Mount Kilimanjaro, September 11th

The morning was cloudy and very cold.  The thought of a 7-hour hike to the park gate made me want to curl up in my sleeping bag and just cry.  I would later learn that I had developed a lung infection, which would explain how I was feeling physically.

I bundled up in both my down and gortex jacket, but still felt cold.  As we descended through the meadows, I was in no mood to enjoy the beautiful view.  All I wanted was a shower, a real bed to sleep on, and for the shivering to stop.

We saw a few people from other teams being carried down by their porters, presumably severely sick with AMS.  We heard that one of them started the descend during the night because of cerebral edema.  The guides and porters on this mountain are some of the most amazingly dedicated individuals I’ve ever met.

After lunch at the Mandara Hut, the lead guide arranged for a vehicle to pick up Harry who had hurt his knee.  The vehicle pick up will save the last 2 hours of descend to the park gate.  The guide asked if I would like to take the vehicle with Harry.  I flatly refused, despite feeling completely exhausted and sick.  In a pleading tone, the guide asked why I won’t take his offer.  I said it’s only another 2 hours, and I would like to finish what I started.  He said gently that it will take me more than 2 hours to complete the last leg of the hike.  That’s when I realized that I would be holding back everyone if I insisted on walking.  My pace is now significantly slower than everyone else because of whatever I was coming down with.

I considered the implications for a moment, and finally caved in.  I said, ok, I’ll take the vehicle.  The relief on the guide’s face was immediate.  He even bowed and thanked me several times, and had a big smile on his face.  I was almost embarrassed that I had been so stubborn.  It turns out that he had sent the park’s ambulance to pick us up, along with 8 other strangers who either suffered cerebral edema or simply couldn’t finish the hike.  We crammed into the land cruiser ambulance to be taken to the park gate.

The hike was officially over when I signed my name in the park control log.  Despite feeling completely exhausted and sick at the end of the day, I have already decided that I will climb another mountain one day.

When we finished the climb, I expected to feel a sense of accomplishment since I was so set on making it to the summit.  Instead, I felt deeply humbled and insignificant.  Looking back at that week of my life, I am reminded of my physical weakness and limitations.  I certainly couldn’t have climbed this mountain on my own without the amazing team of guides and porters.  Who am I to say I’ve achieved this and accomplished that?

Many of you have given us tremendous support in doing this climb for the Alzheimer Society of BC.  Cliff and I are eternally grateful for all your love and encouragement.  Climbing this mountain was a great adventure, and combining it with a great cause brought it to a different level.

Thank you for all that you have done for us!

The last camp site:

The view while hiking back down:

The stretcher (with suspension built in) if we needed it:

How I finished the last 2-hour stretch of the hike:

The “we’ve done it” photo at the park gate:

What I really looked like after not showering for 7 days, with a fever, and a lung infection:

Mount Kilimanjaro, September 10th

I woke up at 11 pm with a dry and sore throat, but feeling very positive and ready for the summit climb.  My thermometer said -5 C, but it felt colder.  We had some tea and biscuits at the dinner tent.  Nobody said much at the table.  I suppose everyone felt a mix of excitement and nervousness.

At 12:20 am, the porters sang us a song in Swahili, and we were off.  The sky was pitch dark, but not many stars were visible.  The half moon was glowing brightly in the sky.  The air was calm, with not a hint of wind.  The hail and freezing rain had stopped.  The scree below our feet felt solid to walk on from the freezing temperature.

The team lined up in single file and followed the lead guide.  For the 11 climbers, we had one lead guide, and 4 assistant guides.  One of the assistant guides stayed in the back of the line, and the other 3 spread themselves out to ensure all the climbers are together.

Everyone has different expectations of themselves.  I expected that I will go slow, carrying my own load, and eventually make the summit.  So even though my backpack was heavy, I strapped it on and began the hike.  I have always believed that if you want to play the game, then you have to be able to carry your own toys.

In a single file, I was right behind Cliff.  The LED bulbs from my headlamp illuminated the ground in front of me, and the back of Cliff’s legs.  He was wearing his gators, making his calves look so skinny.  That amused me for a long minute.

