Tag Archives: Rongai Route

Leaving the Mountain on a High Note

Welcome to the final chapter in the story about how Mount Kilimanjaro was conquered on New Year’s Eve by Team Cantrailia. I won’t say it will be the final blog post on Africa, as I will likely write a little post about the final departure as well as some final impressions on the trip, the destinations, and the people I shared the journey with. However, for this post, I owe you all the tale of Day 6 of the Rongai Route. A pretty average day for all intents and purposes, but still one which had quite and effect on my, and stirred up a few emotions here and there. Before I get into all those little details though, I will invite you once again to look at the map of the hike for the day, as well as the set of pictures that are on flickr. I really hope some of you actually look at those damn maps, because I do spend some time on them :-). Anyway, after that, come on back here and read the rest of the post.

Although this was our final day on the mountain, it certainly wasn’t the shortest day by some measures. Having a look at the stats from my map, you’ll see we actually trekked over 20km that day, and descended from 3,700m at Horombo Camp all the way to 1,880m at the finish gate. That’s a long hike after you’ve already spent 5 days hiking, and are coming off the longest day of trekking. However, since the route was all downhill, we definitely made some quick progress when we actually got underway. Before that though, there is the matter of rising and shining!

And rise and shine we did! When we awoke at the tender hour of 6am, the sun hadn’t yet risen, but it certainly looked like we might be blessed with a bit of the radiation and Vitamin D that we were so lacking for much of our hiking 🙂 The decision had been made the night before that we’d leave camp as early as possible, in order to try and avoid the crowds at the bottom. The problem with paperwork and many hikers is that if you are late getting to the gate, you have to wait in the back of a big crowd of people for your turn to sign out and get all the procedures done. In the interest of helping our loyal porters get home to their families on New Year’s Day as early as possible, we indicted we’d be willing to leave early. As a result, we ate our breakfast and found ourselves putting one foot in front of the other before 7am had even rolled over.

I suppose in a way it was good to leave quickly, so that we wouldn’t dwell too much on the journey we’d taken to get there. This way, we were each left to our own devices for the rest of the hike out, free to think about our own journeys and experiences we’d been part of. Admittedly though, I was pretty willing to make some serious tracks if need be. Perhaps I was even a bit too hasty, but I felt strong and full of energy this morning, and my pace reflected that. Although we generally started off together, we were soon split into different groups. At the front once again was myself, Jody and Deb leading the pace. We made a bare minimum of stops along the way, finally pausing more substantially at the next camp down the mountain, which we arrived at after about 3.5 hours, having traveled 11.7km.

At this point, we stopped to enjoy our ‘lunches’. I say lunch, but it was actually only 9:30 in the morning, so lunch seemed a bit premature. However, there was little else to do as we waited there in the sunlight, so I at my final boxed lunch of the trip, which was once again a lovely ‘butter sandwich’, some eggs, juice, cookies, and that’s pretty much it 🙂 The thing I remember most about this stop is how blazing hot it seemed as we sat there in the grass. I think it was partly because we were much lower, so there may have been more humidity and oxygen contributing to the feeling. We were now also crossing back into rainforest. As we sat there resting, another couple groups arrived that were on their way down. Others had apparently also planned to try and get out early. My competitive spirit was awoken, and I wanted to keep them from ‘winning’ 🙂

Interestingly, the day before, Mike had told us he would only hike out to this point, then hike somewhere to get a drive to the gate, on account of his condition the day before. However, once he learned he’d be waiting for us at the finish, rather than able to do anything else, he decided to just hike out. Instead, it was Sarah who opted to cut short here and take the transport. As a result, Mike was now walking solo, and he decided to hike up front with Jody and I. So once again, we had an Australian companion, as Deb had dropped back just a little bit and was just hiking on her own at her own pace for the day. Again, we rarely stopped, only pausing for a few photos along the way. I don’t feel I was really cheating myself out of anything though. After all, we were now just hiking through dense forest, and the sky was pretty foreboding. Our guide was pretty sure we’d get rained on before the exit gate.

Luckily, he was wrong, and with one final push we found ourselves emerging from the trail at the final gate, where a ranger was stationed. We popped out at about 11:15am, so a cool 4 hours and 15 minutes or so to make this journey. The end of the trail was just a little anti-climactic, as we basically just stood around waiting for the rest of Cantrailia to get there before we could do our sign-out and receive our Certificates! Yup, that’s right, this time I got the full certificate! No consolation prizes. Not sure what I’ll actually do with it, but I’m glad I got it 🙂 The rest of our crew emerged less than 15 minutes later, all smiles. We’d done it! Here we were, on New Year’s day, ready to celebrate finally. Our plan was to save up our partying until we got back to our base hotel and were re-packed. After all, we’d be leaving the next day to go straight to the airport!

Before returning to the hotel though, there was the matter of the porter ceremony, and getting out stuff back. This is where having all the tips in envelopes paid off big time. After all, I had to give a little speech, then hand out 28 different tips. Different people got different amounts, and I had them all labeled individually so as not to screw up. As I gave the first round of tips out (to the ‘normal’ porters and helper porters), the entire crew broke out in song and dance! You can see that in two videos (one and two) that have been posted. This would be one of those emotional moments for most of us. I was holding the camera, trying to capture the moment, but it was pretty difficult, as so many emotions were swelling up inside me. I was fighting back a big lump in my throat and tears as well. Why? So many reasons. It was the end of the trek. The end of conquering Kili. The end of hanging out as Cantrailia. The end of a decade. All of these things made this entire journey bigger than any long day of hiking could. It was also just really pure to see these porters, who have so little, yet were so joyous in all that they did for us. They never complained. They were away from their families and carrying our stuff in the rain to our camps. Yet they sang and smiled and thanked us for the opportunity (which in turn provides them with opportunities such as schooling). It really was a sad and special moment.

As soon as the feelings came though, they were sort of put in the back of my mind again, as we had to now pick out our gear and pile back into the Range Rovers for the drive back to Arusha. Deb, Jody and I climbed into one truck (with our head guide Naiman and ‘waiter’ David), Dylan, John, Mike and Sarah climbed into the other. I asked our driver to make a pit stop at the grocery store on the way back as well, so that we could pick up some celebratory drinks. Before I knew it, we were driving back along dusty roads and saying farewell to Kili at our backs.

