Well, I’m back. My apologies for the delay in this post, an action packed two weeks with extremely limited access to the world wide web created some obstacles to posting anything here. So, you know I’m alive and back in the USA–but how did it go? Lets talk about it. If you want to know if I made it you’ll just have to read to the end of these posts (or you already saw my pictures in which case you can pretend you didn’t know, so act surprised, I surely was).
I touched down at Kilimanjaro International Airport on March 30th, which gave me two days to adjust to the time change and mentally prepare (scare) myself for the adventure to come. These two days were filled with lots of physical preparation (packing, unpacking and repacking) along with a lot of mental preparation. My hiking partner Mack and I mistakenly watched several videos of Kilimanjaro summits on the internet hoping to calm our nerves but in fact found the opposite to be the result. Our trip was scheduled for five days, for several different reasons. Plans to safari through a few parks while we were there paired with limited financial resources meant we needed to complete this Kilimanjaro deal in five days. This shortened climb isn’t recommended by a lot of guide companies considering it leaves no days for acclimatization and often results in guaranteed altitude sickness, risks we were willing/had to take. After a night of very little sleep our guide company arrived around 7:00 AM on April 1st to begin our travel to the base of the mountain. Though we passed through several bustling towns in the three hour car ride, we said next to nothing on the way there. The stillness in the car didn’t help our nerves but we kept ourselves occupied with music or puzzled looks to each other wondering what the guides were muttering to each other in Swahili on the way there. However, the drive was beautiful. We passed through several small villages littered with cattle herders, small restaurants and roadside vendors. As we tried to scarf down the supplied lunch of fried chicken and vegetable samosas we couldn’t help but wonder what was to come…is fried chicken the best meal to eat before this? Do our guides think we can do this? Do WE think we can do this? Are we GOING to do this? The questions all generally remained unanswered and before we knew it we found ourselves in the parking lot of Kilimanjaro National Park. We registered with the park office, met all of our climbing team and made any last minute changes/preparations that needed to be made. Following a pep talk from our guides Jerry and Hashim, a bit of a Kilimanjaro history lesson and a couple of forced smile pictures at the entrance to the trail, we were off.
The Marangu route is the route we decided on. It can and has on plenty of occasions been accomplished in five days. Locals refer to it as the “coca-cola route” as it is the one most commonly taken by tourists (not sure why coca-cola has anything to do with that, but either way that’s what they call it). From the gate I could tell I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. The first few miles were conquered in silence, leaving a lot of time to wander in awe of the surroundings. I knew it would be like nothing I’ve ever seen before but I couldn’t have prepared myself for what I was heading into. Our excursion began at about 6,000 feet above sea level in the rain forest. This isn’t quite your Amazon rain forest but in comparison its the closest thing you’ll find to a totally equatorial forest. The air is damp, the vegetation is thick and the rain is generally constant (about 6 feet per year!). There are giant trees dating back six hundred years, huge colonies of black ants and a large population of colobus monkey. We hiked about 12 km from the gate to an elevation of 8900 feet and stayed in the Mandara huts. These huts were small A-frame style shelters with four beds in each one. Also on the grounds were restroom facilities and a dining hall, pretty cushy right? I thought so. This was the completion of Day 1. No major hiccups, nothing had gotten to difficult yet, and we were well on our way to the summit. Should be a piece of cake from here right? We’ll see.