Earlier this week I shared the physical/fitness part to climbing Kilimanjaro, today I'm sharing the experience.
I loved writing this post! Reflecting on my experience, sharing it with you. There is a photo link at the bottom of this post for those looking for more ~ enjoy!
Setting the stage: We hiked in the dry season, winter. The high temps around 35 degrees, low 10. We had two VERY windy days. One long hike day, about seven hours... and summit day.
The higher the elevation, the less oxygen in the air. Windy days make breathing a challenge, trying to get a full breath AND not take in dust.
Let's get started!
Our story: The adventure starts in Istanbul. WT said to me... never eat sushi in a foreign country. He had sushi the night before we traveled to Africa, resulting in a tough travel day with...
After landing in Tanzania, we met our guides, picked up our rental gear, and drove for an hour to an amazing tented lodge and conservation area; enjoying a sunset nature hike ending with happy hour in an amazing two story tree-house.
The next morning was crazy: we weighed our packs to ensure they didn't exceed the 33 pound limit, drove for about two hours to the weigh station where ALL of our supplies were weighed, porters hired, trucks reloaded, and one last 30 minute drive to our drop off - at the end of the road.
A quick lunch and we were off for a three hour hike to our first campsite (10,000 feet).
Camping and Sleeping:
- We slept in down jackets and hats, in a -20F rated bag and were still cold.
- Waking up to frost inside the tent, water bottles freeze overnight
- You share your sleeping bag with electronics, hoping they don't freeze and zap the battery life.
- Your tent neighbors might keep you up all night if they snore! George would brag that he slept great, to which we said, "we know!" Boy was he loud...
Hygiene: Some people in our group were obsessed talking about body fluids, including sweat, how bad they smell, and bathroom moments. TMI people!
We were on the mountain for nine days... without showers. We washed with wet wipes. WT shaved every day (the only guy to do this). I washed my hair every third day (twice), in about six cups of water.
How badly do you have to go to the bathroom at midnight? If you do climb out of your tent don't forget to look up and see the milky way and stars. An amazing sight, trust me... you are too cold to attempt night photography.
The Mess Tent: The mess tent was where we ate, had tea, and was mostly a place to discuss our health.
- Camp food isn't great. Even with the 'gourmet' food served, the coffee is instant, milk is powder... I found myself enjoying hot water and peanut butter sandwiches.
Summit Day (19,341 feet): With a mid-day summit we were able to sleep overnight and start for the summit at 6:30. It was quite windy at times and hard to breathe but we all made it. We had the summit to ourselves and it was amazing!
We spend about an hour up there, taking it all in before 'sand skiing' to our campsite... which was in a crater at 18,800 feet. Base camp for Mount Everest is 17,600 feet.
Crater Camp: See the tiny yellow dots in this photo? This is our campsite. Even the biffy's are different at this altitude... everything a little harder.
We were the only ones camping in the crater, it's a high risk/adventure option. I know, you expect nothing less from us since we are 'life experience junkies' (notice I didn't say thrill seekers)....
Once we settled in, I found a giant rock and threw up. I basically crawled back to our tent, and fell asleep from exhaustion (and acute altitude sickness)
The next morning was tough as we marched UP to Stella point. Once back at the summit we began a day hike down to 10,000 feet. One more night of camping then we left the mountain for the comfort on a hotel, a long hot shower, and a glass of wine.
Summit Experience: Most people begin their summit day hike around midnight, hiking for over six hours in the dark, wearing a headlamp and dealing with very cold temps. They spend about twenty minutes at the summit, turn around and hike for hours back to 10-12,000 feet where the oxygen levels are agreeable. Hiking 19-22 hours in one day.
I'm beyond thankful for our summit day experience, but whether an overnight or morning start... anyone reaching the summit is overwhelmed and excited!
It's quite a journey, filled with accomplishment AND more importantly... personal growth.
Click here to see photos from our trek to the summit.
Post Summit Thoughts:
I spent months preparing, planning, scheduling, never doubting, just wondering, anticipating.
Since returning from my trip I have felt off my game and today I realized why - I haven't let myself feel a sense of accomplishment for reaching the summit.
I'm struggling to process the following:
- Instant gratification: a nine day journey, with no communication didn't let friends and family celebrate our achievement real time - darn it social media and cell phones!
- Personality conflicts: I wasn't prepared to share my adventure with a narcissist and complainer. Strangers on day one, frienemy's at the summit? This person overpowered the experience with his personality and demands. He was even telling the head guide how to do his job, adding unnecessary risks.
- Disappointment and physical pain of summit day: It's hard to imagine an "I almost made it" ending but we did pass hikers who didn't get there. Imagine seeing them while you are going up - processing this while dealing with the elements of your summit day journey, emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed.
- Summit night: we all retreated to our tents, without much celebration. Some of us threw up or spent time in the biffy... our bodies less than happy with us. I never made it to the mess tent for a meal, dizzy, lightheaded, throwing up, mixed with coughing and exhaustion.
It was more challenging than I expected... BUT:
- I loved every minute of the experience!
- I danced on the trail... often
- I yelled 'I'm in Africa' a few times (this was not lost on me)...
Eleanor, WE DID IT. We climbed a mountain!