At the grocery store, we picked up some bottles of wine, as well as some sparkling wine to do a proper celebration. I couldn’t really wait that long though, so I also picked up an ice cold Kili beer for the ride. Man oh man did that one taste sweet after nearly a week without a beer 🙂 If I didn’t know better, I’d say that it hit me right away! The plan for our return to the hotel was pretty simple. Unpack and unwind for a bit, then meet up for drinks and dinner later on. We were quite looking forward to ordering from a menu again, and I went back to my favourite, the Jaeger Schnitzel. However, more important was the round of toasts with the bubbly, and the distribution of everyone’s certificates. We took up our ‘normal’ table outside on a balcony in front of the hotel where we could take in the sounds of all the locals. It was a really nice final group meal. As it had over the entire trip, conversation was easy, with lots of joking and smiles from everyone. Jody also was really well organized and actually copied out an email list for everyone in the group with everyone else’s contact information, so that we could keep in touch.

Once the food was all consumed, we focused on finishing off the remaining bottles of wine that we had. John had picked up a nice bottle for the group as well, which we were all enjoying. Eventually, the sandman started going to work on some of the crew, and people started drifting off. I’ll give you all two guesses who wasn’t quite ready to give up the ghost yet. Okay, of course you picked me. Now who else? Yup, that’s right, Aussie rules once again. Deb was happy to help finish off some more wine with me. Eventually, we made our way to the bar at the other end of the resort, where the Internet room was located. Once there, we joined back up with Dylan, who decided he wasn’t so tired that he couldn’t celebrate a bit more with us. Essentially, we closed the bar out. In fact, they only stayed open to keep selling us more beer and wine! Finally, when the last bartender wanted to close up, she came outside to where we were and offered to get us one more round before locking up. What can I say, old habits die hard 🙂

Into the wee hours we sat around talking about everything under the sun (technically I guess it was under the moon). I had gone back to my room briefly to pick up my iPod touch, and was attempting to do some entertaining by playing music out of its’ tiny speaker. It wasn’t quite a dance party, but it was as close as we could seem to get in that little alcove with the couches outside. There was brief talk of trying to make it out to a ‘local bar’, but we decided that was probably not the best idea. Whatever else that final evening / early morning was, I will say it was certainly memorable. It would be nice if we could all hang out again as a group, but I suppose that’s unlikely to happen.

Well, it appears that once again I’ve attempted a record at blog-post lengths here, so I suppose I had best sign off for the evening. My thought of the day this time will relate back to that emotional moment with the porters. Happiness will never come from what you wish you had; If you can’t be happy with what you have, you’ll never truly be happy. So look at what you have in life, and just be happy! No matter where things take you, look at the good things. Sleep tight friends.

What Goes up Must Come Down

Hello again friends. As promised, I’ve split summit day into the climb to the top and the climb back down in the interests of making each post manageable. There was still far too much to relate about my New Year’s eve after the summit, that you are now faced with needing to read a second post in one sitting (depending on your addiction to all things ActiveSteve :-). Of course, the map and pictures are the same as last time, so no need to review those unless you want to. This part of the story now takes you from the summit at Uhuru peak (way up there at 5,896m) down to Horombo Camp, situated faaaarrrr below at 3,700m. Yup, that’s right we’d be descending over 2.1km in one hike! Read on to learn more about that.

So, just where were we? Oh yeah, that’s right, we’d just spent about 25 minutes at 5,896m, and decided we had better get back down without pushing out luck. I wanted to basically bomb it back, but was told that I could do no such thing while we were still up on the crater rim. The plan was to stick relatively close together at least until we made our way back once more to Gillman’s point. Luckily, that wouldn’t take nearly as long as it did the first time. In fact, it actually only took about 3/4 of an hour. In other words, we took half the time. Of course, at that pace it would still be a while before we could crash in our tents for a little bit. Oh, I didn’t mention that yet did I?

The full descent plan was similar to on Mount Meru. The camp at Kibo was still set up for us while we had climbed. Porters were assigned to each of our tents to watch our gear, and sleep in them while we climbed. Once we got back down, the plan was that we’d crash in the tents for an hour or so, while lunch was prepared for us. Once we ate lunch, we’d grab out gear, and make our way from Kibo to Horombo, 1000m below, but quite a long hike. Luckily it would be mostly downhill, so we could make good time.

Anyway, once we hit Gillman’s point for the second time, Jody, Deb and I sort of sped up a bit as we picked our way through Jamaica Rocks. Another big change in this part of the hike was the weather. Specifically, I’m now talking about the sun. It was impossibly hot up here! I feel bad for complaining, but the fact is that it was now uncomfortably hot. Along the crater walk, I stopped a few times to scoop up snow and try and cool down my head an neck. I dared not take off my hat because I knew I’d probably automatically burn to a crisp. Also, I will mention at this point that while I had taken 3L of fluids with me on the climb (which at this point had already been over 9 hours), I wasn’t sure just how much I’d drank. Remember that point.

Well, it was now time for one of my favourite parts of this hike 🙂 Scree! Everybody complains about scree slopes, because they’re so hard to climb up and a pain to get back down. Well, in my view, descending them is one of the pure joys on a volcano. I’d learned about, and gotten very familiar with scree slopes while I cycled around New Zealand and had the chance to climb several volcanos. While there, I’d adopted a pretty aggressive scree descent method, which was more or less like skiing down a steep powder run in the backcountry. With the poles, it was even more like that. You see, scree is very loose and slides under your feet. However, while sand is too loose and soft to use the slide, scree has some solid base, so you only slide on the top foot or so. Using that, you can really get into a groove heading down.

I used that to full advantage on the way down. I still felt great, and wanted to have fun. Deb and Jody were also descending at a good clip with our guide, but I was in my own world and literally flew down the mountain. I did stop on a few occasions to wait for them and watch other people, but man was that fun. My fun was in direct juxtaposition to a lot of people we saw on the descent however. We passed one man who for all intents and purposes was unconscious. Two guides were basically carrying him down. We also saw numerous people that were completely out of it, and looked as though they’d collapse at any moment. Still other were collapsed, or at least stopped at the trail side and trying to be revived by friends and guides. It felt like a bit of a war zone. I was glad we were doing so well. In the case of some of these people, I wondered where their guides were, as they seemed to have been abandoned. Once again, I was thankful for the level of organization and attention our team had put into this. None of us was alone up here. Thank goodness. I was sure that the one fellow would be dead by the end of the day (people still die every year up on Kili). Scary thought, but not one I could dwell on.

