I’m starting this blog post at a serious disadvantage. Although I’ve backdated the post so it says June 26, which really was our 4th day of safari, I’m actually writing this post on August 8—roughly 40 days after the experience. And here’s what I have to go on. My notes read a little bit like a Donald Rumsfeld press conference:
Sun grouse doesn’t like the white man
Vo houses mating pair
Ruppels long tailed starling
White crowned shrike
5 elephants grumbling 1 under 1 year old
Boys and photograph
Leopard in tree
So, let me try to piece this one together. We had breakfast in the dining room and then headed towards the trucks. I wasn’t super enthused to get back in that thing because the day before had been such a long one. But in we went, and soon we were out on the road headed towards some of the main Serengeti viewing areas.
The morning light was leaning through the trees and we saw some great packs of zebras with wildebeests, and lots and lots of birds. Kapanya is a talented ornithologist and it was wonderful having him name the birds and tell us about their behaviors. As you can see by my notes, an ornithologist I am not, and though I took a lot of pics, I gave up trying to remember which bird was which.
Soon we happened upon a group of 5 elephants with the cutest little baby you’ve ever seen. I can’t remember what their grumbling sounded like, but I do remember Kapanya telling us that it’s part of how solve conflicts over food.
Next we stopped in the middle of a huge pack of Thomson’s Gazelles. Their coats looked so pretty and shiny in the morning sunlight. Kapanya explained there was one male for about 50 females in the pack we were watching. He said the male rules for about 2 weeks before another male takes over.
We drove through some remote areas until we came to the hippo pool. I have never smelled anything so horrible. Don’t be fooled by the board games. Those hippos stink! And the way they manage conflict is to lift their tails, poo, and spread it throughout the pool. I was tired and ready for lunch.
We ate a box lunch in the shade and as we were preparing to leave, a bus full of school children pulled up. I was sitting next to the truck when a group of boys ran towards me. I could not understand what they were saying. They started speaking in Swahili to our driver Godfrey, who is a stern and serious man. He seemed to shout at them and I thought he was scaring them away, but then Godfrey brought me to the front of the truck and asked me to pose for pictures with each of the boys. I am not sure why we did this, but I am pretty certain the boys thought I was freakier than the hippos.
Right. So next we did another rushing towards something that our guides seemed to understand but we didn’t. The rest of us shrugged at each other, looking out the window as it started to rain. Finally we saw what the fuss was about. A momma cheetah and her 4 cubs were eating a gazelle under a tree. We watched them devour what was left of it, then they started cleaning each other.
After about 15-20 minutes of that, momma spotted another lone gazelle and started the process of stalking it. This might have been one of the most exciting parts of the trip—watching the 5 big cats slinking through the grass towards the lone gazelle. Soon mom took off in a sprint, but the attempt was a little half-hearted since her belly was already full. Still, what a thing to see!
Again, at this point I was tired of being in the truck and thought we might be headed back to the hotel. It was raining again and I was afraid of getting stuck. But we had another jolt of excitement as the radio went nutty. Someone wanted us to see something STAT. We rushed toward something at first along empty roads, but soon we saw about 20-30 trucks and knew it must be good.
And it was. Our second big cat in a tree, this time a leopard. We could not get as close because there were so many trucks around, but we did get a few good pics.
And then we headed back to the hotel, ate a late dinner and crashed into bed.
We woke to the same gorgeous view of the crater on Day 3 of the safari, and we went about eating our breakfast without any clue about what a crazy day it would be. Would I have done anything differently had I known?
We packed up our gear and loaded the trucks. As we came out of the crater we saw lots of elephants, zebras, and giraffes on either side of the road. It was getting to the point where we were so accustomed to seeing these animals that Godfrey, our driver, wasn’t sure when to stop. That’s when Kapanya told us, “If you want Godfrey to stop just say Shimauma.”
I asked Kapanya why and he said “Our last safari was full of Japanese tourists and one day they yelled ‘Shimauma’ so Godfrey slammed on the brakes becasue he thought it meant stop. But it means zebra.” We all had a good chuckle and enjoyed showing off our new Japanese vocabulary.
Just out of the crater we were treated with a view that summed up my notion of what Africa would look like: green hills, beige grasses, Acacia trees, Maasai huts in the distance. And that’s when we got the treat of seeing a big group of giraffes. Our truck startled a group of 4: a momma and her babies. The babies fled to one side of the road while the momma was stuck beyond the truck on the other side. That’s when Kapanya explained to us that the babies were only about 3 weeks old. I apologize that I was talking baby talk during this whole video. It’s hard to control one’s self in front of giraffes.
From there we headed off to Olduvai Gorge where we enjoyed seeing the museum that chronicled how researchers unearthed evidence of homo sapiens who lived there 17,000 years ago. It was humbling to see the stone tools and footprints, and I especially enjoyed the photographs of the researchers themselves. It’s hard to imagine being part of a discovery that gives such insight into human evolution.
