Happy 2015

We had a lovely hike with friends to the top of South Mountain. We love starting the year this way and have carried on this tradition for quite a while. I am really looking forward to many things in 2015, but most of all I have 8 trips planned. I’ll give plenty of info about them as they get closer, but I’ll say a few words about one that I’m very excited for.

On our aughts and fives John and I do adventures. For my 40th we hiked the Inca Trail and for his 45th we hiked Kilimanjaro. This year I turn 45 so we are going to run the Tour du Mont Blanc course, starting and ending in Chamonix France. We will also motor through Italy and Switzerland while we are at it. If you want to know more about the course there is a great documentary called Outrun the Sun that follows professional athletes covering the course in only about 15 hours. We will take six days.

We are so lucky to have some dear friends running with us. Lori and Joe, pictured above, and Kaylee and Brian, and Kaylee’s brother Ed and his colleague at Nike, Cipriano.

Let the training begin! If you want to run or hike with me in the next six months please let me know!

Happy New Year!

Day 14: Millenium Camp to Mweka Gate

Waking up on Day 8 of our climb was really hard for me because I was so sad that the trek would be over soon. Stanley came to our tent with hot coffee and a high-pitched “good morning!” John and I sipped at our cups before starting our last packing process. It was hard to believe we would not be sleeping in a tent again that night. Coffee cups down, we started organizing our gear into piles. We were giving a good bit of it away to the porters.

In addition, Larry, Cindy, John and I had brought with us on the plane from Phoenix a 50 pound duffle full of camping gear. We were looking forward to donating the gear to our group. Kapanya had arranged to have it carried to Millennium camp so that we could use it as part of our tipping ceremony.

We had our last breakfast in the mess tent, and after that we all gathered in a clearing where Manase formally presented the birthday cake to Larry, and the whole crew sang to him. I caught this on video.

Larry then cut the cake and shared it with as many porters as he could. After that party broke up, Kapanya laid some tarps on the ground and we emptied the contents of our duffle onto it. We added some items we had used on the trek, and we also carefully sorted out some individual gifts to give to guides. Kapanya had told us it was best for us to hand gifts to the people who influenced us most.

I had spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to give each guide. To Neema, I gave boots. To Nuru, I gave sunglasses. To Nile, I gave gloves. And to Nicksoni, I gave the iPod that had kept me company each night on the mountain. I loved handing the gifts to each guide, and they enjoyed taking pictures with us after they received the presents. After that, John gave Kapanya the gift of our sleeping bags and Thermarests. Others in our group distributed all of their gifts too, then we moved on to the next part of the gifting ceremony.

Kapanya had an ordered list in his hand: he had made decisions about who would get to choose from the presents first, based on their performance on the trek. The first person to pick was Manase, the cook. Manase wanted a pair of sunglasses, and there were about 6 pairs on the tarp, but half of them were mine & Cindy’s, so every time he put them on his big face we all laughed at how little they were! He finally found a pair that fit. And the picking went on person by person. It was fun to see who got what items. It was also fun to see the porters take off what they had on so they could wear the gifts we brought. It made me feel very happy.

Next, Kapanya lined everyone up so that we could hand out tips. I was glad that this was so organized because it ensured that nothing got lost in the shuffle, and we were able to say thank you personally to all 71 people who supported us. After the tipping was over, the group sent up for a photo, and as you can see from the video, it inspired some song!

After the festivities wound down, it was time to head off the mountain. John, Nicksoni and I started walking and soon ran into Jerry, the 85-year-old hiker we had met the day before. He was looking a little tired, but not deterred from the task ahead of him.

As John and I first started hiking we were still above the clouds, but soon we dropped into the rainforest where it started to get very muddy. This made us a move a little slower than we would have, but I didn’t mind it so much since it seemed to buffer a little of the pounding of our 7,000 foot descent.

At one point Nicksoni said to me, “Thank you for the iPod. Does it have music on it?” I had to tell him that it was full of podcasts! He asked me why I had podcasts on it instead of music, and I told him it was because I wanted to hear someone’s voice when I was afraid. He smiled, nodded, and gave me the sweetest look ever. What a kind soul Nicksoni has. How will I ever hike without him?

John, Nicksoni, and I were having so much fun motoring through the mud—chuckling at each other whenever someone slipped, and taking lots of pictures of the plants. But soon came my favorite Nicksoni moment of the whole trip.

Our trail met up with a Jeep road, and after a while walking on it Nicksoni asked, “How long have we been hiking?” John told him almost 4 hours.” Nicksoni got a sly look on his face and said, “Hey John, if you run you can make it sub-four.”

Can you picture John’s face? He latched on to that idea like it was his life’s goal. He yelled, “See you!” and started running. Nicksoni and I just laughed and laughed! I can still picture Nicksoni slapping his knee as we chuckled. And John did it! He made it in under 4 hours. I came in just over 4. It was not required, but it made it a fun end of day, especially since it was supposed to take 7 to 9 hours.

So, John, Nicksoni and I had some Kilimanjaro beers and sat down for a while to get cleaned up. Kapanya had told us that you haven’t summited Kilimanjaro until you’re down safely. So this was something to celebrate. When the others arrived we ate a delicious picnic lunch and said our last goodbyes. A bus took us back to the DikDik lodge, where we all piled out ready for showers and rest. I was happily startled when Welly, the manager, came running out of the lodge and hugged me like I was her own daughter! “I prayed for you every day!!” she said, and we hugged and cried and hugged some more. She said she had been very worried about me after our long conversation on departure day, and she was so hoping that I would make it to the top of the mountain. We took pictures together and I just felt so lucky to have someone show me that great kindness.