As mentioned before, the descent was far easier, since we were basically heading straight down the mountain rather that doing the switchbacks. About halfway down the slope, we stopped in order to take off as much clothing as we could. Jody and I even convinced Deb to just finish off the hike by stripping down to her long underwear, which was some pretty colourful stuff. I was down to my tights and undershirt, while Jody kept a little more gear on. What had taken us nearly 7 hours to climb up had basically taken us an hour and a half to descend. Wow!

We were the first 3 to arrive back at camp, and to proceed to our tents to attempt napping. As soon as I got in the tent, the pain hit me. What pain? Well how about the most crackin’ headache I think I’ve ever had! It was all I could do to keep from crying. I was a little scared as I thought maybe it was altitude. However, a quick investigation into my water supply gave me the answer. I’d probably drank less than 2 liters in over 11 hours of hard activity, and just spent several hours in the blazing sun. Damn! I think I had a bad case of heat exhaustion, and there was basically nothing I could do about it. Regardless, I thought maybe my solution would be to get lower in hopes that would help me. As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one who needed that.

Remember Mike and his turning back at Gillman’s? Well, he came back down, apparently extremely slowly due to his condition, and had been resting for few hours in the tent. However, when Naiman checked in on him, he was still not good. That was all Naiman needed. Next thing I knew, he was yelling for an ‘ambulance’, which up here basically means a stretcher with one big mountain bike tire on suspension attached. With it comes 5 African lads who basically run you down the mountain as fast as they can. You see, the best cure for altitude troubles is to get lower. The first line of defense from Kibo is getting from 4700m here to 3700m at Horombo, where you rest more and get re-assessed. There is no such thing as an airlift up here. So poor Mike was strapped in as tight as they could while in his sleeping bag. I had asked if I could descend with them, but Naiman said they would probably be too quick, and felt pretty certain I’d be okay to wait longer. Easy for him to say, I felt like absolute misery.

Sleep was impossible, so I busied myself with packing up my gear so I could leave as quick as possible. I made a plea to the other guides to let me head down as soon as possible, but that never materialized. I kept trying to drink a lot of fluids, but that totally backfired. Deb kindly offered me some head meds of hers, and as soon as the second one hit my throat, I had to bolt out of the mess tent and vomited in a big explosion of bile and water. Thinking I might be better now, I went back to the mess tent. No such luck! I had to run outside twice more and basically wretched out all the liquid I had in me as all the porters watched with mild concern. Not fun. At this point, everyone else was stirring and heading to the tent for lunch which was now ready. I was told to eat something, but there was absolutely no way I could eat or drink at the moment. I just wanted to get out of there, unsure whether I could even physically do it.

By the way, if your’re really observant and wondering, that is the reason both the GPS map, and my photo sets are lacking any sort of recorded data from Kibo down to Horombo. I didn’t have it in me to do anything, except, as is turns out, get myself moving at top speed. After lunch was eaten, and everyone was set, we set back out on the march. Sarah was pretty beat, and was in no hurry, and poor Jody also wasn’t feeling 100%. Dylan and John were pretty much just at their average, reliable pace and feel. Deb was a bit distant, and happy to follow whatever pace existed. The guide was going reasonably quick, which was fine for me while I could manage the pace, but too fast for others. At one point, he told me to lead. That was the last I saw most of the group that afternoon.

As soon as I was in front, I just locked back into what I thought was the guide’s pace from before. However, I apparently pulled further and further away from the group. The wind was in my face, and I didn’t hear anyone calling me from behind (which apparently Jody was doing). I was completely in the racing and pain zone. In a long adventure race (anything after you’ve been up for 24 hours), you block out the world and just get it done, one foot in front of the other. That’s where my mind was (through the blinding headache). The good thing was that the other instincts that kicked in were my drinking and eating reflexes. As I pushed forward, I was drinking little sips all the way, and taking snacks from my pouches.

Eventually, one of the guides caught back up to me and stayed with me for the rest of the hike. As we got closer to the end of the day’s hike, Deb was also pretty much with us. Apparently she had spent much of that leg just on her own, wrestling with her own personal demons I suppose, facing her own realities on the way. We were the first two to arrive at camp, and after unsuccessfully trying to register with a ranger, we grabbed our gear and headed to tents. The porters were pretty jovial and tried talking and joking with me a bit, and I tried to reciprocate, but in reality I just wanted to lay down and drink more, in an attempt at recovery. I felt pretty bad about running away from Jody on the way down, so I set up her half of the tent so that when she got in she could have a nap.

Rather than sleep I just listened to music and laid there, willing the pain to go away. Eventually I sort of drifted into a semi-slumber, yet still aware of everything around me. I believe Mike was also undergoing very much the same. The good news is that by the time the porters were telling us the snacks and tea time were ready, I definitely felt an improvement. In the tent, I munched happily on the popcorn and nuts, and drank some tea. Supper was on tap within an hour as well, and I knew that there would likely be wine to celebrate, especially since it was New Year’s eve. There was also now the matter of figuring out all the tips, which is something I’d taken on again for this part, so I really needed to perk up a bit. Between snack and supper I rested again, and even cleaned up a little bit.

Our final supper on the mountain was a bit surreal. We’d gone through a lot on the mountain, particularly in the last 24 hours of the journey. We once again raised our glasses and offered some toasts to each other in recognition and celebration of our accomplishments. We were all really glad to see that Mike also had made a recovery, meaning he wouldn’t be leaving and heading to hospital, which was the other option! We stayed up for a little bit, but once the darkness fell, and the tips were collected, we all pretty much just went to our tents to reflect and sleep. Although I desperately wanted to sleep, I had to stay up a bit and prepare each of the envelopes for the 28 crew members on our trip! I had bought envelopes before Kili just for this purpose. It would have been far too complicated trying to hand out all the tips at the end otherwise. Once that was sorted, I turned over, shut off my light, and basically had a sleep of the dead!

