After preparing for my Kilimanjaro climb, here are some of the highlights from my trek.
Day 1 – 4.3 miles/2,067 ft ascent (6.7 km/630 meters)
6:30 am Last hot shower at the hotel is not hot. There also isn’t any water. This is a most displeasing send-off.
7:30 Meet my fellow hikers: 2 Canadians and 3 people from the UK. They all seem like strong hikers.
3:00 After a 4 hour drive, a 2 hour delay with our permits, and a tasty lunch, we begin hiking. Today is only 3 hours of hiking at low altitude — so not bad at all.
6:00 We make camp with our first really great view of Kilimanjaro on the horizon. We have a long way to go.
9:21 Lights out. Much colder than I thought it would be at this point. I can see my breath inside the tent — and we’re only at 2600 meters.
Day 2 – 7.3 miles/3,376 ft ascent (11.8 km/1,029 meters)
6:15 Rise and shine. Slept decently. Was actually hot in my sleeping bag during the night — a very good problem. Our tent was on a bit of hill, so I felt like an inch-worm in my sleeping bag during the night trying not to wind up at the bottom of the tent.
7:15 We’re off. We make good time, passing a couple groups . We’re the first group to Cave 2. Cave 2 is the second cave we stopped at… I still haven’t figured out the naming convention. People used to camp in them, but after a cave-in, it’s no longer allowed. The clouds clear for a while and we have some great views of the summit.
12:15 After a delicious lunch, we hike for another 2.5 hours arriving at Kikelelwa Camp at 3 pm. It was a really nice walk, passing through some very diverse landscapes. We’re still not really feeling the altitude yet, but there is supposed to be a bit of a lag. We’ll see how we feel later, but a quick run to the tent leaves me panting.
4:00 It starts sleeting and goes strong into the evening. We’re very grateful that it waited until we’d made camp. Not looking forward to walking in the rain.
Day 3 – 2.3 miles/2,047 ft ascent (3.7 km/624 meters)
7:00 The clouds are below us when we wake. They quickly rise as the sun comes up. I slept through most of the night.
8:45 We start out on our hike. Today, we hike up over a pass at 4500 meters, before we drop back down to 4300 meters where we camp. It’s steeper than yesterday, but not by much. Nevertheless, we can start to feel the altitude as we walk. It’s not bad, but it keeps us to a slightly slower pace than the previous day’s. On the hike I drank 2.5 liters of water – we’re drinking as much as we can to help us acclimatize. It’s also getting a lot colder. We need longsleeves and gloves now as we hike and a down jacket in camp.
11:15 We arrive at Tarn camp. It’s midday, but very cold. The clouds pass through camp at a pretty good clip. When the sun shines, it gets really hot very quickly and when hidden by clouds the temperature plummets just as fast – probably a 10 degree Celsius swing in just a couple minutes. We’re drinking a lot of water now, as much as as can – I’ve never been so hydrated in my life. Unfortunately, what goes in, must come out. Compounded by the volume we’re drinking, the kidneys produce more urine at altitude generating endless trips to the bathroom. This is not fun during the subzero nights.
4:00 We leave camp for an acclimatization hike. We hike up 300 meters in sleeting rain and spend 20 minutes on top of a ridge to trick our bodies into acclimatizing to that altitude. The rain clears when we get to the top and I see my sun dog for the first time (a rainbow formed around my shadow). This little know phenomenon is associated with the origin of many superheroes. Then we head back down and arrive just in time for it to start sleeting again. The rain continues until we sleep.
Day 4 – 6.1 miles/1,020 ft descent (9.8 km/311 meters)
6:30 We wake to clear skies and ice caking every surface of our tents.
8:10 We set out for our 5 hour hike. The ground is frozen from the previous night, but the skies are clear bright blue. We get some magnificent views of Mawenzi Peak as well as Kibo Peak as we cross the saddle that joins them. I call Sasha and wish her a happy Valentines Day. We pass the remnants of a plane that clipped Mawenzi Peak before it crashed. Apparently, the four people aboard didn’t see it in the fog. The tail section is nowhere to be found. We get as high as 4600 meters and can see Kibo Camp, a launching point for many before the summit, just up the trail, but we turn right and descend to our camp at 3900 meters. Walking downhill is quite a trip, because the cloud layer is beneath us. Today’s walk is relatively easy.
12:10 We arrive at Cave Three Camp an hour ahead of schedule — woohoo. Beneath us is an amazing view that, because of our altitude, stretches to an extended horizon. Above us Kibo, our final destination, stands against clear blue skies. Before our lunch, we are formally introduced to the entire crew – a little strange that it took 4 days. So how many people does it take to get six people to the summit? 23
8:00 After some reading, napping, a failed trek for cell service, and a dinner of warm stew, we head to our sleeping bag. This is our last chance for a good night’s sleep before the summit attempt.
