Here are all the materials related to my trip to Kilimanjaro.Kilimanjaro Gear List.
I (and I suspect our whole party) awoke much refreshed the next day. It had cleared out during the night, and had been cold enough to frost the ground and tents. We could see the peak we climbed yesterday, more than 6,700 ft above us.
We ate breakfast (which I barely remembered until John reminded me that they had BACON BACON BACON for us) and started to get our things together for the hike out. Before we left, though, was the "tipping ceremony".
Tipping isn't optional for Kilimanjaro treks, a substantial portion of what the porters and guides make comes from tips. KPAP has minimum guidelines for tipping; we tipped substantially more. Our team certainly earned every dollar, in our opinion. There is a lot of conflicting advice on the internet regarding how best to go about this. Here's what we did, which I think worked very well.
First off, you need to get a list with the name of every porter and guide on it along with what their job is. Your guide should do this for you. We asked for the list at Karanga, I believe. You take this list and decide how much you want to tip. Everyone who does the same job should get the same tip. Your entire party tips as a single group, not individually.
Go over this with your guide. If you're American, you might feel a little squeamish about this whole thing. We feel it's a bit uncouth to talk about tips and especially what tip you gave someone. Try to get over it. Your guide should help make sure you didn't do something too far out of line. He may also have changes to the list. For example, our list changed because of the summit porters we needed.
Make packets for each job with the cash for all the people who did the job in it. Write their names, the job, and the per-person tip on the outside. Do not give the tips to anyone yet. Guides fear that if you give the tip to the porter, they'll just skip off without finishing their job. We were also told you shouldn't simply give the tips to the guide for dispersal. They might just take the lion's share and leave little for the porters.
The idea, then, is to announce what the tips are to the whole team. They money is then given to the guide to hold until the porter checks in at the gate with the guide and signs off. This binds the guide to what you announce and also makes sure the porters finish their job. We did not announce our guides' tip as it was significantly larger than the rest, and they already knew what they were getting because the went over everything with us.
(I know that seems like long-winded minutia, but I never found a rational and non-nonsense write-up of tipping for Kili anywhere. Perhaps this will help others on their trips.)
After breakfast, our porters did some singing with us and we had a general We Did It! celebration. Then we did the tip announcements. We called out the job, names, and tip. They came around and bumped fists or hugged us. They were very enthusiastic and happy, perhaps because we tipped well. You should too. I think that my portion of the tips was $300. For seven days of lugging our crap around, making us hot meals, and otherwise all-but-carrying us up the mountain. Worth it.
And then we we put on our packs and started down the mountain. The Camp was in a rather misty area, so there were some scraggly trees. We walked through this sort of mist and low foliage for a while and arrived at Mweka Huts, where we had to sign in. Some groups hike out to Mweka rather than stay at Millennium after summitting.
After a short break, we continued on and the mist cleared out a bit. This let us see back up the mountain again where we caught our last glimpse of the peak itself. We stayed just above the clouds for a while and the trees started to get a bit taller. There were a couple cool "tunnels" that we went through.
We dropped back into the mist and into the rainforest. The trail got increasingly muddy and slippery as we descended. We started seeing the flowers again along the trail, and crazy moss that climbed up and over trees. We were free to go our own pace, which made me and my legs happy. There is a very long section of stairs which would have been brutal if I had to take them slowly.
The trail soon turned into a (very sloppy and muddy) dirt road. There were some locals working off trail collecting wood (I think). A bit further in the slop and we arrived at Mweka gate, the terminus of our adventure, where we were swarmed by people selling T-shirts and trying to clean our boots of the mud.
Once the crew trickled in, we went to the official gatehouse and signed out. They sold some stuff at the gatehouse, but nothing I found really cool. I am surprised that they don't sell "official" merchandise such as shirts; they leave that to the solicitors.
The road was too messy for Ahsante's bus to get in so we had a short 1/2 mile walk downhill to get to it. Along the way, local kids wanted to trade stuff with us (like sunglasses) or sell us badges and the like. We met up with Ursula and Nellie at the bus, tromped aboard, and were on our way to a picnic lunch (and beer!) at the Ahsante HQ.
And the best thing? No soup.
And the beer.
We began our descent from Stella Point. It was a bit treacherous because of the gravel, dust, and scree. So we carefully zig-zagged on the switchbacks for a bit, but that seemed to be a losing battle and I was pretty much done with going slow. As amazing and fantastic as summitting was, I wanted to get down.
We began to steer to the left, away from the ridge where we went up and where the scree was actually deeper. There were less switchbacks, and we sort of plowed through the dust. Each step you would sink in and slide a bit. It felt a bit like skiing and walking at the same time. This was pretty hard on one's knees and legs, but I couldn't imagine carefully walking down the way we went up.
About midway, we were met by some of the porters with juice. Once again, exactly what I needed. I was beginning to run low on energy even with the Gu. For some reason, I didn't fish out another Clif Bar and eat it along the way. I think I was just focused on getting down.
We didn't really see any of this trail on the way up because it was dark out, but there really isn't much to see it turns out. It's unvegetated rocks, boulders, gravel, and dust. The view (when facing downhill) was expansive, but it was largely static until we got to a field of boulders around 3/4 of the way down.
At the boulders, we joined back up with the trail on which we actually ascended. We descended more and eventually arrived at the top of the cliff area above Barafu Camp. These were trickier to get down than they were to get up, but soon we were at the bottom wth Camp in sight. Even so, it felt like forever before we actually got to our area on the far side of the Camp.
We trudged into Camp where we found Kat in the mess tent. She was doing pretty well. I was not doing pretty well; I was out of gas. I sat in the mess tent for a while, uncontrollably shaking as if shivering (though I wasn't really cold). I got something to eat as the rest of the crew got to camp. Our ascent to Stella Point took over seven hours, the descent just two.
