Getting there...I think it was just about a year ago that I decided to go climb Mount Kilimanjaro. I asked a couple friends that I've climbed with before, but coincidently they were already already planning a trip to Kili (and at a time that didn't work for me). A few emails later and we had our group figured out: me (obviously), Marc, Erik and Blair.
After getting a bunch of shots, loading up various medications, sorting out plane tickets, trying (unsuccessfully) to contact hotels beforehand and sending out lots of emails we were ready to go! Erik showed up at our house sometime before 6am on January 27th and we got a ride to the airport with a very nice friend. First stop: Detroit to meet up with Blair (who lives in another state)!
The trip to Detroit was fairly uneventful and we arrived to find Blair waiting for us at the gate (how nice). After a quick bite to eat there we had to hurry to catch our next flight to Amsterdam! This was an eight hour flight and luckily we had cool personal video systems (with video games and everything)! A couple movies and a few levels of Bejeweled later and we were in Amsterdam. No time for looking around the city this time, but for sure on the way back!
The flight from Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro International Airport was another 8-hour marathon (this time without the cool video system) but we survived on the excitement of almost being there. We stepped out of the plane into the hot, humid weather and were sweating within minutes. Getting our tourist visa was a pretty painless event; the only paperwork they checked for was the $50 bill. After that we caught our bus and drove through the darkness to our hotel. Settled into our rooms and went to sleep covered by the mosquito netting.
The next morning we got up and had our first view of the moutain! Looks good! However, before climbing we had a rest day during which we decided we'd head into Moshi and take a look around. On the drive to Moshi we got our first real look at the countryside. My first thought was "wow, so much garbage/litter." It's pretty different in a third world country. Wandering around town was okay. Had lots of people trying to sell us stuff or offering to be our guide for the day. By the end of the day we had mastered "Hapana sante" (which is "no thanks" in Swahili). Changed some traveller's cheques, bought some souvenirs and had a couple drinks in cafes. It was pretty hot and there wasn't too much happening on a Sunday so we caught the earlier shuttle back to the hotel.
Shortly after getting back we had a little meeting with our guide in preparation for our departure the next morning. We were somewhat lucky with our guide Benjamin, not only was he super nice and had an easy-to-remember name but he also spoke quite good enlish! Spent that night packing and getting everything ready. They even had scales to weigh your bags on (porters only carry 15kg, though they're somewhat lenient if you go slightly over).
On the mountain...
Met our bus in the morning and drove a couple hours to the Marangu Gate of Kilimanjaro National Park. After a bit of time getting our climbing permit settled and such we headed off. We climbed through a few thousand feet of rainforest to get to the first hut (Mandara Hut at 2700m (~8858')). This was a pretty nice walk for the most part. Although it did start to rain before lunch, it didn't last very long and we escaped fairly dry. Also our day packs were a little overfull and we had plans on moving more into our porter-packs that night. There are two sections of huts: some for the clients and some for the porters/guides. You may think the client huts get crowded, but that's nothing compared to the porter huts. Anyhow, as we got off on somewhat of a late start that morning we got stuck sleeping above the dining hall that night. Not so bad for going to sleep, but a rude awakening when the porters noisily get breakfast ready early in the morning! That night we took a little walk over to Maundi Crater and saw some flowers that only grow on Kilimanjaro!
After a breakfast of porridge, eggs, sausage and fruit we headed off towards Horombo Hut (3720m (~12204')). Already we could see a change in the vegetation. It had gone from tall trees to smaller shrubs. Still lots of vegetation, but just not tall enough to protect us from the harsh sun. Once at the hut we were somewhat unhappy to find we had (once again) lost the race for the good rooms and were staying above the dining hall. However since we were staying here for two nights in order to acclimatize we were promised a private hut for the second night.
