Michele's version from an email sent December 26, 2001
Subject: Kilimanjaro climb
Hi! Wow, where to start?! It was incredible! We had 7 really delightful days of hiking with one night of - hell might be too strong, but it was tough!! (we have only been back down @ 5 hours, so lest my story soften too much by the time we get home, here's the honest impression.) this is so weird, I am sitting in an internet cafe in Moshi Tanzania, the day after Christmas, listening to Dolly Parton!
But, we made it to the top - Uruhu peak at 5950 meters of 19,300 feet!! I honestly can't take credit for getting to the top. At about 3am, had i had a choice I probably would have turned around. It was incredibly windy and we couldn't see - there is a flashlight story. We finally reached a rocky outcrop where we could get out from the wind, and I wanted to stay. In fact, I would have been perfectly happy to wait the 3 hours for sunrise right there. but, of course, the guide would not let me! He said it was either up or down. There
was no way I was going back down that rocky path in the dark, so up I went.
The last 1 1/2 hours I am still not sure how I made it. It was so incredibly slow! But i thank you all for your thoughts and prayers as I definitely felt them. I did not climb that mountain alone! (It was Christmas eve/morning, and at one point I found myself singing Christmas carols. quite a surreal experience).
The good news, both of our legs and lungs held up great! And it appears with the right amount of acclimation, neither of us suffers from altitude sickness. Which was great! Course, it may have been I was too busy worrying about getting to the top, to even sense anything else!
We had an excellent guide who paced us perfectly, particularly during the first 5 days. He kept us going slow, painfully slow at time, but it was not a fitness issue, but an acclimatization issue. Actually, I think i have found a country that hikes at my pace! And on the ascent, he had the right amount of supportive incentive and a bit of no nonsense when we needed
it. Actually everything went probably as perfect as one could hope.
The scenery was spectacular, with each day being quite different. The first day was 7 hours through incredibly rain forest. Absolutely gorgeous! Course it rained most of those 7 hours. I know, it is a rain forest! Alex, our guide, must of asked us 5 times, did we have everything packed in plastic? Yes, yes of course. Well, somewhere in our infallible logic, we had decided to put our money belts in our day packs, not remembering this until midway thru the first deluge. By that time, water was pouring out of them, passport, money, everything just soaked! It is still trying to dry out. Ah, the rookies!
The first day we climbed @ 4500 ft to sleep at 10,000 ft. The second day it was more rocky, and we lost the trees. We began to see more sedum, but a surprising amount of blooming wildflowers. We hiked for @ 6 hours and camped at 13,000 ft. Both of these days were shear delight at a very leisurely pace. The third day we did not realize the elevational gain and did not pack enough warm clothes with
us. Unfortunately, the porters go on ahead of you, so there is no way we could get to them. The morning was all in heavy clouds, so we could not really see too much. But it was quite barren, still rocky. Our guide called it the moon walk.
That was a tough day and for me a real low. We stopped at the highest point for lunch, which we thought was only 14,000 ft and we were both not feeling well, pretty cold and a bit nauseous. We then climbed down for about 4 hours, down a slippery rocky path. It was raining - in fact it rained every day, except for the day that mattered - the ascent! I definitely do up much better than down.
We were both feeling pretty miserable by the time we got to camp. Ed had a major headache and i ended up getting sick! It was the low point for both of us. I thought because i had gotten sick, I would not be able to get to the top. Heck, would they airlift me out?? Fortunately, there was a Swedish Doctor in our campsite. Last year she was the physician
for a Himalayan expedition at 21,000ft. She quickly reassured me that this was just a reaction to the altitude, but did not mean altitude sickness. It was very common and would probably happen again, but that it did not by itself mean we could not make it to the top. And after 30 minutes and some aspirin, we both felt a lot better. So, we were glad to see the recovery time was good.
The next morning, we look at the map and found out yesterday we were at just under 15,000 ft. We felt a lot better. The 4th and 5th days were when we took an extra day, and we were so glad we did. It made two very enjoyable 4 hours days, resting up for the ascent. What we did learn when looking at the map, was how difficult the Macheme route was. We had read and been told, it was a beautiful route and also due to acclimatization, had the greatest chance for getting to the top. So, we decided to do that route.
