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The Summit      Preparations       Memo      What you must Know     Altitude Sickness

Memo of my Kilimanjaro Climb

20 July 2004

I finally left Cape town on my way to Kilimanjaro, after having a nice half chicken at the airport with the kids and my wife.

Finally I am on my Way!!.

Arriving at Johannesburg, Uncle Jorge was waiting for me. I had a very good laugh when we were driving out of the airport, and we were asked to switch the engine off. This they do to ensure that one has not stolen the car. Yep, This is Jhb all right!!.

21 July 2004

I am at the airport and ready to leave. I booked in very early, so I have no worries. Just had a breakfast and my stomach is doing the butterfly thing, but it will be ok.

I can’t believe I am actually and finally doing it!!

Dar Es Salaam

Airplane landed and door opens: whooshhhh!! Heat wave welcome the oven 33Degrees, I almost lost my wi.....!!.

I got to the custom officer who was moving very slow and after ½ hour I realized that I had left my sleeping bags on the plane (sudden panic). I ran back to the tube that we came in and it was closed already and they were towing the airplane away. In panic I spoke to an officer and explained to him that I had to get the sleeping bags, as it was all I had to go up Kilimanjaro with. The officer said no problem, he opened the door of the extending tube and he started to whistle to the person towing the plane away, screaming is Swahili. The man smiled and started to tow the plane back towards the tube. To my relief, they opened the plane; I ran in and got my bag. This is a land of no problems for anyone and this was the first taste of it I got. Try to do this stunt anywhere else, you would probably have to fill forms for Africa in petitions and pass them through some high-ranking officer for him or her to just say no. Here, it took a whistle, a good laugh and it was done.

Bags recovered, I proceeded to customs. Slow, Slow, Slow, Super slow process. Standing in the queue, let my eyes wonder at the beauty of the women around. Women here are WOW!!!; pitch black, slender and very beautiful.

Once out of the airport I met with a nice guy who was a freelance tour operator (Norman Shayo) who seems very nice and told me he would try to organize me a ride to Serengeti.

He took me to flamingo restaurant at Dar es Salaam airport where I had a nice salad and rested waiting for my connecting flight.

The place is very nice and decent. The owner told me that I could stay as long as I whished. He has Internet facilities at the restaurant, which I tried to use with no luck. Nothing worked!!.

I left for Kilimanjaro airport at 8:00 pm. If you thought the arrival was slow, the departure was even worse. Nobody seems in any kind of a hurry here; everything is slow.

By the way, the owner of the restaurant is also the owner of 3 other shops at the airport. Wherever you go, there he is. He seems to own the airport (I would not be surprised).

Moshi

I arrived at Kilimanjaro Airport and all was fine there. Emmanuel (my guide) was waiting. Very nice guy. He took me to the hotel (mountain inn), which is 45 km from there, in an old battered Suzuki jeep. This gave a very nice raw first impression to my arrival.

At he hotel we had supper at 10:30pm and we talked for a long time. I fell asleep eventually in my room like sleeping beauty, hoping that a princess would wake me up with a kiss (dream on!!).

23 July 2004

Moshi town

Today I woke up late. I had a very small breakfast and took a bus/kombi into moshi.

What a ride!, 26 people fitted in this bus. A lady had to put half her bum on top of my leg to fit next to me; everyone was hanging onto each other so I did same by getting hold of this big woman’s love handles!!. She looked at me and smiled. It was a nice ride. The people here are so natural, simple and fun.

In town I met a guy who I became friends with almost instantly (Rosmin). He took me for a walking tour around the place. We went especially to the real places. We went to the market where you can buy just about anything.  Spices from and for Africa. Colourful place full of life and beautiful people. Elegant women always working hard at something. I saw many stalls selling mountains of 5 cm long dried fish. This apparently you cook or steam and eat it with rice. People buy it by the Kilo. The shops and stalls are of beautiful colours and full of life.