Day 5 – 5.6 miles/3,173 ft ascent (9.0 km/967 meters)
6:30 I wake after a pretty good night’s sleep.
8:00 We start our hike up to the School Hut Camp. Again, we are blessed with stunning weather. It’s a 900 meter climb to our highest point yet. It’s our steepest hike so far, but since we’re acclimatized, it feels pretty good. We made good time and arrived ahead of schedule again. Now we need to eat and get as much rest as we can before midnight.
7:00 We finished dinner and our briefing. This next hike is clearly going to be a lot more difficult than all of hikes to date. We’ve been warned that it is likely to be windy, a factor that will make everything a lot colder. I’m typing this from my sleeping bag. We hope to get a couple hours of sleep before we leave. I’m skeptical.
11:00 We wake (1.5 hours sleep, yay) and get on our summit gear — six layers on top and 3 on the bottom. We eat some oatmeal and drink some Ginger tea.
Day 6 – 2.8 miles/3,983 ft ascent (4.5 km, 1,214 meters) 9.3 miles/7,195 ft descent (15.0 km/2193 meters)
12:00 AM We depart for the summit. The trail is steep and we have a pretty good pace. Despite the cold temperature, I strip to two layers given how hard we’re working. Frost is building up on our backpacks and the hoods of our jackets. We pass a group that was pretty far ahead of us. My water bladder hose is frozen and unusable even though I was blowing the water back into my backpack. The moon finally rises and glows orange in the horizon.
1:45 AM We start a series of switchbacks through skree. This is supposed to be the hardest part of the climb. As we look down, we can see trails of headlamp lights from the groups below us. We’re pretty far ahead of everyone. It’s getting very cold. My fingers start to tingle from the cold all the way to palm through my light gloves.
4:08 We arrive at the rim of the volcano, Gilman’s Point. I dont know what his point was, but at 5,681 meters I’m not really interested. This is the highest I’ve ever been outside of a plane. At this point, every breath I take is to the capacity of my lungs. My diaphragm is getting sore from my breathing. It’s also getting really cold. At this altitude it is harder for our bodies to generate warmth (though that doesn’t seem to be a problem for me, except in my hands), insulation is less effective, and it’s getting colder the higher we go. Between the breathing and the cold, I’m too tired to do much more than the necessities. The wind is picking up a lot, so I add my windbreaker and my big down mittens. Our guides are good enough to have brought up hot Ginger tea. I gulp this down and it warms me up a little. We have an hour and half to go not including breaks.
4:45 I’m not sure what time we passed Stella Point, it wasn’t a terribly exciting moment for us — we’re focused on the summit. The grade of the slope has gotten much easier, but the breathing is still quite labored. My fingers are cold even inside the huge down mittens that have hand warmers inside.
5:20 We can see some flashlights near the peak, we know we’re close. It’s finally starting to sink in, we’re going to make it. We stop briefly for rest. Our guide looks into my eyes, pulls down my balaclava, and asks me to stick out my tongue. I’m tired, but feel fine. He’s not doing this to anyone else. I’m terrified he’s going to tell me I have to turn around when I’m so close. He asks me if I have a headache. I tell him “no, I feel fine” and we continue on. Whew!
5:42 Uhuru Peak, Kilimanjaro highest point. We made it. It’s still very dark, the sun’s light hasn’t even started to show on the horizon. We are the second group to summit today and every one of us made it. We exchange hugs and congratulations. In my tired state, I’m filled with emotion. I’ve completed something I set out to do a long time ago and pushed my body to new heights – pun intended. We’re tired and it’s so cold, -25 C with windchill, that taking pictures is not at the top of my list. We dance around to keep warm. After a couple of group photos, I summon the willpower and, with the aid of my partner in arms Alex, take the obligatory summit shots. I was lucky my camera was still working since the cold had turned a few other camera batteries into paperweights. Finally, the first glow of pink shows on the horizon and we start to head down.
6:30 am I’m not paying too much attention to time at this point, because the sun is rising in the sky uncovering stunning views of Kili’s glaciers, the volcanic crater, and a never-ending horizon. It also reveals hordes of people wearing some of the most agonizing expressions I’ve ever seen. Up until this point, we haven’t seen many other people on our hikes, but the path back to Gilman’s Point is a traffic jam. Along the way, I overhear some words of encouragement like “You got here on willpower alone. No one is going to fault you for turning around at Stella Point.” Luckily, descending isn’t nearly as difficult as ascending. The temperature, still cold, is quickly rising.