The air was so thin, every step required a breath.  I looked up the mountain, but could not make out the peak.  I could see other teams ahead of us, forming a line with the bright dots of their headlamps, slowly snaking up the hill.  The guides start singing in a soft, low voice in Swahili.  Their soothing voices distracted me from wondering if I was sane for signing up for this.

I sucked on zinc lozenges to sooth my sore throat.  The air was very dry and cold, irritating my airway as I breathed.  The lemon flavored lozenges tasted awful.  I swore to never take another lozenge again for the rest of my life.

In 40 minutes, we stopped for a quick break.  I took a few sips of water from my drinking tube, and made sure I blew the water back into the pouch afterwards to prevent the tube from freezing.  The team reshuffled a bit to ensure an even pace.  Cliff seemed to be doing fine.  No one was really talking, as if we were all deep in thought.

At 2 am, the wind picked up a little.  My fingers were so cold, I couldn’t bring myself to take off my gloves and use my camera.  It was -5 C.  We were on a series of switchbacks, winding up the mountain.

I thought it was unbelievable that I was climbing Kilimanjaro.  Everything seemed surreal, like a vivid dream.  Two years ago, I didn’t even know where Kilimanjaro was.  My friend, Brandi, who climbed it showed me her slide show of the climb.  It took very little convincing for me to sign up for it.

I synchronized my breathing to each step, going slowly up the hill, feeling positive and focused.

Every 30 to 40 minutes, we would stop for a few minutes for snacks and water.  A few people started complaining that the pace was too slow and the breaks too often.  Around 4 am, as we were at the half way point between Kibo Hut and Gilman’s Point, someone made a decision to split up the team, so those who want to go faster could go up ahead first.

One’s mental capacity really diminishes with the lack of oxygen.  I was aware of my own thoughts and decisions, but I really had little comprehension of other things going on around me.  I remember thinking that splitting up the team was a bad idea, because this climb is a team effort.  The split irritated me greatly.  But I was one of the slower ones, and I really had no mental capacity to figure out what else to do.

The faster team went up ahead.  I grumbled a little under my breath.  I was really starting to feel the effect of my 22-lb backpack and the inefficiencies of my lungs.  An assistant guide offered to take my backpack for me, but I refused politely.  I said I was doing fine, and I’ll ask for help when I need it.  I lied.  I wasn’t doing fine, and I will not ask for help when I need it.

The slower team pushed on, at a pace even slower than earlier.  The distance between the two halves of the team grew bigger and bigger.  The temperature dropped to -6 C, but I felt colder than ever.  It felt like my internal furnace was turned off, and I ran out of positive energy.  I felt cold and exhausted.

An assistant guide put his hand on my backpack, gesturing that he would take it for me.  I said no, I’m fine.  Another guide said I should let him take my pack, because we’re only half way up the mountain and I looked tired.  I was annoyed that they could tell I was struggling.  But can’t they tell I was determined to carry my own load?  I had no energy to preach to the guides about carrying my own toys.  Instead, I just lied some more.  No, I’m not tired.  Yes, I can carry my own pack.

As we continued up the switchback, I forced myself to think about positive things and good memories.  I thought about my dog, Sam, and how he loves putting his head on my laptop keyboard when he wants attention.  I thought about my friend, Jacqueline, and how she laughs so hard sometimes she couldn’t catch her breath.  I thought about how grandma will be proud of me when I tell her that I reached the summit.

I turned my attention to encouraging my team.  “Come on, you can do it!”  “You’re doing great!”  “We’re all going to make it!”  I spoke as if I was chasing away the demons in my own head.

Around 6 am, the sky finally showed a sliver of light on the Kenya side of the horizon.  The sliver turned pink and purple, and finally brightened up with the sun.  As the sun crept over the horizon, the coldest and darkest hour of the hike was finally over.  I sat on a rock, and enjoyed the warmth of the sun for a few minutes.  It was almost 7 am when the sun was fully up in the sky.  It took us another hour to reach Gilman’s Point, where the faster team was waiting for us.

At Gilman’s, the guides served us hot tea from a thermos.  I wrapped my cold fingers around the mug, and drank the best tasting tea in the world.  It warmed my core.

