Sunday, January 15, 2017

Day 3 - Christmas on Kilimanjaro





The summit of Kilimanjaro is clearly in view, a snow-capped mountain in the distance beckoning me on, but today I stayed at Horombo Hut for another night. Rather than moving on to a new destination, I did an acclimation hike, climbing to Zebra Rock.





The two-and-a-half hour trek took me to just over 13,000 feet.






The idea is adhering to the old mountaineering adage of "climb high and sleep low". I experienced the benefits of adjusting to a higher altitude before returning to a lower one to recuperate. I'm told this extra day will increase the likelihood that I summit.

The problem with my route up the mountain is the gain in altitude is so rapid that I've got little time to acclimatize, which raises the chances that I'll get altitude sickness. When I hiked to Everest Base Camp, it took nine days to reach 17,600 feet. With Kilimanjaro, I'm heading to 19, 341 feet in just over four days. It seems a bit crazy, but I continue moving forward, choosing to not dwell on the numbers.

Last night, I had my first brush with what I think was a bit of altitude sickness when my head starting hurting, although it could have been the fatigue of hiking five hours in the hot sun.  I swallowed a couple of ibuprofen, and the headache disappeared.

Before beginning my hike, I debated about whether or not to take Diamox, a medicine that supposedly prevents and reduces the symptoms of altitude sickness. Some climbers take it in advance. Others wait until symptoms arise.

Both my doctor and pharmacist recommended I use it prophylactically, but every guide and porter I talked with said wait because of the adverse side effects. I assume they'd know, so I've got it in my pack, just in case.

Overall, my 51-year-old body is holding up under the stress of the ever-increasing altitude, as well as the daily hiking grind.  Each night, my guide, Raphael, checks the level of oxygen in my blood, along with my pulse. He says he's pleased with the numbers.

While I'm grateful my health is being monitored, I'm always nervous when Raphael clips the pulse oximetry onto my finger. An oxygen saturation level in the blood of 95-100% is considered to be normal. If my reading drops below 50%, Raphael says it's serious, and I'll be asked to discontinue my trip. So far, I've not dipped under 80.




Although I'm climbing alone, I've got plenty of company on the trail. For the last two days, I've been hanging out with Kevin, a first-year medical student at the University of South Carolina, and Robert, the owner of a Chicago-based construction company. Robert is the one standing in the middle.

Both are taking the five-day trip, meaning their odds of success of reaching the summit – according to the park service – stand at 27%.

While I enjoyed my acclimatization day, Kevin and Robert headed to base camp. Kevin is young and enthusiastic. He'll make it to the top; however, I'm worried about Robert. Admittedly, he didn't train for the climb, and the 52-year-old tells me he's already anxious to finish. Plus, he's got a screw inserted in his ankle from a previous injury.

Robert decided to do the hike on a whim. Afterward, the practicing Buddhist will head to India for a conference with the Dalai Lama. Kilimanjaro isn't a major priority. Still, I'm hoping for the best for my new mountain friend.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. I'll celebrate by hiking almost six miles to the base of the summit. That evening I'll be awakened in the middle of the night for the final push to the top.

So far, so good.

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DAILY TRIP DETAILS

Start:     Horombo Hut                                      -   12,155 feet in elevation (3,705 meters)
Finish:  Scenic Overview above Zebra Rock   -   13,123 feet in elevation (4,000 meters)
Distance Covered  =  4.97 miles (8 kilometres)
Elevation Gain       =  968 feet (295 meters)
Time of Hike          =  2 hours, 35 minutes
Results of nightly health screening:   Pulse = 83   Oxygen level in the blood = 90% out of 100 (Note: An oxygen saturation reading of 95% or better is considered to be normal. If my level drops below 50%, it's serious, and I'll be asked to discontinue my trip.)  

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Note: These are the exact words I wrote while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. After returning from my six-day trip, I transferred my unedited thoughts directly to the blog. In some cases, I added extra information for clarity. You'll find those passages in italics.  



Sunday, January 8, 2017

Day 2 - Christmas on Kilimanjaro





For months, I trained for Kilimanjaro, but warm-up hikes just can't simulate an all-day climb in the mountains at altitude.

My five-hour journey today took me from rainforest to moorland, a hike I can best describe with the word, "up."





Even in the Himalayas, I never experienced a trail with so few







flat places or downhill sections. What happened to my easy walk?


Fortunately, my guide, Raphael, continues to set the pace. At the beginning of the trip, I told him I wanted to go slowly to give myself the best opportunity of summiting and avoiding altitude sickness. Each day he tells me to stay close, follow his footsteps, and trust him.




At times, it seems as if I'm climbing in slow motion, but I feel strong, and Raphael keeps saying he'll do everything he can to get me to the top.






The weather has been exceptional. So far, we've had just 15 minutes of rain, which is unusual for December. Years ago, my friend Michael also did the hike at Christmas and endured two straight days of non-stop rain.

My life has become quite simple – eat, sleep, and climb. In a normally chaotic world, it's nice to have a single focus – getting to the top of one of the so called seven summits, the name given to the highest mountain on each continent.




