Crazy Mzungu

Arusha Travel Blog

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Evidence of our Achievement - and I promise, that is Margaret and I!

Despite initial equipment failure, constipation and self-doubt, all of which I overcame, this low-lander made it to the Summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Uhuru Peak, the highest point in Africa!  For the curious, that is 5895 meters, or about 19,340 feet, a bit higher than Everest base camp (5500 m). I must tell you that it was by the far the most incredible experience of my life, as well as the most challenging, physically and mentally.  At one point I wept.  Now locals think we (mzungu or "white person" in Swahili) are crazy to actually pay to climb this beautiful mountain (they on the other hand are PAID to go up), but it was worth everything I own, which is not much at this point but even if I were rich...  Unfortunately, I am back at the lodge at the foot of Mt. Meru and power is sketchy, so I cannot write about it in full detail right now.  Oh the pictures...  Anyway, when I reach Zanzibar this weekend I promise to recall all that I can.  Until then I will be on safari in the Serengeti and the Ngorogoro Crater chasing the elusive Leopard along with the rest of the big five. 

mielikki says:
Hey hon! I am so thrilled for you and Margaret. Please say hello to her. What a huge accomplishment. I wish I could be with you in Africa - perhaps you would like to venture back some day & I could join you???? Opening deer season was this past weekend. I know you may be disappointed for missing it - but your experiences are worth much, much more. By the way, I met a woman near my home that runs sled dogs - so when you return home, you can come on some training runs with us. She runs them on part of the Luce Line trail (of all places!)Her focus is recreational mushing. Joe and I visited her kennels. Nice set-up. Well, enjoy relaxing this week....shoot me an email. I am heading down to texas (again) for 5 days on Wednesday for a hunt. I still may try to meet you somewhere -perhaps S.America????
Posted on: Nov 05, 2007
Kramerdude says:
Congrats. Should be some interesting photos.
Posted on: Oct 30, 2007
kcusa76 says:
Congratulations. You are amazing!!
Posted on: Oct 29, 2007
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View from our tent while at base camp.
It was midnight and Margaret and I piled on every last stitch of warm clothes, which meant I had to roll out of the tent. It was dark but the full moon made my headlamp unnecessary. Arnold, our lead guide, was ready to go, so without much discussion (as we were fully briefed over dinner the night before), off we went. 

At first things were fine. We passed by other tents, all seemingly quiet, and the ground was a gentle incline.  Most noticeable was the wind, however.  They were straight-line winds upwards of 60-70 kph.  I had my balaclava over my face and hood up, so I was keeping relatively warm.  We had to negotiate some rocks and were eventually doing a switchback upwards, passing other climbers as we went, feeling good at that point.  It was dark but you could see up and below dots of lights indicating other groups of climbers.

Above the clouds!
  We continued on with just the moonlight.  We stopped to eat and drink at Arnold’s request, but it was so windy, not even a rock could offer some shelter, so we struggled just to drink.  Everything was a struggle against the altitude.  I was starting to feel a bit nauseas at that point and could only take a few bites of my powerbar.  It was around this time, after about maybe three hours or so of hiking in that wind, that I finally asked myself, What the hell was I doing here?  What was I trying to prove to me, to anyone?  The dark, the cold, the wind.  My fingers were frozen, so I had long ago abandoned my trekking poles and shoved my hands in my pockets.  My toes were also numb, so I was kicking those periodically against rocks.
Arnold (lead guide on left) and Asrael (asst). Arnold was the featured guide in Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa (doc).

Eventually the sun started rising and I felt a sense of renewal.  The wind was still strong but just the sight of the sun brought a feeling of warmth and normalcy.  However, we were on the cusp of the hardest and most steep part of the climb (my ignorance of this kept me moving).  We would look up and see this hill, but the top of it did not seem far off.  I could see people sitting down up there resting.  We were switchbacking to get up this thing but I was feeling like I was ready to vomit.  Arnold insisted I should just do it as I would feel better, but I could not.  I would walk three steps, stop and lean over, hoping to relieve the sickness.  This went on for about an hour.