The butchery was a shock to my system. It is an open stall with pieces of meat (raw) hanging from dirty walls, no fridge, no salt, just flies. People actually buy cuts of meat. The stench of rawness is quite something but here it is a way of life.

We walked through the back streets of moshi, and passed Swahili street where houses are made of mud and are about to fall, but people live there.

The spirit of Africa is most present in this area.

All people are some kind of entrepreneurs and I still have to find a house without a stall or a person sitting outside selling something.

Sewing seems to be a big thing here, as every second shop has a peon outside (on the streets) with a sewing machine sewing some colourful garment.

Women wear beautiful African colour clothes complemented with a turban in their heads.

We had a snack at a place where a very nice lady, her two daughters and 2 sons serve very nice Samoosas. Very cosy place, where she personally attends you.

One of her boys had an obsession with cleanness, as he kept on wiping the floor during the whole duration of our lunch.

I went to an Internet cafe and what a joke!. Maximum speed of 14400 if you’re lucky. It took me 45 minutes to write a 1-page email. Apparently all service providers have only wireless connections to offer, and this makes them very slow and unreliable. Anyway, most people here do not know of any faster browsing so they do not complain.

We then visited the outskirts of town, which is where life really is. Saw no luxuries; plain simple living. People here have a beautiful spirit and I enjoyed this from them.

I took another kombi back to my hotel and now I am resting and eating a tomato, cucumber and carrot salad, which took me quite sometime to explain to the chef.

This is a beautiful place, but most important; with beautiful people.

Kilimanjaro climb.

 

First day at kilimanjaro

We drove to Kilmanjano national park in a kombi through rough terrain. I did not realize that the vehicle took us already to an altitude of 1800 mt above sea level.

The park warden did not want to believe that I was going to do the climb without porters. No one climbs without porters.

The climb on the first day was tough and long. 5hrs through rain forest. Magnificent green that hurts your eyes. But it was very steep walking in some places. My pack was too heavy (+- 18 kg) so I am going to leave some stuff tomorrow.

We arrived at first camp (Machame) and prepared masala tea. Then I cooked noodles with sardines and had some coffee at the end of the day. We watched an amazing view of Kilimanjaro lit by the moon. It was fantastic, the stars were beautiful.

I must say that the toilet here: an experience. It is a pit hole inside a wooden structure for privacy, but the hole is not so big so aiming is a major problem for anyone.

While walking through the forest I saw a variety of delicate beautiful flowers. Deep red with yellow against a curtain of green leaves. Some pink and white with shiny glossy hairs that covered the whole stem. The flora is amazing and one is overwhelmed by the lavishness of the green landscape.

This was one of the longest walking days.

Second day at Kilimanjaro.

We got up at 7:30 am and were very cold. I made scrambled eggs with tomato, bread and had porridge afterwards. As we were in no hurry we took it easy and were the last ones to leave the camp. By now it was obvious that we would be sharing the climb with at least 40 or 50 other people.

The climb to Shira camp was very steep the whole day. We walked at a gradient of 45 to 50 degrees the entire day. The sun shone its warmth on us while we walked. The climbing was slow and very trying. The views fantastic and the vegetation is amazing. The hills where covered by beautiful evergreen flowers and beautiful lobelia stumps stared at us as we passed, greeting us.

My guide seems to be struggling with his bag, so he walks unbalanced all the time.

Anyway, we got to Shira camp, which sits on a lava flow bed and has an amazing view of kilimanjaro summit and Mount meru in the far horizon.

My head is hurting a bit but not too much. I started taking the altitude tablets. I feel ok otherwise.

I prepared a tomato and cucumber salad for lunch (which was a real treat). I made rice and pesto sauce and a soup for dinner.

We have had ½ moon at night and the summit looks awesome at night. We can also see millions of stars tinkling in the sky, and to our luck we saw a beautiful shooting star today. We walked for 5hrs.

