“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


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