Started the morning nicely with eggs, sausage, beans, and toast. Slept well though I woke early. Sitting at the Outpost waiting for the guide to arrive. Still haven't met any of the other hikers. Overcast today but it feels like it will burn off soon. Great temperature at 18c. Found a wifi spot here in the lobby and was able to tweet and post on Facebook. Should probably take pictures but I'd rather just sit here and rest.
Guides showed up at 09:00 and we set off at 10:00 for Machame Gate. Still overcast and haven't gotten a clear view of the mountain. Met the other six hikers: Anis and Angie from Chicago, Tom and Bec from Adelaide, Australia, and Macca and Nikki, also from Adelaide. Seven of us, with 28 guides, cooks, and porters in support. What a crew! .
Make it to the gate at 12:15, where we unload and get registered. We'll check in each day at ranger huts in each campsite. We need to get moving. We have 18km to cover and it's already 13:00.
15:30 - 2244m
Stopped for lunch of bananas, cookies, fried bananas, and some kind of odd sandwich - peanut butter and carrot? Still cool but sunny now. Lush rainforest greenery, and yes, we spotted monkeys! I can go home now.
17:15 - 2695m
Break time. Calves barking and I'm already planning on what I can drop out of the day pack tomorrow. Everyone's slowing down - except the guides and porters. Feet are sore but ok.
21:00 - 2918m
Day one complete! We did around 18km today with ~1200m elevation gain. After dropping our packs off we hit the mess tent for hot drinks and popcorn, then dinner. Dinner was quite good: zucchini soup, potatoes, fish, and stewed veg. Tomorrow we go to Shira camp, about 5.3km away and 818m up. Shorter but steeper climb.
Just after my last entry (17:15), Macca spotted the peak for the first time through the trees. It was both inspiring and daunting. All the progress and pain today only accounts for 1/5 of the journey. But tomorrow will count for another fifth and so on. Every day.
A bit more on my fellow hikers. Anis and Angie are married and in their early thirties. He's a lawyer at Abbot Pharmaceuticals and is bold and driven. She's in IT at JP Morgan and gentle and caring (though turns out she has quite the independent spirit!). Tom and Bec are in their late twenties and have been dating for seven years. He's a web developer (yes, they're everywhere) for a shop there in Adelaide and is goal oriented. Very heads down and let's plow through this attitude. Bec is a mental health nurse in the Australian government health system. Sharp wit and no nonsense kind of gal. Macca (real name Anthony) and Nikki are a new couple. He's late 20s, she's 21. Macca plays drums but has an IT job to pay the rent as well as some great tats. He's quite aware of his surroundings and very open and friendly. Nikki is full of verve and joyous. Even when she's not feeling great, she can still laugh and crack jokes.
Camp is awake and moving at 06:00. I wash up and pack before breakfast. Anis started having head and stomach troubles yesterday and they're continuing today. He's hanging tough though, and everyone else seems ok so far.
14:50 - 3839m (Shira Caves campsite)
Today was a short day - shortest day hike overall. It was fairly steep and we made heavy use of the trekking poles (thanks Jimmy!). There were even times when we had to forego the poles and use our hands to clamber up. So much for the "no real climbing" thing - sorry mom.
It was extremely dusty on the trail. I had some sneezing fits until I made use of my handkerchief. Got dirt everywhere and I assume it will stay that way through the rest of the hike. We can't really get clean out here, just a little less dirty.
Tom really struggled today with headaches. Peter (one of the guides) ended up carrying his pack after lunch. Macca had a bad nosebleed start in the afternoon and just couldn't get it to stop. I imagine it was a combination of altitude and dust. He finally just stuck a tampon up his snout and carried on. Australians are a resourceful bunch. Anis is still fighting altitude sickness; it doesn't seem to be getting any better. The ladies and I are fairing well so far!
Lunch was in a large rocky field with a nice view and a lot of birds. White throated ravens, to be precise. One of them took up residence on the rock just behind me and watched me, well, like a hawk waiting for me to drop something. A little disconcerting. And rude, really.