Third day at Kilimanjaro

What a day!!, Very trying and very intensive. We got up early and left camp for Lava Tower which sits half way to today’ destination. It is a long, long gentle uphill but the altitude started to take a toll. We walked slowly at a pace of 1 step a second. One cannot go any faster. We arrived at lava tower for lunch. Most of the landscape was a mixture of dust and low vegetation with massive black boulders that looked as if someone had just dropped them there in the middle of nowhere.

There was fantastic view of kilimanjaro and we are so close to it that one can almost touch the glaciers.

We climbed the lava tower and the view from it’s top is WOW!!!!!.With Kilimanjaro in the one side and the plains of Tanzania in the opposite, with mount meru protruding from these flat plains.

We left after lunch and walked to barranco camp. We went from 4600 mt down to 3800 mt. through very rough terrain, passing a forest of magnificent Cecinio trees. These trees are very eerie as they look like overgrown aloes that are about to topple over. We arrived exhausted with a headache and hungry. We made soup, which helped us to recover. It got cold very quickly (-2degrees). I cooked rice with a tomato and cucumber salad. We had some coffee and went straight to bed. Watching the top of kilimanjaro change colours with the sunset was amazing. The road today was hard, dusty and long. We walked fro 8:30 am to 16:45. What a day!. To top it all There was a couple of French guys camping next to us, one of which developed altitude sickness breathing problems and their guide did not know what to do with him. I helped them by showing them some exercises to get some extra oxygen into their lungs and told them that they must get down the next day. I am Zat!! So I am going to sleep, Good night.....

4th day at kilimanjaro

We got up early and decided to try to get to barafu camp today (this is the last camp before the summit). The start of the walk was what they call “the breakfast climb”. What a climb!!. You climb a hill at 70 to 80 degrees gradient through rocky terrain for the first 1 ½ hour. It was cold and exhausting. We then carried on for another 3hrs until we reached the second last camp (we were supposed to camp here for the night). We had lunch here and wet our feet in freezing cold water. The walk to this point was long and tiring. We decided to carry on to barafu camp instead of staying here as I felt strong and the weather looked good.

We had to carry all the water we will need for the next 2 days from this point. So a 5-lt drum plus 2 times 2 litres bottles, and 2 one-litre bottles, this makes extra 10 kg all of a sudden. WOW!! My back.

We started climbing slowly at a pace of 1 step per second, and it was up and up and up. It took us another 3 ½ hours. My guide got sick and luckily a porter passed by and we paid him 5000 tsh to carry his bag to barafu. I went slowly ahead and when I got there, it was cold and very crowded. (5:30 Pm). We prepared a noodle masamora and ate it without complaining. Too tired, too hungry and with a headache. Went to rest at 8:00 Pm. It was so cold that we had to cook inside the tent. I was not sure that this was a wise decision to get to this camp so soon.

The climb to the sumit

It was 11:30 pm on the night of the 4th day. We decided to start getting ready for the climb. We made porridge, coffee, packed the bags and the tent (you don’t normally do this if you come with porters) and we left it all with the guards.

Head torch on, dressed almost like an astronaut we started the ascent.

My guide and I walked very nice together as we both can keep a slow but constant pace for long periods.

The climb was steep, slow and painful.

The first ½ hour your heart is pounding at light speed rate and you feel short of breath.

It got Cold, very cold. The air that you breathe in is so cold that it hurts the lungs and dries your throat. I had to put my balaclava over my mouth and make a pouch in front of it so that my breath out would warm my breath in. The cold comes from the sides and from your back.

2 hrs into slow painful climbing, now adjusted to the harsh conditions, it got even colder and heavier. We were now climbing at a pace of 1 step every 2 seconds (short steps). This was faster than most people that we passed along the climb.

Everyone is panting, ladies complaining of the cold and tiredness, someone in the back shouted a big fu......! in frustration.

We slowly carried on and painfully on. You don’t care if anyone is in trouble, as you are focused solely on the climb.

My right buttock developed a needle pain and I got worried as it stated to travel down my leg. It was the cold.

I told my guide please no more overtaking, because I spent 5 times the energy of a normal step in a longer step needed to overtake, and it took me about 20 mins to recover.

