Sept 10 – Arrived Kilimanjaro!
17 hours of flying. Arrived 8:30pm to Kilimanjaro Airport. Longest leg between Amsterdam and Kilimanjaro Airport. Taken direct to Itikoni base camp in Arusha National Park. 6,500 feet. Late dinner delicious.
Sept. 11 – Prep for climb
Internal time clock a mess but slept reasonably well. Rustic site but slept in nice cot with sheets and blankets. Temp cold – low 40s. At night, water buffalo wander through camp. Watch where you step! Told to stay inside until daylight in case confronted by water buffalo; can be very dangerous. Dawn beautiful with birds and animal sounds that were incredible. Delicious breakfast followed by orientation and gear check. These guys are serious! I learned a lot about high altitude climbing. Rented gear look solid. Hiked with guide late morning and afternoon. Accompanying us was a park ranger with an AK47 in case of large animal charge. Saw long haired monkeys that looked like skunks who live in trees. Baboon walked through camp. First view of Killi in afternoon. Darn, it is high! In evening saw a giraffe come over the hill with Kili in background. Came within 50 feet of us.
Sept 12 – Climb Launch
3 hour drive from Arusha National Park to Kilimanjaro Park entrance. Partly cloudy day but could see snow fields on route. Drive takes you through an enormous tree plantation where pines are grown and harvested. Small children collecting branches for firewood and placing on their heads to walk 15 miles home (wow, are we soft in U.S.). At park entrance, met our porters. Extraordinary operation for our group of 8. Literally 63 of them! Began climb through jungle and arrived at camp 1 at 9,000 feet about 4pm. Porters had tents set and tea for us. As a treat, popcorn too! Started my regimen of diamox this morning and no side effects that I can tell. Malaria pills seem to cause weird dreams but maybe the anticipation causing that too. 2 blue monkeys come close. Illegal to feed. They hot foot it away to the trees at night. Jaguars are a threat. Hopefully not to us. Tomorrow we should arrive camp 2 above timberline.
Sept 13 Climb Day 2
Up at 6:30am following fitful night sleep. Have concluded that malaria pills cause vividly odd dreams as others are having too. Never saw a mosquito let alone get bit by one since arrival so decided to stop that drug. All others seem to have as well now that we are well above malaria zone. On trail by 8am. Climbing steep and rocky with switchbacks. Followed ridge line to enter heath zone (scrubby trees and brush, akin to what one might see out west in USA). Suddenly entered area known as Shira Plateau and there in full profile was a large section of Kilimanjaro protruding like a giant boil from the earth. Main peak shrouded in clouds. Seems so close but sign says 33 km to summit and clearly there are steeps coming, including some hand to hand. Can’t wait. Arrived Shira camp (camp 2) about 1:30pm. Staying here for rest of day and night. One guy in our group of 8 seems to have reinjured his Achilles and limping badly. After conversing with head guide, he made the sad decision to have to return to base camp. Rescue road about 2 miles away and he will walk back gingerly with a porter. My heart breaks for him. Rest of us feeling strong and with no elevation effects yet (currently at 11,500). We’ll see how we fare going forward. On a side note, the people of Tanzania are incredibly warm and friendly. And this group anyway strong as oxen. We carry 20-25 pounds in our packs and they carry all the support supplies and our additional gear on their back AND head. They have incredible balance on uneven ground, including the cook who carried probably 8 dozen eggs on his head no hands!
Sept 14 Climb Day 3
Dawn emerged clear and no clouds in sky. Incredible view of Kilimanjaro! Departed at 8am for camp 3, MoiraCamp – 13,500 feet. To get there we hiked out of heath and between two large lava flows from millennia ago. Apparently area is popular with animals, including elephants, for the natural salt licks in caves in the rocks. Arrived about 12:30pm. Breathing definitely getting tougher now. Two in our now team of 7 feeling poorly, one who barely ate lunch and was sick. Key is to continue drinking water and tea and force yourself to eat slowly. In afternoon we climbed to a nearby ridge w/o packs, another 700 feet or so and then climbed back down. That technique further helps with a aclimitazation. Back down for afternoon tea and later dinner. Amazing what food we are getting, all cooked and prepared special for us.
