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…
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: www.woolsports.com. THANK YOU ERIC!!
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!
Traditional Farmers Market in Moshi, Tanzania.
…about 5 seconds after the photo was taken.