3 hrs climbing and my body feels sore all over. I started to stop every 10 steps for 5 seconds to get my breath back. The ground is now loose gravel at a 65-degree gradient and every step that you take, you slide ½ back. It is cold cold cold.

I decided to take a photo of the light of moshi town, which could be seen from this point, and my hand almost froze when I touched the metal of the camera. I took a nice shot, but also took another hour before I could feel my fingers again.

At 4 hrs and something, we reached the rim of the crater (Stella point). The last 20 mins before this point was a sadistic one-step at a time against your body’s will. Now climbing at one step per 3 seconds and this step being ½ foot long, plus your breath is long and painful. Your heart is pumping like a drum set. The cold that touches your face is numbing. It is now getting light and we are now able to see further than 3 mt without our torches.

We rested at a rock outcrop. You feel finished but guess what!, it’s not over. We still have another 1 ½ hr to the summit, and this is the worst news anyone can give you now (my guide was in serious trouble of being dismantled right there).

When you sit on any rock, you feel the cold travelling from your bum up, so you do not sit for longer than 2 mins.

After a lot of convincing to my body to carry on, we got going again.

It is now more or less level walking but it makes NO DIFFERENCE!, you are finished and exhausted and every step you take is a conscious effort still at a pace of 1 step every 2 to 3 seconds. People’s faces look terrible, and you hope that yours does not look also like you are bout to dye.

We carried on slowly, wind from the inside of the crater, you can se UHURU peak in the distance and it looks far. You also see the flashes of the cameras of people that have already made it.

The sun started to show beautiful colours on the clouds and it is an incredible spectacle of nature; but you are so, so tired that one cannot appreciate it fully. You are focused on the peak ahead.

The breathing is by choice a long inhaling and a long exhaling and you try to keep it to 3 steps in 3 steps out.

The Summit on the 5th day

The sun is almost out of the clouds, 6:45 am and we are 5 mt from the summit. You see people hugging each other; everyone is in tears men, women, old and young.

As I took my final steps to the summit marker, a wave of emotions came to me: My mom, my family, my wife, my children, my girlfriends, my pets, my childhood, my school and friends; my entire life passed through my soul in les than 10 seconds. The feeling is indescribable.

All the pain, exhaustion, the aches are all present, you are still freezing cold, cramps all over and yet; you don’t mind. It was worth it just for this moment. Even for my guide who completed his 35th climb, I saw him sitting down and crying a bit. It is a very emotional moment and you can definitely feel the human spirit around you. Somehow we all become family as we all shared the same pain and the same feelings to get to this incredible spot. You look around you and you see people expressing themselves completely openly, everyone shares the tears you feel like letting out. Your body suddenly feels like jelly and your legs are shaking horribly but it is now due to the emotions more than to the exercise.

After the initial moments, you now start taking notice of your surrounds and also start taking photos. You wait for your turn to stand at the summit marker. Everyone wants this. Some people bring out banners, others some token; like a man that took out 5 teddy bears out of his bag and placed them next to him. A couple decided to give each other a scrumptious kiss while the photo is being taken.

I, just went for the photo, simple and straight, but I know what it means to me.

The sun is now starting to come out of the clouds and it is awesome!. The shadow of Kilimanjaro starts to extend over Tanzania and over Mount meru, which is 50km away in the distance. This is quite a spectacle. People all around you are very emotional and the landscape is absolutely incredible. You look in any direction and you see space, plains of land covered by grass and some tiny trees. Some of it covered with low clouds, some of it open. Clouds burn like fire with the sun and the sky is deep blue.

Now I have to say that up to this moment everything looked a bit fuzzy every now and then, and I thought it must be the effect of altitude, but when I wiped my face after sneezing, I discovered that my eyelashes were frozen with icicles and this was what was making things look fuzzy. I had a good laugh when I discovered this and I also discovered that my whole face was covered by a thin layer of ice. My eyebrows were completely frozen too, and looking at other people, they too were covered by ice all over their face.

