Brande Looks Back: Kilimanjaro Day 5 (Summit Day – Epiphany)

Well I subjected you to the run down of my roller coast emotions on the day we reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, so its only fair I also subject you to my summit epiphany as well.

(If you missed my emotional recap, click Brande Looks Back: Kilimanjaro Day 5 (Summit Day – Emotions). Its pretty raw, you have been warned.)

mount kilimajaro summit

Any who, back to my epiphany. Drum roll please….

Getting to the summit is only half way!

Let me explain before you are all wondering what I am going on about.

Every conversation you have before you even depart for Tanzania, before you even pack your bags, get your travel insurance and start any training (if you plan on training) is about if you will summit Mount Kilimanjaro. When you finally arrive in Arushu or Moshi, whichever destination you pick as your ‘base camp’ all questions from the Lodge or Hotel staff, from your fellow trekkers and in your own mind are about if or if not you will summit. Then the day comes and you meet your Guide and climbing company and every conversation is about how they will make sure you summit. Summit, summit, summit!

Makes some sense. You travel all the way to Tanzania, you labour up that mountain one painfully slow step at a time, to do one thing: summit. Summit, summit, summit!

This ‘all about the summit adage’ once made sense to me but is now totally nonsensical. The summit is not the finish line, it is not the end of the road, or the end of your journey – it is only half way. Half bloody way!

Of course it is half way, duh – what kind of hiker, trekker, and mountain climber am I anyway? What goes up must come down, and last I checked there is no Gondola on Mount Kilimanjaro. But wait. You honestly do not think much about anything but getting to the summit, until one day the possibility of the summit is really real and then it hits you that holy crap you have to get back down. People need to know and I am serious about that – if you are debating that mountain embrace my epiphany. lol

The summit is not a finish line. It is not a marathon where my husband is standing at the finish line to hug me up, walk with me though the post-race snack line up to grab some chocolate milk, half banana and some cookies, and then get in the comfy car to head home for a long, well deserved shower. {oh wow that would have been amazing}

The summit is only half way. You have to turn your arse around and do exactly what you did for the past 6+ hours one more time but this time your legs are already burning, your lungs are on fire and feeling like the are fully on strike, your head is pounding, and you are willing yourself to go even 100 more steps without puking again.Did I mention the toes jamming in the front of your boots or the knees on strike? Every step you took on the way up already, you take again but this time fully exhausted not just kind of exhausted. Sometimes the cruelty of the mountain is such that you can even see your own footsteps in the opposite direction left in the scree field that you humped up just hours before and now you need to slide unbalanced down again.

Getting to the summit is a feat, and anyone who has done it or even attempts it gets a big, awesome, amazing kudos from me. The ultimate trick is if you can get up and down the highest free standing mountain in the same positive head space both ways.  A few on my crew were happy go lucky the whole up and down time, I wanted to be but don’t recall having the energy to be. I for sure had moments in my happy place and also in my get me the hell down head space over the course of summit day. Trust me, like many others before me, I was so focused on the summit, just like everyone with me and before me on that mountain, that I almost and very nearly missed an opportunity to appreciate the ‘coming back down’ as much as the ‘going to the top’.

I was happy to be on Mount Kilimanjaro, wow I was ecstatic to be honest. But there is nothing I wanted more than to leave that bucket list mountain top and get down and never see that thing again. Well now that I am down, recovered and looking back on the experience I maybe have a more reasonable opinion of the roof of Africa….

If you asked me if I would I climb it again? You bet! I would do it again in one heartbeat.

Brande

PS: Blog post with the step by step details coming soon. It would seem I needed to see more pictures from my fellow trekkers to piece together the day. Who knew altitude stole your breath and your memories! Pics and step details coming soon.

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Lana Looks Back – Kili Day 3-4

(If you missed it – here is a link to my look back on Kilimanjaro Day 2)

Day 3 – Morning Paradise

It feels as though it’s been a long time coming but looking back to just 3 months ago, to the day I woke to the most amazing sunrise above the clouds, I can easily recall the surreal scene. It was as if I had been transported to a fantasy world high above the earth, it’s peak surrounded by a dense puff of cloud and it’s inhabitants squinting against the fiery ball of sun rising through the clouds, basking in the warmth it brought.

 This image and other spectacular moments are emblazoned on my memory but the complete compilation of day to day activity that brought myself and our group to these fantastic places is somewhat jumbled, the order misaligned in my mind. On reflection, the single days seem to run in to one another making it almost impossible for me to accurately state which event took place on what day. I struggle to recall the order of days even as I look through my photos, thankful that they have been recorded in some semblance of time and place in a week filled with so many amazing experiences. A word to the well intentioned, procrastinating, journal writers out there (me)… “Take notes!” I am thankful for my blogging partner’s discipline with jotting down daily events, experiences, and itineraries, but even as I read her recollections,  knowing they are accurate – I still have my doubts, wondering if she has it right. I have to wonder if maybe it’s because only 2% dehydration affects one’s attention, memory, and cognitive skills or if perhaps my brain cells were cannibalizing themselves in an effort to ward off starvation… With the incredible food we were being provided I can’t imagine it was the latter so at this point in time, even knowing that memory is a tricky part of the brain affected by emotion, past experience, and interpretation, I’m going with the dehydration option.

 On the morning of day 3 at Kikilewa Camp while our dining table was set in the open air and our bags and tents were packed and portered out, we lingered in the sunshine (and by lingering  I mean bandaging my battered heels) and set out late – close to 8:30am! Our trek was reported to be only 3-4 hours today with an acclimatization hike after our arrival at Mawenzi Tarn Camp – I know, sounds like great news! After an hour or so of upward and upward I wasn’t as excited.  My excitement waned further as another hour took us and my Darth Vader-like respirations upward yet. By the final hour I was wondering what kind of Tom-foolery I had signed up for. I felt deceived by the morning feast and the easy gathering around a heavenly table for 7 only hours before. What had begun as a lighthearted fellowship enveloped in sunshine and grace had turned into an ongoing slog of one foot over the other in the shadow of Mawenzi peak, surrounded by nothing but the grey rocks and dirt of Kilimanjaro.

 Cresting the ridge to Mawenzi Camp was a relief and even the slimy green puddle, the pale green of our tents, and the welcome of our home camp appeared to be a kind of oasis after our colourless morning.

 It took only moments before my grey thoughts were lifted. Popcorn, peanuts, and a lovely cup of tea have a way of quickly raising the spirits! A few card games in the dining tent, an amazing lunch, and we were set for a short acclimatization hike. The purpose of these wee treks was to climb temporarily to a higher altitude ensuring that the climb high – sleep low rule was followed so that our bodies had every opportunity available to adjust the altitude and maximize our chances of reaching the summit. The 20 minute rest at the height of the hike was an opportunity for the guides to lay out the plan for the next day and quietly assess each one of us and our physical, mental, and emotional state almost midway through this adventure. The knowledge and intuition of our guides never ceased to amaze me and I noted their keen sense of our team throughout our trek.

During one of our many water breaks, Felix #1 asked me how I was doing. I replied that I was doing well – no headaches, nausea, or shortness of breath (except on the uphill!!!). After confirming again that I was okay, he then questioned why, whenever he looked back, that I walked with my head down and was so quiet. “What are you thinking?” Initially I was shocked that I hadn’t noticed him looking back at us while he was in the lead –   I had been behind him directly or at least 2nd in line for the last couple of days! Secondly, for him to note my style of gait, and my quiet character surprised me.  For those who know me, they can imagine my discomfort at the beginning of this trek, despite being with one of my best friends, being smack dab in the middle of a group of 7 who I had met only a couple of times before – I mean, I’m basically a hermit! My response was that I was in fact doing okay. I was quiet because in the day to day busyness of life there isn’t much time for quiet contemplation and that I was only thinking one thing while on the uphill, “One more step, one more step.” He laughed at this and told me the next time he asks how I’m doing, if I feel as good as I do today,  that I should reply, “Ajabu,” which means fantastic. I believe that each one of us had at least one encounter like this with at least one of the guides as they observed and endeavored to learn more about each one of us, our physical state, and our well-being  whenever the opportunity came about.

 The day 3 acclimatization hike had served it’s purpose and after we settled in for an amazing supper I was satiated and sleepy. We all went our separate ways, snuggled into our tents for the night, and while I can’t speak for anyone else, the supposed theory of the difficulty of sleeping at altitude had thus far been disproven and remained merely a myth. I slept like a rock! I was looking forward to a day crossing “The Saddle,” which I had read was dry and hot, where the sun scorched and burned anyone who dared not cover their head. Oh yes, after the chilly, grey afternoon/evening of the third day, I was already dreaming of the desert tundra of day 4 in all of it’s warmth and glory!

Day 4 – A Change of Plan

During our acclimatization hike on Day 3, the guides suggested an alternate route that would shave several kilometres off of our trek and allow our group a greater chance of successfully reaching the summit. As it turns out, we voted unanimously in favour of the alternate route albeit for each one of us, the reason was different. We would now attempt to summit on day five, leaving in the daylight rather than making an overnight attempt. This new route would also involve us skipping the original stop at Third Caves Camp and making our way directly to School Huts Camp (4800m) one day early. I was greatly in favour of this part of the plan because it meant that we could stay in the same camp for two consecutive days and I wouldn’t have to tidy or pack anything before our 5am attempt at the summit!

 Breakfast was early and by 7am we were already into the second course.  This morning’s porridge was something new however, it was made from millet. Hmmm… not sure if I was a big fan of this change because of the taste or because at some point on day 3 my stomach had started to give me a bit of trouble. No nausea, no diarrhea, nor any acclimatization flatulence to speak of (my tent-mate was probably grateful for that!), just dull, continuous, epigastric pain that could not be relieved. Weird, but I was not going to be deterred from what I knew was going to be a fantastic day. With heels bandaged and taped, boots strategically tied, and my sunscreen at the ready, we set out for The Saddle. Up, up, and up we went, each time reaching a small summit then being rewarded with a small downhill section of trail. Finally, when we reached the peak and gazed over the edge, we could not only see the trail we would take across the saddle, but the path beyond leading onto the mountain, it’s solitary form rising up in the distance. Kilimanjaro – our final destination.

 There wasn’t a cloud in the sky as we descended into The Saddle. The azure blue overhead extended across the horizon and in every direction as far as we could see. The warmth of the sun was in direct opposition to the coolness of the high altitude breeze in the way that you could feel the shining rays on your face but when you touched your skin it was cold. Oh, there is something amazing about the sunshine and how it can transform the way you feel. Well, the way I feel anyway. I felt as if I could walk all day with our easy pace along a slow and barely perceptible incline… Now this was the hike I had dreamed about and the day that I most fondly look back on. The pace increased slightly as we excitedly began our cross country trek. Nothing but open space in front of us, our goal in sight every step of the way. After an hour I think our pace had slowed… It felt as though we had not made any gain at all. I think each one of us was marking rocks or breaks in the trail to ensure we were actually moving forward as the distance did not seem to close in any measurable way at all. I found that it was only when I looked back from where we had come that I realized the distance we had covered, the progress we had made. Life is a bit like that too, I think. Sometimes we have to look back to see how far we have come. So looking forward, there seemed no end but I didn’t care at all – the blue of the sky, the brightness of the sun, the freedom in my spirit, and the beauty of this place were like something one reads about only in books.

  
The easy pace of this day kept my abdominal pain at bay but the ache returned on the evening acclimatization hike and had me wondering if my breathing pattern was to blame. In medicine, when you are bagging a patient you don’t want to fill their tummy with air by pushing too much volume too fast. I thought maybe I was gulping air while trying to take deeper breaths in an attempt to get more oxygen at this altitude. I wasn’t able to eat anything really but it was due to pain more than anything else. Again, I was not nauseated, had no vomiting or diarrhea, did not have a headache, and thankfully, was not experiencing the dreaded acclimatization flatulence. I went to the tent earlier that afternoon for a rest but no luck. Thankfully, the Rolaids that Brande had given me had provided momentary relief.  My nursing mind was trying to come up with answers but nothing seemed to fit.

The night chill came early and it was freezing in the dining tent. I was cold and uncomfortable, and not really myself so I was off to bed soon after our briefing. It was decided we would wake up at 4am, leave at 5am, and summit around mid-day. I tried to be excited as I took out all of the clothes I would need and put them in the inner part of our tent… It was freezing up here and I knew I wouldn’t want to put on cold clothes at 4am!! It had started to rain/snow and I wasn’t looking forward to the morning but imagine my surprise when I unzipped the tent to make  my way to the toilet and a sheet of ice shattered and slid off the roof! Nightmare! Not only did the noise wake up Matty, I thought I would be slip-sliding all the way to the summit! By the time we woke up for real, there was only a light dusting of snow on the ground and thankfully, no evidence of the aforementioned ice storm. It was time to start day 5 – Kilimanjaro Summit day.

 

 

 

Brande Looks Back: Kilimanjaro Day 4

Date: Oct 3 2015 Saturday
Route: Unique Rongai Route
Destination: Mawenzi Tarn to School Huts
Duration: 3hours walking (+ 1hour acclimatization hike)
Distance: 8km
Elevation Gained: 420m (1,378ft)
FitBit Steps: 23,392
FitBit Calories Burnt: 3,931

(If y’all missed it – here is my look back on Kilimanjaro Day 3)

Mount Kilimanjaro, Day 4 of 7

Mount Kilimanjaro, just over there on the other side of the saddle …

Day 4 was the start of a twist on our original itinerary and one of my favourite days on the trail…. the original plan was to leave Mawenzi Tarn and make our way up and then down again into Third Caves Camp on day 4, then walk to School Huts Camp on Day 5, and make our attempt for the summit at 1am on Day 6. This original route really put in place the climb high and sleep low theory that is meant to be the key to avoiding altitude sickness to give us the best chance at the summit. However, the day prior, our Guides suggested we consider another unique twist to our already ‘Unique Rongai’ route.

The new, suggested Unique-Unique Rongai route had us skip Third Caves Camp all together and instead make our way straight to and up to School Huts Camp on Day 4 and then make our summit assault on Day 5 during the day. Our Guides strongly suggested this would give all 7 of us the best chance at reaching the summit.We chatted about it as a team and everyone was on board – oh my goodness we are going to summit Mount Kilimanjaro tomorrow! eeeeeeek butterflies!

The decision for me was not too tough. I was a little bit sad that we would be cutting a few kilometers off the trail (yes I know get over it, do I really need more than 84km?) but I was also ecstatic that we would make our summit attempt during the day (I hate walking in the pitch black with a headlamp when you cannot even enjoy and/or be distracted by the sights!). I also liked that we would get to stay in School Huts Camp a second night right after our summit success. This shaved a full 10km off of our post summit hike and I had a feeling I would appreciate getting back into my already set up tent 10km closer!

So our new, unique Day 4 of 7 was to School Huts not Third Caves Camp.

Our day started like any other. Lance and I were up about 5am for his usual lay in sleeping bag and chat with me while I jotted in my journal the details from the day prior. Then around 6am we were up and out of our tents. Either from desperate need to relieve the diuretic pressure, if you know what I mean, or because the sun was coming up and you do NOT miss a sunset on Kilimanjaro – they are a definite highlight of the experience.

7am we were eating our yummy breakfast spread of scrambled eggs, pancakes which are really crepes, millet porridge (which our Guide Leo said is a staple in local breakfasts), sausages which are really hot dogs, toast, jam and peanut butter, mango and pineapple, and all the hot mix drinks you can want. Rough eh?

820am we were on our way. The day was meant to be about 3-4 hours, approximately 8km in distance, sun baking us like crazy, and as usual 98.5 percent chance of rain (as per our Guide Leo who always made sure that even if it looked impossible that there would be any chance of rain, we had our rain gear in our packs).

The first 40mins was a bit tough, it was largely up hill, a little down hill which felt great but don’t get excited, and then back up hill again – repeat. We were walking slow this day. At over the 14,000 foot marker of altitude the air in the lungs was not feeling quite as fulfilling as it was the days prior. Pole, pole (slowly, slowly) was the mantra!

almost to the saddle, day 4 of 7

Before walking through the saddle you had to walk up and over a few summits – these felt huge!

After our up hills, we spent the last 3+ hours walking through the “saddle”. The saddle is a desert like area on Mount Kilimanjaro. The sun was shining and there were hours  of not a cloud in the sky. The uninterrupted views of the blue sky were something to remember.  I have to tell you there is a different blue to the skies above Kilimanjaro then there is here at home in Canada – more crisp, more blue, more something. Now do not get me wrong; we have some awesome skies here in Canada but wow there is just something different about those in Tanzania. Trust me, check out these photos.

the saddle

Day 4/7 The Saddle – me and hubby Lance.

the saddle, rongai route

Day 4 of 7 a pic here of our almost complete crew as we get started on our decent down and across the saddle.

Just like a desert though, your destination looks so close and yet you never seem to get any closer. We knew were were making good time as rocks in the distance would be upon us soon enough. We treated these rocks like break markers. Lance or Paul would crack their backs, the rest of us would load on the sunscreen and lip chap, Lance would hand out hard candies, and then we were on our way again. But the path in front of us always seemed as long as it was before the last break and the camp you could just make out seemed to stay that teeny, weeny size it was when we started.

saddle, day 4 of 7

The saddle and that there is our trail, across the plain and to the right is our next camp School Huts

The temperature was interesting too. The sun was baking us – sun screen applications were happening every  break and sometimes while moving, especially on the lips. Yet the wind would whip up to the point of having to hold your hat on your head and chill you right down again. I was doing more wardrobe layer changes than steps it felt like at some points. Water was a big deal this day, from the heat and the dusty wind. I ran out and had to use Lance’s water as back up for the last 40mins. How any of my fellow trekkers had any water left I will never understand – I was so thirsty! Pole, pole and drinky, drinky peeps!

Thank goodness for the conversation as we slogged along. At one point we had a zombie apocalypse conversation. This was serious stuff. Our friendships were solidified this day and if ever the zombies come for us our trusty Kilimanjaro band would know exactly how to support each other to avoid being eaten or worse yet turned into zombies! Basically, we all decided that zombies would not be impacted by altitude sickness as they don’t have red blood cells that can be impacted by altitude. Well they do have blood but its black so we didn’t think altitude would impact black blood. So really we would not be fully safe on Mount Kilimanjaro but because there are so few of us on the mountain its likely we would not be the first target in the Zombie War so we could hang out for a while with our crew, we had a great cook on the trip with us, still needed to summit, and probably had enough protein bars collectively to live 10 years up here!

Also thank goodness for distractions along the trail that brought us out of the ridiculous yet entertaining zombie conversation. Along the path we passed the wreckage of a small plane crash from 2008. The four tourists were killed sadly and the pilot seriously injured in the accident. This is in fact not the only plane crash on Kilimanjaro, seems a few small and large planes have had a horrible fate either getting to close for a great look or coming upon the mountain out of the clouds with no warning. Sad.

saddle, day 4 of 7 Rongai Route

Day 4 of 7 Rongai Route walking through the saddle past what is left of a plane crash from years ago.

12:15pm we came into School Huts Camp finally. I arrived with a nice headache and pesky cough. OK I will be honest the cough was not as pesky as the “grandma” comments my fellow hikers were making every time I went into a wee fit which seemed to be every time I laughed or talked to much. So yes, they happened often as I do talk a lot and laugh even more.

school huts, rongai route

School Huts Camp, Rongai Route our base camp for two nights and our summit attempt

After signing in at the Camp Hut, we made our way to our tents to set up. Lunch was again massive and amazing and sadly all of us thought we were hungry but had no appetite when we actually went to eat something – thank you altitude. Most of us forced what we could down because we knew the calories would be so important to our summit attempt the next day but there was not a lot of enjoyment.

school huts camp, lunch time

Lunch time at the School Huts Camp and all of us know we should eat but no one had an appetite.

Following lunch was a short break where we all sat in our separate tents listening to a weather system come in that was promising rain, hail and maybe even some snow while waiting for the Guides to tell us its time for our acclimatization hike. Today’s acclimatization hike was important. A few of us were experiencing headaches, I had a cough, and we needed to give ourselves the best possible chance of a good sleep before our big summit day the next morning. So feeling as good as we could was important for all of us.

Back down, we met for dinner and repeated our not hungry but try and eat any calories you can stomach routine. I was feeling much better and ate more for dinner than lunch. The headache I showed up at camp with was gone after our acclimatization hike so all I had left was the annoying cough but with all the dust in the saddle and at camp it was not surprising. I think most of us felt good, and all of us were excited for the next day.

Lance and I retired to our tents early after our briefing with Guide Leo and got all of our gear ready for the next day. We had a 4am wake up call coming our way and the crew wanted to be on the trail by 5am. Getting to sleep was tough with how excited and nervous I was but we both felt ready and looking forward to the summit. The chill in the air and the snow in the night made sure you stayed cuddled in your tent which prompted sleep – thank goodness.

Eeeeeek more butterflies and tummy flips!

Brande

(If you are keen – check out my look back on Kilimanjaro Day 5, the Summit)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brande Looks Back: Kilimanjaro Day 3

Date: Oct 2 2015 Friday
Route: Unique Rongai Route
Destination: Kikilewa Camp to Mawenzi Tarn Camp
Duration: 3hours walking (+ 1hour acclimatization hike)
Distance: 4km
Elevation Gained: 627m (2,057ft)
FitBit Steps: 26,655
FitBit Calories Burnt: 3,850

(If you missed it – here is my look back on Kilimanjaro Day 2)

Kikilewa Camp - Sunrise

Kikilewa Camp Sunrise – Wow!

Wow, how did I ever get so lucky as to wake up on an adventure with my husband in Tanzania, Africa on none other than Mount Kilimanjaro itself AND get to see this sunset that was so amazing it is beyond words. This was our favourite sunrise of the trip, and we got one every morning!

Kikilewa Camp, Morning Day 3

Kikilewa Camp – amazing day 3 sunrise!

The sunrise was so great and the day looking so nice, instead of serving us breakfast inside the dining tent the Team Kilimanjaro crew pulled the tables and chairs out into the middle of our camp and we ate under the warm sun. I have had breaky in some pretty cool places, but sitting outside soaking up the Africa sun looking out ABOVE the clouds was just so awesome! Seriously if you attempt Mount Kilimanjaro for nothing other than the sunsets and breaky above the clouds, I would totally support you!

Kikilew Camp, Breakfast above the Clouds

Kikilewa Camp – breakfast above the clouds!

Day 3 Breakfast Spread

Day 3 Breakfast Spread!

After we wrapped up breakfast, brushed our teeth, used our lovely toilet tents, poor Lana completed her 30 mins of heel blister prep, and we all had day packs ready with water/snacks/rain gear; we started out from camp with a bounce in our sunny step at 8:15 am.

Kikelewa Camp, Rongai Route

Kikilewa Camp – 8:15am ready to start hiking!

Today was a short day on the Rongai Route but it was an uphill slog. The Kili sentiment “pole, pole” (meaning slowly, slowly in Swahili) was particularly welcome today.  At one point I muttered to our slogging crew that “this sh@t just got real”. It felt like we were actually climbing a mountain today. There was no break in the up and up and up and up …

Almost all vegetation was left behind today and I could finally understand what other climbers had described as ‘it feels as if you are walking on the moon.’ All grey with big chunks of rock, no green and barely even any a scrubby bush or moss to be seen. Grey, rock, dust = moon.

Mount Kilimanjaro, Rongai Route

Mount Kilimanjaro, Rongai Route on the moon!

Our Assistant Guide Felix lead our troop today and that meant with every step all I cold hear was the sound of his much too large corduroy pants scraping thigh against thigh and his hiking boots, also about 3 sizes too big, scuffing along the trail. Swish, Swish. Scuff, Scuff. While that likely sounds as if it would be totally annoying, and trust me it normally would be to me too, on the mountain it was actually just the sound of our pace in my head. I followed the swish and scuff like it was a drum or the beat of some mountain music. Album called Corduroy Burn by the famous Felix MacBigBoot. (ha ha)

Today is also the day I discovered that Felix rarely steps down or up from or over things. No matter the trail, rocks, or terrain he will step on the tiniest little point of rock if it keeps his body and legs at the same height. So unless absolutely impossible to avoid he never steps up, down and over rocks in search of the most secure step possible like I do. I realize this likely saved him so much energy. Most of mine was being wasted in going up and over things or stepping down off things just to step back up on to the next high rock.

To entertain myself I followed right behind him and decided I would step exactly as he and where he stepped to see if it was as slick as it looked. I was not slick at all. In fact I was just wobbly, off balance, and wearing myself out trying to keep up. So I returned to my trusty old slightly hesitant, cautious (not timid) step up and over rocks as has served me so well every other hike I have taken.

Rongai Route, Trail Markers

Rongai Route – trekker made trail markers!

On the trail today there were lots of these rock piles – where other hikers had precariously balanced rock on rock like small towers all along the trail. Basically the equivalent of an Inukshuk. These piles of rock, that Leo called something like ‘canyon’ but with a cool Swahili accent, are meant to mark the trail when the path itself can no longer be seen under the snow.

We came into our next campsite at 11:20 am. While this is just three hours later we were glad to see it. The up and up and up trail today mixed with the increasing altitude is enough to wear a girl out. I needed me some popcorn and hot tea to recover Kili style.

Mawenzi Tarn Hut, Rongai Route

Mawenzi Tarn Hut – we have arrived!

Mawenzi Tarn Hut Camp

Mawenzi Tarn Hut Camp – our humble homes overnight Day 3!

We were welcome with a yummy warm lunch of ginger soup to start, followed by spaghetti with meat sauce and shredded cheese to sprinkle on top, and pineapple slices for dessert. While this was not quite as exciting as our surprising grilled cheese sandwiches and french fries on day 2 for lunch (mmm) it was quite delicious all the same.

For two of our troop the most exciting part about lunch was that this was a meal withOUT green peppers – apparently putting these in every meal as the Team Kilimanjaro crew seemed to do was the worse kind of torture for my husband and our friend Scott. You would think the 84 km up and over a mountain would be tough but that was peanuts compared to the peppers!

At mid afternoon, we were led up on an acclimatization hike. Basically that just means one of the guides takes us farther up the mountain, about 200m or so, where we hang out for about 20mins, then come down. While up there Paul and Lance usually have to pee again, and us girls take some pictures, or like me I scoop some scree into a little pile and use it like a backrest on my nature provided lazy boy (the ground). I was worn out from doing a garbage bag fashion show to entertain my fellow trekkers and needed to sit down to recover.

A fashion show you ask? Well you see, I didn’t want to risk wet clothes at that altitude, and it looked as if it might rain on our acclimatization hike which made me very grumpy, so at the loving advice of my hubby I wore a garbage bag under my not-at-all-“waterproof” jacket and at the top decided to ‘work it’ for some pics before I took it off when it actually didn’t rain at all. I will spare you the fashion show pics!

Acclimatization Hike from Mawenzi Tarn Hut Camp

Acclimatization hike above Mawenzi Tarn Hut Camp!

The idea of these acclimatization hikes was to have us climb higher than we sleep. The rule of hiking at high altitudes is to ‘climb high, and sleep low’ – take your body past where you will be resting so that your body feels better at the altitude you sleep in comparison to where you hiked to. Most hikers feel much better if they follow this simple rule and it has increased many, many people’s chances of making the summit. This same rule is deployed on Mt. Everest, K2, Annapurna, Mount Saint Elias, and all others just as it is on Kilimanjaro.

For those of us who came into camp with a bit of a headache, maybe some nausea or even just a generally feeling of ‘bla’ – these acclimatization hikes sucked to have to go through but were totally worth it. The climb up was tough, the time at the top was a pain, but as you came down that pesky headache magically cleared up. This day’s acclimatization hike cleared up my Mawenzi Tarn Hut Camp little headache quite wonderfully.If only climbing up a hill would solve a headache here at home!

For supper we had pumpkin soup, followed by chicken stew served with rice, and sweet bread of some kind for dessert. Along with, of course, all the hot water and powdered hot drink stuff you could ask for.

Another late night for us on Day 3 … ha ha ha who am I kidding?! We were in our sleeping bags by 7:00 pm again.

There are lots of books that tell you sleeping at altitude is really hard (the diuretic medication, poor breathing at lower oxygen pressure, headaches, nausea, etc.) so its best to spend as much time trying as you can in hopes of at least getting a few hours in. Oddly, Lance and I had no problems at all with sleeping. In fact, I think he had some of his best sleeps on the mountain and I would have too if my excitement to be there in the first place didn’t keep me awake!

Brande

(If you are into it – here is my look back on Kilimanjaro Day 4)

Lana Looks Back: Kilimajaro Day 2, “What’s in your Bag?”

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(If you missed it – here is a link to my look back on Kilimanjaro Day 1)

The daylight began to slowly creep into our tent and as the beep, beep, beep of my casio digital broke into the crisp morning air on Day 2, I thought to my self, “Is it already 6AM?!” I had slept like a big dog, waking several times to the sound of tent zippers and footsteps to the ever popular toilet tent but I, myself, had been up and out of my own tent just once to visit the same. In my haste to reach the lavatory over tent ropes and rocks in time to wiggle and wrestle the zipper open (and closed after I crossed the threshold) I neglected to note the bright night sky, a follow-up from the first glimpse of the thousands of stars that we’d had the night before. Absolutely amazing! I stood outside for about 10 minutes looking up toward the heavens and basking in the wonder of Creation. Then suddenly, through the silence broke the sound of another zipper, which I must say was far less intrusive than the noise pollution of the acclimatization flatulence coming from other tents in the camp! Blinding one another with our headlamps, we exchanged a quick nod and went our separate ways. Me to my sleeping bag plus 15 degree liner, and he to the toilet tent where I could hear him wrestling agressively with the zipper…

To my surprise, I didn’t even feel cold. For me, this is a shocker and the next 2 hours before waking again were spent in toasty bliss! Breakfast wasn’t until 7am and warm water was brought to our tents for washing close to 6:30. Poor Matty! I set my alarm 30 minutes earlier so I could bandage my blistered and broken heels. Nothing like being woken by someone else’s alarm and then being kept awake by the crinkle of dressing wrappers and the sharp but beautiful sound of duct tape. My first concoction was a  conglomeration of a padded, ultra adhesive dressing generally used for pressure ulcers covered with duct tape so my boot would slide easily if my heels started to lift. At this point, the morning of day 2, the back of my feet were reddened and bruised with only dime sized blisters. I had pierced them before bed but kept the skin intact as much as possible (as a nurse my advice is to never pop a blister so do as I say, not as I do) and applied iodine to dry them out and kill any bacteria creeping around the open area (iodine can kill healthy tissue so do not do this either!). I covered them lightly with a gauze pad and paper tape overnight to let them breathe. By the morning light of my headlamp, I thought they looked pretty good!


After an amazing feast of porridge, eggs, toast and fruit we were ready to hit the trail. We packed our dry sacks and duffle bags with the majority of our gear including sleeping bags for our porters to take to the next camp and our day packs with the only the absolute necessities we would need throughout the day. The porters were amazing carrying our huge packs, tents, and even our toilets at breakneck speed surpassing each one of us as if the gear weighed nothing at all! They busted their humps all day waking earlier than we did and while we were ready for bed by 7 or 8PM, our porters were visiting and laughing well after dark.

The necessities for most of us included a 3 litre water bladder, a 1 litre portable water bottle, wet wipes, high protein snacks and hard candies, a hat and sunscreen to shield us from the strength of the sun, a fleece for small breaks so we didn’t get cold, and rain gear for top and bottom as we were instructed to be prepared for a 99.9% chance of rain each and every day. I thought I was doing quite well with my new Osprey pack but head guide Leo thought it looked too full and heavy to be carried for the day. As we all gathered together for the morning brief, Leo looked at me and asked, “What’s in your bag?” I told him the usual and then he proceeded to shake his head as I emptied the bag onto the ground. I had all of the above plus a couple of extras… An extra thermal mid weight fleece, an extra long sleeved merino wool zip base layer, a short sleeved t-shirt, extra bottom layer, a large bag of M&Ms, extra dressings for my feet in case the existing ones came off, small bottles of Tylenol and ibuprofen for feet pain, an extra camera card and portable charger for my camera, iPhone in case of emergency, iPod and head phones for music, a few other miscellaneous items, a pair of trainers in case my boots killed my feet more than I expected, and of course my trusty walking poles strapped tightly in. Obviously the word, “necessities” means different things to different people…Day2, Rongai Route

Satisfied that my pack was bulk rather than weight, off we went into the sunny hills of Kilimanjaro. Up, up, up for most of the morning and then after our delicious hot lunch, seated at our dining table and a rest, we settled in to a nice pace for the gentle incline that still awaited us. With the exception of some rocky climbs and dips, the way was much easier than I anticipate – and much warmer!

During the trek not long after lunch clouds began forming around us and you could feel a chill in the air. We asked the all-knowing guide if we should stop and put on our rain gear. “Not yet” came the reply. So we continued on until instructed to stop to “Drink water” and “Put on your rain clothes.” I think we had had just begun to walk again when the rain started, then continued, then turned to sleet, small hail, then rain, and rain. I was again amazed by these guides, not only their awareness of the status of each one of us in the group, but by their knowledge of the mountain and the conditions surrounding us. It stopped before we reached camp but not before a good number of us discovered that their rain gear was not actually waterproof – or even water resistant! Note to future Kili trekkers… Test your gear BEFORE the mountain and understand that while rental gear is an excellent idea in theory, you cannot guarantee its quality. Some of our gear did not dry again until a week later back in the warm temperatures of Arusha. Zip-loc air tight plastic bags kept the other gear in our bags dry until then but the horrific waft released after seven days of dark and dank is one smell that can only be described as unforgettable.

Safely back at camp we were greeted with popcorn and tea (coffee, hot chocolate etc) warm water to wash and our dry clothes in our tents. After supper, some trivia, and a few laughs I was ready for bed. I had not been at all cold on the mountain, even while my face felt like it was being sliced by sleet and stung by hail, but the thought of curling up with my fleece underwear and heating pad in my fluffy sleeping bag with plus fifteen degree liner was like magic to me. I don’t think it was much past 8PM when I finished popping my blisters, swabbing with iodine, and dressing my feet. Ibuprofen taking effect. I readied my gear for the morning and hoping to get a head start on foot care, I set my alarm for 30 minutes before we were supposed to wake. That and the fact that I believe I was snoring before 8:30PM must have had my tent-mate wondering what he had gotten himself into. Poor Matty!

Up once in the night to the popular toilet tent, (I blame the Diamoxx diuretic effect) but otherwise I slept like a rock! The mountain air must be amazing! I don’t know how I slept so well. It might have been the 7 hour climb, or the deliciously content and full feeling I had after supper, or highly likely is the fact that I was warm all night… I know, it’s shocking! Being warm at night, in a tent, on Kilimanjaro, was the biggest surprise of the trip for me. At home I generally use flannel sheets, down duvet x 2, heating pad, and fleece pyjamas plus hoody. If warmth at night is positively correlated with walking 4-13 hours a day, sign me up! I’m ready for day 3…

Lana

(Here is a link to my look back on Kilimanjaro Day 3 and 4)

Brande Looks Back: Kilimanjaro Day 2

Date: Oct 1 2015 Thursday
Route: Unique Rongai Route
Destination: Simba Camp to Kikilewa Camp, via Second Cave
Duration: 7hours walking
Distance: 12km
Elevation Gained: 1,050m (3,444ft)
FitBit Steps: 31,149
FitBit Calories Burnt: 4,095

(If you missed it – here is my look back on Kilimanjaro Day 1)

Rongai Route, Mount Kilimanjaro

Heading out Day 2 Rongai Route – I was quite excited about being on this trek, can you tell?

Well lets keep the memory recall going – better get them to paper (blog) before they start to fade!

With our first day’s walk and first night’s tent slumber under our technical belts we were starting to feel like ole pros at this Kilimanjaro trekking thing! OK not really, our Guide Leo provides a briefing every night after dinner on what the next day will hold for us and even gives us some insight into what gear to wear and what gear to stuff in our day packs. He consistently advised there was a 99.5% chance of rain – he told us this every night and every morning. His loving way of saying, pack your rain gear in your day pack!

So before I get into day 2, I better intro the briefing we got from Leo…on day 1, after we completed our first night’s dinner, Leo joined us in the dining tent and asked us all how we were feeling (everyone was all smiles and feeling good) and then advised tomorrow (day 2) we would be walking about 12km (roughly 6-7 hours) and there would be lunch at about the 3.5 hour mark where we could can refill our water. The route would be lots of up to start the day then easier as we come into our second night’s camp, put rain gear in your pack, dress about the same as day 1 but bring a fleece to stay warm on breaks. As always wear and bring lots of sunscreen and everyone should have a hat.

The evening briefings sure made getting ready for and on the next day so much easier – there was no guessing at what the weather would be, no looking about the stars and early sunset like Crocodile Dundee trying to read into what the weather would be like by the shape of the first cloud seen or direction of a bird or whatever.

I digress.

Day 2, up and at it at 6:30am .. ok lets be honest, Lance and I were usually up in our tents around 5:00am (Lance chilling in the warmth of his sleeping bag, and me putting to journal every detail from the day before. I was often chuckling to myself when I thought a sketched picture would be easier than writing all the words but my drawing is so bad it made no sense and I still had to use words. You should see my colobus monkey drawing – yikes!

So we were up and out of our tents at 6:30am and ready to hike at 8:00am after a hearty breakfast of porridge, toast, eggs and hot dogs (supposed to be sausages I think but not really). Here we go!

Rongai Route, Mount Kilimanjaro

Rongai Route, Mount Kilimanjaro – the ups and downs of the path on Day 2, Rongai Route from Simba Camp to Kikilewa Camp.

Day 2, Rongai Route, Mount Kilimanjaro

One of many breaks on Day 2, Rongai Route from Simba Camp to Kikilewa Camp, Mount Kilimanjaro – the first half was uphill!

At about 11:45am we arrived at Second Cave Camp where we were had our lunch – the Team Kilimanjaro crew had raced ahead of us more pole, pole (slowly, slowly) trekkers and laid out an amazing spread for lunch complete with dining table and camp chairs. Wow eh! As would be usual for the entire trip, lunch included hot soup, a carb, some meat, and sliced oranges and watermelon.

second cave, rongai route, mount kilimanjaro

Second Cave, Day 2 Rongai Route Lunch Stop

After lunch, we departed Second Cave Camp at 12:45pm and made our way to Kilikewa Camp for 4:00pm.

After lunch the weather started to turn a little – sky getting darker and clouds rolling in fast. We made good time in the afternoon but not good enough time to avoid a crazy rain and hail storm. Boo!

During this grumpy-making rain and hail storm I discovered a few things about myself: 1) hail hurts when it hits your bare hands and face – like quite a bit, 2) all conversation ceases when the hail and hard rain comes down – we were a silent, slumped over, sad little troop, 3) the $200 Pantagonia Rain Jacket I bought in the UK while walking 16 days in Wales of which 11 were torrential downpours in 2008 is no longer waterproof at all – so technically I did have a “shower” on the mountain (I was soaked right thru to the unmentionables) 4) the rain gear my trek-mates rented from Team Kilimanjaro was also not in any way waterproof nor did much of it fit, and 5) if I had to hike the rest of the week in rain and hail I would be one big Grumpy Grouchy McGee maybe even a Ms. Rain McRage, 6) we were high enough up the mountain that our wet clothes under our wet not-rain proof gear would never fully dry for us ever, and finally 7) I think I hate rain because I live it in 6 months of the year in the amazing west coast of Canada. Growl. Anywho…

Kikilewa Camp, Rongai Route, Mount Kilimanjaro

After our very rainy, hail and hell afternoon we were pretty excited to spot our 2nd night camp, Kikilewa Camp, in the distance.

A couple soggy hours later, as we stroll into our second night’s camp I am again my usually happy hiking self as the hail has stopped and the rain was letting up. Even better than that we are met with the most delicious and amazing smell and taste ever as a snack for our hard work … popcorn! Mmmm mmmm mmmm Popcorn has the ability to make a crappy day for me happy again, so to get served popcorn when I am in my happy walking place was beyond epic. I was ecstatic like a wee school girl getting her first Cabbage Patch Doll at Christmas (remember those?)! Secretly, I feel they served popcorn just for me; in reality its a great snack to get your salt stores up and make you thirsty so you drink me and they always want you drinking more water (sneaky, sneaky Team Kilimanjaro).

Following snacks and a little warm water bowl clean up we settled into our cozy dining tent to play some cards, some additional trivia games (who would be your secret celebrity girlfriend, who is your secret celebrity boyfriend, etc. – we had the boys in our clutches so of course I had to throw out some bestie sleep over girly questions!).

Before we knew it, another epic dinner was served. On the menu tonight was a cream beef stew with plantains (yup wee baby bananas), sweet potatoes, beans, etc. I feel this was a Tanzania / Kilimanjaro Camp version of beef stroganoff. There was also veggie stew which was in a red thai curry sauce. All of this was served with mashed potatoes – perfect for soaking up stew juice. Then watermelon slices for dessert. What was also an every meal thing – was a big old school Thermos of piping hot water and every kind of hot drink powder you can imagine. Perfect!

Tonight we could see our breath, things were starting to get mountain real. I was thankful for my toque, thermal liner in my sleeping bag, thermal top and bottom base layer, and cold weather ski socks for night wear. Seeing our breath was interesting and odd to me – we are in Africa as close to the equator as I will ever get and here I am all cold. A chill on a mountain was expected for sure, but somehow it was still funny strange to me cause it seemed out of place in Africa. Don’t worry I wasn’t experiencing the ole brain swell from altitude yet – I often find the oddest things funny, its normal…for me.

Speaking of altitude sickness: a couple of our troop experienced headaches today. Lance was intermittent throughout the day with a headache and then worse during our popcorn extravaganza but it subsided shortly after his evening dose of Diamox (altitude sickness medication). My sister had a headache too but she was able to med it up too.

Day 2, Rongai Route, Mount Kilimanjaro

Day 2 Davison Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro Honeymoon!

I was feeling golden, great, amazing, and excited when we all finally went to bed at 7:00pm. Oh yes that is no typo, that was a for real 7:00pm shut eye. Finally! It was hard to stay up that long. You sort of hope the darkness of night comes fast just so you can go to bed. I think between the fresh air and exercise your body also wants to keep the good stuff coming and get a good night’s sleep. The body knows what makes it happy and healthy if you listen. Oh and you are up 2 to 4 times a night to pee (Diamox medication is diuretic), and most of us were up with the sun at 5am so it was already a longish day. Also, the dining tent gets cold and you want the warmth of your sleeping bag! Secretly, I too wanted the chance to share and talk about the day just hubby and me … It was our honeymoon after all!

Getting to sleep is easy, so long as I in no way think about how excited I am to be on the mountain and do not at all consider how great the next day will be. I have to think cold, sleepy thoughts to make myself fall asleep or risk being up all night excited.

Brande

(If interested, hope you are – here is my look back on Kilimanjaro Day 3)

Lana Looks Back: Kilimanjaro Day 1

A look back at Lana’s experience of Kilimanjaro – Day 1

Lana and me, ready to trek! (albeit a little nervous)

While sitting in the comfort of my arm chair with the first of the snow on the ground, I am trying to recollect the experience of Kilimanjaro Day One and I find myself wondering things like, “What happened on day one?” and “Was I even there?!”

Looking back, it all seems very surreal. I know I climbed a mountain, I have the pictures, 2 less toenails, and ongoing numbness in my feet to prove it! I can remember the anticipation that I felt at the beginning of the first day, the taste of the dust in my mouth and the grit of the dirt on my teeth, the smell of the dampness in the forest, and the warmth of the sunshine on the back of my neck as I walked with my head down, but when I try to break it down into individual and separate events, I seem to have forgotten all but a few ridiculous, painful, or beautiful experiences that contributed to this incredible adventure.

Brande’s writing has thankfully brought to the forefront so much of our experience that perhaps happened in a mere moment, but which are the very fleeting instances that make up our entire adventure, and so often life itself.

I remember the chaos of the rental equipment being handed out at the lodge: Our guide pulling out sleeping bag after sleeping bag from a cinched duffle bag, much like the way a magician pulls never ending handkerchiefs continuously from his sleeve, only to find that we were still one short; the dispensing of the rain gear somewhat willy-nilly and the laid back response of “it’s okay, everyone fits,” as we questioned who’s pants were whose and my mind flashed back to the painstakingly drafted itemized, personalized, alphabetized, and categorized inventory list of rental gear submitted to the trekking company three months prior; and my very own red, black, and silver walking poles that I carried faithfully for seven days that did not leave the safety of their position, strapped tightly to the side of my pack and on more than one occasion thumping the back of my skull, reminding me of their usefulness. And so Day One began with all of us, our crew, and our gear – purchased, rented, borrowed, and gifted – loaded onto the top, under the seats, and into the stinky bus. Interesting to note, I have absolutely no difficulty recalling the stinky bus!!

The stinky bus

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Perhaps if there was a straight road or two in Tanzania the bus ride would have been a bit faster.

Registration, weigh-in and lunch was a blur to me until B mentioned the soup. Delicious and steaming hot with tomato sandwiches and cookies on the side. It was an appetizing preview of meals to come and after what I thought was the final tightening of my hiking boots, we set off on the dusty trail. I do remember stopping about 20 minutes in and tightening my boots again because they had started to rub the already tender area on the inside of my heels. As it turns out, the short trek from the train station to the hotel in Amsterdam was longer than I anticipated and warranted a snug fitting boot tie after being loosened on the flight from home. So on day one of my seven day adventure, I already had blisters to contend with. The ongoing saga of which I fear will continue to the end of this great journey and beyond…

Kili looms

Our troop with Kilimanjaro calling ahead.

The 7 Day Trivia game began early on with Seinfeld episodes, music trivia (complete with sing-along),  The Simpsons, and Forrest Gump driving most of the questions.  This was an amazing way to pass the time. It not only gave us hours of entertainment and some great laughs but also helped some of us get to know one another. This came in especially handy for me as at first camp I would be spending the night with a fellow I had only met twice before! Well, three times if you include spending the night together with his brother in Amsterdam…It’s not what you’re thinking!


My tent-mate, Matty

When we arrived at first camp I was excited to see that each tent had not only a small foyer with zip closures AND a sleeping area with zip closures, but sleeping mats 3-4 inches thick! Those who know me will understand my elation as it is no secret that I am some kind of cold blooded creature that cannot wait to throw on an undershirt and/or turtleneck, and freezes out with visible goosebumps at the mere mention of any temperature less than 25 degrees Celsius. Fashionable layers upon layers of autumn sweaters completed with a scarf and boots are my most favorite of all… Oops, I digress. So we laid out our sleeping bags to achieve maximum loft, I inserted my heavy duty sleeping bag liner to add 15 degrees, and stuffed my fleece thermal outfit/long underwear/pjs inside to await me after dinner. Hot beverages to drink, hot water to wash, cookies to eat, and not one, but two toilet tents complete with paper were already set up in the distance – what kind of luxury was this?!

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First night supper – fresh and delicious!

Supper was fresh and delicious and more than I dared hope for. I was full and satisfied and as I stepped outside the dining tent thinking the day was done, I was surprised by what awaited me. I was immediately enveloped by an incredible blanket of stars that I felt were so close they could be touched!  The clear night sky was like nothing I had seen before. At this point, the first day of my adventure, I did not know what nature had in store for me and was unprepared for the raw beauty that continued to reveal itself daily. It was an unexpected and unbelievable gift and feeling grateful for a day of blessings, I crawled into my hobbit tent and got ready for the night ahead.

As my room mate with his 6 foot frame snuggled down into his mummy bag I could almost feel the heat rising and the tension beginning… Just joking! Although it sounds like something from a sultry romance novel I was snuggled inside my own mummy bag thankful that one more body (anybody) was producing more body heat than my own so it would help warm the air in the tent. The tension was the scene I created in my own mind hoping that Matt wouldn’t lose sleep, not only because of my snoring, but because of the acclimatization flatulence I had read so much about… So far so good. By 5:30am on day 2 I had slept like a rock, warm as toast, and my more than polite and easy room mate had no complaints…


My shiny new boots are no more… The dusty Asolos of Kilimanjaro – Day 1

Lana

(Here is a link to my look back on Kilimanjaro Day 2)

Brande Looks Back: Kilimanjaro Day 1

boots

Lana and Brande’s Asolo boots are gonna rock this trek!

I am so excited that we made the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro; all 7 of our mighty mountain gang!

Now that we are back down the Mountain and back home in Canada and there is consistent, lovely, previously taken for granted wireless connection – I am just so excited to share the details of our day by day, mind over matter, adventure up and down the awe inspiring Kilimanjaro Mountain.

The Davisons

Mr. and Mrs Davison started out on our Mount Kilimanjaro, Rongai Route Honeymoon!

So here we go, looking back on Mount Kilimanjaro Day 1…

Date: Sept 30 2015 Wednesday
Destination: Rongai Gate to Simba Camp
Duration: 4hours walking
Distance: 7km
Elevation Gained: 638m (2,093ft)
FitBit Steps: 21,249
FitBit Calories Burnt: 3,445

At 8am our Team Kilimanjaro climbing crew showed up at the Outpost Lodge and dolled out any rental items we had arranged (hiking poles, waterproof trousers and jackets, sleeping bags, summit jacket). These were quickly added to our day packs or our duffel bags accordingly and all bags tossed up and tied down on a rack on top of our bus. Along with a whole host of other gear the crew would be carrying up the mountain to support us. We piled onto the bus ourselves – freshly showered for the last time for the next 7 days and met some of the rest of our climbing crew. Most were really friendly and all were sizing us up to see which of us had the gumption to tackle this mountain.

The bus ride left much to be desired – I think everyone but us 7 had wretched body odour (maybe it helps with altitude sickness?), we were piled tightly into too few and too small of seats and were surrounded by all kinds of gear. The luggage rack inside the bus was full of bread for our breakfasts for the next 7 days .. not that I am complaining about bread. Just an observation. ha ha

On our trip to the Rongai Gate where we would begin our 7 day adventure our bus made a few stops. Well one was merely slowing down not actually stopping for a guy on the side of the highway to toss in a pair of waterproof pants that Scott had rented but they forgot to bring to the Lodge when they picked us up originally. One was to drop off the crew to pick up their altitude medication – which oddly smelt like skunk and gave them the munchies!? Another stop was to pay our park fees and register at the main Machame Gate, and another was to get food supplies where we also go the chance to pick up some last minute items and hit our last flush toilet!

Finally after almost 4 hours on the Stinky Sweaty Bus Tour we arrived at the Rongai Gate. This was my first experience of the nausea the mountain boasts at higher altitudes – well ok this was not altitude nausea, this was plain ole car sickness but in a big style way. What a way to start my trek – and the first thing we did was eat lunch. Oh my! Some early altitude nausea training for me.

Kilimanjaro Notice to All Esteemed Visitors

Notice to All Kilimanjaro Climbers. Not sure what scared me more – the grammar or some of the dire warnings.

About an hour after arriving at the Rongai Gate, everyone had hit the washroom, had eaten their lunch (yummy soup and tomato sandwiches), had their gear weighed in and confirmed our 30+ crew were not carrying more than the Kilimanjaro Park Association will allow each to carry, and each of us hikers did a pre-climb weigh in, we were off on our way!

I can be honest and tell you there were some nerves when starting out. I had a moment of ‘holy crap, once I start there is no getting out of this except on my own two feet‘ and then I had a moment of ‘squeee how exciting is this, I have had this on my to-do list for ages and its here, really here and I have my husband, family and friends with me on this journey‘ and then I had ‘ok get on with it and start walking girl‘. Not sure if that was in my head or maybe said by one of my fellow trekkers or maybe our Guide Leo.

Starting up the trail

Our first steps on the trail, Day 1 Rongai Route, just us climbers and 30+ crew members carrying their gear and ours.

The first few kilometers of the trek were on a very dusty path through a planted forest with some small villages and homes were locals were trying their best to make a living on what looked like tough land to make anything grow from. The path was dusty enough to warrant pulling my Buff up and over my mouth and nose to avoid ‘eating’ the sandy red dust. In additional to kicking up dust ourselves, even more was created by the Porters trucking past us with backpacks and all our gear on their heads making it look easy! As a climber we are only carrying our day packs with 3 liters of water, rain gear, a few snacks and whatever else we can get in under 20lbs each. Our porters on the other hand are carrying everything else – from my face cream and baby wipes (aka mountain shower) to all of the food we will be eating and the camp chairs we will be in to eat that food.

We stopped a few kilometers in at some picnic benches for a short break. Already our Guide Leo started to remind us to drink water (They say drinking 3+ liters of water a day can help combat altitude sickness. This was music to my ears. Finally the amount of water I drink normally was celebrated and not looked at as crazy!). We had some snacks, adjusted any gear that needed a tune up, application of MORE sunscreen, Lance and Paul took a potty break (this became an every break thing for these boys the next 7 days), Lana tightened her boots (this also became a regular occurrence for Lana at every break), and we were soon on our way again.

Just before we got back to the boots, Felix the Assistant Guide showed up and we were casually informed there was not enough porters to carry all our stuff. So he had been recruiting in the nearby villages for additional porters to join the climb. They had left behind what we did not need right away at camp for the newly recruited rookies to carry up. I guess we would not be the only ones doing this climb for the first time!

Rongai Route, Day 1

The crew starting out at the beginning of the Rongai Route through farmland and planted forests with lots of dust soon to be kicked up.

At this time the scenery started to change. We were in a real forest now (not planted after clear cutting), the farmland villages were no more, and we making a very slight slope upward. We would also randomly spot Colubus Monkeys in the trees – crazy, big, black and white monkeys. To me they looked like skunks with monkey bodies and really long hair. Odd creatures really but so cute!

This finally started to feel like a mountain. The air was so fresh, boots were feeling good (ok maybe not for Lana) and Paul (my brother in law) and Lance (my husband) had started what would become their 7 day trivia game. All things were up for grabs for the trivia game but it mostly centered on Seinfeld. Generally they would answer each other but once in a while between giggles at the two of them, one of us other climbers would jump in with the answer or add a trivia question of our own. The entertainment Paul and Lance provided the rest of us was priceless!

A bunch of Kili-meters later (see what I did there? oh hahaha sometimes I make myself laugh), we took another break for some more water (‘drink some water’ would become a request we would hear over and over again every day from our Guides – I loved it) and chewed on some more snacks.

We didn’t take long on our breaks. Our Guide Leo would keep a keen eye on us and if anyone looked like they were starting to chill, he would get us up and back to the boots again. Just after this break, our Guide Leo pointed out Kenya’s border and villages in the distance. The Rongai Route is the only Kilimanjaro route that starts from the North side of the mountain and for that reason gives you a glimpse of Kenya.

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Kenya in the distance.

Just when we felt so lucky to be able to glimpse Kenya in the distance the ultimate sight came into view – we could see the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance. It looked far away and it looked like the most awesome achievement we could aim for. I cannot believe I was hiking towards it. Wow! Squeeeeee

Brande and Kili

Its only a glimpse but that there in the background is Mount Kilimanjaro (and me walking). I will be standing on the summit in just days!

We arrived about 4 hours later at our first camp, Simba Camp.

The Crew, Camp 1 on Day 1

We did it, first day under our belt – all smiles as we arrive at Simba Camp!

The site of our camp was amazing! Our tents already set up, sleeping mats already inside, and our duffel bags in the front entry of our two compartment tents. Each had an enclosed front entry, and a separate enclosed bedroom. They are 3 season tents so really quite warm which became increasingly important the higher up the mountain we got. We were assigned 2 people to a tent which was perfect for us couples, worked out well for Lana who bunked with Matt for company  (warmth), and for Scott who had his very own bachelor ‘apartment’.

Simba Camp

What a sight! Our sleeping tents and the dining tent in the distance. It was so exciting to see what our little homes would look like for the week.

Not too far from our tents was the massive Dining Tent where we would spend our meals (and half of our crew slept their nights), and a little bit farther away were our toilet tents. Yup toilet tents. They were basically port-a-potty shaped tents and inside was a homemade wooden box (the commode) and underneath was a bucket – conveniently in an inside pocket of the tent was a roll of toilet paper. Cute right!? While toilet tents may be a little like princess treatment they were so appreciated and necessary!

OK, yes if were wondering, a Porter was responsible for carrying the toilet gear and setting it up at each camp, and keeping it clean by dumping the contents in the long drop out outhouse toilets. We had a Porter in our crew for each of the toilet tent (so 2 peeps) and while to us this seems like a crappy position on a crew (oh my what a pun, sorry), it is in fact a high up position and receives a higher portion of the tips than the regular non-toilet carrying Porters. I can tell you, I was absolutely grateful for these guys. I think all of us were. The medication you take called Diamox to help with acclimatizing to altitude is a diuretic – so you spend a lot of time in these tents! Not joking, 3 to 4 times a night you are up and in the potty tent.

Just minutes after being shown our tents, two of what would become some of our favourite crew members Benny and Joffre showed up with bowls of warm water for us to wash the dust of the day off with and then minutes after that some hot water and the makings for whatever hot drink you could want (coffee, milo, tea, hot chocolate of 3 different kinds, and more) and told us there was popcorn and cookies in the dining tent to enjoy. They ply you with hot drinks at every turn, and they like to feed you salty snacks too – all to encourage you to drink more water. Sneaky smart!

Well then supper was served in the dining tent and wow! I assumed the meals would be like camping meals – simple and easy to make. Well surprise surprise we were going to get better food on the Mountain than sadly I make at home for Lance and I half the time, ok more than half the time. On our very first dinner we had >>>>. Wow!

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Its dinner time – wow this is better than home (I really need to stop serving Lance cereal or toast for supper)!

By 9:00pm we were all in bed and sleeping, I think from the horrid bus ride not the 7km hike, and it was starting to get a bit chilled in the air. We made our way to our tents, did a little forest side tooth brushing and crawled into our sacks. Not before we were in awe over the night sky – no light pollution here and the stars looked like they could be plucked from the sky if you could just get a wee ladder and try. Milky Way = amazing! I have never seen stars like that. (and am now craving chocolate)

There is nothing so wonderful as a day of hiking followed by sleeping in the fresh air of a tent with your husband to make you too excited at the amazing blessing you have been provided to experience such a trek to even sleep. After some excited squeaks and our usual awesome bedtime conversation, we drifted off to sleep ready to get in what we could before our 5:30am wake up for Day 2.

Brande

(If you are enjoying yourself – here is my look back on Kilimanjaro Day 2)

Mother City from the Table Top 

Well for the past week we have been  watching the Table Mountain website of beautiful Cape Town to pick the best time to head up the famous cable car for a 360degree view of the ‘Mother City’.

After days of either “closed due to adverse weather conditions” (aka gale force winds) or “open” but with a disclaimer that it is cold with visibility limited and windy (yuck no thanks) – we finally looked this morning and the heavens were singing. The conditions were hot, full visibility, light breeze, open – here we go! 26degrees yahoo!

So with a 25min warning we left the beach house, made the 45min amazing Chapman’s Peak coast road drive from Kommetjie to Table Mountain, sat in the 45 min line (and we even bought tickets online to speed up the process), paid the 240 SA Rand so about 24 CDN, and finally we were up and on our way! Keep you hands and arms inside the cable car folks!

The views were amazing. Even from the way too packed cable car they were great – the floor rotates! Up top you have all the time in the world to waltz about on awesome groomed paths taking pictures in every direction! Check it out ….






Amazing really and these are just my iPhone photos – you should the goodness on my DSLR camera of awesome.

The view from the top is totally worth it, even if you have to pretend to enjoy being shuffled about as a tourists with hundreds of others in the cable car up and down this amazing mountain!

Brande

Birds in Tuxedos! 

Today was epic – we met a whole bunch of little dapper, super cute birds. Sometimes called Penguins and here specifically called the African Penguin.

There were about a 100 of these little guys all lazing about, or swimming, cuddling, sleeping or just plain old molting all around Boulder’s Beach here in Cape Town! Just 20mins from our beach house.

Basically they are too adorable for words so I will instead dazzle you with cute pics of the little guys and some pretty humourous signs we found as well.



Don’t worry, we checked and there were no tuxedo birds under our car!

What a great bunch of birds – as cute as they are though there is a bit more poop / fish smell than I would have thought. For being so fancy they should have better bathroom manners haha

I ‘heart’ penguins!

Brande