and also sign in along several points along the trail. Plus, at the all important end gate, you finalize the trip with a final registration; and if you were lucky enough to reach the peak, presentation of a certificate recognizing your successful ascent to the highest point, Uhuru Peak.

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No one is allowed to climb within the park without a registered guide, who accompanies the party throughout the stay within the park.


Kilimanjaro has two main summits – Kibo, the higher circular summit you see in most photos, and Mawenzi – a spiky peak to the east, which can only be climbed with advanced mountain climbing skills.

There are 6 routes to the top of Kilimanjaro, with 5 being ascent only routes, and 1 being both a ascent and descent route. Most routes are between 5 and 7 days. The more days spent on the ascent, the better chance of making up the mountain due to the necessary and heavy acclimation that must occur. Some of the routes, such as the Marangu route (some call it the Coca-Cola because you sleep in huts and can reportedly purchase soda on the route) have dormitory style huts and toilet huts, while the others are a camping experience sleeping on the ground in tents. The route I chose, the Rongai Route, is the only route that begins the trek from the North side of the mountain, near the Kenyan border, and also allows for an extra day of acclimation at 14,000 feet.

Finally, as mentioned above, you are accompanied by not only an experienced licensed guide, but you must book the trek through a licensed tour operator, which coordinates the entire trip, from travel arrangements to Tanzania, hiring of local guides, cooks and porters, and securing of all supplies. KE Adventure, a worldwide travel agency out of the UK, was my partner throughout the trip and provided exceptional service. From the early questions of my physical ability and experience, to the final transfer to Kilimanjaro airport from my flight home, KE was professional, competent and provided for an exceptional experience. They have been voted the #1 adventure travel company in the world by National Geographic.

Pre-trek and pre-climb activities

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Yep, that’s me at Edgewater Park training for the climb. Not much too it, alot of long walks and up and down the hill in the park. You can knock the Cleveland hard winter, but walking in the wind, cold and snow, helped me prepare for the arctic conditions that I would face near the top of the mountain.

I quickly learned to keep gloves on and tuck the mouthpiece of my bladder water system inside my jacket (however, this technique didn’t matter on top – water hose still froze). In the end, I was properly prepared, physically fit and the equipment worked out great. I have to thank the folks @ Appalachian Outfitters for helping me through the early preparations and my clothing and equipment needs.

On to Africa

I purposefully booked my arrival flight a day early so I could take time to work through the jet lag and also to give me a little time to explore Africa. After arriving late on Thursday night, I was met at the airport by Peter (later he would be known as Tall Peter) the KE driver and two other KE trekkers from Baltimore. Peter drove us about 30 miles west to Arusha.


Peter informed us that the Impala Hotel is where the white people stayed, possibly due to the perceived extravagance when compared to other lodging. My perception was of a small resort hotel not unlike you might find in Caribbean. Nice lobby, two restaurants (although the receptionist indicated 4, there were only two, but one of the two restaurants served Italian, Chinese and Indian, so I suppose you could say 4), bar overlooking a swimming pool, gift shop, internet cafe and rooms with private bath and a television.

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After a good night’s sleep @ the Impala, this is what I saw as I parted the curtains of my hotel window.

Arriving into Tazania at night, this was my first look at the mountain I would start to climb the next day. I think I momentarily lost my breath and became a little sick of my stomach. Photograph does a poor job of capturing how massive the mountain rises above the ground and how it dominates the surroundings. More than once I have been disappointed at how much smaller many of the famous monuments were in contrast to the vision in my head. Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, much smaller than photographs. The sight of this mountain on my first morning overwhelmed me and put this little trek into perspective, and at that moment, I wished I had spent most of the winter walking uphill.

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Ok. I quickly recovered and decided to explore a little of the town. Unfortunately, not much to Arusha, here are a couple of photos of the town near the hotel and a couple of kids playing soccer.

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I quickly found myself at the hotel bar.

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The pool is directly behind Abu, the bartender who shot the photo. Notice the beer near my right hand.

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Brewed from the waters of Kilimanjaro, this 4.5% 500ml (about 17 ounces) lager is the Budweiser of Tanzania.

