2/14/10 - 2/20/10
Elevation Gain: 14,000 feet up
Elevation Loss: 14,000 feet down
Julie, Jo, Mary, Selim, Tino, Natalie, James
26 support staff - 3 guides, 2 dishwashers, cook, assistant cook, waiter, 3 tent crew, 15 porters
Well this is it - the trip of a lifetime that Jo and I have been planning for 14 years and that we were lucky enough to have Mary join us. We did it! I have decided to take a lot of the climb straight from the journal that I kept - though I have added some things as I went along. What an adventure this was. Truly amazing. A dream come true.
Machame Gate - Machame Camp
3,970 elevation gain
8:10 p.m. The climb has begun! We are at Machame Camp. Jo and I are all snuggled into our little tent. Our home away from home.
We didn't sleep much. A bit rushed going for breakfast. We realized that Mary had locked the hotel door but no-one had brought the key. We were already running late. I ran to the office. They didn't have a backup key. The woman called the handyman who ended up unbolting the lock from the door to get in. We had breakfast and barely made our transport.
We rode on the bus up a little dirt road which was a shortcut to Arusha. We had already met James and Natalie at the the orientation meeting and they were on the bus already. Picked up Selim and Tino. I enjoyed the drive to the gate. You would see Masaai out wandering in the fields with their goats.
When we got to the gate there were many groups with all their porters. Rather chaotic. Julius our guide went to get paperwork. We signed in. I bought a backpack cover and Kilimanjaro hat from the vendors at the gate. Finally we were off.
The porters are amazing. They carry so much on their heads. The weight is enormous. One guy carried four dozen eggs on his head. Another a table.
We started on a road at first - then it turned into a path. It was a lush beautiful rain forest. Moss. Lichens. Porters would pass us. We would pass other groups, then they would pass us. I loved the forest.
Julius, our main guide, really stayed with us. We talked and laughed. He told us the polite way to say "take a pee" is "I have to send a message." We made a lot of jokes about that, but it was very useful. Soon we came upon our first outhouse. It was time to "send a message". The higher up the mountain you go, the more rustic the post offices become.
The hike was a breeze for me, especially walking so slowly. Jo was struggling with it. Then it started to rain. We put on all our rain gear. It started pouring. I liked it. The rain gear worked great. My clothes stayed dry. I was very comfortable. I liked the really slow pace. It didn't feel hard - more meditative. Pole Pole. Which is "Slowly, Slowly" in Swahili. This is something we heard throughout the trek.
We finally made it to camp. The skies cleared. We got our first glimpse of Kilimanjaro. Although, we had been in Arusha for three days we hadn't seen the mountain, it was always obscured by clouds. That first glimpse brought tears to my eyes. It is so beautiful! I was afraid we would climb the mountain and never get a chance to see it!
Jo and I were crammed into the tent. Lots of wet stuff. At dinner Julius told us we could use our little entryway to store our packs. This helped a lot and we got organized and spread out.
Dinner was delicious. Potato Soup. Bread. Fish, potatoes and vegetables in tomato sauce. Good company. I enjoyed today thoroughly. I want to have a joyous time on the mountain. Experiencing the full cultural experience.
I loved looking at the African stars. They are so bright and beautiful. I love hearing all the Swahili. Love having the different groups here, the French, the Dutch. There are probably over 20 groups here. Josephine is making quite the stir with the porters. The men are all over her.
I am loving Africa and this trip! Love. Love. Love. Amazing that we are doing this after all these years.
Today was a total piece of cake for me. I can do this. Day three will be the challenge. I'm actually getting tired. Think I will go to sleep now. Another wonderful day. Both Jo and Mary brought chocolates for Valentines Day. How thoughtful What a great beginning!
1:40 a.m. I just successfully used the pee bottle. Not bad at all. Ah! I had to pee since 11:00 p.m. Didn't want to get out of my sleeping bag. Message sent. Quite cozy. Camp is completely quiet. Now that I said that zippers start going. Still no dogs barking or people partying all night at Masaii Camp!
Machame Camp - Shira Camp
Elevation Gain: 3,150 feet
5:35 a.m. Was out looking at the African stars. Last night Orion was clear. This morning the Giant Dipper dominated. The stars are beautiful and bright. We may not see them again. I hope we do. I am feeling confident and happy. So far I realize that I have enough clothes and gear. This will be about enjoying the terrain, the people, the mountain.
