Tag Archives: Kilimanjaro

The Kilimanjaro Diary: Day 7 – Mweka Camp (3100m) to Mweka Gate (2000m) (17 March 2013)

So no more map to begin with. We’ve done it! Today is the 1100m between us and modern life including hot showers! As great as it has been to have done this experience, getting back to electricity and other modern conveniences will be awesome!

Our day today begins with a song, which is performed by Ashard and his team for all of those who climb and summit. Even if you don’t summit you have to give this team a lot of respect because they do everything in their power to enable you to succeed.


They do this many times a year and make it look so easy. Most of their kit is donated so they work with what they have. They don’t use sports drinks, nutrition bars, etc, etc like most visitors. They do it naturally. It’s impressive.

We run into lot of people we have met on the mountain, including Ryan whom we finished the walk down to the gate with. A word here about Ryan. Not only did he let me borrow his spare Buff scarf/covering/all-around-awesome-invention when I lost mine, but he basically was the best trekker who was not Tanzanian. He could have summitted in four or five days if he really wanted to, but he chose to take his time. And to also take some cool pictures along the way.

Finally, after a few hours of trekking, we see the light at the end of the tunnel. We see the Mweka Gate. Hurt ankles and knees feel like nothing compared to the fact that we have formally crossed the finish line! πŸ™‚ The trek is really over now. We go to sign ourselves in one last time and so some other formalities and then we are off back to the Springlands hotel \o/ Back to hot water! Back to internet connectivity! Back to hot water! And most importantly, back to hot water! πŸ˜€

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Back at the hotel, we’re clearly exhausted, but we keep it together long enough to get our GOLD Uhuru Peak certificates from Ashard and Abraham in a small ceremony in the courtyard. I have to say that the proof in the hand (besides all of the pics and video) felt really good πŸ™‚

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So after our ceremony, it’s hard to believe that it is all over. I celebrate by taking the longest shower I have ever taken in life. It feels so nice to shower. Hot water feels fantastic! I must have taken 30-45 minutes at a minimum. And then we have lunch at the hotel and I have nap.

After being an object at motion for 7 days, it’s time to be an object at rest. Inertia(!) indeed πŸ™‚

I don’t have wise or insightful things to say just now. I think those will come with time after I have had more time to think about what I have just been through. I am grateful to have had the experience. I am grateful to Christina for organising the adventure and for being my Kili Buddy and friend. I am grateful to Ashard and the staff for their help on the mountain. I am grateful for the people I met along the way. In some way, I am even grateful for the people who didn’t think I would make it to the summit because they gave me some of my energy.

And so ends the adventure that was Kilimanjaro.


The Kilimanjaro Diary: Day 6 – Stella Point (5756m) to Uhuru Peak (5895m) to Mweka Camp (3100m) (16 March 2013)


“It’s only 139 meters up” I tell myself. I’ve made it to Stella Point by physical strength and with only 40 minutes of work, I rationalise to myself that I can get to Uhuru Peak on my own, just as I gotten to this point.

After all, Kilimanjaro might be an experience where you climb in groups or with friends, but like I said earlier, only you can get you up the mountain.

So with that frame of time, I leave Stella Point on the way to Uhuru Peak. Christina is progressing at a good clip and I have no doubt she’ll hit Uhuru Peak in under 40 minutes. I however, am I different story.

The journey starts off well, but after 20 minutes I am quite simply out of energy. After 30 minutes of walking I am covered only about half of the distance needed (whereas I should be at the end of my journey). I can see the sign for Uhuru Peak, but it starts to look too far away. All I know is that I must keep moving. Inertia! If I as an object rest then I know that is the end of my journey. I won’t have enough strength to make it to what seems the really short distance to the peak.

And then humbling moment #1 happens.

Ashard (our guide) took my hiking poles, had me hold on to the straps of his backpack, and litterally for about 200 meters pulled me along, forcing me to take bigger steps so that I would get to the summit sooner. I hadn’t asked for help, but it was clear that I needed it. And besides already carrying my backpack within his own backpack, he literally pulled me along until I could take big steps on my own.

And within 15 minutes I am back to my slow pace. The tank is empty. The peak is visible, but I really don’t know if I can make it. Rather, I think I can make it, but although the Peak is only a 10 minutes walk away, I figure I will need about 20-25 minutes since I am back to taking small steps as that is all of the energy I have.

And then humbling moment #2 happens.