Served everywhere, it’s by far the tourist’s favorite, and most of the locals enjoyed also. I found it more flavorful than an American lager with a slight, sweet kick at the end; which I attributed to the streams of the mountain outside my window.

The beer’s tag line: “It’s Kili Time. Make the Most of it” became a trail favorite of mine to help lighten the spirits of my fellow trekkers, particularly on the way down when most of our attention was on the hotel bar at the end of the trail.

The line never became stale.

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At 4:00 pm we met our head guide, Onex, and a number of the guides and cooks that would help us up the mountain. We boarded a bus and headed east for the 2 hour trip to Marangu and the Nakara hotel where we would stay the night before beginning the trek the next day.

About half way we stopped to pick up more guides and porters. See the white jeep at the far left of the photo. That morning, two guides had led a team down the mountain and were returning to Arusha, meaning they had climbed the mountain only a day before and were now going back up the mountain the following day.
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So now, with all of our 4 guides and 3 cooks, we continued to Marangu arriving at the Nakara Hotel in the early evening.

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The Nakara was a good hotel to spend our last night before the trek. A local wedding reception was being held on the outside grounds. Not unlike an Ohio wedding, there was music, dancing, toasts and of course an open bar (see below).

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Interestingly, the music was a combination of African themed melodies and lyrics and American Wedding favorites. Before signing off for the night, the Tanzanian DJ played Michael Bolton’s remake of “When a Man Loves a Woman”, Chris D’Burg’s “Lady in Red” and the closer, “My Heart Will Go On” by the lovely Celine Dion. Imagine, your second night in Africa, laying in bed in a small hotel room, apprehensive and a little terrified by Kilimanjaro’s peak framed in the window to your right, and a hugely popular pop song about a ocean liner disaster drifting in from the window to your left. Folks, this was very unsettling.

But the apprehension didn’t end there. No mosquito nets in this room and I was bothered alot of the night by a number of mosquitoes. The noisy buzzing was only slightly annoying, but my fear of contracting malaria while on the trek and ruining this trip was much more powerful. Plus, somehow I had stepped in, what I think was african cow dung, during our brief stopover from Arusha and had attempted to alleviate the smell by cleaning the bottom of my boots in the bathroom sink. Now just as Steve McQueen said in The Magnificent Seven, “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the the Time”, I did succeed in removing all remains from the boots but only a little later did it dawn on me that I probably contaminated anything within 2 feet of that sink – the swiss army knife I used to dig in the cracks of the soles, the shoelaces which probably became infected while dragging on the sink bottom, the sink itself. I now am panicked and attempted to disinfect anything that was remotely close to that sink with not only the soap the hotel provided, but a sterilization bath of anti-bacterial hand cleaner. I was pretty sure my trip would start (end?) horribly with some bad ecoli.

Thankfully, I did get to sleep and the next morning we ate breakfast at the hotel, met the rest of my trekking partners and began the preparations for a two hour bus ride to the north side of the mountain to begin the climb.

Here are photos of the porters loading up the van and a look at the amount of supplies that were carried up the mountain by the porters.

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I estimated about 1,700 lbs were carried up the mountain, which not only included all of our individual gear, but tents, food, cooking/eating utensils, water jugs and a portable toilet. Yep, some poor soul, probably a rookie porter, was charged with cleaning, dumping and carrying our waste up over 15,ooo feet. The toilet was about the size of an igloo cooler, except square instead of rectangular. The top lid opened up to a typical toilet seat and the waste fell below – very similar in look to an airplane toilet. There was a small button to add water and you pulled a handle near the bottom of the toilet to ‘flush’ the waste to a receptacle below. A tarp shelter was built around the toilet, about the size of a phone booth with a zipper in front to create a makeshift entrance. Much better than squatting outside for us, but a real ‘dump’ for the porter who carried it up the mountain.

Packed and loaded, we set off in the bus, around the mountain, along a dirt road that was often washed away due to the recent rains. The road wound it’s way thru many local villages and we experienced more of the local Chugga culture stopping at a local town about half way there.

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A typical bar in a smaller village. Most have a few tables on the porch, with more tables in the bar.

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Not unlike bars in the states, pool tables are common, but most I found were located outside. Given more time, I would have loved to challenge these locals to a little game of “Murder by Numbers”. For those who aren’t familiar, I’ll be happy to show you next time at Tina’s.