It was so amazing the first time we got glimpses of Kili. What a beautiful mountain. Lots of snow as well. I want to get to know the porters. I realize that I am as interested in the Africans as the other trekkers. Selim and Tino are from Lebanon. Natalie and James are from Kent, a very, sweet young couple.
I like the fact that there are lots of different groups. You see porters from other groups. The birds are calling. I like this camp. Like being surrounded by Swahili.
Just finished breakfast. Porridge, avocados, bread and bananas. Filled up. Then they brought eggs, sausage, tomatoes and cucumbers. We have an amazing cook. Sunny beautiful day. I went to see the mountain at dawn. Should be a gorgeous day. All is so well. Another great day ahead!
3:00 p.m. We are snug inside our tent. It is raining outside. I like listening to the rain, especially when we are warm and dry inside.
Getting odd leg cramps - but enjoying just laying here with Josephine talking. The Swahili sounds so cool. The rain is coming and going. Comfy in our tent. I don't have to do anything. That is an unusual feeling for me. We are at Shira camp. Rocky open plain.
I am getting used to the "long drop" bathrooms. Basically an outhouse with a hole cut in the floor and two bricks to step on. My aim is getting better. They aren't as bad as I thought.
We had spaghetti for lunch with hamburger and carrots. Lots of food. Julius says to eat lots and drink lots of water. I am doing both.
The terrain was gorgeous today. I'm almost out of battery power for my camera. I will have to rely on Mary and Jo and my disposable camera. Another good day. Tomorrow is going to be a tough one.
8:30 p.m. We have had a delicious dinner of pumpkin soup, rice and beef stew. The rain stopped and we could see Kilimanjaro clearly. It is much closer now. Nice sunset.
I was hiking with my sarong as a scarf today as I usually do. It worked well for keeping me warm and cool. This evening I wore it as a sarong and it caused quite a stir with the porters. They all thought it looked African.
I walked over to the cliff and called Bill to wish him a happy anniversary. He said he was thinking about me and had thought to call. We got cut off. There is a delay on the phone so it took awhile to realize he was gone. Good to hear his voice.
Shira Camp - Barranco Camp
4 miles 2,690 elevation gain
2 miles 2,1460 elevation loss
4:10 p.m. We are in the tent again. It is raining again. Another wonderful day. Tea and popcorn now. More later.
5:15 p.m. We raced in the rain over to the mess tent and had tea, ground nuts (like peanuts) and popcorn. We had nips of brandy in our tea and cocoa which greatly improved our spirits.
The porters on the other side of the flap in the tent had music playing, so Josephine and I danced. Elias came in when I was putting the flask back in the pocket of my coat, which fell down. He pretended not to notice how heavy my coat was. One of the songs we were dancing to was about Tanzania. The rain stopped and we had a beautiful view.
Giant snow covered cliff behind us. Beautiful valley in front of us. Blue sky and clouds. Gorgeous. There is a pattern here. Rain in late afternoon and then clearing.
The ravens here are beautiful. Black with a white stripe around their necks. Big black beak like a puffin. Very cool. My camera is dead, so I shall rely on the photos of others.
Just talked to Julius. He says Jo, Ti no and I are doing great. He was watching from a distance. Mary has been throwing up and has a splitting headache. I hope she doesn't get ALS. The view here is amazing. After the rain it is so clear.
The hike today wasn't hard for me, but others are having a hard time. We had breakfast and had a good start. I did my 15 morning push ups which felt great. People thought I was crazy. We went up to 15,000 feet today and it wasn't bad at all. Slow grade. The landscape was strewn with boulders covered with lichens and moss. We could see Mt. Mehru behind us.
We stopped at Lava Tower for lunch. At first we couldn't see it, because it was obscured by fog. Then it appeared out of the mist. Looking prehistoric. Our lunches are always the same and delicious. A piece of chicken, juice, a green orange, jam and bread, potato chips, cookies. We all started singing "Doe a Deer" from the sound of music, because it had that line of about "jam and bread". We went to find a place to send a message which was hard because there were porters behind and porters ahead.
Mary was starting to feel sick on this hike. We reached a Y in the path and started to head for Barranco camp. It started to rain on us. After reaching 15,000 feet we could see plants again as we started coming down. There was a beautiful waterfall. Our thoughts were all about getting to camp. Walking slow. Hakuma matata. No worries!
