“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

"Everybody dies. Not everybody really lives."

The saddest sound in the world is a man saying, "I wish I'd have done that."

Monday, August 25, 2014

Mt Kilimanjaro Climb

After months of training the time finally arrived to climb Mt Kilimanjaro.  We chose to do the Rongai Trail which departs from the north side of the mountain.  This is the only trail to depart from the northern flank of the mountain, it is a little more difficult to get to but is much less travelled.  We wanted to avoid the crowds and were very happy we used Rongai. 

The Rongai trek involves four days from the Mt Kilimanjaro National Park gate at Rongai to base camp at Kibo Hut.  The 5th day is summit day and begins at midnight and most of the ascent is done in darkness to the summit of Uhuru Peak, the highest point on the African continent at 19,343 feet.  Day six descends to Marangu gate at the national park.

The climb starts at 6000 feet in the rainforest and ascends continually through heather, alpine scrub and finally to high altitude rocky terrain. The trek is 54 miles round trip and in terms of weather and terrain has been described as "hiking from the equator to the North Pole in five days".

Day One: Our porters and guides loading up for the climb

Took a lot of gear to get us up the mountain--and a lot of people. 
We had two guides, one cook and ten porters!

The first day is agricultural area which quickly turns to rainforest.  Beautiful.
We saw Colobus monkeys, blue monkeys and birds everywhere.

First night camp at Simba campsite. We shared this camp with other groups but after this night we did not see any other climbers in camp until we reached base camp on night four at Kibo Huts.

My friend Ed Erway and our lead Guide James Ligelele.
Kilimanjaro in the background, always looming in the distance for the entire trek.

Rainforest turned to heather moorland and clouds closed in on the second day.

Mawenzi peak, one of three peaks on Kilimanjaro and  much smaller that Kilimanjaro's Uhuru Peak.

A short break with Said Mwanzi, our second guide.
 All day long hiking while our guides reminded us in Swahili "pole, pole" (slowly, slowly)

Our porters carrying gear.  Amazing crew.

That's Kili in the background. Me in the foreground becoming apprehensive.

It looks close, still three days away.

And then the weather closed in.

Another break at a small cave. Starting to feel the altitude at this point
We both took Diamox pills which help with altitude.

As we went higher the vegetation became sparser and the terrain rockier and steeper.

Upward, always upward.  Our guide, Said, kept saying "piece of cake."

We're going to climb that mountain???

Said Mwanza, excellent guide

The clouds swirled around Mawenzi Peak, revealing then hiding the top.

James Ligelele, our head guide giving us a pep talk. Great guide, instant friend.

Just as quickly, the weather closed in again.

Point at it while you can see it.

Day four, Mawenzi Tarn camp dawned clear and cold.

This is Mawenzi Tarn, high alpine lake and the last water available on the mountain.
 All water is carried up from this point.

Mawenzi Tarn again, pretty little lake. This was my favorite camp.

Kili in the background, still a day away.

Hiking across "The Saddle" between Mawenzi and Base Camp. A long day of hiking.

This plane crashed in 2008 killing all five aboard.  Too high to remove so the wreckage sits there still.

Kibo Hut, base camp.
 Reached this late afternoon, ate and rested a little before gearing up at midnight for summit attempt.

We left base camp at midnight, climbed for six hours thru the darkness by headlamp.  The most grueling
thing I've ever done.  Oxygen is thin and climbing is incredibly steep and difficult on loose scree.  I took no pictures during the summit climb because everything is an effort, even unzipping my coat for my camera. Plus all is darkness except the area illuminated at your feet by your headlamp. A dozen times I thought "No way can I take another step, I need to turn around."
It is just one slow step after another, up, up, up with minimal rest stops.  We passed other groups also making the attempt and saw at least one climber who had to be helped down the mountain.
 Only 41% of climbers who attempt the climb make the summit so we were determined to succeed.
We made the summit at 0610, just in time to see this sunrise.

Ed Erway, our guides James Ligelele and Said Manza, and yours truly at the summit.

My friend Ed Erway and myself at the summit, Uhuru Peak, 19,343 feet, the highest point on the African continent.
We only spent 20 minutes or so at the summit due to lack of oxygen.
 Everything was a little fuzzy, including my vision, but it was an incredibly beautiful sight and a very moving experience and a satisfying feeling of accomplishment.