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If you’re lucky, you might be invited past the bar in the main room, past a curtain, and down a long hallway with doors on each side, presumably hotel rooms, to a patio in the back.

The bar in Rafikiandu, where we stopped on the way to the beginning of the trail, had a very nice feature on it’s patio. Look closely and you may recognize a Tanzanian jukebox. Crude, yes, but but it looked to have all the makings of a viable entertainment for the local Chuggas (although I now see that the positioning of the lower speaker is not ideal). Unfortunately, the jukebox only accepted coins, and I had none; and in fact, I never saw a coin during my entire stay. Maybe there were tokens available at the bar, like a Dave and Buster’s. Regardless, I was disappointed at not being able to bring a little of my jukebox magic to Rafikiandu.

Moments after photographing the jukebox, a local Chuggan (Chuggan? I just made that up, it could be terribly wrong) approached me and in broken english mumbled something about photographing “something much more interesting that would never be seen in America”. Intrigued enough to follow this man until we made our way past a few locals, who weren’t smiling but smirking, towards a small room. I couldn’t see into the entire room, but did manage to see something looke that like hanging, dead fish. Sweating, I quickly indicated my bus was about to leave.

Only time I really felt uncomfortable with the Tanzanians; however, as I write this, I wish I knew what was in that room.

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Before boarding the bus for the remainder of the trip, one of the trekkers from the UK began to give out candy to the local children, who quickly surrounded him.

The children seemed to be prepared for something like this to happen, probably aware that each Sunday there might be a bunch of white folks with candy in there pockets. They consistently kept there eyes on me looking for any movement to my pockets.

Tanzanians

Now, before I began discussing the trek, it’s important to give some insight into the local guides, cooks and porters that helped us during our climb. As mentioned earlier, you are not allowed to enter the park and attempt to climb the mountain without registering and utilizing a licensed guide. From the best I could understand, in order to become a guide, you had to have experience as a porter, reached the peak at least twice (some said less than two hours from the bottom of the crater to the top, but I couldn’t confirm) and passed an exam that helped educate on the history of Kilimanjaro, guiding techniques and basic safety.

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Our extraordinary guides: Peter, Elias, William and Onex.

 

The photo was taken the morning before our final ascent to the top on “The Saddle”, the alpine desert at about 15,000 feet.

Being one of the only climbers travelling alone, I became close to the guides and porters. Although the relationship began as a business one, I was paying these men to help me along the way, I soon considered them my friends.

Onex, the lead guide, coordinated all activities of the climb, from setting each day’s camp to giving us direction for the following day’s activities. He typically did not climb the entire day with the group allowing the three others to coordinate while he ensured the previous camp was disbanded and the next was ready when we arrived. Onex also had a wife and a young boy, that loved chocolate. Being 35, he shared with me that he only had 5 years left of being able to lead folks to the top and dreamed of opening a cafe in Arusha.

Peter, who’s role seemed to be at the back to help out any treker that was having difficulty, looked to have the most experience and was the #2 man. Professional, yet still warm, he frequently asked how each member of the group was managing. He was put in charge of leading our final ascent, setting the pace to ensure all would make it to the top. Hard to say how many times he had witnessed the final steps to Uhuru peak, but in an unforgetable gesture as I walked those final steps, he removed my pack, loosened the hood of my coat to set it back off my head and gave me a hug. Peter, that will never be forgotten.


William was my seat partner in the bus to Marangu and a helpful guide to what I saw out of the bus window. Pointing out Manwenzi Tarn, a tanzanite mine, a wedding held on the street. William patiently answered my questions and added additional commentary. Married with twin boys, his cellphone had a photo of one of them. He also stayed near the back with Peter thru much of the journey.