Just after lunch, we passed a porter on the trail suffering from altitude sickness. You could tell he was in excruciating pain, jaw and fists clenched, skin pale, eyes screwed shut. He was being tended to by a couple of guides. You wonder that if a porter can suffer like this at only 3300m, what's going to happen to us?
I really like our group. No uber-jocks or ultra competitive types. We're getting along well with good conversation, cracking jokes on each other, and an overall good mood. One of the effects of altitude sickness is irritability, so I hope we can keep this up.
I'm feeing good overall. I get a slight headache from time to time but nothing unbearable. My left hip tweaked a little this morning but it worked itself out by the end of the day. My left ankle is sore. I may need to pack the tape tomorrow.
07:00 - 3839m (Shira Caves campsite)
It's chilly but warming up as I wait for the sun to rise over Kibo. My fellow hikers are waking up slowly. I have my silks on today; it's the first time I've needed them.
I had a slight chest cough this morning so I'm going to go ahead and break out the Cipro. I can't afford a sinus or chest infection up here. I think it's probably my sinuses brought on by all the dust yesterday.
The first battery for the video camera is already dead. I'll have to be careful about using it the rest of the way. I have to make sure I have enough power for the summit.
I'm looking down at the clouds this morning.
10:00 - 3964m
Quick stop above the Shira plains for water and a snack. Everyone seems to be doing ok so far; no improvements but no worsening. The route's getting a little crowded. Still warm but clouds are rolling in.
13:30 - 4620m (Lava Tower)
Lunch at Lava Tower. 4620m is just over 15000 feet so this is my new high water mark. Hopefully I'll be breaking that mark later in the week. The group spread out today; Anis, Angie, and I in the lead pack, then Tom and Bec, and finally Macca and Nikki. I'm worried about Nikki. She was up all night with gastric distress and she's running on empty today. Hopefully she'll recover by the time we get back down to Barranco. Everyone's drained from the hike up here.
Today's hike has been the most physically challenging. Foot placement has been tricky at times with all of the rocks. Made heavy use of the poles for that. And of course, the altitude makes everything more difficult.
20:00 - 3986m (Barranco Huts campsite)
Made it to the campsite around 17:00 today after a very difficult descent from Lava Tower. Tom's still feeling poorly with headaches, but Macca's nose finally stopped bleeding. It only took two tampons.
Barranco camp is pretty. We're at the base of the big Kibo wall; I can see it from my tent door. It's cold and windier than I expected. We bedded down early and while my thermometer says it's 18c, it feels closer to 10.
I'm feeling good. The ankle's still a little tender but not swollen and my right shoulder is bruised from the backpack strap but my GI system and my head are fine so I'm in the positive column overall.
I had a nice hike with Anis and Angie today. I'm really enjoying their company - they're smart and interesting people. Anis and I got into a fun discussion about agile systems and teams and how they can be applied to any sized company. Yes, I talked about agile process while hiking Kilimanjaro.
Todays scenery was magnificent, the best of the trek so far. It's arid and chilly, with lots of low scrub and thousands of tiny yellow and white flowers. There were some great views of Kibo. We ended up walking through clouds at some points.
I'm exhausted after today, especially after the descent from Lava Tower. Going to try to read for a while but I know I'm just going to go straight to bed.
Happy 40th to me!
Slept well last night and I'm feeling good this morning. It's a chilly 5c but it's warming up quickly as the sun rises. Today we go over the Barranco Wall, a nice 90 minute scramble. Today's total hike is around 6km so we should reach Karanga (the next campsite) by lunchtime. Anis took a bad turn last night and is really struggling. Tom and Nikki have bounced back and Macca's nose bleed started again necessitating the use of another tampon. I think he's keeping it in just for show now. We're on the trail at 08:45.
13:15 - 4034m (Karanga Valley campsite)
Fun hike today! Lots of technical challenges and LOTS of rock climbing. It was a short day, only about 5.5km in around 4 hours but the best hiking by far. Had lots of fun on the trail not only with the hiking but also with the others, including singing Eye of the Tiger. Yeah. Goofy.