There endeth the descent from 5,896m to 3,700m. With only one short day of trekking out remaining, our time in Africa was becoming very limited. What a day that had been. I’ve done some pretty long and grueling races, and while this isn’t on the same level, it was certainly one of the more amazing hikes that I’ve done. I was also very proud of Jody and her awesome job on the mountain! While she may not share all my passions for racing and training, she has a pretty amazing natural ability for these things. The fact that she was right there with me the whole way up and down is quite a testament to her strength. I was lucky to have her company on this journey, even though I didn’t always spend all my time with her.

All that remains now is the final hike off the mountain, along with our final night in Africa. The story isn’t quite done, so you’ll have to come back to hear how it all ends. So, my thought of the day: A mountain is more than a mountain. It is a metaphor, it is a journey, it is a mirror, allowing you to reflect on yourself and your place in the universe. Never underestimate the impact that a mountain can have on your soul. Until tomorrow, keep dreaming kids!

Suck it up and Summit Already!

Hello fellow adventurers! Strap yourselves in, because we’re finally there. Summit day on Kilimanjaro. Today you will finally find out how Cantrailia fared on the roof of Africa. Now, admittedly, this post is likely going to run long. I’m just going to start writing it up, and see how lengthy it becomes. I may in fact decide to break it into two posts: up to the summit, then descending from the summit. That’s just the way I roll. However, in spite of whether I split it, there remains only one map of the day’s hike, as well as one set of pictures on flickr. But what a splendid map and set of pictures they are 🙂 For in those, you will see that we made it all the way to the top, at 5,895m AMSL. The roof of Africa. The top of Kibo, Uhuru Peak. Any way you slice it, and by whatever name you refer to it, there is no higher place in all of the continent of Africa, and it is the world’s tallest freestanding mountain! Not a bad accomplishment I’d day. Read on to find out more.

As I spoke about in yesterday’s post, our actual climbing was to start around midnight. And guess what? That was the start of December 31st, 2009. So in fact, we would be getting to the summit on New Year’s eve. What a way to say goodbye to 2009, and what I’ll call the end of a decade. I knew before even taking a step that day that this would be a long day of reflection and looking back on my life, as well as looking forward to the future, whatever it may hold. Quite heady things to have in your heart as you set out, but that’s the sort of things that happens on a trip like this. so with that in mind, I now present you the tale of getting to the top.

As per the plans, we were awake shortly after 11pm, and set about fiddling with our cold weather gear and headlamps. There was some debate over what was the right clothes to start out with, and I opted to keep the down jacket packed away for the start, knowing full well that it would get even colder as we climbed higher. Most of the others opted to bundle up right away, but I know me and my thermonuclear heating capacities as I’m moving. After a quick and standard ‘breakfast’, we were off. It was about 10 minutes after midnight when we left the relative comfort of our tent to fact the unknown high up on the mountain. Before getting too far up the trail, we could already tell that we were by no means the first up on the trail. High above us, strung our along the initial slopes, we could see plenty of little headlights bobbing.

At Kibo, there is a confluence of a couple of the routes leading up to the summit, so the number of hikers taking a crack at Uhuru peak was quite high. All hikers were going at pretty much the same pace: dead slow. However, that didn’t stop us from passing a couple groups early on (which was unbelievable considering the actual pace). The other good thing about this time of the month in particular was the fact that it was nearly a full moon, and the sky was cloudless. So in fact, we pretty much all turned off our headlamps as we got further up the slope, because the moon was spectacular. It was sort of eerie, but also very beautiful to be climbing such a beast by only moonlight.

The terrain itself was basically hard-packed and frozen scree. We were told that the trip back down would be a lot different than the hike up, as the scree all thaws out in the morning sun. In order to make our way up, we took a zig-zag, switchback path across the scree slopes. However, we could clearly see the faint outline of the path which led straight back down, which we’d take upon our return.

Our route for the day had a couple of stop and checkpoints along the way, where the guides would be checking our condition. We had all four of our guides with us, and I remarked early on that Naiman had no pack or water with him, which I thought was either foolish or poor planning. However, not too far up the mountain, I learned the reason why. One person in our group was already feeling a little exasperated, and that they wouldn’t make it. Naiman stopped and had a talk to them, taking their pack at the same time, and convincing them to keep going. As he walked back up to where I was, he just smiled and said ‘Now you see why?’. Touche. After all, these guides had been climbing this mountain for years, and knew exactly what they were doing. No sense in carrying two packs, especially when the other 3 guides could split all the medical and first aid stuff.

The three ‘gut check’ stations on the route to Gillman’s point (which is at 5,681m, and is considered by many to be the ‘peak’, but it isn’t the summit) were William’s point at about 5,000m, Hans Meyer cave at 5,150m, and finally Jamaica Rocks, which are the start of the final push up to Gillmans, and where you are presented with a few additional challenges as far as rocky terrain goes. We didn’t specifically stop at any of those points, other than Hans Meyer, as we would sort of take little breaks all along the route whenever anyone needed to rest a moment. However, we could never stop too long. Also, on this summit day, the entire group stuck together, no ‘fast’ group. I certainly wasn’t going to push and ruin my chances 🙂

All along, I had hoped we’d actually be at Gillman’s before sunrise, but we could see early on that we may fall short of that goal. However, this time, I just accepted it. When we stopped at Hans Meyer cave, I decided that putting on the down jacket might be a good idea. It was pretty frickin’ cold, and with the slow pace and frequent mini-breaks, warming up wasn’t really happening. I also suspect that at high altitude it is more difficult to stay warm. With my big poofy jacket on, I felt like a real mountaineer, especially with my nice trekking poles, the GPS, and the view of a trail heading straight up a big mountain.

After five hours and 40 minutes of hiking, I turned around and could see the first rays of light on the horizon. It was absolutely beautiful and breathtaking, as the sun was going to rise from behind Hans Meyer peak on Mount Mawenzi, and light our path with sun on our backs up to Gillman’s point. For the next 30 minutes, as we slowly made our way up, I kept snapping pictures of that magical sunrise. It was an amazing feeling, and completely changed the feel of the hike to me. While we had just been trudging in the dark, we could now see sharp features and feel the warmth of the universe around us. Yup, pretty damned special to be there.