Elias was single, a non-drinking Christian, and was born in the Lake Victoria region. His family was back home in Lake Victoria and in the larger Tanzanian town of Dar es Salaam. His long term goal was to become a safari driver and was spending the upcoming summer practicing his English and learning French and Spanish. Elias was at the front of the line leading us up the mountain from the first day until the final push to the top, where Peter took over. Always, friendly, smiling and with a touch of humor, he let me know that Elias means “Elijah” in Swahili and I quickly named him “the prophet”, frequently asking him to see into the future concerning our trek. Weather was the groups favorite next day topic, and Elias would consistently respond, “Kilimanjaro weather is unpredictable. She is like a chameleon.” He wasn’t a great prophet other than to assure me that I would make it to the top; however, this became a new catch phrase.
On the bus ride from Arusha to Marangu on that first day, I shared my travel guide book with a few of the guides, and Elias liked the photos of the animals and plants we might see along the way. He frequently would reference a particular plant along the trek saying this was in my “monkey book”, because of a photo of a columbus monkey in the travel guide.

I’m not sure if any of the guides had really seen a travel book, as unusual as that sounds, and were thrilled to see a book about their lives, scanning the initial credits for names of other guides they might know. Not surprisingly, they were also particulalry interested on the chapter concerning how much to tip guides and porters. This open sharing of the book was my first acceptance by the Tanzanian team and I quickly became known as “the good guy”.

The porters were the grunts of the trek. They broke down each camp, carried our supplies up the mountain, and set up camp for us before we arrived.

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Typically they carried the gear on their heads. Photo was taken just outside the Rongai Gate; a poor guy hoofing it to Mawenzi Tarn, our campsite on day 3.
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Each porter was only allowed to carry 35 lbs each. At the park entrance, each porter’s pack had to be inspected and weighed before we could begin. Onex, in the white shirt by the door, is overseeing the scale to ensure we were in compliance. The gentleman in green, who is pointing, was the lead cook, Benjamin.
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One of my favorite activities by the porter crew was their greeting each day at the new camp site. Photos of day 2 and 1 and the group singing the Kilimajaro song welcoming us to camp. There is also a good shot of the telephone booth toilet in the background.

The fellow with the red jacket is Jovin, who greeted me each day while removing my pack, personally set up my tent and carried my gear up the mountain.

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Michael from Baltimore captured the final singing on film. This was the extended version of their song to celebrate our achievement of ascent.

 

 

A porter’s life was not easy, with each porter climbing with a much heavier pack, establishing and tearing down of each camp, ensuring we had food to eat and the dishes were washed. Each always greeted with the familar “Jambo” (hello in Swahili) and would attempt to cater to your needs. I respect this team and it would be unfair to not give the guides, porters and cooks alot of the credit for the success of our group’s climb.

Typical day stuff

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That’s our camp at Simba campsite, day one, and my tent where I slept for 6 nights.

 

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That’s the mess tent where all 12 of us were served our meals. To the right, is the green wash bucket where we washed our hands with some sort of red colored antibacteria water, could have been iodine. To the left is the water filter pump that was utilized to clean our water and the cooler where we filled our water bottles. The pink bowls to the left was filled each day with warm water, both morning and night, where we washed up. This photo is also @ Simba campsite on the first evening.

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Juma, assistant chef, waiting for us to show up for breakfast on our final morning.

 

They fed us well. Breakfast always began with porridge and toast and sometimes eggs, pancakes; but the particular favorite was hot dogs and beans (pork n’ beans). I learned to scoop the beans on the bread and eat with fork. Always tea, coffee and something called Milo – like nestle quik but juiced up with gatorade elements (notice the hotdogs and milo.)

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Lunch was typically warm, sometimes chicken, typically soup, fruit.

Dinner always began with a soup, and often a stew or pasta/rice. Fruit was always present.

Plus, we typically had tea with popcorn, cookies and fruit a couple of hours before dinner.

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We shared this campsite with a few other climbers in a smaller group, whose tents are in the top right. The larger green tent in the middle is where the food was cooked and also where many of the porters slept (many also slept on the table and chairs in our mess tent).
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For comparison, I shot a photo of the huts that were available on the Marangu route, the route we descended. Six people would stay in each hut. In the background, is a ranger station and, out of the photo to the left was a bathroom hut with flushing toilets but no toilet seats.

My Fellow Trekers

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11 other climbers made it to the top early on Friday morning. There we are on Thursday morning at our camp at Mawenzi Tarn.

From left to right:
Allison from Scotland, Sarah and Karl from Australia, Michael and David from Baltimore, the 6 Englishmen from Bolton: Mark, Phil, Ian, Ian (yep two Ian’s), Dave and Tim, and of course the heavy set fellow with the goofy hat is me.

