On January 5th, 2001, two friends and I departed the San Francisco Bay Area for Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. When asked why I climbed the mountain, my usual answer is, "Uh... I don't know...", because my discovery Kilimanjaro was pure serendipity (my friend Munira had made the initial suggestion, but was later unable to go). I roped Wally into the trip by buying him an airplane ticket, and Margo became interested after the trip came up randomly at work one day.
I've heard Mt. Kilimanjaro called the "most underestimated mountain in the world." It's nicknamed "the mountain that glitters" and "the place where God lives". Most people think it's easy because it's not a technical climb; after all, it's simply a hike straight up and down (more or less) the mountain. However, as we discovered, the effects of fatigue and altitude were very real. Luckily, my friends were very supportive prior to my trip: "You're insane." "You're going to die." "Can I have your car if you don't come back?" I love having supportive friends. Here's a good page detailing high altitude discomfort. One sickness it fails to detail is HAFE (High Altitude Flatus Expulsion). We discovered that it is, in fact, a legitimate sickness.
After doing a little research on the web, we almost randomly booked a climb on the Machame route. It's commonly called the "Whiskey" route, while the easier Marangu route is known as the "Coca-Cola" route. This turned out to be a great decision; the Marangu route seemed to be a commercialized conveyor belt up to the top of the mountain -- crowded, with drinks for sale almost all the way up (!). On the Machame route, nights are spent in tents with no electricity or bathroom facilities, and we never saw more than two or three other groups camped after the first night.
This was my first digital-only photo trip. I lugged a Canon D30 Digital SLR, an assortment of "L" lenses, polarizer filters, and a Gitzo monopod/walking stick, packed into a Lowepro Street & Field Rover AW. It's rather ironic that for my first digital photo trip, I climbed a mountain so high that hard disks (for backup) don't spin up properly. I just had to pray that I had enough memory to last me until I descended. All of the photos on this site were taken with the above mentioned setup.
Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro via the the Machame route climb involves trekking approximately 50km over the course of 7 days. Since this was to be my first extended mountain hike, my first extended camping trip, and my first time at an altitude above 3000m, I had no idea how physically taxing it would be, nor how my body would react to being at altitude. My exercise routine involved two-hour kung fu classes twice a week, a few short day hikes, a single short hike at 2500m, and an attempt at regular morning walks up and down the hills near my house in San Francisco. Wally's routine involved going to the gym and using the stairmaster for four miles a day. I think he was more disciplined about getting in shape than I was.
Besides physical and mental preparation, there were a whole slew of other things that had to be taken care of before leaving:
- equipment purchase/organization
- visa for Tanzania (forms available from the Tanzanian Embassy)
- yellow Fever immunization (required for entry into Tanzania)
- malaria pill prescription (suggested)
- other immunization/booster shots
- travel insurance that covers high-altitude trekking (we used Worldwide Travellers)
Coupled with not really knowing what conditions on the mountain would be like, preparation occupied its fair share of my mental energy; it actually prevented my from going about my normal life during the few weeks prior to the climb. Here's a snippet from my journal entry from December 23, 2000:
"With less than two weeks remaining before we fly out of the Bay Area, I am finding myself filled with both excitement and worry. The last few days have been a frantic scramble to take care of 'loose ends', which unfortunately include important things like getting a visa for Tanzania and having five needles jammed into all my important arm muscles (for immunization/booster shots -- yellow fever, typhoid, hep A, polio booster, and tetanus). The shots have left me feeling on the verge of contracting deadly illness..."
Eric Cheng (myself)
Walter Tseng (friend from Stanford)
Margo Martinez (friend from work)
Alison Nicoll (lawyer, lives in Manhattan)
Guides: Alex Ulomi and Joseph ("Photo")
Porters: Andrew ("Master Voice"), Billiam, Edward (our cook), Freddy #1, Freddy #2, and 2 more whose names we never knew
Zainab Ansell ("Zara" of ZARA Tours)
Roger Ansell (Zainab's Swedish husband)
ITINERARY - MACHAME ROUTE
Text descriptions below were taken from EWP's web site.
Day 1: To Machame Hut
Hike time: 7.5 hrs, Elevation change: +1200 M
Estimated distance: 10km, Final elevation: 3100 M
*Drive to Machame village. The climb begins at the end of the tarmac road. Walk through shambas then forest to the Machame hut (3000m, about 6 hours).
Day 2: To Shira Hut
Hike time: 7 hrs, Elevation change: +800 M
Estimated distance: 6km, Final elevation: 3800 M
*Continue along the steep ridge going on to rock ridges and through heather. The route turns west into a river gorge, reaching Shira hut at 3800m, 5 hours.
Day 3: To Barranco Hut
Hike time: 5 hrs, Elevation change: +100 M
Estimated distance: ?, Final elevation: 3900 M
*Continue east towards Kibo passing the junction, then east towards the Lava Tower. Shortly after this, you descend to Barranco hut (3940m, 4 hours).
Day 4: To Karanga Valley
Hike time: 3.5 hrs, Elevation change: +100 M
Estimated distance: 4km, Maximum elevation: 4590 M
Final elevation: 4000 M
*A short scramble to the top of the Great Barranco and then a traverse over scree and ridges to the Karanga Valley (4000m, 3 hours), beneath the icefalls of the Heim, Kersten and Decken Glaciers.
Day 5: To Barafu Hut
Hike time: 3.5 hrs, Elevation change: +600 M
Estimated distance: 4km, Final elevation: 4600 M
*After climbing out of the Karanga Valley the trail ascends a ridge to the Barafu Hut, a bleak location with little vegetation at 4600m, (3 hours walking).
Day 6: Summit to Uhuru peak and descent via Mweka route to Mweka Hut
Summit time: 7 hrs, Elevation change: +1300 M
Estimated distance: 5km, Final elevation: 5895 M
Descent time: 5 hrs, Elevation change: -2800M
Estimated distance: 12km, Final elevation: 3100 M
*An early start for the ascent to the rim of the Kibo Crater between the Rebmann and Ratzel Glaciers, (4 hours); the last section before the rim can sometimes be snow-covered and an ice-axe or ski stick is useful for balance. From here a further hour leads to Uhuru Peak, from where there are often fine views of Meru to the west and the jagged peak of Mawenzi to the east. Descend to the Barafu Hut for a rest and lunch before continuing on down to camp at Mweka Hut in the giant heather zone on the forest edge. Those with energy on the summit may wish to descend to the Reutsh Crater and visit the dramatic ice pinnacles of the Eastern Icefields.
Day 7: Finish to Mweka gate
Descent time: 4 hrs, Elevation change: -1250M
Estimated distance: 10km, Final elevation: 1828 M
*A 3-4 hour descent through beautiful forest brings you to the Park gate and your waiting transport. Drive back to the hotel.
