I have decided this trip needs 3 separate posts to fully and fairly report the journey.
Click on this link for Part One that covers the mission work at the Mwerini Integrated School for the Blind, the people of Tanzania, the incredible people I met along the way and my travels through 4 countries and 3 continents to get to Tanzania.
This post is Part Two about the mountain itself- the 7 day climb up Mount Kilimanjaro! The route info, the photos, and a daily diary style account of how each day was along with the wonderful teammates I gained as life friends.
Click here for Part Three that covers the few days post climb, my stay in Istanbul, and the final wrap up: How I kept my gut healthy during 2 weeks in a 3rd world country and living above 13,000 feet for almost a week, gear, equipment, what worked, and what didn’t.
PART TWO: THE CLIMB…
I posted the Pre-Kilimanjaro post 2 days before I departed. I was anxious, afraid, alone going into this journey across the world. I had some serious moments of doubt. I was so prepared yet so unprepared for the unknown journey ahead.
I have been out of the country many times, to 3rd world countries many times. All of these trips were with family and loved ones. I had never traveled with strangers to a totally new continent halfway across the world. I needed to do this. I was scared, hence why I HAD to do this. It didn’t come without it’s total moments of complete panic and anxiety. This is what adventure and LIVING is all about. Fear of the unknown- and conquering it. Life happens outside your comfort zone- and this was way beyond mine.
The journey has been very difficult to put into words since I have returned. I have been in culture shock, dealing with major jetlag and in a surreal state of being. I had been through so much- the broadest range of emotions you can possibly imagine. I had only been gone a little over 2 weeks but it felt like I had lived a lifetime on another planet. Many of the photos of the trip indeed look like I was living on another planet too.
I was very hesitant to share my experiences. I still had to live through them myself – just because I landed in the USA didn’t mean POOF I was right back to my normal life. I am a changed person. I have been changed forever. I needed some time to marinate in this and get used to what I now knew- and how to never forget it.
Many others on the trip may have felt the same- maybe not. We all had different reasons for being there. As my loyal readers on this blog you know well why I was there and what it meant to me. It was a new beginning- an assertion that my life as I knew it had been given a second chance- and I am going to make the absolute most of it. I wouldn’t dare say that you have to go through some difficult life experiences to truly get the most from an experience like this- but I will say it makes it so much more meaningful if you have.
I have regained my health and there was no better way to prove to myself that I am indeed on the other side of some serious health issues than by visiting a 3rd world country on another continent, engrossing myself in the people and culture, overcoming all the fear, living on a mountain for 7 days and climbing it to the top at 19,340 feet.
It was everything and much more than I could have ever wished for- good, bad and totally amazing. The hikes each day were moderate to difficult (altitude changes everything) and we covered quite a bit of vertical climbing- an average of 3,000-4,000 feet each day. 90% of our hiking was done above 13,000 feet. Summit day was a challenge for sure. Physically I was more than prepared. Mentally is where the challenge was the most difficult.
I will get into the details by using a daily log for this post. I will chronicle each day and discuss the details of the gorgeous climb, daily change of terrain, base camps, challenges along the way and overall difficulty.
Living at 13,000 feet for 6 nights has a total challenge of it’s own outside of the physical output. I lost 8lbs during my 2 weeks there. I also gained a tremendous amount of strength, patience, perspective, and faith in myself.
This chart was the closest I could find to show the vertical gains and mileage we did each day. The only difference is Mweka Camp- we descended to Millinium Camp yet still departed via the Mweka gate. You can get a feel for the altitude we dealt with daily and the gains and descents we took to acclimatize.
Machame Route is considered by many as the most difficult, yet most scenic route on the mountain. It is typically done over a 7 day schedule. We went through 5 climate zones on this route. Some do it in 6- some 5. As I report about the other groups on the mountain it quickly becomes apparent that if you try to do it in less than 7 days the chance of success dwindles considerably.
