That deep Tanzanian accent has a music to it. “Time to hike to the top of Kili” It is pitch black in the tent as I fumble for the headlamp. Mamma Pinkie’s light pings on and a groggy, but armored voice reports, “we are ready”. The groggy is hard to decipher. It is more from altitude that lack of sleep. It is 11:00pm. The accent is made in the middle of the night for two reasons. To climb on top of the scree while it is frozen. And to be rewarded with the sun rising over all of AFRICA at the moment of summiting. Both are awesome. It is so dark outside you cannot even see the outline of the mountain you are climbing. That may be a third good reason to ascend at night. It is steep. It is one foot slowly planted and pushed up upon another. It is a long, grueling way. Over six solid hours of gruel ahead. 4,000 vertical feet. That is far grander than a marathon. And like a marathon, the unknown is how your body will react. I already shared my mishaps in being hyped and running around too much at 15,500 feet. So after my ‘episode’ of panicking after running to get my buff in my tent
we began our “pole, pole”. 15,500 to 19,320. Here we go, Mamma Pinkie. We are all quietly questioning, “how ready are we really?”. There is no way to know. What is that sticker on my girlfriend’s refrigerator? “26.2 mile- What could possibly go wrong?!” So…4,000 feet, what could possibly go wrong? Hmmmmm.
The food was fabulous. There were seasoned potatoes, French fries, chicken (someone from a village brought fresh ones up to the cooks), sautéed vegetables, popcorn, and handmade bread. One thing that happens at altitude is the loss of appetite. We knew enough to try to keep something in our stomachs, but I would have to say that a 15, 500 meal was chewed slowly and carefully. Altitude has the reputation for making a lot of people throw up.
Can we thank the porter’s enough for hauling the fuel, tents, and utensils for all this? A porter from another camp even went by with a backload of plastic red chairs. It got rainy. It got cold. The porters are only taken to 15,500 feet because they do not have the layers, clothing, and are not equipped for the lower temperatures we would encounter in the last 4,000 feet.
The cook tent was toasty, but could not be used for a sleep tent until the cooking duties were over, so many porters just stood in the rain. There were 12 porters to a tent, but they giggled like at a slumber party and said, twelve meant body heat and kept them warm. Its a given that camping out has something about it that draws you close to the people you get to hang with. You talk, you spend hours in the dark, and you figure out ways to make this little protected place your home. I have to thank Mama Pinkie for being a great tent mate as I reach over and turn off her head lamp still attached an on. She is sound asleep and does not move for the few hours we get to sleep before summiting. Yeah, lady. You literally ROCKED today. climbed right up that mountain scramble.
There is wisdom in the choices to settle on camps. There are two days hovering at 12,000 to 13,500 before the base camp of 15,500. Things change here. The temperatures, the severity of storm patterns, and how your body handles the thin air. I discovered two scary things at this base camp. One, I had been thinking I was putting purifying tablets in my drinking water and they ended up being pills that make the water ‘taste’ good. They were in the same size and shade bottle as purifying tablets. Everyone got a good laugh and said if I was going to get sick I would have by than. Luckily, all other drinking water I had put in my bottles had come from the boiled hot water they were serving. I had done that to be doubly safe. Good thing. But days after the return to the states, my ingestion was to rebel at some amoebas I ingested. I would have to take the travel pills and antibiotics to combat my untreated water sips. I lost some more precious pounds in the battle of getting through that huge mistake. Be forewarned to read the fine print on the tablet bottles! There are ones that purify, and ones that make the water taste good.
And “pole, pole”. This is something my hyped energy level does not naturally do. So I would forget. Like a ferret, I would see a group come into camp and I would have to bounce up and meet them. Try doing that at 15, 500 feet. Bound, bound, fast step and, ugggghhh. I can’t greet you. In fact, I can’t even talk to you. Gasp. Gasp. Gurgle. Bend over and near collapse, like I had just run an Olympic 400 meter all out race. Embarrassing. Humbling. I took off to my tent once and had a near full blown panic attack because I couldn’t catch my breath. Joel, the guide walked by and gently squeezed my arm. “Pole, pole, dear.”
So summit round up just prior to midnight required headlamps and packs and very layered clothing. I forgot the neck buff and went ‘running’ back to my tent to get it and ‘running’ back up to the group to get going on our 4,000 foot ascent. And than, I realized I was being drowned without any water. I could not breath. I could not get air just as if I was under water. I started to panic, which induced my very rare athlete’s asthma. Seriously?! Was I really having an asthma attack or just a panic attack. Both, I decided. Because I couldn’t catch my breath from running I was starting to panic. I threw my pack off and put my head on my knees and commanded my body to calm down. It took a few minutes. And those few minutes I thought, what if this does not let up and I am not able to climb this beast of a mountain after all…the travel, the expense, the time, the tales. I am sure it has happened to the fit and best of them. I am sharing this, just so you know not to ‘run’ around a mountain above 15,000 feet. And if you do, try not to panic when you do fall short of breath. It makes it worse.
