Today we woke up in our luxurious (read – it had a mattress – our standards have decreased over the past week!), mosquito-netted bed, took a hot shower, and enjoyed a super yummy breakfast at our hotel. Pancakes in Africa are amazing, and so is the juice. We had this awesome, pulpy watermelon juice that I’m pretty sure we won’t find ever again. The folks at the hotel helped us with our 200 pounds of bags, and we met Casey to head down to Ngorongoro Crater. FYI – all of the letters in Ngorongoro are pronounced.
As we were driving, we saw a sign that said “Zumba – the climax of happiness.” Not sure what that was getting at, but I felt it worthy to jot down :). We also saw another hard top suzuki samurai! My dad has a hard top samurai – originally was my grandparents’ – and I always look for another hard top. Never seen one until Africa! So, another one does exist…
We finally made it to Lake Manyara and ate our picnic lunch in the park while Casey set up the pop top. Brad and I had seatbelts in the Land Cruiser that didn’t release…so it took us some time to climb out of those. Imagine climbing out of your car if your seatbelt didn’t release! It was a pretty interesting challenge.
Then, time to start safari! We headed in to the park, and it was pretty much what I had imagined. For anyone that’s been to Disneyworld and done the safari ride there, they pretty much hit it right on the head! Everything is super dusty and bumpy, and everyone hangs out of the car searching for animals. We first came across a baboon tribe that was enjoying eating some fruit. Then, we saw more monkeys…then elephants! These elephants were so close to us – they just didn’t care about the car at all. We got to watch them eat, and see the baby elephants. It was very cool.
After the elephants, time for zebras, wildebeasts, water buffalo, and some flamingos out in the distance on the lake. The lake was gorgeous – Nick and Brad definitely wanted to water ski on it. The plants and trees are gorgeous too. This place looks just like the Lion King’s Pride Rock. After lots of pictures and videos and just watching the animals, we headed off to our hotel for the evening. This place was absolutely gorgeous. Dinner was delicious, there was an infinity pool, and our rooms were great. Plus, wifi for the first time! Nick and I played cards and enjoyed some Safaris, then time for bed. Casey gets here early tomorrow to take us to Ngorongoro Crater, which is supposed to be amazing.
Another quick Casey note – when he first picked us up from the hotel, he looked at me and excitedly said “are you excited to hunt the elephants?!” while acting out something with his hands. Man, did I come to a halt. Of course we would be the people that accidently signed up for some kind of black market, illegal hunting/poaching trip. Then we realized he meant “take pictures of the elephants”. Very unfortunate mixup! Nonetheless, Casey was absolutely amazing.
-b&b Last Marangu Hotel breakfast (our room was 29).In the Land Cruiser with NickSafari jeeps and pop topsBaboons eating fruits! So peaceful – we listened to them for awhile.Zebra friends next to our carZebra funOur new elephant friendOh hi there!Baby baboon friendClimbing treesLake Manyara parkBaby elephantWater buffalo. These guys are pretty funnyOur gorgeous pool and view of Lake Manyara from the hotel
Well, now that we summited Kili, we wanted to compile the top 20 things we learned and would do again if we had to climb again. Which, by the way, we do not need to climb it again. Once was enough! Our mountaineering days are over…
1. Diamox – Brad and I both took diamox, Nick didn’t. Nick was fine, but I would never do anything like this without diamox. It makes you have to pee more and it makes your hands and feet really tingly, but overall it forces you to breath more and pull in more oxygen (that’s why you get tingly). I had limited altitude issues and thought it must just be because of the pole pole walking. Not the case. I stopped taking diamox after we summited and the worst altitude issues I suffered were later that night at Horombo huts, some 7000 feet below the summit. I could barely walk to dinner without being winded. If I had continued to take it, I think I would have been ok. If I could go back in time, I’d take it until the last day.
2. Marangu route – we chose the Marangu route. You can get up the mountain quicker, and it’s regulated well by the park. This is also the only route with huts and we liked that. Marangu gets kind of a bad rap sometimes. It’s called the easy route (coca-cola versus whiskey route, which is Machame) but I don’t know of anyone that thinks climbing this monster is easy. Desmond said that because there are huts and Marangu is so popular, it’s actually cleaner and less crowded since it’s more cared for. On Machame, where you tent camp, it’s not regulated and has been really overcrowded recently. Our guides also said that tent camping up there is really uncomfortable and cold. Weather changes in an instant; we’d rather be in a hut.
