Location: Marangu Hotel, Tanzania
We're all back from the summit, safe and sound. This was by far the hardest thing I've ever done! Need to keep this short and sweet because now we're off to the Safari. I've been keeping trip notes so as soon as I have more time, I'll update everyone on our African adventures to the top!
For now, we're off to pet the lions!
P.S. Tina did amazingly! Now that she's conquered Kili, we're going to turn her into a Jungle Woman!
Location: Marangu Hotel, Tanzania
Trip: Day 7
Hike: Day 6
What goes up, must come down.
And down, down, down we went... It very rapidly went from cold...to cool...to warm...to hot! We started in the clouds and traveled through a lush rain forest, right to the park gates where we had started our journey only 5 days ago. It was a long day but we all made it! And just when I was about to pat myself on the back for not injuring myself on the trek, about 15 minutes from the park gates, I managed to twist my ankle so I arrived with a swagger.
It didn't matter because the moment we reached civilization (aka beer), life was good again. I think Gemma and I have more photos of us clanking bottles of Kilimanjaro Beer than of us at the top of it!
Once our entire group arrived, we hopped on a bus and in 10 minutes, we were back at the Marangu Hotel - home base. Thats when the celebrations began. The first celebration was with our African crew of 22 porters/guides. After a few drinks they sang a beautiful song about Kilimanjaro as a way to congratulate us an then John, our head guide presented us with our certificates.
The second celebration was a bit more intimate....it was me in a looonnnnggg....hot......steamy.....SHOWER! Remember, we hadn't showered in 6 days (excluding our exotic wet-wipe wipe downs!). I've never enjoyed a bug crawling shower that much! Once we had all hosed ourselves down, we all met for dinner and ate like royalty!
The last celebration was of course a continuation of our earlier drinks. We indulged in well deserved champagne and cigars (thanks Matt) over tails of our expedition and recalling memories of Lily-isms. Side note to the reader : Lily was one of our 7 climbers from Sweden and hands down the entertainment on this trip. She was adorably unprepared, however as happy as could be. Her idea of 'losing her appetite' was only having 4 servings. She's maybe just 100lbs or pure joy. I can't tell you how many times we said "where's Lily?". Ahhhhh Lily-isms.
On the topic of Lily-isms, some of us stayed up till 1:30ish that night am because Lily's taxi to the airport was picking he up shortly thereafter.
And then there were 6.
Location: Uhuru Peak - Mt. Kilimanjaro , Tanzania
Trip: Day 6
Hike: Day 5
Approx altitude reached- top of Africa-Mt. Kilimanjaro! 5895m / 19,340 ft!!!
So we awoke at 11pm, had our tea and biscuits, layered up, switched on our headlamps and we were off in the night. It was a long and painfully cold journey without the warmth of the sun. We climbed and climbed for what felt like ages. It was a single file climb and we were often stopped by people ahead that were unable to continue. All we could see was your feet ahead of you and the remote reflection of headlamps high above and well below. It was agonizing to look up because it gave us an indication of how much higher we needed to climb and the destination didn't seem any closer every time we glanced. As we continued through the night, one slow step at a time, we had to remind one another to continue drinking the water that was rapidly freezing in our water bottles. The temperature dropped to between -20 to -25 degrees C with the windchill. It was a biting cold and the moment we stopped, our fingers and toes would become numb from the cold. 3/4 of the way, our water bottles had turned to ice slush for some and solid ice for others. With very little rest, food and a depleting reserve of water, we continued our sleepy walk up the edge. It was so cold that people with contacts were advised to blink often so their contacts didn't freeze!
It was depressing to see how many people had stopped off to a side and were hysterically crying because they were unable to continue. It was seeing this that made me appreciate the insanity of what we all had embarked on. I think many of us thought "I want to climb mt Kilimanjaro and so I will", not realizing that this trek was much more difficult than the previous one I had done and success was not guaranteed simply because we wanted it.
But we continued...one step at a time. The air was so thin that even a painfully slow pace was causing us to lose our breath.
It was around 8am that we started hearing the cheers and sounds of celebration at the top. What we didn't know was how far exactly the top was because the wind was carrying the sounds. At around 8:30am 6 of our group of 7 reached Gillmans point, which was still 200 m below our final destination. At Gillmans point, we had reached the crater of Kilimanjaro, however this was not the highest peak of the crater. The rest of the journey up to the summit which was at Uhuru Peak followed along the edge of the crater. But before we could continue we waited for Maria, our 7th crew member that was struggling to make it and was almost denied the opportunity to continue by our guides because she was so weak. After about 15-20 minutes of waiting in the sub zero temperature, we saw her approaching as the sun was starting to shine in full force. Thankfully the sun was shining because we were tempting frostbite by waiting around for so long. Once the group was again reconciled and a few photos were taken, we continued onward and upwards in the bitter cold. It really was a false celebration at Gillman's Point because although we had successfully made it this far, the most mentally challenging portion of our journey lay ahead. It was another 1.5 - 2 hours to our final destination. The view however was beautiful - to the left we were walking along the outer edge of the mountain with 40-50m thick ice and to our right was the inner crater which expanded 2.5km wide.
