Kit Up Kili – What to Pack

One of my major problems when I was planning my trek up Kilimanjaro was what to take.  I’d search website after website after website, but it all gave specifics and no generals, and I headed into it feeling incredibly unprepared, equipment-wise.

Which leads me to this post.  What should you take up Kili?  What did I need, what didn’t I need, what should the company offer me, etc. etc. etc.  Feel free to ask questions – I’ll answer to the best of my abilities.

Under-wear
Not just underwear, but the clothes that will be the base layer for your trek.

– long johns, long sleeve shirt, preferably wicking material – a must.  One set will probably be enough
– several pairs of liner socks (3 or 4) – recommended, but not a necessity.
– underwear – I went with four pairs for 7 days.  (For women – I brought two sports bras)

I had a pair of Helly Hanson base layer pants, as well as a long sleeve top.  A base layer of something is going to be beneficial.  You want to layer to create pockets for air to become trapped, and help keep you warm.  Additionally, you’re going to get hot as you walk, and you’re going to want to take layers off.  And one last thing (because this happened to me) – if it rains, and you’re not wearing your rain gear (and it can whip up in a hot second), if you’re wearing a base layer you can at least take off your wet gear, and pull on the rain gear, and you’ll be warm again in no time.

Cold, wet, weather from Karanga to Barafu

The other thing is that the first few days you’re in lower altitudes, and you won’t be wearing your base layers.  Well, maybe at night, but you won’t need it during the day.  You’ll be wearing these the closer you get to summit – I was on the Machame Route, and I think I started wearing them leaving Barranco camp.

I loved my liner socks.  I wear them whenever I climb anything – i.e. the 46 High Peaks of the Adirondacks – and they help prevent blisters, keep my feet warm in cold temperatures, and keep my warm, thick socks fresh for a) sleeping in and b) climbing in the next day.  (Plus, they dry quicker)  Any wicking material, or cotton, sock should do fine.  Your rule of thumb should be:  do they hurt my feet when I walk for 12 hours in them?  If no – good to go.

Over The Under-Wear

Lower altitudes:
– zipper pants (unzip for shorts)
-yoga pants
– t-shirts
– light-weight fleece sweater
– long sleeved shirt (zip up)
– running shoes (didn’t need in the end)

Upper altitudes:
– Fleece pants
-heavy fleece sweater (of some kind)
– wool hiking socks
– stretchy gloves

So I brought a pair of fleece pants that I bought at MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op) on sale.  I think they were the MEC brand – so nothing fancy.  But my, were they great the higher we got.  I slept in them, half the time.  They were warm, fuzzy, and kept my legs toasty.  I can’t remember what sweater I brought with me (I have a ton – I’m Canadian.  Sweaters are a dime a dozen) but it was warm, it was fleece, and most of the time it was my pillow.

For the lower altitudes, honestly – I bought two pairs of zipper pants from Walmart.  I have no idea what they’re really called, but they have a zipper half-way up so if it’s cold, you attach the lower legs and you have pants, and when it’s warm you unzip them.   That’s what I brought for Kili and for my safari.  I wore them for at least 4 days out of the 7. My yoga pants are from Joe Fresh (the Loblaws brand of clothing – nothing fancy, and about $20 a pair, very cheap) but they’re long (full pants, not capris), and they were great to sleep in, and climb in after we left the rainforst, and started in on the heather and moorlands.

Starting out in shorts and a tshirt

I also got three wicking t-shirts, from Walmart.  Don’t spend a bazillion dollars on wicking tshirts.  I got mine at Walmart for about $12 and they worked fantastically.  I think I took three up Kili – maybe only 2.  (Remember, everyone smells, no one has showered, no one can tell).  I also brought a light-weight fleece top – I got it on sale from Sports Experts, again nothing fancy, no brand name.  I wore the light weight one a lot at lower altitudes – at night, and in the morning.  During the day, I would tie it to my daypack to air it out/dry it.

For the socks – I bought wool hiking socks, but I think you could use any heavy duty sock, especially if you have liners to protect your feet. I brought a pair of running shoes, (just a pair of cheap Payless sneakers, really), to wear in camp at night, to give my feet a rest from the hiking boots.  I didn’t really wear them – I think I put them on once, and that was it.  I was fine in the hiking boots. 

I bought a pair of $3 stretchy “magic” gloves – you know the ones that look so small that they couldn’t possibly fit on your hands, but they do?  They were great for the mornings (and nights) were it was a little brisk, and you wanted something on your hands.