3. Length of your climb – because of the diamox, we were ok with 5 days, but apparently that’s rare. People were really impressed that we did it (from other climbers to locals) but all the credit goes to our guides who got us up there. I got psyched out because we were the only 5 day people we met. If you are impacted by altitude and are nervous about 5, go with 6. It would have set my mind at ease more, for sure. And Kili is as much, if not more, a mental than a physical challenge. Now, I wouldn’t go back and change this decision. 5 was great and gave us more time in Africa.
4. Don’t overeat before the summit. Your body won’t digest things well and you won’t get the energy you need. Little cookies and candies are great. Cliff bars are not.
5. Running water does not equal showers! Bring shower wipes with you. We used shower pill brand and they were great.
6. Porters – look in to how your company treats porters. I saw a few that had WAY too much stuff. It was very upsetting. Our company was great and I would go with them again in a second (Marangu Hotel).
7. Drink lots of water! Its the best way to combat altitude issues.
8. Sleeping bag liners – Brad’s great friends Greg and Chelsea told us about sleeping bag liners before our trip, and we decided to try them out. LIFESAVER!!! We got the “extreme” kind from REI and stayed very warm all night. I even wore mine around at Kibo when I was freezing. The sleeping bag by itself was not enough, even if it’s made for cold. Plus, the liner can be used on its own in the summer, so we will get use out of it! Best thing we purchased.
9. Guides climb Kili in button down shirts and nice church-style pants. It was shocking to us! If you have some equipment you can leave behind (like our headlamp, or a backpack or anything) consider bringing that and sharing with your guides at the end. It’s appreciated and many of those things are just not available in Tanzania. Also made us feel like lame-os that had to have our high-tech shirts and under armour!
10. Batteries – batteries hate cold. Desmond told us to sleep with our batteries in our sleeping bags (not our full cameras though because of condensation). Great tip. We each had 2 camera batteries and used them both up because of the cold. It would have been worse if we hadn’t have slept with them, too.
11. Camelbaks – our camelbaks were great, but they freeze near the top. Bring a water bottle too. And bring more water than you think on the last day. Brad and I ran out near the top and had to rely on Nick for some much needed water! Especially given the dusty run back down the mountain when you crave water even more.
12. Sleep with your socks and gloves in your sleeping bags. Then you don’t have to put on cold things in the morning.
13. A quick dry towel is great. Mine was a lifesaver and is super small.
14. Your day pack doesn’t need to be huge – I had a very small backpack (like, tiny). No mountain backpacks needed. Only bring things you really need – backpacks get heavy quickly. I took like half of my stuff out of mine the second day.
15. Our Marangu hotel walking sticks were awesome. You only need one walking stick, and it just needs to be a basic stick with a sharpened tip.
16. Bring a few garbage bags to protect your stuff in case of rain or snow. Also, your stuff will be filthy. Muddy, dusty, and just dirty. This is a good way to protect your clean things! Additionally, if you are going elsewhere in Africa after the climb, this is a necessary way to quarantine your disgusting, horrible smelling clothes. Our big ziploc bags and compression bags were key for keeping clean things clean!
17. Save a pair of clean, dry socks for your last day. Climbing down the mountain results in bad blisters.
18. Before leaving for the summit, take an advil and pepto bismol proactively.
19. Bring a little notebook with you. You can write down fun memories or brainstorm random things. Climbing Kili teaches you a lot and you think a lot on the way. What you are worried about when you go up is very different from when you come back down. This puts a lot in perspective. Cards and bocce ball were crucial too.