We could tell we were nearing our final destination because we shared the path with other climbers that had started their descent and kindly passed on words of encouragement as we continues our ascent.
And then with the last few sleepy steps we had made it... We could see the sign and sounds of roaring cheers as if it was our own welcoming committee. The rugby players had made it up before and since they had become our hiking partners, some of them were there with open arms to welcome us (after their celebrity photo op at the top since this was a video recorded charity challenge). It was quite emotional for everyone - many of us were overwhelmed with the feeling of accomplishment and others were thinking of loved ones virtually cheering us on from the comforts of their homes.
After about 20 mins of celebration and photos, we were encouraged to start the descent since the oxygen at that altitude is thin and others wanted the opportunity to also celebrate.
So down, down, down we went. We started our descent at approximately 9:15am and it was an interesting journey down. After we retraced our rocky steps from Uhuru Peak back to Gillmans point, it was most skree skiing the rest of the way down. Skree is very lose gravel and small rocks which meant that it was a slippery path. To avoid going down on our bums, we grabbed our poles and literally skied down the dirt on our boots! What was an 8+ hour ascent turned into a 2.5-3 hour descent and we felt better with every step because we were reaching lower altitudes.
The group got a bit separated as we were coming down so my descent was solo. That was okay because at the bottom of the hill, I found AJ, one of our rugby friends waiting to greet me with a big smile, open arms, a bottle of water and a much needed cereal bar! When you're so weak and starving, that feels like a royal reception!
The rest of the gang joined, we ate a hearty lunch and caught a quick lunch because our never-ending day wasn't over yet.
We woke from our nap, put our dusty boots back on our achey feet and continued our hike for another 4 hours to camp Horombo, our resting spot for the night.
When we arrived at our camp, it felt like we were literally walking on clouds because we were. Our camp was in the clouds which made it very damp and cold. We were exhausted! Before grabbing a bite for dinner, I was invited to join the South African team for a shot of tequila to celebrate our summit and the birthday of 2 players - Percy and Aubrey. The tequila went down quite nicely because it was freezing.
Oh right, there was one more thing to majorly celebrate - there were proper toilets and sinks with running water at this camp! That was luxurious compared to our earlier accommodations!
Although we were at a lower altitude, it was still well below freezing so off we went to bed after dinner. We needed what energy we had left for our last hike tomorrow.
Location: Kibo Hut, Tanzania
Trip: Day 5
Hike: Day 4
Approx altitude reached- Kibo Hut:~ 4750m
Today was the big night before our summit and also Tina's Birthday! A big day and a big night. We hiked from Mawenzi Tarn to Kibo Hut which was an increase in altitude of 450m. At this altitude, every meter has a big impact on the body. We were huffing and puffing just walking to the bathrooms (which were once again long drops like out of Slumdog Millionaire-ugh). It was VERY cold at this camp. I should also mention that at this point, all I our diamox (altitude medication) has kicked in an one of the side effects is the pins an needles sensation predominantly in our fingers and toes!
Well, we arrive at camp, have a big meal and off to bed by 6pm for everyone because we're waking to start our hike to the summit at 11pm!!!!! But before heading to bed, Matt (my kiddish partner in crime) and I decided to do an adventurous hike up to a set of rocks to once again feel on top of the world....and so albeit huffing and puffing, we made it! Got some great photos of the 2 of us causing trouble up on our mini mountain and a shot of Mawenzi in the background. We should have been resting but Matt and I couldn't resist the chance to do a bit of rock climbing when no one was looking. I think we started a Trent because soon after we go back, Percy Montgomery (one of the rugby players) also made his way up to pose for the camera.
After the mini adventure, I decided to do some very necessary bartering with the Rugby Players and team. It's amazing how much mango jellies and spicey peas are worth up a mountain! Actually, the sponsor of the South African team hike was wonderful- he loaded me up with cereal bars, electrolyte powder for my water, and energy gu (kinda tastes like icing but chock full of energy and calories). This stuff was a life saver because I was quite sick and weak with a fever on my way up Kili. We also returned the favour by offering AJ a shot of Jaegermeister. Yes, we all had shots at that altitude for Tina's Birthday!
