AFRICA DAY 7 - MT. KILIMANJARO
Friday, July 1
 
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Our wakeup call was for 5:00am in preparation for a planned 6:00am start, but I couldn't really sleep after 3. A group had left camp on the way to the summit at around 11:30 the night before but had barely made any noise and I didn't have many issues sleeping through it. However, starting around 3:00am, another group started getting ready, seemingly as loudly as humanly possible. They were making a racket, yelling across tents to others in their party, complete with whining and screaming kids (we had seem them earlier - who takes 6 or 7 year-olds up this mountain?). They eventually left around 4:15am, but I barely had time to get back to sleep before my alarm went off at 5:00am to get up. About that same time we saw those same whining and screaming kids turn into crying kids returning to camp.

Breakfast was light - water for chocolate and tea with crackers and kit-kats. I had a cup of tea with a few crackers, then put on my boots and gaiters and used the bathroom in preparation to leave. At this time Mike also informed us that he would not be joining us on the summit trek - he, like Alan, was not feeling well and had elected to stay behind.

We lined up to leave just after 6:00am. Led by Msafiri we took off at 6:08am, starting just as Venus started to fade from view over her belt of orange and purple along the horizon. The trail ran through the base camp area before turning straight up the mountain. The night before Azizi had advised us to only look at the feet in front of us, and not up the mountain. That's probably good advice, but not something I could really follow. Starting that morning I can't honestly say that the mountain looked that big - the numbers showed that it was less than a 4000 foot climb to the absolute peak, and just over 3000 feet to the technical summit. That's a healthy vertical distance, but not too high. The issue is of course the altitude - we were starting at almost three miles above sea level where the oxygen is already thin and climbing to where it's even thinner; on the summit there's only 50% of the oxygen that is normally present at sea level. My slight headache from the day before had completely disappeared and I felt good and a little excited.

Based on how cold it was the night before I had planned on 3 layers on the bottom and 4 on top. However, getting up that morning I decided to go with only 2 layers below (base layer and pants and 3 layers on top (base layer, jacket liner, and jacket). I quickly appreciated the lack of those extra layers seeing how warm it already was when we first started. I did soon realize that I should have also left the gloves behind - the liners were more than enough to keep my hands warm.

We started up along a fairly wide trail of loose rock and dirt, after about a half an hour of which I was already ready to lose a layer. I opened up the vents in my jacket to let in some air which helped me cool off until our first break after about an hour and 20 minutes of hiking. We had covered about 800 vertical feet so far, and other than being a bit warm I felt good - no headaches or any other issues. I replaced the jacket liner with a long-sleeved hiking shirt I had in my pack, stuffed the liner in (which was a tight fit), and looped the jacket through a strap on my pack for easy access. I also grabbed the iPod and put on some music - something else to help focus my mind on something other than the hike. After a short rest, we continued on.

Unlike the previous days' hikes, this one was pretty much a steep uphill climb the entire way. For most of the climb it was loose dirt and rock, making footing somewhat tricky in some places. We also started to separate a bit in our group - Hilary and Yoko were struggling and had given their packs to the guides to carry for them. For the summit trek we had 4 guides instead of our normal three. Our main three of Azizi, Msafiri, and Kibacha were joined by Anwari, a "guide in training" (he hadn't completed the required year-long certificate program yet). In Tanzania guides are required to complete the program before working as an official guide. All four guides shared a single pack between them, leaving the other three available to carry the climbers' packs as needed.

As we continued zig-zagging along the swiitchbacks on the very long talus slope the clouds rolled in, dropping the temperature 20 degrees in what seemed only seconds. I put on my jacket once again and along with the glove liners I was much more comfortable. The hike was also becoming much tougher as well. While my legs felt perfectly fine (not really tired even) and my breathing felt pretty good (it seemed slightly elevated but not too much), my heart was pounding and felt like it was trying to jump out of my chest. It really is amazing what the human body can accomplish when pushed - from the start of the climb until I was back in camp my heart was certainly beating well above its normal rate. Even while resting it doesn't ever seem to come all the way back down to a normal rate at that altitude. It really does seem to be all about "mind over matter" - keep yourself encouraged and willing and you can make it.