High Altitude Outer Gear
– I rented a down jacket from my trekking company (Tro-Peaks – excellent company.  I recommend them)
– Heavy-duty corduroy hiking pants from MEC.  (didn’t need in the end)
– Toque (wool cap that you wear in winter, over your ears, to keep your head warm)
– waterproof mitts

I probably didn’t need the jacket, and definitely didn’t need the pants, but the toque was welcome most days, especially when the wind got blowing.  I also wore it at night to keep my head warm!

I usually feel the cold (that should be:  I always feel the cold) but even then – I only wore the down jacket for about a half hour, as I started towards the summit.  Granted, I started later than most climbers.  Most people start at midnight and make a push to the summit.  I started at 5 a.m., which could be why I didn’t need the jacket.  I would say, be safe rather than sorry – rent the jacket, for the few dollars it will set you back.

Chilly lunch at Lava Tower

Something I really wish I had had was waterproof mitts.  Or at least water repellent.  Mine just soaked up the moisture, and was I ever grumpy, wet, cold and unhappy when I got to camp.  Get something that will not only keep your hands warm, but also somewhat dry.

Low Altitude Outer Gear
– waterproof jacket
– waterproof pants
– lightweight fleece
– brimmed hat

Besides the fleece clothing that I brought, I also brought waterproof pants and jacket.  Again, I went with the standard MEC brand, however the key things you want are breathability (jacket), and waterproof.  You could be wearing the jacket for several hours, and it gets warm as you hike up the mountain (body temperature-wise)  make sure you go for a jacket that has vents, or some other feature for breathability.  Don’t go for a standard rain jacket – you’ll be uncomfortable and unhappy.  We hit rain/sleet/snow between Karanga camp and Barafu camp, and I definitely needed the waterproof jacket and pants, I was really glad to have them.  We had some rain getting to Machame camp (about 20 minutes worth) and, once we were at Shira camp it started to rain (after the tents had been set up).  This was in early August of 2012, so plan to have a little rain.

A hat with a brim (I brought one with a brim all the way around – I used it on my safari as well) is good for the lower altitudes, when you’re still in with the trees.  It shades your eyes, but still allows you to see in the sahde, unlike sunglasses.

Relaxing on som rocks, close to Machame camp

Miscellaneous

– face cloth
– camelbak
– large-ish backpack
– sleeping bag (rated 0C at least)
– fleece lining for sleeping bag
– headlamp
– waterpurification tablets (I brought Aquatabs)
– first aid kit
– headbands (to keep the hair out of my eyes)

The face cloth is more to use as a towel.  For that matter, you could even bring a towel, I’m just thinking weight.  I didn’t, and I regretted it.  You’ll be given a bowl of water to wash your hands in, and you’re going to want to dry your hands.  Or, your camelbak could spill in your tent, and you’ll want to mop it up.  This won’t be a bad choice, trust me.

Camelbak – you can certainly go for bottles, but the recommended amount of water to carry is 3L per day.  I had a 2L camelbak plus a 1L bottle (ordinary water bottle that I picked up once in Moshi).  When my camelbak was empty, I’d open up the pocket containing it and fill it with the bottle. (My backpack had a separate compartment for the camelbak, which made refilling it easy.)

Here’s the thing for the backpack:  It should be a pretty good size.  Mine, a daypack, was slightly too small.  You should be able to fit:  waterproof pants and jacket, lunchbox (cardboard), brimmed hat, camera, sunglasses, mitts + toque – basically, anything you’re going to need during the day.

The headlamp – if you need to go to the bathroom during the night (pray you don’t – they’re nasty beyond nasty), you’re going to want the headlamp to find your way around the tents pitched willy-nilly.

Liners for the sleeping bag:  I packed a silk liner, on the premise it would keep me warm.  I don’t think it did a whole lot.  The fleece liner I brought was much better.  I’d recommend a fleece liner if your sleeping bag is like mine, and not made for cold weather.  If yours is, and is rated to -15C, you could probably skip the liner.

Headbands – I have ones that are actually a long-ish tube – you can use them as a scarf (which I did at higher altitudes), as a hat (which I did, under my toque, at higher altitudes), as a headband, over your nose and mouth to protect against dust.  I mostly used them to keep my hair out of my eyes.  Definitely a good thing if you have long bangs/fringe.

three days with no shower, and wearing a headband.

The water purification tablets are a good bet.  The chef/porters boil the water, and the water on Kilimanjaro is said to be quite pure, however….better safe than sorry.  Up a mountain is not where you want to get sick, over something you could have prevented with a few small tablets.

