Mt. Kilimanjaro! …and Moshi, Tanzania

Monica's Walk

Ahhh, I believe that I am finally ready to start putting my adventures, thoughts and experiences of this crazy journey called life into words again. Picking up from where I left off a few months ago…here goes Tanzania!

After the lovely trip to South Africa, came a grande adventure in the country of Tanzania. The first mission: get to the top of the highest, most well respected, mountain in Africa: MOUNT KILIMANJARO! Standing at 19,341 feet into the clouds, this would be an even greater height than in Nepal. Mt. Kili is a giant strata volcano that formed 1 million years ago – two of its’ three peaks are extinct, while Kibo, the highest peak, lays dormant and could erupt again…There she stands from a distance in the photo above.

The only way to climb the mountain is to go with a trekking service. You are not allowed to enter the park without being registered with one. After trekking for 4 full weeks in Nepal with complete independence, this was not something we were entirely excited about. Yes, of course, it was great to become friends with local Tanzanians, learn some Chagga (one of the native languages) and experience some of the culture first hand. However, the price you can pay for some of these ‘guiding companies’ was not something to look forward to. Booking ahead of time, with one of the well known companies can cost upwards of $6000 for a 5 day trip! We took the spontaneous route and bargained upon arrival into Moshi, tried to find a VERY budget company that at least appeared to know what they were doing, and could get us up the mountain without all of the unnecessary frills…

 The few photos below give a little perspective of the climb, however aside from direct experience, not even words can explain the massive height of the feat we were about to undertake…

I’m taking it all in at our camp on the second night. We’re well above tree line. It was crowded (for a mountain climb). We did have one ‘frill,’ our porter brought us a small bowl of water each evening at camp to ‘wash up’ with.

Official shout out to Eric Lankford, the owner of Wool Sports, who so graciously sponsored the trip by providing wool shirts and socks. They lasted the entire 6 months and survived extreme wear, weather, barbed wire, animals, etc. etc. If anyone desires excellent wool clothing from a local entrepreneur at a great price: THANK YOU ERIC!!

Not feeling the altitude yet. Maybe in a few hours
when I am looking DOWN on those clouds behind me…
Ahhh – getting higher and higher! It felt like we could have been walking on the moon. 

Starting to approach the final base camp! Yes, everything really appeared to be glowing. A magical mountain of force to say the least…beginning to get pretty cold. Still feeling really good (and excited)!

Long story short – we woke up at first light and trekked to the base camp of the summit, ate lunch on the way and arrived around 5 pm with just enough time to set up camp and get some food in the belly before ‘attempting’ to sleep for a few hours. HA! I was way too excited to actually fall asleep, but allowed my body to rest for a while prior to our 11 pm start, in hopes to reach the summit by dawn.

The climb up was intense, to put it lightly. After trekking through the Himalayan mountains for an entire month, my body was quite used to steep ascents and descents, and my heart knew how to handle the change in oxygen levels…up to 17,000 feet, that is. Up until this day as we had made our approach to the base camp, the trek really had not been very physically challenging. I craved the exertion as we set out that night. As we began our ascent the winds quickly picked up, and at an even greater rate, the temperature fell. Before long I had on every layer I had brought, including a massive down puffy coat. As the scree climbing became steeper and steeper, each step up became two steps down. “Pole, Pole” (as the natives say) – slowly, slowly, we made our way toward the summit, taking very short rests (to avoid frostbite from blood flow slowing) to get out of the intense wind. During one of our breaks I asked Tosha, our guide, if this wind was normal. He quickly said no, and seemed nervous… We continued our slow ascent. One step at a time. As we approached 18,000 feet, I began to feel the increase in altitude for the first time – most simply put, I felt drunk. It was still dark out and very difficult to see as the wind was blowing dust and ice in every direction. I focused on my feet, it was too difficult to attempt to look up and the debris in the air hurt the small part of my face that was exposed. I watched myself secure each additional step into the mountain. As each step became more difficult, and the altitude higher, the Medicine Buddha Mantra filled my mind (yea yea, I can hear my brother laughing at me now…but regardless of your skepticism, Michael, it happened). Before long, my actual ‘mind’ had disappeared from the difficulty of the climb. I became engulfed in the Mantra, which had filled my soul so beautifully every day I had been trekking in Nepal…

My strides became light and easy. My body felt warmer. My mind focused.

Soon we began to approach people on a descent. They were coming down way to soon to have already made the summit. Many people were getting too sick from the altitude. For others, the steep ascent was too much strain on their bodies. Eventually we approached two familiar men, who we had met a few days before. They were in debate. Two very recently retired friends had decided to make the climb together. One of them had recently had a serious knee operation just three weeks prior to the climb. The trek up to the base camp, that morning and the previous day, involved a lot of ascent and descent on rough terrain. His knee was in rough shape even the day before and I had worked on it for him at the base camp when we arrived. He casually informed me that he was feeling mild altitude sickness, however his knee was feeling surprisingly well. I was amazed to say the least. His friend was not doing well and was considering turning back due to the altitude.