Two of the team members decided to turn back to Kibo Hut at this point.  The team doctor turned to me and said, “you are going down with them, right?”  He wasn’t giving a direct order, but he wasn’t really asking for my opinion either.  “No way, I’m going up to Uhuru!”, I replied.  He didn’t seem convinced.  He reminded me that it’s another 500 ft in elevation gain and we’re only staying up on the summit for a few minutes, as if to discourage me from going.  I didn’t really understand why he thought I should turn back.  Regardless, I was determined to go up to the summit.  He asked to carry my backpack for me, and I almost lost my cool.  Damn it, why does everyone want to carry my backpack?  I refused, and tightened the hip belt a little more around myself.

The last 500 ft of elevation gain was where the air was the thinnest.  At this elevation, we were only getting about 50% of the oxygen compared to at sea level.  The gradual climb left me breathless.  I stopped quite a few times to lean on my hiking poles and wait for my breath to return.  A guide offered again to take my backpack.  This time, I looked him straight in the eyes, and pleaded with frustration, “Please, just let me carry my own backpack!  If I’m tired, I’ll ask for help.”  I’m an Aries–impulsive, single minded and very stubborn.  I felt like my backpack has somehow become a symbol of my ability to climb this mountain.  If anyone was to take it away, I would have failed, then I might as well pack up and go home now.

At about 9:30 am, Cliff and I finally reached the wooden sign that said “Uhuru Peak”, at 19,340 ft above sea level.  This was the highest any of us on the team has ever been.  Reaching the summit was quite anti-climatic.  There was no contemplation of the meaning of life, no taking in the view, and no sudden enlightenment of any philosophy.  We congratulated each other with hugs and high fives.  Then we were rushed to take some photographs of various banners we brought, and a few team photos, and were herded to go back down the hill as soon as possible.

In the dense fog, we made our way down the scree slope that has now thawed out.  It was like walking down a slope with deep, dry snow.  It took only about 1 1/2 hr to return to Kibo Hut.

Upon reaching the camp site, we had been hiking for almost 11 hours already.  But the day was not over yet!  We ate a quick lunch, and started heading down to the next camp site at Horombo.  It was another 3 hours of hiking down a gentle slope.  By the time we reached Horombo, I was exhausted from the 14-hour hike.  I missed dinner and fell asleep without inflating my Thermarest.

Hiking in darkness:

 

The sun finally came up:

Finally reached the peak:

Looking down into the volcanic crater:

Mount Kilimanjaro, September 9th

The area between Mawenze and Kibo is called the “saddle”.  I suspect it is because it looked like a saddle between two higher points.

The landscape of the saddle is completely exposed alpine desert.  From the time we left Mawenze Tarn, we can see Kibo in front of us, and the entire path for the day’s hike.  The altitude gain is 1,800 ft across the saddle.

When we set out in the morning, I was still struggling with my headache and sore throat.  At least it was warm and sunny.  We climbed uphill briefly to get out of the Mawenze Tarn area.  The pace was painfully slow today.  As we entered the saddle area, I thought it would be an easy hike because it looked flat.  I was very wrong.  Even though the elevation gain was only 1,800 ft, the thin air was making the hike difficult.

2 hours into the hike, the sun went away, and the wind started to blow.  Then it started hailing.  The hail combined forces with the wind, and came down at us at an angle.  I can hardly believe I was in Africa!

I don’t remember too much details of the day’s hike.  The more I walked, the more I felt the lack of energy.  I was telling myself to put one foot in front of the other at a very slow pace.  As we walked through the fog, I felt like my mind was entering a dense fog as well.

AMS feels very much like a hang-over.  I felt nauseous and exhausted.  As we got closer to the camp site, Seamus was encouraging me that Kibo Hut is just around the corner.  I remembered thinking that he must be crazy because there are no corners on the saddle.  I wanted to laugh and tell him he was crazy, but decided that it would take too much energy out of me to do so.

Then we rounded a corner behind some boulders, and the glorious camp site appeared.  So Seamus was right; there are corners on the saddle.  I quickly unloaded my backpack, hid behind a big boulder, and threw up everything in my stomach.