Christina, seeing how I am struggling to keep a good pace, comes to me, puts my arm around her shower, says “come on Kili Buddy, we are almost there”, and helps me by walking with me until we are almost the peak area. Christina had her own issues (a sore ankle) and could have made it to the peak and been taking photos whilst I was still on the way there. But she decided to help a friend first.

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It was then that the realisation came to me that the journey to the peak had never been in isolation. There were people on the trek with me who believed in me and wanted me to succeed as much as I wanted to.

And sometimes, when the goal seems far away, all you need is a little help from a friend. Whilst the most important event of the trip was to reach Uhuru Peak, the best moment of the trip for me is captured in the picture with Christina.

Eventually, I got to the Uhuru Peak! I feeling of relief and happiness washes over me.
Finally, I sit down and give inertia a much needed rest. After 5 minutes or so to collect myself, we take pictures of the amazing views and I even find the energy to post a new video.

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Β What goes up must come down

So after a successful summit (!) which took around 8 hours, we must begin the descent down first to Barafu Camp for a short nap and quick lunch, and then continuing down to Mweka Camp. So basically we need to descend 2800m today.

Contrary to popular thoughts, going down a mountain is not as easy as it looks. It too takes energy. Energy which I had found as a result of reaching the summit. So I was on my way down and only lost focus for a moment when…

CRASH. I stumble and hit my knee against a pointy rock. It wasn’t bleeding and nothing seemed broken, but there was significant stiffness and swelling. It hurt to walk downwards as it applied pressure on my knee. Stupid idiot me! After being so very careful, to be so careless on the descent. The terrain we are descending down to reach Barafu Camp is steep in some places (good for knee), and rocky gravel and downward sloping in other places (very bad for knee). After a while it became apparent that my knee was agitated enough that I would have difficulty to get down the gravel parts. It wasn’t an emergency requiring evacuation or anything, but it certainly was inconvenient for the group. We should have been able to manage the descent to Barafu Camp in about 3-4 hours. But with my knee it took my 5-6 hours to hit Barafu Camp. At some points on the slippery gavel, Ashard and Frankie had to hold me up by my shoulders and we slid down the gravel. Hurt. Like. Hell. But it was necessary. We eventually made it back to Barafu Camp where I took a much needed nap and I could elevate my knee and apply a heat/pain patch to it. I also got some painkillers which worked wonders to reduce the inflammation and stiffness to help with the descent from Barafu to Mweka.

Christina’s sore ankle. My busted up knee, dry hacking cough due to the dust I had to eat, and tiredness were a small price to pay to make it to the summit.

We got to Mweke camp feeling excited and proud of ourselves (the journey down was scenic and we ran into Dino, Paul, and friends on the way down as they were doing the 6 day hike so we converged again). We had dinner, our evening briefing, and then literally we each went to our tents and passed out. It was sleep well earned.

And my final video blog featuring me.


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The Kilimanjaro Diary: Day 6 – Barafu Camp (4600m) to Stella Point (5756m) (16 March 2013)


This is going to be a long post. I apologise for that in advance. It’s also going to spread over two posts. I feel like a movie franchise that splits the most important part into separate pieces in order to keep your attention. But there is a reason for it so please bear with me.

Points vs Peaks

For a paragraph it’s good to explain the “points” and “peaks” of Mt Kilimanjaro.

Uhuru Peak. The highest point of the mountain is Uhuru Peak, which is 5895 meters above sea level. That’s the end goal for everyone. Reaching that peak entitles you to a Gold Certificate from the national parks authority in honour of your achievement. Given our climbing route (Machame), the average success rate to reaching the summit is about 65%. Adding an extra day of acclimatisation brings that to around 80-85% depending on which sources you consult.

Stella Point. This is the second highest point on the mountain, which is 5756 meters above sea level. For a lot of people, they stop here and attempt the additional 150m to Uhuru peak. In most cases I am sure it is because of lack of desire, but because of sheer exhaustion or signs of altitude sickness. Making it to Stella point entitles you to a Green Certificate from the national parks authority in honour of your achievement.

Gillman’s Point. This is the third highest point on the mountain, which is 5685 meters above sea level. From this point you can probably start to feel altitude sickness. I know you get a certificate, but we never asked about it.

As I said before, our goal is the Peak and the Gold Certificate. We aren’t really thinking about anything else.

It’s almost time

It’s 23.00 (or thereabouts) and Frankie calls out to let us know that the tea and biscuits are ready. There’s only one problem. The winds are so strong that our mess tent blew over. So tea and biscuits will be served at Casa Tent de Rodney. No problem. I have barely slept because of the wind, which has picked up and gotten stronger in the evening.