And then I reminded that we had to pack up and go to the next camp. That was not a happy moment for me. We had a little while for a break first, though. I ate a Snickers bar Kat had left over, and it tasted great. I got into my tent and sleeping bag to try and digest and control the shakes. They subsided in about 15 minutes and I was feeling much better in an hour or so.
Which was good, because that's when we had to pack up and go. The trail from Barafu to Millenium Camp is a continuous slope, but it's not as treacherous or steep as the summit. Like the summit, though, it's dusty. We spread out across the trail a bit to avoid the clouds from the person in front.
They let us break into two groups which was good for me because I really needed to just let my legs stretch out and walk. For me, at least, a good constant rhythm and pace is safer and more controllable than tiny, careful steps. Rufano let us speed up a bit, which let me hike comfortably.
We eventually dropped into the clouds (Bruno would insist that it is "mist") and visibility dropped off a lot. And we started getting wet from walking through it. As we entered Camp and found the Hut to sign in, it was drizzling a bit. Rufano brought us to our area and we rested for a while.
I know we had dinner, but I can't remember what it was at this point. I would bet, however, that there was soup. We had hiked up 4,000 ft over 3 miles to the summit, and back down 6,800 ft over 5 miles. We were on our feet hiking for almost 15 hours. I didn't last long before I went to bed.
I know we had dinner at Barafu, but I have no recollection of it. (As I mentioned, my journal has run dry.) We went to our tents until 10:30pm, when we were to start getting ready and have a snack.
It had been cold the previous nights, and some of the things Bruno said about it worried me, so I wore basically everything I had. I wore four layers of pants: tights, two pairs of pants, and my rain pants (for wind protection). I had 5 layers on my torso: long sleeve base layer, hooded pullover, fleece, synthetic down jacket, and a ski shell. Feet had sock liners and wool socks. Mittens for the hands. I brought along ski goggles and a facemask (which I did not need, thankfully). I also had a ski hat, but I used my hoods when needed instead.
In my pack I had the standard 3L of water in the Camelback. I insulated it with an extra shirt and some crazy-heavy wool socks I had. I started a hand warmer and put it where the tube connected to the bag to try and head off freezing. I put several Clif bars and Gu in interior pockets (so they wouldn't freeze).
We met in the mess tent and had a snack. I recall popcorn, but there might have been porridge too. I honestly can't remember. Soon, we were gearing up to go. We would be taken up by Bruno and Rufano, of course, as well as two other porters. There were also porters assigned to a "rescue crew" who would come up and bring someone down if they needed to be brought down.
The Moon was out in near-full glory, and obviated the need for my headlamp entirely. The glaciers were clearly visible in the light, and one could easily make out the contours of the summit itself. Looking up the trail, we could see the bobbing lights of other hikers beginning their summit trek as well. It was silent and amazing.
We started off, first tromping through the rest of Barafu Camp, and then scrambling up a cliff for a while. It leveled off a bit after this and we began the trudge up to Stella Point. Almost immediately, Bruno and Rufano juggled the order of our line, putting Dan and I at the back of the line. I'm not sure why, but it may have been because they wanted to keep a closer eye on others. The pace was very slow; slower than our previous days.
(It's possible that I've gotten some of this narrative out of order. The hike was dark, beautiful, cold, and long, so I may have mis-filed some of these memories. Apologies.)
It certainly was cold. My toes were a bit cold as we started out and I figured they would warm up. When drinking from the Camelbacks, it was important to blow some air back into the tube so it wouldn't freeze up. Even with the insulation, it would freeze pretty quickly. Jenn's and my Dad's both froze up fairly early on and shared with Dan and I.
Once we were over the cliff, Pascal (one of the summit guides) started quietly singing. Occasionally the other guides would join in. He sang various porter songs and random other stuff he knew-- even Christmas carols (in Swahili and Latin). He kept this up continuously for the entire trip up to Stella Point. Seven hours of singing. I'm indebted to him for this, because otherwise I may very likely have gone insane from the monotony.
We got to the ridgeline seen all along our walk from Karanga to Barafu and walked along behind it. Kat started having some problems breathing. She had been fighting a minor chest cold the previous couple days, but now it was keeping her from getting much air. Eventually, she had to stop and take a break. Rufano stayed behind with her while she recovered and we kept on.
We were doing switchback after switchback, slowly moving up the mountain. Being right on it meant that we really couldn't see our eventual destination any more, but there were still the occasional bobbing lights ahead of us on the trail. I looked back several times and could see Kat and Rufano's light as they continued on behind us.
Though my toes were a bit cold, I was otherwise hotter than blazes. I had overdressed significantly. I had unzipped everything I could a while ago, but I was worried that I was going to get sweaty even so. I stopped and took off my synthetic down jacket, which helped a ton.
Eventually, we took a short break. I chowed down a Gu and tried to eat a Clif bar, but it had gotten too hard to bite through. I put it further in my jacket to warm up. We stayed long enough to pee and that was about it. I'm not sure if it was this break or a later one, but I got worried about my feet. Luckily I had brought my thicker socks and a changed out the ones I had on with the crazy thick ones. We pressed on.
I felt pretty good, and Dan seemed pretty good too. My Dad and John didn't seem too bad, but they both looked very intent on just getting up the hill. Everyone else seemed OK, except Kat. Rufano had returned to us without Kat. He had decided that it was too dangerous for her to keep going on, and sent her back down. She had given him her Team Bandana so it would get to the top in proxy.
Some time later, my Dad started having a tough time, and they relieved him of his pack. He wasn't sick or anything, but was having a very hard time catching his breath. They don't want you to stop at all. They prefer that you move a snail's pace to stop-and-go. They had also taken John's pack to help him out.
We relentlessly crawled up the trail for hours.