Anis is *still* fighting bad headaches but everyone else seems well aside from minor headaches and gastro distress. Karanga is not a pretty campsite, dusty and bleak.
Just finished dinner and bedded down for the night. Tomorrow is a short hike, only 4km or so, but quite steep. We have lots of elevation gain to make Barafu camp, where we bed down briefly before the summit attempt the morning of the 7th.
Today has been spectacular. As I mentioned, it was the most fun hiking day of the trek along with incredible views of both Kibo and the surrounding landscape finished off by a gorgeous sunset just before dinner. On top of everything else, the guides and cooks came into the mess tent and sang to us. They started with the Kilimanjaro song, then the Jambo song. Next they all sang Happy Birthday to me. The rest of the hike group joined in. It was very touching and unforgettable.
The only down spot of the day was Anis. He's still battling altitude sickness and the diamox isn't working for him. I really hope he can overcome this thing tonight and be ready for tomorrow. He's so close and I'd hate to see him miss the summit.
Finally, just before bed, we left the mess tent to see Kibo in moonlit glory. After some wrestling with the tripod (which got broken in the flight over) and the exposure settings, I think I got a great shot. Still, there's no way to do it justice. Awe inspiring.
A good night after a good day.
10:15 - 4025m
Stopped for a maji (water) break on the trail. Anis was forced to descend this morning. He simply can't keep anything down. He came into the mess tent for breakfast and after a small bite of plain toast had to jump outside to chuck it all back up. Agger and two of the porters are escorting him.
We left camp around 08:30 this morning. Today's hike is cold, 7c or so.
11:30 - 4218m
We're closing in on Barafu, our base camp for the summit attempt. Stopped for a water break at a ridge covered in broken shale. There was an altar of sorts; a heap of shale with slabs leaned against it with other groups' names. I scrounged a nice sized stone and made a "Kili 7" slab for us. Everyone signed it, and Angie included Anis. Even though he had to descend he's still part of our group.
12:50 - 4662m
Arrived at Barafu Huts campsite. The whole place is surrounded by clouds and covered in dust. No plants up here except very short weeds and the only fauna is a small chipmunk looking rodent. We saw a young woman being helped back down the summit trail by her guide. She looked completely out of it; if the guide weren't holding her up, she'd have simply fallen over.
Our campsite overlooks a valley with other campsites. It's chilly - around 9c - and we're about to have lunch. Our site is sheltered on two sides by rock walls so hopefully it won't get ridiculously cold tonight. The whole camp consists of dust, dirt, and shale. Walking back from the ranger hut to our site, Angie said it "sounded like we're walking on xylophones."
Still feeling pretty good. I have a slight headache but I think it's mainly from hunger. Feet and legs are good and I'm breathing well. Fingers crossed.
I think I'm ready for the summit attempt. My head is a little achy, but otherwise I'm good. I have all my clothes and gear laid out, and I've even made a playlist to try to pump the group up at tea before we head out.
I'm not nervous, but I reread the description of the summit route in Steadman's guidebook. It's going to be difficult, harder than anything I've done before. I'm afraid we may have more drop out before this is done. I hope not.
I'm tired, but sleep's not coming. It's noisy here at the site but maybe it is nerves after all. Ravens keep quorking outside. That must be a good sign, right?
I wake up at 23:30 (on the 6th) for tea and a snack before setting off on the summit attempt. We line up, all wearing at least four layers of clothing as it's neg 5c. Everyone had their iPods in; we know there won't be the socializing during today's hike like there has been on previous days. This will be heads down.
Times and altitudes are all estimated from here out. My altimeter started freezing up and giving bad readings.
00:00 - 4662m - neg 5c
We start off well and on time for once. I start off with Fleet Foxes in my ears. I'm following Angie. I told Anis we'd see her up the mountain and I intend to do so.
