Wanderlustress

Life in Laos through the lens of a diplomatic wife raising twin toddlers.

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

One of the significant singular events in my life was climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. It has been ten years since then but every June I think of it and celebrate my little personal anniversary. It’s only a personal celebration because I did it alone. Well, I was in a group with a couple I didn’t know, a guide, and a whole bunch of porters, but otherwise I was very much by myself. The climb is a popular and well documented one and it’s actually more of a hike since there really isn’t a section that requires technical climbing skills. But it’s a long hike with a very grueling steep summit mount starting at midnight. As easy as it appears to be, some people are held back by altitude sickness, which can adversely effect even the most fit athletes.

There really isn’t a way to prepare for altitude sickness or to predict how you will do on a climb – except for allowing yourself a lot of time for acclimatization.

This is the primary reason why I chose to take the longer western approach to the mountain called the “Londorossi/Lemosho” route and not the shorter “Cola Cola” route. In addition to spending more time on the mountain, another appealing reason to take the western route was the remoteness. We didn’t see other climbers for the first few days and even though it was less comfortable to be in tents the whole time, I really wanted to avoid the crowds at camps where huts were available.

I organized my climb with Tusker Trails & Safari because they were one of only a few outfits at the time that offered the longer route. They seemed experienced and professional. They were also the company that allowed me to join them on a 30-day exploratory trip into western Tanzania which I referred to in a previous post. I was very happy with the company and the climb. In fact, the team for the climb was incredibly attentive and helpful. After two nights on the mountain I started getting a severe headache, which is a sign of altitude sickness.

One of the porters offered to run down the mountain to one of the more populated base-camps to get anti-altitude sickness medicine and run back up so I can take the meds by nightfall!

What?! Run all the way down a mountain and back up the same elevation that will have taken us three days to gain, all in a day??? Just for my headache? Um, no. I’m really not that special, and the fact that the meds are not guaranteed to work, and the fact that the other porters would then have to take up his load. Again, I’m really not that special.

If my body can’t handle the altitude, then I’m not meant to summit and I was fine with that because being on the mountain, hiking through fascinating eco-zones, and sleeping under the stars in the lap of Africa’s highest mountain was amazing enough for me to experience without all that effort needed just to thwart my headache.

In the end, my headache went away in a day. Descending into the Barranco Valley for a night helped, I think, along with the incredibly slow “pole pole” pace our guide forced us to obey. The summit mount was super hard for me physically, made harder by having people turn back and pass me on their way down. It effected my confidence. If they can’t do it, how can I?! My body also decided to purge uncontrollably when the wind was cutting the coldest, forcing me to disrobed cumbersome layers (hey, you do what you gotta do even in pitch dark against wind gusts near the top of a mountain).

Our guide kept telling me that it’s only an hour more when in reality it was 4, nearly 5 hours until I made it to the top. Mentally, his trick worked because I focused on the thought, “I can do anything for an hour.”

After reaching the summit, the descent to camp that night was unexpectedly even more grueling still. I hadn’t anticipated the physical effort of coming off the summit. Thinking of it as a final goal obscured my mental preparation for what it would take to come down again.

A lot of life lessons can be discerned from many facets of this experience, don’t you think? I often do a mental check back on this time whenever I’m faced with everyday life situations that I don’t think I can handle and it has served me well.

Looking back, I’m glad I did the climb alone for all the reasons that were important to me back then but now I really want to do it again with my husband and children, to share such an incredible experience together. I guess I’d better start training our 2.5-year old twins now so that I won’t be too old by the time they can climb Kili, too!

Enjoy…

Rooftops in Arusha, Tanzania.

Sunset looking towards Mt. Kilimanjaro from Arusha, Tanzania.

The gorgeous countryside calmed my nerves on our drive to Londorossi Gate.

Trail? What trail? Just follow? Oh, ok…

Our first camp.

View of Uhuru Peak, the summit goal, day 2 into the hike.

Amazing amazing humongous lava strewn boulders.

Giant Groundsels of the Barranco Valley.

It’s incredible how much the porters can carry.

Up and up into the morning fog they go…

They ascended so easily through the fog and into the sky and disappear for hours before I finally catch up to them at the end of the day at camp. Incredible!

Joyful (and really tired) at the summit.

I called our descent “mud skiing”!

Muddy, exhausted, swollen (from the altitude?), elated…can’t you tell?!

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23 comments on “Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

  1. Madhu
    June 9, 2012

    Wow! I can well understand your wanting to celebrate the anniversary of such an accomplishment! Great shots as well.

  2. xubobo
    June 7, 2012

    This is really a great journey

  3. miojocamara
    June 6, 2012

    Oh!, what a beautiful photos and also interesting writing about the journey. I dreamed of myself doing it! I only climbed Uluguru Mountains in Morogoro, less than half Kilimanjaro altitude, and is something I never forget. Yes, I remember the “pole pole”. Asanti sana!. Have a hug.

  4. Robin Jean Marie
    June 6, 2012

    Happy Anniversary! And congratulations on an amazing accomplishment. This is a terrific, inspiring post with fanastic photos, to boot.
    Well done. 🙂

  5. Tricia A. Mitchell
    June 6, 2012

    Indeed, there is magic and many life lessons in solo travel. What a tremendous experience you’ve documented here!

    • Wanderlustress
      June 6, 2012

      So true, although there were many times when I was envious that certain people could call on the aid of a certain spouse when they had a headache and didn’t want to scramble back into the tent to fetch their mittens. Also happened when I went sea kayaking by myself in South Africa with another couple where the husband did all the paddling and she kept yelling over to a struggling me saying, “Isn’t this just lovely?” Certainly mixed feelings since at the time I truly preferred to be alone, at least not in a relationship!

  6. travelerlynne
    June 6, 2012

    I love your account of the physical, emotional and mental fortitude it takes to do what you did. Congratulations on your anniversary memory. Being almost 70, I settled on a short hike near Arusha. Pole, Pole.

    • Wanderlustress
      June 6, 2012

      I would love to just to back and hike without the pressure of summitting.

  7. Michel
    June 6, 2012

    Mt. Kilimanjaro is on my ‘to do’ list.

  8. Renee
    June 6, 2012

    Loving your post – thanks for sharing – great photos!

  9. Christina
    June 6, 2012

    That is SO AWESOME!! You have inspired me to make this one of my goals!! I thought you had to be a pro climber/have tons of money to do Kilimanjaro…But maybe I was thinking Everest! Thanks for sharing!

    • Wanderlustress
      June 6, 2012

      Kili is still expensive, especially given the costs of getting there but definitely worth it!

  10. Ajay Kaul
    June 6, 2012

    Thanks for sharing your experience. You’re right about the descent – most of the descents feel like skiing 🙂

    • Wanderlustress
      June 6, 2012

      Yes, there was ‘skiing’ on the scree at the top (although I was too tired to do this) and then it was so muddy at the bottom.

  11. travelladywithbaby
    June 6, 2012

    Love that you did this alone! We often talk about doing it with our son, when he is old enough. My parents lived in Tanzania in the 60s, my Father talked about the local people running like the wind.

  12. Sarah
    June 6, 2012

    Love love love this post! You’re right — there are many parallels to draw on when things get tough. You proved some important stuff to yourself 10 years ago that no doubt stays with you every day still.

    • Wanderlustress
      June 6, 2012

      Wish I had done it, or learned these lessons, earlier on in my life. Oh well. Better late…

  13. andreashesse
    June 6, 2012

    What an experience this must have been!

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