Eventually, the Moon set and it got quite a bit darker, requiring me to turn my headlamp on. It also got colder, eventually freezing my water bladder as well. We had to make do with Dan feeding my Dad and I for a while.
And still we walked. My Dad was not doing well and eventually I asked Bruno to check him out and make sure he was OK. He said my Dad was fine, but not to stop. This did not make my Dad happy at all. As the sky showed just the inkling of getting brighter, Bruno took both of my Dad's hands and began to lead him up the trail on his own. I followed for a while, but some time later Bruno sent me away to the rest of the group who had gone on ahead.
I was still feeling fine, and soon the sun was brightening the horizon. As the sun rose, we stopped for hot drinks and watched the stunning sunrise. It was exactly what we needed at that point. We still had a while to go before we hit Stella Point. Bruno and my Dad continued on ahead without us. Very soon after, my Camelback unfroze.
The trail here became even more difficult. Not only did it get much steeper, but it was just a wash of scree and dust a few inches think. I sometimes felt like I was hardly making any forward progress as I inched ahead. Stella Point was visible; we could see hikers who had reached it earlier. After so long, it seemed stubbornly high above us.
As we plodded up, trekkers who had begun earlier or hiked faster than we did started to come down. As is always the case, they said things like "You're almost there" and "It's just up ahead" cheerfully and one had the sudden urge to punch them in the face. That, however, would have taken vital energy needed to get up the hill.
An hour later (I'm guessing), we reached Stella Point. Looking down, I could see practically the whole trail as well as Barafu Camp. It hardly seemed like it should take seven or eight hours of effort from this vantage point, but then again we were at 18,848 ft. It's a 3,600-foot climb over 2.5 miles. The air pressure is half of what it is at sea level. Perhaps I could have tripped them.
My Dad and Bruno rejoined us at Stella and we took a celebratory break. The hardest part was over. We had been given a snack/breakfast to bring up in our packs and had that. For the life of me, I couldn't find mine. It wasn't in my pack but I was certain that I had packed it. I ended up eating a Clif bar and some stuff others didn't want from their bags. (I'll skip to the solution of this mystery and tell you that it WAS in the bag, it had just slipped into a cranny that I didn't check.)
From Stella Point, we started a 45 minute hike to Uhuru Peak, which is the highest point on the mountain. This part of the hike is still a steady climb, but compared to what we did to gain Stella Point it was pretty easy. This trail runs along the rim of the crater, with amazing views both into the crater and out along the glaciers surrounding it.
We took a bunch of photos at the sign, of course. In the meantime, Dan set to work carefully setting up his tripod for a group photo. He was very intent on this task. Scary intent.
He was intent because being this high was a little like being high. A bit like being drunk, except none of the fun parts. Just the part where you know you aren't operating properly and have to focus carefully to do anything. Dan got it set up and all of us posed and he hit the 10-second timer. He had maybe ten or fifteen feet to go... and he didn't quite make it in time. If you know Dan, you know how this proves how disabled the rest of us likely were. The second try worked like a charm.
You aren't supposed to stay long at the top, and we were soon retreating to Stella Point. We were allowed to go our own pace at this point, which was good because I wanted TAKE SOME FULL STEPS instead of pole-pole shuffling.
We pretty quickly got back to Stella Point, took a short break, and then began our descent. I had felt pretty good all the way up, but things would be different by the time I got back to Barafu Camp.
By now, the morning was nearly routine. We got up, packed, washed, had breakfast, and got our packs together. The highlight for me, once again, was the fresh mango. And, like my last post, I'm shocked to find that I haven't mentioned our beloved Milo.
Milo is a chocolate and malt drink mix. It, along with tea and instant coffee, was available at every snack and meal. We found it was tasty if you added a scoop or two of creamer in with it. I should also mention that the coffee drinkers in the group brought up real coffee as the instant was unacceptable to them.
Again, the night had been quite cold, but a short while after the sun came up it was easily 20 degrees warmer. It was clear and sunny our whole trip, which was a huge blessing. I can imagine it being quite cold if had stayed overcast. Sunglasses and sunblock was required every day, but there was no so little atmosphere, that the light was quite harsh.
The first part of today's trek would take us from Karanga to Barafu. This is a two mile walk that goes up around 2,000 ft. Mercifully, there wasn't any more of the up and down from the previous two days. We are actually ascending and every foot we went up would bring us closer to the peak.
The ridge that we would be walking along (or just behind, actually) was to our left for most of the hike. Though fairly close (compared to a couple days ago, it was VERY close) it looked very steep. And we would be walking it in just over 12 hours.
After the Barranco Wall, the trail had been pretty bleak and desolate. Today's trail would be no different. There was no vegetation, no animals, and very little to see but the trail vanishing in the distance. We slowly climbed our way towards Barafu across blackened, blasted stone and dust. On the trail it was monotonous, but I see a hint of that beautiful barrenness that the desert sometimes has.
Eventually, we made it Barafu Camp. This is the last Camp before the summit for several of the routes. The Camp sprawled uncomfortably up the ridge. There were a lot of people making camps. We were on the side of the camp furthest from the summit.
We had lunch and then had a couple hours to relax and rest before dinner. After dinner, we would get four or so hours of sleep, then get up at 11pm and begin our trip to the top.
When writing these, I've been referring to my journal to help me remember what we ate, how people were feeling, and so on. However, I failed with my journal at this point. There's a comment at the end, which says:
Too tired, busy, or damaged
to write narrative for the past
few days. Random notes
Karanga to Barafu
That is the entire list, by the way. Which is one reason why I am writing all this up; I don't want to forget everything! Especially the part that's coming up-- the summit!
I slept fairly well. It was quite cold, but was warm enough in the bag. Too warm, sometimes. I still hadn't found the right clothes to wear so that I didn't overheat. The best seemed to be a long sleeve baselayer shirt, running tights, and wool socks.
