Friday, March 16, 2018

Dispatches from the field: Mt. Kilimanjaro

I've been struggling to cull the photos from our trek up to the roof of Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro, down to a short set that gives you a good sense of what we encountered. But because no one has the patience to sit through hundreds of photos, I'm just going to show you some of the highlights of what we experienced, as you truly need to be there to actually understand how incredibly beautiful this journey was.

Our 6 day up/ 1 day down trek along the Machame route to the summit of Kili is by far the most epic hike we've done to date. Every drop of sweat, every exhausting step, every laboured breath, brought you closer to the heavens, and despite only getting to spend 20 minutes at the 5895m summit, the spiritually refreshing feeling of accomplishment, and satisfaction for having pushed through any self doubt about your ability, is immeasurable.

Rather than try to re-write a description of our hike, I've excerpted a portion of what I sent out via email. This will be a repeat for those on my email group list... feel free to skip ahead to the photos.

We would begin our trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro, via the 7 day Machame route. One of our guides would describe ours as the 'whiskey route', meaning it was harder than some of the other 'coca cola routes' to the top. That made me feel rather manly. The trek itself would take us through multiple climate zones ranging from rainforest, moorland, and alpine desert to glacial summit. The scenery was incredible the entire way, despite the air getting increasingly thin as we gained over 4000m of net elevation along the way, seemingly into the clouds. By far the hardest part was summit night. At midnight, we would depart the final camp at 4600m above sea level, in pitch dark, wearing three layers of pants and five layers of tops to protect us from the biting wind, while moving Zombie-like one foot in front of the other, for over six hours, seeing nothing but the diameter of light immediately in front of you illuminated by your headlamp. We would eventually top out on Uhuru Peak, the glacier covered summit of the highest peak of Kilimanjaro at 6:20am of Feb.12th, just as the sun was rising to bathe us in reddish-golden light. What an incredible sight after 6 days of sweat, dust, exhaustion, and yes, even a bout of tears. The only thing I found slightly disappointing was that we had spent days getting ourselves to this point, only to be given less than 20minutes up top for views and photos, due to safety risks of exposure to the cold and altitude (cerebral or pulmonary edema can strike even the most fit). Safety schmafety. Kili or be killed, dammit.

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Anita begins the descent from the summit as the rising sun embraces us in congratulations.

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Day 1: Preparing to head out, we look all fresh and clean. That wouldn't last long.

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Hot and humid hike through the rainforest, gaining 1200m of elevation on our first day. By the time we reach camp at 3000m, we are already higher than the top of Mawson Peak (the highest point in Australia).

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Day 2: Some interesting scrambling along the route on our way to the Shira Plateau.

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By day's end, our camp at Shira Caves (3839m) is higher than Mafadu (the highest peak in South Africa).

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Dusty and sweaty, but none the worse for wear.

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Day 3: Hiking through boulder fields towards the Lava Tower.

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Anita takes a break up on a rock column at the Lava Tower (4627m), which is just 7m shy of Dufourspitze (the highest mountain in Switzerland).

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Interesting rock columns we would pass through on our way down to Barranco camp.

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Alan and Anita trek through a grove of Giant Groundsel (Dendrosenecio), strange looking flora native to higher altitudes of East Africa.

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Day 4: Scramble up the imposing Barranco Wall.

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The Barranco Wall offered the most interesting scrambling of the entire trek.

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Our summit objective directly behind us, but actually still two days away due to the approach route we would take.

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A sea of clouds behind us, after reaching the top of the Barranco Wall.

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Mt. Meru, the second highest peak in Tanzania, juts out from the clouds.

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More Giant Groundsels.

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Night views of the Milky Way and abundant stars, from Karanga Camp.

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Day 5: Morning views at Karanga Camp.

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Leaving Karanaga behind, this would be our shortest day as we made our way above the clouds to our final camp before summit.

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The terrain of alpine desert, with the obvious trail to camp.

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I love how the clouds rise up like crashing surf.

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Our camp at Barafu Huts. At 4662m, we slept higher than Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in all of the Rocky Mountains back home.

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6:20am - Summit of Uhuru Peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro. At 5895m, this is higher than Mt. Elbrus (the tallest peak in all of Europe, located in Russia). Missing from the photo is Belinda, who would summit about an hour later than us.

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The beautiful golden-reddish rays of the sun rising over Mawenzi, the 2nd highest peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

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Glaciers on the summit.

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Anita begins the scree slope descent.

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At our final camp before descending all the way back down, we took a moment to acknowledge all of the hard work of our amazing head guide, Joel, and his entire team of tireless assistant guides and porters. Without this incredible support team, our adventure does not happen. They are the unsung heroes of any trek up Kili.

And in the blink of an eye, our journey was over. We left with fond memories and stronger friendships forged through shared experience. And while I don't want to speak for the others, I also left with a desire to return one day to climb Mawenzi Peak and Mt. Meru. Until next time, Kili. You've changed us in innumerable ways.

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