Thursday, August 29, 2019

Sooo... I climbed Kilimanjaro and I'm still here...



There is this misconception that we - Africans - are not adventurous people. I am a pretty adventurous person who enjoys seeing the world, and enjoys doing things that build discipline and growth. But when you put both things together, I'm all in. Well, unless it means dying to prove a point. 

Last year, a group of 12 people came together to climb the greatest mountain in Africa. We called ourselves the Rooftop Gang. The whole idea was started by Funmi Oyatogun of TVP Adventures. For someone like me, a trip with other adventurous Africans who would push each other to achieve one of the greatest feats of our lives sounded like a wonderful idea. But really, truly, did we know what we were in for?

I have climbed a few mountains, nothing I would consider at the level of Kilimanjaro, but I think Machu Picchu in Peru (2,430m high), and Monserrate in Bogota (3,140m high) are pretty tough climbs and I did that with strangers. Now when I look back at it though, these do not compare to the 5,895m height and 40km hike up to Uhuru peak in Kilimanjaro.

Now that I am back down, I realize that Mount Kilimanjaro was a beast. With all the very helpful information from TVP Adventures and Eco Africa Climbing, we still could not imagine the actual experience. All that I will say is that my group was DOPE.

If you are thinking of climbing Kilimanjaro, I do not want to scare you, but I want to make sure you have enough information to prepare appropriately because it is one of the hardest things you will ever do. There is information on the web, but it isn't as detailed on the day to day climb, so I will do my best to tell you as much as I can and give you recommendations of what to bring. Speaking of what to bring, here are some things that helped me:


1. Clothes: We were dealing with multiple climates and terrains in addition to the altitude and sleeping in tents, so what we wore was uber important. Note that the below is a minimum, in my opinion.
  • 2 long sleeved thermal tops
  • 2 long thermal bottoms
  • 2 short sleeved non-cotton absorbent t-shirts
  • Sports bras (hey girls!)
  • 2 trekking pants (like cargo pants)
  • 1 fleece top/jacket
  • 1 waterproof jacket
  • 1 down jacket
  • 1 winter cap
  • 1 sun hat/baseball cap
  • Sunglasses
  • Glove liners
  • 1 pair of think gloves
  • 1 pair of windproof pants
  • 1 balaclava
  • 1 pair of gators
  • 2 pairs of thermal socks


2. Shoes: Invest in proper shoes for both the day time and night time. It is dusty, windy, and cold at night. And with the bathroom situation, you should have shoes that can easily be cleaned.
  • Trekking boots
  • Crocs or some sort of rubber slip-on shoes

3. Toiletries: We slept in tents on camp grounds. This just means that we had no showers and had to be creative with our cleaning techniques. Our climbing company provided us with a bowl of hot water each morning to clean up, and a cup of hot water to brush our teeth. This water was filtered and purified so we didn't have to worry, but that heat sure felt good in the morning. You won't be showering for 7 days so do others a favor and try to be as hygienic as you possibly can.
  • Tooth brush
  • Tooth paste
  • Soap (I used baby wash)
  • Lotion
  • Deodorant
  • Face towel
  • Wipes
  • Vaseline (for cold, dryness, and sunburn)
  • Sunscreen
  • Hand sanitizer
  • First aid kit
  • Body mist (just to feel good)


4. Drugs: Some people needed nothing but I wanted to at least be prepared for whatever my body could throw at me. Please confirm all of this with your doctor and get an exam before you put your body through this.
  • Altitude sickness medicine (prescribed by your doctor as dosages vary)
  • Painkillers
  • Peptobismol or something for your stomach
  • Diarrhea medication (on Summit Day, some people develop severe stomach issues)


