Jambo rafiki! (Hello friend!)
I write this post having successfully climbed the highest peak in Africa. Scaling Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,341 feet/5,895 meters) was certainly an adventure, although a somewhat contained one. With a guide, cook, waiter, five porters and a toilet man (yes, I had a personal toilet tent) all supporting me throughout the 5-day trek, I felt somewhat less an adventurer than a neocolonialist British aristocrat on holiday.
As someone who is used to carrying all my own gear and food on camping trips, it was a bit jarring having a hot meal and pitched tent waiting for me when I arrived at camp every day. It was pleasant having a cup of hot tea brought to my tent every morning, though, and my guide (Joseph, or Commander White) and the rest of the crew were very friendly and fun to have around. I also met a number of other climbers along the way, from Poland, the Netherlands, Italy, Australia, and Demark/Singapore. Since I was attempting the climb solo it was great to have fellow travelers to hang out in camp and swap trail stories with.
In order to acclimitize to the extremely high altitude we slowly increased the elevation we slept at each night. The first night was 2835 meters, second 3800 meters, and third 3900 meters after ascending to 4600 for lunch then going back down. I also drank more than 4 liters of water (collected from streams and boiled) to help my body adjust. For most of the climb I had no problems and accordingly the standard pace set by the park was excruciatingly slow. This was evident in my taking on average 2-3 hours less than expected to hike the set distance each day, and being the first climber to reach the campsite every afternoon. So when on day 4 Commander White nonchalantly gave me the option to go for the summit that afternoon instead of early the next morning, I jumped at the opportunity.
After putting on the layers needed to keep warm at the top and getting all of the gear together, CW checked my oxygen level to make sure my body was ready for the altitude. My blood oxygen level was a solid 70 percent, but worringly my resting heartrate hovered around 120 bpm. Not wanting to have a heart attack on top of a mountain, we decided to ascend into the clouds to 4900m and check again. Each time we checked my heartrate eventually dropped back to 120, so CW decided it was ok to press on. At this point we had already hiked 11 kilometers with 5 remaining to Uhuru peak. The altitide finally hit me and I developed a slight headache, with some dizziness and nausea to boot. The final two kilometers before the crest at Stella Point were probably the most difficult I have ever done. Finally, after many breaks, some life-saving ginger tea and CW carrying my backpack as well as his own for the last 100 meters, we made it to the top.
Descending from the summit to basecamp where we would sleep involved sliding down the steep scree-filled slope by headlamp, which was actually a lot of fun and much easier than going up. It also reminded me a bit of what I imagine Mars would look like, covered in dust and rocks. Unfortunately my headache didn’t go away until we went much lower the next morning, hiking another 20 kilometers and descending some 3000 meters to the exit gate. But with incredible views across the plains to Mt. Meru and beyond, it was easy to forget. We also spotted a troupe of black and white colobus monkeys in the rainforest on the lower slopes just before the trail’s end.
If you are interested in a more detailed account of the climb, I will post it here in the coming weeks. Tomorrow morning I leave for Dar-es-Salaam (or simply ‘Dar’), the largest city and economic and cultural capital of Tanzania. It will be an all day journey but I am very much looking forward to seeing the countryside and experiencing more of this beautiful country.