Published: March 14th 2011February 20th 2011
Hello again to all of our friends and family both near and far. Many of our past travels have been based on the criteria that there are some places in this world that will look much different now than what we would see in 10-25 years. One could make that argument for most locations but we’ve tried to identify the most drastic of scenarios. A past discussion on Tanzania’s Mt Kilimanjaro brought up the fact of its quickly disappearing glacier coverage. Experts say at the current rate, hikers in 15 years will miss out on brilliant blue ice walls table topping Africa’s highest point…that was enough, bought the tickets. Okay, in all honesty, the likelihood of us climbing at 4 vertical miles in 15 years is a stretch also and played heavily into the equation.
We were truly fortunate to be paired up for the climb with 3 Australian adventurers by the names of Sarah, Sophie and Marty. By the end of the week, we will have discussed nearly every known topic with these once strangers. From uncontrollable laughter to secret peeves and fears...the support and enthusiasm we shared within the group helped make each step and eventual summit possible. We
thank you three dearly and consider friends for life.
We chose the 6 day Rongai route allowing us to stay in tents throughout and giving us that authentic no such-thing-as-shower-and-just-slept-in-a-tent-look. The first 3 days took us through quickly changing landscapes. The tall trees of lush jungle offered the sights and sounds of exotic birds and monkeys but quickly fell away to shorter trees, dry thick brush, sharper grades and occasional views through the clouds at the Kili peak. Lower elevations brought us past local families going about their daily lives of growing food, tending to livestock and carrying buckets of water from the nearby streams. A cheerful “Jambo” and wave was typical.
The local porters who’ve grown up in the shadows of this great mountain showed impressive strength and stamina as they carried nearly 40lb loads of cooking supplies, tents and food at a super-human pace. With packs slung over their backs and shoulders or balancing on their heads, we were passed every ten minutes by a small group of these men. As hikers, it was the responsibility of the last in line to call out “Beyonce” to the group instructing everyone to move “to the left, to the left”
allowing porters to pass on the narrow trails. Each evening we arrived at camp, we were welcomed to the sight of our pitched tent and the smell of home cooked food being prepared. A union representing the porters secures wages and weight limits giving us some peace of mind that any potential exploitation was being addressed.
A highly recommended drug to combat altitude sickness is Diamox which everyone had decided to take for the climb but side effects are soon apparent. Tingling hands and feet as though your limbs had fallen asleep was a common occurrence when resting, and an even more frustrating symptom was the incessant need to relieve one’s bladder. At lower altitudes, nature affords you ample coverage but one will find it more and more difficult as you reach the barren slopes of the mid/upper slopes. Even more of a nuisance is the call of nature every 2-3 hours while trying to sleep in your tent with pouring down rain outside. I suggest to those of you who maybe considering this medication…strategize an alternative to leaving your tent each and every time. Donning clothes and boots for the trip out into rain or snow takes precious rest
time. On the topic and equally deserving of mention, be careful with your flashlight in a tent...a silhouette of a person hovering over a zip-lock bag makes for funny breakfast conversation.
As forewarned, elevation puts a real dent in your appetite, despite the delicious food. The thousands of calories your body burns in a day on this climb needs to be replaced but by day 3, it became tougher to shovel in the loads of carbs our guide was forcing us to eat. If a stern lecture by Silvano our chief guide did nothing to pick up the eating pace, the chef/porter was sent in to our tent with a hurt look on his face. This carried enough currency for one or two more bites of vegetable stew over pasta. The often used joke of a feedbag was not too far from the truth.
Acclimatization climbs before dinner every day were often met with upbeat spirits by the team since we knew it was at most a few hundred vertical meters and we carried little more than a camera. On the evening of day 3, it took us to what would be the snow level the following morning. Little at
this level grows or lives so only a series of stacked rocks dotted the landscape which according to the guides had been built for good luck.