My first aid kit contained:  allergy pills (I tend to get stuffy at the oddest times, so it’s easier to just pack them), Advil (good for helping prevent altitude sickness, and also headaches), bandaids (varying sizes), second skin (moist pads to put over blisters), diamox (I didn’t need it, but it’s better to have it and not need it, than not have it and need it!), spare laces for my boots, chap stick.

Sunhat vs sunglasses:  I found it easier to see with my sunhat on, over the sunglasses, especially at the lower altitudes.  Sometimes, it was in and out shady, and I found it took too long for my eyes to adjust.  Sunglasses are good at higher altitudes, definitely – especially as the vegetation thins out.  On that subject:  bring something to fix your sunglasses if they break – medical tape, masking tape, something.  Mine did, and thankfully my guide had medical tape that he used to tape them back up!

a little tape, and good as new!

Packing

Here’s what I brought, what I wouldn’t take again I’ll strike through, things that I wish I had I’ll highlight

– 1 pair of base layer pants
– 1 pair zipper pants/shorts
– 1 pair thick fleece pants
– I pair of yoga pants
1 pair “hiking” pants (heavy fabric, corduroy – didn’t need)
– 1 pair waterproof pants
gaiters (didn’t wear them in the end)

– 1 base layer long sleeved shirt
– 2 wicking tops, short sleeve (maybe 3)
– 1 heavy-fleece sweater
– 1 light-fleece sweater
1 light-weight long sleeved shirt
– 1 water proof jacket
1 down jacket (rented)

-3 pairs liner socks
– 2 pairs wool hiking socks
1 pair of running shoes (not needed)
– 2 pair of mitts – 1 stretchy pair, 1 heaver pair (Thinsulate brand) – waterproof receommended
– two headbands 
– 1 toque
– 1 sunhat
– 1 pair of sunglasses

– 1 fleece lining
1 silk lining
– 1 sleeping bag

– 1 pair of hiking poles (rented)
– 1 sleeping mat (rented, I think)

– water purification tablets
– small first aid kit
gatorade powder (in case you get tired of drinking water all the time.  I drink a lot of water anyway, so I was ok with just that, but some people like to mix it up)
– energy chews (I brought Honey Stingers)
– energy bars (I brought Clif bars)
trail mix (ok, I brought too much food and didn’t eat half of it)
facecloth/towel

Company Should Provide

The company should provide your tent, a tent for the porters, guide, and chef, all cooking and eating utensils, the food, water (after the first day, when you should have a full 3L on starting out), and a larger first aid kit.  I think most companies give the choice of renting sleeping bags, down jackets, sleeping mats, and hiking poles.

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New York, New York

As always, pros and cons (or the tl;dr version) is at the end of the post.

I’ve always said that I didn’t want to go to New York City.  Not because I have anything angainst it, but past experience says I’m going to hate it.

Cartwheel in 2001

Right before I went to Paris (the first time) everyone said, “Oh my god, Paris!  I loved Paris!  Soooooo amazing.  You’ll love it!  You have to _____.”  Fill whatever in there.  Sit at a café and people-watch.  Go to the Louvre.  Go to Rue Moufftard.  I did it.  And it was……ok.  Just ok.  It wasn’t this amazing city that I absolutely fell in love with.  It was ok, but not life-changing.  (Except for the cartwheel that I did in front of the Louvre, which I then repeated nearly 10 years later when I went back.)

Cartwheel in 2010

And I hear the same comments about NYC.  “It’s amazing!  You’ll love it!  The shopping!”  So NYC has always been a “pass” in my books – it’s close, I could go with little trouble, but meh.  Let’s go to…Chicago instead.

But then a few months ago I received an email from Porter Airlines with a huge discount.  Buy one ticket, get the second free.  So the BF and I tossed around a few ideas – go back to Halifax?  We both loved it there, but we’d both been there a few times.  Chicago?  Could do.  Washington DC?  Also a possibility.  Then the BF suggested NYC.  And I thought….for $275, why not?  We could go for a long weekend.

So we went.  We booked a hotel with Hotwire – you get an amazing discount (we got a 2.5 star hotel on Central Park for $70/night) but the kicker is that you don’t know the name of the hotel, or the exact address (you know the area, but not which street) until after you book.  It turned out great for us – the hotel was small (80 rooms), clean and comfortable.  There were lots of restaurants around (and most were in the $15 – 20 a plate price range), and the subway was only 3 blocks away.

As always, there was a….situation….at customs.  I have never, in my life, ever, had a normal experience at customs.  Normal for me is something strange happening – not bad strange, I’ve never been detained, but strange as in “Well you’re wearing glasses, and in your passport you’re not!  Are you sure you’re you?  Have a good trip, miss”.