After visiting the museum we got back onto the road and after what felt like many hours we finally came to the entrance to Serengeti National Park. We bought a few trinkets from some Maasai who were stationed at the entrance, and then we drove across the broad plains watching all the gazelles and wildebeest.
We stopped for lunch in a shady area. This was a tough time for me. I was feeling very car sick and I had to lie down in the truck for a while. I had a hard time eating my lunch, so we fed some of it to the dog who was helping the Maasai herd goats along the road.
After lunch we passed down towards a lake where we saw lots of pelicans, then we drove up a hill where we saw lots of elephants. I felt a bit anxious because it was getting late, but our day did not seem to be winding down as the two drivers were having a frantic conversation on the radio. That’s when Godfrey turned the truck around and started racing down the road. Then he drove off the road and started racing through the tall grass. We had no idea where we were going.
Soon we came to the base of two Acacia trees and Kapanya was scanning the horizon. “That’s a perfect example of a typical Tanzanian tree,” he said. And I was thinking, they rushed us out here for a tree? That’s when we saw the cheetah in it. Cheetahs do not have retractable claws. That makes it very hard for them to climb trees. We spent about 20 minutes taking pictures of said cheetah before a swarm of bees chased us off.
As we were driving away our driver said, “There are very few people in the world who see that. You have special pictures.” In fact, none of our guides had ever seen a Cheetah in a tree. They had picked up news of the sighting on the radio, and made the decision to get out there as soon as possible instead of heading to the resort. Good decision? I was getting ready to wonder about that.
That’s when our rushing changed. Instead of rushing to see the cheetah, we were rushing to get to our hotel. We could see dark clouds on the horizon, and we asked Kapanya several times where we were going but it was hard to believe the hill he pointed to was reachable tonight at all, much less by nightfall.
And soon the road turned into a river, and we started hydroplaning all over, and then we finally got completely stuck in the mud. I mean the whole back of the truck was buried in the mud. I can’t even describe to you how we got that truck out, but we finally did. And we kept on driving and driving until the sun went down and then we kept driving some more.
By the time we got to our last hotel of the safari I was toast. We had a half-hearted dinner and passed out. It was the longest day of the trip and by far the hardest. I’d rather climb a mountain than sit in a truck.
But then again, I don’t think I’d change it. Because how many people have a picture of a Cheetah in a tree?
When we awoke on Day 2 of our safari we were delighted to see the amazing views at our lodge. We had a big breakfast in the dining room and then loaded into the trucks for a day of wildlife viewing in Ngorogoro Crater.
We started at the top of the crater and drove down a long, steep dirt road. From the road we could see the lake, and we could already make out small dots that would prove to be zebras and wildebeests. Soon we stopped at the side of the road to let a large group of zebras past.
As we dipped into the flat area we saw warthogs, more zebras, more wildebeests, Thomson’s gazelles, ostriches, and Egyptian geese. No one in our truck had ever been on safari before, so the novelty of watching the animals in their natural habitat was still extremely thrilling. We would stop to watch one group and then move forward to watch another group.
Soon we came upon what would be our most interesting view of the day: a pair of mating lions. We watched them for quite some time. About every 15 minutes the male lion would stand up and try to mount the female lion. She was not interested at all and each time she showed her teeth until he moved away.
We had lunch near the lake and on the way back saw a lion in a culvert hunting some baby zebras and wildebeest. She did not make her move while we were there, but it was fun to watch her preparing to pounce.
On the way out of the crater we stopped to watch a huge group of baboons. They started climbing onto our jeep until Sylvester scared them away. I caught some video of them.
On the drive back to the lodge we saw a large bull elephant near the road. We parked to watch him, and he got so close to the truck that when he threw dirt in the air it hit us. That was quite a thrill. I have some video of it for you here.
When we got back to the hotel I was exhausted. There wasn’t a day on the Kilimanjaro climb that made me so tired. We ate dinner and went straight to sleep.
Kapanya told us we would have a long day. After almost two weeks of hanging with Kapanya, I knew that if he said it would be a busy day, I would pretty much be wrecked by the end of it. I loved how I was learning to re-think my life. I am known to complain of “busy” days at home. They usually include a morning workout, 10 hours at the computer, 2 hours reading, a short nap, and ample snacks. I’m physically fit, sure, but this trip was showing me that I really have no idea what busy is.
We set our alarms for 6 am. We woke up, packed, ate breakfast, and got all our gear up front to load into the truck. I was sad to say goodbye to Welli, who had shown me such kindness. We had a big last hug before our trucks pulled out of the drive.
