The first morning I felt surprisingly calm, I was excited of course, but very little in terms of anxiety about the upcoming climb. We got ready, showered, attempting to be as clean as possible before 5 full days of being gross, and waited to be picked up. When we got to the gate (Machame route) it was full of tourists, not surprising, but haven’t seen that many white people in one place in quite a while. It was pretty funny watching all the locals selling them kili hats, shirts, water bottles, etc at about three times what they should be paying. It’s funny how easily you get used to bargaining after living here for only a few months. The first few miles were easy, uphill rescue road type trail, all of us in good spirits. We stopped for lunch at an outcropping in the forest, which looked like it could easily be in the Pacific Northwest. After lunch we started the harder climb where we actually started to gain altitude. I felt really good so went ahead with one of the guides while Genny, Julien , and Winn stayed back at a slower pace. After about four hours of hiking we hit our first camp (Machame Hut-3,000 Meters). Throughout the day it was pretty hot so just hiking in a tee-shirt, but once the sun went down it got really cold really quickly. Our tents luckily stayed fairly warm, and they provided constant hot water for tea. The food was surprisingly good, probably better than at CCS, which is confusing since it’s on a mountain… But the hot soup was incredible, maybe we were just tired. Overall, the first day was an easy 6 hour intro.
The first camp was just out of the rain forest so the hike was now in new terrain, hard to explain, very rocky, but still lush and too dusty. We were hiking Shira Hut, the sign said it would take 3.5 hours, but our guides said it would actually take 6-8, since we were gaining a significant amount of altitude. In the morning we climbed more “northwestern” type trails. It was incredible to watch all the hikers breathing hard, sweating and shuffling along as the porters carrying ridiculously heavy bags rushed past. We would leave in the morning, they would pack up camp, and then run past us and set up camp before we got there to set up for us. Made us feel like quite the mzungus. None of us were really feeling any altitude sickness, living here for two months (a year in Winn’s case) really helped with that. Before leaving they had told us that the hike is only hard because it’s a psychological game. You have to move so slowly (polepole) since you can’t really breath very well. So the entire time I shut my brain off and just kept thinking breath in, and out. I found a good rhythm for my muscles and breathe and sick with it. Again, I started going ahead of the group, at this point it looked mostly like a desert, rocks and dirt. one of the guides stayed with me as we hiked, and a few times passed porters, he kept saying, Jessica “polepole” and made me stop to wait for Genny who was only about 20 minutes behind me (Winn and Julien were much further back), once she caught up we started up again, and feeling strong enough decided to hike through to camp instead of breaking for lunch, only to use the bathroom. First, the bathroom situation. Apparently on the Marangu route (Coca-cola route=most tourists) there are decent bathrooms as well as huts to stay in at night. Our route is considered harder (cover more altitude more quickly, steeper trails etc.), and the bathrooms are of hours literal holes in the ground, with occasional doors, that might close, if you’re lucky anyway. Not a big deal considering we’ve been living here for two months, used to the squat toilet. Only while using it Genny made me laugh and I about fell in, that would have been a tragic situation. But luckily, survived. From the lunch place we hit more steep climbing that took us up to the camp, we made it in the first group of people, not sure how many were hiking, but there was at least 60-70 on the same route/day pattern as we were. And we did manage to make it in 3.5 hours total. The views at this camp were incredible, we had finally made it over the cloud line and Kili looked so close (clearly, it was still quite a ways away). We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the camp taking pictures and talking. As long as the sun stayed out it was really warm, but the second cloud cover hit it would get miserable. While none of us felt altitude sickness we could tell we were high, I had completely lost my appetite (hiked the entire day on water alone), but that actually worked out better, most people feel sick when they eat, hydrating was key, drank around 3-5 liters of water every day and felt fine. At this camp we started seeing all these weird birds that looked something like a crow only with a beak that curved under, apparently, they try to steal food and one got quite close to Julien’s head, we sort of thought we has going to be killed. The sunset at this camp was so beautiful with the clouds and other mountain peaks in the background, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. That night, it was COLD, the sleep bag (-4C) was not cutting it. But once the sun came out the next morning we were OK.
This day was also estimated to take 6-8 hours, we started out on more desert like terrain and saw our first ice! After finding my rhythm I continued to go past groups of people, I passed a few porters and then one of the guides ran up and told me again, I was going too fast and we had a conversation that went something like:
Eric : “Jessica, polepole” everyone is behind us, we should wait.
Me: “Hapana polepole, harakaharaka” (not slow, fast)
Erick: You’re killing me.
We waited for Genny again, another twenty minutes on me walking in circles so that my muscles don’t lock-up, since it was cold, movement was essential. From there we hiked up to Lava tower, which is at 4600M, and was basically a huge rock, marking the point where the glacier used to be (thousands of years ago). Now, it’s just dust. Normally we would stop for lunch at lava tower, but Genny and I felt great and decided to again push on. At this point we had to descend to acclimatize to the altitude and hit camp. This camp was pretty nice, we were close to a toilet, which was very important to us. AND we were the first ones to camp! made it in 4 hours. We were pretty proud of our selves and a little upset when the guys came in only a half hour after us. From the camp you could see the breakfast wall, which was little a rock face that we had to climb the next morning. Again, very cold night. It was great though, all of us sitting in the tent in full winter gear shivering drinking tea learning swear words in Swahili from Winn (who speaks conversational Swahili). We felt pretty legit walking and talking to our guides and other porters in swahili. Winn and Julien would yell profanities and such in Swahili at our guides, who would burst out laughing, along with all the porters, while all the tourists looked on confused. Very entertaining.