5. Food: Snacks all day. You will need the energy to function. I think my team over-prepared on the snacks front because we had so much left over at the end, but it is best to be over-prepared than under-prepared. I bought about 10 of each thing but only actually ate about 3 snacks a day so it is different for each person. But over-prepare!
  • Protein bars
  • Granola bars
  • Fruit gummies or energy gels
  • Almond butter
  • Crackers
  • Trail mix
  • Gum
  • Energy drinks/Electrolytes (I didn't use these but it did help others to drink more)


6. Sleeping gear: These were thankfully provided by the company we hiked with. I can't imagine having to buy and lug sleeping gear halfway across the world.
  • Sleeping bags
  • Sleeping bag liners
7. Bags: If you are trekking with a company, ask them if they will be carrying some of your items each day. The company we used carried the large items we needed, while we only carried when we needed to get through that day's hike. Thus, you need to consider how to pack for both you and the porters.
  • Big backpack (fondly referred to as our "big" bags)
  • Small backpack (fondly referred to as our "day" packs)

8. Other items: There is so much to consider like how to keep your phone charged for all the photos you want to take, how to survive with no electricity and no internet, and how to keep your belongings safe.
  • Trekking poles
  • Hydration packs or water bottles (I recommend hydration packs as you will need to drink 2-3 liters a day on the trail, but then for Summit Day, you will need a water bottle that keeps water warm)
  • Power banks 
  • Headlamp and batteries
  • Luggage lock
All that said, you will also need to carefully select the company you climb with. Ours could not have been better. They told us how excited they were that a group of Africans were coming to explore our own peak, which I believe factored into the personal connection we had with them. But honestly, they were just kind and generous people.

I've given you a long sermon already, but let's talk a bit about each day on the climb. 

Day 0
We all found our way to Kilimanjaro airport (JRO) from our different starting points. From the airport, Eco Africa Climbing picked us up, took us to our hotel, and briefed us. We stayed at the Panama Garden Resort in Moshi, Tanzania. Moshi is only about 980m above sea level so no acclimatization is really required. The company spent time introducing the 7 guides, briefing us on what to expect for the next day, and even inspected our luggage so they could advise us on things we were missing. They also did rentals for some of the items so it worked out for everyone. This was where I got my sleeping bag and sleeping bag liner and paid cash in USD for them. We had a good rest knowing it was the last night we would experience beds before the tent life.

Day 1
Eco Africa picked us up from the airport bright and early. They took our oxygen and heart rate levels (something they'd continue to do each day). 



They then took us to their office to weigh our big backpacks. It is important to note that the country has regulations on the number of guides required for each party, and the weight a porter can carry (20kg max). Oh yes, the porters (a.k.a. Kili Fighters)! We ended up with about 41 porters based on the weight we carried. The porters carried our big bags, sleeping bags, tents, chairs, food, cooking equipment, medical equipment, etc. We also had 2 chefs who were to prepare the meals according to the nutrition we would need each day of the climb. I have mad respect for the porters. MAD. They move so fast in those mountains.



On day 1, after all the prep, we started the climb from Machame Gate with 6 male guides and 1 female guide (pictured above). She turned out to be so bad ass, and was our fearless leader on the first day of the climb. We hiked 11km from Machame Gate (1800m high) to Machame Camp (3000m high). It was supposed to take us 5 hours, but with a few breaks, I think it took us about 7 hours so it was dark when we got to the camp site. 


We ate, took another reading of our oxygen and heart rate, and went to bed. We were each assigned a tent that we shared with one other person. Our toilets were in tents of their own, but at least they had toilet seats, were flushable, and there was toilet paper! I dreaded pit toilets so this was a welcome surprise.


Day 2
Another bright and early day! We were woken up at 6:30am with some hot water to wash, asked to pack up for a few minutes, and then meet in the Mess Tent for breakfast. Breakfast was some oatmeal, eggs, toast, sausages, and some fruit. This was pretty consistent for the the days we hiked.

We set out 5km from Machame Camp to Shira Cave Camp (3750m high). It was pretty much uphill the whole time and took us about 6 hours. Lunch was packed for us, and our bodies were done at the end of the day.