Most of my daypack consisted of heavy camera equipment. This was my first digital-only photo trip -- it's rather ironic that for my first digital photo trip, I climbed a mountain so high that hard disks (for backup) don't spin up properly. I just had to pray that I had enough memory to last me until I descended.
All of this equipment was packed into a Lowepro Street & Field Rover AW, except for the monopod, 100-400mm lens, and the equipment I brought for Margo and Wally (which they packed themselves). The monopod and the 100-400mm lens were packed in my big duffel bag, so I didn't actually get them until after I descended the mountain. The Rover AW worked well for me, although I found that the straps that hold the top of the backpack to the chest harness (it's a completely modular system) tended to slip over time, so I always had to adjust strap lengths a few hours into the hike to keep the bulk of the bag above my waist. The daypack area of the bag (the bottom of it is designed for camera equipment, while the top is deisgned for other miscellaneous gear) was small, but it did fit my small toothbrush/toiletries bag, my journal, a book, my bandana, a pack lunch, and random other stuff I crammed into there.
I want to explicitly thank Wally for carrying my extra water for me. I could only fit a single 1.5 liter water bottle in my bag (it sat precariously in an external lens holder attached to my waistbelt), so he carried about 1.5 liters of extra water for me every day.
Here's what I brought:
- Canon D30 Digital SLR body + 3 batteries [dcrp]
- Canon Elan SLR body - backup [review]
- Canon Elan batteries
- Gitzo monopod/walking stick (didn't get to use -- in luggage)
- Canon EF 17-35mm f/2.8L USM lens [review]
- Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 lens [review]
- Canon EF 28-70mm f/2.8L USM lens [review]
- Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens [review]
- Canon Speedlite 550EX flash + 2 sets of batteries [review]
- Compact Flash cards (Lexar 10X 256MB, Lexar 4X 32MB, Viking 64MB, Lexar 8X 128MB)
- Minds@Work Digital Wallet [review]
- Yashica T4 Super camera (for Margo) [review]
- T4 fresh batteries (2) (for Margo)
- 35mm film (for Margo)
- Sony DCR-PC100 Digital Camcorder + 2 batteries (for Wally) [review]
- battery charger for D30, digital wallet, camcorder
- Small pillowcase with zipper (to fill with beans), for camera support on safari
- 4 extra AA Lithium batteries
- polarizing filters (58mm, 72mm)
- zing camera case
- lens wipes
- lens brush
Shooting exclusively digital was fantastic, especially on the safari part of our trip. With a 256MB card, I could shoot roughly 180 shots before switching cards. It was a bit nerve-wracking to know that I couldn't back up the shots on to the Digital Wallet until I descended below 10,000 feet, but everything worked out pretty well. However, I did have condensation problems and had to be very careful taking the camera out of my pack when I was in the tent. A few times, I had to put the camera in a large zip-lock bag outside in the cold before bringing it in the warmer tent. The one time I failed to do this, the camera immediately became covered in little droplets of water, which rendered it (well, the lens) useless for a day and a half. Luckily, this happened immediately upon returning to Barafu hut from the summit, so I was able to use it at the summit. The camcorder had similar condensation problems. It's smart enough to disable itself if you try to power it on while wet.
I spent a lot of time thinking about what I "needed" for this trip. In retrospect, I packed much, much more than I needed to successfully summit. The following is a list of the things that Wally and I bought with me in my daypack and rented from ZARA Tours, which was enough to summit in. The "Both" column lists items that both Wally and I had.
In practice, all you need is a daypack, a duffel bag, clothing, a hat, water purifying tablets, gloves, 3-4 liters worth of water bottles, moleskin, boots, dry camp shoes and socks, a flashlight, lithium batteries (alkaline batteries freeze -- it might be really cold), sunscreen, sunglasses, and perhaps a toothbrush. You should have insulated water bottles, or a heat pack for the summit ascent. It may be cold enough for the water in your pack to freeze. If you're a big hairy guy you should bring deodorant, too, but we Asian folk typically don't need it, so I was fine without it. :) Oh, gaiters are highly recommended. They keep mud out at the bottom and snow/gravel out at the top.
Equipment (brought in daypacks):
Stuff both Wally and I brought: convertible nylon pants, sunglasses, glasses, contact lenses, lens solution, lotion, toothbrush, water purifying tablets, toothpaste, cipro, lariam, daypack, journal, lighter, passport, yellow fever doc, wallet, cash
Stuff I brought: 1 cotton t-shirt, 1 thin cotton sweatshirt, 1 pair cotton boxers, 1 pair cotton socks, 1 cotton bandana, diamox, antibiotic eyedrops, camera equipment, LED flashlight, 6 AA lithium batteries, felt tip pens, compass/thermometer, book: altitude illness - prevention and treatment, 1 book, handwarmer packets (from margo), small flashlight (from margo), small trashbags (from margo)
Stuff Wally brought: 1 synthetic t-thirt, 1 synthetic long-sleeved shirt, 1 pair synthetic boxers, 1 pair cotton socks, 1 32 oz nalgene bottle, etrex summit gps, sony pc100 camcorder + accessories, 5 AA lithium batteries, baseball cap (discarded on day 3), 2 pens, 1 pencil, 1 book, housekeys, 1 small mesh bag, 2 zip lock bags, north face "sawtooth" shoes
Stuff we both rented: sleeping bag, balaclava, 2 pr. sweats, vinyl rain jacket, trekking pole, gaiters, boots, 2 pr. dr. seuss socks, 2 pr. gloves, pvc rain pants, fleece jacket, parka, water bottles, large duffel bag, sleeping pad
Stuff I also rented: sun hat, 2 pr. wool socks, scarf, thin fleece, large acrylic sweater, thin synthetic muscle shirt, (too small), thick pants
Stuff Wally also rented: 1 pr. wool socks, nylon pants
CLIMB - DAY 0 (JANUARY 7, 2001)
We arrived in Nairobi in the evening to find that our luggage didn't make it onto the airplane with us. We all experienced our first night sleeping under mosquito nets, but that didn't stop some critter from biting Wally about thirty times. You can see where the guy cruised around on his leg by following the red bumps.
