Shadow in the Night - My Climb Up Mt. Kilimanjaro - August 2011
I recently had the good fortune to be sent on one of the most exciting adventures of my life - climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. The Africa Adventure Company is celebrating its 25 th anniversary this year (2011); and to commemorate it they have put together a few special trips including this 'Kili Climb'. I have always found that when a trip requires more than me just sitting and listening to a guide, I feel like I have gained something more than ju st knowledge.
A few fun facts
Mt. Kilimanjaro is one of the 'Seven Summits,' which comprise the tallest mountains on each continent. While Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa it also holds the record for the tallest freestanding mountain in the world.
|There are five or six routes up the mountain and I selected the Rongai Route for my ascent. This is the most remote and one of the 'less traveled' ones when compared to the Marangu (aka Coca Cola) or the Machame (aka Whiskey) routes. The least traveled is the Umbwe Route as it is the most difficult and allows the least time for acclimatization. In general the Rongai is a little longer than the other routes, but it is also one of the gentlest ascents of the options available. Acclimatization hikes are a part of this program which allows your body to adjust to the high elevations reached. This is also a very scenic route because you go up the mountain one way, and down another.
Ready, Set, GO!
The day before the climb we stayed at the perfect casual trekker venue - Kilimanjaro Mountain Resort. That first evening, after settling into our rooms and enjoying a nice buffet dinner, we were briefed by our local trip coordinator. We were tol d how much weight we could bring (33lbs) and were given a hand scale to check the weight of our gear. We were also given maps and an overall briefing of the climb. If any of us had rented gear like sleeping bags, mats, walking poles, etc we also collected at this time.
|Later, at the bar, we noticed a group of about 20 people (mostly in their 20s and 30s) celebrating their return from the mountain. Interestingly, it wasn't the wild party atmosphere that you would expect from this demographic, but more of a relief and enjoyment of reliving the stories created on the mountain.
It felt like I was about to go on that really fast and high rollercoaster where everyone waiting in line is slightly nervous but excited, while those getting off have this s atisfied and wide grin plastered on their face and a sense of relief.
I did not want to ask anyone about the actual climb as I did not want to have any expectations. However, I did meet a girl from the UK and couldn't help but noticing how her neck and ha nds were badly peeling from a combination of the intense sun and wind. Note to self: Don't forget the sunscreen .
Day One - Nalemuru Gate to Rongai Camp One (aka Simba Camp)
This morning we were met by our coordinator, Ngaya, in the lobby. After storing a ny extra baggage and getting some Tupperware whose contents would be our lunch later that day we headed to the gate (1.5hr drive) to collect our climbing permit, meet our guides and porters and begin!
L to R: Francis, Trenton, Barry, Florence, Dana, Elia, January, Justice and Ian
Here's the cast of characters (from youngest to oldest):
We set off on an easy 3 hour day of hiking through farmland and forest stands. Our p icnic lunch was tasty and our arrival into camp was heralded as a success. This is where we first got to see all our accommodations, mess tent and lavatory for the trip (see below).
Before sitting down for our dinner we headed further up the trail on a b rief acclimatization walk. It was an easy half hour hike without any gear (except some water). At the top of our walk we rested for about 15 minutes before heading back down for popcorn and tea (or hot chocolate). Our dinner came soon after which was a three course delicious meal.
Total Time Walking: 3.5hrs
Distance: 4.5miles (7.2km)
Elevation Min/Max: 6,568ft/8,858ft (2,000m/2,700m)
Elevation Gained: 2,290ft (700m)
Weather: Walking during the day was in the 60s. Evening at camp in the 50s. Temperatures dropped into the 40s overnight.
Day Two - Rongai Camp One to Kikilelwa Camp
This morning we were woken up at 6am and brought a choice of hot beverage to our tent within a few minutes. Fifteen minutes later a large bowl o f hot water was delivered for us to use for washing up before breakfast. This was our second cooked meal and we were quickly seeing that meal times were extravagant affairs. Today's Special: Porridge, scrambled eggs, bread (no butter ïŒ), bacon and fruits.
Dakota 20 Google Latitudes Camelbak Steripen SOG Multi-tool
The group kind of walked together and in pairs with different people, but after our lunch Dana and Barry were in the lead trailed by Trenton and me. Francis kept falling back beh ind but was always with a guide. We knew we were setting our own paces, and that we were all walking at paces we felt comfortable with.