I have heard everything from a 40% success rate on average to a 60%. There is a fair amount of debate about this due to the different routes and timelines of the groups. I seem to see the 40% success rate most often. There are a multitude of reasons for this to occur. Some housekeeping before we begin the diary portion of the climb:
- ALTITUDE… Period. This is the biggest game changer of all. Forget the sleeping on a sloped mountain in a tent for a week. Forget the 7-9 hours of hiking per day. This is the biggest quotient of all. This is a great and thorough account of what altitude changes for a climber- click here for the detailed report. We saw people in serious trouble and even had a few people on our team affected by this in major ways.
- Almost all of us took Diamox to help with the altitude so we could sleep. This is a science in itself. Too much can cause horrible problems, too little can do the same. Kevin and Kristen were very well versed in this so they had each of us on different doses. Depending on a daily log taken by your guide they would decide how much you needed. I took 125mg once a day. On the day prior to summit day I took 2. This was a perfect mix for me. The only side effect… you get really tingley and have to urinate FREQUENTLY. This also means in the middle of the night many many times.
- It is less expensive to take a shorter route, less time on the mountain, less supplies, fewer porters. There is a certain calculation for what it takes to get a team acclimatized, rested properly and to the top successfully. Many as you can imagine aren’t as upstanding of guide companies as K2 and take unsuspecting tourists up without full disclosure and preparation.
- The porters and guides are all from Tanzania and you are required to have a Tanzanian guide. We had our own American guides on our team as well however they must have a local guides in tow. They are also required to speak English. Can you imagine being so incredibly ill and close to dying but not being able to communicate with your guides? There are some irresponsible ones as you can imagine- there are many stories of porters being mistreated and becoming very ill or dying due to the standards of the guide company. Luckily they are always reported and the permit system runs based on this feedback.
- Generally a successful team needs 3 porters per 1 climber. We had 69 porters for 24 people. It takes a village!! There were several other teams that did not have this ratio. There are stories in the daily logs discussing what happened to some of these teams. By no means am I attempting to discredit any other guide service and I will not use names however these stories must be shared so others can do the proper research before attempting a feat of this magnitude. Many people don’t quite understand how difficult a task like this is. Even with a stellar guide company there is no magic pill or medication that will get you to the top. Preparation and realistic expectations will take you further than any guide can.
- You hear from time to time people discounting the difficulty of this climb. Why people choose to do this… simply said is their ego problem. Don’t let the wool be pulled over your eyes. ANY activity done in high altitude is risky and extremely serious problems can occur- and many times death is one of them. Each individual has a different level of health, fitness, mental capacity and strength coming into a trek of this nature. For me the physical portion was never backbreaking even though it was challenging. The other factors like cold, getting enough calories, and living above 13K feet for many nights factored into the quotient making it very difficult.
- It is a business- guiding up a mountain. Many teams did not take the extra day to descend as we did – that isn’t a fair shake to the people participating. Ascending to the summit starting at 2am 4,000 foot climb in high altitude and below freezing conditions to descending the entire way to the Mweka gate at 5,000 feet (a descent of 14,000 feet after summiting) is simply unfair. Some of the guide services are not willing to drag it out another day and rush you off the mountain instead. K2 has been deemed one of if not the most reputable company on the mountain along with having the best local support and guides. They pay the highest wages, tips, and treat their porters with much respect.
- After just spending one day on the mountain I was very concerned with how our porters and guides were paid, treated, and what kind of conditions they had on the mountain. They are the hardest working group of individuals I have EVER seen. If I had been with another company that mistreated them I could have never lived with myself. This was EXTREMELY important to me. You will see why not only are they inhuman in their abilities, but also why they became so incredibly important to me.
We left the comfort of the Kilimayaro Mountain Lodge for the Machame Gate. Everyone was more than ready to hit the mountain.
We had a 1.5 hour drive through the village of Moshi. It was always totally insane to see the villagers walking from markets while balancing the most ridiculous things on their HEADS… I saw one Woman balancing a coffee table AND an end table on her HEAD without holding on to it. It was foreshadowing for the mountain- and the amazing capabilities of these people.