You can feel that it is colder. I suit up in many layers of clothing. For the summit I am wearing 2 pairs of thermal underwear in addition to my snow pants. I am wearing 2 thermal shirts in addition to another t-shirt, my fleece jacket and my snow jacket. I have on 2 pairs of gloves in addition to glove warmers. And I have feet warmers in my hiking boots. And I can still feel the cold getting in layer-by-layer. Body heat and tea will be my friend on the moment.

Before we begin our trek up, Ashard gives some final reminders:

  1. “There is always the mountain”. In case we don’t summit, that we can also try again
  2. Be honest with how we feel. Reaching the summit should be a life-affirming experience, not a life-ending one
  3. Thing about something other than climb. For example, I should think about Zanzibar and Christina should think about her safari.
  4. Vomiting 3-4 times is okay, but more than that and it’s usually a sign of a problem.

We promise to be honest and to positive and work for our success! I am clearly the one to be more concerned about and for good reason. Climbing up the mountain as I felt (like Day 2 all over again) meant that I had to be smart and careful.

So with our kit ready, our night gear on, and much determination, we leave Barafu camp and head up the summit path.

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Ascent towards the Stell Point

There are many groups of us going. All going slowly which is good. It looks surreal to see lots of lights from headlamps all heading in the same direction – up! The trek is in complete darkness except for the headlamps.

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About 40 minutes into the ascent, you can see and hear people vomiting. I feel bad for them. I understand that wanting to vomit feeling, but I am suppressing everything. Besides, I have bigger problems.

I’m not getting enough air. It’s noticeable even to Ashard who asks if I am okay. So now I make my first decision on the night. I can remove the covering from my mouth to protect against the insanely strong wind and dirt in order to get in more oxygen. Or I can just wear it and see how I do. I decide to remove the buff protecting my mouth. Inhaling dirty and dealing with a cough seems to me to be an acceptable price to pay. Within 15 minutes I am breathing easier again, even if it is from air with dust.

The ascent is the steep yet gradual type of ascent. The one that I find extremely tiring and exhausting. My rate of ascent starts to slow down. At this point we have fallen behind most (but not all) of the other groups also ascending towards the summit. After a few hours, it becomes apparent that we won’t hit Stella Point by sunrise and will instead have to enjoy sunrise on the way up. I had tried my best to push myself and make that happen, but for all of the extra energy that I had used to try to keep up, it wasn’t enough.

The good news though is that I had no symptoms of altitude sickness. I was just tired. All of the tips and tricks over the past 5 days were helping, but we hit a point (around 05.30 in the morning), where I understand that my sheer physical size was going to have to power me up to Stella Point. To get from Stella Point to Uhuru Peak was another problem I could deal with when I got there. But for now:

Inertia! Ain’t no mountain high enough!

Well around 07.00 I am happy to say that we made it to Stella Point, the second highest point on the mountain!

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For me personally, making it to Stella Point had come at a large cost. I had used just about all of my energy to make it to Stella Point. The lack of oxygen wasn’t helping. Everything hurt. I had now made it to Stella Point, but how was I going to make it to Uhuru Peak. It’s “only” 139 meters higher, but an a good day with normal energy it takes about 45 minutes to complete.

Ashard asked me a pretty direct question: if I get to Uhuru Peak, would I be able to get back down the mountain under my own power. The honest answer would have been to respond “it’s 50/50 at this point”, but I answered “yes” on the assumption that sheer force of will had got me to Stella Point. I didn’t have any altitude sickness. I didn’t vomit. I had no headaches. It was just a matter of wanting it badly enough. So after a 5 minutes pause, we began the journey towards Uhuru Point…

The Kilimanjaro Diary: Day 5 – Karanga Camp (4200m) to Barafu Camp (4600m) (15 March 2013)


Inertia and Sister Act 2

inΒ·erΒ·tia [in-ur-shuh, ih-nur-shuh]
The property of matter by whichΒ it retains its state of rest or its velocity along a straight lineΒ so long as it is not acted upon by an external force.

That’s our battle cry. We decided that pretty early on that we needed a word or a phrase the encourage us to keep going when we felt like stopping or giving up. The line for us is straight up to the top of the mountain!

We also decide that we’ll have a theme song. We probably had several theme songs to be honest, but the one I liked the most was “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – the version from one of my favourite movies Sister Act 2. Surprisingly, Christina knows the word to the song. She knows the words to most songs. I’m impressed πŸ™‚ We sing a few lines on the way up to Barafu camp.