For the first time on this hike, I had no appetite.  As we sat down for lunch, I played with the pasta on my plate instead of eating it.  The thought of food made me feel ill.  I remembered the team doctor asking me some questions, and everything was in slow motion.  I can see his lips move, and then the sound will reach my ears, and it took a long time for my mind to process his questions and answer him.  Yes, I feel nauseous.  No, I don’t want to eat.  Yes, I feel confused.  Ok, I will take a shot in the arm for an anti-vomit drug used on cancer patients.

I passed out in my tent after taking the shot in the arm.

I woke up after a 3-hour nap around 6 pm, and felt a renewed sense of energy.  The nausea was gone, and I was hungry!  This was a very good sign.  I marched into the dinner tent and ate everything on my plate.

We were given some time to pack our backpacks with summit gear, and have another few hours to sleep.  We would be getting up at 11 pm, have some tea and biscuits, and set out around midnight for the summit attempt.

I have been preparing for this night for over a year.  I knew exactly what I was going to put in my backpack for the summit night.  I had my banner from work signed by my co-workers, rain gear, down jacket, gloves, hat, glacier glasses, snacks, water, camera, tripod, and spare batteries arranged in such a way that I can access them with my eyes closed.  My backpack about 22 lbs with all my camera gear and tripod.

I fell asleep listening to the porters chatting with each other in Swahili and laughing.

Looking across the “saddle”:

 

 

It got so cold that it started hailing:


I was so oxygen deprived that I have no recollection of taking this picture.  I do, however, remember thinking that the view was pretty awesome while I was vomiting behind a big rock:

 

Mount Kilimanjaro, September 8th

On any type of adventure, there always comes a point where I wonder why I am doing this to myself.  Well, on the Kilimanjaro climb, this morning was the point.

Without getting much sleep, I got up at 6 am with a pounding headache and a sore throat.  The air was very dry and my nose bled.  My lips were chapped, and the skin on my face felt like it was going to crack.  Oh I was not a happy camper!  Why couldn’t I just settled for a luxury safari, or more time on the beach in Zanzibar?  Why couldn’t I pick something easier to do?  Who do I think I was, trying to climb this big mountain?

I popped some Advil for the headache, and wished there was some kind of “anti-suckyness” pill I could take.  Everything sucked.

Yesterday I was grateful to be here, and today I was losing my mind.  I had to talk myself out of the negativity, and get my act together.  I forced myself to think about my goal to reach the summit, and all the love and support from friends and family back home.  I can’t afford to give in to my self pity and disappoint everyone.

I thought about my grandmother who has Alzheimer’s.  She has always been cheerful, despite the challenges of life.  She lavished much love and attention on me as the first grandchild of the entire family.  I haven’t seen her for 3 1/2 years now, and I would love to visit her in Taiwan this Christmas and tell her about this climb.

I thought about all my colleagues who gave me words of encouragement to climb this mountain.  Even people whom I have never met before sent me e-mails wishing me luck.  A few people shared openly about their family members who have Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia and the challenges they go through.  How can I disappoint them!

Eventually, I pulled out of the funk, and got back my positive attitude.  I had breakfast and a few more Advils.  The team went for an acclimatization hike up a scree slope, gaining roughly 500 ft of altitude as practice.  This process is suppose to help ease the altitude sickness for the next day.

We spent a lazy afternoon reading, journaling, and chit chatting.

 

We were very well fed on the mountain.  A typical snack would be coffee, tea, fruit, popcorn, and muffins:

 

 

 

Mount Kilimanjaro, September 7th

The day started again with no clouds in the sky and warm.  We were excited about a shorter day’s hike of only 5 hours today.  The trail was a steady climb up all day.

Leaving Kikilawa of 12,000 ft, we are aiming to arrive at Mawenze Tarn at 14,200 ft early this afternoon.  It seemed odd to be moving away from Kilimanjaro towards Mawenze, but this is a part of the acclimatization process to gain elevation slowly.

I was in great spirits.  As I hiked along, with Kilimanjaro on my right, and Mawenze on my left, I couldn’t believe my good fortune to be witnessing such majestic views.  My teammate, Sue, turned around and said to me, “this is the stuff that dreams are made of!”  I couldn’t agree more.

Two hours into the hike, fog and clouds rolled in, covering up the sun.  The temperature suddenly dropped, and the winds picked up.  My headache went from mild to severe, and I was starting to struggle with catching my breathe.  I can hear the blood throbbing in my temples.  This is the highest elevation I’ve ever climbed to.

