I suppose the photo above could be considered a spoiler – that by showing us at the top of Kilimanjaro at the very beginning of this blog entry takes away the excitement of reading a different post; a post that was written to build suspense by starting off with a photo of giant Kili and talking about how difficult the climb was (because it was really hard), how we all got sick, and how cold it was; causing folks to think to themselves “That sounds really hard! I wonder if they actually made it to the top of that massive mountain?!” If I’d done that, I could’ve ended this post with this triumphant (i.e. slightly hypoxic) photo of us at the top.
BUT – I have to admit that climbing to the top of Kili feels like such an enormous accomplishment that I don’t want write suspenseful posts – really, I just want to talk about how I stood on the top of Africa’s highest peak, overwhelmed with awe of what I had just accomplished and the amazing people I got to accomplish it with.
I apologize for the cliche, but our trip to Tanzania was truly the adventure of a lifetime; hiking Kilimanjaro was incredibly difficult and incredibly humbling. It also provided me clear focus on a simple task – to keep walking up the mountain – in a way that my regular life and daily responsibilities don’t provide. That I got to go on this adventure with with my partner, my friends (some old and some new), and an amazing guides, made it all the more remarkable. Following the climb, we went on a short safari and then spent a few days in Zanzibar. So like I said – an adventure I’ll only have once!
Following are a few (i.e. so, so many) of my photos…
A bit of history: many years ago – 10? 15? – I got it in my brain that, one day, I wanted to hike up Kilimanjaro. I have no mountaineering skill (I wouldn’t know what to do with a rope or ice ax), but since Kili is just a regular (albeit long and steep) climb, it was actually a somewhat reasonable goal. I’ve been talking about it with Brandon for a long time, and after we’d had such a good time hiking in Italy, it seemed reasonable (to me!) that our next big trip was to Tanzania, and Kilimanjaro. Brandon was enthusiastic, and it talking it over with my friend Tracy, it seemed like a good idea to her and her boyfriend Jay.
A quick word about the Kilimanjaro guides we worked with; we spent quite a bit of time getting recommendations about tour groups and repeatedly heard good things about Tusker Trail. In speaking with their staff, we were impressed by their approach to the climb, and also swayed by to their membership in the Kilimanjaro Porter Assistance Project, and organization that fights for porter rights and working conditions on Kilimanjaro. In the end, we couldn’t have been happier with our choice to go with this Tusker; our climb coordinator here in the US was extremely helpful in getting us prepared and answering our (my) billion questions, and the guides and porters in Tanzania were, simply, amazing. They were confident, responsive, patient, and extremely knowledgeable about hiking, camping, the mountain, and how to take care of American tourists who are sometimes overwhelmed by the adventure they’ve chosen. Based off this experience, I would go anywhere with Tusker and truly cannot say enough good things about them!
And with that, here’s a bit of a photo guide of our trip.
Setting out on the climb – here’s the porters lined up with all the supplies for the climb – camping equipment, our gear, food, first aid supplies, etc.
… and fresh produce!
This is our group at the start of the climb. We entered through the Lemosho gate, at about 7,000 feet (the top of Kili is 19,341 feet). From left to right: Sam, Alex, Brandon, me, Tracy, and Jay.
Starting out in the jungle.
A typical pre-dinner snack at the end of the day – popcorn, tea, and biscuits.
A blue monkey at our campsite, Forest Camp (aka Big Tree Camp), on the first night.
Tracy and Brandon during a break from hiking, before lunch on day 2.
Our food tent – we ate all our meals in the tent. It was set up at camp before we arrived, and in the morning, the porters would pack it up, hurry up ahead of us on the mountain, and set it up at our lunch site, so it was waiting for us when we arrived. Same thing happened after lunch, so tent was set up when we arrived at camp at the end of the day.
Cairns. Our guides told us that, in Africa, people set them up for good luck.
Our first real view of the peak of Kilimanjaro, day 2
Brandon and me at camp at the end of day 2 at Shira camp (it’s only been 2 days since we stopped showering, so we’re looking relatively fresh)
Our three guides and one of the porters – from left, that’s Stanford, Uri (porter), head guide Tobias, and Pastori. Three of the most calm, competent men I’ve ever met (and a very entertaining, very boisterous singing porter).
We started day 4 with a rock scramble up the Baranco Wall, nicknamed “breakfast wall” since you walk out of camp in the morning, and start your climb up it almost immediately after you finish breakfast. If you look closely toward the bottom of the photo, you can make out the cluster of people. It was a pretty crowded climb up.