Rest stops at this point became a sort of double-edged sword. The chance to catch your breath (to the extent that was possible) was offset by the need to then get back up and continue moving. Getting your legs to obey the commands from your brain didn't always seem to work out as well as planned. We almost felt that we wanted to just keep moving (instead of resting occasionally), even if it was really slowly.

Kim and Ryan also started to fall behind a bit at this time and gave their packs to the guides as well. Randy, Alex, Nikki and I continued more or less together led by Msafiri. As we approached what I would estimate to be around 18000 feet I started have some issues with my stomach. I did have a very light headache, but nothing serious. My stomach started feeling queasy - and nothing (food, water, nor ginger) seemed to help settle it. I felt well enough to keep going - a little thing like a bit of stomach discomfort wasn't going to keep me from the top. About this time Randy and Alex also gave up their packs - now three of the guides were carrying two packs each.

As we were getting closer to the top the terrain turned more rocky, and soon some quasi-scrambling was needed to continue. Some of the steps were reasonably high, and became significantly draining as we climbed closer to the technical summit at Gilman's Point. Personally, I needed to stop every few steps to catch my breath (though I'm not sure how much was physical and how much was me psyching myself up for that next big step) before continuing on. We could soon also see the rim marking the summit, which always gives you a welcome dose of extra motivation. I also started to feel a bit lightheaded, though I no longer had much of a headache. These are all common symptoms of altitude sickness, and nothing to be really concerned about unless they get worse. We were now only a few steps away.

After some big breaths to take in what little oxygen there was and a few big steps up some large rocks, I stepped onto the summit at Gilman's Point - 5681m (18640 ft) above sea level. It was right at high noon; it had taken us just under six hours to reach the top. A few people from a previous group were already there, as were Msafiri, Randy, and Alex who had gotten there just seconds ahead of me. I took off my pack (I had kept it for the whole climb - I figured I could make it just fine and didn't want to saddle a poor guide with a third pack), sat down on the rock to catch my breath and take in the spectacular view. The view was hidden completely until that last step up to the summit, and we were now looking down into the enormous crater of Kibo, filled with patches of snow and barren rock, and rimmed by large glaciers glistening in the sunlight. It really was quite incredible.

Shortly after the three of us had arrived, Nikki made the summit as well. As I sat on the rock I broke into a big grin out of my control, and even fought back a few tears. Even though my ultimate goal of getting to Uhuru Peak (the true apex of the mountain) wasn't complete, I still felt a great sense of accomplishment. I was proud that I was able to make it to the top, carrying my pack the whole way, without the assistance of any medication. I took a few pictures between rests trying to catch my breath. My stomach was a bit worse than it was earlier, but my head felt the same. Over the course of the next 20-30 minutes the rest of the group made it to the summit as well - Yoko, Hilary, Ryan, and Kim. Of the eight of us who started the climb that morning, all eight made the summit. We took a few more pictures and discussed continuing on to Uhuru Peak - another two miles or so distant and 600 feet elevation gain. Yoko and Hilary decided they'd had enough already and headed back down with Azizi. The other six of us decided we would continue on. To lighten the load, we left our packs at Gilman's Point - Anwari would stay there to watch all of our gear. As all my camera gear was in my pack I elected to take it, though I did empty out a bunch of stuff (saving weight) that I wouldn't need for this short hike. Nikki had also made it to the summit carrying her pack the whole way, and she seemed quite happy to be able to leave it for a while.

After about 45 minutes of rest time at Gilman's Point we took off for Uhuru Peak. We started downhill, skirting the rim of the crater. Heading downhill is always a bit troubling - it just means that's more uphill to do later when you're even more tired. We eventually made our way over to Stella Point, only 100 feet higher or so after pretty easy terrain with only minor climbs. From here it got a lot more difficult. The hike from Gilman Point to Uhuru Peak is no more than two miles of distance and 650 feet of vertical gain - pretty "easy" as the guides say, but of course they've done this dozens of times before. At this altitude we have only half the oxygen available to breathe as at sea level, and even though being from Colorado we're somewhat used to some altitude, this is still 40% less oxygen than what we work with at home. That makes a big difference even for an "easy" hike, especially as we're all pretty tired from getting there in the first place.