Well, the 'easy' route, how easy anything can be to 19k?, also called the coke cola route was the one
everyone does. Or as our guide told us - the wazee (Swahili for old people) don't go on this route. Our guide was 29, and Ed was the same age as his father (:! I later found out that the porters with the other groups said I wouldn't make it. The mama, she won't make it. She should have done the coke cola route! (We also found out later that each company keeps track of their success rate making it to the top, and promotes that statistic. We also were told, there was some betting that occurred among the guides and porters. I did wonder why there were some pretty disappointed faces when they saw me at the top, greeting them as they came up...)
What was most surprising to us, was the level of difficulty. (Ok, a little more research might have been helpful, but Googling was not something we were doing at that time. Looks like Google started to become popular in 2000. All we knew was that we wanted to 'climb Kili'. I am not sure we even realized there were multiple routes. There was a group climbing with us, and one night we could hear
them strategizing their climb for the next day. We were more of the 'huh, wonder what today will bring....)
The 4th morning you start up an @ 800 ft gain in less than a 1/2 mile. It's pretty massive to look up at from the campground, as it is a sheer rock face. Fortunately there is a pretty good path, but definitely more rock climbing than i had signed up for. 13,000ft is a tough time to learn how to rock climb. But if nothing else, it took my mind off the fact that i was at 13,000ft.
We got into camp at the base of Kili about 2pm, which gave us lots of time to rest for the evening climb which began at 11pm. Not being a mountaineer - who came up with these evening ascents. I mean, I could easily pass on the sunrise at the top for a daylight climb 😊 !!
So, we rested until 10:15 and started the climb at 11pm. We were the first to start, probably cuz of the old mzee, old people, thing, but also because we were the slowest. The climb started out tough with more rock scrambling.
OK, i will do that at 13k in daylight. I was not very please to be trying it at 15,500ft in the dark. I asked Alex if the rest of the mountain was like this. He assured me it wasn't and he was right. But there was still more scrambling then i would have preferred, although most of it was a very good path.
Which was a good thing, because guess who's flashlight batteries ran out about 3 hours into the climb!!! Shortly after that, the asst guide's flashlight (we had 2 guides up the ascent in case one of us had to turn around), went out too. So, we were left with only one flashlight which had a very meager light. Not that it really mattered to me, as the wind was so bad, my contacts were drying out. So, I was spending a lot of time blinking or even closing my eyes. Course, we are moving so slow, it really wasn't that big a deal. I mean by that time we weren't even taking a full step, so you couldn't get yourself in trouble, very quickly. But the lack of flashlights was probably the real reason why
I made it to the top! I wasn't going down in the dark, and I wasn't going to send Ed and the guide up in the dark!
We made it to the top by 5:30am and actually did see the sunrise. It was beautiful!!!! and very clear! (Christmas morning watching the sun come up. Definitely one of my most cherished travel memories!) We took the token picture at the sign, it is amazing what some people will do for a Christmas card photo!
The hike back down went incredibly well for me, as you did just kinda ski down the drainage scree, much easier than trying to hike down the rocks. We had time to rest for an hour at the base camp. (One added memory, almost all the guys stopped by our tent and shook my hand which I still didn't understand, but thought was pretty cool!) Lunch, and then it was 3 more hours to the next campsite. Although a very gentle slope, it was really tiring and we were beat by the time we reached the campsite. I think I have found the limit on comfort level of my boots! It was a quick dinner
and we were asleep by 6:30, solid until 5:30. Today, it was a 4 hour hike out with a ride the last mile from the gate.
I need to get this sent - but it was a fantastic adventure. But very hard to believe we did it!! Tomorrow we leave for the Serengeti and then the Ngorongoro crater. I do feel like the whole thing is a dream!! So, hope everyone enjoyed the holidays. I still feel alittle reluctant to re-enter the 21st century, so I am pretending I am Beryl Markham in 1920 typing on those old telegram machines. Made it to the top. stop. All is well. stop. Merry Christmas.
(So, that is the 2nd version. And yes, one of us was definitely more long winded than the other. And that flashlight story... I had bought an 8 pack of the best batteries because i was very concerned about having good light! We carried them for the 6 wks prior to the climb. So, at the base camp, when we were deciding on what to bring with us on the ascent, I said, 'let's change the batteries now so we will have fresh ones
tonight and then we can bring a second set with us'. There is quiet, and then Ed says 'I decided one new set of batteries would be enough, and was concerned about the weight for the porters..... So, I didn't bring them'. Seriously?!!? There was abit of short breath grumbling when we were sharing one flashlight between 4 of us, later that evening!!!!)
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