By the way, it is now freezing, freezing cold. The sun 1/2 out of the clouds made no difference at all. Wind blowing at about 15km /hr from inside the crater.

After all the photos and the moment of glory ( which lasts altogether no more than 10 mins) we decided to start down. It is too cold for sightseeing.

Now walking became a pleasure, going down no more painful steps. You feel like in the clouds (and you indeed are). We stopped to look at the inside of the crater. It is enormous. You look into an ice-covered valley about 3 km across. On the other side of this op, you see a large hill covered by ice, and this is the actual crater where the fumarole is located, but it is far away. A steep way down first ad then a flat walk for about 1.5 km and then another climb to the top of the other side. This looks far and uninviting. The sun shines on the glacier bed making an enormous orange mirror of it. On our way back to Stella point, we stopped at various points to look at the incredible glaciers. They are massive. If you stand next to the glacier walls, you reach about 1/10th of its height. I decided to go down to one of them for a photo (about 20 mt down from the path), took the photo and to my surprise, every step trying to get back up was an incredible effort, as if someone had put a ton of lead on my feet and legs. It took me 9 mins to climb the 20 mt back to the path and I was exhausted. I decided then, no more close ups!.

I enjoyed the wonderful views that kilimanjaro was giving me, the beauty and power of it, the majesty and grandeur of it. I thanked Kilimanjaro for letting me reach its top, and for allowing me to share it’s splendour.

One starts to see what you have really accomplished on your way down n back to Stella point (which is still the rim of the crater 5700 mt). You see people still coming up at an incredibly slow pace (you did the same just now). One man could hardly walk, was wrapped in an emergency blanket and was being aided by his guide. He looked ready to die but kept going. A Japanese lady was going around in circles and the guide had to turn her body in the direction of the summit so that she could unconsciously carry on towards it. We also saw an old lady that looked real sick being held by the arms by her guide and assistant. She cold hardly breathe but kept going. One man would give 3 steps, and stop panting for about a minute before another set of steps.

Everyone feels the pain of getting to the top; Young, old, fit and non-fit. It does not matter. It is hard and testing of your innermost strength to get there. Kilimanjaro is a mountain you have to respect and not to take for granted.

On our way up, we saw a number of people young and old turning back, some of them as early as the first 200 mt after the start of the climb. As you see them pass you get worried whether you will make it or not.

Climbing Kilimanjaro makes all equal: Men, women, young and old. there is no distinction. Everyone is fighting their own battle against their will.

After reaching Stella point, I said good-bye to kilimanjaro. We decided we cannot sty any longer; too cold, too exhausted.

We started the descent and it was much easier and much more fun. You go down a route 50 mt to the left of the ascending one. 80% of it is loose gravel, so you grab speed and each step becomes a 1 to 2-mt descent because the ground slides under your feet. You must just keep your balance and watch out for large stones.

We kept going like this for almost 2hrs until we reached hard ground. We were by now so tired that many times we stopped to rest and almost fell asleep on the spot.

2 ½ hours later we were back at Barafu camp.

Your body so tired that there are no words to describe it.

We collected our bags, found a spot, took our sleeping mats out and just lied down to try and sleep. We were very hungry but all we could muster in the form of food, was to open a tin of peaches and cream and gulped it down in seconds. We fell asleep for about 1 hour but I was too tired to carry on sleeping.

The bad news was that we could not stay at this camp, as there is no water. So after resting for about 3 hrs, we forced ourselves to leave for millennium camp, which is 1 ½ hour away of steep downhill all the way to it.

We reached the camp at about 1:30 pm. We made a good meal, prepared coffee and got into our sleeping bags to rest. I cannot describe with words how absolutely finished I felt. We had been awake since the beginning of the 4th day, so it is for 30 hrs that we have not slept, plus a little climb in between. This was not just us, but for every one that attempts the summit in a 6 day hike. Everyone you see at this camp is finished, exhausted and just wants to rest. We fell asleep almost instantly.