Sept 15 Climb Day 4
Body adjusting to camping at altitude, although periodically fitful with weird dreams. Left a bit later today for Lava Tower – 8:30am. Mostly a dirt trail with some bouldering areas. Entered the high desert zone. Short scrubby plants and lots of rocks. Animals still like it for the salty rock areas, including cape buffalo. Arrived Lava Tower (15,000 feet) about 12:30pm. It is an obvious landmark that protrudes high above the landscape. Feeling strong despite now being higher than I have ever been before. Glaciers high in mountain are obvious now. Sadly they are rapidly receding, faster every year. After lunch, encouraged to rest in prep for a day hike higher and return to campsite. All part of acclimatization process. Hike took us another 700 feet higher. Wow, really starting to feel elevation. First headache. Fortunately mild. Going slow and deep breathing helps. Returned to camp for tea and dinner. After dinner played cards in dining tent with two members of our support team. They are all great and genuine. We asked them about their perceptions of Americans. They described us as a social culture and very interested in learning about others. Some other countries they felt stuck to themselves even within subpopulations of their own culture. It felt great to be an American in that moment, even despite the turmoil happening in the US right now.
Sept. 16 Climb Day 5
Morning broke clear but clouds built. Very cold. Likely in teens overnight. Water filtration system for camp froze but they got operational again. On trail by 9am. Shortest climb of trip to base of Arrow Glacier. However, rapid melting has glacier much receding and thus plentiful water not so anymore. Porters travel an additional mile or so to get it via large buckets (akin to a joint compound bucket) and lug it back. They are amazingly strong. This was the first moment to see how other guided climbs work. Most seem to drive to 11,000 feet and from there do it in 4 days. But they have a crusher final day that begins at midnight while ours launch at 5am from the crater on top. That let’s us get on top at dawn for sunrise before others can summit. They also have a much higher failure rate. Tomorrow we have the toughest day; climb through the breach between two cliffs. Have to leave by 5:30am while all is still frozen to avoid rockfalls. Will have helmets for this part and some hand over hand climbing.
Sept. 17 Climb Day 6
Woken at 3:50am for speedy prep and breakfast (none of us especially hungry but forced down porridge and toast). Also did what is a standard morning and evening routine – testing our blood oxygen level and standing heart rate. They put a small device on your index finger (no finger stick but somehow it works) and after about 30 seconds it registers. Most of us were in the 90s for blood oxygen at the climb start and six days later all of us are in 70s and 80s. Below 60 is the trigger for concern. As for heart rates, those started for us in the high 50s (a really fit guy in our group) to upper 70s. Now all of us are high 60s to 90s. My numbers have been strong, fortunately, perhaps a function of my form of training and diamoxx (most of us taking it and few who are not are suffering).
Took off at 5am, this time with helmets because of rockfall danger. Used headlamps to see before dawn. Hiked through area called the Western Breach. This was by far the hardest climb, both because of the altitude gain (2,700) and the overall elevation at the Crater Camp (18,700 feet) where we spend the night prior to tomorrow’s summit push. All in our group are suffering to varying degrees, with a few that’s suffering a lot. I admire their determination. I hurt too, not physically so much, but for the first time, I have a splitting headache. Arrived at Crater Camp and first view of actual summit. It is tantalizingly close! Can even see the summit sign! Totally spent on arrival but urged not to nap until after lunch to reduce likelihood of splitting headache (too late ☹️).
After lunch, napped for about 1.5 hours and felt enough recovered to take a short hike with a few others up to Kilimanjaro Crater. 700 more feet about killed me but views were incredible. Crater has three levels and smell of sulfur pronounced. Kili is not an active volcano but with rapid melting (everyone there did not expect to see anything or much in 20 years). Had an early dinner and because of cold, got into bed about 7:30pm.
