I left Fort Lauderdale in the afternoon, bound for JFK. All was well, until I got to JFK and was told that Amsterdam was closed to through passengers. My plane was going, but I wasn’t. Until Amsterdam was your final destination, you were kicked off the flight! Commence tears and frantic phone calls! I had trip insurance, but with all of the planning and anticipation, I just wanted to GO! Delta could offer me a Tuesday flight out of JFK – even though I was supposed to fly on Saturday. My group was scheduled to meet on Monday and start trekking on Tuesday. My dad offered to let me come home, and they’d get me where ever I needed to go. KE Adventure said they’d set a trip cut-off for stranded travelers. Delta told me if I could get to DC, they’d fly me out on Monday.
So, I cashed in on my $18 food voucher, grabbed dinner, and booked an Amtrak train to DC… which I missed by about 5 minutes. So, there I was, waiting on the 3am train from Penn Station in NYC to Union station in DC instead of catching the 11pm train. I spent some time hanging out on the floor drinking a can of beer out of a paper bag, chatting with Patrick on the phone, and making friends with a homeless man while we watched the drunks filter in.
Ended up in DC. Grabbed a nap and a late brunch with friends. Megan and I headed to the airport to try to get on earlier flights. KE Adventure said that they latest they would take us would be Wednesday morning. So, with our deadline, we were set. The airport was a complete zoo, and we got nowhere. With my flights, assuming no further delays, I’d be there in time. Megan wouldn’t. We called it quits after a few hours, and I met some friends for dinner.
I was really, really happy for the hospitality offered by friends. I stayed at a good friend’s house. She made Bloody Marys with homemade garlic-infused vodka- and I even got to shower!
Back to IAD. I got there in time to find out that there was space on the Ethiopian Airlines flight. Megan was nowhere to be found! I tried to contact her, but she didn’t answer her phone. She overslept and couldn’t get to the airport in time. After negotiations with Delta, I decided to remain on my Delta/KLM flight rather than try to get a refund and purchase a new ticket. So, I lived at the airport until the KLM desk opened.
While in line waiting for the desk to open, they informed everyone that the flight was cancelled… before telling everyone they were talking about the Air France flight. Thanks for the scare! Anyway, my flight was oversold by THIRTY people. Thanks to my decision to live at the airport for the day, I was first in line. I was so nervous! When the counter finally opened, I was given BOTH boarding passes! IAD-AMS and AMS-JRO. I was GOING!
Finally in Amsterdam. Instead of my awesome plan to just check my box of liquids, trekking poles and potentially dangerous weapons, I had checked the box, my sleeping bag, and then: my bag. I was hopeful that it would all end up in the same place, but I moved as much gear as possible to my person!
By 11pm, I was in Kilimanjaro! All 3 of my checked items arrived, and I headed out to meet the driver. It was kind of intimidating walking out to a semi-circle of people that spoke Swahili and very little English. I finally found my guide, Peter, and my driver, I had the ride of my life from the airport to the hotel. 130km/h in a beat up Land Cruiser passing cars all over the place… I finally made it to the hotel – Hotel Nakara in Marangu – and I re-arranged stuff in my pack and bag, and crashed.
Woke up at the hotel to meet the other 3 late-comers for breakfast. Sami, Todd and Shawn. I was secretly hoping that at least one person I knew would have been delayed, but that wasn’t the case. I really quickly got to like our little foursome though. Shawn was hilarious. Sami was adventurous and fun. Todd was funny and energetic.
We went to the Marangu gate to get our climbing permits and to rent Shawn some gear. His luggage didn’t show up! I gave him some of the Polar Therm / Sports Alpaca base layers that were intended for Ryan. He was grateful. I bet the SportsAlpaca folks had no idea that their base layers would end up helping someone out so much! We went from the Marangu Gate to the Rongai gate to start the trek. Along the way, we stopped to Shawn could buy underpants (bright yellow Calvin Kleins!), and we also hit a bump hard enough that Shawn and I hit our heads on the roll bar, and then hit heads. He was bald, so he was bleeding! We were ok though…
We got to the base of the Rongai route (1950m/6400ft) and had lunch. Our crew was briefed, and we started trekking with Peter! We walked past potato farms, through the forest, and to our first camp, 1st Caves Camp at 2600m/8500ft. We covered the 8km in about 3.5 hours. Peter, our guide, kept commenting on how energetic and quick-moving everyone is on the first day.
At the camp, we met Russ and Phil. They were trekking with a different group and scheduled to summit on the same day. They were pretty fun and entertaining.