6:55 p.m. Just finished dinner. Sitting on a rock looking at the valley. The fog is coming in. Our team is in bad shape. Everyone is getting sick. Mary is throwing up and has a bad headache. Selim has an upset stomach. James was shivering with chills. Tino has a headache. Natalie is sunburned.
This valley is so lush with those "Joshua Trees" as Jo calls them. Waterfalls. The mountain behind us.
Barranco Camp - Karanga Camp
Elevation gain: 62 feet over all
Up and down
We are in the tent. It is raining. Do we see a pattern here? Luckily we made it to camp before the rain. Yesterday we didn't. We are Karama Camp. I don't think it is as pretty as Barranco Camp - but it's too hard to see. Foggy and rainy.
Barranco camp was lovely - lush. A little piece of paradise.
This morning we climbed the Barranco Wall. It was a steep scramble with a few truly scary parts. It was amazing to see the porters not only climbing it, but with huge weights on their heads! Then up and down. So glad that we got into camp ahead of the rain. It's really raining out. It comes and goes. I know that it will clear this afternoon. Feeling strong. We've already made it to Day 4!
6:00 p.m. We've been playing cards and dice. First, Jo and I played Craps. Then we went to Mary's tent. It was quite spacious inside. We played Kings In the Corner and more Craps. It rained hard all afternoon.
8:40 p.m. Just talked to Bill. Kept trying to get through. Finally, I got through and Bill said, "You've got the wrong number!! Stop calling me!" I said, "Bill - it's Julie" He was really thrown off at first. We're not sure if it was me calling or someone else that he couldn't understand.
This camp is beautiful. It rained hard all the way through dinner. It was fun playing cards in Mary's tent. So spacious!
This has been such a wonderful experience. Today it was exciting scrambling around the Barranco Wall. They call it "Breakfast". Slight rock climbing.
I like our three guides - Julius, Bahat and Holson. Have spent the most time with Julius and Bahat.
Julius is tall and thin and looks Masaii - though he isn't. I thought he was stern at first, but he has a good sense of humor. He has a long thin face. He always says - "long legs and a long face". He has really grown on me. He is very caring. He insisted on giving me his own sleeping bag when the zipper on mine was broken. With both Jo and Mary he has taken on extra weight.
Yesterday everyone was sick. James was shivering, with fever and headaches; Natalie had headaches and blurred vision, Selim and Tino both had headaches and no appetite. Poor Mary kept vomiting, had no appetite and a really bad headache. Everyone felt better this morning - which was great! It was really wonderful to have Mary back to herself.
The other guide is Bahat. He is a young cutie. I found out he is 28 and has been a guide since 2007. He's going to college as well. I think he sometimes gets a little impatient with how slow we are going. He has a naturally fast pace and wants to make it to camp before the rain. We can't always quite do that.
Julius disappears and then will reappear. That is the beauty of having three guides, one in front, one at the rear and Julius everywhere he needs to be. He is a true mountain man. He estimates he has climbed the mountain over 350 times. Today as we were climbing up that last steep hill, he sang to us. He often whistles during steep portions to keep spirits up. His saying is "so far, so good!"
1:00 a.m. Having trouble breathing. Nice and warm, but can't sleep. It was raining, but has stopped. I will try a Loving Kindness meditation. If that doesn't work, I'll read.
Karanga Camp - Barafu Camp
Elevation Gain: 2,225
6:55 a.m. Finally took an Advil and then a Diamox tablet to help with my breathing. Read my book for awhile. Finally slept. Feel good this morning. I am going to start packing now!
3:05 p.m We are back in our tent. The hail is just stopping. It is summit day! The hardest part of this trip for me has been the damn packing. I brought way too much stuff. It takes me an hour to pack up in the morning. I'm always late for breakfast.
Another good breakfast. Jo is feeling nauseous and spacey. Worried about her. After my little episode with the shallow breathing - I felt great.
The walk today was very slow. It was an easy pace and was no problem getting to camp. I could walk at that pace for a long time. I felt strong and ready to summit. When we got to camp we needed to sign in at the hut. I put a peace sticker up on the Barafu Hut.
I don't really have any worries. I'm packed up and ready to go. I should taking a nap, but I'm not tired. We have two inches of hail outside the tent. It is thundering and lightening like crazy. Crazy weather. Oh my god! Hakuma Matata.
