Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Kilimanjaro: Day 5: Barafu to Uhuru Peak to Mweka

Sat Feb 9th, 2013
Barafu Camp (4600 m)
We were woken up at 12 am and got ourselves ready before heading to the mess tent for ouji and cookies and tea/coffee/milo. We got out water and then we were off! 5-ish hours walking uphill at a slow pace in the cold. It was incredible when we first started because we could see the line of headlights leading up the mountain. The stars were absolutely awe inspiring. Once we got high enough we could see the entire city of oshi lit up. Such a crazy view. We took our breaks, we passed other groups (I got rudely spoken to by another climber for passing him even though my guide was physically pushing me), and we sang songs and made small talk. I tried to keep myself from thinking about how much further we had to walk by writing this entry in my head and thinking about what I would do when I got home (answer: take a hot bath and stay in it until the water goes cold, buy and eat an entire footlong sub). We saw two people being brought back down the mountain and we saw several people sitting to the side puking their little hearts out. One from our group threw up his breakfast. For the most part no one else really complained about the altitude - escept one or two (including John) who felt light headed, and one who felt tight chested. I popped an advil before we left and I didn't even have a glimmer of a headache/
After walking for 5 hours, the sun began to rise. Never have I seen a more beautiful sunrise in my entire life. From up that high it seemed almost magical.

We finally made it to Stella Point and that sign was a welcome sight after such a grueling walk. I thought to myself that this was what exhaustion felt like.

We finished watching the sun come up, switched off our headlmaps, and took a few pictures. Then we walked for about 45 mins around the edge of the crater to the summit. Beside us was the most beautiful and impressive glacier I've ever seen. Also the only glacier I've ever seen but I doubt many could top it. Walking to Uhuru Peak I started out with a burst of excited energy but before long I was walking 'pole pole' for no other reason than I was exhausted.


 Finally reaching the summit was an incredible feeling. Even more incredible was that all 8 of our group made it to the sumit. We got some nice group photos.

I was starving so I sat down and ate a granola bar. No one ese had any appetite. I obviously have reverse mountain sickness. Once we got our pictures and hugged our guides, we made our way back down - which took about 3 hours from summit to the camp.

At the top I had on 3 pairs of pants, 2 gloves and hand warmers, and 7 layers of shirts and jackets. By the time we got back to Barafu I was ready to strip down to my underwear. We essentially slid down a sandy, rocky hill for about an hour, then carefully picked our way down through rocks. Finally getting back to camp was an amazing feeling. We lay down for a nap then packed up. We have lunch then we will walk again for awhile to our last camp for dinner. Where I will sleep like a baby.
Such a tiring day but so rewarding. Haji told me at the summit, "so piece of cake, right? (I said no) I know, but if I told you how hard it was none of you would have gotten out of your tents."
8:00 pm
Mweka Camp (3100 m)
So we walked another 18 km to our final camp. That's crazy. We walked 40 km today. Haji said that to the summit and back was about 22 km. Insane! As we left barafu it started to snow and it snowed for about the first hour of our 5 hour walk.

Then it turned to rain, then it let up and we had some sunshine. The walk was all downhill but it was hard on our knees and feet and toes, especially after coming back down from 5895 m to around 4600 m. We talked a lot about our experience getting to the summit - a lot of people had hallucinations, would never do it again, etc. Personally, I don't think I'd ever do it again but I'm SO glad I did it. It was incredibly tough and easily the hardest, most challenging thing I've done. But it was also the most amazing. I'm so proud of myself for reaching the summit. I'm proud of our group for all getting there. And I'm proud of John for getting to the top.
The world's highest free standing mountain!
Then we hiked another 18 km down rocky trails on only a few hours nap (about 30 mins for me). I bathed my feet when I got here. Then we had crepes and potato/vegetable soup, rice with chicken and sauce and mango and bananas. It felt so nice to sit and eat and drink hot tea. Right now I'm in my sleeping bag, ready for a looooong sleep tonight. Shane negotiated with Haji and got us an extra hour of sleep in the morning. Wake up call at 7 am!
We're back down at a low altitude so everyone's in good spirits. Tomorrow after breakfast we walk for about 3 hours to the bus that will bring us back to the hotel. I'm sad that this adventure is coming to an end but I can't wait to take a shower and sleep on a mattress again. Plus - next up is the safari!