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You get to know your fellow trekers quite well and I quickly became close to the 6 guys from Bolton, England – so close they honored me as a fellow englishman and invited me and Jen to visit them next fall in England.

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This photo is the guys practicing before a quick grudge match with Tanzania. Take note, we are camped at Mawenzi Tarn @14,000 feet. You may also notice the ‘pitch’ they built for the match. England won easily with a very nice header from Phil’s thrown in to Ian. At that altitude, the game was short – I think two halves of 5 minutes each. The soccer ball became our mascot and, of course, was named Wilson by the team. If you’re wondering, Wilson also made it to the top and was given to one of the porters with a young son at the end of the trek.

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Not to be outdone by the porter singing at the end of each day, the UK bunch entertained the guides and porters with their version of a UK climbing song on the last morning.

That’s Mark, Dave, Tim, Phil and the two Ian’s.

On to the climb and some more photos

Before a rapid fire of photos, I felt I should give a quick summary of the overall climb (all figures approximate):

  • Day One: Rongai Gate to Simba Campsite (8,600 ft), 4.3 miles, gained 2,000 ft
  • Day Two: Simba Campsite to Kikelelwa Campsite (12,000 ft), 7.4 miles, gained 3,500 ft
  • Day Three: Kikelelwa Campsite to Mawenzi Tarn (14,100 ft), 2.5 miles, gained 2,000 ft
  • Day Four: Acclimization day @ Mawenzi Tarn
  • Day Five: Mawenzi Tarn to Kibo Huts (base camp @ 15,500 ft), 5.6 miles, gained 1,500 ft
  • Day Six: Kibo Huts to Gillman’s Peak (18,800 ft), 2.5 miles then to Uhuru Peak (19,300 ft) 1.25 miles, then back down to Kibo Huts, then 6.2 miles to Horombo Huts. Total 3.75 miles up and 10 miles back down
  • Day Seven: Horombo Huts to Marangu Gate, 12.4 miles

About 26 miles up, for a total roundtrip of 52 miles.


Climb Photos

Camp @ Kikelelwa with Mawenzi peak in the background, camp @ 14,000 ft.

Camp @ Kikelelwa with Mawenzi peak in the background, camp @ 14,000 ft.

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Sun rising @ Kikelelwa camp.

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Same morning, except up the mountain to the peak. Notice the snow which would melt before we arrived a few days later.

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Mawenzi peak @ 17,000 ft.

 

Our camp @ Mawenzi Tarn is in the far distance near the water. If you could part the clouds in the background, you would see Kenya far down the mountain.

Our camp @ Mawenzi Tarn is in the far distance near the water. If you could part the clouds in the background, you would see Kenya far down the mountain.

 

Sunrise @ Mawenzi Tarn.

Sunrise @ Mawenzi Tarn.

Looking across the saddle from Mawenzi Tarn to Kilimanjaro. This was taken the morning before the midnight start to Uhuru Peak. We walked across the saddle that morning.

Looking across the saddle from Mawenzi Tarn to Kilimanjaro. This was taken the morning before the midnight start to Uhuru Peak. We walked across the saddle that morning.

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Nice photo while walking the saddle. About one inch to the right and over my head, you can make out the trail up to Gillman’s Point, at the very top of the crater.

We would then walk to my right across the crater to the snow on the far left of this photo, to reach Uhuru Peak.

Physical/Emotional Effects

A couple of quick thoughts regarding what was happening to my body and mind as we climbed. Surprisingly the climbing itself was not as difficult as expected. Although uphill all the way, the frustratingly slow pace, at least in the beginning, helped us manage the climbing without too much fatigue later on. No doubt, I was sore and stiff each night but not particulalry overwhelmed. The real tough part was the lack of oxygen, particulalry after day two. Breathing became increasingly difficult each day and any excertion was felt quickly and heavily. The best description would be a steady hangover, with some nausea, headache and lethargy. Luckily I only felt mild affects, while others in the group suffered from painful headaches and more severe nausea. Still, nobody suffered any major affects of altitude sickness.

Diarrhea was a concern for many and I felt a mild case on day 4, but I quickly took some antibiotics and it went away.