I'm now at Horombo Hut located above 12,000 feet. I'll stay here two nights. Tomorrow, I'll do an acclimatization hike, which will take me to just over 13,000 feet. On the route I've chosen, it's possible to make it to the summit in four days, but according to the park service, the chance of summiting is only 27%.  By adding an extra day, my odds increase to 44%, which still isn't great but a lot better than the alternative.

The more time a climber spends on the mountain adjusting to the altitude the greater likelihood he'll get to the top. I'm hoping the extra day makes the difference.




As I climbed today, I felt a lot of positive energy from a lot of people. That might sound silly, but I know it's real, and I appreciate all of your support.

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DAILY TRIP DETAILS

Start:     Mandara Hut -   8,907 feet in elevation (2,715 meters)
Finish:   Horombo Hut  - 12,155 feet in elevation (3,705 meters)
Distance Covered  =  7.2 miles (11.6 kilometres)
Elevation Gain       =  3,248 feet (990 meters)
Time of Hike          =  5 hours, 1 minute
Results of nightly health screening:   Pulse = 72   Oxygen level in the blood = 88% out of 100 (Note: An oxygen saturation reading of 95% or better is considered to be normal. If my level drops below 50%, it's serious, and I'll be asked to discontinue my trip.)  

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Note: These are the exact words I wrote while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. After returning from my six-day trip, I transferred my unedited thoughts directly to the blog. In some cases, I added extra information for clarity. You'll find those passages in italics.  




Monday, January 2, 2017

Day 1 - Christmas on Kilimanjaro



Mt. Kilimanjaro - December 2016


This is what brought me to Tanzania. Now, I've finally got my chance to break through the clouds and summit Africa's highest mountain.

One of the major challenges of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is dealing with mental adversity. My first test occurred two days before I actually began the trek when I arrived at the airport, minus my bag, containing my hiking poles, warm clothing, and sleeping bag.

Normally, I would have responded in a high-strung, negative manner, but one of the lessons I've learned living in Zimbabwe is that getting upset – even if an airline employee routes a bag to the wrong airport – does no good.

The ugly American, yelling routine is simply ignored, so all one can do is smile and hope for the best. Somehow, things always seem to come together in Africa when one least expects it. In my case, the bag magically appeared a day later.





Before beginning my hike, I met my crew. The guide is Raphael, a 44-year-old who's been leading tourists up Kilimanjaro for 19 years. He's the one wearing the black t-shirt. Raphael is the boss responsible for the day-to-day running of the crew, as well as in charge of getting me to the summit. The rest of the group includes a cook and four porters.

It might seem like a lot of people, but keep in mind that we must haul everything we need up and down the mountain, including food, although I carry only personal items I'll need during the day. Because the government limits the amount of weight each porter is allowed to carry, a one-hiker outing quickly becomes crowded.




I started my three-hour hike around noon, winding my way through the intense heat and humidity of a tropical rainforest, gaining almost 3,000 feet in elevation.





We initiated our hike at 6,102 feet. As I write this post, I'm sitting at 8,907 feet in elevation (2,715 meters), and I've replaced my t-shirt with a fleece pullover.





I'm spending the night in a simple, but comfortable hut, after having devoured two humongous meals. Lunch alone consisted of a chicken breast, two samosas, two bananas, an apple, yoghurt, and a piece of cake. Even after all this food, I was still hungry at dinner, which featured cucumber soup, beef, vegetables, and a mound of pasta.

Raphael keeps telling me to eat more because I need the calories. He's climbed Kilimanjaro at least 100 times, so I figure I should listen.







We've already struck a deal. Raphael has promised to get me to the top safely. In return, I've agreed to follow his lead, literally. He sets the hiking pace, and I fall in line behind him. His mantra – pole pole, which in Swahili means "slowly, slowly," an expression I'll hear from almost every guide or porter who passes me on the trail.

So far, I feel great physically. There's no sign of altitude sickness, and my bad ankle is holding up fine.

Tomorrow, the hike is even longer and harder, but I'm confident. Kilimanjaro doesn't seem that tough at all, especially compared to my trek to Everest Base Camp.

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DAILY TRIP DETAILS

Start:       Marangu Gate - 6,102 feet in elevation (1,860 meters)
Finish:     Mandara Hut -   8,907 feet in elevation (2,715 meters)
Distance Covered  =  5.03 miles (8.1 kilometres)
Elevation Gain       =  2,805 feet (855 meters)
Time of Hike          =  3 hours, 25 minutes
Results of nightly health screening:   Pulse = 85   Oxygen level in the blood = 94% out of 100 (Note: An oxygen saturation reading of 95% or better is considered to be normal. If my level drops below 50%, it's serious, and I'll be asked to discontinue my trip.)   

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Note: These are the exact words I wrote while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. After returning from my six-day trip, I transferred my unedited thoughts directly to the blog. In some cases, I added extra information for clarity. You'll find those passages in italics.