Monday, February 25, 2013

Kilimanjaro: Day 4 - Barranco to Barafu

Feb. 8th, 2013         5:15 pm
Barafu Camp (4600 m)

We're at base camp after a solid day of hiking 16 km uphill, downhill, and back up again. We woke up at 6, had our standard breakfast, then hit the road around 8. Climbing the Barranco Wall was...crazy.

I started out absolutely freezing and in no time I had warmed up. Parts of the wall required us to put away our poles and scramble up and across rocks. It was fun so long as you didn't look down.

(that's me with the yellow backpack)

Once we got up we went back down into a small valley, then back up out of it, and then back down into an even bigger valley and then up out of it! At the top we could see the tents at Karanga camp where we were having lunch.

(Looking ahead at the path we'd be following - this was only the small valley)

This lunch...we all cheered when it came in and we finally asked to meet the chef (Hans) to thank him. We had chicken, french fries, and coleslaw after potato ginger soup and bread. After lunch we walked another 3 hours to Barafu. The clouds came in overtop of us so in the span of about 30 minutes we went from hot and sunny weather to misty rain, to sleet and ice pellets. When we got to our tents we were cold and wet but now it's beautiful and sunny again. From Karanga to Barafu the landscape changed from alpine desert to... there's no name for it but it was all shale. It looked like someone had built stone houses then smashed them to bits.

(John capturing a photo opportunity and me capturing a photo of that photo)

I had a bit of a headache but I popped an ibuprofen and it's starting to go down. We're eating dinner now (leek soup with french toast, and spaghetti with vegetable sauce), then we sleep til 12, get woken up and push for the summit at 1 am!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Kilimanjaro: Day 3 - Shira to Barranco

Feb. 7, 2013.       7:40 pm
Barranco Camp (3940 m)
So this might be officially the earliest I've ever been in bed without having worked a night shift prior. We woke up this morning at 6 (standard), had tea in the tent, got our hot water bowls to wash up with, then met in the mess tent for breakfast. Ooji (the porridge), toast, omelettes, hotdogs, and mango. Then we got our bagged lunches and were ready to go.

We hiked 18 km today. Left around 8:15 and got to camp around 3:15. We ascended up to 4500 m from our camp at 3850 m to the lava tower (*Lava Tower may actually be somewhere closer to 4800 m - I've seen varying elevations) which is this amazingly huge rock that John said looks like an oversized Pride Rock (from the Lion King).

We started out the day warm and sunny (John was in a t-shirt) but then the clouds rolled in over us and it became incredibly misty. We descended from the Lava tower down a really foggy, treacherously rocky slope. But the rain started just as we were about 5 mins away from the camp so we avoided getting really damp.

Our group is awesome and really supportive of one another. The two feeling the altitude were in bad form today - tons of headaches and both threw up again. But they managed to rally and started feeling better. We were singing a lot of movie theme songs today and some Bon Jovi. At dinner I think we were all feeling a bit tired/feeling the altitude because we got the giggles really bad. It's nice to get along with everyone so well.
The terrain quickly changed as we left Shira camp (which has been my favourite so far). We woke up the clouds had drifted away and we got the most amazing view of the summit. Also of Mt. Meru in the distance.

It's too cloudy tonight to see any stars or even really to see the Barranco wall that we'll be tackling tomorrow. We caught a glimpse of it coming in and it looks terrifyingly large.
Once we got under way on our hike the heather-moorland quickly disapeared and we were in the alpine desert zone. The plants look exactly like what you'd expect to see in the desert. At a few points it felt like we were on Mars - red soil and only rocks.
Once we got back down to our camp we saw a ton of these strange trees that I've been calling Giant Pineapple Trees. Because they look like giant pineapples growing on trees.
So far John and I have been doing well. No headaches or sickness. John did have a bit of trouble finishing his dinner which is a common altitude issue. I apparently can't NOT eat and finished my plate plus the rest of John's. We had carrot soup and crepes, then pasta with a beef sauce which was delicious. We're being fed very well. Our lead guide seems pretty sure we'll all make it to the summit.
Speaking of that - tomorrow we hike 4 ish hours up Barranco wall then stop for a hot lunch. Then another 2 ish hour hike to our base camp. Oncethere we'll eat dinner then go directly to sleep. We'll be woken around 11 so we're ready to go at midnight and then we push for the summit doing about 1 km an hour. (*note: our guide lied to me and told me it was only 6 km from our camp to the summit. It was 11 km). 6 hrs to Stella Point then 1 hr to Uhuru Peak. I'm excited but so nervous.
So far this has been the most exciting and exhilirating thing I've ever done. Fingers crossed I make it to the summit!
Now... I guess to sleep! We've got a 16 km hike and a super big wall to climb tomorrow. Our guide keeps saying it'll be a "piece of cake" but we suspect he's lying to keep our spirits up.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Kilimanjaro: Day 2 - Machame to Shira