4:15 p.m. It sounds like it's starting to slow down. Perhaps it has turned to rain. It hailed so much the tent started sagging under the weight. Our tent assistants were busy digging us out. Good Luck - our adorable cook, came in and shook out our tent. First he put one of our hiking poles in the middle of the tent. It has been some seriously wild weather with thunder and lightening right over the tent.
6:40 p.m. Should be trying to sleep before the summit. We will attempt it in spite of the snow. At first Julius said, "there is too much snow, we will just have to go home in the morning". Natalie said, "No" and he answered "I'm afraid so". Natalie said, "No way, we're doing it". Julius broke into a big smile. "Of course we will do it. No problem".
3 miles up
Elevation Gain: 4,000 feet
7 miles down
Elevation Loss: 9,267
We got up at 11:00 p.m as planned. Had cookies and coffee. Completely bundled up. Took a diamox because I had shallow breathing. Head lamps on. We started out. Everything was covered in snow. The whole climb was in snow.
You could see a long string of lights climbing up the mountain. There was a traffic jam where you had to climb over some slippery rocks. The grade was steep. Julius kept us together. He kept us going. After we reached 5,000 meters Jo went to the back of the line. Later, Julius told me she had gone down "to save her life". I started crying I was so sad Jo had gone down.
I stayed right behind Julius. We kept going step by step. Julius sang us up the mountain. Mary slipped on a precarious place. Then Selim fell. Julius wanted to take Selim's pack. He said you must summit at this point. You cannot go back down. Selim said he was alright and insisted on carrying his pack.
We went a bit further. Each step torture. My pack was so heavy! My shoulders were sore, my neck ached from looking down. I should have worn my fanny pack with water holster. I was having trouble getting the bottle off the caribiner. I had a drunk a little bit of water and switched out the bottle on my shoulder with the one in my backpack. Even that little bit of weight made a difference.
I wanted to ask Julius to take my extra bottle, but was embarassed to ask. Everyone was struggling. Natalie and James were right behind me. I could tell they were having as hard a time as I was. At the next rest stop Julius took my pack and massaged my shoulders. He gave me only one water bottle to carry, but when I dropped it, he carried that too.
I felt guilty that I had nothng to carry. On the other hand it felt so easy and good to have a break. I knew everyone was suffering. I'm used to being the strong one. Now I felt like the "weak link". It is hard for me to be weak. I was humbled. This is the lesson that the mountain was teaching me. Sometimes I have to be weak. I don't have to be strong all the time.
We went further. Julius kept telling us we were getting closer, but I just had to look up to sthe long string of lights far, far above us to know that we still had a long way to go.
We finally reached Stellar Point. We could see the dawn. At this point we had officially summited and could get our certificates. We of course wanted to go onto Uhuru Peak and get our picture with the sign.
Julius kept praying. He said we would have amazing views and get to see it all. What a blessing that would be. Mary was really tired and didn't want to go any further, but she pushed herself. It was another hour to Uhuru Peak. People kept coming down, telling us we were close. We kept trekking. It cleared so that we could see the glacier. Finally we made it to the top. We summited at 7:32 a.m. We had to remember the time, so they could put it on our certificate.
I went a little further beyond the sign and tried to open the box with Steven's ashes and the soil from our home in Lompico. I couldn't get the box open. I finally buried the whole box in the snow. I put the soil from Brindle's house, that had come from the altar at dance class a little further and buried it in the snow.
Now it was time to take our photo. I grabbed the peace sticker, but it wouldn't stick. Julius took a group photos and then took a quick picture of Mary and I, James and Natalie and Selim and Tino. Selim and Tino went ahead and Julius pushed us to go down. Mary, Natalie and James all stopped to take pictures.
Coming down was rather chaotic. Julius, Mary and I came down together. Mary was starting to feel really sick. Julius said we needed to get her down as quickly as possible. When we reached Stellar Point we discovered that Tino and Selim had already gone down. He let Mary and I sit for a bit and take a break.
There was still lots of snow on the ground, so we slid down the mountain as if we were skiing. I thought it was fun and didn't hurt myself, but this really messed up other people's knees. Mary started vomiting. Julius had our packs and water. We were so hot with all our layers. We kept stripping down.