In the morning, we went to the airport because we had been told that our bags would most likely be on the morning flight from Amsterdam, but they weren't on that flight either. "No problem," we were told. "Just because they didn't tell us your bags are on the way doesn't mean that the bags won't come [on the evening flight]." I called Zainab at ZARA Tours, and she advised us to take the 1:30pm shuttle to Moshi. She said, "no problem" -- our bags would be shuttled to Arusha and Moshi, and then hauled up the mountain by porters once they arrived. We were all very skeptical at this point, but not having any stinkin' bags wasn't going to stop us from enjoying our vacation, so we piled onto the Riverside shuttle and departed for Arusha. The road between Nairobi and Arusha is long and bumpy. In fact, sometimes, the road just ends for awhile before beginning again, for no apparent reason. At the border of Kenya and Tanzania, you have to present your passport and visa (if required) twice -- once on each side -- while being accosted by locals trying to sell you "authentic" Maasai knives and other crap. Being Asian, we got the typical, "Japanese!", yelled at us randomly. If we were Japanese, we would know it already, but since we're not, it only served as a minor (but not unexpected) annoyance. I'm not sure why locals in countries where tourism is the primary industry feel compelled to assert where they think you come from. Anyway, after some number of hours of being thrown around in the back of a bus, we arrived in Arusha, where we transferred to another van, destined for the Springlands B&B hotel. On the van, we met Alison and Nick, both Brits with similar aspirations to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Before arriving at the Springlands hotel, we stopped at the ZARA Tours headquarters, whose fascade blends in with the other buildings on the street (that means that it seemed to us that we were stopping in the middle of a dark street in an unfamiliar town. it didn't help our confidence level, despite knowing that ZARA is a reputable tour company). Zainab came out to meet us and to try to recruit Nick for the climb (he had taken a shuttle to Moshi without having booked a climb or safari). Anyway, after that we finally arrived at the Springlands hotel, and after washing up and eating dinner, we were briefed on the itinerary of our climbs. Alison had also signed up to climb via the Machame route, so she was to join our group (with her own guide) for the next week. After the briefing, we retired in our mosquito net-covered beds, dreaming (vividly because of the malaria pills) of lost luggage.
CLIMB - DAY 1 (JANUARY 8, 2001)
We woke up at the crack of dawn, which would become the norm over the next two weeks. If we had had our bags, we would have packed them up for the climb, but instead, we wandered around aimlessly for awhile and then walked out the door to the covered dining area for breakfast. Aside from fighting off a swarm of bees who wanted to share our food with us, breakfast was very good. You can actually see Kilimanjaro from the Springlands hotel on a clear day, but a clear day it was not, so were unable to see what we were in for. Looking back, I think that it was probably better that way, as we would have realized that Kilimanjaro is really big had we actually seen it.
After breakfast Alison, Margo, Wally and I were driven to ZARA headquarters, where we met our guides (Alex and Joseph "Photo"). We were taken to a dark, yellowing room stuffed with green canvas bags of miscellaneous clothing. A cat that I can only describe as being "mangy" was sleeping (or was unconscious) on the bed in the corner of the room. I usually reserve the word, "mangy", for dogs, but for this prime specimen I had to make an exception. Alex went through the bags looking for the gear we would need for the next two days on the mountain. We rented boots, gaiters, sweatshirts, jackets, sweatpants, socks, balaclavas, scarves, and gloves. One of the jackets Wally made out with was... fuzzy in an undescribably funny way. One of mine had lots of assorted hair attached to it. Not all of it was human hair (I eyed the cat suspiciously), which made me really excited to put it on. Luckily, my boots fit properly despite only being left with one-third of one inner sole (it was the heel portion of the left boot). On the way out, Zainab said, "No problem." Our bags would follow us up the mountain in a day or two.
It took 45 minutes to drive to the Machame gate from Moshi. During the drive, we stopped (for food?), and I noticed some meat hanging from a store-front window. The meat still had a tail and looked strangely like a dog, so... I voiced my observation to the others. Alex overheard us and corrected me. (laughing) "It's not dog! Goat!"
We arrived at the Machame gate just after noon to find many porters standing around, presumably waiting for their respective climbing parties to arrive. We signed in, and were off into the rain forest! The canopy of trees was thick, and our entire field of view was blanketed with the textured green of hundreds of thousands of small leaves.
After hiking upwards for awhile, it became apparent that we were quickly going to be really, really dirty. It started to drizzle, and we all (except Wally) gingerly picked our way along to avoid having our boots sucked off by deep mud. Wally decided to go the direct route (hereafter referred to as the "Wally way") and sloshed right through the small, connected pools of mud that dotted the trail. Every once in awhile, we would hear the familiar sucking sound that indicated that someone had stepped somewhere where the mud was deep enough to create extreme suction between boot and mud. It was about now that my right boot filled with water and I noticed that the sole was coming off at the front. *sigh*
We stopped for lunch a few hours after starting the hike, and I took out my camera for the first time since leaving. It had started to rain pretty hard, which made me think back to the "we never have rain in January" comments I heard from all of the locals upon arriving. Lunch consisted of buttered toast, a hard-boiled egg, some fruit, and a small bag of peanuts. Both Wally and I were soaked from the waist down because we were unable to wear our vinyl ponchos (their breathability rating was somewhere around 0%), and had instead draped them over our heads and packs. My boots had long since stopped repelling water, and I already had a blister on the fourth toe of my right foot. Margo was wearing her poncho. I was worried because she looked pretty wet and might have been overheating by wearing it.
The remainder of the rain forest was painful. My quads, which were unaccustomed to such long, extended uphill hikes, cramped up (only once, luckily), and I started to use my nylon pants as a napkin every time my hands became muddy from grabbing onto something. Alison gave me some moleskin and tape for my blister. I really think I wouldn't have made it if I hadn't had moleskin, so she gets credit for keeping me going. :)
We made it to Machame hut at dusk, after trekking for more than seven hours. The porters had (of course) beaten us to camp, and our tents were already pitched. To our surprise, we found an extra tent with a table and chairs in it for us to dine in! I couldn't believe it. On the table were bags of tea, Milo "Energy Drink" (translation: hot chocolate), sugar, hot sauce, a thermos of hot water and a plate full of biscuits and popcorn, which we devoured hungrily. It quickly became dark, and we started to worry about Margo. She had fallen behind (but was accompanied by Alex), while we trudged ahead with Photo. After two hours of waiting in darkness, porters were sent back down the trail with flashlights to look for them. Finally, we heard Margo's voice at around 10:30pm. She was completely soaked and seemed a bit frazzled -- almost in shock, from exertion and being covered head-to-toe in mud. I can only imagine how unpleasant it was to hike for three hours through a rain forest in the dark. After chatting briefly, we retired to our tents. I was thoroughly unused to the dank musty smell that permeated everything (including Wally's socks, which I named "Acidic Death". heh...). Combined with the altitude, I just could not fall asleep. I finally dozed off around 4am, only to wake up with the light of dawn.