Sept. 18 Summit Day (day 7)
Very fitful night sleep, but blessedly, the 0 degree rated mummy sleeping bag I rented from Mountain Madness kept me reasonably warm. Woken at 3:45am to dress quick, eat (who can do porridge at 4:15am?), don headlamps, and begin steep climb remaining 640 feet to summit. Quite neat to see our group, identifiable only lights, take slow but steady steps up. The sky was perfectly clear with a sliver moon and an obvious plant dotting the horizon looking just like the Muslim flag.
As we walked, one member had become quite ill and was literally dry heaving each step of the ascent. Another suffering from intense coughing fits. But neither would be denied. Amy and I were at the front of the line and as it turned out, the strongest in the mountain. Our oldest team member was 64 (I only hope I could be as fit as him in 10 years) and youngest 26. Sunrise was apparent as we walked the last few yards at 6:10am to the summit and took in the full import of what we’d just done. For me, it was an emotional and spiritual experience. With regard to the emotional, the culmination of a year of planning, the hours and hours of training, and the support of so many for the first gen completion fund that will help students get over the finish line hit me like a ton of bricks. With regard to the spiritual, the day dawned clear and crisp and the sun rose right when we arrived and bathed the broad expanse of two African countries, Tanzania and Kenya. It would be hard not to believe a higher power existed than in that moment. As we arrived, we also observed human specs working their way up the mountain. I would estimate 30 others summited today. We stayed about 20 minutes, taking lots of pictures and distributing hugs all around. Our guides were amazing in getting us up the mountain. We started down via a different route, the top piece was a scree field that we could nearly simulate skiing on way down. Had lunch part way down at a campground and around 1:30pm arrived at camp for evening. We went through 4 climate zones over a 9,000 foot drop – alpine, alpine desert, heath, and forest. Today is last night on mountain. We go to guide services lodge tomorrow after 2.5 hour hike out. Right now can’t wait for a shower.
Sept. 19 Hike Out Day (day 8)
Slept very soundly last night – probably combo of exhaustion and warmer night temp. Before we depart camp tradition is to sing the Kilimanjaro song and for a rep from the clients to share a few words of thanks with the porters. Our team elected Amy and I to do it. We did our best to offer thanks for making our dreams possible and how much we appreciated the people of Tanzania reflected in our porter group and their unique personalities that come from their tribes. We also did our best to do so using the Swahili words we learned. I even made a joke about two, one that is “jambo” which means “What’s up?” and a common greeting when passing or being passed on the trail. The other word is, jamba, which means fart. They got a big kick out of the image of me saying jamba on the trail and offering a high 5, especially the porter of our chemical toilet. We presented our collective tip which then gets divided according to role (yes, toilet porters get more). We also gave private tips to a few folks, including our head cook nicknamed Papa John who made amazing, healthy and energy producing meals on the trail including homemade pizza at 18,700 feet. Left camp about 7:30am and emerged at gate about 10:30am. Washing one’s dust caked hands in park restroom was about as blissful a moment there is. Had lunch, a champagne toast of achievement, and left for the lodge and a real cleanup. Driver very good natured about our stink. Arrived at lodge which is beautiful and indeed shower was most pleasurable as anticipated! More to come, but stopping for now for this post.
Blog from here describes the safari that followed the climb at two premier natural areas in Tanzania, Manyara National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Sept 20 Safari & Cultural Experience Day 1
Woke to the sound of call to prayers (although many in Tanzania are Christian, there are many Muslims too) and an irritating rooster. The latter reminded me of growing up in Vermont. Following a nice breakfast and quick opportunity for wifi (posted my first picture to the blog) we departed for two Safari areas, Manyara National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation area. Stopped on route to shop; probably only opportunity. Arrived Manyara after 2 hour drive. Within minutes of arrival, saw a huge group of baboons, complete with babies and even breeding in action! The true circle of life 😊. Deeper in park around lake saw most amazing array of animals, especially birds. Just like the films on Discovery Channel, although the sounds were much more vivid, especially the largest of birds as they took off directly overhead. Saw large mass of hippos enjoying mud, and giraffe’s, wildebeasts, cape buffalo, gazelle’s and many others. After about 3 hours in park, we departed for Ngorongoro. Drive into park was long and very bumpy. Land partially occupied by Maasai who are cattle people (cows and goats). Received amazing treat when we arrived at camp; traditional dance by Maasai youth. Then we joined the Maasai chief (of 16,000 in area). Learned a ton, including what they eat and showed us, including stomach! Fortunately we didn’t get asked to sample… Fabulous local dinner and evening of conversation about African politics as well as perceptions of Donald Trump. Our guides are as worried/concerned as us on issues like North Korea.