Christina’s ankle is hurting her and I last night I didn’t adjust to the altitude as well as I have the previous two nights. Still no sign of altitude sickness, but the lack of oxygen certainly makes you feel like you have had a couple of glasses of wine. It’s manageable.

Ain’t no mountain high enough to stop our inertia to the summit!


An early day but a long night ahead of us

It’s a relatively easy hiking day in terms of energy compared to other days. We finish our hike around 12-13. We are at Barafu camp which is also known as “Base Camp” because it is the last camp before the summit. The wind is super strong. But you can listen to my video blog. It’s the last one of Day 5.

At our briefing with Ashard, he explains the process of reaching the summit. We’re encouraged to eat a bit extra, but honestly, I have no appetite again. The ascent we did in what was a relatively short amount of time made me feel a bit like I did on Day 2 of the trek. He also lets us know that Abraham will not be going to the summit with us. We instead will go with our porter/waiter Frankie.Β  Frankie’s a cool guy so it’s no problem with us. Whatever maximises the chances of reaching the summit.

We’re also told to “wear everything” which means that dress in as many layers as in your bag. It’s that cold.

Ashard also confirm that we will be leaving for the summit just after midnight. We’ll wake up around 23.00 or 23.30 for tea and biscuits (we should only eat them if we don’t feel nauseous) and Ashard and Frankie will have tea for us to drink on the way up.

After dinner and as the darkness falls and the wind blows, we’re told to get some sleep. A bit tough when the wind is causing so much noise that you can’t really fully sleep. But as darkness fall I manage to get some hours.

The moment of reckoning is approaching….Inertia! \o/

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The Kilimanjaro Diary: Day 4 – Barranco Camp (3950m) to Karanga Camp (4200m) (14 March 2013)


Today feels as good as yesterday in terms of readiness and preparedness. I still feel markedly better and my strength has improved significantly, but I also know it is too early to declare victory. The energy required to simply be on the mountain is immense. It’s only Day 4, but the Day 6 summit attempt is now coming sooner rather than later. Life at 4000 meters is manageable.

I recorded a video blog here as well. You can see I am visibly tired. Not sick or ill in any way, but just tired. But I feel like I can go on and we must!Β We have every intention of reaching the peak and getting our gold certificate!

About today’s climb – the Barranco ‘Breakfast’ Wall

We are taking this extra acclimatisation day to get used to the altitude. But our day starts with what is at times a near vertical climb up Barranco Wall. It is called the ‘Breakfast Wall’ because we climb it pretty much immediately after breakfast. It is the hardest thing we will do today.

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There are several times when Ashard reminds us that we have to step carefully. The alternative is falling to your death. So we navigate those parts quite carefully, including the “kissing rock” which is the rock that sticks out and makes it difficult to cross the path. If you aren’t basically hugging that rock so tightly that you are kissing that rock (and I kissed it), then it means you aren’t close enough and might fall. I like these moments – they cause adrenaline. The climb however is relatively pleasant as long as we keep to my super super slow pace. Christina is a ball of positive energy. I don’t like it πŸ™‚ She’s singing Disney songs which should lighten the mood. I don’t like it πŸ™‚ She asked me what song she should sing. I responded with R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” The irony wasn’t lost on her, but she sang it anyway πŸ™‚

After we get to the top of the Barranco Wall, we stop for a pause. It’s really beautiful up there. And of course, we have the ravens with us every step of the way. They are either our faithful companions or they are looking to eat us if the opportunity arises. It’s probably a bit of both.

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I think I need to take a moment to explain the porters and just how amazing they are. To climb Kili one must has licensed guides and porters. As a climber, you only carry your daypack, the porters carry everything else, including your duffel bag. Everything else includes the tents, food, water, cooking equipment, as well as their own stuff. And they do this with amazing energy. They are the last people to leave the camp site (since they break everything down), and they zoom past everyone so they are the first to arrive at the next camp site to set everything up for our arrival. The next time you think “man, my job is tough,” think about what these amazing guys (and one girl) do and then get back on about your business. Probably nothing you do is as tough as this. πŸ™‚

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Karanga Camp

We eventually make it to Karanga camp, which is at 4200m. But the trek to the camp was tough. It was also rewarding.

Here is the afternoon video blog.

Courtesy of Christina, here is a pic of Moshi town from 4200m above. Christina simply takes awesome photos!