The hotel staff had all come out to congratulate us, and they gave us orange juice as they carried our bags back to our rooms. John was kind enough to give me the first shower, and I was just about to enter the hot water when I heard a knock at my door. It was Welly! She let herself in with her key, which was so adorable I had to just laugh even though I was half naked. “I have gifts for you,” she said. “I wanted to give them to you here.” The packages were beautifully wrapped. The first one contained a carved wooden love bird. The second was a colorful sarong with some Swahili writing. “This says you will have a very long life,” Welly said. And she hugged me ten more times before she headed back to the lobby and I hopped in for my first shower in 8 days.

Here are some pics from the day.

Here are the specs on the day’s hike, though, to be honest, the real story here is how wonderful people are all over the world. What a humbling, lovely experience.

Here’s what our hike info said:

Day 8 of the Hike
Millennium Camp to Mweka Gate
6 Miles
7 to 9 Hours
Start 10,300
Finish 5578
Loss of 4722

And here’s what my GPS said:

7 Miles
4 Hours
Start 12,492
Finish 5364
Loss of 7103

Day 13: Crater Camp to Summit to Millenium Camp

During all of the planning for the trip, sleeping at 18,800 feet was the thing I feared most. Our friends who climbed in 2004 did not sleep at Crater Camp due to harsh conditions, so I did not have a first hand account of what it felt like. For me, it worked out fine. The night was long and I was very cold, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I did not suffer from any apnea and thanks to the Diamox I didn’t even have a headache. And the Terry Gross podcasts on my iPod gave me plenty to think about other than, I don’t know, dying in my sleep.

We got our 6 am wake-up call and I was ready to go. I was a bit surprised that it had snowed overnight and that we were in the clouds. I took some video for you. I’m a bit short of breath. I don’t really know how cold it got. Someone said 10 degrees, someone said 10 below. I slept in all my clothes and still shivered all night.

We had a breakfast of porridge and we all started getting our gear together and getting ourselves ready for the short ascent to the summit. I was very cold and had a hard time with my fingers. My struggles with my equipment sent Manase and Stanley into action. Manase grabbed my gaiters and put them on my legs. Then Stanley grabbed my sunscreen and put some on my face. I don’t think Stanley has worn a lot of sunscreen in his lifetime because he was a bit too generous with the cream. It made for a great laugh and a funny picture though!

As soon as everyone was ready we started walking up. The trail was slippery with the new snow and I was pretty short of breath. Soon, though, Nicksoni, John, and I crested the rim of the trail and we could see a long snowy plateau leading to the summit sign. We took a nice stroll through the snow and the picture taking began! I have some video of it here, and I apologize for the quality, because as you can see we were hugging a lot and it shook my iPhone. But at least it gives you a good idea of what the summit was like. And if you thought you saw vomit in the snow, you did. It was not from our group. But it was a good indication of the carnage we were about to witness as we descended.

We were especially excited because it was Larry’s birthday, so John brought out his flask of Scotch and we all proceeded to toast! I was so proud of Larry and I hope I get to do such a fun activity on my upcoming birthdays! We stayed at the summit for about half an hour taking every photo combo you can imagine. I took a moment to spread some of my dad’s ashes just near the sign. He’s now memorialized in Peru, Portugal, and Tanzania. I miss him so much.

Soon John and I apologized to the rest of the group, because we were about to motor. I love descending. And I love descending fast. So Nicksoni, John and I went ahead. Our first taste of the trouble other groups were experiencing came about 10 minutes from the summit. We saw a group huddled around a woman who was passed out in the snow. We asked if we could help but they said no.

Soon we arrived at Stella Point, which is an hour from the summit for those who ascend through the southern approach. Just past the Stella Point sign, we saw a woman who had broken her leg and was wrapped up in an emergency bag waiting for more porters who would carry her down. Just after that, we saw 2 other people who were being half-carried by their porters. It was a grizzly scene, and very different from what we had experienced with our expert guides and careful route.

John and I continued to descend down the sandy scree. It was so much fun! We were skiing really, and the views were amazing since now we were facing forward. We took lots of pics and very soon arrived at our lunch spot, Barnfu camp, which is the launch point for ascents from the south. The camp was very crowded with people who had attempted the ascent or would attempt it tomorrow. From this camp you have to get up at midnight and hike all morning, which is one reason people get so sick.

While at Baranfu camp, a funny thing happened. We heard some people shouting and pointing in the air. A tent had become airborn, and we all watched as it soared higher and higher and then it landed about 15 feet from us. What a show!

John and I waited for some time for the rest of the group. When they arrived we all got into the mess tent, and guess what Manase did? Brought us grilled cheese sandwiches!!!! Oh my they tasted so good. After lunch we started hiking again and ended at Millennium camp where we unpacked and had a nap. When we went into the mess tent for tea, a guy wandered in looking for “Paul.” We thought he wanted Paul from our group, but he was really looing for his guide Paul. But we asked him to sit and we started chatting. The man’s name was Jerry and he was 81 years old. It turns out he had been a math professor at U Mass Amherst, where Larry was a math major! So they couldn’t remember each other, but we did determine that their time had overlapped. It was a funny coincidence.