Continuing on with day 2 of the climb!

Feb 6th, 2013       2:15 pm
Shira Camp (3850 m)

Day 2 - successful! We left camp around 7:30 this morning and hiked uphill (almost zero plateaus) for about 5 hours (10km) and ascended from 3000 m to 3850 m. 

We left in the morning to avoid the rain and we were lucky. As soon as we got into the lunch tent it started to rain. Even some ice pellets fell (I called it hail but one of the girls works as a flight service specialist aka air traffic controller and she knows her weather).
The hike today was technically more challenging: all uphill, sometimes at a very steep incline and very rocky. We passed through a few dodgy spots where we were walking across thin outcrops of rocks over looking some steep drops. But so long as you looked down instead of up you were okay.

It was crazy at times to look back and see how high we had come. We walked straight through the clouds and our camp is right in the cloud path too. At times when they roll in it's like the whole camp has disappeared. Once we get above 4100 m it's all snow, or so we've been told.
Two of our group members are really feeling the altitude. They've had bad headaches and both threw up today. They're troopers though, that's for sure. I'm glad I'm taking diamox (acetazolamide). All I've dealt with is the occasional tingle in my fingers. Definitely liveable.
We've just finished lunch (carrot soup with french toast minus the sweetness, and pasta with a beef & vegetable sauce. Breakfast was this very thin porridge made with corn flour which was surprisingly pretty good, toast, eggs, hotdogs, and some fruit. Then we got little bags of snacks to take with us. David is our waiter who brings the food to us and he is adorable.
We're resting now for about 2 hrs and so long as the rain holds off (it's stopped now) we'll be going on an hour and a half hike another 100 - 150 m up to acclimatize to the altitude. Tomorrow apparently is a 7 - 8 hr day but not too hilly....we'll see. Nap time.
----nap ---

The landscape has changed completely from rain forest to transition (kind of where Machame camp was) to moorland-heather zone. There are no more trees, just shrubs and the kind that you would expect to see in the desert. The ground is very rocky, no grass, no soil really. There were muddly patches and some streams and even a beautiful small waterfall that some of the porters were catching water from underneath. Speaking of water, I've managed to put away almost 3 L today. They recommend 4 -5L but that's crazy. Yesterday I foolishly thought I had finished my 2L camel pack but I had only gotten through about half of it and 1 L, while under normal circumstances seems like a lot, was not going to get me to the summit. I added Mio to my water and the flavour helped me down it much faster. Plus once I drank about half of my water bottle I added in mango juice and then killed that. The downside is that I have to pee all the time. But I'm in good company: one of the other girls pees as much as I do!


The nap was fine, just waiting to find out now if we'll be going hiking. It just finished raining quite hard for about 5 -10 mins. Haji will let us know.

8:45 pm.
So we walked. A gradual incline up 180 m for about an hour then we turned around and came back down. The raingear is on now though. Tomorrow we follow the same route upwards. Dinner tonight was amazing. Potato and ginger soup with crepes, fried chicken, rice with vegetable sauce and a cabbage slaw with pickles. Plus the standard tea/coffee/hot chocolate. It's coooooold tonight but the view is amazing. For a bit while the sun was setting we could see orange lightning off in the distance. The stars tonight... I don't think I've ever seen more of them at once.
Wake up at 6 am with more tea for 7 - 8 hrs of hiking around the lava tower!