6th day at Kilimanjaro

We woke up at 8 am, rested, sore but with a nice sense of achievement. As I got out of the tent, Kilimanjaro greeted me wit the sun on its side; asking me “how do you feel”. I subconsciously replied: “like a new person, thanks my friend”. We readied ourselves for the last walk to mweka gate. This is a 4 ½ hour walk going down, down, down. Initially through low bushes which 45 minutes later are replaced by a splendorous rain forest. Beauty all around. Green so strong that looks like someone had dropped a bucket of green paint all over.

I enjoyed taking photos of small ferns lit by faint sunrays that made it through the canopy of the forest.

Beautiful and delicate red flowers (impatiences) and 10 mt tall tree ferns. Wherever you look it is filled with wonders of nature. We even saw a few black loeries as we walked along.

After walking 4 hrs we reached the gate. There they give you your certificate (if you made it to the top) and you can buy cool drinks and t-shirts that say, “I just made it” (I of course got me one) for US15. I bargained the price of one down to US10.

I felt sad to leave such incredible place, but at the same time happy that I will have a bit of a rest.

I stank from head to toe so did my guide. But this is the case with everyone arriving at this point. There are no big rivers to wash up in Kilimanjaro. Just little streams that you have to sit patiently for it to fill your bottles to drink from.

People that do the climb with porters have it a bit easier as they do not carry their weight. But they still have to walk it all. Porters spend hours collecting water for the people. They are strong and incredibly fast. Some of them carrying up to 25 kg all the way to Barafu camp. They get paid almost nothing by their companies (+- US10 a day if they are lucky). 90% of them are not geared by their companies, so they walk in talkies and tracksuits. Talking to some of them I found that some companies provide them with food only every second day; something which I found disgusting. Companies charge an average of US1500 per person for a climb. They pay the guides US50 per day and US 10 per day to their porters who do ALL the work. They get up at first light, prepare breakfast for the clients, pack and leave the camp after the clients. They ALLWAYS overtake the clients and get to the next camp long before them. When the clients get to the camps, everything is ready for them; tents, food etc. They are hard working people and I really feel that government should step in to stop the companies that are abusing them.

In any case, this was a sad note to y climb, but one, which I feel, must be expressed.

Something I forgot to mention on my Climb day was that I had planed to phone my wife from top of Kilimanjaro as there is cell reception up there. My guide took his cell especially for this purpose. We loaded it with US 10 of prepaid voucher. When we got to the top and took the phone out (which was wrapped in a thick sock), we found that it was frozen solid. My guide was carrying it in his pocket and because he kept his hand in it too, the sweat from his hand was collected by the sock and froze instantly. We could not get it defrosted up there, as the temperature was +- -15 degrees. The water that we took for drinking in bottles was also frozen solid, even the one carried by him on his pocket close to his body (is it cold enough for you?). We had to shake the bottles and break the ice inside to try to drink a few sips.

All in all, the experience was one, which I shan’t forget. I will certainly be back, but this first climb I wanted it to be my way. I carried my rough sack and food supplies for 7 days together with my guide (who had never done it like this before), as I wanted to feel Kilimanjaro. I wanted to remember every step, all the pain and every wonder. I wanted to be able to say with conviction “I HAVE CLIMBED KILIMANJARO” with it’s full meaning.

I am apparently one of 3 that have done it so. The rest al do it using the porter system, which basically takes the weight off your shoulders while you walk, but everyone goes through the “CLIMB DAY”, perhaps a bit more rested than us carrying our own goods for 4 to 5 days. But the pain is the same, the achievement is the same, the wonder of kilimanjaro is the same to all of us who have visited it.

Kilimanjaro is a wonder that teases people into attempting the summit, and I think that nature has placed it there with a purpose.

It is a call that if you take, it will fill your life with something indescribable, it will leave you wondering how ridiculously small we are in not acknowledging that we have only this earth to leave on, and that by spoiling it and not caring for it, will one day end all it’s wonder (like kilimanjaro) and with it US!!!

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