That night we had a wonderful dinner, and after we ate the crew surprised Larry with a cake, a birthday song, and a Maasai blanket. It was such a fun ceremony, but it was only a small token compared to the ceremony to come the next day– our last day on the mountain. We all crawled into our tents and fell straight to sleep, preparing ourselves for the morning festivities, and then the long descent.

Here are some of the pics from the day’s hike:

Here’s what our trip itinerary said:

Day 7 of the Hike
Crater Camp to Summit
1 Miles
1 to 2 Hours
Start 18,500 Finish 19,341
Gain of 841

Summit to Millennium Camp
6 Miles
6 to 8 Hours
Start 19,341 Finish 10,300
Loss of 9041

Here’s what my GPS said:

6 Miles
4.5 Hours
Start 18,500 Finish 12,497
Gain of 517
Loss of 6841

Day 12: Arrow Glacier to Crater Camp

Day 6 of the Hike, Day 12 of the trip, or what Kapanya called D-Day. He was pretty serious about it. And I’ll tell you why. In January 2006 a rock slide on the Western Breach killed 3 hikers. The route was closed but then opened again after a full investigation. Now climbers who choose this route are required to use helmets and sign a waiver. It’s difficult to find porters willing to go because of the risk of rock fall and of HAPE and HACE at Crater Camp.

Since the Western Breach route asks you to ascend about 3000 vertical feet in a day, it’s one of the hardest routes on the mountain not just for fitness but also for acclimatization. Here’s what Kapanya’s description said about it: “Hiking up the Western Breach wall to Crater Camp may be one of your most grueling days on the mountain. It is a 7-8 hour trek. It is steep all the way to the rim, and in some sections you will be forced to go 1-3 yards on all fours while negotiating the rocky parts.” I was excited about the climb, especially after lava tower. For some reason I love scrambling.

We got our wake-up call at around 4:20 am. We gathered in the mess tent and ate some Porridge, Sausage, and French Toast. Then we all went to make sure we had everything we needed: helmets, lights, water for the climb. We started climbing slowly up the rock path, re-tracing the steps of the acclimatization hike we had done the day before. It was very cold. It was very steep. It was very dark. Our group of 7 hikers and 5 guides stayed together for about the first 30 minutes, trekking over rock and icy slopes. Although Kapanya and the crew had ascended to cut steps the day before, there was still some cutting to do in the ice, and we waited several times as Nicksoni sunk his ice axe into the snow.

The steps we were taking felt big. In fact, at one point Kapanya yelled up and asked Nicksoni why he was cutting such big steps. “Because I’m tall,” Nicksoni replied. He always made me chuckle. I don’t know that smaller steps in the snow would have mattered, since the steps on the rock were not small either. I was taking big steps, and it occurred to me that all the squats and lunges with our trainer Ryan were paying off.

Soon I saw sunshine on the cliff face to our right. I thought immediately about my friend Amy. Do you have a friend like Amy? She checks on me every single day, no matter where she is. She runs with me. She meets me in the shoe department at Nordies. Sometimes we have coffee. Sometimes we have beer. She photocopies Miranda July stories for me. She texts me pictures of the “art” her cats create with Q-Tips on the bathroom floor. In short, everyone should have a friend like Amy.

Amy had hiked to the top of South Mountain with me several times in preparation for the Inca Trail in Peru, and she did the same thing when I started training for Kili. She knew how nervous I was. One day about 2 months before the Africa trip we stood at the top of South Mountain and she said to me, “Imagine what an amazing view you’ll have on Kilimanjaro.” And I thought about that, because somehow in my frenzy to get ready I had not thought about that before.

So here on Day 6 of the hike, on the Western Breach, scrambling up, eyes towards the rock, I suddenly saw sun on the cliff face to our right. I turned around to see what kind of view I really had on Kilimanjaro. I thought of Amy, and my heart soared. Not only could I see the new light on the copper rock and white snow, and on frozen waterfalls and glaciers, but I could also see the shadow of the mountain on the clouds below us. I never imagined such a beautiful sight. I started crying a little bit, which is inconvenient when it’s cold. But I truly felt like the luckiest girl in the world.

After taking a few pictures and downing some water, John, Nicksoni, and I were ready to roll. By this point we could not see the other members of our party. We had no intention of getting so far ahead of everyone. But we felt so good we did not want to stop. I loved this climb so much: the view, the physical challenge, the partnership with John and Nicksoni. I couldn’t stop smiling the whole way up.

Soon the sun was out completely and we continued up the Western Breach. Long before I thought we were near the top, Nicksoni told me we were almost there. We cleared some large rocks and saw some porters sitting on the edge of the crater. They clapped for us, then started dancing, then singing some songs. I glanced at my watch. We had completed the Breach in 5 hours.

We took a bajillion pictures and lots of video, and Nicksoni asked if we wanted to see the Furtwangler glacier. Part of our desire to climb Kili was to be able to see the “Snows” of Kilimanjaro, including the glacier, before it disappears. Some experts believe it will be gone in 3 years. We walked to its base as Nicksoni told us about the shrinking of the glacier that he has witnessed in the years he had been climbing.

