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Hello friends! Sorry to keep you hanging for so long. I decided to take a weekend trip to the little island of Pemba, just off the coast of Tanzania. In typical African form, there was no internet available. However, I am back in civilization and promise you more frequent posts. Now back to climbing Kili….

{Day 4}

The next morning, I peaked out of my tent and caught a glimpse of the ‘breakfast wall’. It was located straight across from our campsite and looked very high and very steep. I was envisioning a long hike up this wall with lots of potential pain. I quickly pushed this thought out of my mind and instead focused on getting ready and eating a hearty breakfast. As I finished the last bite of my eggs, I thought to myself, this is going to be an interesting day.

Here we go up the wall!

Water bottles filled and my favorite playlist playing on my Ipod, we began our ascent up the infamous ‘breakfast wall.’ The guides call it this name because it’s the first thing hikers tackle after breakfast. As I began to make my way up the wall, five porters in broken sneakers and jeans carrying massive amounts of gear on their head and shoulders quickly passed me. Watching them climb the wall easily and without complaints, I took note of my little day-pack, super comfy hiking boots, and top of the line gear. This is when I realized that not only could things be far worse, but that I was actually acting a little pathetic. The wall turned out not to be difficult at all. It was actually a lot of fun, and looking back it was my favorite part of the entire climb (except for reaching the summit). We reached the top before I knew it and continue to push through the moorland.

This day turned out to be extra long. We decided that instead of camping at Barafu, where the majority of climbers camp the day before the summit, we would push past and camp at Koosovo Camp (15,980ft). According to our guides, this would put us closer to the summit by at least an hour. However, very few people are allowed to camp there because it is not a developed campsite (read: no toilets) and you have to get permission from park authorities. After a quick rest at Barafu we continued up some very rocky and steep terrain. It was around 4pm when I started to get very tired. I was ready to crawl into my tent and crash. Bed could not come fast enough.

When we finally reached Koosovo, our crew had set up our tents behind huge boulders to block some of the wind. I couldn’t really feel the altitude, but the temperature had definitely dropped and the wind was vicious. Over dinner, we talked with our guides and solidified our plan to conduct a day summit. From my research, most climbers and guides opt to do a night summit, leaving at midnight and reaching the summit by daybreak. I was not a fan of the midnight ascent for many reasons. For one, it was much colder at night; second, I had read that many people have trouble climbing because they can’t see and start tripping from exhaustion. I couldn’t understand why anyone would choose this option, so I asked my guide what the advantage of doing a midnight ascent was. He told me that reaching the summit is a mental thing. If people are unable to see the summit, then they are not fixated on the distance they have to climb. I guess I could understand this, but I still thought getting a good night sleep and starting early in the morning was way better that starting at midnight.

Campsite at Koosovo

That night it was so cold we put nalgene bottles filled with hot water in the bottom of our sleeping bags. Surprisingly this kept me very warm and I ended up shedding a layer of clothing half way through the night. We fell asleep early, around 7pm, knowing that the next day was the big day. The day I had dreamed about, stressed over, and envisioned for the past few months was now only mere hours away. I was overcome with the same feeling I get before a huge race or test the next day. I was excited but also a little worried. What if I didn’t make it? Not once in the past four days did I ever think I wasn’t going to make it. However, I had read and heard that many people with little hiking experience have reached the summit, while some extremely fit individuals have succumbed to the effects of altitude and were unable to achieve their goal. I decided that no matter what happened the next day I would try my best and focus on reaching Uhuru Point. Think positive, I told myself, and take it one step at a time.

I woke up around midnight to the sounds of voices passing our tents. The other climbers had begun their ascent. Unfortunately, at that moment my bladder also made itself heard. Damnit! I thought, why did I have to drink so much water last night!? I silently cursed my fate as I searched for my headlamp, located my jacket, put my shoes on, found the tent door zipper (harder than it sounds) and tumbled out of the tent. This is my least favorite thing about camping. The wind whipped across my face as I desperately searched for the nearest boulder. As I was walking back to the tent I caught a glimpse of the summit in the moonlight. The summit, silent and powerful, stood against a backdrop of a thousand stars. I couldn’t recall a more beautiful scene. I will see you in the morning, I whispered and crawled back into my sleeping bag, embracing the warmth, and settling into a deep sleep.