The hike continued on for another 3 hours.  We arrived at Mawenze Tarn at 1:20 pm.  The winds have calmed somewhat, and the sun was shining through the clouds periodically.  The temperature fluctuated greatly with the sun playing hide-and-seek.

After lunch, I laid down in my tent to take a nap.  My heart was beating so fast to make up for the lack of oxygen in the air, that I couldn’t fall asleep.  My resting heart rate was 88 per minute at 14,200 ft (vs. 60 per minute at sea level).  Even as I laid there resting, my breaths were hurried as if I was exercising.  I gave up trying to nap.

Everyone climbs Kilimanjaro for different reasons and different expectations.  Seamus had warned us to prepare ourselves for the possibility of not reaching the summit.  Many people turn back because they simply allowed despair to take over their thoughts.  Kilimanjaro is a big mountain, and the climb is not easy.  To guard ourselves against devastating disappointment, Seamus said that reaching the summit should not be our ultimate goal.  Our goal should be there to have fun and enjoy the mountain.  Against his sage advice, I stubbornly decided that my goal was to reach the summit.  Unless I develop some condition that could be fatal, I am not turning back until I see the sign at Uhuru peak!  At this point, I had no idea of the challenges ahead of me yet.

That night, I slept little.  I constantly felt the blood rushing through my head and my chest, and my breathing was hurried.  The temperature fell to -4 C during the night.  I had my sleeping bag completely zipped up, showing only my face.  At one point during the night, I felt the panic of being claustrophobic.  I was trying to breathe, but the zipped up mummy bag, the enclosed tent, and the darkness all made me feel like I was going to suffocate.  I opened my mouth to scream, but nothing came out.  I quickly unzipped the sleeping bag and sat up.  I kept telling myself to calm down, and that I will live through this.  I laid back down, drifting in and out of sleep all night.

Mount Kilimanjaro, September 6th

I woke up at 4:30 am.  Rolling over, I decided to stay in the warmth of my down sleeping bag for another hour.

Facing the tent wall, waiting for the sun to come up, I let my mind wander.  Oh, how I wish I could wash my hair that is covered in dust!

I thought about when I was little, how much I hated washing my hair because the shampoo stung my eyes.  I remembered on the rare occasion that my father was home, he would put an ottoman on the bathroom floor, butt it right up against the side of the bath tub, have me lay on the ottoman on my back, with my head hanging over the bath tub.  He would then cradle the back of my head in his one hand, and with his other hand wash my hair.  He would even fold up a small towel and cover my eyes with it, so that water won’t spray into my eyes.

I thought about camping with my friend, Karen, at Galiano Island a few weeks ago.  I remembered waking up one morning to see the sun filtering through the tent walls, filling the inside of the tent with light, and how it made her blonde hair shine so vibrantly like it was alive.

I thought about how lucky I was to be married to my bestfriend, who was lying next to me.  A few years ago, Cliff would have never agreed to climb Kilimanjaro with me.  I don’t know what has changed, but he seems to be more willing to try new things now than ever.  We have influenced each other in opposite ways.  I’d like to think that he has enjoyed the adventures I’ve dragged him into for the last few years.  By the same token, he has a great calming effect on my impulsive nature.

I eventually got out of the tent around 6 am, just as the sun was rising over Kenya.  It was 4 C, but felt much colder.  The sky turned from black into a dark purple, then various shades of orange and pink, and finally lit up as the sun came above the horizon.

This turned out to be a fairly grueling day of 8 1/2 hours of hiking, gaining almost 4,000 ft in elevation.  The gorgeous morning began with not a cloud in the sky.  It was about 25 C when we set off at 9 am.  We hiked on an exposed dusty trail on a constant incline, with view of Mawenze and Kibo the whole time.  From Simba Camp, the top of Kilimanjaro really didn’t look very far.  I learned later that looks are deceiving.

We stopped at 2nd Cave for a picnic lunch, and began the afternoon hike.  By this time, clouds rolled in and wind started to blow.  It dropped to 18 C.  At least the hike was through a more varied terrain in the afternoon, allowing us to rest our legs on the flat spots.  There was miles of burned ground from fires, filling the area with small charred brushes and a golden grass.  The sun was trying hard to shine through the clouds, diffusing its light into a beautiful glow.