We got rear-ended on our bus on the way there- yes the same bus that was stuck in the mud 2 days earlier! There was never a dull moment… adventure at it’s finest.
As I stated in Part One of this report- patience was the most utilized virtue of all. The anticipation to get on the trail was very high- but there are logistics that need to be taken care of and this thing called weather that can quickly hamper our schedule. Kevin had to check in and log every single climber at the Machame Gate. During this time the porters began to organize and mobilize our supplies. We all took some time to soak in and chronicle the start of this epic journey.
This was a typical daily outfit for me- however as we continue I will NEVER look this clean again! I LOVED my gaiters, I wore them everyday. They kept the mud, rocks and weather out of my shoes plus they provided warmth. My Goretex raincoat was also used everyday. The wool shirt baselayer was also worn every single day… sorry to my teammates!
We were to carry our own daypacks that weighed about 20-25lbs with 2 liters of water and all the clothes and snacks you would need for the full day of hiking. Some would have porters carry their packs for them during our daily hikes. Our porters also carried our larger mountain bags that had our sleeping items, back up clothes and snacks. The weight limit for the mountain bags was 35 lbs. Legally that is what they have to be for the porters to carry them.
Finally it was time to begin our trek to base camp 1! We covered 4,000 vertical feet over 7 miles through shambas and montane rainforest. We were due to have lunch at a halfway point however the rainstorms that morning delayed our departure by several hours so we had to skip it.
We take plenty of breaks and practice rest-stepping. That is a rhythmic type of stepping where you take all weight off one leg and balance it on the other to give each leg a full rest per step. It also allows you to practice breathing properly. Hiking 7-10 hours a day this was a very needed practice.
I listened to music everyday and it helped me focus on my rhythm and breathing. Ascending and descending quickly without pressure breathing can lead to some altitude sickness and headaches.
Back to that patience piece… keeping your mind occupied and having something to focus on during multiple hours of hiking was the majority of our life on the mountain. The trekking poles helped out with that as well. They gave me some drums, air guitars, microphones, and garbage collectors during my daily treks. I have never used them prior to this trip but did grow quite keen on them due to the multiple uses they provided!
So… remember the foreshadowing I spoke about regarding the balancing of heavy and awkward items on the locals heads? This is where our schooling began. We always had to keep a look out for the porter train coming up the mountain with our supplies. You will see many other totally mindboggling photos of these guys carrying everything from our water to our tables and chairs.
The rainforest was lush and full of life. There were monkeys swinging from the trees and so many lovely forest sights all around. Little did I know that this vibrant ecosystem full of life would in a matter of 2-3 days I would change dramatically. That was what was so incredible about this whole journey. Everyday- every step was different than the previous.
We arrived at a soggy Camp 1 at 9,840 feet and began to settle in to our routine. Every afternoon when we arrived at camp we were met at our tent by the porter that carried our mountain bag. We would have some time to unpack and get settled.
I started my daily Yoga routine during this downtime. By day 2 Kristen and Kevin nominated me as the stretching coach for anyone who wanted to participate. As the days went on, my classes got smaller. Many would utilize this time for naps. I chose to force myself to stay awake so I could sleep better at night. Sleep deprivation was a very common occurrence that only got worse as we climbed higher.
At 4:30 we would have tea time in the mess tent (big green tent pictured). The porters would provide multiple thermoses with hot water and snacks. Those that weren’t resting in their tents would be in there socializing and warming up before dinner. It was cold on day one- this got progressively colder the higher we climbed. We had no idea how good we had it at camp 1!
Dinner would be served around 6:30-7pm. We would discuss the agenda for the following day and also what to get packed. Each day we had a rigid schedule. We moved camps every day so not only had to have our daypacks prepared but also pack up our sleeping items and mountain bags every morning.
Our schedule every morning except summit morning was to be awakened at 6:30am by a lovely porter saying good morning with your choice of hot tea, coffee, or hot cocoa. This was my FAVORITE porter of all!! I took this picture the first morning. I was so happy to see him- and he greeted me this way every morning for the next 6 days.
From 6:30-7am we took our time to wake up, start thinking about the day and getting or minds organized.