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The Kilimanjaro Diary: Day 3 – Shira Camp (3840m) to Barranco Camp (3950m) (13 March 2013)


The Morning

This morning I woke up and I felt even better than Day 2! I felt almost like someone replaced the old Rodney and put a new one in his place. All of my aches and pains were gone as was my tired. I did my normal stretching and yoga exercises to get my mind and body in the right frame of reference. I felt really really good! I felt good enough to begin to post video blogs and to start to take my own pictures. So without further adieu, the first video blog of the climb! I decided not to do any editing, so you’ll see just how loopy I get the higher we get up the mountain *lol*

We climbed really interesting terrain today on the way to Barranco camp. This day was different because we climbed far higher than we actually slept at. They call it “climb high / sleep low” as a way to acclimatise. Christina and I continued to take the trek slow and easy – enjoying the scenery and wondering aloud why people actually pay to this to themselves πŸ™‚ Even if we weren’t trekking any faster than before (we are still usually the last to arrive to the next camp site) I think my increased energy level was noticeable to our guide Ashard, who gave me the nickname “Simba” (from the Lion King) as a result of finding renewed strength and energy. Not only was I feeling energetic, but I was also even eating more normally again. Today was the first day I ate an energy bar and sports drink without feeling like I wanted to vomit. It’s hard to describe how good I really felt. The summit (and the gold certificate confirming the summit achievement), didn’t just feel within reach – it felt inevitable!

Now of course, some pictures, finally courtesy of both Christina (majority) and me. We got some really good pics on the way to towards Lava Tower and on Lava Rock. At this point, only the most hardcore vegetation and animals can thrive up here, but the rocks and the trees were actually quite beautiful to look at.

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I'm going up there - one way or the other! :-)
I’m going up there – one way or the other! πŸ™‚

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Back at Barranco camp, we managed to get their before the rains which was cool. This was also the first day that I was capable of signing myself in at the camp site registry. When you’re firing on all cylinders the hike feels even greater than great! We were tired and exhausted. Christina continued to impress me with her sheer energy and determination. The day to sum it up, was amazeballs!

My afternoon video blog – and today you get a special treat…you even get a view of my pimped out crib! Again, the video is unfiltered. I think it’s more honest that way.

So after our climb, I took a nice long nap before dinner. And then we had dinner. I ate dinner with ‘determination’. After 2 days of not eating and dropping not only water weight (a side effect of diamox is that you pee a lot…so much so that I can up with an awesome in-tent invention in order not to have to leave the tent to pee), but muscle mass as well (I managed to drop a pants size in 48 hours). After dinner we always have a meeting with Ashard to order to have our briefing for the next day and what to expect. The briefing was really cool as Ashard told us that in his experience, you can never judge someone by their first day on the mountain. Some people start out weak and get stronger. Others are strong out of the gate and get weaker as time goes on. It was the emotional boost I needed. Knowing that his confidence was increasing in me helped to make me stronger inside and outside.

I’ve learned to have a healthy respect for Mt Kilimanjaro (especially when we pass those point where if you step incorrectly you’ll die…). And to believe in myself again.

The Kilimanjaro Diary: Day 2 – Machame Camp (3000m) to Shira Camp (3840m) (12 March 2013)


The Power of Dreams

I woke up on Day 2 feeling better. Feeling stronger. Feeling content. I woke up and did some stretching and basic yoga posturing. I know why I started to feel better. I started to feel better because of my dreams.

It sounds new-age and hokey, but it’s true. Whenever I have things that are on my mind at the end of the night, it means that I go to bed with those things on the mind. And those things on my mind often end up as topics in my dreams. I only can remember some part of those dreams, but the two dreams that I remember with clarity was actually a memory replayed in my mind and a nightmare. The memory was my graduation dinner/party with my family. I was talking with my Aunt Lulu and my sister Roxanne about how good to felt to have graduated and how I knew I couldn’t have done it without my family behind me. My sister told me that “the family will always support you no matter what” and my aunt had given me a hug and told me she was proud of me because “i never give up and a find a way, even if I had to work 2 jobs to support myself in college.” The nightmare was that I was running through a maze being chased by something. And everytime it almost caught me, I would somehow manage to escape it. Sometimes I jumped over the wall of the maze, sometimes a cut a hole into the maze and made my own path. In the end of my nightmare the thing chasing me caught me and I woke up. But somehow between all of my dreams, I was happy and determined. In my dreams I had found the answers and motivation that I needed.