From Stella Point the true peak is still another 500 feet of vertical hell - and "pole pole" can only do so much. We trudged up the first of two somewhat steep hills looking to reach the ridge, "just-over" which is our goal according to the guides. Note that this is not the first time we've heard from them our destination is "just over that ridge" - though there always seems to be another ridge. I realize it's a mental thing - and staying motivated is clearly the key in tough conditions. At some point climbing this particular ridge my stomach finally caught up to me and I bent down on one knee and threw up everything in my stomach (mostly Gatorade), with a few bonus dry heaves at the end for good measure. I did actually feel a lot better stomach-wise, though some nausea did remain. The guides made sure I was okay before continuing on, which we did after a short rest. At least I picked a pretty spot to get sick - our trail flanked by large glaciers and sweeping views to one side, and the crater to the other.

We had one more (really, this time) long ridge to climb before it got easier - a mostly flat couple hundred yards to the high point marked by the now-visible sign. A short walk later and I was there - standing on the roof of Africa over 3.5 miles above sea level at 19,341 feet. In comparison to the joy and accomplishment I felt making Gilman Point, here I simply felt relieved. The rest of the six of us made it as well, and Kim and Ryan shared a nice embrace that made me think of and miss someone who couldn't make the trip with me. I was glad I had reached my goal, and honestly would have been disappointed had I not made it. However, I was perhaps more glad that we could now head back down to base camp for rest and bonus atmospheric oxygen.

From Uhuru Point we had another view of the crater, with a lot more glaciers visible, including some that were pretty close. We also had a view of Mount Meru poking through the thick clouds. Meru is another one of Africa's highest peaks (#10 to be exact) at just under 15,000 feet in elevation. After a short rest, we started to head back down.

Although the trip back to Stella Point is mostly downhill I still had issues. My lightheadedness was still lingering (though it was very light and no worse than before), but my stomach had started to bother me again. I made the mistake of drinking some juice at the top, which I think was the issue. It seemed that at that point my stomach wouldn't take anything but water, and barely at that, though I did make sure to drink enough to stay hydrated (critically important at altitude). Coming down the ridge I threw up again - but once again felt better after doing so. After a short rest I continued on, reaching Stella Point not too long after.

Remember those downhills I mentioned earlier leaving Gilman Point? They're now uphills I needed to climb to get back to Gilman. It was tough through some sections and slow going, but I made it back up through the narrow and rocky sections to Gilman and sat down to rest and wait for the rest of the group.

We left for base camp around 4:00 in the afternoon, now having been on the summit for around four hours. Msafiri helpfully carried my pack on the way down, me having swallowed my pride at carrying it on the way up to Uhuru Peak. I did hook a bottle of water to my belt for easy access and grabbed my trekking poles (I didn't use them heading up) to help take some pressure off my knees for the downhill sections.

We started down the rocky portion and the poles were practically useless - and even got in the way quite a bit. I prefer to have my hands free while scrambling/hiking, but I knew I would want the poles for later. The rocky portion actually seemed longer on the way down than on the way up for me - and presented more slipping and falling issues (downhill usually does compared to uphill) in some sections. If I was to say I clearly remembered the climb up from earlier in the day through this section I'd be lying - I was quite simply focused on making it up as best I could at the time.

We did eventually reach the top end of the long talus slope where the poles now became beneficial. It was now also starting to get dark (even though it was rather early) as the sun had dipped behind the Kibo peak, leaving only the Mawenzi peak lit up. Where before on this section we had zig-zagged slowly up the hill, here we headed straight down - sliding along foot by foot using the poles as needed for support. Despite all of this being downhill, it's still pretty hard work (I'm still breathing hard at this point), as is pretty much anything at this elevation. The slope is long and takes a while to get down (even using this faster "method") and by the time I get to the end of this section Randy, Nikki, and Alex were well ahead of Kim, Ryan, and me.

We soon transitioned from the very loose dirt and rock to a section that needed to be walked rather than slid down. This meant slower going, but also meant we were now pretty close to camp. I was joined for a stretch by Anwari - the "guide in training" who had joined us for the trek. We talked about computers (he does photo and video editing as a side job and wants to turn it into a business) and how he's taking the tourism program to become a safari guide. Both are generally better options long-term than being a Kili guide. You really don't see many older (anything over 40) porters or guides - their bodies simply don't hold up that long and get worn out over time.

