walk the earth

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Kili Klimb


The first day started with a hearty breakfast at the hotel across the street, Kindiroko. The of Kili from the rooftop restaurant was excellent, as you can see. I felt that a clear start to the hike was a pretty good omen, as Kili is usually behind a dense layer of cloud. The mountain was clear, cloudless, and very imposing. It's a massive volcano, and had us all just a bit anxious to get going.
We were picked up in a super sweet Land Cruiser, 11 seater, totally decked out for safaris. Snorkel, and all. We rode out to the MEM office, just down the street really, finished paying up (about 860,000 Tanzanian Schillings each...) With all our gear, and guides, and their gear, and a couple of porters, finally we were off! To the Machame gate and the real start, boots on dirt.

We went with MEM for both our hike and following safari. The owner, Mohammad, is very professional and runs an impressive operation out of his swank Moshi office. We paid a little more than we had intended for both the climb and safari, due to the Jan. 1st 2006 hike in all Tanzanian National Park fees. No small percentage increase here, nope, all the the fees doubled! The thinking behind the huge jump being that TZ parks are getting very popular and the government wants to make them more exclusive, ie less crowds. So for us budget boys, the time to come would have been a month ago, but we had no idea about the price hike... It turned out to be worth every penny/schilling.

The Mountain

Kilimanjaro, which can be loosly translated into "Mountain of Light," rises out of the relative flatness of its surroundings quite impressively. The skyline of Moshi, where we were staying to organize the trek, is dominated by Kili when it's not covered in cloud. When we first arrived, it was hidden from us and didn't appear until the night before we were to start. At 5892 meters up (19 330 ft) the peak, aka "Kibo" is covered by rapidly shrinking glaciers. While the mountain is not "technically" difficult to climb, meaning we didn't have to use ropes, ice axes, crampons, etc... It is a world class workout and physical challenge. The hike up Kilimanjaro also kills a whole lot of people. A few weeks ago, 3 Americans and two of their Tanzanian porters were killed in a freak rock slide on the Western Breach route. That route, one of the most direct, is now closed. Two days after we summited, on 27 January, two western trekkers died in separate cases of altitude sickness or heart failure, details were still sketchy. Both were on the dangerously quick but most popular Marangu route, aka the 'coca cola' route.

There are many routes to chose from on Kili: Machame, Umbwe, Shira, Western Breach, Rongai, and Marangu. We chose to go for the Machame route, aka 'the whiskey route.' Not simply because of it's 'cool' nickname. Machame is known for its spectacular views, good acclimatization, its not the most popular, about 2nd, we'd stay in tents (not 'fart box' shelters), and it has (arguably) the highest success rate of getting people to the summit. We planned a 6 day hike, and to cut costs we insisted on carrying our own packs. Mine was pretty light at 14 KG or 30lbs. One must hire a guide and a bunch porters to climb Kili, it's not a Tanzanian welfare program, although it does seem that way at times. We definitely could have summited with a little less support, but it was great having a full team with us. There were some nice perks...

So, our MEM crew consisted of the following: 1 Guide, 1 Assistant Guide/Cook, and 4 porters. This was a pretty ridiculous team to support just the 3 of us, but we were soon to find out why they were all needed. The level of comfort and care was HIGH!

First up when we got to the campsite each day, our tents were pitched for us, we got served hot tea, coffee, hot chocolate, biscuits/cookies, and fresh popcorn; immediately. Meals, a minimum of 4 courses each. Mornings, hot tea/coffee and cookies in bed. We weren't exactly roughing it, and I could definitely (but wont) get used to this level of service in all my outdoor pursuits. We got our money worth, that is for sure. The best of all were the desserts. Oh my, fresh pineapple, mango, watermelon, that was the icing on the cake. We were treated like royal guests by the crew, it was excellent to be spoiled.

All those luxuries aside, the hike was tough. The first two days were pretty standard really, still at low altitudes, breathing easy, and a moderate ascent. We gained a lot of elevation quickly and by the second night we were back in thin air again. Ah, I miss Nepal. The environment changes were the coolest. Here's a day by day:

Day 1: Machame Gate to Machame Camp

Very lush tropical forest to slightly less tropical but still forest. Cool views all around and up to the summit. A soaking rain shower on the way up made it feel all the more tropical. All gear happily stayed dry as Andrew had brought us plastic pack liners, complementary of course, from the United States Government (our always silent sponsor). We met the other groups on our route that night, which included a contingent from the Singapore Army, all very nice guys, who were fitness instructors on an Army sponsored climb. Also met a well traveled and well climbed Canadian retiree named Ben, he's spending his new found free time hiking the big mountains of the world. Good on ya Ben. We'd meet up with all these folks and more each night at camp, as we were on similar schedules up ze mountain.