I am shocked to discover that I haven't yet mentioned porridge. Just as dinner always started with a soup of some kind, breakfast started with porridge every day. On this day, we also had hard boiled eggs, and sausage (which means "hot dogs" in Tanzania even in restaurants-- you have been warned). I only had porridge (augmented with raw sugar) because I don't like hard boiled eggs. I had also eaten a Clif bar during the night as I exhorted my Dad to drink more fluids.
I mentioned at some point that I was happy with the "fanciness" of our trek except for one thing, which the photo above reminded me of. Our camp chairs were stools; they had no backs. I would have been esctatic to have a chair with a back on it. The energy to keep me upright on a stool wasn't always energy I wanted to part with!
Although not a hundred percent, my Dad seemed to be getting better. I know that I felt much better, and most everyone seemed OK compared to the previous night. Once again, Kat bounced back and was excited to climb up the wall. Today was supposed to be pretty easy as well. Around 3 miles with the high point at the top of the wall. Like yesterday, our destination was only a bit higher than where we stayed the previous day. Hike high, sleep low.
We packed up and started seeing porters and other groups beginning the climb up the Barranco Wall. The camp is right at the base of the wall, which is a very steep cliff. Like the rest of Kilimanjaro, this wasn't a very technical climb; one occasionally needed to use one's hands but it was mostly like going up very steep stairs.
But before attacking the Barranco Wall, many of our porters got together and sang a bit for us. Most of them actually seemed into it and were having fun. (I'm happy for this because I didn't want a "show".) We were watching them for a bit, and they brought us over and had us join in. It was fun. (I think we did this to pass some time; since we're a slower group I think our guides decided to put us near the end of the mass of people climbing.)
We shouldered our gear and started up the wall. I loved it, and I think some of the group which had been worried about it ended up enjoying it. The views, as always, were amazing. We could see the entire Barranco Camp from the top as well as the trail into and out of it. It took around an hour and a half to the top, a climb of around 800 ft.
After a break, we spent a long time slowly descending, and then climbed back up a bit. From the top of this rise, we could see Karanaga Camp-- and the soul-crushing requirement that you have to drop a long way down (below the altitude we started at, even) and climb back up to get there. This was especially troublesome for me because I was on the way to a serious "bathroom emergency". I really didn't want to go on the trail. (There was very little cover, and it wasn't going to be a comfortable time anyway.)
Hence the soul-crushing I mentioned. The camp was visible, but still a long way off because we had to cross the valley. Long story short-- and I know you're all happy to have it shortened at this point. These posts seem to have become more a diary of the crew's sleeping, eating, and bathroom habits than anything else. But I suppose that's what really matters when you're hiking at an unaccustomed altitude in a foreign land. So, long story short: it was an uncomfortable hike for me as I expended 50% of my energy just controlling myself. I got to camp in time, though I had to plead with Jenn for first dibs on the Internet Cafe.
Crisis averted, and more Immodium ingested, we had our lunch. A treat today with meat pies, french fries, veggie curry, fresh mango, and some form of coleslaw. The french fries were especially welcome. For the first time in a while, food started tasting good again, though I avoided the curry and the coleslaw.
We rested a bit, and I tried to clean myself up a bit. I was filthy. One cannot win against the dust. My hands were unbelievably dirty, even after washing them. Cleaning out under the fingernails was an impossibility. (I didn't get them entirely clean until after the safari.) I used a couple no-rinse cleaning wipes to really scrub my hands and face until I felt a bit more presentable. Between the dust and repeated applications of sunblock, one can get pretty gnarly.
The Karanga Camp is on quite a slope, so everyone's tent is a bit akimbo. It's not a very nice site: largely unprotected, barren, rocky sloped plain. It feels like a waypoint rather than a camp. Karanga is where the extra day is for the trek. Some people bypass this site entirely and go straight to Barafu. Even though the site wasn't very nice, I'm very happy we added the extra day.
Dinner was good: some cold chicken, pasta elbows, veggie curry, and (of course) soup. But the crown jewel was the fresh mango, which tasted like awesome wrapped in amazing dipped in fantastic. At least to me. Those who hesitated when I asked if they wanted seconds didn't have time to reconsider.
Bruno gave us a briefing about the upcoming summit day(s) and all that stuff. In brief: we would hike to Barafu Camp, eat lunch, take a break, eat dinner, take a nap until 11pm, and then begin the hike up to the summit. The idea is to reach Stella Point (where the steep part ends, nearly at the top) around sunrise, finish the hike to the summit, and the descend back to Barafu. It would be a very long day.
The night was colder than the previous night. My arms got a little cold, but if I fully zipped up the bag, I'd catch fire. On my now-standard two nighttime visits to "see the stars", I was not disappointed. The full moon was absolutely amazing. The sky above us is very clear at night, probably because there isn't any air. So the moon was sharp and huge and very bright. There's no need for a flashlight when it's up. Unfortunately, the lower reaches of Kili and the plains were still not visible through the clouds below us. I could faintly see what were probably the lights from Moshi through them, but that's all.
The night at Shira was cold enough to freeze the evening mist on the ground and tents. I had to get up twice in the night to pee and visit the tentapotty. This was my fifth night in Africa and the diet change had a predicatble effect on my stomach. I took Immodium in the morning as I didn't want any sudden emgergencies on the trail.
The second time I got up it was around 4:30am and the stars were amazing. When the nearly-full moon is visible, the dimmer stars are harder to see. But at this hour, the moon had set and the sun wasn't lighting the sky, so the stars were out in their full glory.
Even with the cold outside, I was plenty warm in my sleeping bag. (Others were not as comfortable.) Once the sun hit the camp, it was plenty warm out. We did a better job of getting up on time and were on the trail by around 8:15am.