7:25 am While I didn’t really face the difficulties I’d heard from others about skree slope going up, I enjoyed every minute of the descent. Little know fact: loose gravel on a steep slope gives you temporary super-powers. Taking huge strides and sliding on the gravel every time my foot makes contact allows me to descend 1000 meters by essentially running straight down. In 30 minutes, I went down what took almost 4 hours to go up. By this time, I’m peeling off every layer I can. About half way down, I take a break and call Sasha to tell her the good news.
8:00 am We have breakfast in Kibo Camp and celebrate our accomplishment.
9:45 am We leave Kibo Camp and follow an easy path to Horombo Camp enjoying the beautiful weather and daydreaming about sleep.
Day 7 – 12.2 miles/6,053 ft descent (19.7 km/1845 meters)
6:00 We leave camp for another relatively easy walk out to the gate just in time for yet another glorious sunrise. The cloud layer is below us for the first couple of hours.
Then we enter the forest, which provides some welcome shade and mischievous monkeys. Beware of the Black and White Colobus Monkey, they have very good aim — did I mention they were feces throwers? My new friend Darryl, received a small gift square in the middle of the solar panels on his backpack. I didn’t see them, but others in my group saw a troop of blue monkeys.
11:00 am We pass through the final gate. We’re the first group out today. We’re dirty, desperately in need of shower, and have some sore muscles, but are generally quite pleased with ourselves.
Below is a map of the trek.
Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro]]>
Tomorrow morning, I will begin what will be a, 49.8 mile (80.2 km), 7 day trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro. At 19,341 feet (5,895 meters), it is the highest peak in Africa, the tallest free-standing mountain in the world and will be the tallest mountain I’ve ever climbed — that is, if I succeed.
According to the National Park Service only 30% of climbers reach the peak. And keep in mind, some estimates suggest that more people die on Kilimanjaro each year than Mt. Everest. Of course, that’s entirely misleading given how many people climb Kilimanjaro and how few climb Everest. On top of that, Kilimanjaro is only a hike — it doesn’t require any technical mountain climbing skills.
So what’s the big deal?
Kilimanjaro does require people to be pretty fit, but the reason less than a third of people make it to the summit is almost always because of the altitude. At the peak, there is only 50% of the oxygen as there is at sea level, which can make even an easy hike incredibly difficult. There is a little big of genetic lottery at play and losers have the potential to experience pounding headaches, nausea, loss of appetite or an inability to sleep. And the really big losers get to experience acronyms that aren’t any fun: HACE and HAPE. Don’t Google them, neither are pleasant.
The other challenge to the climb is how the weather. The first day we’ll experience hot, equatorial temperatures. But near the top, not including wind chill, it is 20 degrees Fahrenheit on a good day and -13 degrees Fahrenheit on a bad day. Not exactly ideal camping or hiking weather. I’ve been told that not wearing sunglasses near the top will result in snow blindness in just an hour or two. Fun, right?
I’ve rented a slew of gear to protect me from the elements. In short, I will be cloaked in down (see picture above).
Sasha has opted to go on safari during this time, because this isn’t “her cup of tea”. The next seven days will represent the longest time we’ve been apart since we got married.
So why am I doing this?
About 20 years ago, my aunt and uncle presented a slideshow to the family detailing the trials and tribulations of their climb. I still remember them telling stories about the ferocity of the cold. Ever since, it’s always been a challenge I wanted to overcome. Never underestimate the power of a slideshow.
As with any of these mountains, the most impressive work is done by the porters who carry food, tents, etc that weigh many times as much as any hiker carries. They also walk faster, do more work in camp, and they make the trek many times a year sometimes even back to back. In the past, like when I hiked Machu Pichu, I’ve always been quite humbled by their abilities and I expect that to be no different this time around. I am quite confident that I wouldn’t be able to summit Kilimanjaro without their assistance or a lot more time.
There are six routes up the mountain, but I will be following the Rongai route which approaches from the Kenyan side of the mountain. I chose it largely because it is supposed to be the most scenic (fewest people) and is a favorite among porters and guides.
My itinerary is below and I will do a quick update to this post each day and share a couple my thoughts and pictures if cell service allows (it’s supposed to be pretty good). I’ll also try and update my location during the climb, so if you’re interested in tracking my progress you can see where I am on the mountain.
Sorry for the delayed updates. Service wasn’t what I heard it would be on the mountain. You can find pictures and info on the trip here.
Meanwhile, there are revolutionaries in the streets calling to overthrow the interim military-government who is retaliating by force, oh, and just two days before Election Day voting was extended to two days instead of one. Then I woke up and realized it wasn’t just a dream. Josh and I are in Egypt and Election Day is tomorrow!