And we made it above the clouds! Part of what was remarkable about the climb was getting to hike (and sleep and eat) above the clouds for so many days. This is a view of Mt. Meru.
More hiking high.
Day 5, Katanga camp.
That’s chef Alex on the right (with a box that’s marked “coconut cream” on his head). He was remarkable, making delicious food (for tourists with sensitive constitutions) at an altitude that the rest of us would’ve had trouble boiling water.
Here’s Sam and Alex – a word about these two. They became friends over 30 years ago, when they met in medical school. You know how, when you’re in a group, there’s always one person that’s so irritating you want to strangle, just a little bit? Not in this group. They were both amazing – funny, sincere, incredibly sweet. This was Alex’s third time climbing Kili, so his approach was much more laid back than the rest of us, and he was able to provide invaluable support and advice. And Sam was hilarious and kept us laughing. I felt so fortunate to have them in our group.
The view from our tent at Barafu camp (side note: Brandon and I lucked out, we *totally* were assigned the best spot at this camp). “Barafu” apparently means “icy” in Swahili, which made sense – it was freezing up there, at about 15,000 feet. We spent 2 nights here, since we left (and returned) to this camp to before and after summiting the mountain. The altitude was really rough – as we settled in to sleep that first night, I rolled over in my sleeping bag, and Brandon asked why I was panting. It was hard to catch my breath! The altitude was no joke (side note: it also snowed while we were there, but we got lucky in that it only snowed after we arrived on our first night there, and didn’t snow again after that).
And… day 7, summit day! We left around 430am and hiked in the dark for a few hours. The climb up was difficult and exhausting; partially because of the altitude and the cold, but also because – at that point – we’d been hiking and camping for 6 days, and we were worn out. We were all nervous (well, all of us except Alex) and excited to get to the top. Here’s the only photo Brandon and I took on that 13 hour day, save for the photos at the top. This is Mawenzi.
And here we are at the top! But (as we painfully learned), just because you’re at the top of Kili does not mean you are at the highest point. So we got excited to be at Stella Point, but still had another 45 minutes of slow walking to get to the highest point, Uhuru Peak.
… and then we were there! Here’s our whole group at the top. Left to right: Pastori, Brandon, me, Toby, Tracy, Jay, Alex, Sam, and Stanford.
Here’s Tracy and me. I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge this lady and what her friendship has meant to me. We met about 15 years ago when we had both joined Team in Training to prepare for the NYC triathlon. We were at a practice swim and both struggling to take off our suction-like wetsuits. I remember standing poolside, hot and sweaty, half in and half out of this ridiculous wetsuit, and made some comment to Tracy about how stupid this all was – and a friendship was born. Since then, we’ve traveled to private islands and cocoa plantations in Honduras, ran costume-and-wine filled marathons in southern France, toured Graceland, and had about a hundred other adventures. It was incredibly meaningful to also stand on the very top of Kilimanjaro, lightheaded, slightly nauseous, and headache-y, with her.
And another one of Brandon and me – day 7 (we took pictures of ourselves at the end of each day), roof of Africa.
Skip to day 9 – Jay the WWE wrestler
And at the exit gate! That’s my grin of disbelief (and filth – no shower for 9 days!)
The amazing porters that literally made our climb possible
After we got back to the hotel in Moshi, we all showered and met at the hotel restaurant for dinner. My birthday was in a week, so Tracy had worked with the Tusker staff to get me a cake on our final night. They all came out singing and clapping. I usually find these things embarrassing, but I honestly was so touched that I could do was try not to cry at how sweet it all was. And look at my cake! It’s in the shape of Africa! Could there be anything better?!
That night and the next morning, we said our goodbyes (some of us – mostly me – were tearful) to Sam, Alex, Tracy, and Jay; we were all headed off in our own directions. For Brandon and me, it was a 4 day safari followed by 5 days on Zanzibar.
For the safari, we went to three locations: Lake Mayanara, Ngorongoro Crater, and Tarangire National Park. Here’s some of what we saw:
And then came Zanzibar – we spent 2 days in Stone Town, which was a super cool town and we enjoyed wandering the narrow streets and picking up trinkets. After that, we headed to Jambiani, a beach area on the Southeastern part of Zanzibar. It was incredibly beautiful, though I have almost no photos, because we literally didn’t do anything once we got there.
This was the view from our deck
And we were surrounded by this amazing water – I’d never seen anything like it.
And that’s our adventure!
November 9, 2015
This entry was posted in travel and tagged adventure, kilimanjaro, tanzania, Tusker Trail.