WARNING: Just a friendly warning before you start reading this post…if you have any issues regarding reading about bodily functions…I suggest you look at the pictures and don’t read this post! The mountain was CHALLENGING…and your body is taxed in many different ways! As most of you know – I’m not shy about telling it how it is…so you do get a little glance into my gastro-intestinal organs and some of my inappropriate humor! Most importantly – it kept us laughing all the way up the mountain – and that was the best medicine of all! For all of you long distance runners out there – I’m sure you can brave this post…it’s our normal, everyday conversation about bodily functions!! Also note that this post is a little different than most – it is my journal entries exactly how they appeared in my journal – time and thoughts are all dictated right from the pages of my journal…real time in a way.
Enjoy and proceed with caution!!
View Tanzania Photography
9/22 – Moshi
Heather and Cyndi arrived to Nairobi fine – they had no time to experience their jet lag as our bus trip to Moshi was the next day – and it went pretty smooth – except for the road of course. Our collective anxiety was high since we did not really know what to expect for the next 7 days/nights. We met our tour provider – Moshi Expidition and Mountaineering (MEM) – they had a pleasant little office and were all so very nice to us. We sat at a desk and they told us about what to expect (tired, cold, loss of appetite, shortness of breath)…all of this was fine with me except the loss of appetite piece – it was a bit disturbing as I LOVE to eat! They came to our hotel and asked us to lay everything out on our beds and proceeded to go through exactly what we should take with us on the mountain. Now we just have our last night of sleep on a bed, use of a real toilet, and a shower for the next 7 days…what have we gotten ourselves into?!!
9/23 – Day 1 – Machame Gate to Machame Camp – 9800 ft.
We made it our first day and an additional 4000 ft up today. Things that surprised me: It’s colder than I thought at night – about 50 degrees in our tent the 1st night (and it’s only bound to get worse as we go up!), and the bathroom situation is a bit more primitive than I expected. Every 4 km or so there is something called a long drop toilet. – I really don’t get the name as I would simply call it a Smelly Outhouse With Hole (SOWH) in the ground. The hole in the ground was typically small, smelly, and the little room was dark. Your aim had to be pretty good – but then again – that’s what you had Gaiters for…thank god for Gaiters!! Over the next 7 days I’m sure that I will come up with numerous ways for the SOWH to be improved. Toilet paper would be a nice start, and a handle to hold onto for balance would be exquisite. You did figure out that if you held the toilet paper roll under your chin – then you had your hands free to try to get your clothes out of the ‘drop zone’. It’s tough being a chick sometimes.
We’ve got a Park Ave. tent – a sleeping area and a separate dining area – heat would be nice – but no chance of that! The stars tonight were overwhelming and the food was tasty – a good way to end the day.
Our crew was wonderful – made up of the following:
Guide – Douglas – the most patient, quietly confident personality – after a day with him you trusted him with your life…which is what we were literally doing. He’s a saint.
Assistant guide – Edward – looked after Cyndi and Heather on the climb to the summit.
Cook – Gudluk (pronounced Good Luck…kinda funny for the name of a cook – makes you a little worried about eating!) he made amazing Ginger beef and fried banana fritters!
Waiter – Simon – quiet and so nice – we loved him!
8 Porters – the guys with amazing strong necks…they carried everything on their heads!
9/24 – Machame Camp to Shira Camp 12,600 ft.
Made it through night 1 and day 2 of the Kili climb! Slept ok – but nothing to write home about. I’m too old to be sleeping in the ground, it felt like a slab of wood with nails sticking out of it! Regardless – I did sleep – just not too sound. The day was hard – lots of up, up, up – and my stomach seemed to be on pins and needles all day. At one point I just wanted to lie down for a nap as I was mentally exhausted. I’ve decided that this little adventure puts your mind and body on a roller coaster that resembles Cybil . You turn so fast it’s crazy – one minute your great and the next your stomach is in knots and your brain can’t form a complete sentence or thought – you are in a trance – it’s a bit unsettling. Douglas is checking what we are eating by going through our lunch box garbage and leftover dinner – I kind of feel like a patient at a mental facility – not really able to care for ourselves. Yet it’s nice to know that someone is looking out for us.