Mamma Pinkie gritted her teeth and grabbed ahold of the mountain and climbed it. She kept saying she didn’t like the rock climbing, but she was so sweet and attune to the experience at hand that she made every rock obstacle fun. And so did the entire Kathy Loper trekkers. The guides have one rock they call the kissing rock because you have to hug it to get by it. Now, picture doing that with a 40 pound duffle bag balanced on your head!
Guiding Kilimanjaro is a prestigious job that requires leadership, wilderness schooling and training, and people patience. Our guides were natural, beloved, and had everything to do with our successful summiting.
“Pole, Pole” for sure helped. We were blessed to get “Joel”, a strikingly handsome man with depth of character that matched his looks. I heard the gal who lives in Tanzania say that she had never seen someone from Joel’s tribe that wasn’t handsome. You can tell Joel is a solid athlete; very agile and sturdy, a natural leader you trust to follow.
Guide number two was Dawson, a no nonsense, explain the facts, make sure everyone is taken care of person. He too, had lines of wisdom etched in his eyes.
And than there was Epa. You had no choice, but to love Epa. The world loved Epa. Every second was an opportunity to greet with a smile, a clever joke, a handshake, a hug, a slap on the back. Even the stern officials and rangers loved Epa. He was just one of those great people you are so glad to get to spend time with. Why? Because he enjoyed himself. He sincerely enjoyed his job. And he sincerely loved people. These men had something more to them. A faith they hummed along the way. A resolution with the Creator they revered that made this mountain they considered a privilege and opportunity. Ov
er 60,000 people attempt to summit this mountain each year. Most succeed because of the guides. The 60,000 come for a pilgrimage of all sorts …for varying causes and reasons. It is the only free standing mountain of its height that a non mountaineered could experience altitude.
Joel, Epa, and Dawson guide for the Key’s Hotel. Expeditions can be booked through the hotel, which is nice because you than have a place to come and return to with a shower and the rarest of things…a pool. Kathy Loper from kathyloperevents.com can give you more details.
Camping out at 12,500 feet. My boots started out grey. We are having a ‘remind me to take my Malaria pill” party. Malaria pills have to be taken days prior to arriving and for a week after coming home from Malaria infested areas. My son has a high school friend that did not take the entire Malaria regiment and got deathly ill weeks after returning from Africa. We had been in mosquito areas on the Safari so it became the daily chat. “Did you take your Malaria pill today?” And now, we were adding pills to prevent altitude sickness. Those that had already started taken them were telling us their hands tingled.
These sturdy ravens have actually been found as high as the summit at 19,320.
I have never seen thistles like these.
We crossed a stream, climbed up and over a lot of terrain, and finally got to 12,500. We were told that stream is the last water source. The porter’s draw straws as to who gets to go back a day’s hike to fetch water.
When I got into base camp the cook tent smelled so good. Makanja was making ‘pancakes’, a delicious crepe that he poured expertly into a hot pan and rolled until the sides started to bake. He said he added onions and turmeric or some sort of spice I have never heard of. Yum. Than he popped pop corn and heated peanuts. Who doesn’t get a feels good from popcorn?! Especially at 15, 500 feet. The tent was toasty from the cook stove, but even warmer was the rapport. The guides and porters were enjoying each other and the conversation that so easily flows when you have trek time on your hands.
“We brought nothing in this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. ” I Timothy 6:6-8.
Timothy 6:17-18. “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share.”…….
(Being back in the states is almost a culture shock. I have had to do business in Orange County with its 6 lane streets, manicured palm trees, Starbucks on every corner, clean stately buildings, blue sky, fresh ocean air. I went to Mariner’s Church on Sunday. I got picked up by a shuttle crew and dropped off at the pond and coffee area leading into the active church. I had worked the four summers while in college for a great camp in Bass Lake, California that the kids came to from this church. Today, everyone was wearing shirts that said, “FEARLESS”. Fearless is a theme they put in action to show the church that they could impact needs in the community instantly. They asked the church members to each give no less than $40 for a one time gift they could just hand out to legitimate needs. Slickly, they had hand held phones with credit card swipes…not as a scam or ploy, but as an instant tool to mobilize. They raised $840,000 in two services. Than, the following week they are going to ask the members to give TIME. They said, watch…it will be easier for you to give money than TIME. “Give, and share…” that is what God’s word is asking those that are rich in this day to do.