We see our first "descender" - what I mentally term the hikers that can't summit and are forced to turn back. It was an older woman being assisted by a guide and they were coming down quick. Within the first 20 minutes, we've all shed a layer. Body temps are keeping us as warm as can be but temperature control is difficult. I don't want to start sweating and then get chilled.
There's nothing to see here and it's not a good idea to lift my eyes from the trail so I occupy my mind with details. For instance, my grips on the poles are different for each hand. My left hand grip is a standard fist clutch but my right is in a joystick grip with thumb on top. I experiment changing up but nothing else feels right so I leave it.
01:30 - 4750m
Our order keeps shifting but I stay behind Angie. I listened to Avett Brothers and now the Veils. Had another descender go by a few minutes ago, slipping and falling as he passed. Focusing on the ground in front of me: Angie's heels a step ahead, the points of my poles digging into the dust, the shadow of my ski pants backlit from the guide's head torch.
02:45 - 4900
Just passed Kosovo Camp. Stop for a rest and snack. Everyone's dragging but advancing. I feel much better after the snack. Have to keep pumping in calories. Orion is rising over Mt. Mawenzi to the East.
03:30 - 4950m
Bec can't catch her breath and has to stop for a rest on the side on the trail. She's back up and moving after a few minutes though. Angie's stomach is really bothering her and her inability to keep anything down over the last day is starting to show in her energy level. The two of us are starting to fall behind the rest of the group.
Broken Bells' The Mall and Misery comes on the iPod. I choke up a little from the beauty of the stars.
04:00 - 5100m
Another stop for a snack. Bec had to stop again about 100m back. I was last in line at the time. When Tom came back to check on her she just said, "Go on, Tom." She sounded defeated. Daniel spoke to Tom briefly, quietly, then Tom turned around and got in line behind me and continued up the trail. This time the tears did come. They froze on my cheeks.
05:00 - 5300m
Been going up switchbacks for what seems like forever. Bec managed to catch back up to us at our last rest break but fell behind immediately. Temps remain between neg 5-7c but there's not much wind so it's bearable.
Been focusing on walking. Focus on every step. Make each one deliberately. A misstep means wasted energy and oxygen at best. An injury and becoming a descender at worst. No stupid moves. Always take the easy step. Use both poles on the ups. Don't worry about speed, the mountain's not going anywhere.
I haven't been using my head torch. It washes out the landscape in front of me and I lose dimensional perspective. I rely on the moonlight and the other's lights.
05:30 - 5500m
The sun's beginning to rise over Mt. Mawenzi and I'm looking forward to its warmth again. The familiar weight of my day pack keeps me pressed forward, pushing me up the slope.
It's still neg 5c. I'm wearing my camelbak under my parka so the reservoir hasn't frozen but though I blowback after drinking, I have to chew the mouthpiece to free it from ice with every sip.
I've been checking for Bec on every switchback. Each time, her head torch fades a little further and further back. Daniel and Raphael are with her, supporting her in the climb. I hope they can get her to the top and not have to turn around.
Macca is feeling drunk, stumbling around. Angie is beyond exhausted. I give her some of my glucose spiked water which seems to help. Tom is completely heads down. Nikki is tired but seems ok otherwise. She reacts quickly enough during a rest stop when I accidentally spotlight her with my head torch as she's, ah, taking care of business.
06:15 - 5600m
The sun has risen now. Angie is really struggling to find any reserves. She's moving on sheer willpower now. Tom is lagging now too. For a while, maybe 30 minutes, it's been Macca, Nikki, and me with Peter guiding us up the trail. The landscape is gravel and scree, hard going and treacherous footing, we're digging in with the poles. I have to remind myself to walk with the poles and not simply drag myself up the hill with them.
07:00 - 5745m (Stella Point)
We make Stella Point. The peak is another hour away. Tired, very tired, but finally warm again. I strip off another layer of clothes, now down to silks, long sleeve shirt and trekking pants and the parka. Gloves are off, literally and figuratively.
We rest here for a bit before making the final push to Uhuru. Angie made it just ahead of me; I'm not sure when she passed me. Nikki and Macca just after us. Thrilled to see Tom and Bec make it up around 07:30.