By 6:40 (in other words 6 and a half hours), we finally reached Gillman’s Point in full sunlight. It was actually a good thing, as it meant we wouldn’t freeze our asses off while we hung out there for a little bit. It also allowed us to be able to see better into the actual crater of Kili at the top. I should also mention that while we had definitely been hiking through ‘snow’ on the way up, it was really nothing more than a dusting and thin layer everywhere. However, up here, we could now see much more significant snow, and indeed glaciers that were around this area. Of course, we took a lot of pictures at Gillman’s and we were all extremely happy, because all seven of the group had made it here. However, the effort and altitude took it’s toll on Mike (who had stopped taking diamox due to effects). To make the final steps to the top, it took him a pretty big effort, as he was apparently seeing double and was dizzy. It was determined that he would in fact not continue with us, and instead go back down to Kibo camp in the interest of safety. Remember that point for later on. I had though Sarah might choose to turn around as well, but was impressed as we started making our way to Uhuru, as she was with us, meaning 6 of 7 of us were shooting for the summit.

We’d each had a nice cup of hot tea at Gillmans before heading off, and I think that was great thinking by the guides, for the next section had us dipping down into the crater a bit, which is totally out of the sun and quite snowy and icy. Brrrr! However, this coldness was easily erased by the majesty of the terrain we were crossing. We took back to the trail around 7am, and would have about another hour and a half before getting to the penultimate goal. Similar to the day before, we could actually see Uhuru peak for much of our trek, as we were following the crater rim around to it. We would only be gaining a little over another 200m to get there, but when you’re at 5,600m+, that’s not trivial 🙂 Our little group soldiered on pretty well. We were down to 3 guides now, as Naiman had returned with Mike. On this leg of the hike, we started spreading out a little bit, but not terribly much. Basically, we all were confident we’d make it, so we were able to be a bit more loose with our pacing and bunching. For the most part, we were never spread out more than 50 or 100m.

Along the way, we started passing people who were already coming down from the summit, or who had taken another route and wanted to go to Gillman’s Point. Those who had peaked were all smiles, and kept encouraging us saying that it wasn’t far, and was totally worth it. No one needed to convince me of that. Pretty much right on schedule, we reached the summit. 8:30am on New Year’s eve 2009, the final steps were walked. The summit seemed pretty crowded, but no one stays very long at that altitude, so by the the rest of the group arrived, it was getting less crowded, and at one point, we actually had the place to ourselves, which was quite nice, and allowed me to use my tripod to snap some shots of the group at the sign. Words can’t really describe these moments. I felt no pain, didn’t notice the altitude, didn’t feel tired. I just felt alive. I strolled around a little bit, observing the glaciers around, as well as casting angry glances over to my nemesis, Mount Meru, which was very clearly visible from here. I also wandered close to the rim, and saw that it was actually a pretty hairy drop if I walked too far!

Although I was surrounded by our entire group, as well as other hikers, there were moments that I felt quite alone up there as well. It was an odd feeling. I was really happy to share the moment with Jody and the entire crew, but I just sort of got lost in my own mind a few times. After spending about 25 minutes at the peak, it was time to head back down to lower altitudes. However, I wouldn’t do that before I made my offering to the mountain Gods. This is of course a tradition I’d picked up in Peru, carried on in NZ, and now brought here. I had brought a stone from Gatineau Park near Ottawa, and it had been with me every step of the journey, as well as a rock from the base of the mountain. I left both stones at the summit as an offering. I wonder how long they’ll stay there. I put them in an obvious spot, so I’ll be checking pictures online to see if I can see them 🙂

As important as climbing the mountain was, getting down from the summit safely was just as important, so we had to make haste. After all, we’d been up at this altitude for quite a while now. My next post will pick back up here, and take you back down, since this is long enough already! Read on for that post!

Kili Looms Large on Day 4

So, we finally find ourselves getting very close to our objective on this trip: the roof of Africa. Yesterday was a relatively short day for Cantrailia, and it took us up to 4,300m where we slept and acclimatized. The goal for today was going to be to make our way to our final ‘camp’ on the ascent of Kili. I use the term ‘camp’ lightly, as we were really only going to sleep a few hours there before beginning our slow trip up the mountain. But of course, I’m getting ahead of myself in this introduction. So, rather than spoil the fun, I’ll start like I always do. First, have a look at the satellite map showing where we hiked for this day. Also, check out the set of pictures on flickr. Overall, it was a good, if not a bit boring, day on the mountain. There’s not that much to tell, but I’m sure I’ll embellish it enough to turn into a decent little story for you all :-). When you’re done checking out the goodies, come on back and read on.

As you might very well guess at this altitude, we awoke to a very chilly morning. The night before, we had left our washing water in the basin outside the tent, and it was froze completely solid. Hmm, that might make it tough for the porter… I flipped it over and pounded the block of ice onto the ground. Too funny. Also, the tent was pretty much frozen solid from condensation freezing to it. However, the great news of the day is that upon shaking the fog from my head and stretching outside, it was very nice to see that the sky was clear, and that the sun appeared to be struggling it’s way from behind the mountains to shine down on us. Wow! What a sight. A sunny morning is just what I’d hoped for.

As a result of this most welcome sunshine, a few of the porters set themselves at the mess tent, and basically picked it up and moved it straight out from the table. The effect was that our little group would get to enjoy our breakfast in the bright sunshine enjoying the views of Mount Mawenzi and Hans Meyer peak! Very cool indeed to have breakfast at 4,300m with such a spectacular view. We had to eat fast though, because at that temperature (it was still below freezing) the food wasn’t going to stay warm. We still appreciated the effort of giving us such a splendid breakfast table.

After breakfast, and still before 8am, we set off and bid farewell to the Mawenzi Tarns. Our trek today started there, at 4,300m, and would end at Kibo Camp, located at the foot of Kili at 4,700m. Yup, you read right, we were only actually gaining 400m in elevation throughout the day. Mind you, there would be a bit of up and down, so we were climbing more than that, but the actual gain was pretty negligible. However, the route was still over 8km of hiking. We had been told that this route would basically be lunar landscape. No vegetation, just small pebbles and some big rocks strewn on a path that stretched far off into the distance. In fact, we’d be able to see Kibo camp hours before we got there, just tantalizingly out of reach.