This was a long, long day. We backtracked a bit to get to the ridge again and then followed a long, continuous rise along it. Again, vegetation was rare and hardy stuff. The ground was dusty and covered with stones and boulders of every size. It's difficult to tell how big they are in the photos because of this.
We took a short break where we could see the pretty huge expanse of Shira Plateau, the cathedral, Mount Meru (way off in the distance), and down the way we came. If the clouds had burned off, we would have been able to see all the way down to the road we drove in on.
I felt pretty good the whole way up. Most everyone was feeling it in their legs (not a surprise, we had been basically working a Starimaster for the last two days) but I guess all that running I do helped there. My Dad had led the first two hours of the hike, and then petered out. Later on, he said that he felt like he had stood up too quickly. That feeling didn't leave until we got to lunch. If I went too fast, I'd start to get a headache, but if I slowed down or was careful with my breathing it would go away. Pole pole.
Along the way, the trail met up with the Lemosho route and continued in a much more level fashion on to the lunch stop. At one point there was a rocky outcropping and I had assumed it was the Lava Tower; I was pretty unimpressed. However, it wasn't the Lava Tower which actually is pretty impressive.
Before we got to the Lava Tower, and not a moment too soon, was lunch. Again, they had set up our tent and we had a hot lunch. Grilled cheese sandwiches and curry. Sounds awesome typing it right now, but I wasn't hungry for it. I forced some down. A while before the stop I had eaten a Clif bar and just after I had a Gu shot.
I knew that I wasn't eating as much as I probably should have been, but I was cramming down what I could. Some people get sick enough that they can't keep food down; luckily I was not that bad. I just didn't want to eat anything. On this day, however, my Dad was not as lucky. I found out later that night that he had gotten sick at lunch.
After lunch we hiked to the Lava Tower, which would be the highest point we hit that day at 15,000 ft (a 2,600 ft climb from Shira). To acclimate, remember, the idea is to hike high and sleep low. We did that to some extent the day before when we went to the Window. Today would be a much bigger difference: Barranco (our destination) is only 500 ft above Shira. We were about to drop 2,000 ft or so.
The Lava Tower was pretty cool as we approached it, but was much cooler as we descended. You go through two big towers and then drop very rapidly. When you look back, though, you get a better feeling for how massive it is. From above, it doesn't seem as large.
The trail went down, down, down into the mist and seemed to take much, much longer than it should have. The distance from the Lava Tower to Barranco is only 2.5 miles, but at these altitudes and pitches it's not easy. (Evidence of our being tired: I have no photos of this descent after the Tower. Of particular interest would have been the giant groundsels.) My Dad continued not feeling well: he got sick again part of the way down the hill. He wasn't continuously nauseous, it would just come on and hit.
My Dad wasn't the only one having problems. About 3/4 of the way down Kat and Craig (who were hiking next to each other) heard a giant "pop", which was Kat's kneecap coming undone or some other horrid thing. She made it to Barranco Camp fine, but was in considerable pain. There is no easy exit from Barranco, however. She'd have to walk with us to Karanga tomorrow, where there is a descent to Millenium Camp. Even with the pain, she held up well.
After dropping our packs, getting our tents together, and washing up, we had dinner at 6:30pm. Rice and beef stew/curry. I was able to eat some of it, but Dad couldn't keep any down. He and I started him on drinking water with electrolytes. He went to sleep right away. My lingering headaches led me to take a full dose of Diamox (250mg). I had decided to take pseudoephedrine at night so my nose/sinuses don't get stuffed up and keep me awake. I figured that normal sleeping was hard enough.
None of us were feeling great, but the guides weren't worried (except for Kat's injury). They said that this day is very tough and we would all feel a lot better the next day. I hoped so.
I slept off and on all night. At 11:30pm or so, my bladder alarm went off and I had to decide if I would brave the outside or use a pee bottle. Since I had to get out of the sleeping bag anyway, I decided that I would go out. I ended up never using the pee bottle, though others (such as my Dad) did. I got dressed and went outside and (in this case) was happy that I did.
The week we had chosen to climb Kili coincided with a moon waxing to near full on summit day. When I exited the tent, I had no need for a flashlight because the moon was up and very bright. The peak was clearly visible in the moonlight. It was pretty amazing. Dan had also gotten up, and was setting up his new camera to take some night shots. (Unfortunately, I don't think any of them came out.)
It was cold out. I'm not sure if it dipped below freezing, but I'm sure it got pretty close.
We got up a bit before sunrise (which was at 6:30am or so), washed up, ate breakfast, and packed up. Some kind of miracle happened during the night because Kat was able to walk on her knee. It wasn't "fixed" or anything like that, but she was able to continue the hike. I am amazed by this turn even now, because the previous day I thought the knee was completely finished. We fiddled with her knee brace so it was more comfortable and she was good to go.
I had been hoping for a good view in the morning, because just around sunset I was able to see the lower elevations of Kilimanjaro as well as the plains below peeking through the clouds. It turns out that the previous day was the last time we saw anything of the world below 2,500 meters. There was a solid cloud bank below us until our last day when we dropped below it.
On later days they told us to get up earlier, so I suspect we took a bit too long getting our act together on this day. Plus, I think our group moved more slowly than a typical group. Estimated times to the next camp are significantly shorter than what we took. One reason is that they always kept the group together; we went the speed of our slowest member.
It started out a bit misty and foggy but we climbed out of it fairly soon. We continued steadily along top of spine between two valleys, mostly stepping up rocks now. The rain forest was left behind and we were walking through short, stunted trees. It got steeper and steeper, especially in the last stretch before lunch, which was later than my body wanted it.
Lunch was a hot meal. The mess tent was set up (as was the all-important tentapotty). Though, the food wasn't very appetizing to me, everyone else seemed happy for it. I was unable to remember what it was even for my journal written that night.