Lack of an appetite was my most serious symptom. It would have helped if I would have brought along more snacks like powerbars, nuts or chocolate to give some variety to the food that was served. As the trip progressed, I was increasingly not eating.

Farting is a common side affect while you acclimatize and, I’m told, a good sign you’re adapting. I suppose what happens on the mountain, stays on the mountain and all non-mountain decorum regarding farting was not observed. Very common to lay in your tent at night and hear alot of bodies adapting.

Mentally, I moved to an apprehensive survivor state where reaching the peak became more important as we climbed, and I constantly was evaluating any unforseen challenges that would prevent me from doing so. Most of the discussion with the trekking team revolved around the next day’s challenges, weather, how big the mountain looked up close and any other nuggets of info we knew. I also was constantly checking my equipment. I became obsesive with items around me to ensure I could easily reach them in the tent, like headlamp and camera (which slept with me in my sleeping bag, to keep the batteries warm), gloves, journal. Each day was carefully planned for equipment ensuring I had what I needed with me for the climb, each item carefully placed in it’s proper place in my pack.

I worried over my health and would repeatedly wonder if something would go wrong to keep me from climbing – the twisted ankle on day three, the toe I had hurt back home before the trek. While resting for the final push on Thursday, I suddenly had thoughts of having a heart attack while climbing – could my weak heart that has had to deal with high blood pressure and cholesterol fail me. Folks, all thoughts were on making the final climb.

Uhuru Peak

Looking back, I think the initial days of the trek are really about preparing you for that final push to top of the volcano. You climb slowly early, allowing your body to adjust to the altitude, and you spend an extra day @ 14,000 feet taking two practice climbs up similar terrain you will experience at the top. All preparation for the final push at the end of the week.

On Wednesday night the push begins. After dinner, Onex briefed us about the following day’s requirements and an alarming demonstration of the decompression chamber (at least that’s what I’m calling it). Lucky to have one, I suspect we were one of the few who carried one up the mountain. It looked like a large, round sleeping bag. When experiencing serious altitude sickness, one would be zipped into the bag and someone else would pump air increasing the pressure within the bag allowing your body to experience a ‘lower altitude’. While thankful for the demonstration, there’s nothing like a blast in the face of the potential upcoming danger. Everyone of us imagined ourselves being in that bag being speedily rushed down the mountain to safety.

Sleeping was difficult that night. Eager to get going, while more than a little scared about what might happen, and thoughts of that red sleeping bag.

The next morning was the 5.6 mile hike across the saddle to base camp @ Kibo Huts, all the while staring at the crater and what’s ahead of you that night. After lunch and another quick reminder of the day, we were instructed to rest in our tent until 5, have dinner, rest again until 11:00 for some tea and cookies/porridge then gear up for the 12:00 am departure up the crater.

5 hours later you reach Gillmans Point in the dark, walking in a zombie state only looking at the next guy’s feet, trying not to observe the other climbers who are struggling on the path as you walk. And another hour and 45 minutes around the rim to watch the sunrise from Uhuru Peak.

Why start at night? Before the climb up the crater, we were told this gave us the opportunity to see the sunrise on Kilimanjaro; after, we were told otherwise. If you could see what is in front of you while you are climbing, most would turnaround, guaranteed.

Fair enough.

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Inside the crater from the peak.

 

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The southern icefield from the peak.

 

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March 12, 2010, 6:45 am

The Descent

Of the many books, magazines and television programs regarding trekking and mountain climbing, all reported that most accidents occur on the way down. Fatigue, carelessness and bad decisions lead to injury and, sometimes death. This weighed on my mind as we started our descent.

I only spent about 20 minutes at the peak and was eager to get down. Folks, I was physically drained. I hadn’t had a decent meal in days, slept fairly poorly and just spent the last 7 hours climbing up the steepest trail I had ever encountered. Plus, walking down around the crater in the sunlight was much different than on the ascent. In the dark, you didn’t realize the snowy, narrow path with the steep sides on your left and the darkness on your right, was really a carved out path along the inner high side of the crater. One misstep, and you were sliding into the crater. Extremely careful, I slowly made my way to Gillman’s Point.