Over dinner, we discussed the side effects of Diamox and Malarone (frequent peeing, tingling in the limbs, crazy dreams). I was told that if I woke up screaming, no one would come help me because they would assume it was a crazy dream! Haha. Shawn also told us to be sure to zip both closures of the tent. Double Zip. It confuses the Buffalo.
I still hadn’t seen Kilimanjaro. It was clouded over for the entire day! I caught my first glimpses that night!
I woke up to a porter offering me tea/coffee/cocoa while I was still in my tent! They also brought over a bowl of warm water to wash up a bit. I got out of my tent and I could finally see Kilimanjaro in the sunlight! It was awesome!
We started out on a steep trek! We climbed 300m in the first hour, and 400m in the following hour and a half. Getting to the Second Cave for lunch was a very welcome break! After lunch, we only had 300 more meters to climb, but over 3-4 more hours of hiking! We stopped and explored a lava tube along the way. It was pretty cool!
We finally made it to Kikelewa Caves (3600m/12000ft), pretty exhausted from about 7 hours of hiking. While they were making dinner, we wandered over to a waterfall to check it out. I was starving, but when dinner came out, I wasn’t that hungry anymore… but I ate anyway. We talked to Peter about altitude sickness and got some insight. Going to bed, I wasn’t 100% sure I’d summit, but I was sure I’d give it everything I can.
Woke up and found that the ground was frozen solid! The sun cresting over the ridge next to camp was a beautiful sight and really warmed up our frozen camp site.
We hiked over a few ridges on our (relatively) short trek to the next camp. Originally, this day was supposed to be just this short trek, and the following day was a short acclimatization hike. Because our group of four was a day behind the six people that arrived on time, we’d be combining the two. I was really looking forward to finally meeting up with Phil, Sarah and Ryan!
We made it to Mawenzi Tarn camp (4300m/14000ft) by noon, while the other 6 were still on their acclimatization hike. This camp was absolutely stunning! We were next to a small lake right at the base of Mawenzi. When the rest of the group got down, we had lunch together! It was great to meet up with my friends and to meet a few new people: Susan, Kelly and Ali.
Peter told us we’d do our acclimatization hike at 2, and it started hailing at about 1:45! We suited up in our rain gear and made him get out of his tent to go! It was much more of a rock scramble than a hike – and it was fun! The hail let up, and we got some nice, though foggy, views of camp from the summit of our hike! After a little while at the top of our hike, we returned to camp.
Over dinner, Peter was explaining to us that it is his job to get us to the summit. He said if we listen to the guides, we’ll be good. If we drink, rest, walk, speed up, slow down, and everything as we are told, we’ll make it. He said we might not like him when he tells us what to do, but we’ll be ok.
Was woken up and offered the usual toasty beverage in bed! We had breakfast, and then did some celebrating! The guides, porters and cooks all sang for us! Todd opened the “champagne” (sparkling cider) under the threat that whoever opened it had to summit without gloves! After all of the fun, we started across the long, empty alpine desert route to Kibo Hut (aka Base Camp). After a few ridges, we were within site of Kibo, but it was still a long walk away!
There was wreckage from a plane crash in the saddle. It was a small plane that apparently clipped the side of Mawenzi while illegally flying over the are in 2008. It was really eerie.
The hike was so long, but Sarah had some speakers and provided us with music for some sections of it, which was a welcome relief!
I got to Kibo Hut (4700m/15500ft) with a terrible headache, and I was still nauseous. I checked in, forced down some lunch, and grabbed some sleep. I figured our late lunch was the only meal before we were going to wake up at 11pm to get ready to summit, but I was woken up for dinner around 6. I had two bowls of tomato soup, and went back to sleep.
11pm came, and I was up, getting dressed, and prepping for summit day! Socks, boots, gaiters, base layer pants, trekking pants, rain pants, 2 base layer tops, fleece, light down jacket, rain jacket, hat, head lamp, gloves… My pack was light because I had 2 liters of water and pretty much nothing else in it, because I was wearing it all!
Midnight came, and we were off!
I got really warm, really fast. Looking back, I think I had been nursing a slight fever since the 24th… but anyway. We were under instruction NOT to remove any layers of clothing, but to work with temperature regulation by using zippers. I kept taking off my gloves and putting them back on.
Staring at the little circle of light produced by my headlamp and taking tiny steps of loose gravel got really boring really quickly. Just as my body was begging for a break, we took our first little stop. I was grateful. I took a drink from my water bottle and just stared at the other little lights that were other climbers on the mountain.
After our first stop, we passed the first sick trekker. Luckily, it wasn’t anyone from our group, but the fact that altitude sickness isn’t far away set in. I kept my head down and kept walking. I had a slight headache, some nausea, and I felt weak and tired.