Let’s talk about bladder control. They make you drink 3 liters of liquids on the trail and I had to pee at least 8 times today – honestly my body thinks that I’m trying to drown it. I’ve consulted my mathematicians and determined that my bladder must hold about .4 of a liter. This isn’t really a big deal – except for the nighttime. You wake up at 2AM feeling like you are going to burst – fighting with your brain about getting up out of the tent to go out in 30degree weather and pee at a long drop toilet…this is not a pleasant situation. I’ve decided to invent a version of adult Depends – we can call them Kilimanjaro Pull-ups! This way you can avoid the middle of the night bladder call in the cold! When we got to camp today it wasn’t too cold yet so we decided to freshen up a bit with our handy dandy body wipes and rinse free shampoo.
Photo – Cyndi using her ‘rinse-free’ shampoo
It wasn’t a shower – but damn – it felt great! Good dinner tonight, some cards and now off to bed – or at least I hope to sleep a bit! Heather felt poorly tonight, headache and no appetite…the mountain is taking control!
9/29 – Mweka Camp – 10,200 ft
Well – this is not where I was supposed to be today on Day 6. I was supposed to be at the top of the summit but due to some very unfortunate circumstances – I’m at the low camp due to altitude sickness.. I’m very upset and trying to find the positive side of this and given a bit more time – I know I will. But this is not how it was supposed to go. Leaving high camp last night feeling very sick at 6:30 PM feeling like the mountain and my body dejected me – chewing me up and spit me out. Walking (actually stumbling) for 5 hours feeling so sick and sad in the dark down the mountain was truly one of my low points. I never thought I was going to make it here. I was so sick and tired that I just wanted to lay down – but they wouldn’t let me stop until we got to lower altitude. As we (Gudluk and a porter and I) left the high camp (Barrafu) at sunset above the clouds we walked past a porter tent and you could hear them all singing “How Great Though Art” in Swahili. This is one of my favorite songs and every time I hear it I think of my Grandpa Ott’s funeral. So – imagine me walking through this quiet camp on top of the world feeling so dejected as all of the other trekkers were resting for their final assent and I am leaving to the tune of “How Great though Art”. I was in tears stumbling down the rocks trying to follow Gudluk I went through so much hardship and to not make it is devastating beyond belief. Now I sit at the low camp as a leper – watching all of those who made it to the summit yesterday celebrate their accomplishments and leave camp happy knowing it was all worth it. It’s a strange kind of torture for me as they all take pictures with their guides and finish their last few hours and here I sit next to my little tent so sad knowing that I have to figure out a way to turn this feeling around. I guess in all it will make me a stronger person. Cyndi and Heather made it to the summit this morning so I will need to figure out how to pull it together before they get down to this camp in the afternoon. I have many hours to figure that out though. My view is that the mountain chooses it’s victims randomly and I unfortunately was one of the many victims. So – the big question…how did I get here to this point??? I have tried my best to recall the days that led up to this…
Day 3 – Shira to Barranco Huts – 13027 ft.
On Day 3 I lost my desire to write. Heck I pretty much lost my desire to do anything but follow Douglas up the hill, eat, and sleep. The good news is that I still had my appetite though – so it couldn’t have been that bad yet! We continued up out of the Shira camp – this was our day to hike high, sleep low. We took off – pole, pole (slowly, slowly- pronounced poleee, poleeee)) – so slow that I kept on thinking about that old game we used to play as kids – “Mother May I“ in which some person – acting as “Mother” – dictated that you take baby steps or giant steps, and washing machine steps, etc. Baby steps meant that you walked heal to toe and started your next step with your heal starting right at your toe of your other foot. I realized that we were taking baby steps up the entire mountain. But it was all that my lungs could manage. It was barren above the tree line and very dusty. Dust tornadoes would pop up all over. I know now what your nose hairs are there for – they were working OT collecting dust! I left that day with an unsettled stomach mush like the day before – but getting worse – gassy, diarrhea…but I baby stepped onward. It ended up being a great day – one Imodium did the trick – my stomach was still for a few hours! We hiked as high as 15,391 to the lava dome – it was slow and easy. Headaches and nausea would come and go within a few minutes – it was odd once again – like a roller coaster or waves. Cyndi and I decided to take Douglas’s advice and go to the top of the lava tower – another 70 meters higher (and the highest point I would ever reach coincidentally). Heather decided to rest due to her headache. Cyndi and I followed Douglas up the rock.