Day 3
From Shira Cave Camp, we walked 10km to Baranco Camp (3900m high). This day was loooong. It involved a long walk that wasn't too steep, but then came the downhill or what they called 'scree'. I didn't anticipate that coming down would be as tough as going up because it was so easy to slide, hit your toes, or sprain your ankles. 



Day 4
We woke up to that beautiful view. From Baranco Camp, we walked or rather climbed over Baranco wall, and then walked another few kms for a total of 6km to Karanga Camp (3995m high). This thing called Baranco wall is literally a wall of rocks. And so the first 1.5km or so of the day was spent climbing using our hands and knees and our whole bodies. This was tough for me. When I crossed the wall, it was a major achievement and had metaphorical significance as well. Each day, we climbed high to adjust to the altitude, but we came back down to a lower altitude to sleep.




Day 5
We walked from Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp (4673m high), which was only 4km. This was a much needed "short" hike because we were not getting a full night's sleep before the big Summit Day. We slept from about 8pm to 11pm, and the summit effort was to start at 12am. I'm not certain why it has to be 12am, but I think most people want to watch the sunrise as they get to the top.



Day 6
On Summit Day, the trek started at 12am. We walked 5km with an ascent of approximately 1200m to reach 5895m high at Uhuru peak. This was a BRUTAL 8 hour climb for me as it was climbing the whole way, it was cold and snowy, dark, and slow. Your water freezes up really quickly, and while you want to eat, the stress to brave the cold and get things out of your day pack just seems like a major hassle. Every bone in our bodies was freezing even with all the layers we had on. My breathing started to get labored but I pushed on. This is the point where it becomes completely mental because if you are just listening to your body, you will stop and just sit in the snow.

We got to Stella Point first, which is only about 700 meters from the peak. In my head, it pretty much meant I was there. But at this point, I had slowed down and so it took another 40 mins to get to the peak. I felt like my body was giving in so many times, but taking it one step at a time, I knew I could do it. 


With all the forces against us, we still got to the top, and I cannot explain the feeling of accomplishment to you. On day 6, after continuously pushing day after day, you see that Uhuru peak. We were literally at the top of Africa. After getting a bit of oxygen (which I needed in all the excitement), we celebrated, gave hugs, and quickly began to descend. Yes, you only spend 10-15 mins at the top because it is so cold.

The one thing I did not expect was how difficult it was to get good pictures because there were so many people reaching at the same time, and everyone was scrambling for photos. But we got some.


We immediately began to descend to get the altitude back in check. We trekked the 5km back down to Barafu Camp, and rested for a couple of hours before walking another 3km down to Millennium a.k.a High Camp (3950m high). This is where we spent the night.



Day 7
Everyone was eager to get to the finish line. We had finished the tough part, which was climbing, so going downhill was expected to be a breeze. We trekked 3.5km from High Camp to Mweka Camp (3100m high).


And then another 10km straight down to Mweka Gate. The long downhill was really tough after having climbed for days. Most people complained about their knees, ankles, and toes. But we made it and our journey ended with a little handstand photo to celebrate!


The attention to detail by our travel experience company (TVP Adventures) and our climbing company (Eco Africa Climbing) was impeccable. If you are thinking of Kili, you should definitely use them. We had a certificate issuing ceremony and a tipping ceremony at the end. This is typically done during lunch, but as we wanted our whole team to be there, we had it at the hotel. Please do research on proper tipping etiquette before you go as these individuals do so much to support climbers.


This is as much info as I think is helpful for now. Hopefully this prepares you for your trip, or maybe scares you. If you are thinking of climbing Kilimanjaro or any other mountain, you can do it. Just be prepared, stay informed, and remember that your mental strength is just as important as your physical. I have a video diary, which I will post but I'll let you know when I decide to.


Cheers Eights & Weights!

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