Mawenzi Peak Mt. Kilimanjaro In the Clouds
After lunch we continued hiking for several hours, enjo ying the conversation. This is when I started feeling the headaches. They came and went like the wind, and in varying degrees, but the important thing was that they always went away. At this stage no one in the group was taking any altitude sickness medication (Diamox). Our guide recommended that we allow our bodies to adapt to the high altitudes and take it once we are feeling the effects of altitude sickness.
Our teammate Francis arrived to camp looking winded and was apologetic about not being able to keep up. He said he was definitely feeling the effects of AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness). His headaches weren't disappearing and I believe he was having some respiratory issues. He started t aking Diamox, but said he wasn't feeling any change yet. He forced some food down, and headed to bed early.
Total Time Walking: 6-7hrs
Distance: 7.38miles (11.8km)
Francis and FlorenceElevation Min/Max: 8,858ft/11,811ft (2,700m/3,600m)
Elevation Gained: 2,953ft (900m)Weather: Walking during the day was in the 50s.
The walk was done mostly in overcast conditions with a fine misty rain. Evening at camp in the 40s. Temperatures dropped into the 30s overnight. There was frost on the ground and tents in the morning.
Difficulty: Moderate. The terrain was pretty good, but it was mostly the distan ce and time spent walking that gave this day a Moderate rating.
Day Three -Kikelelwa Camp to Mawenzi Tarn
One man short, we started out at about 8:30 a.m. for a shorter day of hiking - less than half the time spent walking the day before. The big differe nce was that the gradient of the terrain was much more inclined
|Room with a view||Frost on the ground||Today's destination: Mawenzi Peak|
Total Time Walking: 3-4hrs
Distance: 3.2 miles
Elevation Min/Max: 11,811ft/14,161ft (3,600m/4,316m)
Elevation Gained: 2,350ft (716m)Weather: Walking during the day was in the 50s. The walk was done mostly in overcast conditions with a fine misty rain. Evening at camp in the 40s. Temperatures dropped into the 30s overnight.
There was frost on the ground and tents in the morning.
Difficulty: Moderate. Most incline to date as you climb steadily for the few short hours of hiking.
Day Four - Mawenzi Tarn to Kibo Camp
By this time 'sleep' is more resting than sleep because at higher altitudes it is a sacrifice your body makes to compensate for the low levels of oxygen. You manage a handful of hours of actual sleep, but it
is more about letting your body and mind recharge for a few hours. I brought an iPod with me and a lot of
people asked why. I never turned it on when we were hiking, but at the end of the day when you're laying in your tent, there is something nice about turning on some music that is familiar. It allows your mind to drift off into melodies and lyrics you know so well. Rest.
We were forewarned that this day was going to be another one of those long days of hiking, but fortunately it was easy walking. We had a short incline and a long sloping walk that descended before gradually coming back up. This stretch of walk between Mawenzi and Kibo is known as the Saddle, because that's what it resembles. At this altitude we had passed the Heath and Moreland Zones with their low lying shrubs and officially entered the Alpine Desert Zone. Excep t for a few randomly scattered bushes lying about, it was all dust, rocks'¦ and a fallen airplane?!?
A small charter plane apparently crashed there a few years ago. As we approached you could see debris scattered about. The story goes that a few tourists a sked their pilot to get closer to the mountain for a better look so that they could snap a few pictures. As they got close some clouds quickly moved in, making it difficult to see, and caused the plane to crash. My first thought was, 'Why hasn't anyone tak en it off the mountain,' but when you think about it, I can't really blame anyone for not wanting to carry a plane off a 19,000+ foot mountain, plus all the gear you are already carrying and do it for free!
We awoke for dinner where we tried feeding ourselves the food that was served. It is easy to identify how the altitude is affecting our bod ies. Just a day or two ago we had voracious appetites from all the exercise, but now we could hardly manage a small serving.
Group Check-in: Trenton was getting AMS and started taking his Diamox as his headache was persistent most of the day. Dana also started taking his altitude pills as he had a rough night the night before. Barry was ready to charge - no headaches and no signs of slowing down from the altitude. He decided to take Diamox before the midnight departure as a precautionary more than anything else. He had proved to be the strongest climber with the least amount of problems. I was doing ok at this point, just taking it step -
Total Time Walking: 5hrsDistance: 5.2miles (8.5km)
Elevation Min/Max: 14,161ft/15,437ft (4,316m/4,705m)
Elevation Gained: 1,276ft (389m)Weather: The weather was the most stable today. The sky was mostly sunny until we arrived into camp.
