Anything so beautiful comes at a price...and we have the scars to prove our payment. It has taken nearly 6 days to find both internet and a camera card reader in the same place, and i write this from the relative comfort of our hotel lobby in Dar es Salaam, where Mt.Kilimanjaro is just a whisper of a dream I think I once had.
Let's start off with the fact that it is the wet season here in Eastern Africa, rainy and cloudy, dank and dingy like a leftover sock stuck to the side of the washing machine for maybe 1-2 days after spin cycle. Mix that with more altitude that you can shake a stick at, and we have a recipe for a week long Steve and Liz mountain adventure. You will see many pictures of the glory, but little evidence of the suffering, apart from the few words to follow.
Of the 6 routes up Kili, the Machame route is both the "most scenic" (but shrouded in clouds during the wet season) and "most steep" (ie. feels even steeper for the lack of scenery during the wet season) . On day 1, we were eager with naive
enthusiasm, whistling our way up and up and up a well graveled path though a lush green forest. So beautiful and relieving to stretch our legs after an extended overnight flight had left our bodies and belongings folded up like suitcases. We made occasional acquaintance with white necked ravens who are remarkably large and adept at catching chunks of Oatie cookies mid-air. Then it rained and fogged and misted, but it was okay - it was fresh and we were moving! Our tent was dry thanks to the organization and leadership of our guide August, and his great crew - including a cook who cooked vegan for us for 7 days. Although we were prepared for a life of foraging for sticks and berries, with the occasional Cliff bar for mountain sustenance, we instead ate like bears preparing for hibernation. Life was good and we were grateful to not feel the accruing altitude, and to avoid the common hiker ailments - blisters and pressure sores - not us! we were seemingly bounding our way to the top of the African continent - and hallelujah to that!
So I can skip the moisture shrouded middle days - full of hiking,
acclimatizing and scrambling (including a free solo up the bolted, but not very difficult, 200 m lava tour - but let's be honest, just walking to the bushes to go pee is hard work at 4600 m so it was a bit of a rush).
And just when we thought we were proving ourselves as hardy mountain folk, scrambling and surviving high altitude for days at a time, was when the real suffering began. Although we hadn't really slept, we were woken up at 11:30 pm by our polite but insistent waiter Petro, we crammed a few cookies in our gullets and waited for August to meet us outside our tent. Behind him and his assistant guide Peter, we started the slog up from our final base camp (Barafu camp 4673 m) to the summit of Uhuru ("freedom") Peak at a whopping 5895 m. It was dark, and wearisome, but quick glimpses skyward showed a strikingly clear night sky and a perfect halfmoon shining with such brilliance - it was probably so bright because we were actually hiking towards it, coming to greet it to its day. ...meeting the moon for a late night rendevouz at Africa's highest point
First scenic view of the area
...morning view of a nearby peak from camp 1.
seemed like a reasonable thing for anyone to do from time to time.
You will have to ask Steve for his experience, but personally, at about 3 or maybe 4 hours into the exhausting heave to the peak, seeing only as far as my headlight would show, my mind and body fully separated. From that indeterminate point on the side of the mountain, when my mind and body took leave of one another, it was quite precisely 2365 steps to the to the final summit. That precise count from an imprecise point consisted of several hours of the following: left, 1, left, 2, left, 3.....left 1206.... i counted in batches of hundreds, and bundles those in my brain as pockets of 500. I continued my count as we traversed from rock to scree, from scree to snow, from a little oxygen to no oxygen, from damp and chilly to the sharpest cold I have felt, from short of breatheness to pressured spears of altitude induced brain pain. I counted without fail until the top, when August stopped short and I almost walked into him. I looked up and instantly my mind rejoined my body, I was whole and we
Our first camp
we also met some great people here on the trail with us - Owen and Lauren from New York! We even reached the summit within 15 minutes of each other.
had made it. We watched the sunrise over the ground of clouds. we cried at our glory and in awe.
And then we went down, which was a relief at first, the altitude pains quickly dissipating and finally giving our climbing muscles a break. Oh what a mistake to relish that relief, that after a mere few hours turned to torture. The pain of descent is too much to describe, but which ranks among the most miserable experiences of my life. Eight hours straight down from the peak, an exhausted sleep and 4 more hours down the next day. we survived Kili.
Our cook made us french fries in the parking lot and we drove back to town, back to diesel and poverty and tourist hacks hustling their wares, the whole experience already fading away, becoming fuzzy at the edges like a dream you can't quite grab onto but can't let go of.
In logistical news, after a lovely 3 day visit at nearby Kiboko lodge with Steve's daughter Maddy, we took a 15 hour ride in an overcrowded, hot and stuffy and smelling like a lot of body odour in a broken down bus,
Me and our guide August
...I asked him to pull me to the top in a wagon but he just laughed. it must be a language thing.
across the green, mountainously beautiful country of Tanzania. We are in Dar es Salaam for one day and heading to Zanzibar archipelago for what we are hoping is a week of restoration. Peace and love to all of you and thank you for joining us on this journey 😊
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