Stella Point, waypoint on the descent.

Despite what Said kept repeating, the climb was no piece of cake--and neither was the descent.
This is what thin air, total exhaustion, and lack of sleep looks like.
The descent was a tiring hike down thru the previous night's vertical rocks followed by "skiing" down the scree, loose rocks.
Leg and knee killer

At Horombo Huts, Day five, last stop before continuing down the mountain the next day.

Our summit team.
A great crew, dedicated, friendly and professional.
Another grand Ed & Tom adventure!
Ed and I at Mt Kilimanjaro National Park exit gate after the descent. 
Post trek refreshment.
Best soft drink ever.

Me with James Ligelele, head guide


Mt LeConte, Three Summits in Three Days

We were set to climb Mt Kilimanjaro in July so we started training in January.  Hiking, running, gym time 3-6 days per week.  I hiked with full pack anywhere from 8 to 12 miles every week plus ran a couple of 5Ks and a half marathon in early 2014. Put in 8-12 mile hikes at local hiking venues including a nearby Rails to Trails and the Walls of Jericho, a steep (for Alabama) canyon area in northern Alabama.

We culminated training three weeks before the Kilimanjaro trek by hiking Mt LeConte in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Only 6500 feet at the summit but the closest thing we could come to altitude in the eastern US.  We were to start our Kilimanjaro climb at 6000 feet so the acclimation was minimal.  But we did try out Diamox, an altitude pill, to make sure we had no reactions and to see if we could tell any difference.  Maybe the placebo effect but it seemed to help.

Day 1 Summit via Alum Cave Bluffs Trail

Didn't take this trail

All supplies and food come into Mt LeConte lodge via llama

Day 2 summit via Rainbow Falls trail

Day 3 summit via Trillium Gap Trail. Three days, 54 miles, 18000 vertical feet up and down.

Ultimate Porsche Driving Experience

A fast, fun day driving the world's premier performance cars at one of America's premier road courses.  The Ultimate Porsche Driving Experience, a one day, high speed driving exercise in the seats of Porsche's newest models, takes place at various race courses around the country.  I drove at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, in my opinion the best and most attractive road course in the United States.

First up for the day were the new Cayenne and Macan Turbo SUVs through the off road outback of the Barber property. Fun, but not what I came for.  I was ready for speed.

I soon got my wish.  We climbed into a bright yellow Cayman S for triple-digit-speed laps around Barber's 2.38 mile road course.  A sweet little 325 horsepower, mid-engine sports car that will amaze you with its cornering and balance.  You can lap Barber as fast as your ability will allow--and in a Cayman that is FAST.  After the Cayman S I stepped up to the 911 Carrera S, a 380 horsepower rear-engined beast.  Definitely a superior level in terms of raw speed and acceleration but in my mind not as balanced or easy to drive.

Next up; the Panamera, a 4-door sports car that is nice but sedate after the Cayman and 911--not my cup of tea.  I then strapped in for a ride-along with a professional race driver.  I thought I had put down some hot lap times but two turns into the ride-along lap and I knew this lap was going to be a lot faster than I had driven.  I was whipped through corners at speed at least 30 MPH faster than I had accomplished and I quickly realized that I would need LOTS more seat time to be competitive with a pro.
Multiple laps got the adrenaline going and we moved to a paved lot for the lane change drill, a (relatively) low speed exercise between lines of traffic cones to test suspension transition abilities. Fun, but a letdown after the race course hot laps.

Next up:  the wet skid pad, a parking-lot-sized plat of tarmac wetted down by sprinklers where we practice driving in wet conditions and recovering from spins. Where else can you deliberately spin $90,000 worth of German metal?  WooHoo!

Finally, the autocross course.  A traffic-coned, twisty layout that provides short straights interlaced with snaking curves and 90-degree turns, the autocross is more fun than I expect, mainly because I am driving a $98,000 Cayman S with carbon ceramic brakes that drag the car down with incomprehensible quickness.  If I weren't securely held in by a shoulder harness I would plant my skull in the windshield every time I hit the brake pedal.   There's only one way to put it--the Cayman S is FAST.

$844,000 Porsche 918 Spyder.  No, I didn't get to drive it.

$83,000 paint job.