I developed a headache after lunch, and it lasted all afternoon.  This was when I knew that the effect of altitude was starting to set in.  We reached our camp site in the shadow of Kilimanjaro–Kikilawa– at 5:30 pm.  It is roughly 12,000 ft high.

Half of the team didn’t feel like eating dinner this night.  Losing one’s appetite is a typical reaction to altitude.  Aside from my headache, I was feeling just fine.  I ate enough to make up for everyone else.

It was a very cold night.  Frost formed on our tents.  I was exhausted from the day’s hike, and slept like a baby.

 

 

The toilet situation was of great interest amongst people I’ve talked to about Kilimanjaro.  Here are a few pictures (a pit toilet hut, inside the pit toilet hut and yes it smells bad, and a privacy tent with a portable toilet set up by the porters at every camp site):

Mount Kilimanjaro, September 5th

This is it!  The day I’ve been waiting for for over a year.  We start climbing Kilimanjaro today!  I have been awake since 3 am, too excited to go back to sleep.

After breakfast, it took a couple of hours to organize all of our gear.  We each have our own backpacks to carry, filled with extra clothes, rain gear, snacks, water, and camera gear.  We were each assigned a porter to carry our big duffel bags, containing our personal gear, clothing, sleeping bags, Thermarest, etc.  The duffel bags were weighed to ensure that the porters don’t carry more than the weight limit.  Then the porter team organized all the tents, cooking gear, and food for the next 7 days.

Finally, we got everything loaded on two trucks, and started the 3-hour drive on really bad pavement to the Rongai route.  The unpaved winding road was filled with potholes and rocks, covered in volcanic dust.  We spent half the time being bounced into the air, and the other half the time landing on the hard seats.  By the time we arrived at the Rongai route entrace, I think all my internal organs have been thoroughly massaged, and I was covered in a film of red volcanic dust.

Kilimanjaro is an ancient volcano, and the biggest free-standing mountain in the world.  The volcano is now dormant.  The hills and the area around it are covered in very fine volcanic dust.  The dust is sometimes red, sometimes dark brown.  It gets into every fold of the skin, under your nails, in your hair, and in your nose as you breathe.  Once in the air, the dust takes a long time to settle.  If you walk behind someone, you are literally eating their dust the whole time.  We discovered that there is just no way around it, and you must put up with being dirty for 7 days.

We had a quick picnic lunch before starting the hike at 2 pm.  The beginning of the trail took us through some corn fields at roughly 6,000 ft.  Locals use the trail to commute from their village to the plot they work on.  The trail is about 3 ft wide at most places, not quite enough for two people with big back packs to walk side-by-side.  The temperature was a comfortable 25 C, and the sky had patches of blue.  Everyone on the team was in good spirits, excited about starting the long awaited climb.

The gentle uphill was an easy start to the climb.  The hiking pace set by the guides was slow, which suited me just fine.  We have been warned that even at the lower elevation, we need to conserve our energy, because the high altitude will really tire us out later.

We hiked for 3 1/2 hours to reach our first camp–Simba Camp (Lions Camp)–at about 8,000 ft.  By the time we arrived, the porters have already set up our tents and put our duffel bags in the tents.  We set up the Thermarest and our own sleeping bags, washed up, and were fed popcorn, tea, hot chocolate, followed by dinner.

That night, I looked up to find a pitch dark sky with stars everywhere.  Without the pollution of city lights, the stars shone with such brilliance.  The milky way was clearly visible, stretching from one end of the sky to the other.  It almost seemed like one can stretch out a hand and reach the stars.

In the tent, I wrote in my journal, and felt the temperature drop dramatically.  I could actually see my breath inside the tent.  I was exhausted from the excitement of the day, and the lack of sleep from the previous night.  I fell asleep to the sound of my teammates snoring all around me.

All the prepping and weighing of bags in the morning:

 

 

 

 

 

Team picture:

Starting the journey, driving by a banana market:

 

 

 

 

 

Starting the very dusty hike:

Mount Kilimanjaro, September 4th

I woke up at 5 am to the crisp chirping of many birds and crowing roosters.  It was still dark, but I can hardly contain myself that I woke up in Africa!  I sat in bed reading my book, waiting for the sun to come up.  The heavy rain from last night had stopped.  The sky was covered with thin clouds.