With that knowledge in mind, we set out once again at the Kili shuffle pace of ‘pole pole’, which means slowly in Swahili. Not long after our start, we walked up a ridge and were greeted with a magnificent view of Kili. It was crystal clear at the moment, and we could see the snow line and where we’d be going. The guide was also generally able to point out already where we were camping. It looked far away from both where we were, as well as where we had to go to summit. Guess that’s why they call this a hike. We took some great photos from this spot, but then started moving again. We had about 4 hours total of hiking today, and the sooner we got in, the sooner we could try to get some sleep before the midnight start to summit day.

Along the way, we quickly realized they weren’t kidding about seeing your destination. Not only could we see the camp far away, but we could also make out the stream of porters spread out from where we were all the way to camp. It was a very surreal sight. We were also keenly aware now of just how slow we were moving. No one was really complaining too much anymore, as we knew at this altitude you really had to take your time or risk failure on the next section, but it was still funny, and I have a good video that shows you the pace.

The only really interesting part of the day (but I won’t call it a highlight) was trudging past the remains of an airplane that crashed high up here in the mountains. There wasn’t too much debris left, but still a fair chunk of the fuselage. It appeared as though it had been picked quite clean of anything of value in it, but the pieces left were certainly a reminder of the dangers that lurk in high mountain passes. I believe we were told that it had crashed a few years back, killing all the passengers aboard. It was a small craft flying from Kenya into Nairobi. There were no memorials or anything like that, but it still felt like some sort of grave marker. I snapped a few shots, as did other, but in general, we just walked by it. I was surprised just how close it was to our trail.

Apart from that, we made only one stop along the desolate path at some big boulders to allow people to take their nature break. Given the landscape we were traversing, there weren’t many opportunities for privacy for the ladies to do their business, so it was greatly appreciated I think. We were all in good spirits, but likely all had some thoughts in our heads about what the next day would hold. From what I could tell, everyone still seemed very strong, and unaffected by the altitude. That was a good sign, and our guide also confirmed that he thought we were in great shape and said there was a very good chance that everyone would summit. Good to hear, given that the actual summit rate is only between 40 and 60%!

When we finally got to Kibo camp, it was an absolute zoo. The tents seemed to all be completely crammed together. I wasn’t looking forward to spending the night and starting the hike in the midst of this tent city. We went straight to the ranger’s hut to sign in, and were then pointed towards our ‘camp’. But guess what? Once again our porters completely kicked ass! Whereas there were tons of tents in the main area, we were in a completely separate spot, where you climbed up some rocks, then descended into a little sheltered area. Therefore, it was nice and quiet, and we had lots of room to ourselves. We were very impressed with this, and I dare say it lifted our spirits just a touch. One thing is for certain. Looking back on the Mount Meru hike compared to this hike… well, there was no comparison. They had redeemed themselves!

After a nice lunch, we were told to try and get some sleep for a couple hours in the afternoon before supper. I asked about whether we’d do another acclimatization hike, and we were told normally they don’t. However, I was keen to do one anyway, and asked if others wanted to. John seemed interested, and Dylan and Deb also were on the fence. I told one of the guides I’d come see them later in the afternoon about it. We headed to our tents, and people proceeded to fall asleep. Well, most people. I couldn’t, as I’m really not much for napping. Eventually, I just got up and headed outside. Guess what was happening? It was snowing! Yup, while we normally would get rained on, this time, due to our altitude, we actually got snowed on, and of course I managed to capture that on video as well 🙂

After a bit longer I rattled the canvas of John and Dylans tent, as well as Deb’s ‘palace for one’. Deb opted to sleep more, and Dylan, still recovering from being sick, also passed. However, John was willing to go for the hike, so we gathered up a guide and went for a quick hike up the mountain. I think we only gained about another 130m, but then the weather turned again, and it was soon extremely cloudy and raining / snowing. We turned back, and headed for camp. I wanted to descend fast, but was forced to slow down. Although I felt confident of the way, the guide wouldn’t let me go ahead, claiming I might just end up at Horombo Camp, which, by the way, is an additional 1,000m down the mountain. His point was simply when you can’t see the path, we have to stick together. Fair enough. We got back to camp, and that was the end of hiking for the day. We of course had an early supper, then it was back to bed for everyone in order to rest up. As I mentioned, we’d be back up around 11pm, in order to depart by midnight! Insanity. This time I opted to do the sleep thing as well, even though it was early. A bit of music helped that happen. Ahh Sting, your calm melodies can always lull me to sleep 🙂

And there ends Day 4 of the trek. Thought of the day? How about this: never underestimate the value of a well-treated porter and their willingness to go above and beyond in helping you. The fact that the company we chose was known for treating porters well showed in all the little things they did for the good of the group. It was clear with other companies that this wasn’t the case! Well, off to bed now, as tomorrow is summit day! Rest up friends.

Teriffic Trekking Trip to the Tarns

Well howdy all! Welcome back for Day 3 of the trip up Mount Kilimanjaro. Hard to believe that there are only a few more blog posts left to write about our amazing African trip. I hope you’ve stuck with me through all the long days, and that you’ve all been enjoying these posts. It’s sometimes quite a job to try and write up these stories, especially since life has moved on since then, but it’s nice to re-visit these the adventure and try and remember some of the little details. Day 3 was another straight trekking day for team Cantrailia. Compared to day 2, it was much shorter, but at these altitudes, that’s not such a bad thing. For starters, have a look at the map of the journey on day 3, as well as the set of pictures posted on flickr. Once you have a sense of the day, read on for the rest of the post.

So just what would our day consist of? Well, we were setting out from Kikelewa Camp situated at 3,660m, and working our way gradually up to about 4,500m, finishing at a place known as Mawenzi Tarns, basically in the shadow of Mount Mawenzi (yes, I just realized that I have been spelling it wrong, and now need to fix a bunch of things. Oops. The peak of Mount Mawenzi, as a point of interest, is called Hans Meyer peak. Guess what? Hans Meyer is also my dad’s name, so that was pretty cool. And just who was Hans Meyer? As it turns out, he was the first European (read: white person) to summit Mount Kilimanjaro at Kibo Peak in 1889. Very neat. No relation to me I don’t think, but still an interesting factoid I thought.