We stopped in the town of Arusha so that Larry could buy maps. It was congested and it took us forever to get through. We stopped just outside of town to do the only shopping we would manage on our whirlwind trip. We went to the Arusha Cultural Heritage Center and tried to grab one of everything to take home as gifts. There was a large group of young Americans crowding the gem table, though, and no matter how long we waited I couldn’t get access to the area to buy a Tanzanite. I asked Kapanya if there was somewhere else we could get it. I explained that I wanted to set it in a ring my mother gave me before she died.
So we stopped at one more shop and I found the perfect stone. Back in the truck I thanked Kapanya, and he said to me, “Thank you, Trish, for telling me what was in your heart.” And I didn’t let Kapanya see this. He was sitting behind me in the back seat. My eyes just welled up with tears. His statement made me think about how often I fail to communicate my feelings. Somehow Kapanya’s sentence made so much sense to me: that allowing him to fulfill my wish fulfilled a wish of his. I sat quietly for a while with that lesson, so grateful to know Kapanya, this wonderful teacher.
So we had a bit of a drive ahead of us. Soon after we got out of town we started to see young Maasai boys dressed in all black wearing white face paint. Before I knew not to do it, I took a few pictures out the window. In the last picture I managed to take (before I realized it was super rude to take them), one of the young men was both spitting at me and giving me the finger. I started asking some questions of our driver, Sylvester. He told me that the boys were in black because they had recently been circumcised in a coming of age ceremony. No wonder they were grumpy!
Soon our 2 trucks pulled over to the side of the road and Sylvester looked at me. Did I mention yet that Sylvester was, um, really, really attractive? He was 28 years old, wearing dress khakis and a black dress shirt rolled casually at the sleeves. His skin was so smooth it looked like polished mahogany. He had these delicately curled eyelashes and clear brown eyes. He had a sly smile that started just at the edges of his full lips.
“We’re checking the tire pressure,” he said to me, flashing that smile. I sat still for a while until I saw him taking a leak in front of a bush. Hooray! Yet another euphemism for peeing! So we all filed out of the truck and peed.
When we were safe inside again an old, bald Maasai woman came to Sylvester’s window. She was wrapped in gorgeous blankets and covered in beaded jewelry—a traditional necklace, huge ear gauges, and bracelets covering her entire forearms. She and Sylvester had a heated conversation in Swahili that culminated in him giving her some ginger cookies. As we pulled away we asked Sylvester what she said. He smiled and reported this:
Old woman: That man in the other car took my picture. Give me money.
Sylvester: No. He was taking pictures of the landscape.
Old woman: You don’t love me like I love you.
Sylvester: Oh I love you.
Old woman: I want some money!
Sylvester: I’m not going to give you money. Take these ginger cookies.
Old woman: Come on! I want some money to buy a Pepsi.
Sylvester: Enjoy your cookies! See you later! Bye bye!
We all laughed as he translated their friendly argument.
Soon we arrived to Lake Manyara National Park. We enjoyed a picnic lunch of quiche, fruit and vegetables, cornbread, and chicken. Then we started our short drive into the park for wildlife viewing. We weren’t moving for 3 minutes when we saw a family of elephants. Since they were our first ones, we were pretty worked up! It was really exciting to see the whole family walking down the road, taking up dirt with their trunks and blowing it over their backs. We watched them for a good long while before we moved. I took some video of it for you.
We left and then we saw: olive baboons, monkeys, giraffes, zebras, dikdiks, impalas, wart hogs, and mongoose. But the most exciting spotting was a group of 3 lions in a tree. We took lots and lots of pictures. With wildlife, it takes about 50 bad pictures to get 1 good picture. So we shot our hearts out and laughed about how many hours it would take us to sort through the pics back at home.
After lots of viewing, we hit the road. We had a long way to drive to get to our next spot: the Hotel Serena in the Ngorogoro Crater. In fact, we got there quite late and didn’t eat dinner until 9 pm. We were in bed at 10 pm. Before I fell asleep I thought again about what a “busy day” represented back home. I smiled and thought, Not. Even. Close.
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
7 to 9 Hours
Loss of 4722
And here’s what my GPS said:
Loss of 7103
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 to 2 Hours
Start 18,500 Finish 19,341
Gain of 841
Summit to Millennium Camp
6 to 8 Hours
Start 19,341 Finish 10,300
Loss of 9041
Here’s what my GPS said:
Start 18,500 Finish 12,497
Gain of 517
Loss of 6841
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.
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
7 to 9 Hours
Start 16,103 Finish 18,500
Gain of 2397
Here is what my GPS said:
Start 16,033 Finish 18,826
Gain of 2908
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 to 2 Hours
Start 15,092 Finish 16,103
Gain of 1011
Here’s what my GPS said:
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.
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.
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.
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.
But we all enjoyed getting to the top, where we had spectacular views.
We were able to scream loud enough for everyone to hear us, and we could see them waving.
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 to 5 Hours
Start 13,780 to 15,092
Gain of 1312
And here’s what my GPS showed:
Start 13,662 to 15,211
Gain of 1552