Sept. 21 Safari & Cultural Experience Day 2
Very comfy sleep in a cot with many blankets. Very windy last night and briefly worried our tent would blow away! In fact, three unoccupied ones blew over, although probably because no tent equipment inside to help hold down. Departed for crater about 7am. This park is known for its core crater, about 265 square kilometers (about 18 kilometers across) with an entire ecosystem inside making it very attractive to a wide diversity of animals. It did not disappoint. Incredible array of animals, STARTING with a bull elephant beside the road and then a battle among hyenas and jackals over a kill that likely occurred overnight. From there we had multiple close encounters with giant herds of wildebeests, and small and large herds of zebra and antelope as well as smaller clusters of cape buffalo and hippos. The highlight though was seeing three different prides of lions, hunting, lounging, and carefully watching for other animals. They clearly are on top of the food chain as other animals give them a wide berth. One encounter involved a pride of nearly 25 walking right in front of our safari vehicle! Many other animals and birds observed, some quite stunning in behavior and/or beauty. Later in afternoon we visited the home of the Maasai chief we met yesterday. He showed us his corrals where goats, lambs, and cows are kept overnight for protection from predators (walls 10 feet tall and still a leopard jumped over and stole a baby goat last week). Manure and flies rampant including on children but none seemed bothered. It is their way of life. Chief invited us into his home, essentially a manure and wood ash plaster mix placed over a wood framed building with thatched roof. Very dark inside but that remarkably keeps flies out. Home stays warm when cold outside and cool when hot. Open fire in window with no chimney but smoke vents through thatch. Learned more about the Maasai people, their incredible generosity and positive spirit, polygamy that some practice, and the challenge of preserving traditional ways within the modern era (cell phones for instance that many have, a great benefit for getting rapid response help when a predator appears). Afterwards, purchased some beadwork items made by his third and youngest wife. Returned to camp and dinner. Sad to have to leave for home tomorrow but ready. Not before a morning safari tomorrow though! Had an emotional goodbye with four in our group who are headed deep into the Serengeti tomorrow while we do a morning safari and head back to Arusha to clean up and head to airport.
Sept. 22 Safari & Cultural Experience Day 3
Windy again last night but comfortable in our tent with cot and many blankets. After our hugs goodbye following breakfast headed to another part of Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Came across a group of 5 giraffes, two adults and two youth. With the guide’s OK, my friend Amy got out for a closer picture of the giraffes and while they were wary, they did not run far. Amazing to know that these are true wild animals and not in a zoo. Visited area that abuts the Serengeti plain that was colossally expansive. Very dry right now but in rainy season next month thousands of animals will migrate here, especially wildebeests who will deliver babies here in new year. Predators clearly know this based on the number of bones and skulls strewn over a wide area that we saw. Saw a unique eagle that is so large and strong, it can catch even small gazelles. Speaking of which, our guide referred to the many gazelle’s we saw as “cheetah chips”. Cheetah’s are the fastest sprinter animals and like to go after gazelle’s on the open plain vs. jaguars who like to hunt in the woods and brush. Also saw a pair of dik dik’s which are the cutest small deer. Fortunately they are very skilled at changing direction which helps them survive predators. Returned to camp for lunch, thanked the staff and headed for Arusha. Looking forward to a shower with actual running water vs. the 10 gallon bucket of water (heated fortunately) then poured into a basket above our tent “shower” for about 2 min. total of washing. This has been a tremendously dusty experience given how dry it is just prior to rainy season and our bodies need something more to get rid of the red soil that coats us. Arrived Arusha to clean up at the lodge where we stayed one night after Kili climb. On way to airport shortly.