After walking around the glacier we went back to camp and Stanley brought us some ginger tea and Peanut M&M’s. John and I unpacked, relaxed, and waited for the rest of the group. We watched as the porters cleared the rim and made their way towards camp. One of my favorite porters was a young Maasai man who was always singing and hooting. I asked Nicksoni what the hooting meant and he said “It means he is happy.” I could understand his feelings. John and I were anxious to see the rest of our hikers, and when we saw them crest the rim, we hurried to greet them.

Lunch was al fresco, and therefore a bit cold. We ate some soup, some fruit & veg, and then we hiked to the Ash Pit. The trail was covered in snow about 2 feet deep. It was really windy. John and Kapanya hiked all the way in to the pit and looked at the steaming rock while the rest of us turned around at the rim and headed down to camp.

Dinner was buttered macaroni and vegetables, a yummy treat. Then we got into our sleeping bags for what would be a very cold night. We were all anticipating the summit the next morning. It would start with a short 1 hour climb, then a long descent into Millennium Camp. I turned on my iPod shuffle and started the podcasts that I hoped would lull me to sleep. I didn’t expect to get much.

[nggallery id=4]

Here’s a video of us at the top of the Western Breach, right when we arrive. We’re pretty excited. Nicksoni, who loves hip hop, apparently called me a “Fly Girl” because I flew right up the mountain. That’s why we’re singing it. Oh boy.

And one more bit of video at the top. You can hear Nicksoni yelling at John for getting too close to the edge of the cliff.

Here is what the information told us:

Day 6 of the Hike
Arrow Glacier to Crater Camp
2 Miles
7 to 9 Hours
Start 16,103 Finish 18,500
Gain of 2397

Here is what my GPS said:

1.76 Miles
6 Hours
Start 16,033 Finish 18,826
Gain of 2908

Day 11: Lava Tower to Arrow Glacier Camp

Do you mind if I put a lot of pics in this post? Because the day’s hike was super short and steep and I think for that reason I stopped a lot to take pics. The views were so beautiful and the angles were stunning, too, since we were so often perched on sheer cliffs.

Anyhow, there aren’t many stories to tell, except that we had French Toast for breakfast, and we got to camp and unpacked, and then we hiked 1/4th of the way up the Western Breach to get acclimatized and to see where we would be the next day, or “D-Day” as Kapanya called it. And Manase made empanadas! You remember how much I love empanadas, right?! So here goes. Click on an image to start the Gallery.

I also took some video at this camp so you can get a feel for it. Here’s our cook Manase talking with Larry and Cindy, and then a view of camp, and then Stanley at the end. Remember I told you that Stanley always spoke to me in falsetto? It was super cute. Oh, and one fun fact. Manase and Stanley are brothers!

Here are the specs we started with:

Day 5 of the Hike
Lava Tower to Arrow Gacier Camp
1 Miles
1 to 2 Hours
Start 15,092 Finish 16,103
Gain of 1011

Here’s what my GPS said:
.74 Miles
1:14 Hours
Start 15,205 Finish 15,924
Gain of 702

All in all, it was an easy day, another indication that our whole trek was well staged, because we knew the next day would be tough. We ate a light dinner and went to bed early, anticipating our 4:00 am wake-up call.

Day 10: Moir Camp to Lava Tower Camp

The hike from Moir Camp to Lava Tower Camp was an easy 3 miles from the moorland zone to the alpine zone. Rich woke with a severe nose bleed–a problem he has experienced before at home. But it’s a problem that’s decidedly inconvenient at 14,000 feet, and for a while he was very worried that this could end his summit attempt. The rest of us had breakfast and then finished packing. Then we started walking out of the narrow valley, leaving our lovely private campsite behind. Rich and Lisa lingered as they waited for the bleeding to subside.

Leaving Moir Camp.

We walked just about a mile before the trail met up with the “Freeway” and we saw the big groups again, including the smokers. Once past the big group, we could spread out and enjoy the view. As we neared Lava Tower I started getting pretty excited, because I can’t tell you how badly I wanted to climb that thing! I could see a man on the top. Let me at it! I thought. Soon we were unpacking in Lava Tower Camp, and I couldn’t wait to climb.

Unpacking in Lava Tower camp.

Finally Kapanya said it was time to go to the top of Lava Tower. Hooray! Rich and Lisa stayed behind to nurse Rich’s nose bleed. The rest of us made our way to the base of the tower. The climb up Lava Tower is mostly a Class 2/Class 3 scramble on very solid volcanic rock. There were plenty of good hand-holds. Since I’m short, I got stretched out a little bit at times.

Thanks for getting this picture, John.

But we all enjoyed getting to the top, where we had spectacular views.

Top of Lava Tower.

We were able to scream loud enough for everyone to hear us, and we could see them waving.

Camp from Lava Tower.

We had a camp to ourselves again and I really enjoyed talking to the porters and guides as they relaxed after unpacking. I decided to take some video too so you can get a sense of the camp. Here goes.

It’s interesting to hear that I’m breathing a little heavy already in this video. I forgot to mention that Larry brought a pulse/ox meter for the climb. So one of our habits in camp was to pass the thing around and make sure everyone was feeling okay. Today in camp, at 15,211 feet, my oxygen was 91 (about 7 points lower than normal) and my heart rate was 72 (about 20 beats higher than normal). From what I had read about clilmbing the mountain, these numbers were going to trade places as we climbed: our oxygen would dip as our heart rate soared. I was not looking forward to that, but I felt good that I was in okay shape so far.