Julius stayed with us. We were getting burnt and dehydrated. At one point, some guys were sitting at the side of the path. They said they would carry my pack. I didn't realize they were our porters, until Julius got there and said "let them carry your pack". We kept going down, stopping when Mary got sick.
When I got to camp, I was both hot and nauseous. All I could think of was Josephine. I saw Bahat. Where is Josephine? She is fine. She just got up and is at the mess tent. All the porters cheered as we came into camp. I saw Josephine and gave her a big hug and we both started crying. We went into the mess tent, but I was to nauseated to eat anything. I had one piece of french toast and then went and laid in our wet tent with all my clothes on.
Bahat came and said Josephine would be going down early, so she left with him. I slept for about 45 minutes and then packed my bag and the group headed down. I was too tired to take any of my four layers of clothing off. Mary was feeling better, now it was my turn to get sick. Although, I had no problems with the altitude the whole time going up, I had to stop often to throw up on our way down.
The hike down was the hike from hell. It was misting and we almost put on our rain gear. The path was steep and muddy. Eventually, you couldn't even tell it was a path. It just looked like a muddy riverbed without water. Holson, our third guide, stayed with us. Waiting patiently for my frequent stops. I felt awful. Mary struck up a conversation with some Canadians, going down,but I wasn't even interested in talking. Very unlike me. The hike seemed to take forever. Send a message. Hike. Vomit. Hike. Vomit. Hike. Hike. Am I making this sound like fun?
We had left upper camp at 1:00 p.m. and didn't get to Mweka Camp until 5:30 p.m. We checked in at the hut. They were selling soda and beer there, but I didn't even care. We had been hiking for at least 14 hours.
I laid down in our tent for a few minutes and then it was dinner time. For the first time on the trip, I had no appetite. Others were feeling sick as well. I had a small bowl of soup and then went to my tent and slept for 12 hours straight,without waking up once. Pure exhaustion.
Mweka Camp - Mweka Gate
Elevation Loss: 4,685 feet
I woke up the next morning feeling completely myself. I was so glad not to be sick. Everyone was feeling better and were in high spirits. A completely different feeling from the night before. We ate a big breakfast and then took an hour to figure out how to tip the team. We had both dollars and shillings, a guideline on what to tip the various members of the team. We wanted to thank each person individually and make sure they got the proper amount.
Tino and James did all the math and calculations. We kept revising the figures until we had an amount that everyone agreed was fair. Julius called off the names and each person came forward. We clapped, shook their hands and gave them their money. They had been such a great team!
Afterwards, the whole team gathered. We took photos. They sang songs for us. "Jambo, Jambo Bwana", which we had learned by now and sang along. Mary and I started dancing. Julius jumped in and danced with us. We didn't last too long since we were still at 10,000 feet. It was a great celebration.
Then we headed down to the gate. We were back in the rain forest. Feeling better - this hike was a delight. It was very beautiful and relaxing. Jo hiked with Bahat. Mary and I hiked with Holson. We teased Julius that he didn't want to hike with us, because we were too slow, but he explained he had to go ahead and arrange all our paperwork.
As we got close to the gate, we saw Columbine monkeys in the trees which are black and white with lots of fur. Their coloring is similar to skunks. Children started appearing and asking for chocolate. They asked for anything they saw. "Caribiner! Water bottle. Chocolate" We didn't want to encourage them to beg, so we said "Hapana" which means "No".
When we got to the gate it was a mob scene. All sorts of vendors were there trying to sell things. We had to go register. Finally our bus was loaded and we were on our way. I was sorry that the trip was ending. It had been such an amazing experience with a great group of people.
First we dropped off Selim and Tino and met Tino's wife. Then we dropped off Natalie and James at their "game lodge" which looked very cool with zebras grazing on the property. Then finally we made it to our hotel.
Hilary and her father, Tom were waiting for us at the Ahadi Lodge. We met two gay guys from Newfoundland who were quite a kick. Newfies! I couldn't wait to tell Bill. My friend Moses met us to congratulate us on the climb. It was a great night with the appropriate celebratory drinking and dancing that night at a club called Via Via. The only thing missing was a pole.
We were then ready to head for our next adventure. Safari!!!
Lessons Learned: Dreams do come true - if you make them happen. Pole Pole - Slowly, slowly - one step at a time. You can go a lot further, if you go slowly. It is okay to be weak, you can't be strong all the time. Hakuma Matata!!!!