"I'm really excited, and my confidence in what we can do is increasing. Everything in our control I think we can handle, and the other things... well, there's nothing we can do about them." - Wally, 11:14pm, referring to our current lack of luggage
"Oh! I can't believe I forgot to mention the RIVERS OF MUD that we had to sludge through today. The mud was just incredibly nasty and sticky. Alex told us that we were lucky that there wasn't too much mud. What the hell?!? I can't even imagine trudging through more mud than we did today. Even the porters were having problems. Granted, they were carrying huge bags and baskets on their heads, but it was good to see that they are human, too. My rental boots are soaking wet, which does not bode well for tomorrow. If our luggage doesn't arrive by tomorrow evening, my feet may not survive another day.
"Whoah! Some dude just let out a huge ripper -- a clear symptom of HAFE! (High Altitude Flatulus Expulsion)." - excerpt from my journal, 11:14pm
CLIMB - DAY 2 (JANUARY 9, 2001)
After waking up, we were treated to a big breakfast that included lots of greasy fried stuff at the end. Wally was starting to complain about the eggs by this point, but we made him eat them anyway. Altitude does bad things to your appetite. It almost becomes painful to eat enough food. Margo turned back (with Alex) in the morning, so it's just the three of us, Photo, and the porters, from this day on. Even though we were out of the rain forest already, the ground was still muddy and slippery. Apparently, we were in moorlands. I had never been in moorlands before, so I didn't really know what to expect. The trees and vegetation had already started to thin out at this altitude (many were only left with dead branches due to a fire three years ago), and we frequently were enveloped in luminous white mist.
"My right thumb is still numb/tingly from pinching a nerve using my trekking pole. The hike today took us about 4.5-5 hrs. It wasn't too bad, except for the last half hour or so, when the rain gods decided to unleash a storm of sleet upon us. Sleet doesn't feel good against bare skin. Neither Wally nor I have our waterproof shells, so we draped our rental rain gear (which is nearly impossible to hike in because it's not breathable) over our heads/packs cape-style. Wally decided to run to the campsite, while I stuck with our slow-but-frantic pace. It's amazing how much a motivating factor weather can be. When we arrived at Shira Hut we discovered that our tents had been laid out on wet tarps, so it looks like we're going to be very uncomfortable tonight. Wally developed a bad headache -- the third headache in his life (!) -- from his extreme exertion at altitude during the end of today's hike. I think he's going to try to take it more slowly from this point on. He knows that he should be going slowly, but it goes against everything he knows. Our guide and porters had tea ready for us, like yesterday. They also gave us popcorn and peanuts, but since we actually beat some of the porters up today, it took some time before everything was ready. Both Wally and I were soaked from the rain, and standing around in the cold was pretty miserable. Soon afterwards... the sun emerged from hiding for about twenty minutes. We ran around like excited ants laying everything that was wet out on the tents, on small rocks, and on bushes. It's amazing how quickly things dry up here in the sun! Oh -- it's starting to rain. I'm going inside our tent. On the way up today our guide "Photo" chatted with Alison about soccer. It's the most animated I've seen him. Later on he accidentally broke the thermos we use for hot water and tea. We all felt really bad for him because he looked so sad! Both Alison and Wally are lying down, hoping their headaches go away. Mine seems to be in recession finally, but if I exert myself in any way it comes back immediately. Argh. This rental jacket has HAIR all over it. Some of it looks human, but I think the cat who was sleeping on the bed at ZARA's rental place may have used it as a bed at some point.
"Shira Hut looks rather exposed. There's a fierce wind that comes over the top of the ridge we're sitting on, and we're constantly being overtaken by thick clouds. I think it will drop below freezing tonight. I wish we had our gear!! The absolute silence here is punctuated by the constant chattering of the porters. Swahili flows well -- it's neat to listen to...
"Alison keeps comparing me to her ex-boyfriend. I guess we must be similar. It's refreshing for me to meet someone as adventurous as she is! It's been a pleasure to travel with her...
"If our luggage arrives, it will arrive the day after tomorrow, or on day 5. Hopefully Wally and I can stick it out until then. If it doesn't arrive by then, we'lll turn back." -excerpt from my journal, 4:30pm
In the evening I took diamox, and learned first-hand that diamox + lots of tea = peeing every half an hour. (Diamox increases one's rate of breathing., and is a diuretic. Wally couldn't take any because he's allergic to sulfa. I was prescribed 500mg doses, but I only took 250mg at a time because I was afraid that it would make me throw up). Dinner was very good, and even though I was very hungry, my appetite was easily whetted, and by the end of the meal I was forcing food down. I only managed to get two hours of sleep in the evening. In retrospect, I think that it was both the altitude and the caffeine in the tea I was drinking that was keeping me up. No mo' tea after today.
CLIMB - DAY 3 (JANUARY 10, 2001)
The hike today was very beautiful. We are above the tree line now, so the vegetation consists only of little shrubs, white, festive looking plants, and these strange cactus/palm tree things. They're really strange. There are huge, sweeping lava/glacier flows dotted with lots of small rocks and the occasional enormous boulder. Along the way, we were fortunate to catch some nice views of the cloud layer and land below (we're above one horizontal slice of clouds), and an enormous snow-covered mound rises imposingly upwards when we look back towards the peak. We'll be circling it for two more days before shooting straight up it, but it still looks intimidating.
One thing I should mention is that I was excited to have snagged a pair of 50% synthetic, 50% cotton sweat pants at the rental place. I was excited because it was one of the few things I had that was not all cotton. Never mind that it had holes in the crotch, and that it was bright orange. I wore it today. Unfortunately, I discovered that was, in fact, an evil piece of clothing. In the evening I developed a horrible, horrible rash.
"I've never had a rash as bad as the one I have now. I must be allergic to something. Whatever it is, it's not pleasant. It started as some small bumps near where my waistline is -- where my pack rested. As I scratched it, [the bumps] grew and grew until they merged into gigantic raised patches. It's like armor or something. I now have similar rashes on my ankles, neck, and shoulders -- everywhere there was any rubbing or irritation. Argh! Along with the freezing temperature and wetness, I am really experiencing extreme discomfort. Today's trek was absolutely beautiful, with spectacular views of the peak. The porters, cook, and Photo are talking away loudly. We've noticed that they never seem to stop. I wish I could understand them. OK. I'm getting very cold -- going to try to sleep."
- excerpt from my journal, 7:30pm
"I am up from having to go to the bathroom in the freezing cold. This sweatshirt I got from Wally is much more comfortable than the one I was wearing yesterday. I was warm all night (unlike last night). The rash has mostly gone away, except for around my feet (ankles), where it still itches. I wish I had soap and water to wash with! I think I have mild diarrhea, too. I'll take some cipro in the morning. Wally and I had a great history lesson on Tanzania from Photo last night. He is well educated, and has had much frustration trying to get more education (had to raise money for bribes that haven't done anything to get him into college). It's sad to see someone limited by factors outside his control."