In this photo You can barely see us at the top – look VERY hard!
If you recall the opening scene from Cliff Hanger with Sylvester Stallone hanging from a rock by his fingernails – that’s what I felt like getting to the top of this lava rock! Ok – so maybe it wasn’t that extreme – but in my head it was! We had to find hand holds in the rock and scale across ledges no larger than 3 inches wide! Douglas would show us the hand holds and where to put our feet. Using all fours and crawling at times we made it – panting for air. The view was amazing – a 360 degree view of Kili, Mt. Maru, the trail we came on, etc. It was a barren land of volcanic rock, dead glaciers, and dust. It was a bit sad to learn that many of these glaciers were around not more than 7 years ago. But they did their job, they carved their landscape and disappeard. After we made it down we quickly took on the remaining 2 hr trek to Barranco Camp – all downhill. We all felt great that night but were exhausted as we were out on the trail for 9 hours that day. We ate well except for Heather who still wasn’t feeling 100%. We went right to sleep on our rock hard bed – bodies aching.
Photo: Descending from Lava Rock – through the land of Senecio Trees – they were 200 yrs old!
Day 4 – Barranco Huts to Karanga Huts – 13187 ft.
That was the first night that I really stopped sleeping – but I woke up feeling well the next morning and feeling like I could indeed make it to the top. We started Day 4 by a difficult climb up the Barranco wall. It was a steep climb up a rock face – it was hard – but what was more amazing was the porters carrying up 20 kilos (you do the conversion) up the technical climb with chairs, tables, backpacks, and food on their heads!
Stepping aside to let them pass us was a great break – but also made you think – these guys get paid $8 per day for this dangerous, demanding work. And most of them smoke! So much for trying to stay healthy – they can kick my butt any day! We got up the wall and took a break to see the amazing views. I felt pretty good – yet I was breathing really heavy – there’s just not enough oxygen!!! We started downward again at a good pace into the valley.
By this time we had become one with our surroundings and living conditions. Peeing by the trail side – no problem. The long drop toilets were now common place to us – not ideal at all – but we worked with what we had. We even had perfected a peeing ‘stance’ on a rock which let you rest at the same time (credit Cyndi on that one!).
We all joked around about this whole experience being a ‘hard reboot’ of sorts. We came here to the Machame gate clean, in our technical gear and packs and then someone just turned off the power – there was no nice shutting down of active programs in our brains. It was like the blue screen of death – you were screwed and had to start all over. Your concept of what a clean toilet was in had changed – heck even the concept of a toilet in general had changed. Clean clothes, good campsite, all had to be reset in our minds. None of us were hard core campers – Heather had the most experience – but even she had to admit this was pretty hard core. By the 2nd night the temps were in the 30 degrees and eventually got below freezing. It was cold. You could see your breath in our tent and we would have hot water put in our bottles at night to put in our sleeping bags to stay warm. I referred to the hot bottles as my ‘babies’…this is what lack of oxygen reduces you to! Granted, I am aware of the fact that it wasn’t completely hard core camping – we had a team of 12 people getting us u the mountain. And setting up camp and cooking for us (until we inevitably lost our appetite).
We started a nice quick descent into the valley and knew that we had a short day. Once again – sanity seemed to come in waves – sometimes great – sometimes feeling so drunk that the world was spinning and you couldn’t walk a straight line – it was more of a drunken stumble – but 5 minutes later you were fine. So we trudged along. We saw our campsite off in the distance – what a happy site – then I realized that we had to go all the way to the valley floor and back up a steep incline to get there…deflation. Kind of like the “your almost there” comment when on mile 15 of a marathon – for God’s sake – you still have 10 miles to go! For some reason – mentally this was my turning point. Not only does your headache go in waves – but you are reduced to very limited brain function in high altitude. Similar also to running a marathon – it takes 10 minutes to do a simple math equation in your head – eventually you get it – but it takes a while. So once your brain starts to go in a negative place – it’s like trying to stop a train going 60 mph – it takes a lot to stop and pull out of the negative spiral. The strange thing is that I know these things having run 5 marathons – yet I still haven’t found a great way around it.
