Staggering up Kilimanjaro

I booked a 7 day Kilimanjaro climb back in April. 5 and a half days up, one and a half days down.  I figured I’d need the 5 days for acclimatization – Ottawa isn’t exactly at a staggering altitude, you know.  Turns out – I was wrong.

I started the climb back on August 7 from Machame Gate (I was taking the Machame route).  It turned out that I was the only trekker – so it was just me, and 6 support crew (1 guide, 1 chef, 4 porters.  That’s a lot of people for one person to summit a mountain!)

The first leg took me from Machame Gate to Machame Gate, and from there the next day to Shira Camp, where we get our first taste of “high” altitude (i.e. over 3000 metres).  I had just spent 4 days in Addis Ababa, which sits around 2500 metres, so the first two days were easy.  Which probably explains why I was the first tourist to arrive in Shira Camp.

The day after we hit Shira Camp, we hiked to Barranco, via Lava Tower.  The side trip to Lava Tower is important for acclimatization – you hit over 4600 metres, before descending back down to just under 4000 metres at Barranco.

The next day, our fourth, saw me tackle the Barranco wall (aka the Breakfast Wall, because you do it right after breakfast).  I have to say – I loved this part.  I loved scrambling over the rocks, hugging them as I swung a leg out to land on the next “step”.

From Barranco, our goal was Karanga Camp (which in my mind will always be Kangaroo Camp).  Being the speedy trekker than I am, my guide and crew decided that we should push on for Barafu camp – the camp before the summit.

Did I mention that my guide thought I could summit a day early?

So on day 5, at 5 am, I made the push for Uhuru Peak – the highest peak in Africa.  After what seemed an interminable age of zig-zags up the cliff face, we finally (and I mean finally – there were six or seven false summits!) came up to….Stella Point.  The second highest point in Africa.  Another hour of staggering found me at Uhuru Peak.  Where I promptly fell against the sign while my guide too my photo.  5895 metres is nothing to sneeze at.

We quickly descended, and I found a mild-to-moderate case of altitude sickness come on.  No headache, which is normal for me in high altitudes, but nausea.  And back at Barafu, where I gratefully fell upon my sleeping bag for a quick nap, I actually vomited upon waking.  Classy as always.

We pushed on from Barafu that day, to Millennium Camp – a new campsite that was installed in 2000 as a relief measure for all the people wanting to celebrate the New Years on Kilimanjaro, but who couldn’t take the altitude.  Needless to say, I was in my sleeping bag early, exhausting after the 7 hour hike to the summit, and 3 hours descent.

The next morning we pushed on down to Mweka Gate – a leisurely 4 and a half hour hike down slippery, rocky paths.  I seriously started to consider that they should award certificates for getting down the path safely, rather than for making the summit!

Oh, and the certificate for making the summit?  I have one of those!

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Climbing Kilimanjaro (part 1)

I’m off in less than a hour to climb Kilimanjaro – the highest mountain in Africa.  Sitting at over 5800 metres (5895 metres to be exact), Kilimanjaro towers overs the plains below.

I’m sitting in a hotel in Moshi, a small town near the base of Kilimanjaro, waiting for my trek company, Tro-Peaks to pick me up.  I spent last night re-packing bags – putting everything I would need for Kili (fleece sweaters and pants, sneakers for the campsites, wool socks, mitts and a toque, base layers and gaiters) into a bag that porters will carry for me.  In another, smaller, day-pack, I’ve got my day-to-day items – camera, bandaids, binoculars and water that I’ll carry.  I think I’m ready.

I think I’m ready.

The company told me to take it one day at a time – don’t try to climb the peak before you get there.  Just look to what you’re doing now, go slowly, stay hydrated, rest and eat.  Those are the keys to reaching the summit. 

I’ve got four days of hiking upwards before I try to tackle the summit, leaving the last camp at midnight, to see the sunrise over the peak on the fifth day.  After that, it’s all downhill, as we push ourselves to be back in Moshi by the seventh day.  (But as they say, downhill is always so much easier.)

I’ve prepared by hiking in the Adirondacks with a friend, and by walking as much as possible.  Here’s hoping it’s been enough!

See you in a week, after I’ve conquered the snows of Kilimanjaro!

Adios Addis

Well, it’s been nearly a week since I left Canada.  It took what seemed forever to arrive in Africa – a two-hour delay for my flight to Washington, an overnight layover in Dulles airport (that makes 4 airports that I’ve slept in) and then a nearly 14 hour flight to Addis, getting in around 8 am on August 2.

Addis takes some adjustment.  It’s much like the wild west – loud, unruly, dirty and makeshift.  It seems that slums will pop up wherever there is room for a tin roof.  Exhaust fumes fill the air as cars zip in and out of intersections, following some logic and right-of-way that I’m not, nor do I think I ever will be, privy too.  Driving in Addis is not for the faint of heart.  (Add no seat belts, traffic lights or stop signs to this system, and it should be a recipe for disaster.)

I managed to have just about every experience of Addis that one can have – mobbed by children singing, mobbed by children begging, mobbed by children trying to touch a faranji (foreigner), sitting in a restaurant waiting for dinner when the lights go out, massive rain and hail storms, being driven at a hell-for-leather pace through the crowded streets….they only thing that didn’t happen was a mugging or pick-pocketing.  (Although a girl I met up with did have her necklace yanked off her neck.)

So here am I am now in Moshi, having a rest day in preparation of Kilimanjaro tomorrow.  I’ve met with the trek company, and I’ve packed my bags.  Here we go!