{Day 5: Summit Day}

Our waiter, Joshua, woke us up with his soft voice at 5am. My eyes snapped opened and I immediately began to put my gear on. This was a sharp contrast to most mornings in which upon hearing my wake-up call I would immediately dig deeper into my sleeping bag and delay my inevitable rising by at least thirty minutes. However, this morning was different- it was summit day and I was all business. I threw my gear on, which included two long-sleeved merino wool Icebreaker shirts, a down jacket, and gortex shell. For bottoms I wore fleece leggings, Gortex wind-stopper pants, and then regular hiking pants. For accessories I wore gortex gaiters, baklava, fleece hat, and gortex gloves. I made sure to pack my sunglasses, chapstick, snacks, and water. I rolled my sleeping bag, packed my gear, and then went to the chow tent for some breakfast.

As I entered the tent I realized that only the cook and the waiter were awake and working. The rest of the crew were still sleeping soundly, packed in like sardines covered with white blankets. I found the quietness of the morning soothing. I ate as much as I could, popped an altitude pill, and then we were off. We left around 6:30am. It was light enough and headlamps were not needed. This is it, I thought…a few more hours and I will be there!

An hour into our ascent we witnessed the most beautiful sunrise. The whole world was below us. It was so peaceful on the mountain; a peacefulness one rarely gets to experience.

The advantage of hiking with only three other people (two of them guides) is your pace. You are able to move faster than a group of 5 or 12 people. Although it seemed like our pace was excruciatingly slow we ended up passing a couple of groups. All was going well until an hour before we reached Stella Point. The altitude started getting to me and I had a very bad headache. Minute by minute I felt worse and began to regret my decision to climb this mountain. As I moved closer and closer to kili, I listened to dance inducing tunes and focused on every step…every step that took me closer to the summit.

-On our way up

We reached Stella Point (18,863) four hours later. At this point I really didn’t care about Stella. To me it just meant that I was close, but still had at least a half hour to go before I reached Uhuru. I looked around and realized that we were now in arctic conditions. Freezing cold nights and burning sun during the daytime characterize this ecosystem. Oxygen is nearly half than sea level. I was feeling more and more crappy and decided not to rest at Stella but rather push on. I had to make it make to the summit.

The path to Uhuru

A half hour later I spotted the huge Green sign indicating Uhuru Point. I was overwhelmed with joy, exhaustion, and relief. Finally! I thought. However, my joy was brief. I sat down next to the sign and was overcome by nausea and dizziness. I had to get off this mountain. We snapped a few pics and then I bolted. As I was making my way down I forced myself to take some pictures. You will never be here again…you HAVE to take pictures, I forcefully told myself. I was beginning to feel weak, but still managed to pull my camera out and snap a few pics. As I passed some hikers I gave them a weak smile and offered some words of encouragement.

My descent was slow and we stopped for lunch about an hour later. I took off my pack and plopped down. I felt awful. I had no appetite and was drifting in and out of sleep. My guides forced me to drink juice, water, and eat a snickers bar. I was worried about keeping the snickers bar down, but I slowly forced the candy bar into my mouth. To this day I don’t think I can ever look at a snickers bar again. My guide also gave me an Ibuprofen. Although I wanted to continue to sit I knew there was no way I would get better until I dropped in altitude. With all my strength, I began the descent again. About thirty minutes later I started to feel a lot better. I picked up my pace and barreled down the mountain. I am not sure if it was the food, aspirin, juice or drop in altitude that did it- but I felt a hundred times better. We made it to Barafu Camp in three hours- a pretty fast time according to my guides. They asked me how I was feeling and I told them I was tired, but was feeling a lot better. Apparently if you have severe altitude sickness the guides make you descend all the way down to Millennium Camp (12,500ft). However, I was exhausted and didn’t think my symptoms were severe any more. I was fine- just tired. I ate dinner that night (although still didn’t have much of an appetite) and went to bed early. I was looking forward to a nice long night of peaceful slumber. The next day we planned on taking the Mweka route and walking all the way out of the park. A mere five hours of endless downhill, dropping from 15,055ft to 5,497ft. However, instead of the descent I focused on the hot shower and soft bed I would get to enjoy the next night.