At the gate to the Machame route, porters lining up. They carry their own pack plus up to 20 kg.
  It seemed like I was getting nowhere with that hill.  We were above 5000 meters at that point, so there was no turning back in my mind.  I knew I would get there.  I was just angry with my stupid body for being difficult.  I wish I hadn’t forgotten altitude sickness pills…out of countless doctor visits, including 16 shots and 9 months of anti-malarials, why did I not think of them!  However, Margaret was faring no better at that point and she had thought of them. 

Asreal, our assistant guide, had her by the arm.  Arnold finally grabbed my arm, and said “Pole pole (slow slow)” and walked with me up the hill, slowing but surely, stopping for me to bend over and pray to get sick, never happening.  About an hour or so passed like this, me agonizing over the hill that never would end, but I made it to the top!  Arnold sat me on a rock, kissed me on the forehead and said congratulations, you made it to Stella Point.

View of Mt. Kilimanjaro from our tent at base camp.
  I felt elated…I started to sob quietly to myself out of the physical exhaustion but mostly the feeling that I did it.  I wasn’t at the top yet, but only about 100 meters or so away, and I could see the summit from there, a gradual ascent away.  Many people stop there as you still get a certificate, but I knew then I could make it.  I was overwhelmed with joy and just sat there, tears in my eyes, catching my breath.

We got going after a short rest, and I found my stride.  I set a rhythm for my steps and breathing that I knew if I kept to, I’d get there eventually. I wasn’t going fast, just moving.  I could see the guy up ahead stopping every few steps and leaning over his poles feeling sick, his guide encouraging him.

View from the top.
I thought what a strange sight is this, us walking in slow motion one way, while others walked the other way with relative ease (on descent).  I eventually walked my way to the sign I had seen in many pictures.  As soon as I stopped, Arnold put his arms around me from behind and congratulated me for making it to the summit.  It was about 7:15 a.m.  I turned around and he looked right in my eyes, and then pulled my balaclava from my face, exposing the snot I had long ago given up on, and gave me a kiss right on the lips.  That one moment is my greatest lasting memory.

We did the usual, taking pictures, looked around a bit.  Margaret was shortly behind, arriving only about 15 minutes after me.

On the way down through the rainforest.
  We took more photos and I stood there in disbelief I was there after many months planning and thinking about the trek.  Soon enough we were off,  as we had a long way down.

Now I was thinking, oh, just get there and down is a breeze.  Well, as it turns out, I hated going down more than going up.  After what turned out to be SEVEN hours hiking up, we had another 7-8 to go down that very day in order to get to camp at 3000 meters.  Luckily there was skree to take advantage of, but there were still lots of stairs and lots and lots of down, down.  We caught sight of a few being helped down and Margaret finally vomited somewhere during our descent, but we made it to camp after a full 16 hours of hiking that day.  We were exhausted, our legs hurt, Margaret could not eat and we were borderline delirious.

View from the lodge in Arusha - Mt. Kili is out there somewhere.

The next day we had another five hours to get down to the gate, but everyone’s spirits were higher after a night of rest.  The porters were literally running down in anticipation of a hard week being done. 

I decided to describe the end of the journey first, the hardest part, because it was more intense in my mind and really the good part.  During the week before, I felt great, wonderful, energetic, happy, alive and just downright overjoyed the entire week we climbed.  I was so worried I was out of shape after my tour through Europe, which involved some all nighters, lots of beer, and plenty of partying, but I felt just fantastic the whole time.  I was hiking, camping, in the outdoors, chatting with the locals (our guides), seeing incredible scenery, and doing something challenging.

Mt. Meru, view during our ascent
  Who could ask for a better experience? We also got to pass through various phases of vegetation, which was exciting to see (sometimes going 100s of meters up through one, only to come back down 100s of meters, all for climatization and just the route I guess...frustrating those days!). 

There were some initial issues in the beginning, mostly with gear.  First, we thought our box from the states hadn't arrived since it was not at our outfitter's office.  We went to collect it at the post office literally on the way to the gate to start.  It turned out they got our box, but they did not want to release it that day and wanted something like 300 US dollars for customs.  Folks at our outfitting company insisted we were students and could not afford it, and so arranged a pick up point in some hotel parking lot with a postal staffer who got our box out of there by lying about the contents (saying it was mostly medication) and then charged us only 100 bucks.