We went down and started our way back up and for some reason I was frustrated. We were going at a decent pace and my calves were killing me but I wanted to be done so I just pressed on – I was breathing really heavy in my exhausted stumble drunk mode. I started having a really hard time breathing and thought I was possibly having an asthma attack – then my head panicked. I stopped to try to regain my breath and seemed to lose my composure. We walked while I tried to regain both – once I did – I stumbled my short way up to camp. I was exhausted in everyway and had a terrible headache. I got to our camp and laid down with my head in a funk. That was definitely the mental turn, but the physical turn was on it’s way. The extreme shortness of breath wasn’t a good sign. That was also the beginning of losing my appetite – oh what a sad day.
Photo: The picture of the moment I lost my appetite…
I choked down some soup and a few noodles but my stomach was brewing and my diarrhea was back too….joy. My whole body ached so Douglas assessed me and told me to take 2 Patanol. I did this and eventually the headache and body ache subsided. I was able to pull out of my stoned like trance and feel ok again. We played Yahtzee and went to bed. This night I really didn’t sleep – my stomach was in knots, I would start to shake uncontrollably like I was shivering (but I wasn’t really cold) – I had very strange dreams to top things off.
Day 5 Karanga Huts to Barafu huts – 15241 ft.
That morning I woke up in a trance like state – I didn’t feel right at all. I had some tea and sent to the tent to get packed up in slow motion and I sat inside the tent for a long time . All of a sudden I had a hot flash (it was about 40 degrees in the tent) so I got up and went outside for fresh air. Heather brought a chair out to me and I was completely nauseous. I saw there for a while and Douglas came over. He asked me how I was doing and I told him I felt sick. He said in his African accent “Do you have to vomit?” I said that I feel like it. He said “Then vomit, and you will feel better”. Since I basically did whatever Douglas tell me to do – I ran behind the tent and threw up. In my lifetime this was definitely the most beautiful setting that I’ve ever puked in – the view was really amazing. And it was also the largest crowd I’ve ever puked among – in the middle of a campsite while tons of people were milling around for breakfast. This is definitely on my ‘top 10 lowpoints’ list!
Photo: Scene of the puking ‘incident’…surrounded by beauty and people!
But Douglas was right of course – I did feel worlds better at that moment. I came back in the tent to a stunned Heather and Cyndi. Douglas told me to drink hot water with lemon and eat breakfast. Now – I know that all of you reading this has thrown up before – and the thought of someone making you eat food immediately afterwards sounds like cruel torture. So I choked down some white toast and a pancake, and got myself cleaned up still with a rumbling in my stomach and we took off VERY pole, pole. I felt ok during the walk except for the diarrhea – mother nature never had so much fertilizer! That morning I also stopped my malaria pills and diamox as my stomach was so upset I couldn’t deal with anything else.
We arrived at camp and even though I wasn’t breathing heavy today – I was exhausted and had absolutely no appetite – none of us did – yet they kept bringing up platters of food and Simon would look at us so disappointed when we sent most of it back. This also prompted Douglas to go on ‘orange alert’ and now he started coming in and watching us eat. He wouldn’t say anything – he would just stand there with his arms folded across his chest watching us eat…it was really disturbing. Hell – every time we went to the bathroom we would have to report back to him! He was wonderful – he told us not to think over and over again – I guess he recognizes a type A personality ! Actually – he understands what a huge effect the mental state/brain has on the bodily functions. He would tell us not to worry – don’t think – find a happy place. I was so tired and still didn’t feel well once we stopped hiking so he told us all to nap for a few hours before dinner at 5:00.