- excerpt from my journal, 4:40am
CLIMB - DAY 4 (JANUARY 11, 2001)
We awoke to an incredible view from Barranco hut, which sits overlooking a valley and has a nice, unbroken view of the surrounding land. The clouds parted briefly, and a sky of the purest blue shone through for just a little while. To our right (when facing the mountain), we could see "breakfast hill" -- which looked like a sheer wall dotted with small, moving forms (porters from the two or three other camps on our same schedule). It was hard to imagine that we would be scrambling up it in the next few hours.
The hike ended up taking about 3.5 hours, and wasn't too bad, except for the rain. The barren terrain seemed to almost always be shrouded in a moving mist, which ranged fron being thin and wispy -- similar to what would rise off of a calm lake at dawn -- to being thick and wet. It was so wet that I could only take my camera out once to snap two quick photos.
"Our tent is warm! 60°F. Wally is opening the tent exit now, so that warmth is temporary. I'm trying to get my polarizers on my lenses, so I have to warm the lenses up slowly, sealed in zip-lock bags, to avoid having them fog up from condensation. I can't believe I forgot to put them on before today! There's so much light reflecting off of the little cloud droplets -- all of the photos might have been more clear, I think. Oh well. We're at the halfway point between Barranco and Barafu. It's raining, of course. Wally and I are eagerly awaiting the supposed arrival of our gear. Tomorrow we head to Barafu, sleep until midnight, and begin the longest day of the climb, to the summit! We're being called to lunch now, but I'm missing my dry tennis shoes, which were packed in the bag the porters were carrying. No dry shoes! Wally is out looking for them now. I hope they just took it out of the bag by mistake because it doesn't look like the rest of the clothing in there. In fact, the bag it's in was originally theirs, so it is an easy mistake to imagine. 1:29pm
"OK. Got my shoes back. We just had a satisfying lunch, and are again in our tents resting and waiting for the rain to stop. It appears to stop in the evenings and for a few hours each morning. Wally has decided to attempt to summit even if our bags don't arrive. I guess it can't hurt to try, although we definitely don't have the proper equipment (enough insulated water bottles, flashlights). We'll just hope for equipment. Most of the climb thus far has been mental, so I have hope that we'll summit. Photo told us that assuming that none of us get sick, we'd all make it to the top. He thinks we're fit enough. It's raining pretty hard now. When will it stop?! Hopefully it will stop by the time I have to go pee. I wonder what Margo is doing... Oh my god. The rain is really coming down now. I don't envy the 6-day Machame route folk, who are still climbing upwards towards Barafu right now. In nine short hours they will be roused for the summit trek. All three of us are acclimitizing well, and none of us have headaches or are breathing hard at rest anymore. We'll have spent three nights at roughly 4000 meters before ascending to Barafu (4600 meters) for 10-11 hours of rest (before summitting). Wow -- this journal is not satisfying to write in. My mind feels cloudy and everything emerging from my pen sounds inane.
"We trekked today through valleys of shale carved out by lava. The terrain seemed so alien, and was a great contrast from the muddy rain forest we trekked through just a few days ago. By chance, Alison is also currently reading Murakami's Norwegian Wood, which was neat to discover. On the path today we saw numerous broken thermoses. I guess it's not unusual to break them; they're made of glass inside, and the path was pretty steep and rocky at times. It's raining so hard I can no longer hear the porters talking. I can also see a little river of water between the tent and the tarp it's laid out on... wait a minute. What a crappy place to put a tent! There's a channel on my side where water is flowing. On top of all of this, I still have to go pee. (Wally and I got out of the tent to dig new flow channels around the it. Oh, and it turned out that the channel of water on my side came from water flowing onto the inner layer of the tent, down a single zipper that wasn't zipped all the way shut.)"
-excerpt from my journal, 3:04pm
Sleep came easily for me this evening. It became much easier to sleep after I started taking diamox, presumably because I was no longer oxygen starved from normal breathing patterns while sleeping. Wally didn't fare as well, and wasn't really able to sleep (or eat) during the entire climb. By last night, Wally's sleeping bag was completely soaked from water coming in from under the tent. I was more fortunate -- my bag was only damp. Each day we slept in whatever clothing needed drying the most. Nothing dries on the mountain unless you sleep with it on and let body heat do its magic. [next section]
CLIMB - DAY 5 (JANUARY 12, 2001)
What a miserable day! As usual, we woke up and waited for the sun to rise. A little while after we started hearing the porters chat, Alex poked his head into our tent. After taking Margo down to the gate on the morning of day two, he had turned around and headed back up the mountain (using a different route -- the Umbwe route, I believe) to catch up to us. He informed us regretfully that our luggage had not arrived. I still can feel the sinking feeling I had when he uttered those words. Luckily, we had already decided that we should attempt to summit regardless of whether our bags showed up or not, so it wasn't too much of a blow. However, he did tell us that Margo's bag had arrived, and was on its way up the mountain on day two (they intercepted them on the way down) (!). How ironic is that? (We found out when we got back that Margo and Alex had spent half an hour on the mountain separating out everything that could have been useful to Wally and me. They sent it up in a bag with a porter, but we never received it. I can only imagine how happy I would have been to get another pair of socks!! *sigh*)
I have developed a horrible pain in my left lung -- it is a sharp, stabbing pain upon inhalation. This does not seem like a good thing. The hike to Barafu hut took about 3.5 hours. At least two hours of it involved sleet, snow, and wind. Even though Wally and I had decided to attempt to summit, it took all of my willpower to keep my spirits up. I was cold, cold, cold, and my boots had really started to fall apart, which made my feet even colder than they had been before. (Un)Fortunately, there's no way they could have been wetter, since they were already completely waterlogged. I didn't get any pictures of the hike, or of Barafu camp because conditions were so bad. On the way, Alex pointed out a grassy area where an American tourist had died from pulmonary edema. We found out later that the tourist had been in his climbing group. Scary.
Our campsite was located on a rocky outcropping. When we arrived, we huddled under some rocks that were jutting out of the cliff wall and watched the porters try to put the tents up with heavy snow falling all around us. Some of them weren't wearing gloves -- they must have been freezing! Anyway, eventually the tents went up, and we crawled inside, leaving our wet jackets and backpacks outside to "dry". It took awhile to warm up, but eventually we settled down. Lunch was brought to us (it really was a luxury because I don't think I would have ventured outside the tent to eat), and we tried to get some sleep in anticipation of the evening summitting attempt. Water rendered the one watch the guides and porters had inoperable, so I volunteered mine to use as an alarm clock.