At our second stop, we had hot tea. It was really nice, and gave everyone a little boost. We were halfway from Kibo Hut to Gilliman’s Point. Gilliman’s Point is the point where our crazy steep vertical trek hits the crater rim. From the rim, it’s only 200 vertical meters to the summit, and it’s easy trekking, not steep climbing. I knew I’d make it. I finished my cup, and it was time to go again!
By the third stop, my body was begging for a break. I pretty much sprawled out on the ground and tried to open my water bottle, which was frozen shut! Gjivinny opened the bottle for me. As we got ready to continue, Gjivinny took my pack and started carrying it. The new boost of not having to lug my 2 Liters of water kept me right with the rest of my pack through the next two stops all the way to Gilliman’s Point!
It was still dark when we hit Gilliman’s Point (5681m/18638ft). I kept pace with the group as we started walking around the rim. I was really starting to feel the fatigue, and I asked if we’d be stopping at the rocks ahead. They said yes, but then walked past them. I was spent. I sat down. I KNEW I was up there, and I KNEW I’d make it to the summit, but I just needed some time.
We rounded the corner, and the sun was starting to rise! We had lost the group, but Gjivinny kept a really positive attitude. He told me to stop and take some pictures. I also FINALLY got to take that darn head lamp off! The sun rise, the glaciers, the snow, the peak… it was all beautiful!
We continued on, and I sat down for another break. I was sipping on a juice box (that took me a few minutes to open due to a lost straw), and Phil and Russ walked by! The assured me that I was less than a 10 minute walk from the summit, and that I’d make it. I put the half empty juice box into my pack and headed for Uhuru Point!
I hit Uhuru Point (5895m/19340ft) only a few minutes behind Todd, Sami, Shawn, Ryan, Phil, Sarah, Ali and Susan. I was greeted with a tearful hug from Sami! It was somewhat emotional that we actually made it! I bonded with her though the trip, and we struggled with minor altitude sickness in very similar ways.
I savored the moment. I snagged the 4 pictures I wanted and waited for everyone to finish up. I found out that Todd did actually summit without gloves!
Ali and I walked together to Gilliman’s Point. When we finally got there (yup, back of the pack again!), we didn’t like what we saw. That loose gravel that we had been switchbacking up was worse in daylight, and we basically had to ski down! It could have been really fun if I weren’t already on the brink of exhaustion. Gjivinny was a great guide though, and seemed to find the best route down. Soon, despite how weak and tired I felt, we caught up with the rest of the group! Sami and I hung together and worked our way down the mountain.
We FINALLY made it back to Kibo around 9am. Thinking about it, 6.5 hours up and 2.5 hours down isn’t too shabby. But now I was starting to HURT. I crawled into my tent and slept.
Around noon, they woke us up for lunch and we headed off to our next camp. That’s right. 10 hours of hiking in one day wasn’t nearly enough, so we went for another 4! We started down the Marangu Route (formerly the “Coca-Cola Route”). It stretched across the alpine desert and back into some vegetation. I walked with Onyx and Peter for a while, and we talked about the differences between families in Tanzania and families in the US. We past the heli pad where Peter said they have to use it for medical evacuations about twice a month, and it’s altitude-related almost every time. I was really thankful that our group made it through with so few issues.
We finally arrived at Horombo Hut (3720m/12200ft). They had running water and toilets that flushed! We shared a nice dinner, and my appetite was starting to come back. I crashed hard from sheer exhaustion pretty quickly after dinner.
Last day on the mountain! We had breakfast, then presented the guides, chefs and porters with their tip. They sang and danced again! It was a really uplifting way to start the 21km descent to the gate. I really think we had the best crew on the mountain. They got 9/10 of us to the summit, and kept us happy and healthy along the way.
We started our trek, and we were MOVING. I’m pretty sure that every single one of us just wanted to hit Marangu gate and call it a day. The Marangu Route was so different than the Rongai Route. There were much more people, lots of outhouses and picnic tables along the way, the trail was wide!
We took a few breaks, including one at Mandara Hut (2700m/8900ft). I just could not get over the crowds and the relatively plush amenities on this route (running water, electricity, A-frame cabins…) The success rate for Marangu is rumored to be lower than that of the Rongai Route, but I can’t seem to find any reliable data on that info. I can believe it though. I think that ascending this route could cause a climber to lose respect for the toughness of the mountain because of the nicer amenities.
We FINALLY made it to the Marangu Gate (1980m/6500ft) – an hour earlier than predicted! We had lunch, got summit certificates, and headed off to the next part of the trip!
Distance: 73km (45 miles).
Vertical: 3945m (~13000ft) up, 4052m (~13300ft) down.
Hours trekked: 41