A wild start at the Machame Gate.

Day 2: Machame Camp to Simba Camp

Out of the forest and into the "Heather" and "Moreland" zones. Ecosystems quite unique with a few plant species that are only found on Kili and Mt. Kenya to the North.

Day 3: Simba Camp to Barranco Camp

Barranco was my favorite campsite by far. The huge trees, up close view of Kibo, the valley below streaching out into infinity. They all came together to make a truly magical place on an already spectacular mountain.

He's a tiger.

Room with a view.

Our trusty lead guide, Eugene.

Day 4: Barranco Camp to Barrafu Camp

Our last real sleep before the summit push came at Barranco, from there we had a long 7 hour hike up to Barrafu. Barrafu was an unwelcoming moonscape set on each side of a rocky ridge. Our tents (set up before we arrived by the awesome porters) were set among boulders, but well blocked form the wind. We were supposed to sleep here from about 5pm until 11:30pm, before setting out for the Summit. While we tried hard to find sleep, it eluded us. The combination of elevation and excitement got the best of us, I caught about an hour before being awoken and gearing up to go.

Simon Peter and I. Simon is going for the Kili ascent record, in under 9 hours. Insane.

Day 5: 12:20AM Summit Push

Fideles, our favorite porter, woke us up at 11:30pm with hot tea and some cookies. We readied ourselves and our packs the long hike up. The stars were alive in the crystal clear sky, the Milky Way was vivid above, as was every constellation imaginable. It was indeed a perfect night to hike.

A light wind kept us cool but not cold on the way up. I had on my usual summit outfit: everything. Which this time included: polypro thermals top and bottom, smartwool socks, Cloudveil pants (thanks Brady!), blue NF longsleve (thanks Dave! it was my 21st birthday present and one of my best articles of clothing.), NF fleece, waterproof shell jacket, yak wool hat, headlamp, fleece gloves, and goretex mittens over those. I was perfect, until we got to the rim, then the wind got to me and I threw on Andrew's stand by down jacket over top of it all. So I was actually quite warm at the summit.

We were power breathing from 12:20am until the summit was reached at sunrise, so for at least 6 hours straight. Anytime I stopped totally concentrating on the taking huge inhales and forceful exhales, a vise like headache would quickly remind me to keep the breathing going. While none of were taking Diamox, a drug that artifically increses your respitory rate, we did have it with us just in case one of us needed it. Luckily we didn't. We did take good ol' Vitamin I (Ibuprofen) once before the summit push to relieve the minor headaches already brewing in our brains. Other than that, it was a supplement free climb, aside from a shocking about of tea and hot chocolate/milos. Just as we were getting to the crater rim, I started to feel the effects of the altitude, and noticed it in the other two as well. Basically, we were losing our balance more easily than usual. Particularly when I'd turn to admire the view, I might stumble my feet a little as I got moving again. Also, time or my concept of time got altered. When I thought 5-10 minutes had passed, 30-40 had actually. The two breaks we took on the way up went by in an instant, just enough time to down a snickers and some partially frozen water. By the time I banged my bottle lid on a rock to break the ice and got a sip, it was go time. Also getting an essential pee was time consuming process with all that stuff on. After six hours of constantly steep hiking, we made it to the rim of the crater. This was the pyscological summit for me, as I knew if I got here in good shape, I could go the further 45 minutes to the actual summit and to the top of Africa: Uhuru Peak. After a quick stop at the rim, we pushed up to Uhuru. The sun was almost peaking over the eastern horizon which was on fire in mixed shades of orange, red, pink, and blue. We all had our cameras our and firing away from then on. Enjoy:

We could see the curve of the Earth. Seriously.

On the top!

Some Whiskey on the Whiskey route, thanks Tim!

To get back down, we took the Mweka route, it was super quick, but very pleasent.

Fideles, our man.

our pimped ride.

spending bills... really not all that much. $1 USD = 1200 Tanzanian Schillings.

the old post...

We made it to the top! Just wanted to quickly let you know we're back down and safe. It was an awesome and amazing experience, which I'll share with you all in detail asap, with photos of course! check back soon.

i could only get a few photos online now. we just got back from 4 days in Serengeti National Park, incredible time. Andrew, sadly, leaves tomorrow. I'll head to Nairobi with him and then ? I plan to update fully from Nairobi! But for now, enjoy the mountain.

View from our Breaky spot.

On the trail up, day 1, Machame route "whiskey route"

From camp 3, Kibo, the summit of Kilimanjaro.