"[Today] wasn't worth writing about, because... it sucked. We started hiking pretty late -- 9:20am -- towards Barafu hut, and caught the brunt of a horrible downpour that lasted two of the three and a half hours we hiked. Argh. Needless to say, our tents were very wet. Wally's sleeping bag soaked through yet again (the tarp was wet, which made the sleeping pad wet, which soaked his bag, so he wasn't very happy). Getting into the tent everyday poses a perplexing problem: how do you place the things you value such that they don't get wet? Anyway, we were brought lunch at 3pm, and then dinner at 5:30pm. I took diamox sometime around dusk..."
- excerpt from my journal
Wally and I made a Top-10 Equipment wishlist today. Clearly, he's less of a whiner than I am.
1. Boots that aren't falling apart
2. Shell jacket
3. Shell pants
4. Dry wool socks (had dreams about these!)
5. Synthetic shirts
6. Synthetic pants
7. Better gloves
10. Nalgene bottles
1. Shell top
3. Wool socks
4. Shell bottom
5. Snack food
6. Petzl headlamp
CLIMB - DAY 6 (JANUARY 13, 2001)
"Just before midnight, we awoke to Alison puking up all of the pasta she had eaten just a few hours earlier. We all got dressed in slightly damp clothing (I *had* to put those nasty orange crotchless sweatpants on again -- too cold!) and started trekking to the top! Luckily, I was feeling great. The pain in my left lung had subsided, my rash had gone away completely, and the brisk, thin air made me feel energized. Soon after leaving, Alison started throwing up again. She had tried to drink some tea, but her body disagreed with her, and it came right back up. Alex and Photo decided that we should split up, because Alison was not feeling well and had to take a slower pace.
"Almost three hours into our trek, Wally stopped and decided to turn back. He was in a lot of pain due to a lower back problem, and despite a valient effort, could not go on. Alison and Photo were nowhere in sight by this point. Oh -- I should mention that this is all occurring by the light of the moon, which had been full only four days earlier (we missed the lunar eclipse that happened that day, unfortunately!). Anyway, so it was pretty surreal. The ground was snow covered, and it sort of shone with a ghastly illumination. Alex turned back with Wally, and I hitched a ride with a guide named "August", who was leading a woman named Lynn from British Columbia. Her two companions had already turned back due to nausea. She gave me a powerbar, which was a nice gesture. Trying not to break any teeth, I ate half of it (it was frozen like a brick). Alex caught up shortly after (he had led Wally back down to where the path became obvious again, but it took him TWO HOURS to find our tent once he reached the camp site, because we were tucked under the cliff wall on an outcropping... at one point he laid down in the muddy snow and debated going to sleep, before waking someone up and asking them for help), and we continued upwards ahead of August and Lynn. It was really, really amazing to be on the mountain trekking in moonlight. It was completely silent. Nothing is alive at that altitude, and no one was around except for me and Alex. For some reason, I periodically stopped and whispered, "it's so quiet," perhaps to reassure myself that noise other than our rhythmic shuffling was possible. At some point, four large men decked out in North Face gear came careening down the mountain at high velocity. One of them slammed into me and almost knocked me backwards down the slope. I would have been upset, except that I turned around and noticed that he was laying in the snow motionless. His buddies crowded around him as we continued upwards...
"At around dawn, we reached Stella point, which sits on the ridge leading to Uhuru peak. Maybe 45 minutes before, Alex had pointed up at it, which had flooded me with relief. After six days of hiking, the end was near! The mountainside up to Stella's point was steep and snow covered. I kept slipping, and it was impossible to move faster than a snail's pace without becoming short of breath. The sun hadn't come up yet, so the unearthly purple glow from the horizon combined with the strong moonlight lit up the snow in the most amazing way. I'd never seen anything like it. The clouds stretched in almost every direction as far as the eye could see, like millions of cottonballs fused together with a warm pink glue. Kilimanjaro's other peak towered above the clouds just a short distance away, along with the ridge I was standing on. The sun rose while I was making my way from Stella point to Uhuru peak (the highest point). At this point the Machame route merges with the Marangu route, so I met up with a few other travellers here who had taken the other, more popular route. It took me a long time to get to Uhuru peak because I kept getting distracted and was shooting lots of photos. By the time I reached the peak at 7:10am, it was completely deserted. We convinced an Argentinian guy decked out in a yellow Northface body suit to turn around and take our photo together (Alex and me), and he was nice enough to comply. At the peak there was a Tanzanian flag, a sign, and some big metal boxes with a summit log in them. The wind was biting here, and it didn't take long for my face and hands to become numb. Oh yeah -- on the way back down, I saw a spider in the snow. It was really strange. What does it eat? Anyway, the peak made me feel like I was standing on top of the world.
"After celebrating for a few minutes, we turned around and started back towards Stella point. Level and slightly downhill terrain enabled us to make good time, but as soon as the ground sloped upwards even a little bit, we slowed to a crawl. As we reached Stella point, we ran into Alison and Photo! Alison looked pretty miserable, but she had a good attitude about summitting and was excited to have made it. We all broke out cameras, took some pictures, and parted our separate ways. Oh yeah -- at Uhuru peak, the Argentinian guy's guide congratulated me for finished the whiskey trail. "Japanese usually do not do the whiskey trail." *sigh* It took Alex and me less than 2.5 hours to make it back down to Barafu hut. I was pretty unhappy on the hike back. We were going really fast, it was raining hard, and my knees and ankles were hurting. The sun was beating down on me, and even though it could only get to my eyes through the little crack between my sunglasses and my forehead, it gave me a headache. Alex took a rather nasty spill (spun around twice and hit a rock) that spilled blood, and he didn't figure out that there were sunglasses in Wally's bag until we were half way down already..."
-excerpt from my journal, 10:13am
"We're at Mweka hut now, listening to Andrew ("Master Voice") yell: "Billiam!" "Ueh!" (the reply) "Billiam!!" "Ueh!" (the reply). Apparently, Billiam is the whipping boy of the group. He gets nagged to do everything. By now our tent has the mustiest smell I've ever encountered. Yuck. The hike from Barafu was much longer than I had expected, and of course, it rained every minute of it. A few hours into the hike, Alex pointed off to some white specks a few hills and valleys of jungle away and said, "You can see Mweka hut from here. That's where we're going." It was a horrible feeling to look so far off in the distance and to imagine the trek required to get there. Wally took off with Photo early in the descent, and beat us to Mweka hut by almost 45 minutes.