So what about the run-down for the day’s trek? Here is what our information said:

Day 4 of the Hike
Moir Camp to Lava Tower Camp
4 Miles
4 to 5 Hours
Start 13,780 to 15,092
Gain of 1312

And here’s what my GPS showed:
3 Miles
3 Hours
Start 13,662 to 15,211
Gain of 1552

Day 9: Shira 1 Camp to Moir Camp

When I planned the trip to Africa I had every intention of blogging along the way. But that didn’t work, mainly because I didn’t feel like it. I found that I preferred to be present rather than reflective all the time. So I took pictures and notes and decided to let the writing come naturally, later.

This morning I sat down to write a post about Day 3 of the Kilimanjaro hike. I asked John what he thought I should highlight about the day and he said, “I don’t even remember it.” I understand where he’s coming from. We crammed so much vacation into 23 days it’s hard to even remember the summit, much less the small steps to get there.

But I wanted to write about the day in more detail so I looked at my pictures and I re-read my notes. They made me laugh hard. I think they make great sub-headings so here goes.

Beautiful morning.
We woke in Shira1 camp to delightful weather and I decided to enjoy it since I figured it would be our last morning of above freezing temps. My thermometer said 60 degrees so I pulled out a short-sleeve shirt to start the day. Not bad at over 11,000 feet.

It’s a gorgeous day at Shira 1.

Stanley pretended to be a girl.
So, by now you know that every morning Stanley came to the tent with hot coffee. Day 3 of the hike John and I were shuffling our gear when we heard, “Good morning! Coffee!” in such a convincing falsetto that we thought it was a girl. “Is that Neema?” I asked. Stanley laughed and laughed! He was so tickled that he continued to talk to me only in falsetto the rest of the hike!

Took Diamox 125.
I had a little bit of a headache, and looking back I’m glad I did. It wasn’t a pounder. Just a touch of pressure behind my eyes to let me know I was not at sea level. I had worried that a yes or no Diamox decision would be hard for me to make. But as soon as I felt that headache, I was pro Diamox. I popped my first 125 and I think it made a real positive impact on my reaction to the altitude for the rest of the hike.

French toast porridge granola fruit coffee.
Nom nom noms! Kapanya promised all of us we would lose 12 pounds total on the 8 day climb. But at each meal I showed him that my pants were getting tighter. When would I lose my appetite as promised?

Lazy 5 mile walk to Scott Fischer camp.
Kapanya had a plan and I liked it. Instead of hiking to Shira 2 camp with the massive and cigarette-smoking 5-Day Coca-Cola route herds, our group would take a left turn and hike up to Moir camp for some peace and quiet. We strolled an easy 4 miles through moorland where we saw the lobelias and groundels we had been promised.

The day’s hiking through Moorland to Alpine Desert.

Then we veered left towards Fischer camp where we stopped for a delicious lunch of tomato soup, pasta, chicken, and of course fruit & veg, cheese, cashews and yogurt. This pic is of Cindy’s separate, gluten-free lunch, which I kind of coveted.

I’m still waiting to lose my appetite.

John gave geology lessons.
After lunch we had a nice 1 mile stroll to the campsite. Along the way John answered lots of questions about the origin of the rock formations.

Is anyone here a geologist?

Once at camp, we did our third unpacking out of 7 (we were really getting this down to a science) then we started our acclimatization hike up the lava flow to 14,100. That became my new highest elevation (and that night, 13,663 would become my new highest sleeping elevation).

Unpacking like a champ.

Kilimanjaro song.
After a rest and some tea, which involved shameless stuffing-the-mouth with delicious hot popcorn, Kapanya gathered the group for another photo. After many clicks of the camera, the porters broke into song and we all danced to the beautiful voices of Manase and the rest of the crew.

Larry shared whiskey with cooks.
After the spontaneous dance, Larry must have been in a great mood because he wandered into the cook tent where we saw him passing around his flask of whiskey. Now that’s how to make friends on the mountain!

Carrot soup beef rice chipati banana fritter.
This dinner was delish.

OMG the stars!!!!
We walked out of the mess tent and into the cold night. To see stars, you don’t even need to look up. It’s like the air is saturated with them.

Silk and ultra.
I was cold and afraid of getting colder. I slept with two layers this night, my silk underwear and my ultra-weights.

Yo-Yo Ma thinks about Julia Child dropping roast chicken.
Once again, I was a little too anxious to get to sleep all by myself. So I turned on some Terry Gross and listened to a fascinating interview with Jonah Lehrer about his book Imagine: How Creativity Works. Lehrer tells an anecdote about Yo-Yo Ma, that you should probably read first-hand here:  Let’s just say it helped me get some good sleep, and made for a great chuckle when I reviewed my notes a few weeks later.

Here is what we had planned for:
Shira 1 to Shira 2 Camp
4 Miles
3 to 4 Hours
Start 11,844 Finish 13,780
Gain of 1936

Here’s what my GPS (ready to go now that we’re out of the forest!) reported. The great difference in distance came because we hiked to the quiet camp. And I’m so glad we did.:

Shira 1 to Moir Camp
6.44 Miles
4:53 Hours
Start 11,466 Finish 13,663
Gain of 2207

Check out the satellite view here and you can see us moving from the Moorland to the High Desert.