From 7am-8am you got dressed, packed and cleaned up… that consisted of many wet wipes and a small bowl of washing water that the porters would bring by. This sounds like plenty of time… it isn’t! The higher we climbed the slower your brain processes these things. Also the bone chilling colder it gets.. getting out of that sleeping bag is a sloooooow process! I actually pulled a muscle in my lower back trying to pack that mountain bag. I swear that was the hardest thing I did most days!
From 8am- 9am you finished preparing yourself and eating breakfast. We hit the trail at 9am SHARP. No excuses, no waiting. If you got to the mess tent late the pickings for breakfast were already dwindling. I fell victim to the consequences of dilly dallying on day 3. The story is a good one…
We set out on day 2 and left the forest following a steep ridge passing through heather and open moorlands for the Shira campsite at 12,450 feet. We climbed a little over 3,000 feet on day 2.
The team coming out of the tall shrubbery of the heather about to see something spectacular…
We climbed above the cloud line and stayed above it for the next 5 nights. When we did get high enough to pop above it the feeling was so incredible along with the views. From that day forward it never got old looking down at the clouds below. That was one of my most favorite things about the entire experience.
Halfway through our trek on day two we were greeted at this incredibly scenic vista by a delicious lunch waiting for us. The video link below shows what we experienced. Amazing… best spot I have ever enjoyed lunch at.
Once we finished lunch we continued on to Shira Camp 2.
We took many types of different scheduled breaks. Some were 5 minutes just to drink water, some were 10 minutes to use the nature bathrooms that had incredible views or 20 minute breaks to take a load off and get a snack.
We made it… base camp 2.. Shira Camp at 12,450 feet. This was a shot of the incredible sunset we were blessed to witness. We did the usual- Yoga, tea time, dinner, tent.
This was my room. My life. My bed, shelter, and clothing for the week. I was alone in a tent for the first 4 nights. That had it’s good and bad.
The bad… no body heat to help keep my tent warm and nobody to talk to- I had to eavesdrop on everyone conversations haha!
The good… It was easier to pack up my stuff in the morning and doing my nightly routine of 3-4 times of having to pee while in my tent was easy due to the extra space. Diamox had very few if any side effects but one of them was frequent urination.
FYI… many have asked this question… what ‘device’ did I use to urinate in the middle of the night? A large Ziplock bag… Yup super technical! You may think it’s no big deal to leave the tent to go to the bathroom. You would quickly rethink that rationale when you felt the bone chilling cold hitting your bare bottom in the middle of the night! On a journey of this nature you get to know yourself quite well….
I thought I would have plenty of time in the night to journal and read. The time from when the sunset to when it rose was the hardest time of all. It was too cold to even hold my arm out of my sleeping bag to hold a book or write in a journal. You are also now starting to feel the tiring effects of the altitude and all you want to do is try to sleep. I got a decent nights sleep on night 2.
Day 3 began just like the others. 6:30 am my favorite woke me up with a hot cup of coffee.
I turned on my phone to see if I could get an signal to check in with home. The service was existent on the mountain but severely spotty. There were times that if I moved my phone one millimeter I would have 5 bars, then a small shake of my hand and it was gone. I was lucky enough after using up half my battery trying to hold a signal I got to chat with him for about 10 minutes. I was able to send text messages here and there but a conversation? That was a treat.
Needless to say this finagling cost me some of my precious packing time and I was running a bit behind for breakfast. When I got to the mess tent I had 5 minutes to eat and then it was time to hit the trail. I knew we had a pretty long day ahead of us so I had to eat. I saw a tray of sausages and quickly devoured 4 of them. YUP… a paleo girl who eats nothing processed just ate processed sausages with only 10 minutes until we start hiking. BAD IDEA… Either way we set out on our trek.
We were headed 2400 feet up to the Lava tower at 15,000 feet for our first acclimatization test. From there we would descend back down to 13,500 feet to the Barranco Camp 3.