"My boots are soaked, as usual. Tomorrow, I sacrifice my pair of dry camp socks for the rain forest trek back to a clean world. I've already safrificed all my dry pants, which is why I'm wearing a wet pair right now to go to bed. The only dry one is the nasty orange one that gives me rashes. It's now being used as a rag. :) This camping area is really, really muddy. I'm sure tomorrow's rain forest trek will be disgusting as well, but the pot of gold (a shower) waiting at the other end may be enough to put us all in good spirits. If our gear isn't at the hotel, I'm going to be pissed. Oh! Also, we met a gang of British Army dudes. They're hilarious. Let's see... there was Richie (30 years in the army, and counting), Kenny (medic -- the guy who almost knocked me off of the mountain while trying to descend. he had severe Acute Mountain Sickness), Andy (weapons specialist), and six others we didn't get to meet. They had funny nicknames for their guides ("Jocko" and "Helmet") and were a blast to meet and have drinks with. Mweka hut actually has huts to sleep in (not for us, but for some of the others). They sell drinks here too. Weird. Everyone's going to sleep now. We're going to leave at 6am tomorrow (yeah, right). Andrew was particularly talkative tonight. He told us what we were being served for dinner, and thanked us for dinner. Tips are near, I guess.
"I can't wait to get out of here. The climb was amazing, and I'm glad for the experience. However, right now, I'm cold, wet, dirty, and... I just want a clean shower and a change of clothes! OK -- going to bed now. After I wake up I'll be 4-4.5 hrs from checking out of Kili!"
-excerpt from my journal, night time (lost my watch)
CLIMB - DAY 7 (JANUARY 14, 2001)
"Back at the hotel! The shower I just took was the best shower I've ever taken."
-excerpt from my journal, mid-afternoon
The last day's hike dragged on for a long time. Like the first day, there were some extended mud lakes that required hanging on to trees to get around, and it was extremely slippery. Luckily, it didn't rain, so we didn't have to deal with mud that potentially could have been flowing. Like day one, I eventually started just walking through the mud and water. There was just no point in trying to gingerly pick my way through. My gaiters were tied closed with twine because the velcro was so caked with mud that they refused to stick anymore, and because the zippers didn't work. The sole on my right boot was now half-way off, flopping around. "It looks like a fish mouth," said Alex. Roots jutting horizontally off the ground would periodically get stuck in between my sole and the rest of my boot (while walking), and it required a good deal of arm flailing and praying not to fall. The sole would also wrap under my foot occasionally (again, almost making me fall). I did fall four times, but they were minor slips. Some of the falls involved my trekking pole catching on plant-life and refusing to come loose without taking me down first. Both Wally and Alison had falls "with technical merit" (Alex was keeping score), which involved a few running/jumping steps followed by dives to the forest floor. Near the bottom the path became very slippery. The riverbed we were hiking down took on a red color -- like the rock formations in Sedona, Arizona -- and were coated with a thin flim of mud. Wally's stomp-like walking didn't fare so well there, so he was slipping all over the place.
When we arrived at Mweka gate, the British army unit guys were there to heckle us, with their freshly cleaned, shiny boots (there are locals at the bottom who offer to clean your boots for 200 schillings -- almost 27 cents). Anyway, so we signed out of the park, ate lunch, tipped the porters and guides, and were driven back to Springlands hotel.
I was given a fancy certificate for successfully reaching Gilman's Peak.
Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro was an amazing, amazing experience. It really pushed all of us to our limits, in terms of discomfort level, and even though it was physically taxing, it wasn't *that* bad. I felt fantastic when I woke up for the summit trek, and had no problems making it to the top. It's almost random whether your body will decide that it's unhappy at altitude. However, we met an older gentleman at the hotel who had trained every day for a long time in order to make it up the mountain, so it seems that the amount of exercise one should get to prepare for the climb increases with age.
Having our luggage never show up during the climb changed my perception of what is "necessary" for a trip like this. Almost everything I packed was not necessary, but it all would have made me a lot more comfortable. And, if there hadn't been a big bright moon, we might not have made it up on summit day because we didn't have suitable flashlights or headlamps to illuminate the way.
As a group of three, we tipped each porter $30, and the cook $40. They all applauded after being told their tip amounts, which made me feel uncomfortable. Wally and I tipped Alex $160, and Photo $120. Alison tipped Photo and Alex as well (Photo more, since he was her primary guide). Margo also tipped Alex for getting her down the mountain safely. Guides apparently do quite well in Tanzania's economy. We heard about a guide who was injured after five years of taking people up the mountain, but he had purchased a house for rental income during that time, so was able to not work while healing.
Photo's story saddened me. After finishing secondary school, he wanted badly to go to college. Despite having good grades, he was forced to bribe the admissions officials for a chance to attend. He started climbing the mountain as a porter to scrape up bribe money, but after handing over money twice, he was still not admitted (he expressed... mild unhappiness that students whose grades were not as good were getting in because they were wealthy, or had parents of higher status). Frustrated, he gave up and started as a guide. He had guided Kilimanjaro 25 times in the past, and really led clients with his heart. It was a pleasure to be in his company on Kilimanjaro.
Alex had been up Kilimanjaro over 100 times in his five years as a guide. He was competent, but didn't invest emotionally in us. Actually, he didn't invest anything in us, as he couldn't even remember our names. After the climb, he came to our hotel room to say hi (which was nice of him), and we had an awkward few moments recorded on video camera that showcased him as what you'd expect from a big fish in a little pond. Oh well. He got me up the mountain.
ZARA Tours did an excellent job, and it seems that they have a good thing going for them. At the Springlands hotel, we hung out for a few hours with Roger Ansell, Zainab's Swedish husband. He detailed for us their entire operation -- it was very interesting. I couldn't help feeling like I was special because I was suddenly a friend of "the family." I mean... they have a bullet-proofed car, and they live in a gated paradise in Moshi, complete with Maasai security guards. Anyway, so it was neat to get a behind-the-scenes verbal tour of how a tour company in Tanzania works.
I enjoyed getting to know Alison as well. She assured me that as a respectable lawyer in New York, she looks very different (Prada shoes!). If you know her personally, ask her about the slugs we saw near Mweka gate on the last day. They reminded us of something she liked to do on the mountain. Oh my god -- she's going to kill me when she reads this.
After the descent, I had a few residual, physical problems. My back was tingling along a stripe in my back just to the left of my spine (it has since gone away). I also have pinched a nerve in my right hand using the trekking pole -- pressure in between my thumb and first finger causes sharp, unpleasant tingling in my hand and thumb, and the tip of my thumb became numb after the first day on the mountain (it has since healed). The tip of my right big toe is still numb now (a month later). However, it's less numb than it was just after coming down the mountain, so I'm hopeful that the nerves are healing. After returning from Africa (after a week climb and a week safari), I was not able to eat anything for almost three days. I forced soup down my throat during that time, but it was pretty bad. I weighed myself, and discovered that I had lost ten pounds (!). Wally lost twenty pounds, but he had more than I had to lose, since he's a big guy. The physical repercussions weren't too bad, considering the accomplishment! I've heard of people losing toenails on the descent, so I count myself as fortunate.