20. Top of Kili = best place to propose 🙂
Off to safari,
We hiked down to Mandara huts today, in the rainforest again, for a delicious lunch of homemade potato salad and sammies – best food in the world. Our guides were great – getting us to the summit was over, and they loosened up a bit. We used toilets that flushed at Mandara – yay! – then laid in the sun for a bit. No cloud cover there today. We hiked through the rainforest towards the park gates and just soaked in how gorgeous everything is. Many people do day hikes on Kili, which means you go to Mandara then come back down the same day. We saw an adorable British girl who said “Ughhh, how much farther is it?” We told her Mandara was near, but man did we enjoy that comment after getting to the summit 🙂
We got to the bottom, our guides had our diplomas made, then we drove to the hotel with them. We took two showers – one to get all the dirt and grit off, then one that felt like a real shower – and met our crew at 4pm for beers and celebration time. Safari beer is amazing; we will miss it most of all. Our crew sat in the sun since it was finally sunny and warm out, and we chatted with them. Protas taught us about his family and Tanzanian history. We talked about the fruit in Tanzania, and he mentioned how awesome apples were. They don’t have them, but sometimes they get to try them on the mountain if their groups bring them along. Well, good thing I had an apple in my bag from Qatar! I snuck away, got the apple, went to the bar, cut it up into about 15 pieces, and brought it out. Oh man, you have never seen a group of grown men so happy!! They LOVED this apple. All 8 of them shared it and just raved about it. I wish I would have known – I would have brought a lot more from Qatar with me (let’s just say customs was pretty light here so I didn’t have to worry about crazy fruit issues!).
We packed our hiking stuff in a bag for Nick to take home with him – honestly, it’s so gross that I feel bad for Nick to even have it in his apartment! Charged some electronics, tried desperately to get phone signal to tell our parents about our engagement, then had beers with Nick. Looking forward to a good night’s sleep and getting up for safari tomorrow morning! Marangu was just wonderful, and we hate to leave :(…
It’s summit day, and we did it! We already told everyone in a previous post – so no nail biting necessary as you read about our trials and issues getting up the mountain…and sorry, this is a long one.
Our crew woke us up at 11:15 with tea and sugar cookies. Man, do they know what to feed you when. This was perfect right before the climb – quick sugar energy. At altitude, your body doesn’t really digest things (survival mode), so quick energy is best. Then, we put on all of our clothes, got out the headlamps, pumped each other up, and set off around midnight. I thought the dark would be scary, but it was beautiful. The stars are gorgeous!! Plus, it’s probably better that we can’t see how far we have to go. As we started to ascend, I saw three shooting stars. We’ll take that as a good sign.
The first part of the ascent was ok. We could see the headlamps of the other crews above us and below us, and we went pole pole. About 2 hours in, it got rough. That’s about the time Nick politely told me that we would not be looking at his watch anymore (which ended up being a good idea!). The landscape was sand and rock, so you slide a bit when you step up. When taking a break, you can’t really sit down because your body exerts so much energy when you stand again that it’s dangerous. You’re breathing hard, but don’t feel like you’re getting any oxygen. Just four hours left of this…:)
As we got closer, we started going more slowly and taking 5 small steps at a time before taking a break. Brad was really struggling with the altitude – it hit him worst of all. Michael, his guide, was phenomenal, even though Brad probably wanted to yell at him for making him keep climbing! It was freezing – below zero and with no sun at all to sort of warm you up, so if you stop and take a break, you are at serious risk of freezing to death. Poor guides had to force us to keep moving. Brad and I pushed each other up this mountain – the altitude wasn’t really affecting me terrible (no headache or breathing issues or nausea) so I kept trying to make sure Brad didn’t have some sort of edema. Honestly, your only focus at this point is survival. I read something later on that said “when you are climbing the summit, you belong to the mountain”. I can’t think of a better way to say it. Finally, I yelled (well, as much as I could) to Michael “how much longer”?? He said “about 5 minutes”. PHEW, best thing I’ve ever heard in my life. We climbed – at this point it’s huge boulders you are climbing through – and could start to see the sun coming up over Mawenzi. In Africa, because you’re on the equator, whenever the sun would come up or go down, it wasn’t a process. It comes up and brightens the sky in a few minutes; same with sunset. We were right on schedule.
