Most people, when they make it to the summit of Kilimanjaro
, take a picture that looks something like this:
However, when MJ and I made it to the summit, June 5th at 5:40am, it looked more like this:
This pic is a bit better:
Not exactly the view we were hoping for, but regardless, it felt great to finally make it to the top. The final push to the summit started the previous evening at 11:30pm and we were back down around 8am. We left the highest camp, Kibo Hut after a quick meal consisting of tea and biscuits. They didn’t feed us much because a lot of people vomit on the way up to the summit, and people tend to become discouraged when they vomit. Our guide was very concerned with our morale; evidently a lot of people that attempt the trek believe they probably won’t make it, and then they create a self fulfilling prophesy and fail. There was no need for our guide to worry about us �" I was determined to make it, and after the first three days I was certain we’d have no problems at all.
Day one started in the town of Arusha, about two hours away from the park entrance. We were picked up by a small decrepit van of some sort and along with our guide & porters drove the bumpy road to the park gate. Our entourage for the trip consisted of a guide, and assistant guide, a cook and 4 porters. A seven person support group for MJ and I seemed a bit excessive, especially given that we were staying in huts rather than tents, but I figured that there was some type of park mandate that was created to keep more people employed, so we went with it. On the mountain, other groups appeared to have a similar number of porters, so I guess that is just how they do things.
The porters seemed fairly well prepared for the elements, and each of the huts had weigh station scales along the way that were used to make sure the porters were not carrying too much gear.
One of the porters had this real nice Aspen Snowmass fleece jacket on, surely a gift left behind by a former client.
After the trek I gave my guide some heavy socks and my Sketchbook hat, figuring I could help the company with their east African promotions.
I should have gotten a photo.
The hiking on day one was very simple; an 8km hike through extremely thick and interesting forest. We saw some monkeys jumping around above us, and some squirrel-like things, but otherwise the trail climbed slowly and was uneventful.
Higher up, we learned that you shouldn’t stand still over ant colonies, because they crawl up your leg and into your pants and then bite you ferociously.
MJ learned this the hard way and got 5 or 6 bites around her waist.
It was certainly not funny to her, but she had to pull over to the side of the trail and take her pants down to make sure there weren’t any more ants mucking about on her legs.
She was under the impression that the ant bites were poisonous, so she was freaking out a bit.
The bites are not at all poisonous, and our guide thought her level of alarm was pretty funny.
He gave us some tips on avoiding the ants, and told us that today was the only day we’d have to be on the lookout for them anyway.
We had no further incidents with the ants.
I was pleasantly surprised at how nice the huts were. I figured that with so many people going in and out of these things every day, they’d be a bit dingy, but they were in fact very clean and well cared for �" and smaller than I’d imagined. I imagined sleeping in these large dorm style rooms with maybe twenty other people, but instead it was four to a room. That first night, not many people showed up to the camp, so MJ and I got a hut all to ourselves. The meals were served in a large open room in the center of the camp. The food was simple but good. Dinner usually consisted of some sort of soup (cream of _____ - cucumber, scallion, tomato, etc) and either a pasta or a potato type dish with meat sauce that was heavy on the meat.
I wasn’t a big fan of the meat- it was very jerky-like, and damn hard to chew, and of course MJ wasn’t a fan of the meat, so most of the time we just ate around it.
Everything else was fine. The table was always set up with an assortment of tea, coffee and Milo.
The coffee and tea was grown on the sides of Kilimanjaro on farms just outside the park and was good stuff.
After dinner our guide Frank would come by and we’d go over the plan for the next day.
It got dark around 6:30 every night, so it was early to bed early to rise, and I got far more sleep than I needed.
Enjoy it while it lasts.
Day two brought us to some more interesting terrain. We hiked along for about and hour and then the forest broke to give way to a more steppe-like terrain; much more open and finally with views.
I strongly preferred hiking through areas where you can see for a while, not feeling so closed in.
We hiked through an area where a few years previous there had been a large fire.
It was mostly grown back, but mixed in with the new growth was some plants that had been burnt to a crisp but still stood.
It looked like a painting that couldn’t decide if it was in black and white or not.
Our guide told us that the fire was likely started by fireman that work for the park, who needed to use up the money allocated to their department before they lost it.
Nothing had been proven, but that was the rumor floating around the guide circles.
Seems like they tend to have these fires mysteriously every 5 years when the budgets come up for redistribution.
I thought that was an interesting take on things.