The normal porter train began to pass us through some very familiar dry desert looking landscape. It was beautiful. I was hurting. The sausages were talking to me and not sweetly. One of the porters went by and crop dusted Kelly and I, we immediately looked at each other and smelled the smelly sausages. I wanted to vomit. My stomach was pissed! This went on for about an hour and a half then finally passed…. so I thought!
We started getting glimpses of the higher task at hand. The terrain was starting to get more arid and volcanic. You could see the signs of a monstrous gargantuan mean volcano that had a massive eruption everywhere. Our 15,000 foot lunch date was just around the corner.
The Lava Tower! Nothing like a 3 million year old rock formation to make a girls heart flutter! Most of us had never been to 15,000 feet before so this was a celebration of sorts over lunch.
From there we descended down to the Barranco Camp 3 to 13,500 feet. This was my most favorite and the most beautiful campsite of all. The scenery was so reminicent of home but add snow packed peaks and waterfalls. I was in heaven! I stopped to grab this photo of James one of our head guides. He was so lovely. One of his favorite phrases to say “Easy peasy lemon squeeze”. All of the porters and guides would answer with SUPER DUPER when you asked how they were doing. Their positive attitudes and strength was beyond comprehension.
There were several of these breathtaking waterfalls along our descent down into the Barranco Camp. This is where our porters would get our water. They hauled it to each camp and filtered it- enough for cooking, boiling, and drinking for 24 climbers plus 69 porters. That is INSANE. INSANE! The water was so so good too. I treasured it. By day 3 I stopped asking for wash water in the mornings and evenings. I realized how much it took for them to get us this water. It was the LEAST I could do.
The linked video below is taken as we are beginning to arrive at Camp 3. I always sing out loud when I climb- it is something I have always done. It is such a mental game this type of trek… I had no idea anyone was listening… and I feel bad that they had to be an audience to it! Some actually enjoyed it, it kept their minds occupied and many began to participate in a karaoke of sorts. Some need to leave the hiking and singing to me. Ron had a hard time with both as you can see from the video hehehe…
Once we got to the campsite we set our sights on Day 4… the 750ft vertical scramble up the Barranco wall! It was going to be a fantastic and fun day to look forward to. I started to feel the effects of the altitude at dinner. I had a pounding headache. Not horrible but enough to make me pay attention. I decided not to take anything for it – I didn’t want to mask other problems that may be occurring and a little bit of suffering is not going to kill me.
I have said it before… the time between the sunset and sunrise is the hardest time of all. This was our first full night spent at 13,000+ feet. It was damp, freezing, and dark and I was alone in my tent. I had a silk liner in my mummy sleeping bag. That thing was awesome but it also was cumbersome as someone who tosses and turns quite a bit. I fell asleep quickly however the normal altitude sleeping issues began. Nightmares… you have some pretty bad ones. The lack of oxygen throughout your bloodstream starts to play some games with you. This is where the mental challenge began for me.
I woke up in the middle of the night during a nightmare. I was taking very shallow breaths- I felt like I was suffocating. I could hardly get any air in and my torso felt very tight. I still had my headache and now my stomach was gurgling. All major signs of mountain sickness. I began to panic- I had major claustrophobia anxiety. I told myself to try and sit up and if I needed to get out of my tent to do so. I tried to escape from my sleeping bag but was stuck in it like a chinese finger trap. I finally escaped and realized all my compression sacks, supplies, and pack had piled on top of me. My tent was on a slight incline and I had not noticed this prior to going to sleep. All my stuff had slid into the corner where my head was and was suffocating me! I ripped off everything including my shirt and began to take deep breaths to calm myself.
Shortly after I regained my sanity I realized my stomach was still gurgling. I was a bit worried still that I was having altitude sickness. After a few more deep breaths I let out a large bout of indigestion…. THE SAUSAGES FROM BREAKFAST…. after that I was just fine. I immediately shared the story when I woke up and the entire team got a much needed laugh. The things that altitude, cold, and being alone can do to your mind… oh and sausages too…
After a breakfast that had absolutely no eye contact or even whiff of the sausages we set out on one of the funnest challenges of the whole climb. The Barranco wall! It was a 750 foot class 3-4 scramble. It was so much fun! We all had a blast using our hands and feet to scramble up the wall. Then you started watching the porters carry our supplies up without even once glancing down at their feet. In awe we stop and let them pass.