Upon waking up in the morning, the first thing we had to do was chip through the ice on the tent! Well, not quite, but there was definitely a lot of frost, and there was actual ice that accumulate on our tent. I was feeling particularly energetic right off the bat, and was up quite early, so after getting dressed I took a little hike alone to Kikelewa Cave, which wasn’t far from our camp. The sun was shining brightly, and Kilimanjaro was out in full splendor, so adventure was beckoning me. I took care to walk slowly and carefully, as I did have to cross another ‘stream’, and there were lots of boulders. No sense twisting an ankle at this point! After my little stroll, I headed back to camp to finish getting my gear sorted out and to join the team in the mess tent for our breakfast. It was a great start to the day.

I think it was shortly after 8am that we left camp, with the sun still shining, although the air was still quite crisp, due to our altitude. Early in the trek, I kept noticing what seemed to be charred tree trunks. I eventually asked about it, and the guide explained to us that this was the result of a fire a few years back. It essentially rolled it’s way right up the mountain, burning down a large portion of the shrubbery at higher altitude. Too bad, as it takes several years for these trees to reach any real size. Not sure how the fire started, but I’m guessing some careless human. When will we learn?

After about an hour went by, the fog once again started to drift in, meaning of course that our somewhat interesting views were once again lackluster. Too bad. On the plus side, we wrapped up our hiking in a mere 3.5 hours, and never had to pull out our full gear once on the hike. How great is that? Well, as it turns out, too good to be true. While we’d reached camp, we weren’t done for the day. We still had an acclimatization hike to get through after lunch. So, first order of business as usual was getting our gear and setting up our living spaces in the fabric domiciles that we were inhabiting. Once settled there, it was off to the mess tent once again to eat (did I mention that we seldom went more than 4 hours without a full meal, and when we did we at least had snacks? I was sure I’d be gaining weight on this trip.

The camp up here was actually a really spectacular location. The landscape was extremely rugged, with our tents set up amidst a lot of rocky terrain. Nearby was a small lake which was our source of water for this camp (in fact the last water source until we were at the end of our summit day). The various other groups were scattered around this lake, although we definitely seemed to have the best spot. It turns out each morning, Naiman would send out a couple of the faster porters early in the morning to secure the ‘prime’ camping area. Our camp was the only one on that side of the lake, giving us more peace and quiet.

After lunch was done and we were making our move to go on the hike, wouldn’t you know it, the rain started! No big deal, we could just put on our now familiar rain gear and press on. I don’t think everyone was as keen as I might have been to get going again, but from what I could see this little hike should be pretty fun, as there would be some scree and some rocks to navigate. A nice change of terrain. We were also told this would be the sort of terrain we could expect on our way up to the summit on the final push. I really enjoyed it. Once again, we didn’t go out too high, just enough to experience a slightly higher altitude.

Once again, we also didn’t dawdle too much at the top, especially not Deb, who had to make a pretty quick descent back to camp. Apparently she picked up whatever issue I’d had the day before, and didn’t feel like ‘giving back’ to nature up on the rocks. Can’t say I blame her. The rest of us also descended fairly quickly. As much to be done of the rainy hike as anything else. Fortune smiled on us once again though, as once we returned to camp, we were rewarded with a break in the weather once again. It happened while we were eating our afternoon snack (yup, eating again!) of popcorn, peanuts, cookies, and hot drinks.

We all spilled out of the tent into the gorgeous sun, all too aware that it could disappear at any moment. We clamored on some rocks behind our camp in order to get a better view of the camp and the surroundings. The sun was shining brilliantly on Mount Mawenzi, which was pretty awe-inspiring. In a way, I’d wished we’d also be summitting that peak at 5,145m, but that wasn’t in the itinerary. Either way, the view was really cool at that point in the day, which was now just after 5pm. While taking some pictures and videos, wouldn’t’ you know it, the fog was literally rolling right up the mountain into camp once again. So, once again, it was supper, then back to the tents for an early night and sleep. No game playing this night. After all, we were getting pretty high up the mountain as well, so rest would serve us well in the next day, since that would actually be the start of the summit push.

That pretty much sums up day 3. I’m getting excited to blog the last 2 days, but it’ll have to wait till tomorrow, as there are other things to tend to at the moment. My thought of the day here is to always seize the moment. You never know when the fog will roll back in, so take advantage of every good chance and opportunity that you see coming your way. Till tomorrow, enjoy your days / nights!

Kili Day 2: More Rain, More Climbing

Hello again, and welcome to the wet, wild African adventures of ActiveSteve and Cantrailia! The blog post title pretty much sums up the entirety of what this post will be about, but when have you ever known me to keep things short and sweet? Of course I have a few more things to share with you about the day, so you’ll just have to read the whole thing anyway. To get you started, I of course once again urge you to check out the map that I made of the day’s trek, as well as the set of pictures posted over on flickr. When you are satisfied that you have an idea of what we as a group were up against for this particular leg of the journey come on back here and read the rest of the post.

Now that we’d gotten the first day of hiking on Kili under our belts, we were really starting to get into the swing of things. As alluded to in the last post, the camp routines were pretty much the same every day. We’d first get woken up by a helper porter, and would then get a bit of warm water to wash up if we’d like (ok, I’ll be honest now… I seldom did :-). After that, it was the stuffing game while we packed up our sleeping bags and mattresses and all our gear into the duffel bags for the porters. Once packed, we’d head over to the mess tent for breakfast, dropping off our bags on the way, so that they could be picked up by the porters who would take off early for the next camp. Breakfast was a pretty quick meal, with a variety of things like porridge (I got tired of that pretty early, but Deborah seemed more than willing to eat my share, and Sarah seemed to like it as well… I don’t know about these Aussie’s and their runny porridge). We’d also sometimes get treats like eggs, bacon, then of course toast and plenty of warm drinks. I took to drinking mainly tea all day when we had warm drinks. Then, we’d be given some trail snacks (pack of cookies and a little bit of chocolate).