The lunch spot (shared by everyone else going on this route-- there were probably a dozen or more tents set up) was well-known to the White-Naped Ravens who were on the prowl for leftovers. They have big curved beaks with a white tip that you most certainly would not like to be pecked with.
Because this trail follows along a spine and there's very little in the way of trees, you can see the trail for quite some distance (both backwards and forwards). So, we could see people way ahead of us going up perhaps dauntingly steep sections. They weren't so bad once we got to them, however. The views were great all along this trail.
Lunch finished, we continued on. After about an hour of continuous climb, we reached the lip of the plateau. The trailed turns and goes flat and then a moderate slope down to the Shira campsite, where we found our tents. Because Shira is so open, we could really see how many people were also on the mountain. There were probably dozen or so separate groups, each with a bunch of tents. (I suspect there were more, actually.) For our snack, we had popcorn and freshly roasted peanuts (and of course hot drinks).
At around 5pm, we took an acclimatization hike to bring us a bit higher in altitude for a while. (We would return to sleep, of course.) The first stop was Shira Cave, which was used as an actual shelter for many years. You're not allowed to use it any more; tents only. From there, we walked to the "Window" which is a rock formation like... a window. We were all pretty tired, but the guides started to fool around up on it. So some of us couldn't not climb up into and around it too.
We started back as the sun began to set, and arrived back at camp a bit after the sun actually went down. The sunset was really beautiful and gave everything a warm, orangey glow. During the walk back, I started to get a headache, though when I stopped at camp it went away. Again, dinner wasn't too appetizing to me, but I forced myself to eat. Every meal starts with soup. I am not a big soup fan to start with, so I was now officially sick of soup.
All that hiking had worn us out, and we went to bed pretty soon after dinner. The hike had an overall rise of 2,700 feet over 3 miles. That's pretty steep!
Because I had gotten the headache (and had minor flareups during the day too) and the appetite issues, I decided that I would begin taking Diamox. I had waffled on taking it for a month before the trip. I had tried it at home and didn't like the tingly sensation in my extremeties, the diuretic effects, or the minor mood change it brought. (The mood change might have been a corellated but non-causal event, but I didn't have the druthers to retest.) But being able to sleep and hike without headaches was more important.
At this point we saw what the sleeping pads were like and everyone but Dan (of course) decided to rent the second mattress. The first, provided pad was your run-of-the-mill closed-cell foam mattress. The one we rented was a self-inflating mattress. We would have two each, then. The closed-cell one and a squishier one.
However, a significant issue had come up previously. Jenn asked what we thought about paying for a porter to bring up a porta-potty. The privies/outhouses at the camps are not known for their cleanliness. They are almost all "long-drop" privies. That means no seat; you squat and go. This isn't an uncommon set-up in Africa (and many other countries) for standard rest rooms. (Both Western-style toilets and long-drops were available at several restrooms we used in town.) There are also a limited number of privies at each camp, and it's a pretty busy mountain. There might be lines.
We had briefly discussed it in email beforehand. The consensus was that "we didn't care." Most of us are guys and stand up for half of our "business" anyway. This result was taken (not too surprisingly) as a no. We actually meant that it would be fine with us; we had no strong opinion on the matter. When Jenn realized this, she jumped at the chance to have one brought for us. What we found may be the most important fact you learn from reading this whole series:
The privies are something you do not want to step into, mainly because tourists use them and don't know how to aim for the hole. And then they don't clean up their accidents. It's quite awful and you want to avoid them. (Though there were lines, they were usually not more than a couple people.)
Since I've just spent three paragraphs on evacuation, I may as well tell you everything. Pictured is what we called the "tentapotty" (or as our guide called it, the "internet cafe") in all its glory. The commode itself operates much like a head on a boat. You sit on the commode and do your business. You clean up with TP, and the TP goes into the blue bag that you see hanging up on the right. (The white bag on the ground has fresh TP and cleaning supplies in it.) You close the lid, pump a handle a couple times which provides water that cleans the bowl. You then pull a lever on the front which opens a trap door that drops the waste and dirty water into the sump. Each day, a porter empties the commode into one of the privies. (When we hand out tips, BTW, the toilet porter is in his own pay class. We tipped him well.)
Lastly, I have it on good authority that the women were happy to have bought "she-wee"s. These are devices which allow ladies to urinate standing up. (I've been told that one should practice at home before using one on the trail, however.) Taking our cue from the porters, we didn't use the privies for "number one", in general. We found a rock or tree. Dan seemed to need rocks or trees every 100 yards.
My goodness, who would have guessed that I would write so much on waste removal?
And so we were brought to Machame Gate, signed in, and actually began the trek. As mentioned before, the Machame route is nice because it's a bit more picturesque than the other routes. It travels through several different climates, beginning here with rain forest. Machame is also longer than other routes so you rise more slowly, providing better and easier acclimatization to the altitude.
We started off with Rufano (our other guide) in the lead. Bruno was settling up the porters, permits, and the like. The trail begins and is actually paved for a while until it turns into a wide dirt road. Of course, the trail is uphill and insistently so. (You should always assume so unless I say differently, by the way.) The road turns into a trail and becomes a bit more steep.
Rufano set a difficult pace; difficult because it was very slow. Imagine going a lot slower than a normal hike. No, even slower than that. A touch more... yeah. That's about the speed. It felt like doing isometric exercises. We averaged about 1.5 miles an hour this day, which is about half the speed that Craig and I hiked with Chris during the summer. (We went even slower as the trip progressed.)
It was quite steep. I'd guess around a 10% grade. Kat's knee started giving her a lot of trouble and she was in quite a lot of pain by the end of the day. I thought her knee was done for, but there wasn't much to do about it but drown it in ibuprofen. In the morning she'd decide whether to keep going or turn back.