And thanks to the pain killers and the diamox, I was pain-free and feeling like I had a lot of energy.

The 800m ascent

Today felt different. It was different. For one, I finally started wearing the kit that is appropriate for trekking up a mountain…

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Also, I had started to feel better. And without being a scientist, I have some ideas as to why:

  1. Acclimatisation trumped everything else. All things being equal, we slowed down the ascent pace so that roughly every 45-60 minutes we took a break. It might have been a break for pictures, lunch, bio-needs, snack, whatever. But I found that roughly for every 150-200 meters we ascended, a break helped me to get use to the higher altitude. My thinking was the reward was the same whether you were the firs tor last one to arrive to the next camp: tea and snacks, some hot water for washing, dinner, and your tent. I was no longer going to rush it or feel rushed. And in Christina I had a great and understanding friend in my approach to getting up the mountain.
  2. Better use of energy. I had to trek up the mountain in a way that took advantage of my physical skills. Long-slow horizontal climbs and descents take a lot of energy out of me. So during those times I went particularly slow to conserve energy and on steep ascents or descents I increased speed.
  3. Good use of hiking poles. For me, this was another big big win. And I encourage anyone doing trekking to have a good set of hiking poles. In the end the hiking poles were were like an extra set of legs than an extension of my arms. And they made me lighter.
  4. I gave myself the emotional energy to reach the summit. Reaching the summit was no longer about “I paid so much money therefore I have to reach the summit”. Reaching the summit became about knowing with the support of family and friends, I could dream big dreams, I could be inspiring to those I care about, I could prove to myself that I could do it. I didn’t actually ever envision myself at the Uruhu Peak summit, I envisioned sharing stories about what it was like to others. That kept me going.

All of that being said, I still didn’t feel good enough to take pictures, even though I felt significantly better than yesterday. But I think that I have found my rhythm and a way of trekking the mountain that works for me and that the others can live with. So tonight will be more of the same – rest, pain killers, and as Ashard keeps saying, plenty of water (and in my case sports and vitamin drinks).

The pictures here on Day 2 are still courtesy of the generosity of Christina πŸ™‚ Notice that the further up we climb, the less flora and fauna there is. There are however, white-necked raven with huge beaks that hang around a lot as we are trekking. But there is still a quiet beauty and calm about it all that has to be experienced to be appreciated.

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The day was just psychologically so much better than Day 1. Even if I am not eating very much due to not having a big appetite as a result of feeling bad and a headache, I can’t complain about the food so far and I do force myself to eat and drink a lot of liquid in order to give myself the energy for Day 3. At least now I am going to have an early night because I am genuinely tired from the trek, instead of having an early night because it feels miserable to be awake.

From Day 3 the some of the posts will have video…just as soon as I figure out how that works on the blog here. πŸ™‚

The Kilimanjaro Diary: Day 1 – Machame Gate (1500m) to Machame Camp (3000m) (11 March 2013)


Now I have the benefit of some of the notes I took on my iPhone, so it’s easy to recall how I felt and what was going on inside my head πŸ™‚


Off to a great start – Hotel and Machame Gate

We start the morning with weighing our duffel bag that the porter will carry. The total weight of the bag can’t exceed 15kg because in addition to carrying our bag, the porters bring along everything else we need. My bag comes in a 13.2kg which makes me happy. Christina’s bag comes in well under the limit too. And then we go to store our luggage, take care of the formalities at the hotel, and eventually we are off to Machame gate! So far so good! We get to the gate, unload our kit, make sure we have what we need in our day packs, and then complete the formalities. We also meet our Assistant Guide Abraham, he is 55 years old and cool as hell.

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After the formalities we get into place and begin the trek!

From Okay to Not So Okay in 4 Hours

We start off well enough from the entry point of Machame. It’s planned to be around a 5-7 hour climb from 1800m to 3000m, covering about 10km.

If I had to summarise this first day in one word, it would be “adjustment”. Not only was I poorly dressed (jean shorts, only a t-shirt, no rain jacket, no gaiters), but my endurance level was way too low. The first 600 meters to around 2400m was manageable, but I felt myself getting extremely winded after 2400m. It’s hard to explain. I looked tired but I wasn’t. It felt more like I wasn’t getting enough air. Like in some way I was suffocating whilst walking. Getting rained on didn’t help much as I was going up the mountain in wet clothes. I pulled out the poncho (big help), but was so wet that I decided that I wouldn’t put on my rain jacket because clothes don’t really dry up on the mountain and I couldn’t afford to have my outer layers get too wet.