We reach Gilman’s point at the top of the mountain (Uhuru is the tallest peak, but Gilman’s is on the top of the crater rim, so you’ve still “climbed” if you make it there) and enjoyed tea. How did our crew bring hot tea with them?? They were wonderful. Took a few pictures and prepared to head up to Uhuru since the hardest part was done…and you can still easily freeze to death here…
Then, Brad reached in to his backpack, pulled out a gorgeous ring, and proposed. It was short and sweet – perfect since we still couldn’t breath! We made it up this mountain because of each other :). Our guides LOVED it. Nick got a picture that he’ll share later. We celebrated for about 10 seconds, then headed to Uhuru.
So, Gilman’s to Uhuru was supposed to be easier. Not the case. Still 1.5 hours around the crater rim. It’s gorgeous – sun’s out and you can see the clouds forever – but it’s a tough hike. This is when we thought Brad would need to turn around and go back down. The altitude was at it’s worst. Michael pushed him along…and Nick and Protas were way ahead at this point :). We knew Brad could do it, but he felt so weak.
Then, the vomit monster visited Brad and he threw up. A lot. Michael goes “Good. Vomit makes you stronger”. And it was true! He felt great afterwards. We headed up to Uhuru and made it right on schedule – behind a group of people with a VERY large cross. I have no idea how they climbed with that.
We took pictures at the top, celebrated, and looked at the most beautiful view we’ve ever seen. You can see Mawenzi, tops of clouds, glaciers, the volcanic crater, and way down to the towns. We had reached the roof of Africa. The engagement high certainly helped :).
Don’t discount the fact that we still had to climb down and make it to Horombo – 7,000 feet below. Michael knew Brad didn’t feel well, so he grabbed him and forced him to run down the summit. Dust was flying everywhere, but he got Brad down safely to Kibo in an hour! I feel bad for yelling “watch out for the ACL tear!!” Man, Michael is amazing. He also climbed without a headlamp. OMG. We arrived at Kibo, our crew dusted us off, we took a short nap and had lunch. Reapplied sunscreen since the sun is blazing up there, then headed to Horombo. Pole pole – but oh man did we want to go not pole pole so we could get to Horombo and sleep! Many people back at Kibo had not made it to the top, sadly.
We made it to Horombo around 4pm, after seeing our British friends hiking up to Kibo! So, we’ve been hiking for 16 hours at this point! We cleaned up, ate a delicious dinner, and met a cute french couple on their honeymoon! They found out we were engaged and celebrated with us. A perfect engagement celebration with some wonderful strangers :). Then, time for bed at 7pm. The most amazing day of our lives – other climbers, push through. Trust your guides – it’s worth it!
Sidenote – sleep with your camera batteries in your sleeping bag. Nick’s died at Gilman’s!! Luckily mine worked and I had a disposable just in case. But batteries hate cold.
Tomorrow we get to the bottom. Also – best place in the world to get engaged? Top of Kili.
Today is a nerve-wracking day. We have a 6 hour climb to Kibo huts, this time through a high-altitude desert, then try to sleep for a few hours before our summit begins. We left behind the groups we had come to know (they stay at Horombo for an extra day of acclimation before going to Kibo) and headed up the mountain. For this route, you can take the upper or lower. Upper is harder, but better views. You also gain altitude quicker. We chose this one – hoping for a couple of extra hours of acclimation before the summit.
The landscape changed almost right away in to a desert. Annnnnd…we finally saw the peak of Kili! Its pretty far up there…and we were already at 12,500 feet. The peak quickly went away behind some clouds, but we finally got a glimpse of what was ahead. Until now, the groups we were with had been joking that the whole climb was a scam :). Guess it’s real!
The upper route to Kibo huts goes across what’s called the saddle. Kilimanjaro actually has two peaks – Kibo (the snow covered one that everyone climbs and is the tallest) and Mawenzi (pretty scary- very high with lots of peaks. Looks like a gothic structure). The saddle connects the two peaks, so once we reached the saddle, we really hiked at the same altitude for about 3 hours. No one climbs Mawenzi – it’s illegal. There’s a good picture of this in a previous post with Brad and Nick next to a drawing of Kili. The saddle is obvious then.