We set out on day 4 dressed as we had the few days prior equipped with rain gear which was typically stripped off after morning as the day’s intense sun began to warm us. Only this day, the snow had fallen and the expected return of the mid-day heat never arrived. We trudged through the newly fallen snow mixed with dirt and finally only white footsteps could be seen behind us. The new cold/slippery surface beneath us initially brought excited conversation but as we neared 15000 feet on the way to Kibo Hut, the snow fell…breathing was labored and conversation was sparse. A few of us had not anticipated the temperature drop and suffered from the driving snow that met us as we neared the camp. A chaotic charge we hadn’t seen was apparent as we entered camp and readied ourselves for a warm meal in the hut. Swahili being yelled from the Porters at both team members and competing teams filled the air and we watched as this quickly filling camp swarmed with
anticipation and readiness. Our porters were proud to show us our million dollar views from alongside the ridge which no doubt had taken some verbal wrestling to secure. The porter’s excitement was apparent in this camp, for them...they had reached their summit. They would await teams to return from the top and finally receive some real rest. They wasted no time in digging drain trenches around the tents for the anticipated melt off that would happen following the sun’s return. This had saved us nearly every day from waking up to wet belongings. It was entertaining to watch as our food tent was doing its best to escape the porters who for a while were losing the battle to secure it to the mountain’s side. Kibo Hut had given us our first close up glimpse of what we would be facing this evening. The entire trip, we had hiked towards this mountain without it ever really getting closer and now it felt like we had actually made progress. After a short meal, and an acclimatization hike, we were instructed to try and rest for a few hours. The flapping tent fabric, dropping temperatures, and excited conversation around the camp did
little to help us sleep. The 10:30 pm alarm sounded on our watch and meant we were to dress 3-4 layers thick and report for biscuits and tea. A short pep talk took place under a huge, bright, full moon. We were reminded again of “pole’, pole’” meaning slowly-slowly which had been the chant so often used on this climb, and Silvano with nearly 70 climbs under his belt understood full well the importance of pacing one’s self. Climbing teams staggered their starts every 20 minutes or so to allow for less congestion on what would feel like two million switchbacks. We’ll never forget the singing by the 4 guides that would accompany us to the top, the voices beautiful, the lyrics simple and happy in the native Swahili. Our voices would not accompany them this time though, too risky, too little air in our lungs. We had 8 hours to go until the peak and a surplus of energy didn’t seem likely. We rested often, caught our breaths the best we could and marched and marched. A slipped step seemed extra painful...no progress, only wasted time and energy. Words of encouragement were passed around by the team, we all
needed it. Our heads craned upwards to view the spectacular collection of stars blanketing above us. This too allowed us to stretch our sore neck muscles from the hours of looking at our feet and tracking each and every future step. It was this stage we regret not having more pictures but it’s why nobody has pictures…cameras are buried under layers of Gore-tex, next to the skin, in hopes of it operating at the top. As sunrise neared, we could see the crest of Gilman’s Point. The zigzag of trail leading to it had never seemed close enough to realistically set as a visual goal but finally it was appearing. This point was considered a major milestone in reaching the summit. It gave an incredible view of the rising sun behind us and was sitting at a respectable 19,100 feet. Greeted by a hot chocolate carried by our guide, we were allowed to take in the view and prepare for the next couple of hours required to reach the summit. The craters edge we would hike around gave us spectacular views of the aqua blue glaciers. Above the clouds, the sun rose higher in the sky reflecting its rays off
the bright white snow. It’s what we pictured it would look like...the brightest of whites, the bluest of blues...perfection.
Uhuru peak, the iconic sign sitting at the highest point in Africa. The team gathered for a photo around 8:30 am and basked in the self satisfaction of achieving what we had come for. In beginning our 4 hour return to Kibo Hut, we congratulated those right behind us…the hopeful yet exhausted faces all too recognizable. Our trip down the steep face was a combination of near falls, uncontrolled ski-less skiing and even more sheer exhaustion. Our legs responding less and less to our requests, it was here we fantasized the addition of a Zip-Line to the bottom.
With only time to pull camp and pack up, we left Kibo hut after a sugar filled Coke and short meal. It was now 1:30pm and we set out for 10k across the foggy, moon like surface towards our lower elevation camp. That evening, with adrenaline dwindling and 36 sleepless hours at our backs...we slept.
The next morning had us up before sunrise to start our pre-lunch 19k. With a snow capped Kili behind us now, we passed through so many scenic areas
offering flowing streams, trees that appeared to have sprung from the mind of Dr. Seuss and lush jungles. The rain started as just a drizzle and we were to the credit of our guide Abel warned just prior but we could smell the bottom just a few hours away and putting on all of the rain gear was a true bother. We soon found out that when a local guide actually speaks up and says it will rain…they mean REAL rain. The next 3 hours brought an unstoppable rain storm that after 10 minutes had soaked everything. The rain pants in our packs would do little at this point and pressed on with thoughts of hot showers and dry socks consuming us. The eventual arrival at the Kili Park gates was met with hoots, high fives and synchronized boot draining from all of us. We had done it; with barely a word spoken...we had managed the 12 miles of memorable muddy terrain before lunch. Smiles were on every face and the near sprains and low branch collisions were quickly forgotten.
This is a trip I hope more people come to Tanzania to experience. It’s an achievement we’ll forever be proud
of. Safari is next, stay tuned.
ps. There are 3 pages of photos (just click "next page" to view all photos)
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