Our fearless leader...on his cell phone.
  Then I failed to bring along a good day pack, thinking the one I’d used for my trip would do, but it was not a backpack for carrying water and extra jackets, so I ended up using a travel/portable backpack I happened to have that folds up the size of a card.  It wasn’t meant to go along on a Kili climb.  It hurt to carry and wasn’t very big, and had about 5 safety pins holding it together by week’s end, but it made it.  That was really the one piece of equipment I was frustrated with.  The rest worked, especially the boots and sleeping bag.  Essential. 

The second obstacle was the toilet situation.  Now, I could write an entire entry about that on its own, but know it wasn’t pretty.

Goofing around during a break on the way up.
  Once my body basically realized in order to be comfortable it would just have to get business done in a squat only outhouse that smelled (well, I’ll forget the adjectives). Anyway, I finally was able to do the deed and felt better for it.

We lucked out on weather. When it rained, we were in camp by then, enjoying hot chocolate and the other snacks.  We ate…a lot.  I ate anything put in front of me.  The food wasn’t bad, though.  It was a lot, but the amount of calories you burn is incredible.

The porters do a lot of work. We had six just for Margaret and I (plus our two guides and cook, we had a full nine men helping us up the mountain!).  The porters carry their own bag plus up to 20 kg.  They set up camp and tear it down, transport everything to the next site, all before you arrive.

A storm moved in during lunch, so I decided to buckled down (at this point I was dealing with some light-headedness at the first time over 4000 meters).
  They work hard and you can tell.  You get out of their way if they want to pass, and you can usually smell them before you hear them.  It’s a distinct sweaty porter smell.  We all smelled to be sure, but I came to know their smell all too well.  

We spent the days hiking, the evenings eating dinner with our guide, chatting about the day ahead and how we felt.  Arnold was great and his handsome looks did not escape either of our attention.  It was later that we found out he is the guide featured in the documentary, Kilimanjaro:  To The Roof of Africa.  Neither of us have seen it, but it was on sale at the end gate.

Porters on the way up...
  Check it out if you can.

I wrote down many memories soon after this great adventure, but now I am writing from the top of my head, so I am sure to be forgetting some.  Some think Kilimanjaro is easy because of the so-called Coca-Cola route.  It may be easier than the other routes, but most assuredly is not easy.  Climbing a mountain is no small feat, but as Arnold put it, Kilimanjaro is not to be under estimated, but yet, it is for everyone.

itravel1 says:
Your blog makes a great nightly retreat. I am planning a similar trip after my first experience, in Europe, six months back. I hope you are still enjoying travelling, and writing. Your writing has and hopefully will inspire me to keep and make better diaries of my own. You've made a great page turner, but I don't want it to end, so I will continue to take my time. Thanks!
Posted on: Mar 27, 2011
isis127 says:
Wow, this sounds like an experience of a lifetime... I want to go to Kilimanjaro as well!
Posted on: May 04, 2008
nicoleah says:
Now I'm even more jealous.
Posted on: Nov 15, 2007
Evidence of our Achievement - and …
Evidence of our Achievement - and…
View from our tent while at base c…
View from our tent while at base …
Above the clouds!
Above the clouds!
Arnold (lead guide on left) and As…
Arnold (lead guide on left) and A…
At the gate to the Machame route, …
At the gate to the Machame route,…
View of Mt. Kilimanjaro from our t…
View of Mt. Kilimanjaro from our …
View from the top.
View from the top.
On the way down through the rainfo…
On the way down through the rainf…
View from the lodge in Arusha - Mt…
View from the lodge in Arusha - M…
Mt. Meru, view during our ascent
Mt. Meru, view during our ascent
Our fearless leader...on his cell …
Our fearless leader...on his cell…
Goofing around during a break on t…
Goofing around during a break on …
A storm moved in during lunch, so …
A storm moved in during lunch, so…
Porters on the way up...
Porters on the way up...
Margaret and Asreal taking a break…
Margaret and Asreal taking a brea…
Chilling at camp.
Chilling at camp.
Margaret taking the last steps to …
Margaret taking the last steps to…
photo by: Mikie