Finally, just before 7 am, the sun came up.  The agenda today is our climb briefing, a walking tour through the banana and coffee plantation, a visit to a local primary school, a market and a waterfall.

The temperature fluctuates very little at the foothill of the mountain.  It was about 20 C last night, and about 24 C by mid-morning.  Near the equator, the climate is more stable this way.

Our climb briefing was conducted by Seamus, the Marangu Hotel director.  Seamus has already climbed Kilimanjaro 20 times, and he organizes climbs for people from all over the world.  He is a mild mannered Brit, living in Tanzania with his family.  He talked about what to expect on the mountain, and the importance of taking a very slow pace to acclimatize.

On a high altitude climb, some people experience high altitude sickness, or AMS (acute mountain sickness).  The symptoms can range from mild headaches to cerebral edema (accumulation of fluids in the brain).  Everyone reacts to altitude differently, and the same person can react to it differently at different times.  When I climbed Machu Picchu back in May this year, I had headaches around 13,000 ft.  Hence, I brought a healthy supply of Advil for this climb.

There are various route choices to climb to the top of Kilimanjaro.  The route we were taking is the less popular Rongai Route.  We would find out in the next couple of days that only 2 or 3 teams would climb that route in a day, which is significantly quieter than the other more popular routes.  The quieter route certainly beats competing with other teams on trail and camping space.

After the briefing, we began our walking tour of the Marangu village, starting with the banana and coffee plantation.  As we wound our way through the plantation, the guide explained to us how coffee beans are grown and harvested, and how banana trees only take 6 months to grow to 12 ft in the rainy season.  Small mud houses sprinkled throughout the plantation.  Little kids would run away shrieking with joy after Cliff has given them candies.

We visited the local primary school.  The principal of the school showed us around, and asked for donations to the school.  If you ever visit Tanzania, you will find that people will often ask you for donations, tips, or for money to fund their children’s education.  Kids will often run up to you and ask for pen or paper.  It’s just something to be prepared for.

We also walked through a local market, with women sitting on the ground selling anything from tomatoes to shampoo.  The locals (especially women) do not like their pictures taken.

The hotel grounds:

 

 

This is what fresh coffee beans look like before they are roasted:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the briefing, this is the map they showed us of the two peaks.  We are aiming to reach Kibo:

 

 

 

 

 

We went for a walk in the village and visited a nearby school and market:

 

 

 

 

Mount Kilimanjaro, September 3rd

I am frustrated by how I lack the words to convey even a fraction of the emotions I experienced on this trip.  The height of Kilimanjaro, the thin air on Uhuru Peak, the vastness of the savanna, and the simple joys of the people are something that one has to experience for him/herself.  I hope you get a glimpse of the experience from my trip journal below.

Over a year ago, I signed up with the Alzheimer Society of BC for the Ascent event, thinking this will be a great adventure.  The event required me to raise money for the Society, and to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.  Against his tendency to stay close to home, Cliff decided to sign up as well.  I am so proud of how hard and determined he worked to raise the money.

This climb is to honor my grandmother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s four months before the climb.

September 3rd

When I stepped in front of the open door of the aircraft, I was hit with a wave of warm and humid air that soothed my lungs.  I grew up in a place with humid air, therefore it always comforts me to breathe it.  I took a few deep breaths, drinking in the moisture in the air.

It was already dark in Kilimanjaro when we arrived.  All the Alzheimer Ascent team members piled into a small van and headed for the hotel we were staying at.

There are no street lights, and the road is dusty and bumpy.  I looked out the window of the van and saw corn fields lining the road we were on.  I tried to tune out the cheerful chatters amongst the teammates.  I selfishly wanted a moment of quietness to take it all in.  I have dreamed of coming to this continent for so long, it was surreal to actually be here.

As I lay in bed that night, thoughts were racing through my mind as I listened to the heavy rain that just began to fall.  What am I to expect of Africa?  Will I reach the summit of Kilimanjaro?  Was all the training enough?  Is this real that I am finally here?