This next segment of 3 photographs I will call “Ode To Porters”
We use all kinds of fancy climbing clothes and gear… some of these guys were wearing shoes too big for them, non hiking shoes, and we even saw crocks from time to time.
The gear that they do have is usually and most likely donated. We had a big donation party for them at the end of the week.
You can see our camp 3 below dwarfed after we climbed up the Barranco wall.
??? … I have seen this photo I took like 100 times and still am amazed!!! So you ask… do I need that wash water? Nooo.. a wipe will work just fine…
Top of the Barranco Wall!!! Feeling fantastic after my near death by sausage experience.
After the wall we traveled across some rolling hills and finished up at 13,400 feet to Karranga Camp 4. Just below this campsite was our final water source. From here all way up to our next camp at 16,000 feet the porters had to go down there to get our water. It was getting closer… we could taste and see the summit bid!
We had a very strong signal from here. Many of us were able to connect with loved ones back home during our night and morning here. It was extremely expensive- upwards of $5 per minute but the 15 minutes I got to talk to home before we departed for high camp was worth every penny. I also heard that it was 119 degrees back home- my frozen fingers suddenly felt a little less frost nipped.
The sun also hit this campsite early so we could use our solar charging devices to get all our devices charged up. I think the sun hitting us early also recharged us humans… it was another frigidly cold and chinese finger trap kind of night.
The warm sun was welcomed. One thing at this altitude… the sun is tremendously strong. The only place I didn’t have clothes or sunblock on was my hands and they burnt like bacon. Many others already had awful sunburns that were peeling by now.
We also lost one of our team members at this camp. She had been suffering from several ailments and thought it was best to head down to Millennium Camp to wait for us. I was informed for the first time on the mountain I would have a roomie! I was thrilled- I knew that high camp would be close to zero degrees at night so having an extra body in my tent was GREAT NEWS!
I enjoyed my normal morning ritual and bid farewell to my favorite coffee porter knowing the next camp would be it… HIGH CAMP! BARAFU CAMP!
All luxuries and our normal routine’s were gone. We were in for what we thought was a relatively easy 2300 foot vertical gain over 4 hours to camp. The idea was to rest up and get to bed early. We had a wake up time of 3am to get to the summit.
On our way to high camp we had several other groups getting antsy and cutting in our line to try and pass us. The quicker you get to the campsite the higher up the campsite you can pitch your tents. Plus many of them would be starting their ascent of the summit at Midnight so they wanted to get settled quickly. The closer you are on summit day the better. We had many teams cut us off.
We got called into a huddle about halfway to Barafu Camp. This was something we had never done before.
It was immediately apparent that we had some important news to discuss. It was very hush hush but we just got word from our head guide Godlisten that we were granted a permit to camp at the higher camp at 16,000 feet. This was the first time since 2009 any team was granted access to that camp. It had been so polluted and overused the park service closed it. Godlisten is a very well respected guide and we owed him for getting us this extraordinary privilege!
What this meant… we now had an extra 800 feet to cover and another 2 hours added to our climb for what was going to be a relatively easy day. It also meant we would have to have all of our stuff packed up by 4am. These were very minor inconveniences to what was some really great news.
So you’re asking… Does it take that long to cover that small of a vertical gain? To get you prepared for summit day pace that answer is a big fat YES. Above 15,000 feet everything moves extremely slower. I generally can climb 1200 feet at normal altitude in under 30 minutes. I climbed out of the Grand Canyon 4,300 feet in 2hours and 10 minutes. ALTITUDE CHANGES EVERYTHING…
This photo was taken by Trevor Gardon one of the assistant guides for our team. It captures what we saw as we entered lower Barafu camp so well. It was like a war zone- on Mars. As we continued up past the other teams they all stared at us wondering where we were going. There was much envy going on that afternoon. We quietly passed through up to our camp.