For our extra day of acclimatization we took a hike over to Zebra Rock -- some place where the rocks have black and white stripes (like a zebra!). It was a pretty cool place and we got some neat photos there. The place got less cool when I was trying to be cool, fell and cut my hand. Oh well, merely a flesh wound! We continued on our hike up to where we could see across the saddle and see Kibo Hut. Unfortunately by this time it had started to rain and we were getting cold so we quickly turned around and headed back to the hut for some rest. While thankful for the quiet and privacy of the private hut we soon realized that we had much less storage space and our bags seemed to engulf the entire floor. Nevertheless we managed to clear off enough space for a game of Scrabble! It was also around this time that most people started taking their Diamox (to help the acclimatization process). Since I'd be at altitude before and knew how I handle it I thought I'd try climbing without using the Diamox (especially since we had the extra day in there), however I did have a supply of my own in case I needed it. Tried taking some photos of the moon and stars that night but with less than awesome results. Perhaps someone elses photos turned out better.
The next day we were off to Kibo Hut (4703m (~15429'))! The plan was to get there, eat an early dinner, try our best to get some sleep, wake up around 11:30pm and then start hiking towards the summit around midnight. Doesn't that sound like fun?? Just remember: mountaineering is fun in retrospect! During our hike this day the scenery drastically changed. The low-laying greenery disappeared and we were left with alpine desert (aka not much). We got to the hut at a decent time, had a snack and set-up our sleeping bags. It also turns out this was a fully stocked hut and even sold bottles of Coke! Just because I could, I bought one. After that Erik and I headed out on a short acclimatization hike up the mountain. Pretty soon we were feeling the altitude and just wandered over to a patch of snow we found in the shade. Once back down I busted out my iPod and settled into some rocks to write my journal in front of an amazing view.
Normally I'm undecided on my thoughts of iPods on the mountain.. Is it an invasion of technology in nature? Does it block out the peacefulness of nature that we're seeking by being out here? One of the latest books I finished had a mountaineer that listened to music while climbing and I figured we'd be too tired for much talking on this climb so I figured I'd try listening to some music on the summit push.
After dinner we settled into bed and tried to ignore the sunlight streaming in through the windows and go to sleep. All too soon our assistant guide came in a woke us up at 11:30pm for a bite to eat before our departure time of midnight. We were in the last stages of getting ready when Blair started feeling unwell. After some waiting to see it this would pass Marc and I set off with the hope that the others would feel okay to follow shortly. As with most alpine starts it was dark and we were using our headlamps to find our way. This also has the neat effect of letting you see where everyone else is on the route, pretty cool to see little moving patches of light! We passed Han's Meyer Cave and made it to Gilman's Point after a mere 5 hours and 51 minutes of hiking (the steepest of the entire hike)! w00t! This is considered the summit (if not the actual highest point on the mountain) and is about an hour and a half from Uhuru Peak (the highest point on the crater rim). We took a little break here and then continued along. Shortly Marc made the prudent decision to turn around and head back due to being very tired.
Saw the sunrise and after some more walking there I was!! Made it to the highest point in Africa at 6:44am! Snapped a few more photos and then started heading back down. I felt quite good on the hike up, didn't feel the altitude hardly at all! Overall I was very happy with our I performed.
What about the iPod you ask? It went quite well! I totally enjoyed listening to the music and it definately helped to keep my mind off of being tired/sore/etc. I don't think I'd want to listen to it all the time, but I think it's okay on dark, non-conversation-conducive summit pushes.
Got back to Kibo Hut around 9:30am or so (about 9 hours and 12 minutes after leaving) and met up with the rest of my group. They were all ready to hike back down to Horombo Hut but wanted to stay around until I got back (how nice!). They set off and I packed, ate and set off after them. Saidi (the assistant guide I was with all day) and I caught up to them after 50 minutes and I forced them to take a break for me. Getting quite tired now! Just under two hours later we made it to Horombo where we thankfully got a private hut again. Slept for an hour before lunch. Then slept for 5 more before dinner. Then slept for another 10-ish until the next day (even passed up a game of Scrabble so I could sleep!). Sleep has never been so good!
The next day we continued on our downwards trek with a lunch break at Mandara Hut. We knew we were getting near the main gate when we started seeing kids on the trail trying to sell us various items (again we used the "hapana sante"). Once back at the main gate, Marc and I collected our certificates, had a Coke, took pictures with most of our porters (some had already left) and then headed back to the hotel. Mission accomplished.