In the midst of the climb, here’s a side addition. Before I headed to Africa, I got an email from Rick and Bere, an American married to a Galapian that runs a travel agency with the commitment to preserve and respect the islands and their culture. He is introducing a marathon with the invitation to come and REALLY get to see the islands and REALLY get hands on interaction with the people. He is asking that those that come adopt a Galapian. (I am not sure if that is what you call a native born islander). They do not have the excess funds to run in an event. He is asking that each person bring shoes and pay their entry into a race. Having been there, run that event, be totally taken by the love and respect of Rick and Bere, I KNOW this will be a PEAK EXPERIENCE. So I am adding this to the commitment. I will find 20 people who want to explore the Galapagos, walk, run, or just shop in town during the run, but come with a certain size shoe, shorts, and a shirt, and the chance for an islander to run. Visit http://www.cometogalapagos.com and click on MARATHONPACKAGE2014. When signing up, mention you are a PEAK EXPERIENCE. Rick will give you the name and shoe size of your adopted islander. Kathyloperevents.com is offering a trip, trek, and marathon in Peru in September 2014. Remember the climb over the Andes the Quechuas? Let me tell you about some great needs there. But first, let’s actually summit this mountain. I think we have no idea what we are getting into. We are heading to the next camp called BASE CAMP. It will be at 15, 500 feet. This is the highest elevation I have slept at and the highest elevation I have been to. We packed our daughter and son over the Andes from the Amazon so they would get to see and know the Quechuas that lived on the elevated plains of the Andes. Their only source of fuel was Alpaca (Llama) dung. And their delicacy is Guinnea Pig. They live in low level mud and rock huts. In fact, they live in mud. And they weave bright red, berry, purple color cloth. My children were the first North American kids they had ever seen. But as the Quechuas carried our supplies on horseback, we got to experience altitude. It takes slow even steps to get anywhere and even the slightest extra effort throws the heart and breathing into a panic. As we huffed by on the trail, we would see Quechua kids kicking around a taped up wad for a ball and playing soccer. Huff. Huff. As we approached the highest pass, almost 16,000 feet, my than, eleven year old, huffed, “Why can’t we have a normal vacation…like the ones I see in magazines where people hang in this mess between two palm trees and read a book. I don’t even know what that thing is called!” But did my daughter choose to hang in a hammock during high school? No, she came back to Peru and spent the summer helping orphanages in Peru.
I have an assignment. I am coming back to Tanzania/Kilimanjaro in end of Feb/March 2015 and promised by name, to bring boots, a jacket, wool socks, and a backpack with a hip belt for each of the 25 porters and 4 tents for the guides. To do so, I have to bring 25 people that will benefit from a trip of a lifetime. The only way the Tanzanians gets to benefit directly is if each person brings an extra duffle bag full of this equipment and we personally hand it to the porters. If you send second hand or first hand supplies to Tanzania they get stopped at the shipping point and TAXED. They cannot even afford the tax and than the gift becomes something that burdens and takes food money away. So they beg not to think we are helping by sending boxes of things. If you ship directly to an establishment, like say the host hotel, all the supplies are pilfered before the guides get back down the mountain. A very giving gal in Colorado did so and the guides said they never saw one jacket, or tent. It was just gone when they got there. I am not sure how this CAUSE PROJECT will play out, but I am going to set it in motion. We will call it PEAK EXPERIENCES. I think those that gave legitimately back to this land like had a double summit experience. I think everyone that comes here gives back. You can not climb a mountain without knowing that you are doing so because the guides and the porters are helping you get there. It is a huge part of the experience. There are programs that are being put in place that help in real ways. They have a program that equipment is pooled and can be checked out and returned so it is always there for the next porter in need. The guides gave me a name of the woman in Colorado that has figured out how to get supplies directly to them. She set up a non profit called NORETURNS. I am going to look her up, go meet with her. So follow the blog and lets see who these 25 people end up being. I am hoping it is YOU! You can travel to Tanzania with http://www.kathyloperevents.com. She has set up the best of adventures. But add this extra commitment to find sponsorship to bring this gear. We can work on getting manufacture cost of the items. Email me ideas and interest. email@example.com. Thanks in advance. We will be holding a banner on the mountain in 2015 and making it a double summit experience for ourselves and a banded group of guides and porters. We will give them an opportunity to safely continue to provide income and food for themselves, their parents, their children…and their future.
We climbed over rocks, up crevices, across moonscape they called desert. We piled onto a ledge where we finally caught up with a group called WHOA…Women High On Adventure. These two gals from New York were so impressed with the experience that Kilimanjaro can bring that they went home, made a website, formed a travel excursions company just for women, and came back with 28 gals from around the world to summit on International Women’s Day. They were literally dancing when we came upon them. They would repeat this victory dance at camps and on the summit. It was fun to see all their colorful hats and packs. It was nice to hear their laughter and buzz drifting over the trail. The trail merged here with other routes. A pre base camp appeared high on a open ridge. Our tents were perched 13,000 feet above Moshi. The view was so expansive you felt like you could slip right down to the little town. It was picture perfect. Rain, pitted with ice, came and went. And so did the wind. The clouds made for a stunning sunset over another volcano across the valley.
I met another group in camp that were wearing matching beanies. They worked for a company called Salesforce.com. This successful German based company GAVE BACK. It had its employees pick causes and gave money and time back to those causes. These four guys were zealously tackling Kilimanjaro and helping a project called Charity Water. They were having fun.
Night fell and the buzz of camp wrapped you like a warm blanket. Conversations lullabying. Though you couldn’t make out words, you could feel people getting to know each other. Porters sandwiched 10 to a tent, laughing and jesting, humming and singing. All the girls in their tents talking into quieter and quieter subjects until all that was speaking back were the twinkling stars. This made Kilimanjaro…well Kilimanjaro, an experience like no other.