Then we arrived… our high camp at 16,000 feet. Cold, beyond cold- unforgiving yet totally breathtaking views. It was totally surreal. By now we were all totally exhausted and completely out of energy. We knew from here on out we would be running on pure adrenaline.
We had an early dinner and discussed the final details before our big summit day. We knew there would be many teams passing through our campsite as we slept in. Sleeping in meaning we get up a 3am. By now everyone EVERYONE is oxygen depraved, cranky, sleep depraved, antsy, hungry, freezing and frankly loosing it. Did I mention freezing?
As I discussed in the housekeeping section of this post, the porters, guides and other teams all have different agendas. They want to get them up or as close to up as they can and get them down off the mountain ASAP. Our team had no reason to leave so early. We had plenty of time to make the summit and get back to our camp 6 at 13,500 feet. For the teams that had to descend the 14,000 feet down to the Mweka gate that meant they started climbing at midnight. This is where that good ole success rating dwindles quickly along with people’s safety and health.
After a very light dinner and very little hot water for tea we all started to our tents before the sunset. We came outside our mess tent and could see our route! We had it in our sights.. it was so close yet really still so far. That little trail you see is quite deceiving. That is a strait vertical 3,100 foot climb up what I like to call moon dust- it is volcanic sand. You take one step up and slide half a step back.
It was time to try and sleep. That was one rough night of little sleep. Your anticipation, fear, and the sheer cold keeps you tossing and turning. I also had all my summit day clothes in my sleeping bag with me so they wouldn’t freeze during the night. We woke up and could not believe how cold it was. We had to get dressed and pack up. There was nothing else to do. I was so glad to have my roomie Nadia in my tent. We helped talk each other through the madness that is going through our minds.
This is another excellent photo from Trevor. It shows our mess tent at 3am and the headlamps of climbers already turning around from the summit. Many at this point had given up halfway there – some had made it and were heading back down. I can’t imagine doing all of this and not seeing the summit because it is dark. I think that is a horrible thing for a guide company to do to their teams.
We had some breakfast I think… then did our usual final fine tuning activities to get ready. This whole morning was a blur. We started up the mountain in our line at 5am. I was seriously sleepwalking. I don’t remember much of anything from the first two hours we were climbing other than it was strait up and really cold.
We stopped at one point to take a drink. I opened my Nalgene bottle and there were iclicles covering it. The water was freezing cold. The last thing I wanted to do was drink it considering how cold I was. It is a grind – the most mentally challenging grind you can imagine. You can only see the person’s feet in front of you- for every step you take you have to take in 2 deep breaths. You slide backwards if you aren’t diligent about your rest-stepping. I called it zombie climbing. Just then James our guide turns to me and says you can turn your headlamp off now… Then there it was….
THE SUNRISE! We were all so elated. As elated as one can be while freezing and at 17,500 feet. It was amazing. Kristen said to look at the shadow on our right- it was the shadow of Kilimanjaro! I have never been so happy to see a sunrise in all my life. We continued on and started to take in what we were climbing.
This is another shot of the shadow of Kilimanjaro. The timing of K2 and how they organized our climb allowed us to view something few have seen. Truly amazing. We continued on. We started seeing the carnage from the other teams coming down the mountain. People being carried, looking miserable, ill, and totally wrecked. So much suffering going on. I tried to focus on my music and not on them or the cold.
You really move so slowly that it is very difficult to generate any body heat. I was wearing my best clothes for the coldest of temperatures and the cold was my worst enemy. That was the one thing that was really giving me the most trouble.
Finally we made it to Stella Point. The hardest part of the physical portion of the climb was over. We still had another mile and about 700 feet to the Kilimanjaro summit but Stella we were sooo happy to see you! I immediately threw my pack down and sat in front of the sign. I was shivering uncontrollably. I was never able to get my body temperature up and my freezing water was only making it worse. One of the porters had some hot tea up there in a thermos and my buddy Chris brought me a cup. That was my saving grace. I had two cups of tea then finally started to warm up enough to continue on.