Unfortunately, that night was pretty miserable for me. I had crazy dreams and my breathing was very shallow and quick. I was burning up but had chills. It was a rough and long night.

{Day 6}

I was very weak in the morning due to horrible sleep. I had crazy dreams and it was obvious I was still sick from the altitude. I was worried about having enough energy to descend at a quick pace. I knew my condition would only be alleviated the more I descended. This was it, I thought, the final push.

For the next five hours we maneuvered down steep and rocky paths. It was doing a number on my knees and hips. For once, I was wishing we were going uphill. It was interesting to pass through all the different ecosystems. I was feeling a lot stronger by the time we reached 13,000ft. My pace picked up and I started chatting again. We reached the rainforest three hours later and I was thankful to be near sea level. We reached Mweka gate at 12:30. Our porters were already there and had showerd and changed clothes. They looked so different! They had a little table laid out with tea, coffee, and snacks. Our guide gave us our certificates and the porters sang and danced for us. It was such a great feeling. I was lucky to have such an amazing crew. Being a porter is a difficult life. Most of them climb Kili twice a month and do not have proper gear. It made me realize again how fortunate I really am to have clothing, to have food, to be able to travel around the world. I promised to send them some hiking gear when I returned home. They definitely deserved it.

We ended our Kili journey at the Park View Inn. It is a comfortable hotel, however, make sure to order your food at least 45 minutes before you go and eat. As they say in Swahili, the food is very pole pole (slow). Although I had challenges, I am so glad I decided to climb Kili. Reaching the summit was truly beyond rewarding. If you enjoy hiking at all I really urge you to add it to your bucket list.

-Overview of entire route

For those that are planning on climbing Kili, here is a list of things I wished I would have known before climbing and essential gear.

Things I wished I had brought:

  • baby wipes
  • stomach medicine
  • electrolyte supplements (for summit day)

Keys for success:

  • remember it is not a race to the top
  • keep electronics in sleeping bag with you at higher altitudes (this preserves the battery and saves them from getting damaged by the cold)
  • for very cold nights, fill nalgene bottles with hot water and stick them at the bottom of your sleeping bag
  • mix hot and cold water for summit day, this keeps your water from freezing
  • use sunscreen and lip balm regularly
  • hydrate, hydrate, hydrate (at least 3-4 liters per day)
  • for women: keep hair tied back/braided, this will keep your hair cleaner
  • bring at least 2-3 camera batteries
  • make sure to take altitude meds

Gear:

  • Gortex jacket soft shell/wind stopper
  • Down jacket (at least 800)
  • hiking pants
  • at least (2) short sleeve shirts (preferably wicking ones)
  • long johns
  • fleece leggings
  • Gortex wind-stopper pants
  • comfortable hiking boots
  • Gortex gaiters
  • baclava
  • warm gloves (although I wished I would have brought mittens)
  • hand warmers
  • trekking poles
  • camel back/daypack w/ comfortable waistbelt
  • Sleeping bag: -5C
  • silk liner for sleeping bag
  • tough duffel bag
  • waterproof stuff sacks (great for keeping gear dry and organizing your duffel)
  • entertainment for camps: cards/kindle/ipod/book
  • for women: face wipes, moisturizer, hand sanitizer, no makeup!
  • sunglasses
  • headlamp

Of course these are all suggestions. I mean I saw an old guy climbing kili wearing shorts, sneakers, an open collared shirt and carrying a plastic bag. It really is up to you. As always, thanks for reading and stay tuned to hear all about my trip to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater.

Until then, travel well and travel often!

~Maia

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