It was so cold up there that we had to keep our water bottles close to us in our tents to avoid freezing. Another prep tip we received - break up our chocolates into bite-sized pieces and place them in an easily accessible bag. This was one of the best tips because our chocolate was our only source of sustenance during the hike. So off to bed we went with almost all of the layers we had with us on. For my bottoms, I slept in underwear (yes, I know...TMI), a base layer and fleece pants and for my top, I wore a long sleeve base layer, thick t-shirt, fleece hoodie and a north face toque. To add to that, I also wore socks in my -15degree C down sleeping bag with a warming liner! It was freezing and the only thing separating me from the rock hard ground was a thin foam pad. It's quite funny, we often slept on an angle or on bumps and humps because the ground was so hard and uneven.
Anyways, off to bed in all of our layers because we had to be up at 11pm to start the dramatic summit. It was tough to fall asleep while it was still daylight but soon we were all out cold and before we knew it, our guides were waking us up at 11pm. Side note: we were woken every morning with a cup of tea which was brought to our tents - awesome!
11pm: we wake up in the freezing night and it's the night before a full moon so the moon is still shining very brightly in the sky. We quickly put on the remaining few layers we have and gather in the dining tent for tea and biscuits before we start the ascent. I must say, this was the only really crazy thing about this trek - we were only given tea and biscuits as nourishment before our agonizingly long hike. I think we universally felt we needed something more because we were all quite weak on our way up and particularly on the way down. However, after tea and biscuits, we switched on our headlamps and began our journey directly up, up and away. It was grueling.
Oh I should also mention that we also had to sleep with our headlamp batteries and cameras to avoid them freezing and losing charge - crazy, huh?!
Location: Mawenzi Tarn, Tanzania
Trip: Day 4
Hike: Day 3
Approx altitude reached- Mawenzi Tarn:~ 4300m
Mawenzi Tarn is a lake at 4300m that is fed from underground and never dries up. It is nestled under the wicked spires of Mawenzi, a jagged mountain on the outskirt of Kilimanjaro. This was one of our best days so far. We climbed 700 meters uphill and the camp site was gorgeous but cold. We were above the clouds, nestled between Kili and Mawenzi. We had the option of doing a day hike to help us acclimatize for the big summit day and our group of 7 all decided to do it. It was great prep for the summit except for the fact that we were doing it during daylight and our summit start was going to be under the moonlight.
We hiked up to the ledge of Mawenzi and it was challenging! Unlike my last trip to the Himalayas where we really only hiked, this climb required a bit more light scaling of rocks. At times, we needed both hands to hoist ourselves up the rocks. There certainly wasn't a perfect path laid out for us on our day hike. That might have also been because we broke the rules a bit and went well beyond the path, truly on the jagged edge of Mawenzi, 400m higher than camp. It was incredible - we scaled the rocks so far out that we took turns standing on a far out ledge, feeling like we were already on top of the world (I have some awesome pics of this). As if the day couldn't get better, we got back to camp to find a group of retired professional South African rugby players near our site, most of which had their shirts off (yes, very nice scenery indeed). One of the players was brushing off his dusty boots (Allison, thanks for letting me borrow the gators - there is SO much dust here!) so I naturally strolled over to get mine dusted off too. Well, they were hilarious - while one dusted my boots, one came rushing with a chair for me to sit on while another pretended to give me a manicure and the fourth guy took pictures of the whole ordeal. Ahhhh...spa services at 4300 m - not bad!! For any rugby lovers, a few of the guys in this crew were Percy Montgomery and AJ Venter - retired players now but still in incredible shape (the 6 ladies in our group were quite grateful but for some reason Matt wasn't as enthused..hmmm). We ended up at each camp with the Rugby players since they were on our same route so we had a few more chuckles and drinks together.
So....apparently we were told (only after we for back from our hike) that people have actually spotted a female lion and her cubs drinking from the lake at our camp. Fortunately, we didn't encounter any lions but did encounter some seriously cold weather!
It was well below zero at night in our tents- approx -9 degrees C!
Location: Kikilewa, Tanzania
Trip: Day 3
Hike: Day 2
Approx altitude reached- Kikilewa:~ 3600m
Well, so we thought we were ready for day 2 but how wrong we were. Day 2 of our hike was one of the toughest... constantly up and down. We hiked for approx 4 hours from our last camp (Camp Simba) and arrived at 2nd Cave, our lunch spot where we covered 900 meters in altitude. After lunch, we continued on and up for another 3hours but only covering an additional 100m which brought us to where we camped for the night at Kikilewa. We slept at 3600 m which is roughly the altitude at which people start to show signs of Mild Accute Mountain Sickness (MAMS). Fortunately, our crew of 7 seemed to be in good health and good spirits, with the exception of achey legs.
We ended our long and hard day with another fabulous meal and then retired to our tents because it was getting colder and colder at night.