Past Stella Point the views are so unbelievable. The Kibo Glaciers are so bazaar to see placed in the middle of this barren volcanic scenery. They were beyond description and the photos don’t do them justice. To be able to see these glaciers was worth all the pain and cold.
In all honesty I was so exhausted by the time we passed through this terrain it was so hard to take it all in- what I was witnessing. I know several others were too tired to even take photos. Much of it didn’t sink in until well after the climb was over. It was totally something from another world.
Suddenly we were there. Our team all arrived at different times. The guides had groups that needed more assistance than others but eventually we all got to take one group photo along with our individual photos. I wish I could say it was the most incredible feeling ever but it was foggy- you take your photos, give your hugs, take in what you can, then just want to get down.
On top of Africa, on top of the worlds tallest freestanding mountain. On top of one of the 7 tallest mountains in all the world. 19,340 feet of pure adrenaline.
The link below is a video I took at the top. I am totally wasted on altitude! HA! It is quite hilarious!
In all seriousness we had a few of our team members that were struggling and having a really difficult time so they had to get down the mountain ASAP. Ed Viesturs says “Getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory”. We began to descend.
The ‘moondust’ can be very harmful if you breathe it in. We had to wear any kind of material that would cover our mouths and filter this out. I was struggling with this on the way down. I was told to ski down the moondust. One problem… I snowboard… I have never been on ski’s before! I also kept getting behind someone who was hauling ass and you would get the dust all in your eyes. Finally a porter grabbed me and showed me how to get down this stuff in a hurry.
We descended down to our lunch spot at 15,000 feet and started to hear the stories of teams that didn’t make it. We saw people being carried whose legs simply stopped working. We were all tired and still had another 1,500 feet to descend down to Millennium camp 6 at 13,500 feet for the night but we were thankful that all of us made it this far. We still had the night to get through.
We ate like kings that night. Nadia my roomie said as we were laying in our tent on summit night that if we had fried chicken she would make out with the cook! We had fried chicken that night! Millennium camp had Coca Cola and Beer for purchase. A few of the guys were all over that. I just wanted to get the moondust out of my grill!
We slept well and awoke to our normal regimen. We found out quickly that Kevin and Kristen had been up in the middle of the night helping another team out. Kevin and Kristen have taken just about every survival course you can imagine so many other teams ask them for their help. This wasn’t the first time but I had not seen Kristen so shook up. They were called to a tent with a man in it we had seen several times along the journey. He was very ill. He had pulmonary edema. That is what happens after pneumonia… your entire chest cavity is full of fluid. Kristen said had he not been taken of the mountain that night he would have never woke up. There were many stories along these lines to be told. We were in the best company with those two. We all thanked our lucky stars.
Everyone was very excited with the thought of a hot shower and a hotel bed. We still had to descend from Millenium camp at 13,400 feet to the Mweka gate at 5,380 feet. That is roughly 7,000 feet to get down. Microspikes helped us to descend quickly and with little trauma to our poor knees!
The porters also got their tips and many hugs for all they did. They sung us a song and had a little celebration before we departed for the gate. It was such an awesome morning.
Everyone stopped to take photos of the friends they gained along the way. This was my travel buddy Chris!
The Old Guys RULE!!! These guys kicked butt- and were all really great fellas. Glad to have had them on my team- we all shared different connections and I will never forget them!
All of our porters were waiting for us at the gate to celebrate! The below link is a video with the happiness that is the Mweka Gate!!!
They had a lunch prepared for us as we waited for our exit paperwork to be completed. This was quite a celebration- for everyone. We also started to think about what we wanted to donate as far as gear for the porters.
Everyone donated something to the porters. They all had the most tips ever earned on any expedition!! I left my hiking shoes along with several other items for them. They got to pick one by one and when they ran out of items they were given money that we all donated too. They were so amazing- they deserved so much more!
We even had a musician sing for us during the reception and for the entire 2 hour bus ride to our hotel!
This completes this segment of the adventure…. Click here for Part 3 – signing off!!