Day 8: Forest Camp to Shira 1 Camp

I forgot to tell you what it was like arriving to Forest Camp on our first day of hiking. Somehow I was alone. I’m not sure how that happened. With 6 other hikers and 71 supporters of our party (not to mention all the other groups on the mountain) it was rare to be out of earshot of any other being. But I was alone, and loving it. Every glance afforded me the vision of a plant I had never seen before, or a view into the sloping distance with the light falling into the trees. This is my idea of heaven: enjoying what is wild without any responsibility to record or share it.

As I attacked the tall steps of the steep trail, laid out in a tangle of intersecting tree roots that I always think of as “Nature’s Staircase,” I wondered how far until camp. I looked up the trail but could not see a ridge through the trees. My GPS wasn’t working due to the dense forest, and I couldn’t tell how far I had to walk.

That’s when I heard the sound. What was that buzzing? At first I thought it was an insect or an animal. It grew to a murmur. As I continued climbing the steep root-steps of the trail, the noise grew louder. Soon, as in a concert hall, I started isolating some of the different elements of it. There, I could here clanging of pots. There, I could here the thwap of fabric as tents were unrolled and straightened. There, the lilting voices exchanging Kiswahili phrases. It was camp up ahead. I couldn’t tell how far, but I could hear it.

When I crested the ridge, each sound became an image. The camp was narrow and long, perched on a ridge bordered by tall trees. It was a tidy society, working in time without me, but waiting for me to get there. There were so many groups I couldn’t find mine. So I wandered for a while. I met a young newlywed couple from Napa who were playing cards at a small table. Porters from other groups high-fived me and said, “good job.” Finally I saw Kepha, our cameraman, and he pointed me towards the very last campsite, which is where we made our home.

Waking in Forest Camp on Day 2 of our hike had some similarities to approaching it from the trail. The music of camp started slowly, like an orchestra warming up. I could hear our cooks clanging pots as they put on water for coffee. I heard the porters in their tent slowly rising from their sleeping bags. I looked over at John, “How’d you sleep?” and then we were blinking and yawning with the rest of camp. I did not sleep well. I didn’t have my camp legs yet. That’s when Stanley came to our tent with coffee and a huge smile. It was our sign that we had 2 hours to eat, pack, and hit the trail again. Our breakfast of oatmeal, eggs, fruit, and toast tasted really wonderful, and I was wondering when I was going to lose my appetite from the altitude, as most reports promised I would do. For now, I was fine. And we started hiking through the forest.

Hiking through the last bits of rain forest.

When we started walking it was crowded. Not just with porters, but with 2 huge groups of over 25 hikers each. It was such a contrast to my solitary entry to camp the previous day that I got quite grumpy. I spent about 35 minutes staring at the feminine rump and stumpy legs of a short, middle-aged Frenchman. He and his buddy were having a heated exchange over office politics: I noticed that they looked only at each other and not at the landscape. I craved the solitude of the day before. Soon one of the massive groups took a break on the trail (cigarettes included) so we were able to shoot around them.

The trail broke out of the rainforest and into the heather zone, which also helped relieve some of my feelings of claustrophobia. As we continued to hike towards our lunch spot, I fell in line with our guide Nuru, who enjoyed teaching me several Swahili phrases. I was getting hungry and asked him how far until our lunch spot. “Oh, we’re 75% there,” he would say. Then in a few more steps, “Oh, 78% there.” Soon we broke over a ridge and saw our cook Manase, the other camp cooks, and our lunch table dressed smartly among the bushes. We sat down and enjoyed a beautiful meal of fruit & veg, soup, boiled eggs, cheese, tea, coffee, and toasted cashews.

Nuru telling me “78% there!”

As we climbed away from our lunch, we were surprised to maneuver around one of the two massive groups who were traveling with cut-rate outfitters. They littered the rocks with their gear and their bodies, and with their tiny Tupperware containers full of dry cheese sandwiches. As we tried to pass, we had to dodge as they traded paltry contents from their lunches back and forth like grade schoolers. Our group wondered out loud why these trekkers were having their lunch on the trail instead of on the ridge, and we came to the conclusion that their guides probably didn’t want them to see our luxurious table, chairs, and meal.

We continued climbing up. It was a little steep and I got a little warm. I shed as many layers as I could. Now I was hiking with Nicksoni, another of our 4 guides (we laughed later that all 4 guides’ names started in N: Nuru, Neema, Nicksoni, and Nile). Nicksoni told me he really wanted to go to America and when I asked him where he said “California” because he’s a Laker’s fan. He talked to me about his two sons, Chris and Rich, and his wife. I asked how they met and he said they were neighbors. Nicksoni wanted to know what kind of music I liked, and we exchanged names of favorite bands. And we continued marching up, up, up. He taught me to say it in Swahili: juu, juu, juu. We were going to use that a lot.

The views were spectacular. Nicksoni laughed at my manic self. What is it about a panoramic view that makes me feel so happy? But we hadn’t yet had the best one. We had yet to see the peak of Kilimanjaro, had started to doubt it even existed. Nicksoni told me we were getting close to a ridge where the Shira Plateau would open up before us. We started to see porters pulled off to the sides on their cell phones. We saw Nuru on his phone, talking with his pregnant wife. “Do you need to call home?” I asked Nicksoni. He smiled and shook his head no.

Then, with very little warning, we turned the corner and saw Kibo. Really!!!!???? Just like that! I had seen so many pictures and had longed to see even a glimpse of that gleaming snowy peak. And here it was! Day 2! And now we would spend the rest of the hike knowing just where we were headed.