Day three brought us up to high camp. The huts on day one sat at 9,000 feet. Day two sat at 12,700 feet, and finally on day three we were up above what was possible in Colorado at about 15,350 feet. Up until this hut we hadn’t felt any effects of altitude whatsoever, which was great considering how we saw some of the other people struggling. At Kibo hut I could finally tell that running would not be a good idea. It wasn’t terribly oppressive, but the lower amount of available oxygen was noticeable. We got in to camp before noon, had lunch, and then had nothing to do except sleep. This was the summit day, and if the weather had been nicer we may have went directly up from the second hut, but the camp was completely fogged in, and it started to pour rain just after we got there.
The people who pulled in a few hours behind us were drenched and had to hang all their clothes around the dining area.
They wouldn’t be dry in the ten or so hours they had to kill, but they would hopefully be dry-er.
We tried to sleep most of the day so that we’d feel good for our 11pm wake up call, and had mild success.
I was slightly nervous because I knew we had almost 4,000 more feet to gain, and although we had felt great so far, this was the zone that mattered, and things could still go either way.
The key to success on Kili is “polé polé”, which is Swahili for slow, slow. Frank leads us out of the camp and we are walking artificially slow, almost comically slow. He sets the pace, and I just put my foot down where his just was, and I repeat this for hours.
We are hiking by headlamp, as the moon is just under half full and not helping much with illumination.
The start of the hike is not especially steep and is on what feels like ash and small rock mixed together.
Kili was/is a volcano, so it makes sense to have this around.
I assumed we’d be marching up a scree field like the 14’ers in Colorado, but it was like hiking along the water line at a beach.
The ground was soft but it didn’t give way, which made for easy climbing.
We got up to our halfway point, which is marked by Hans Meyer cave, named after one of the first Europeans to reach the top of Kili, and then the terrain got significantly steeper.
Progress was slow, and at times I felt a tad dizzy, but neither MJ nor I ever developed a headache or any other problems, which is a big confidence booster for trying things even higher in the future, especially if we acclimatize appropriately, which we did not do at all on this trek.
We got up to the Gilman’s Point on the summit crater a little after 4am.
Though the night had started out completely clear, but the time we were on the summit crater clouds and wind had rolled in and we were socked in.
We could see across the crater to the high point of Uhuru peak, but that was about it.
It sure didn’t look like it would take another hour and a half to reach the high point, but polé polé persisted.
As we were walking this last section, the clouds really moved in and the wind became extremely annoying. I was wearing every layer I had and I could barely stay warm. It was a constant battle between wanting to move faster to generate heat and needing to move slower so you could get enough oxygen in you to function properly.
It had been a while since I was up so high, and I had forgotten that mountaineering actually completely sucks while you are doing it.
It’s cold, miserable, you feel like total useless crap, you want to turn around and say to hell with it, and you still have an hour or more to go.
When we finally made it to the sign marking the summit you could barely see ten feet in front of you.
I got up to the sign, slapped it, got some photos and immediately wanted to leave.
If there was a spectacular view, I could have mustered up enough energy to stick around for a bit and appreciate the achievement, but as there was no view there was no energy.
At this point, the achievement was getting back down to a place where humans can enjoy themselves.
The hike back around the crater was grueling, but it was actually made all the easier by knowing that we had already succeeded and now just had to make it down to tell everyone all about it.
We passed by a lot of people who looked just as miserable as I’m sure I looked, and I tried to give them brief encouraging words about how they’ll feel energized once they make it to the top and they just need to keep moving slow etc.
But really, inside I was thinking “sucks to be you! You have at least and hour left and when you get up there it’s even worse and you can’t see anything.”
The mountain had beaten me up a bit but it hadn’t turned me into an evil person.
I maintained my civility.
So now that I am writing this, almost a week has passed. Looking back I am very happy with the trip, with the exception of a business type snafu that occurred when trying to pay the balance of the trek (long story short, person one tells us we can pay by credit card, person two later says nope must pay by cash, and the only way to get enough cash quickly is through a bank that gives the worst exchange rates ever so we end up paying a couple of extra hundred dollars just to get the original amount; Stupid and annoying.
) but I highly will recommend our guide Frank to anyone that wants to do this trek.
Frank is interested in working with people directly, as the company he works for takes a large amount of overhead for people who do very little for the trek itself.
His English was extremely good, he was a very conscientious and observant guide, and after the trek was over he hung out with us in the town of Moshi
and got us set up on a bus to our next destination and even brought us to the bus station and saw us off on the bus.
(Bus stations are pure chaos by the way)
So if anyone decides they want to climb Kili, let me know and I’ll get you his information and you can save a couple of hundred bucks by not having to pay desk jockeys to do paperwork for you.
A great time was had by all.