I strap the day pack back on and plug in the earphones. Music for the final push? What else: Muse, Resistance.
08:30 - 5895m (Uhuru Peak)
I made it.
I'm here at the top of Africa. I'll admit it, I shed numerous tears on the final walk and summit. It hit Macca pretty hard too. As we hugged he said, "I didn't think it would be like this." All six of us made it all the way up within minutes of each other, Bec last with Raphael holding her up the same way we saw the woman yesterday. I wander around stunned for a bit, taking pictures and video then it's time for the group picture in front of the famous sign.
We're not supposed to stay long but it's hard for me to leave. Angie, Tom, and Bec are already headed back when Macca grabs my arm and points back at the sign. When we first got to the peak, there were two dozen people milling around it waiting for their picture. Now there's no one! He thrusts his camera at me and says, "Last one for luck?" I snap photo of he and Nikki and then he returns the favor. I have a picture of just me, the sign, and the mountaintop.
The final hike up took just over eight hours to cover 4.86km and 1233m of altitude. The average temp going up was around neg 4c.
After summiting we now have to get back down. There's a separate path for part of the descent that I call the "scree slope." It's a 30-40 foot wide swath of loose scree, gravel, and dust with occasional stones poking up out of the morass. It all slides under your feet so a single stride turns into 6 feet of movement. Peter guides Angie and I down the slope and we cover nearly half the descent in about an hour. It's really quite fun though absolute destruction on the knees.
Angie and I make it back to Barafu around 11:00 and I immediately collapse in my bag and fall asleep. I nap until around 13:30 then awake for a late lunch with everyone before we continue down to Mweme Camp, another 6.5km down, where I collapse a second time for the night. Total distance traveled today: 16.5km with a total of 4022m in altitude change.
We got up at 05:30 to make our last descent and exit Kilimanjaro National Park. Everyone is tired and sore but giddy happy. It turns out Bec was hallucinating during the entire trek up and Tom and Angie have spotty memories of the ascent. We swap stories over breakfast including was has now become the inevitable discussion of our bathroom habits. Or as we call them, poo stories. Aussies are a strange folk.
Around the third day I started bringing my iPad or iPhone to the mess hall for meals so we could have background music. I mentioned I made a playlist for the night before the descent. Now I made another for this, our last breakfast on the trail. I'll spotify both when I get back to the states. And no, neither one had Toto's Africa. Shut up.
The hike down from Mweka was hard but pretty. Muddy and slippery, we moved through the cloud forest and into the rain forest. The trees and other flora got bigger the lower we got until we saw some absolutely massive boles. Birdsong was everywhere as well as an occasional hoot of what I suspect were monkeys. It's always monkeys in my book.
We made it to Mweka Gate at 09:30 and made our final check in with the ranger hut. The hawkers swarm us and we all bought a few trinkets. I had an orange Fanta and it was the best thing I've ever drunk. About half and hour after our arrival, Agger shows up with Anis in tow. They both look so CLEAN.
We all loaded up on the bus and drive back to Arusha. It was a long trip but I sat next to Macca and we got to talk about things other than the condition of our bowels.
Back at Outpost, we all retired to shower after saying farewell to Daniel, Agger, Peter, Raphael, Saimon, and all the rest. Fresher and at least somewhat cleaner, we met in the cafe for drinks, snacks, and just chilling time. Macca and Nikki were flying out to Nairobi to start their safari in the evening so after a final group shot by the pool we say goodbye and they're off.
Anis had spent the time waiting for us to come back down scouting Arusha and suggested Mt. Maru for dinner. It's a new, posh hotel with a very nice buffet. After celebratory champagne poolside, we hit the food, the first meal we'd had in a week that wasn't cooked over a tiny propane burner. As we finish up dinner with pudding and creme caramel, the power flickers off and on as it had been doing throughout the meal. When it comes back up, you know what's playing on the overhead speakers?
I SHIT YOU NOT.