We turned the corner and saw Kibo.

Massive photography spurts ensued. It lacked grace. Pictures of clients & guides. Pictures of couples. Pictures of the whole group. Friends. Individuals. Pictures with the Nikon, the iPhone, the Canon, the Sony. Pictures with Kapanya, Nuru, Neema, Nicksoni. I got a spot of cell service and texted a picture to Twitter and Facebook. We were giddy. We were silly. And we had a long way to go.

Before leaving the states I had seen a picture of hikers in the heather, with Kibo in the background. I just wanted that shot. So as we walked on to our camp for the night I took about 100 pictures trying to capture that look. I had to force myself to put the camera down and look around and breathe.

The picture I wanted.

As we got closer we could see Shira 1 Camp. This would be our most crowded camp of the 7. The 2 massive groups were set up with their triple-bowed mess tents. The Napa couple were playing hackey-sack with their guides. We signed the ledger and headed to unpack for the second time of the trek. We pulled our chairs out of the mess tent and sat for a while contemplating Kibo. We took more pictures than seems humanly possible.

Our porters in Shira 1 Camp

Kapanya took pictures too, pleased with the clear weather we were lucky to enjoy. He said it was because we all brought the umbrellas he had required (and that we had balked at).

I was feeling worried about the rest of the trek. The summit looked so far away, and so high up. I said this out loud: “Kapanya, Kibo is so far away.” He smiled and shook his head and said to me, “But Trish, you came from America.” Kapanya, infinitely wise.

In planning for the trip, I had imagined Day 2 as being one of the easier days of the trek since it remained well under my lifetime elevation cap of 14k feet. I guess many of my anxieties about the trip came from wondering how I would handle elevation above both of my high points (highest point achieved 14k and highest sleeping point 11k, both on the Inca Trail in Peru). I figured that in Africa I’d be fine until I got above those points, and Day 2 topped out at only 11,844. But Day 2 ended up being one of my harder days on the trail due to the crowds. I don’t like hiking with my face in someone else’s backpack. I think the hard night’s sleep was a problem too. Also, I think I was nervous before we saw Kibo, and then perhaps more nervous after.

Here’s what we thought the hike would be:

Day 2 of the Hike
Forest Camp to Shira Camp 1
5 Miles
6 to 8 Hours
Start 9340 Finish 11,844
Gain of 2504

And John’s Garmin captured this. Look at the “satellite” view for full topographic detail:

5.3 Miles
5:20 Hours
Start 9124 Finish 11,611
Gain of 2732

We had a wonderful dinner of fruit & veg, tomato soup, and beef stew. Then we curled up in our sleeping bags. I decided to pull out my iPod and let Terry Gross talk me to sleep. The Fresh Air helped, and I was soon snoozing away.

Day 7: Londorosi Gate to Forest Camp

Even after our very busy day, we still needed to get back to the lodge to make our final packing preparations. I was so worried about getting all the right gear in the right bags. We would be leaving safari gear at the DikDik, so we needed to pack all our trek gear into one duffle and a daypack. We scrambled to pack, then had one more dinner at the beautiful DikDik dining room.

I did not sleep well. I was so nervous about what the trip on the mountain would be like. We didn’t need an alarm to tell us it was time to go get breakfast and prepare for the drive to the trailhead. We gathered in front of the hotel, and the manager Welly saw how anxious I was. I asked her if she had ever climbed and she said she had tried but had to turn back due to altitude sickness: exactly my fear. But Welly hugged me and told me she knew I could do it. She said she would pray for me that I would make it to the top and back down safely and she said she’d be waiting for me upon my return. Her kind words and warm embrace made me feel more confident and gave me extra motivation.

We waited for quite a while because one of our two trucks went to the airport thinking we were there.

All our gear ready to go at the DikDik.

Finally the second truck arrived and we hit the road. We took some pictures of the landscape and people along the way. We also stopped at a small shop, which gave Kapanya the opportunity to tell Cindy, “I left my wallet here.” Cindy was so surprised that Kapanya’s wallet might still be there at the shop, until she learned that Kapanya was using what would become our favorite euphemism of the trip. From here on out, whenever anyone needed a bathroom break they would say, “I need to look for my wallet.”

Back on the road, we saw farms, shops, and lots of Maasai walking their long distances between villages. This would become a familiar site.

Maasai man along the road.

Soon we arrived at Londorosi Gate, and it started to feel like we were really going to hike this mountain. We saw lots of other trekkers with their tour guides. Our 7 hikers signed in to the ledger, and we were also asked to sign liability waivers stating that we understood that the route we had chosen, the Western Breach, was the most dangerous route and that it required climbing helmets.

John and Trish at Londorosi Gate

This is also where Kapanya and the head guides arranged to have all of the gear weighed. Each porter is limited to 40 lbs of gear. We watched as the porters put each of our duffles on the scale and added additional items to bring each package up to the 40 lb limit. While our personal bundles were well under weight, the authorities required Kapanya to hire 12 extra porters for all of the extra camp equipment. But many of the porters refused to join our group once they heard we would be hiking the Western Breach route and sleeping in Crater Camp. Kapanya explained that after several deaths on the Western Breach trail many porters are afraid to do the route. Lacking the required porters, Kapanya had to scramble for a solution, and ended up ordering more porters from a nearby town who would meet us with gear at the second camp on the trail. Although I was itching to get on the trail, it was interesting to see how this process worked.