Eventually base camp comes into view as we continue down. My stomach still feels a bit queasy (though certainly better than before), but my head now feels pretty good - the lightheadedness having all but dissipated completely. Right now I pretty much just feel tired.

At almost 6:15pm, 12 hours after starting earlier this morning, I walk into our section of base camp right behind Kim and Ryan. We all get congratulatory handshakes and hugs, and I eventually find my way to a chair to sit down and take off my boots and gaiters. After talking to Mike and Azizi about how I'm feeling, they recommend a half Diamox pill to help with recovery. I changed clothes in the tent after washing off a bit.

At this point I feel basically like I have a mild case of the flu. My stomach isn't feeling great (though better than it was), I have a light headache that returned after resting a bit (apparently quite common), and a few chills - though those went away after I added more layers of clothes than I originally felt necessary.

I joined the others in the food tent to eat what I could. Dinner was noodles with a chicken broth soup and a meat and lentil stew. I wasn't able to eat a lot -but I managed to eat some pasta and some soup, drank more water, and took my malaria drugs and half a Diamox pill generously donated by Nikki. Feeling quite tired, though happy at my accomplishment, I headed to the tent, took a couple ibuprofen to fight off any potential soreness, and went to sleep.

Being able to get some rest before heading down makes Mike's adjusted schedule seem that much better. Normally, groups hike up to Kibo base camp arriving in the early afternoon. They leave for the summit near midnight, get back to Kibo midday, then hike another six miles down to the next camp. In comparison, we spend two nights at Kibo, allowing us to rest after getting back down from summiting. I felt tired enough after the summit climb - having to go another six miles or so (even if it's downhill) would have been awful.


Hike Start & End Point: Kibo Base Camp at 4708m (15450 ft)

Hike High Point: Uhuru Peak at 5895m (19341 feet)

Hike Coverage: ~15 km (9-10 miles) distance, 1187m (3891 ft) elevation gain/loss


>> View all pictures from today <<      

 
start
Starting at Sunrise (Summit Climb, Mt. Kilimanjaro)


rest
First Break (Summit Climb, Mt. Kilimanjaro)


view
Mawenzi Peak and Kibo Base Camp (viewed from Kibo Peak)


mawenzi
Clouds Cover Mawenzi Peak (Black & White)
(viewed from Kibo Peak)



clouds
Clouds Cover the Trail (Summit Climb, Mt. Kilimanjaro)


gilman
Gilman's Point, 18638 ft. (Mt. Kilimanjaro)


glacier
Glaciers on the Equator (Kibo Peak Cone, Mt. Kilimanjaro)


glacier2
Glacier and Clouds (Kibo Peak Cone, Mt. Kilimanjaro)


group
Group Photo (Gilman's Point, Mt. Kilimanjaro)
Back Row: Andy, Yoko, Kim, Ryan, Azizi
Front Row: Anwari, Nikki, Randy, Alex, Msafiri (top), Kibacha, Hilary



trail
Trail to Uhuru Peak (Mt. Kilimanjaro)


glacier3
Glacier Along the Trail (Mt. Kilimanjaro)


uhuru
Uhuru Peak, 19340 ft (Mt. Kilimanjaro)


group2
Group Photo on the top of Africa (Mt. Kilimanjaro)
Back Row: Andy, Nikki, Kibacha, Ryan, Msafiri
Front Row: Randy, Kim, Alex



glacier6
Glacier and Clouds (viewed from Uhuru Peak)


down
Hiking Down from Uhuru Peak (Mt. Kilimanjaro)


glacier4
Glacier (Mt. Kilimanjaro)


mawenzi
Mawenzi and Clouds (Black & White)
(viewed from Kibo Peak)



mawenzi3
Mawenzi, Clouds, Glacier (Black & White)
(viewed from Kibo Peak)



glacier5
Glacier (Mt. Kilimanjaro)


glacier6
Glacier (Mt. Kilimanjaro)

     More pictures from today:

pano1
Kibo Cone Panorama (Mt. Kilimanjaro)

pano2
Curvature of the Earth (viewed from Kibo Peak)

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