After some time, porters started to pass us. This happened every day. We would set off right after breakfast and they would catch up and pass us along the way. Porters carry all the camp gear (tents, stoves, food, fuel, etc), our duffle bags, and their own gear as well. In all, they carry between 45 and 55 pounds up the mountain. Remember, our duffle bags are allowed to be as much as 33 pounds (15kg). They carry most of this weight on their heads, as you can see here. Depending on the company, their gear isn't always very good. We saw more than a few porters (none of Ahsante's, as far as I know) going up the hill in sneakers that were barely hanging on their feet.
In our packs, we carried three or so liters of water, energy bars and other snacks, first aid stuff, sunblock, camera, rain gear, and maybe an extra jacket. Basic day pack sorts of things.
We went through the rain forest, seeing a lot of vegetation and also Kilimanjaro's own bright orange-red Impatiens kilimanjari. (Sadly, every picture we took of this flower was blurry.) Eventually, we stopped for lunch, where we had our first run-in with wretched toilets. (The tentapotty was generally available only at camp.) Lunch was cold chicken, a muffin, a fruit juice box, and other snacky sorts of things.
As we were finishing lunch, a few porters showed up and started setting up a table and chairs for another couple who soon arrived. This shows that you can certainly get a fancier trip up the mountain than we did. (We were sitting on tree stumps and the like.) To be honest, though, I think we chose the right level of fancy (with one exception that I will come to later).
The trees started to thin out, at first because they dropped off on both sides. The trail was along the spine between two cuts that dropped away pretty steeply. Pretty soon, the trees started to thin out due to altitude; we were no longer in a rain forest.
Soon, we arrived at Machame Hut. This leg was around 6.5 miles and had a rise of nearly 4,000 feet. As was the case every day, the porters had gotten there before us and had set up camp. Our tents were set up and, as this was the first night, we chose them. My Dad and I got number 14. The tents were in great shape. Half of it was the tent-proper, the other half was a floor-less vestibule where we could put our packs, duffles, and shoes.
After washing up a bit (they provided hot water and soap for us) we had a snack of cookies, popcorn, and hot drinks. The mess tent was the main communal area and also one of the most recognizable parts of our camp. On later days as we rolled into the camping area, it's what I would look for (perhaps because there was always a snack waiting for us).
We had a bit of free time (the only day where we had any, really). I walked around a little, Dan read a book, Craig painted in his journal, and I'm sure several people tested out the Internet Cafe (tentapotty). Though we couldn't see the peak during the hike, it was readily visible from the camp. It looked very far away.
We had dinner at 6pm. It was a cucumber soup, beef curry, and peas. It was warm, hearty, and good. By the time dinner was over, it was fairly dark (sunset was at 6:30). I think most of us turned in by 8:30.
As I fell asleep, I remember thinking that I would almost definitely need to pee during the night. I mean, warm soup for dinner? Yeah. Gonna have to pee.
As I re-read my previous entries, I realized that I didn't give much feel for what Tanzania is like. So, before I jump to the actual trek, I wanted to try and give a few thoughts about what the Kilimanjaro area of Tanzania is like.Tanzania is located south of the horn of Africa, on the east coast of the continent. It's approximately the size of Egypt. It sits just south of the Equator, so the days and nights are each almost exactly 12 hours long. I expected it to be blazing hot, but it wasn't really while we were there. If you stood in the sun at noon, you'd get hot but the air never seemed to get crazy hot. We were there in the drier part of the year, and it was very dry and dusty.
Kilimanjaro is in northeastern Tanzania, right on the border between Tanzania and Kenya. (According to our guides, there was some kind of dispute over Kili and the Serengeti between the nations and Tanzania prevailed. You still cannot enter the Serengeti from Kenya.) We stayed in Moshi, climbed Kilimanjaro, and then traveled west on safari through Arusha, through Ngorongoro, and to the Serengeti. I've marked on the map places we stayed as red dots and places we drove to as blue dots. So, we covered quite a bit of ground. (And everything after Ngorongoro was on unpaved roads.)
Tanzania is "developing nation", which means that a lot of things we take for granted aren't always found. I mentioned before that constant electric power isn't a given even in the larger towns and cities. Most roads aren't paved. Agriculture is not very mechanized (the fields I saw weren't navigable with anything bigger than a small tractor). Foreigners would do well to avoid drinking non-bottled water. But the thing that I noticed the most was how ad hoc everything seemed to be.
We're used to buildings being fairly standardized. There's all sorts of rules and inspections and that sort of thing. The towns we passed were clearly not created with any kind of building code in mind. They were built with what was available to support whatever it is they were built for. (Though I should mention that hotels we stayed at and public places we went to all felt like they were "to code".)
In Moshi (and in most towns we passed by), the streets and walks were kept pretty clean. (There were a couple exceptions). In Moshi, there were places where the sidewalk was missing and there was just dirt packed. The dirt path was swept clear every morning.
Commerce is also a bit old-school and random. I mentioned being harassed by solicitors ("touts") already. Very few things have a fixed price, so one needs to haggle, which I'm not used to doing and leads to buyers remorse pretty much all the time. (Though food and drink have set prices from what I could tell.) You aren't always guaranteed that you can get proper change, so it pays to have a mix of denominations available. Not all waiters and salespeople are adept at sums. (I've had them come out high and low, so not everyone was trying to get a bit of extra cash.) It seemed like some people preferred US dollars to Tanzanian shillings, but at the same time gave very bad exchange rates.
One gets very dirty when one travels in Tanzania. It's an aspect of travel we no longer experience much in America. Practically all our roads are paved. When one travels by air, one doesn't even go outside to get on the plane any more. I can understand how dirty people must have gotten by simply traveling town to town in pre-paved America. I can hardly imagine how it was during the western expansion. During our safari, we were met at the lodge with a damp washcloth and a glass of fruit juice. Very posh, I know. I was surprised at how much dirt my face and neck collected.