Our guides weighing gear.

From the Gate, we took a fun 4×4 ride to the trailhead. On a Kilimanjaro climb we knew we would experience 5 climate zones, and this is when we went from the Lower Slopes with their potato farms and coffee plantations to the Rain Forest with its tropical plants and promise of monkeys. We took the road as far as we could go, then watched the porters unload our gear and start up the mountain.

Just a few of the 72 people who supported our 7 person group to the summit.

While the porters started walking, we were treated to our first meal prepared by master chef Manase Obedi. I can’t say enough about this man’s talent. Not only did he make every meal amazing, he also specially learned how to cook for a member of our group who is gluten intolerant. Each lunch started with Fruit & Veg. You can imagine how happy this made me.

A beautiful lunch before hitting the trail.

Finally we started walking. I was very interested to know how our GPS information would compare to the notes we had gathered on the trek, and also how we would do with the estimated times. The information we had gathered about what our first hike should be told us:

Day 1 of Hike Londorosi Gate to Forest Camp
4 Miles
4 Hours
Start 7382 Finish 9340
Gain of 1958

According to John’s GPS, we did this:

3.86 Miles
2:40 Hours
Start 7655 Finish 9139
Gain 1603

It was a beautiful and easy walk through rainforest, and we were very lucky to avoid rain. There were some steep and slick sections, and lots of tree roots. It was so much fun! It reminded me of climbing Mt. Humphrey’s back home.

Trish along the trail.

Cindy, Paul and I were also very lucky to see an entire family of Colobus Monkeys. Thanks to Cindy’s quick work helping me change to my long lens, I was able to capture this picture, which might be my absolute favorite from the trip. I snapped the photo just as a male monkey started climbing up the tree, and a female with a baby screeched at me to go away. We stood watching the family for a very long time. What a treat!

A family of Colobus Monkeys.

We got to Forest Camp just before dark, and unpacked for the first time into our tents. I liked that we had front and back doors on these tents, and I learned that it makes a happy home to use the separate entrances. We had 7 nights of camping on this mountain. John and I soon got into a great routine of packing and unpacking that allowed us to manage the limited space.

Trish unpacking at Forest Camp.

In the mess tent that night, we had our fruit & veg, soup, tea, delicious chicken and rice. Kapanya promised we would lose 10-12 pounds each on this trek, but I didn’t see how that would be possible with all the food that kept coming. And our Camp Leader Stanley Obedi, (older brother to our Camp Cook Manase Obedi) was well trained at saying “eat, eat, eat” and “drink, drink drink.”

By design, Kapanya wants to keep his clients well fed and hydrated because he knows it is the best indicator for a successful summit and avoiding altitude sickness. We would soon become very accustomed to the urging to consume as much as we could. When I asked Kapanya to eat more he said to me, “Trish, I have been eating since before you were born.” We all laughed and found another reason to trust our beloved guide.

Our cook Manase Obedi and our guide Kapanya Kitaba.

1 Week to Go: Humphrey’s Summit

At this time next week we will be arriving in Amsterdam, and then 2 days after that we’ll be arriving in Arusha, Tanzania. Our fearless guide Kapanya Kitaba has sent us several emails asking us when we are going to stop exercising. He says we need to conserve our energy for the hike. But we have had this Humphrey’s summit planned for some time as a celebration of John’s 45th birthday, so John, Cindy, Larry and I all went up and climbed the highest peak in Arizona. Sorry Kapanya! From now on you are the boss.

Cindy and Larry rented a house out on Hidden Hollow Road, in between downtown Flagstaff and the trailhead, and we all had a lovely evening there Friday night. At around 7:15 Saturday our dogsitter Jean-Paul came to the door. He’s the boyfriend of a former student of mine who is now attending graduate school at Northern Arizona. This brave man stayed with our 5 dogs for almost 8 hours while we drove to the mountain, hiked up & down, then drove home. Jean-Paul gets the true award for stamina today.

The Humphrey’s hike starts at 9,221 and covers just over 10 miles with 5573 elevation gain and 5576 loss. The Humphrey’s summit is 12,633, which is only about 7000 feet lower then the Kilimanjaro summit. But since John and I came from Phoenix, which is about 1300 feet, our total elevation change in less than 12 hours was over 13,000 feet. I’m glad we won’t have to do that again! We’ll have a lot more time to acclimatize while we’re in Africa.

Larry and John synchronizing watches.

The hike to the saddle was a steep but beautifully wooded walk in the woods. Once we hit the saddle we had some lunch. What a beautiful spot for a picnic.

At the saddle at 11,800 feet.

As soon as we started the 1 mile ascent to the summit, though, we were greeted with brutal winds. The trail was also very crowded, which made for lots of stopping to let people navigate up and down the trail.

Cindy taking a breather on the ascent.

After a few false summits, we made it to the top. It was pretty crowded up there but we managed to get some shots of the great views.

Trish & John and a stunning view.
Larry and Cindy and the beautiful view.

So now all that’s left to do is descend! The descent was even windier and more crowded.


After about 7 hours on the mountain we were back to the trailhead. What a wonderful hike with great friends. Hard to believe we’ll start our Kilimanjaro trek in less than 2 weeks.

Hiking fools.