Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Climbing Kilimanjaro, part 1

Nora, Pierre, Lee, Nick and myself!
    Climbing Kilimanjaro is probably the greatest physical and mental challenge that I have ever attempted, but it is also the most rewarding. The emotions of standing on the summit of Uhuru peak, watching the sunrise with twelve individuals who had been strangers one week earlier, but now share a unique friendship, overwhelmed all the difficulties.

Kajeli and me
   First, I need to introduce the 12 people who climbed with me. I’ll begin with our fearless leader Paul, founder of Roadmonkey (see, who was summiting for his 4th time. He is one of those few people who has an idea to help make the world a bit better and acts on it. Then we have Pierre who is taking a year off (sound familiar?) with his wife to travel the world and was the co leader on our climb. Lee, my mom on the climb, always had some Listerine to spare and set a record for number of times getting up during the night. Nick’s stories of his well behaved childhood were the source for endless, puerile jokes. Thanks to Laura and her morning yoga, we were always limber and ready to climb. Senior Bob provided a modicum of sanity and maturity to our group. Diana never failed to cure all our blister woes. And of course there was Nora, who repeatedly told us that it was possible for her to be something other than happy, but convinced none of us. Our two assistant guides, Paul and Jerome put up with our bizarre requests and my attempts to practice Swahili with them.  Almost last but certainly not least are Melchior and Kajeli, our head guides. Not only did I have some great political and social discussions with these two, but I owe being able to say I summited largely to them. It was Melchior’s 154th summit and he still has an obvious passion for the mountain. Finally, our cook Salem kept us fueled for the trek.

Morning yoga, anyone?
   After meeting one another we had the first of many hilarious meals together filled with grade school humor and positive attitudes.  We ascended Kilimanjaro via the Lemosho Route, starting on Sunday with a beautiful climb through the rainforest, with its attendant monkeys. Although we ran into some issues involving nettles getting into someone’s pants and some biting ants showing us how they really felt about us, we all made it to Mti Mkubwa, or Big Tree Camp, at 9,498ft relatively unscathed. A needed snack of popcorn and tea was followed by the first of many amazing meals and a good night’s sleep. No huts for us- tents and sleeping bags

  We began day two with more rainforest and after hiking two hours entered the moorlands. This was the hardest day for me, at least physically. Thanks to some blisters (Yes, I know Mom - I should have broken in the boots better), a lot of dust and a 14 mile, 3,000ft elevation climb, I ended up lagging a bit behind the main group. Pierre and Kejeli kept me company and our discussions about American politics, being a mountain guide and racism in different countries more than made up for the 8+ hour day. By the end, the amount of dirt I collected between my sock line and knee braces was quite impressive; I have a new appreciation for wet wipes! Their use extends far beyond baby bottoms and I now consider them a necessity for adventure travel. 

  We got our first view of the peak as we entered the Shira Plateau and realized just how incredible a journey we were on.  That night we camped at Shira 2, elevation 12,779 feet, and discovered just how possessive of toilets some groups can be! Over some of the best soup and (mountain) chicken I’ve had (I’m still not sure how Salem made such amazing soups even at 18,000+ feet) we formulated our plan for stealing the coveted private toilet. After dinner Paul and our head guides made the decision that our group was up to approaching the summit via the Western Breach. While this route has the benefit of shorter hikes each day, it also entails a more challenging climb the day before you summit as you increase in altitude, via large boulder scrambling, from 15,800ft to 18,200ft in about 5 hours with a mean gradient of 29 degrees! 

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