So... go climb Kilimanjaro! It's one of the few, high mountains you can climb without being a "real" mountain climber. Our party consisted of a city-girl from New York and three Silicon Valley tech-heads, so... well, anyone can do it. :)
In order to gain entry into Tanzania, a validated yellow fever International Certificate of Vaccination is required. The CDC has a page detailing this requirement. In addition, I was given shots for typhoid fever, hepatitis C, tetanus, and rabies. I was also prescribed Mefloquine (brand name Lariam) for malaria, fluoroquinolones (Cipro) for diarrhea, antibiotic eye drops for eye infections, and I also brought advil, and acetazolamide (Diamox) for altitude.
Diamox controls fluid secretion, and is typically used to treat glaucoma. It's considered to be a sulfa drug, so if you're allergic to sulfa, you probably shouldn't take it. Diamox's side effects are listed as: change in taste, diarrhea, increase in amount or frequency of urination, loss of appetite, nausea, ringing in the ears, tingling or pins and needles in hands or feet, vomiting... and, (more rare): anemia, black or bloody stools, blood in urine, confusion, convulsions, drowsiness, fever, hives, liver dysfunction, nearsightedness, paralysis, rash, sensitivity to light, severe allergic reaction, skin peeling (!).
It sounds like a crazy drug, but in practice, I only noticed an increase in breathing rate and deepness, an increase in the amount and frequency of urination, a loss of appetite, and tingling and pins and needles in my hands and feet. It made me feel strange -- like I was slightly out of breath all the time, except that I didn't feel like it was from oxygen starvation.
Mefloquine is taken weekly, and has the following side effects: nausea, dizziness, difficulty sleeping, and vivid dreams. I experienced all of these up on the mountain, and had vivid dreams and nausea as soon as I started taking it (a week before the trip).
It's strange, because the side effects of extreme altitude are commonly listed as: headaches, hyperventilation, shortness of breath during exertion, increased urination, irregular breathing patterns at night, and insomnia. Symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) include loss of appetite, nausea, or vomiting, fatigue or weakness, dizziness or light-headedness, difficulty sleeping, confusion, and staggering gait.
See a trend here? Between the altitude, Lariam, and Diamox, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to properly diagnose AMS if I had nausea and started throwing up. But, you can pretty much expect to have mild-to-severe headaches, shortness of breath during exertion, hyperventilation, loss of appetite, and insomnia. Everyone in our group exhibited all of those symptoms, but they became less severe as the days went on because we acclimitized at 4000 meters for three nights. By the evening of our summit ascent, I felt fantastic (i.e. healthy), and only was exhibiting loss of appetite, and shortness of breath during exertion.
I timed taking Mefloquine with my climb so I didn't have to take it while I was actually on the mountain. For the 7-day Machame route climb, this means that I took one dose the the evening before the climb, and one on the evening after the descent.
My Diamox prescription recommended that I should take 500mg, twice a day, for no more than four days (two days before being at altitude, and two days at altitude). I took 250mg of Diamox, twice a day, starting the evening of the second day of the climb. I continued taking it until the evening of the final summit ascent on day 6. When I returned from the mountain, I had residual tingling in my extremites and in my back, just to the left of my spine. I'm not sure if the tingling in my back was a result of Diamox, or something else. [next section]
- exercise before the climb. If you're not in good shape before leaving for Kilimanjaro, you'll regret it!
- do not fly KLM!
- Apparently, a large percentage of travellers who fly KLM to Nairobi do not get their luggage for long periods of time. The KLM office in Nairobi told us that delayed luggage is usually delivered on the next flight, but there were approximately 18 flights into Nairobi from Amsterdam between when we arrived and when we actually got our luggage. DO NOT FLY KLM INTO NAIROBI.
- fly into kilimanjaro airport
- We flew into Nairobi, but if I could go back and plan this trip again, I would have flown into Kilimanjaro airport, which is just 45 minutes from Moshi. It would have saved us a day on both ends of the trip. If you can afford the extra cost (Alison says that it's about $500 more than ticket to Nairobi) it might be worth it. Another option is to book a flight that arrives in Nairobi in the morning so you can hop on the afternoon shuttle to Moshi.
- be smart about informing immigration officers when you arrive
- If you fly into Nairobi, you have to say overnight in order for the visa fees to be waived. I mistakenly told the immigration officer that I'd be in Kenya for two weeks (the total amount of time I would be in Kenya and Tanzania), instead of one day (we left for Tanzania the following day), which got me into trouble upon trying to fly out of Nairobi, because I had entered Tanzania before my time stated was up. The immigration dude was just being an ass for the hell of it, and eventually let me through without paying fees. However, he did accuse me of "cheating [them] when I arrived, and cheating [them] when I returned."
- bring lots of cash or traveller's checks
- It is not easy to withdraw money using credit cards or ATM cards in Tanzania. In Moshi there were one or two places where we were able to get cash, but the surcharge was roughly 5%, and it was not convenient. US dollars ($) are accepted everywhere, so bring lots of small bills.
- pack lightly
- Do not carry more than you need during the day hikes. Try to carry only water, waterproof shell jacket and pants, extra clothing, camera, moleskin, sunglasses, hat, sunblock, your lunch, and some snacks in your daypack.
- make sure you're completely waterproof
- This means having good, waterproof boots, shell jacket, shell pants, gaiters, and some means of waterproofing your daypack and the contents of your duffel bag. It's really, really wet on the mountain.
- bundle up for summit day
- It's really cold and windy at the top. Make sure you're warm, windproof and waterproof.
- use trekking poles
- None of us had ever used trekking poles, but we rented some anyway, and found them to be very useful (especially in the rain forest -- they often kept us from falling, and were useful for prodding muddy areas to see how deep they were).
- don't drink too much tea at night
- Wally and I switched to drinking hot water instead of black tea, because we thought that the caffeine was keeping us up at night. (Wally didn't sleep so well the entire time, but he said that he slept better after he stopped drinking so much tea). You're actually supposed to drink tea at altitude because it's a diuretic. The altitude also prevented us from sleeping well, but as soon as I started taking Diamox, I was able to sleep through most of the remaining nights. Your mileage may vary.
- use purification tablets at altitude
- Water boils very easily at altitude, and may not kill off all the nasty critters that need to be killed before tourists can drink the water without suffering later.
- walk slower than you can stand to
- It will likely be painful to walk so slowly -- especially during the first few days, but it will help you to acclimitize better. Walking more slowly = fewer headaches and less vomiting. :)
- go to Zanzibar after you climb/go on safari
- You'll meet others who are going, and will wish that you were going, too. (Alison said it wasn't crowded while she was there, because of a travel advisory against going to Zanzibar while we were in Tanzania.) It seems to me like it'd be the perfect wrap-up for a trip like this.