On Kilimanjaro, I expected to get pretty dirty but I was shocked at how absolutely filthy I got. The dirt is volcanic dust and got everywhere and in everything. I was still removing it from under my fingernails after I returned to the U.S. That's another reminder for trekkers to pack in plastic bags.
One Swahili phrase we heard a lot was "pole-pole", which means "slowly". This is the refrain of Kilimanjaro guides, which have to work to keep people moving slowly enough up the mountain. Rising slowly is better for acclimatization. You'll hear it a lot if you trek up the mountain. In addition, just about everything else in Tanzania is pole-pole too, compared to our much more impatient western world. Expect dinner (if there's more than a couple of you) to take a while to come out, for example.
Another very common phrase is "hakuna matata", meaning "no worries". Apparently The Lion King made it known internationally. I have never seen it, so I remain blissfully unaware of the tune. It's a good response to westerners who are expecting haraka-haraka (fast) and getting pole-pole. It seems to be used as a mixture between "no worries", "relax", and "hang loose".
If you go to Tanzania, you are likely to pick up some Swahili words, but mainly for the fun of it. You'll greet porters and passers-by with "Jambo!" ("Hello!") and learn to respond to "mambo" ("How goes?") with "poa" ("Cool"). English is spoken by everyone we met in varying degrees. It's taught as a second language in primary school, and as a primary language in secondary school. Until recently, it was the official language of the courts. I never had too hard a time making myself understood, though there were occasional hiccups with idiom and certain kinds of questions.
I found the vast majority of people I met in Tanzania to be very welcoming and helpful. I'm sure that I looked like a walking pile of cash to some people, but even so I rarely felt like the people weren't genuinely kind and open. (One notable exception might be in the souvenir shop where I felt instead like they were trying to screw me over, which they did.) Our porters and guides were really great: not just competent, but fun, engaging, and inclusive. I felt the same sort of vibe throughout our trip.
We got up for a 7:30am breakfast and a visit to "The Coffee Shop", which was recommended in the guidebook. A nice place (good coffee and breakfast pastries), but clearly not used by your typical locals. The only people we saw there were trekkers like us.
We returned to the hotel and met up Nelly, our luggage (yay!), and our guide, Bruno. Craig, Kat, and I were very happy to see our stuff. I was a little sick of wearing the same clothes and didn't really want to buy or rent everything for the trek in Moshi.
At 10am, Bruno gave us an orientation to the climb. He went over the plan for each day, showing us on a map where we'd be, how long each day was, and that sort of stuff. It matched what the guidebook said pretty closely. My impression of Bruno at the time was that he was a nice guy and that his English was pretty good. Over the hike, this proved to be an underestimation. He was a great guide: always excited and having fun, but serious when he needed to be.
I wish they had brought an example foam pad and sleeping bag (which we were renting from them) so we could see what we were getting. Especially the foam pad, because Nelly suggested that we might want to rent self-inflating pads as well for comfort. We decided to make that call once we could see what the equipment was the next day.
Nelly and Bruno then went to each person's room and went over every piece of gear we were bringing. This took forever: at least two hours. My Dad and I were near last so they didn't spend too much time with us; I think they were worn out. Also, the gear couldn't weigh more than 15 Kg. My duffle bag (the one being carried by a porter) weighed 13 Kg.
After, we went to lunch with Bruno at the Union Cafe. This was also a nice place not frequented by locals. Heck, there was a caucasian computer neckbeard type there on his Mac laptop. Unexpected. This place (like one of the souvenir shops yesterday) had armed guards at it. I'm not sure what their intended purpose is, but they kept solicitors away which was nice. Out of curiosity, I had a pizza. It wasn't bad, but the crust was almost like naan.
I should mention: Coke OWNS this town. You might notice in some of the pictures that many signs have Coke logos on them. When we took the bus to Machame gate, I saw that some street signs were "Coke red" and had the logo. I suspect Coke gives the signs away for free with the establishment's name painted on it. Everyone uses them. There were some places that had a cellphone carrier instead, but in Moshi Coke ruled.
Speaking of Coke, we had access to a variety of sodas, all in refillable bottles. Coke, various flavors of Fanta and Krest, and Stoney Tangawizy (my favorite). (All those are Coke products, BTW.) Tangawizy means Ginger in Swahili. It's a sweet-hot ginger ale rather like Blenheim ginger ale here in the U.S. There was also Coke Light (which is Diet Coke) though that wasn't everywhere. Heather found Pepsi products in Arusha, but was pretty much out of luck everywhere else.
We also had had plenty of beer! Kilimanjaro, of course, which we thought was pretty good. Bruno joked that we could "climb the mountain" upon return from the trek. Safari Lager and Serengeti Lager weren't as good. We had some other Serengeti once at the hotel which was darker and richer, but never found it again (even at the hotel).
After lunch, I napped. Craig, his Dad, and Kat went to Amani Children's Home to give our donations. I also repacked all my stuff (since we had to unpack everything for them to see it).
We went to dinner with Bruno at the Indo-Italiano, which is exactly what it sounds like. They have two menus: one for Indian food and one for pasta. Both were really good. This place had a mix of tourists, expats, and local-ish people. We took a cab home. (Bruno said it wasn't safe; though we had walked basically the same thing the previous night with no fearsome moments.)
The next morning we were to depart at 7:30am, so we settled our room charges. As I mentioned before, the Panama gave a very reasonable exchange rate and we paid in U.S. dollars. We also packed all our stuff up; trek into one duffle, leftovers and safari stuff in my suitcase, and hike stuff in my daypack.
I was pretty excited to finally be so close to actually going on the trek. Luckily, dinner and jetlag put me to sleep pretty quickly.