The average temperature during the walk was in the low 50s. On arrival into Kibo Camp the winds really picked up and quickly became over cast with the temperatures
Difficulty: Moderate. It was an easier day in terms of elevation gained, but at this altitude you are starting to feel some of the toll it is beginning to take on the body. It is a long day of walking.
Day Five- Kibo Camp to Uhuru Peak to Horombo Camp
After dinner I headed to my tent and got partially dressed for both warmth and so that I wouldn't have to get dressed in the middle of the night. These were the kind of things that no one taught us, but learned quickly after a morning of getting out of that warm and comfo rtable sleeping bag in the tent and dressed in below-freezing temperatures.
We were reevaluated both by ourselves and by the guide. I noticed th at when the guide had checked us for altitude sickness before, he checked the color of our tongues and our eyes. When he came over I stuck my tongue out and took off my glasses. It was almost as if I was looking for an excuse to be told I couldn't go on, but in the end he cleared me to go to the top and reassured me I could do it. 'Never give up.'
|We were up there for about 25 minutes, but it felt like a blip as we snapped pics and congratulated each other, some with a swig of Bombay Sapphire's finest. By this time I could feel my brain starved for oxygen and so the only drivi ng thought in my head was to get off this mountain'¦ quickly!
Interesting fact: Did you know that there is 50% less oxygen available at this altitude than at sea level? With every step I took back down the mountain I could feel a difference. I quickened my pace to a slow
trot and only stopped long enough to take in the first magnificent view since the sunrise'¦ the looming
glacier, the last remnants of it at least. Within a few moments the clouds were rolling back in, protecting it in a blanket of snow. In retrospect I wish I would have taken a picture but the effort involved in stopping,
unzipping my jacket, taking off my gloves and taking that pictures was far too great at that time.
I got back to Gilman's in record time where Dayo and I waited as the o thers caught up. From here we started the descent down the scree for what I call a little Scree -skiing action. For the next hour and a half we skied down on our feet using the poles. About an hour into it I wished I'd been wiser in conserving energy coming back from Uhuru.
For most, this would have been enough physical activity for a week, let alone a day. However, after an hour rest and lunch, we were packing up our gear and ready to start another 3 -4 hour hike to Horombo Camp. There's no two ways about I t, this'¦ was'¦ a '¦ very'¦ long'¦ day.
The walk down from there was relaxed and we were all joking and enjoying the scenery. We came down the Marangu Route as this is an Up and Down route whereas the Rongai is Up only. We arrived at camp tired and hungry. We ate, played cards and all had the best night's sleep imaginable. I don't imagine the Sultan of Brunei would have had a more comfortable night's sleep than any of us did that evening.
Total Time Walking: 13-15hrs
Distance: 12 miles (19.3km)
Elevation Start/Max/Min: 15,437ft/19,341ft/ 12,204ft (4,705m/5,895m/3,720m)
Elevation Gained: 3,904ft (1,190m)
Elevation Loss (total): 7,137ft (2,175m)Weather: The night walk started off calm. The temperatures dropped well below freezing into the nig ht, and was coldest just before sunrise. The sunrise was clear and crisp. At the summit steady and strong winds blew blustery snow, and calmed down towards the peak. The walk from Kibo to Horombo was clear and temperatures rose steadily into the 50s until the evening.
Difficulty: Difficult. It was not a technical climb, but between the altitude and the overall duration of walking in a 24 hour period that I would rate this as the only difficult day of the trek.
Day Six -Horombo Camp to Marangu Gate
The last day we continued on another 5Â½ hour hike motivated by the thought of a hot shower and proper bed. We passed other climbers heading the opposite way. They looked so fresh and clean and full of optimism, heading into what was going to be an adventure they would never forget. As for us, we were coming off the ride relaxed and filled with so much good energy that it almost'¦ ALMOST felt like we could've turned around and climbed back up.
Total Time Walking: 5-6 hrs
Distance: 12.8 miles (20.6km)
Elevation Max/Min: 12,204ft/6,045ft (3,720m/1,143m)
Elevation Loss: 6,159ft (2,577m)Weather: As we descended into the tropical weather we were met with typical rainforest climate in that it was cool and a misty rain. There is a lot more moisture in the air and I was hiking in a t -shirt until it rained a little bit.
Difficulty: Easy. Long walk, all downhill. Again, remember to pace yourself for a long day of walking, but compared to t he previous day, it was a breeze.
|The 25 th Anniversary Kili Crew||Barry the Bionic Bear|