The breakfast wall was a lot of fun, about 45 minutes of hand over hand climbing and cliff hugging, some climbers had problems, but it was for us, it was great. We got to the top and Kili was right behind us, so close, but so far. From there, we dropped down into a valley, where we re-filled our water bottles with glacier water. Though the climb down was rough, loose rock and boulders. Then we had to climb back up again. This time, we had to stop for lunch since it was a really long day. Then headed up, and up, and up. Then we dropped down a little again into a valley across sheets of lava rock. The valley looked short, it was not. Took forever, breathing was OK as long as you focused. Up until this point, very little soreness and although we had to move slow, we were still always at the front of the group. At the end of the valley there was one final push up a rock wall that was surprisingly hard. We had dinner and watched the sunset, again amazing, every night the sunset got better and better. We went to sleep for a few hours before waking up at 11 to have tea (no food-or else apparently you vomit). And start the hike. Because of the altitude, which I was for sure feeling by this point I hadn’t really eaten in a few days, so was trying to summit on just water. It was freezing, and none of us really talked. The pace was incredibly slow as we began to summit. I can’t even describe how slow this pace was, more of a shuffle than a walk really. Made the mistake of looking up, not that far really, but at the pace and the breathing, cold, and altitude, even just thinking about how far you have to go can really mess you up. All psychological. Having a great group of friends there was the best possible situation. Throughout the entire trip we were laughing and talking with our guides (since they were our friends it made it easy), while most people looked miserable throughout the hike. While we were summiting Genny started to feel altitude sickness and slowed quite a bit. The rest of us were fine and our guides were pretty pumped up, yelling and calling back and forth to each other down the mountain. As we headed up Genny’s condition continued to worsen, and we started to see people on the side of the path hunched over throwing up or being carried down by their guide, not encouraging at all. About 3 hours into it (takes about 6-8) Genny got worse and threw up, one of the guides told the rest of us to continue up, if you stop, you freeze. At this point Winn had fallen asleep on the side of the mountain (we found this out later) and had to be woken up by some random guide passing by. Julien and I (and two guides) were steadily making it up the mountain and feeling fine, tired, and focused on breathing (nothing else), but OK. Then around 5:30 am the sun started to peak out and we hit the last ascent to Stella’s point 5740M. I only describe this ascent as straight up loose rock (scree)that slid as you tried to walk up. Finally, we hit the top just as the sun was starting to fully come out. The excitement we felt was unbelievable. Adrenaline pumping, watching the sunrise on the top of Africa, freezing. And then final ascent to Uhuru (5895M) which was not that far away, and under normal circumstances would have taken 10 minutes to walk to, but took 45 minutes of sheer pain to push to. As we were walking (stumbling may be a better word) we see Winn walking, or weaving like he was drunk past us, saying “got to keep going, can’t stop.” Apparently after someone found him asleep on the side of the mountain he just kept walking and caught up. He literally looked like death walking, retrospectively it was pretty funny. All three of us made it to the “roof of Africa sign” and got our pictures. The glacier views were incredible, though we couldn’t process much at this point. My legs felt like jello and kept buckling under me as I walked, I have never felt that much physical exhaustion in my life. And then as we started to head to the decent my blood sugar being so slow I fainted, as in, unconscious fainted. The two guides managed to help me drink some water and eat chocolate (for the sugar) to then help me down to camp. We literally flew down the scree, it was like skiing on dirt. Only I fainted again about midway down, this time for a few minutes, the guides and Julien managed to wake me up. The guides were great and knew exactly how to handle the situation. Eventually they managed to get me to camp and into bed (this is around 10am). I was in no state to do anything, but the guides managed to get me food and hydration in some form…I can’t even describe the state I was in. My body was not responding. After an hour of sleeping they got me up since we had to move down to the next camp. It took three and a half hours to walk down a path that should take an hour. Altitude sickness is probably the worst feeling I have ever experienced, and after only two hours of sleeping in almost 48 hours the only thing I wanted was to fall asleep. But the only cure for altitude sickness is to get down the mountain. So we make it to camp eat dinner and sleep. The next morning we decide to basically run the rest of the way down the mountain (not kidding, we ran) when we weren’t climbing down boulders. We left at 7:30am and made it to the gate around 11:00am. For all of us the descent was the most painful part, I was lucky and didn’t have blisters, but for those who did they were bleeding and in severe pain. My knees felt like they were on fire and my entire body was tingling, but we just wanted to get down. Seeing the end gate was almost as good as seeing the top. The relief was incredible.
Overall the trip was better than I ever could have expected great friends, great company, and I MADE IT! I probably thought the least in my life, they physical exhaustion, altitude, cold, pain, allowed me to just function. And realize I had no idea what my body was capable of. I have never pushed myself in anyway remotely close to that in any capacity. I am proud of it, and I do want to do it again.
Bass list next? 1 down….6 to go…