Climbing was fine today – none of us have had any altitude issues (besides REALLY bad sleep – we sleep a few hours, then wake up for about 3 hours, then back to sleep) so all went well. We ate lunch on the saddle, and several birds decided to show up. These were huge crows. Many of you know that I hate birds – they terrify me to no end. These were my worst nightmare. We’re hoping it’s not a bad omen, like the black cat we saw when we arrived in Africa! The other weird thing about the saddle is that you can see Kibo huts from about 3 hours away. It’s a moonscape up there – dry and you can see forever. Luckily Desmond warned us of this, otherwise we would have been pretty annoyed. To keep busy, I started counting my steps. Then, I picked a rock in the distance and guessed how many steps until I got to it. Got pretty good by the end! I’m sure that’s a talent I’ll never use again. Brad enjoyed trying to make me lose count.
At Kibo, which is basically a cinderblock bunkhouse where people sleep in the same room for a few hours, there isn’t water and the bathroom situation is just terrible. The porters carry water up from Horombo. Amazing – we still had our hot water and tea! Since Kibo is 15,000 feet, we started being able to feel the altitude here. This would be the place I’d like to spend time to acclimate, but the water situation doesn’t allow that.
Dinner was pasta and sauce, then we went to bed around 7 with plans to be up at 11 to get ready for the summit. It’s becoming real – luckily the summit path is hiding behind the clouds so we can’t see what’s in store for us!
Weird thing – we have to pee all night up here. That also impacts sleep. You’re drinking about 3-4 liters of water each day, and in altitude your body stores that water. So at night, you finally process it and pee all the time. It’s annoying because it’s FREEZING out. Climbers – be ready for that. It happens to everyone.
Alright, time for bed. We saw a guy with an Everest patch on his coat today, so we are intimidated :). He helped me take the picture of Mawenzi below (between the clouds).
Day 2 of our hike started out quite nicely. Our porters woke us up at 6:30 with tea, teacups, sugar, and milk, as well as buckets of hot water for us to wash up with. It’s pretty cold, especially since we are in the clouds, so the hot water is an awesome treat. These guys are the best. Breakfast at 7 consisted of toast, jellies and peanut butter, omelets, pancakes, and fruits. Sidenote – the oranges here are green! We started calling them greens just for fun.
At 8, it was time to head out. The hike was 6 hours today, and we said goodbye to the rainforest after about an hour. The next landscape is alpine – shorter trees and foliage, some very interesting other trees, and grasses. Much drier than below, but still in the clouds all day so no good views of anything yet. We hiked about 4 hours, enjoyed lunch and hot tea courtesy of our crew (seriously – how do they keep this tea hot and carry it around for so long!?), met two nice British girls who terrified us about trying to summit in 5 days, and then were on our merry way to Horombo huts. I’m getting pretty nervous about us making it – after our lunch chat with the British girls, we saw three unconscious people being taken down the mountain in stretchers. The thing with Kili is that you can be in perfect shape (not that we are!) but you can never guess who the altitude will hit. Risks include pulmonary and cerebral edemas – fluid filling the lungs and/or brain.
We got to Horombo, and enjoyed hot water and tea again. The huts were the same as Mandara – four bunks and the camp had a dining hall. After our snack, Nick, Brad and I played bocce ball with our backpacking bocce set (very light so you can carry it easily). Horombo is 12,500 ft above sea level, so we figured a little bit of moving around would help the acclimation process, plus there’s really nothing else to do! The porters enjoyed watching us play this weird game as well. No sight of the mountain still…
At dinner, we met a large group of British students and their chaperones that were climbing in 6 days. They were great – we loved talking with them. Also, dinner just keeps getting better. The other groups have all been jealous of our meals!
We met our first American today. He came up to us, saw Nick wearing a ski cap with the Green Bay Packers logo on it and called him Brett Favre. Interesting…it’s like he missed the fact that that was years ago. Then he grilled us for the price of oil, gas, and stock market info. We had no clue (and asking people who travel for work and rarely get gas is not a good group to ask this question of!)…oh man.
Alright, time for bed. Tomorrow is a big day – hike up to Kibo huts at around 15,000 feet, sleep for a couple of hours, then start our summit at midnight. Perhaps we will see this mountain?? 🙂