Our camp (above)
Our camp from our afternoon hike (below)

Addendum: I think Shira camp was my favourite spot. It was relatively flat and open and the stars were insanely clear in the sky. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Honeymoon Adventures: Climbing Kilimanjaro

I'm back!
2 + weeks in Tanzania and I loved every second of it (with the exception of the morning of the very last day, for reasons which will be explained later - but basically I ate something bad I think).

While we were just under the equator on the other side of the world, we climbed a mountain and we went on a safari that took us to 3 amazing places.

I'm going to relive it all on my blog for my own enjoyment but also hopefully for yours.
Since there's a LOT of information, I'm going to post about one day each day, especially for the climb. The safari might be summed up in one post with a lot of pictures.
Without any further ado - let's begin!

We left for the airport on Feb 1st for our 6 ish hour flight to Amsterdam. We flew KLM and, with the exception of them not having any other options other than nuts for snacks, I was impressed with their service.
We arrived in AMS and had a few hours to kill so we grabbed a coffee and a breakfast at one of the sit down places in the airport. We watched planes land and reload, and then finally it was time for us to fly to Kilimanjaro International Airport.
We landed late at night and took a shuttle into Moshi where our hotel was. The drive was about 45 mins and it was too dark to really see much but I spent the whole drive staring excitedly out of the window.
We were in Africa!
Our hotel was lovely - tons of gardens, a pool, patios for sitting - but our room left a bit to be desired. Much different from what you would expect in a North American hotel, or even in a resort type hotel. No phone, no tv, just two single beds with mosquito netting and a bathroom. We tried to sleep in one bed the first night with somewhat successful results (likely due to not sleeping much on the flights in) but eventually gave up and slept in seperate beds.
Great start to our honeymoon!
After a day of leisure spent poolside sampling the various Tanzanian beers, we met up with our climb group and went over the important details.  
We spent the evening getting to know the other 6 people we'd be climbing with and I can honestly say I really like every single one of them. Since we've been home we've been messaging each other and I hope we all manage to keep in touch.

Here's the view of the top of Kilimanjaro from our hotel, Springlands:

We took the Machame route up to the summit. Known as the "whiskey route", it's considered to be one of the harder routes, but also one of the more scenic and it also boasts a higher success rate than most of the others.

Here's the route and breakdown:

The rest will be taken directly from the journal I kept:

Tues Feb 5th.
Machame Camp (3000 m)

We made it through day one! I'm writing in a tent (in my sleeping bag) at 3000 m above sea level. Our group is amazing. We're all about the same age and get along really well. We all had dinner and drinks last night.
This morning we got up at 6 for breakfast and to check out, then hopped on a bus at around 9 am to get to the gate for the Machame route. We have 3 guides, Haji, Nuru, and Norbert, all wonderful. We had to wait around for a bit before we got going but we started our trek finally around noon. 5 hours later (walking uphill and often up steep hills) we arrived at camp #1. It was hot hot hot until we got into the rainforest zone and then we had lots of shade to keep us cool. I still sweat like crazy. We stopped a few times along the way and the last break before reaching camp saved my life. We had just finished climbing a steep slope for about 30 minutes and I wasn't sure how much longer I could go on for. But we all made it. We started out at 1800 m and ascended 1200 m and walked a total of 12 km today. The 2 in our group not taking diamox had some headaches but no one else is feeling the effects of the altitude. We had popcorn and tea, and dinner was cucumber soup, beer battered fish, potatoes, cabbage, and a vegetable stew sort of thing. It was really good. We sat around for a bit, admired the clear sky and all its stars and then said our goodnights. We're up at 6 am tomorrow and we set off on another 5 ish hour hike to Shira camp around 7:30 am. 10 km, apparently uphill again. But we should arrive around noon, have a hot lunch and a nap and then go for an acclimatization walk up around 3900-3950 m.
Today was tiring but felt oh so successful when we saw our camp site. It's cold out now (nothing compared to what our summit attempt will feel like) so I'm warm in my fleece and my sleeping bag.
More updates tomorrow.

The entrance gate:

Words of encouragment:

Gray eggs in our lunch box:

Walking through the rain forest:

Camp #1:

Watching the clouds roll in:

Our tents: