From the plains of the Serengeti , one can see Africa’s own Mt. Olympus, home of the highest peak in all of Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro. Standing at 19,341 feet, this massive volcano is one of the fabled 7 Summits, the second of which I’ve attempted, and this Fall’s big international away Game. Over 6 days, my brother and I, along with ten Tanzanian locals, slogged up and down this jagged peak, roughing it in a plethora of dicey weather situations. I take you now into the day by day account that lead to incredible glory, and a successful summit in one of the most inhospitable climates on earth.
Ok, so first off, it wasn’t all that bad. The weather did suck at points, but due to our tier one preparation, this mountain didn’t know what hit her.
Day Zer0: Arrival in Moshi, Tanzania. The flight was another 24 hour blitz, similar to an Arabian work vacation I’m pretty used to, but nonetheless daunting. Our arrival went rather smoothly, we acquired our Visa’s at the airport and our prearranged transport was on time. Day zero was mostly spent at a climbers lodge, one of those fun little places where people from all around the globe come and go before or after they make a summit attempt in the area. Our Guides arrived, payment arrangements taken care of and our gear was inspected. To the letter, each piece of kit had to be accounted for by the guides and a bag drag ensued, much like a supply sergeant would make gear inspections during peacetime.
Day One. Early morning, we made our way out of the gated lodge with armed guards and onto the streets of downtown Moshi where we met the rest of our team and gather food and supplies for the expedition. 10 Tanzanian Porters and guides would accompany us on our quest, hauling the food and gear necessary to make a successful summit bid, including extras in case of bad weather. The drive to the trailhead from downtown took the better part of an hour, and upon our arrival, more time was wasted sorting out the paperwork and permissions for our climb. The guide service, Monkey Adventures, was actually rather proficient in the tedious exercise and we were on our way within no time.
Beginning at the Marangu gate, we began our climb through a rainforest jungle action packed with Monkeys, baboons and the occasional exotic bird. A short 4 hour climb brought us to our first destination of Mandara Hut, at only 8,923 feet was already higher than our local Mt. Washington on the first day. The hut was cramped, littered with bugs and had no real ventilation, but it was dry and we slept like rocks.
Day Two. Leaving Mandara early in the morning, our group ascended out of the rainforest and out of tree line altogether. Resembling a Scottish Moor, the land became much cooler as the hours passed, and the wildlife became scarce. All that was left was giant African Ravens that Erick affectionately called “Monkey Birds” (Pirates of Dark Water reference) that seemed to survive off the scraps that human climbers left behind. Arriving at Horombo Hut, a bit over 12,000 feet, we settled in for a few nights stay. The Night of Day Two and most of Day Three was spent surviving the cold climate and acclimatizing to the elevation, hiking all over the dam area, hopefully preparing our bodies for the large summit push about to head our way.
Day Four. After a light Breakfast our team leaves Horombo (We called it Harambe, RIP Sweet Prince) en route to Kibo hut. After we passed 13,500 feet, the Moorland gave way to an Alpine desert, throwing sand in our eyes and bringing a hell of a cold front. This was a slow walk, that had us running on empty when we made it to the hut, sitting pretty at 15,200 feet or so. Cold, cramped and crowded, the hut left a lot to be desired but we made the most of it, giving us more of an excuse to head to bed early for the coming dark push up to the summit.
Day Five/Part 1. Summit Night. Our head Guide woke us at Midnight to an empty hut. With six other teams already out of bed and out the door, our group was the last to wake. A short bit of Tea and biscuit had us out the door, armored against the abusive winds and bone chilling temps. In the dark, guided by our headlamps, 4 of us left the camp leaving most of the Porter corps behind. Pumped full of meds and prepared for the arduous task, our team began to pass other teams, and then other teams, until every group that left Kibo early that morning was eating our dust on the summit. Erick and I looked at each other in the darkness and we knew all the preparation in the White Mountains had paid off. Still gasping for oxygen at every step, we were leagues ahead of the other climbers. At 6:00AM, we reached the summit ridge, just as the sun was coming up, and brings much-needed warmth. Cruising at around 18,500, the summit ridge was and up/down rollercoaster that started to destroy the little confidence we kept from before. The brutal landscape was unrelenting desert that didn’t help the low oxygen levels straining our lungs. As we arrived at Uhuru Peak, 19,341 feet, our objective was completed but the war was far from over. I wasn’t happy to see the peak, I was surprised to find and empty hole had opened up inside me that left me indifferent to the accomplishment. Knowing the shit day ahead of us, I took some quick photos, gave a thumbs up to my brother and started back down again, not spending more than 5 minutes at the top.
Day Five/Part 2. The long Road down. Walking downhill can be an easy thing to do. It wasn’t very easy for us that day. With the meds beginning to wear off, I suddenly became rather tired, and at the end of the summit ridge, around 7 hours into the hike, on the 5th day of the climb, my bones felt thin. The heavy weight I had carried (I’m a 225lb man, not including gear, pack and water) began to feel immense. While going uphill was more an exercise in proper execution and muscle performance, downhill is much better suited to the lighter men in the room. My sibling (a striking 145lbs), had significant difficulty on the way up that morning, but now resembled a gazelle skipping down this hill like a Disney drawn fairy tale. I was not amused. My quads ached, my head began to pound from the elevation and my shoulders ached from the prior days spent slogging up this beast. A full 10 hours after we set out that morning, we arrived back at Kibo hut. With only two hours to rest and gather our things, we set out again, back down the mountain, humping for another 5 hours back to Harambo hut and a balmy 12,000 feet.
Day 6. The Long way Down. Like a 4 course meal that you enjoyed thoroughly but are stuck cleaning the table and putting away the dishes, this is the part of the expedition that is unavoidable. There are no helicopter rides back to civilization, no ponys that will carry you down, you walked into this mess, you’ve got to walk out. And this isn’t the fun part. In pain, bleeding through our socks and badly in need of a shower, we walked out through the moorland, down through the Rain Forest and out through the entrance we started, only taking breaks to refill our water jugs. I was pretty tired after the ordeal was over. My brother and I had worn what little patience we had with each other rather thin, and a good relaxing beer and bath was on the agenda. We returned to the lodge like conquering heroes, and began drinking the place dry.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. But I’m aware that my brain still holds a significant void. I didn’t find pleasure in the summit. While at the lodge, I immediately quizzed my sibling on his thoughts concerning the next big climb. Either to tackle, Mt. Elbrus, the highest in Europe and Russia or go more local, climbing the ever difficult Mt. Rainier out in Washington State. Less than amused, he told me he has little interest in completing any additional peaks of dangerous heights, promptly telling me I was out of my mind. And I kind of agree with him. One can’t be completely sane to tackle this list, and I find myself thinking what kind of horror has driven me to want to taunt death so badly?
For Glory I tell myself. Pffst.