Once the meal was consumed, we’d do any last minute gearing up, put on our daypacks, and basically get in line to start the trek for the day. Naiman would give us a short briefing about how we’d spend our day, then it was time to start the Kili march. On this particular day, we left camp somewhere between 8 and 8:30 in the morning. Yup, since we went to bed early, it was no problem getting up before 7am each day, even for me 🙂

Today’s hike looked like it would be a fun one. We were continuing our gradual journey up the mountain, starting out at Simba Camp at about 2,600m, and wrapping up at Kikelewa Camp (where Kikelewa Cave, aka 3rd cave, is located) at 3,700m. Along the way we’d be passing by a few caves (inspirationally known as 1st and 2nd caves), and also climb out of the forested area into the higher alpine with more modest undergrowth. In theory, this meant we might be able to see more of the mountain today. Of course, that would require the sky to not be full of clouds. Umm. Yeah. So, we had clouds. More time to just enjoy the walking, right? Well, I loved it for sure, but it’s always more interesting to have good views. My main view would consist of watching the heels of the guide in front to make sure I didn’t walk on them 🙂

Although things were cloudy, the walk was quite enjoyable, and we took our time moving along, stopping once or twice on our way to 2nd cave, which is where we’d stop for lunch. Some groups stop for the day at 2nd cave, in order to acclimatize. However, as a result of our advanced hike on Meru, we merely stopped there for lunch then kept going. Hopefully that would mean a more thinned out camp this night. We got to 2nd cave in about 3 hours. Pretty quick in comparison to the other groups, and as it turns out, that would be a good thing. Our awesome porters had set up the mess tent and cooking tent (along with our ‘toilet tent’) and were busy preparing our lunch. We took off our packs and moved into the tent.

That was of course pretty much the precise moment it started to rain. We felt lucky that we could eat lunch dry and comfortable, but realized many other groups wouldn’t have that good fortune. We hoped it would be quickly over, but the rain continued throughout our meal. Even though it was almost 2 hours before we left again, the rain hadn’t abated. Of course, we’d all donned our wet weather gear in the tent before heading out, so once again, we were fairly comfortable. We had about another 2.5 hours of hiking in the afternoon ahead of us, and were optimistic that the rain would break before camp.

Oh dear, how wrong we were. The rain seemed to intensify with every meter of elevation we gained. I truly could not believe just how hard it was raining at one point. In fact, this was the one part of the trip where I [only momentarily] lost it with respect to the weather. We were trudging along the river, err, I mean path, and the rain seemed to hit me with all it was worth. Well, I unleashed a stream of invectives generally aimed at mother nature in my head. Finally, I screamed “Bring it on!” as my last act of defiance for what I thought was unfair treatment of us. However, at the end of the day, this was all great character building. I knew the peak would be that much sweeter after the suffering we had to endure to get there. Reminds me of the latin slogan we had in my high school. “Palma non Sine Pulvere” which we translated to “No Success without Struggle”. Full description of this Latin proverb found here.

All this rain had other consequences as well. Normally, on this trek, we’d cross over a few little mountain streams. You know, the kind you just step over. Well, due to the heavy rains, and the fact that it all flows down from the top, we were faced on a couple occasions with very swollen rivers. Had the water risen much more, we’d have almost no chance of crossing. As it was, on one of these dicey rivers (almost at the camp), one of our dear party (Mike), managed to actually in and get totally soaked. He was lucky it wasn’t worse. He also witnessed a poor porter struggling to cross, and ending up dropping the load he was carrying into the fast-moving water. Completely soaked, he couldn’t even lift if out alone, so Mike helped him. I would imagine that some poor weary hiker received a rather wet surprise when they got their gear at camp!

Once over these rivers, we finally made it into camp, and rain finally seemed to let up just a little bit. Of course, our dear porters had done the unenviable job of needing to choose a camping area which wasn’t flooded, then proceed to get the tents up without getting them totally soaked on the inside. They were [mainly] successful, and for that I am grateful. We chucked the goods into the tent and crawled in, soggy, to try and relax for a little bit. It was then that we finally received just the slightest concession from the mountain goods. As we were in the tent, feeling miserable about the weather, and wondering if we could endure it for another several days, the rain stopped completely. What’s more, the sun came out! I’m talking about full-on sun! The kind that had me racing out of the tent, and proceeding to spread gear all over available rocks and shrubs in an attempt to dry it. My boots were priority one, as they were 100% non-waterproof 🙂

We were also treated to a splendid view of both Mount Kilimanjaro, as well as Mount Mawenzi (the secondary peak to Kili). It was a truly spiritually uplifting time, and made me feel much better about the hiking. All was quickly forgotten as we warmed up and dried out. The tea and snacks tasted that much better, and were enjoyed while wandering around camp a bit snapping shots. Mike was particularly happy for this change as a result of his recent unwanted swim. Although clouds and fog did roll in intermittently for the remainder of the day, the rain stayed away. We had our supper, and discussed the next day’s itinerary. Things were so nice that Deb, Jody and I even pulled out the Battleship again and played a bit of that venerable navy strategy game for a while. If memory serves me correctly, this would have been the only game that I lost on the entire trip, although we never actually completed it!

Eventually, it was time to crawl into our bags and sleep. After all, at 3,700m, the air gets a little brisk at night, so it made sense to just go to bed. Especially after the porters bring you your drinking water for the next day. Since they boil all the water, we got nice hot bottles to stick in our sleeping bags to keep our feet warm. Nice little fringe benefit. Before actually going to bed, I waited for the really bright, near-full moon to pop up in the sky. I took a few interesting shots of Kili and Marwenzi using the special ‘night sky’ feature on my camera. They turned out pretty cool.

All in all, the ups and downs of that day make it a pretty memorable one. I was already looking forward to what the next day might bring us (although I’d be really glad if they brought me relief to the GI issues I’d been having all day…). My thought of the is probably fairly easy to guess. Rain will always pass. So too will suffering and misery. You just have to stick it out. Pretty similar to what I thought on Meru, but crystallized even further on this day. See you all tomorrow, another bang-up day on the mountain!