At Gillman’s Point, I numbly sat there with my head in my hands, my water tube in my mouth trying to blow and suck the stuck piece of ice out of the water tube. I finally managed to unlodge the ice, drank some water then slowly, and I mean slowly, make my way down the crater. For most of the way down, you can somewhat ‘ski’/skid straight down the mountain. I had little energy to do anything and began to really fall behind the others, who were almost to base camp. Luckily, I had bummed a power bar from another trekker and ate half while I continued to walk. That was all my body needed and this little bit of energy propelled me down to base camp.

Exhausted, I collapsed in the tent to rest for a couple of hours, before having some lunch and completing the final six miles on the Marangu Route to our final night’s camp at Horumbu huts.

I was physically drained and slept heavily that last night.

The next morning, it was an early start for the remaining 12.5 miles to the bottom on the south side of the mountain and all were in good spirits as we descended.

It was particulalry gratifying to be the seasoned climbers we thought we were as we passed the climbers heading up the mountain. All of us could respond to their question, “Did you make it?” with a resounding “Yes”. So draining was the last two days, it was only during the descent the following day, that I was capable of comprehending what exactly I had accomplished.

Elated, exhilarated, gratified. But most of my thoughts were about returning home, a shower and a cold beer.

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African rainforest near the bottom of the Marangu Route. Clearly different than the Rongai Route and a super pleasant walk. We had just climbed Kilimanjaro!

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End of the trail at Marangu Gate.

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Back at the Hotel Nakara and feeling alot better after a shower.

It’s Kili Time, so we made the most of it by creating a new dance. Gabrieal behind the bar played the song and we recreated our trek up the mountain. Elias is the guy in red.

Final Thoughts

It’s now been over two weeks since climbing up and down the mountain and I am now just becoming capable of wrapping my head around the experience. As before the trek, and while answering the frequent questions regarding the trip, I am fully aware of the intellectual balancing between the easily attainability of reaching Uhuru Peak and the emotional and physical demands of climbing that same peak.

In short, I met all five of my goals for this experience: have fun, meet new people, experience a new culture, get me out of my comfort zone, and climb Kilimanjaro. By any measure, this was by far one of the neatest things I have ever done and my perspective regarding what’s really important in life has been shaken.

Still, I’m holding to my original charge of this being only one of the many branches in my experience tree.

However, don’t be surprised if you see a little more swagger in my step.

Epilogue

I relied heavily on the book “Kilimanjaro, The Trekking Guide to Africa’s Highest Mountain”, by Henry Stedman for both pre and post trekking and during the climb. Anyone that is interested in Kilimanjaro should check out this book and his website.

Also, Michael from Baltimore shot a ton of photos and some great videos including the end of day porter song, the Bolton boys singing and the bar song and dance.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/28358303@N03/sets/72157623499644743/

I must end by saying thanks to all of the folks that made this trip successful.

Onex, Elias, William and Peter for outstanding direction, support and companionship leading me and 11 others up and down Kilimanjaro.

Jovin for carrying my gear up the mountain, greeting me at the end of the trail, waking me in the morning and tying that plastic bag to my tent so I could find it each day.

Juma for serving my meals, assuring I always had seconds, and for being the first to greet me at the bottom of the crater.

Michael for filling my water every day.

Benjamin for the delicious meals and for my first taste of Amarula.

Peter (Tall) for successfully driving us thru fairly dangerous traffic and the washed out dirt road to the Rongai Gate. Note: I’ve heard the leading cause of death in Tanzania is driving accidents. And in my very short time on the road, I saw both a turned over bus and a motorcycle accident.

My fellow trekkers, who made me laugh, taught me something new and made the trip more than it ever could have been.

All of the folks back home who encouraged and supported me.

Finally, and most importantly, Jennifer who bravely supported this trip from the beginning, who allowed me to experience alone, and never let me forget why this trip meant something.

She was with me the entire way.

C. Smith

Author: C. Smith

    “All you have to do is write one true sentence.” Ernest Hemingway I’m no Hemingway. But this web creation is a part of writing that one true sentence. Of being inspired by fellow contributors that have, if not something meaningful, but interesting to say and are willing to invest energy beyond 140 characters. Of creating an open forum for these ideas, capturing a thought or a moment in time. But more importantly, this is about a personal commitment to putting a thought to paper and throwing it against the wall to see if it sticks. Enjoy.

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