Mt. Kilimanjaro - 12/20/00

Ah, Kilimanjaro - the highest mountain in Africa! We've dreamed of climbing this spectacular mountain ever since we heard it could be done by ordinary Joes like us. The name conjures so many beautiful images - the enormous mountain jutting up from the Serengeti plains, snow capped beauty in the hot African sun, a trek to the top to watch the sun rise over the African continent. We were ready!

Here's what really happened: We arrive in Arusha, Tanzania to organize the trek, and we are immediately taken down by some of Africa's finest parasites. Four days later we were off! Being the tightwad travelers that we are, we choose U-Save Trekking (not their real name, but you get the idea). Our guide Severin is full of beautiful pearls of wisdom like "beer at high altitude gives you energy" and "diarrhea on the mountain - no problem; vomiting - no problem." Personally, I didn't want to test out either theory. Oh, this was going to be fun!

After a long introduction to Africa's local bus system, we reach the trail head. The first few days were quite nice. The first day was spent in lush jungle and at one point we were stopped short by a large troop of black and white colobus monkeys crossing overhead in the trees. We gain altitude quickly and by day 2 we're at Horombo hut at 12,700 feet. So far we're doing great. It's cold but bearable. Our cook amazes us with fantastic feasts (how did they get a watermelon up here?). The huts are nice and there's a spirit of commaderie among the ascending trekkers. We spend a rest day there with a short day hike to help us acclimatize to the altitude. The next day we climb, slowly and sucking wind, to Kibo hut at 15,510 feet and arrive in the late afternoon. We crawl into our sleeping bags to escape the miserable cold.

Kibo hut, 12am the same night, we push for the summit (19,355 feet) to get there by sunrise. The night is clear and the stars are dazzling. Its awfully cold (-15 C), we've had little food and little sleep. I'm less than chipper but determined.

Several hours later at 16,500 feet, Geoff loses his valiant battle with internal parasites and altitude sickness. Being the smart man that he is, he retreats to the freezing luxury of Kibo hut. Despite what our guide says, diarrhea and nausea while trying to summit a mountain is a problem. I push on. Slowly.

You might be wondering (but probably not) "what does one think about when climbing at high altitude in sub-zero weather?" The universal answer is "sleeping bags." For hours I thought about my sleeping bag, my gorgeous, fluffy, purple, warm, inviting sleeping bag, just waiting for me. There were moments when it spoke to me – altitude delirium at its best. It kept me going.

After five hours of climbing (more like staggering) I reach Gilman’s Point (18,640 feet), the first summit of the mountain. Four and half of those were pure hell. At some point my legs transformed into moving popsicles. Close to the top, my feet went cold, then my hands. Then my feet went numb. And then I felt my core body temperature plummet and severe shivering took over my body. I was getting hypothermia. Being averse to death, especially my own, I opted not to push for the highest summit, Uhuru Peak (19,335 feet), another two hours away. It was still a long way back to my holy sleeping bag.

The sunrise was beautiful - one expectation met. But unfortunately clouds blanketed the plains so I couldn't verify whether or not you can see Cairo like ‘they’ say (I have my guess though).

I'm not sure what was more scary, the realization that hypothermia was setting in or the 3,000 feet slide down the scree mountain slope, another of our guide's bright ideas ("It's just like skiing, try it!"). But careening down a mountain to certain doom can really warm a person up! A few hours later I was back in the hut inside two toasty sleeping bags recovering.

Four sore legs later, we made it off the mountain safely. And boy! Were we looking forward to our well deserved R&R in Zanzibar.

One thing I learned from this experience is the difference between disappointment and regret. I'm disappointed that I didn't reach Uhuru Peak. I don't regret turning back when I did though.

The other thing I learned is that tall mountains are very cold. :)

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Lisa and Severin, our guide, on day 2 of the climb

Zebra rock at 14,000 feet

Severin, our fearless and wise guide

The "path" to the peak (center)

Lisa makes it to the top!

Sunrise as seen from the roof of Africa

Kibo Hut - sick and tired

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