This time, it was my boyfriend going through in another lane from me, before me.  When he mentioned he was travelling with his girlfriend, the customs agent yelled out to me “Is this your boyfriend?  Do you want me to deport him?  I can you know!”  Yep – right there, in front of hundreds of other weary travellers, I’m yelling out answers to a border official.  From the line.  That’s my life.

Anyway, once in New York we took the afternoon to wander the neighbourhood we were in.  We ended up having lunch/dinner at The Ellington (just found out it’s a newly opened bar!)  Good food, great staff, great beer – and they spelled draught right!  Straight to this English teacher’s heart.  We crashed after dinner, and didn’t wake up until 10:30 that night, so we decided to stay in, and rest up for the next few days.

Friday morning saw us up early, and out the door by about 8:30.  We picked up coffee and breakfast foods (egg sandwich for the BF and croissant for me) at Zanny’s Cafe on Columbus Avenue before heading to Central Park for a walk through.  Our ultimate destination was the Central Park Zoo, which we hit at about 11 a.m.

Central Park in early spring

The zoo is small, but perfect for kids.  There are indoor exhibits (lizards and birds), and a few outdoor ones as well – namely the sea lions (who, it appeared, are always ready to play to the crowd), the polar bear, the snow leopard and the red pandas.  There’s also a children’s zoo not far away, and admission is included.  Bring plenty of quarters, to buy feed for the goats, pigs and alpaca.

Alpaca!

After that it was a dash to Pier 6 on the East River, where we had made a reservation to take a helicopter ride over the city, with Liberty Helicopter Tours.  It’s $180 for a 15 minute trip, but it’s so worth it.  We flew over the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island – actually we made two passes, so that both the righ-t and left-sides of the helicopter got a good view.  Then it was back down the East River towards the financial district, mid-town (and Time Square) and then Central Park.  The helicopter stays over the East River the entire flight, you don’t actually fly over the city, but it really is a lot of fun.  We definitely recommend it as an activity if you have the budget for it.

The helicopter blades were spinning.  Scary.

Our pilot, and another passenger

After the helicopter tour, it was a quick subway ride up to Times Square, where we got out and wandered around (so many people!), before heading to Empire States Building.  We opted for the fast track route, at $50 a person.  Big mistake.  It’s normally $25 per person, but you end up standing in an hour long line, so we though to by-pass that and go straight up.  It’s cramped quarters at the top, and it was windy and cold by the time we got there, after the Skyline Ride – a very 80s feeling explanation of the building, and then a “ride” where the seats move, as if you’re in an airplace.  I say give it a pass.

View from the Empire States Building, just after sunset.

After that it was a quick rush back to the hotel to change and drop off our souvenirs, a quick rush to a curry house nearby for a fantastic spicy dinner, and then to Comic Strip Live for a comedy show.

Comedy shows are always hit or miss.  This time, the host was fantastic, the first comic was great, and the others….meh.  Some hits, some misses. We paid $15 each, plus there was a two drink minimum, again each.  It was worth it, I think – we had a few laughs at a comedy club in NYC, what’s not to like?

The next day, our last day, was a free day.  We had decided to not book anything, and just play it by ear.  This time we headed to Starbucks – not for their coffee, but their free wi-fi.  Good tip for travelling – if you need to look something up on the internet, and don’t want to pay through the dataplan, Starbucks is great for their free wi-fi.

sadly, this place was not open when we went by

We ended up taking the subway to Greenwich village, where we wandered around, before heading towards Chinatown.  About midway, somehwere in Soho, we decided to do it “pub crawl” style (it didn’t help matters that it was cold and windy again.  We wanted some place to warm up) so we popped in and out of pubs along the way, having an appetizer and a pint at each place.  We did hit Chinatown, but then promptly left.  The crowds of people were just incredible!  Memo to self:  Saturday around noon in Chinatown is crazy.

After that it was lunch in Little Italy, a walk to Noho, then back to Soho (then back to Noho, while trying to find a pub to stop in) before getting back on a subway to head to the hotel.

TL;DR version:

Pros
– Liberty Helicopter Tours
– New Yorkers are friendly, who knew?!?
– Astor on the Park is clean, generally quiet, and comfortable
– Comedy Strip Live
– Greenwich village is great to wanter id
Cons
– Empire States Building, if you’ve done other tall buildings (e.g. The Sears Tower in Chicago)
– Subway system can be confusing
– Most shops/restaurants open late on the weekends – 10 or 11 a.m.

– Astor on the Park has thin walls, if you’re a light sleeper