We continued on. Slowly but surely. The summit was in view now, as the sky was beginning to lighten and the stars began to fade. We passed more and more people who had turned back. The wind was so strong it was a struggle to stand up without losing your balance. I had no fear, and a surprisingly strong sense of determination, I was still subconciously repeating the mantra silently to myself.

As the hours passed, we slowly made our way toward the summit. At 6:03 am the sun exploded over the horizon and we danced in celebration as we reached the official summit! The ‘celebration’ and quick photo shoot lasted about three minutes, as the extreme cold broke through our adrenaline rush. I could literally feel the bitter cold in my bones. My eye lashes we frozen. Before long, we were making our descent.

Quick celebration shot at the official summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro!!! I can’t even open my eyes it’s so bright and windy!
This is our view from the photo above!
The white floor below the lower peak is a gorgeous bed of clouds.
The summit day climb required 18 continuous hours of trekking, on basically no sleep. After making it down to camp that night, you end up finishing the trek the next day making it all the way back to the entrance of the park (it took 4 days to get to the base camp!). Needless to say, I fulfilled my craving for strenuous exertion. I also realized that my limit on days without a shower of any sort is 6…(enough said).
When we made it back to the park entrance, our friends from Massachusetts found us (including the man who had serious knee surgery three weeks prior to the climb). His beautiful excitement made my day! His knee had held on for the entire climb, he summitted the mountain and was absolutely ecstatic and expressed great gratitude for my ‘skills in healing his knee’ when it was giving him a lot of trouble the night before the summit. His primary complaint was that he had forgotten to trim his toenails prior to the huge descent that day – big mistake!! Unfortunately, his friend suffered a great deal of altitude sickness and was unable to make the summit.
I must give Bryan a HUGE shout out for taking pretty much every photo that required your hands to be out of your gloves (along with some others)! Regardless of the temperature, everywhere there was an opportunity for a spectacular photo – he took it. Thank you for preserving the memories!
Hahaha! So apparently Tanzanian men don’t smile! This is our ‘climbing team’ …required for entrance into the park. I could go into quite a bit of detail about our experience finding this team in particular and how the whole process works. If you’re interested in climbing the mountain, contact me for some important details. Otherwise, we’ll just keep it all a positive flow and give a big THANK YOU for their support in a successful summit and descent of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Traditional Farmers Market in Moshi, Tanzania.

Of course I jumped into this gorgeous waterfall pool!
 …about 5 seconds after the photo was taken.

Traditional Tanzanian living hut of the Chagga Tribe. This hut housed a family of 4-5 people. Mom and Dad sleep in seperate beds, mom sleeps with the daughter. A seperate hut is made for when the father would like to be with his wife. Their cow also sleeps in the hut (their most valuable posession). Dad’s bed is right next to the door so he can ward off attackers attempting to steal his cow.
Upon the return to sea level in Moshi, I sat in a coffee shop to enjoy a drink and educate myself on current affairs in Tanzania. The second page of the newspaper held this article…
For anyone interested, I did take photos of the article which allow you to read the entire thing. The big picture: there is not enough food in Tanzania to feed everyone. Many people cannot afford to buy the food that does exist and poverty engulfs the country. This is the solution that has arisen. Post a comment if you’d like 😉
All in all – Moshi was an ‘interesting’ experience. Summitting Mt. Kilimanjaro was a priceless endeavor. The traditional culture of Tanzania is beautiful in many ways…their music, the farmers’ work ethic and their deep creativity, to say the least. Yet, the overall feeling of the larger cities and towns in Tanzania, which have been effected by modern perceived media, have a very different vibe. Many of the males look at ‘white’ females in ways that make you feel terribly uncomfortable. There is an abundance of garbage in many areas and scamming tourists has turned into the trade of choice for many. It becomes a necessary practice of putting yourself in the locals shoes to really obtain the most from the experience. Tanzania is an adventure that should be taken with a partner and a conscious decision to make the best of every experience and situation you encounter along your journey.
***NOTE: for all of the blogs posted, if you click on any photo in the blog, it allows you to simply scan through the photos at full screen size. (I just figured this out – probably common knowledge to most.) The photos look a lot better that way.***
Please send me an email if you have suggestions for the viewing of this blog. I’m quite knew and just focusing on sharing my experiences with anyone interested. <3
Keep an eye out for the next post: and important commentary about volunteering with the children at the Polio Hostel in Tanzania – the most intense and challenging experience of my life. Yes…so much more difficult than climbing this mountain.

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