I also decided to go for a long as possible without using my hiking poles because I wanted to get used to navigating without the use of them for a day or so, but I had to give up that idea when I got a sharp pain in my left hip. Already the last in the group of travelers, I had to slow down even more. It felt bad inside to not sprint up the mountain like all of the others. As if somehow I wasn’t as good as the others.

I was grateful that Christina likes to take pictures (virtually all of the pics you’ll see in the first few days are from her), because basically after the first day I was so exhausted, had a headache, and was completely wiped out that I could barely make it into my tent. Above all of that, my left hip started to hurt like hell, which further slowed us down. Our guide Ashard tried not to give a look of worry, but it was easy to sense that he was worried. Here was this guy who, if this kept up, would be descending back down by the end of Day 2 or Day 3.

We eventually arrived, being the last group to get there.

We arrived to Machame camp to hot water for washing (a purple bowl would be my sink for the next 6 days), some hot tea and popcorn in our mess tent (gratefully received), and our tents already set up. Christina was rather social with the other people part of the Zara trek (they don’t combine people very often, so there were actually 5 separate groups who travelling together…I hope that made sense…), but I was feeling so hurt, injured, and dazed that after our evening briefing, I took a pain killer, some diamox (for the altitude adjustment), and then went to bed around 20.30 (08.30pm).

It’s clear to me that I have to re-think my trekking approach. Sheer force of will got me up to 3000m, but I have another 2900m to go, and if I don’t want to end this trek early, I seriously need to think about how the rest of this trek should work πŸ™

Christina took some amazing pictures though and I wanted to share them with you. Despite my feeling like complete crap, the scenery was beautiful

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The Chief Guide Ashard and the Assistant Guide Abraham …thanks Christina for the correction πŸ˜‰

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I am not feeling particularly good about myself or my chances at the moment. Some rest and reflection will hopefully bring about a new attitude and perspective…

The Kilimanjaro Diary: Day 0 – Moshi Town and Our “Last Night” (9-10 March 2013)

Lagos Airport

Bhuvana, Mithilesh, Christina, and myself all share a flight from Lagos, Nigeria to Addis Abba, Ethiopia. We said our goodbyes to Mana, Ming-Hai, Cinthia, and Bianka at the Sheraton and it felt sad. Bouke was travelling with us to the airport, but was heading to Sierra Leone. We get to the airport and what better way to start the travel experience by finding out that Ethiopian Airlines’ computer system was down and that they were checking people in manually using handwritten tickets. So a process that should have taken 1 hour took 3 hours instead. And not to mention the security and other checks which are a separate entry in their own right. But eventually all of us make it through the checkpoints. We said goodbye to Bouke and the four of us got on our flight. Laughter, smiles, and more laughter is the common theme of our flight. At Addis Abba Christina and I said our goodbyes to Bhuvana and Mithilesh. Long hugs goodbye and a couple of tears later, it’s hard to express in a journey just how much the team feels like extended family to me now. But Christina and I have an appointment with a mountain.

Moshi Town

We arrive into JRO airport at around 03.00 or 04.00. It’s pitch black outside. Our driver from Zara Tours is waiting for us. He takes us to the van, we put our luggage in, and we’re off to the hotel. We get there in about 45 minutes and during the ride Christina and I talk and bond. After all, we’re going to be on a mountain together, so sharing and being open and honest with each other are essential. It’s a really good conversation about random things. We arrive to the hotel (it is a private hotel owned essentially by Zara for use for people climbing Kilimanjaro) and the check-in is smooth and we have rooms right next to each other. I am happy because there are no bugs, cockroaches, or geckos in my room. There isn’t even any mosquitoes in my room. So refreshing, I catch a few hours of sleep without any mosquito netting needed in my room and sleep a very good 2-3 hours.

Eventually we make it down to breakfast and overall I am happy. Not much to complain about. They have the basics right, the coffee is hot, the tea is plentiful, the fruit is safe, the porridge is tasty. I think we are genuinely happy, but you can see for yourself πŸ™‚

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After breakfast we decide to head into town. We need to get Tanzanian money and want to explore the town. On the bus, we meet 2 Aussie guys and hang out for most of the day walking around town, buying souvenirs, lunch, and generally exploring. As it turns out, trekking the same mountain is a great ice-breaker since it’s a common goal and interest. Dino and his friend are really cool (editors note: turns out Christina and I will see them again on the mountain).