This was the night we were supposed to attempt summit – starting at midnight. I laid down for a nap and decided to tak Douglas’s advice and find a happy place. So – after carrying my ipod to 15,000 ft. I finally decided to use it. I would fall asleep listing to comforting music – all would be ok. Unfortunately my ipod which is exactly 13 months old decided to die on me that day. I was furious as music and podcasts were my planned activity for this year long trip – now it crashed 1 month after the warranty. I HATE IPODS!!!! So – now I’m very upset (not a good mental place to be at 15,000 ft. and I took a nap or at least tried to sleep. I drifted off and was having crazy dreams and started shivering even thought I was warm in my bag. The next 2 hours were spent tossing, turning, and shivering – I was still exhausted. I went to the bathroom at camp but it was quite the obstacle course to get there as the Barrafu camp resembles the moon with large rocks everywhere. I had another bought of diarrhea – so bad that my feet went numb from trying to squat over that stupid long drop toilet for such a long time! I was out of breath when I got back to the tent. It was time to eat again and I was miserable – I couldn’t stop shivering. It was as if I had a fever or something.
Douglas came in to see how we were doing. Simon came in with a large platter of spaghetti, fries, and soup. We all graoned as noone of us wanted to eat. It was one of the most excruciatingly painful meals I’ve had in my lifetime. Douglas stood thee and made us eat. He was silently assessing each of us – mainly me as I was feeling terrible, shaking and didn’t even want to eat soup! I forced down spaghetti – it tasted like paste to me. He told me to go put more layers of clothes on . I now had 3 layers on my lefs and 5 layers on my top – still shivering – I could barely hold the spoon in my hand. That’s when he made the inevitable decision – to not let me go any further.
I was banished from the mountain. I could practically hear it laughing at me. We were all devastated. He asked Cyndi and Heather to pack up my things and we all 3 sat and cried a bit. Douglas said – “No need to cry – the mountain isn’t going anywhere – you can try again.” That was an entertaining thought…it was complete insanity!! What seemed like 5 seconds, but was probably 5 minutes – I was whisked away at 6:30PM from the camp. Gudluk – our cook and a porter was sent with me to get me down. Cyndi and Heather after the fact said that they just sat in the tent in complete disbelief – as if it were a game of Survivor and they were juts blindsided that someone from their alliance had to leave the island and they never saw it coming.
Photo above :Barafu Camp…not a flat place to sleep!!
Day 6 – Mweka Camp
Photo: My location on Summit Day…
So that’s how I got to this place – banished to low camp with oxygen. Just writing about the whole ordeal does make me feel better. I woke up this morning and Gudluk brought me some tea to see how I was feeling. It’s really amazing how oxygen is really all you need to feel better. I asked him if Cyndi and Heather made it to the top and he said they did…I was relieved! I was happy to see dyni and heather that afternoon and hear about thie long, difficult trek to the top that morning. They started at midnight and trekked upward about 4000 ft. for 6 hours. Then all the way back down to low camp – another 8000 ft this afternoon. Knowing how I felt last night – I never would have made it – my body was done. We had a fun celebration dinner in our tent and slept for the last time on the hard ground!
Photo right: Cyndi and Heather on Summit Day!!
Day 7 – The mountain had a little ‘send off’ for us last night – it poured rain for half of the night and our tent became a river of mud! Inside the sleeping area our bags were wet and water was gunning under our sleeping pads – it felt like we were floating! In our dining area we had mud flowing through caking everything in mud and soot. Thank god it was our last night! The mountain top was sprinkled in a new covering of snow – like someone had dusted it with powdered sugar. We spent the morning cleaning up, having our last memorable long drop experience and taking pictures with our team of guides and porters. Then we reaced down the mountain for the 2 ½ hrs to the gate! It felt so weird to be back in civilization – cars, real toilets. I gave a kid a pack of gum in exchange for cleaning my boots which were muddy and gross (and they needed to be packed back in my suitcase for the remainder of my travels!).
Back at the hotel we took showers and started feeling human again. That night we took Douglas out to dinner and reveled in our accomplishment. For me – it wasn’t the summit – but the journey. It was a challenging experience that is certainly not for everyone. I’m happy for my accomplishment – but I am really thankful for all of the people that got me through this week most of all. Douglas and crew , but mostly Cyndi and Heather who I laughed and cried with through out the whole trip! It made me stronger in many ways and it further strengthened relationships – what more can I really ask for – besides a flush toilet!
Photo: The 3 of us on the last day with our hero – Douglas
Tour Company – highly recomended: Moshi Expidition and Mountaineering (MEM)