Orientation and the Machame

In the afternoon we have an orientation meeting at the hotel with guide, Ashard. He is the chief guide who will lead us up the mountain. The orientation goes well. We have several questions but are mostly a mix of nervous and excited. Ashard is one of their best guides (editors note: known for taking ‘difficult cases’) and he brings a sense of relaxing and calm to what should be a nervous moment. After our orientation, Christina and I agree in the evening that we should watch each other pack in order to make sure we bring only what is truly needed. Turns out that was a good idea. Joint packing meant that we should share some things on the mountain.

Our route up the mountain was the Machame route, which is also known as the ‘Whiskey Route’. The route is normally a 6-day trek, but Christina wisely decided to add an extra day for acclimatisation on the mountain, so our day was a 7-day trek. To give you a sense of the trek, here is a map (I’ll be referring to us through the Kili Diary entries):


You can also get a description of the route taken here.

So after packing, dinner, talking with more people we just met, surfing on the internet, and one last beer (couldn’t resist), I go to sleep and get reach for the next day – Day 1.

I feel ready so bring it on!

The Kilimanjaro Diary: Preamble – Some thoughts about what lies ahead

I should preface this entry by saying that I am writing it post-experience, but the experience is still so fresh in my mind that I have no problems writing about it even two weeks later. I am kinda glad I waited because details I overlooked before are now sharper in my mind.

Also, in this entry, there is no media (except for the picture of the mountain)…only text. The reason for that – besides not having pictures or video to show for it – is that this is meant to be reflective and not illustrative.

mt kilimanjaro

What started curiosity about climbing the mountain has changed to amazement to a certain level of apprehension. Up until arriving in Moshi, Tanzania on Sunday, 10 March 2013, Mount Kilimanjaro was abstract. It was something I had seen in movies, read about on the internet, browsed over in guidebooks, and talked about with others. It’s different to see the mountain in person. It’s at that point you think long and hard about how prepared you really are; that you hoped that you packed everything and in the right quantities; that you start to wonder about everything from a strategic perspective; and the summit. And a million other things all at once.

Honestly, in terms of preparedness, I was more than a bit worried. Having committed myself mentally to the trip in late-November (thanks to the massive research efforts of my Kili climbing buddy Christina!), that left me with about 10 weeks to train before my IBM Corporate Service Corps trip to Nigeria. And things were going along great! I dropped 10kg during those 10 weeks, was going to the gym 3-5 times a week, had a great mix of High-Intensity Interval Training (GRIT Strength!), pulse training (spinning…lots of spinning), and endurance (stair climbing and rowing). I felt pretty good about my chances!

And then there was Nigeria…

To be fair, the problem wasn’t the country per se. It was a bunch of smaller concerns which added up to a bigger one:

  • The gym at the hotel simply didn’t have the variety or quality of the equipment I needed;
  • The Nigerian diet is carb-heavy naturally (pounded yam and other starches are staple foods);
  • We didn’t have the level of freedom of movement I would have liked (e.g. my plan was in the absence of gym equipment to use what God gave me, legs and feet and go jogging instead);
  • The beer was too tasty for me to resist; and
  • I could have made a few better food choices over the month I was in Nigeria

I worked out at the gym a few times in Nigeria. I also even managed to lose 2kg over the course of the month thanks to exercises such as situps, ab crunches, burpees, and pushups. But I wasn’t looking to achieve weight loss – I was looking to increase physical strength and endurance and I hadn’t done that to the level that I wanted. So I was nervous.

So back to Tanzania.

I do what passes for logical and scientific calculations in my head over the course of the day. I peg my chances of reaching the summit at 85%. I am not concerned about my kit, or the logistics. I am not even concerned about my weight isolation. I am concerned about not having done enough cardio exercise to maximise my body’s efficient intake of oxygen (which gets thinner as we ascend). I am concerned about how quickly we ascend up the mountain and whether I will acclimitise properly despite the fact that I have Diamox (which helps, but is no guarantee).

I have thought of a million and one things. But ultimately I just decide that the best answer is to ‘Just Do It’ and then adapt long the way. I wouldn’t have signed up if I didn’t think I could do it. So despite all of the logic and scientific thought, I come to understand that the journey is also about faith. It’s about faith in myself, faith in my guide and his team, and faith in Christina.

Even in a group Kilimanjaro is a personal journey, but as I would come to learn, you can do almost anything with a little help, faith, and from your friends and supporters.

Most of you know how the story ends. But my “Kili Diary” is about the journey. And you’re welcome to follow along.