We’re already learning a lot from our experiences here in Egypt where we are working for the National Democratic Institute (NDI). We’ve been here since early November and will be here through the last of the election rounds in early January. We’re tasked with working on a Voter Education campaign called Ally Sotak, or Raise Your Voice (en.allysotak.com) that’s doing amazing work with 40+ organizers around the country who are focusing on rural and minority voters. And we’ll also be joining the official election observation mission for Election Day. In our free time (there’s not much), we are trying to see some of the sites. We’ve seen the Great Pyramids, the sphinx and explored our Cairo neighborhood so far.
It’s an exciting time in Egypt and regardless of what you think about the situation here it’s an important time for Egyptians.
The Egyptians we’ve met have been warm and welcoming to us, and eager to share their many different views of the situation here and their experiences during the January revolution that ousted Mubarak.
We had dinner with two brothers who run a tourism business. In January, they were in Tahrir Square, the symbolic center of the revolution, with hundreds of thousands of others, demanding President Mubarak to step-down. In the months since, tourism has tanked due to instability and they’ve had to sell their tour bus to make ends meet. Despite their hard times the oldest brother said they would do it again, that things might be bad for a few years, but ultimately the country will stabilize. And that a free Egypt will be a better country for their children.
But we’ve talked to others eager to tell us that the protesters are causing the country to “go down.” According to one taxi driver, protesters are the ones making life hard by causing instability. They wish the protesters would be more patient and expect a normal pace of change instead of demanding democracy overnight. And these diverse viewpoints are just minutes from Tahrir. From what we’ve heard, the majority of the country has limited information, are against the protest, or want stability now regardless of who’s at the helm. At the same time, everyone is trying to figure out how exactly their first election is going to work. I think it’s safe to say that the political situation will not be resolved before Election Day — since it’s tomorrow.
We’ll definitely be posting more about our two months Egypt but we won’t be sharing too much election analysis on the blog since we’re here for work. We will also be catching up on pictures and stories from our time in Tibet, Nepal and India. Please forgive us if you get a back dated email or two. They were amazing experiences, particularly Tibet, and we still want to share them with you.
I head to Fayoum for three days to observe the election there and Josh is observing the district in Cairo that includes the famed Tahrir Square. The first two days of the election (actually 12 voting days in total) are November 28 & 29.
The only problem is that, while the sentiment is positive, the quote doesn’t seem to be real.
It seemed odd to us that any American President would explicitly say that American children should be like people from any other country. So we googled and googled for where the quote came from and this is the closest that we could find: “Today belongs to the people of Egypt, and the American people are moved by these scenes in Cairo and across Egypt because of who we are as a people, and the kind of world that we want our children to grow up in.”
Maybe I should send an email to Mobilini letting them know!]]>
We’ve gotten more questions about China and what it’s like from friends and family than any other place we’ve visited. We’re still soaking in everything we learned from China — some good, some bad — but we wanted to share some of our impressions from our two months in the PRC.
Despite opening its doors to the world over 30 years ago, there still remains a massive cultural divide greater than in any country either of us have traveled to so far. During our first five days there, we didn’t see another foreigner. Very few people speak English, especially outside the big cities, making it difficult to communicate and share ideas. Throughout our visit people took pictures with us, of us, and even thrust children into our arms (Fortunately, they took them back). Even if only in degree, all of these experiences were unlike any other country we’ve visited.
The Chinese have a healthy skepticism toward foreigners, especially foreign governments, meddling in their affairs. Given their history it’s not surprising, but it has bred an accepted wariness toward things foreigners say about their country. As a result, the Chinese are effectively inoculated from outside critiques something that pairs nicely with their patriotism.
For example, Sasha asked a new Chinese friend if she thought it was strange that Americans cared about the freedoms of Chinese people. She responded, “Yes, we don’t want the American government to control us.” Sasha clarified, that she meant the American people, not the American government. She responded, “Yes, that’s strange. Why would they care?”
The Chinese are a fiercely patriotic people. A combination of their history and their current economic and cultural rise in the world fuels a patriotism that easily competes with America’s and perhaps falls into the category of Chinese exceptionalism. This idea that they have a special role to play in the world is difficult to really suss out for sure, but came up in a few conversations I had with expats who were either married to or dating Chinese citizens.
But it’s not hard to understand why the Chinese people are so proud. Aside from their incredible history, they represent what is the greatest poverty reduction success story in human history. Since 1978, over 500 million people have been lifted above the international poverty line. And while the poor are better off, there is also a new class of wealthy in China. It is home to the third most millionaires in the world and still growing.
During our two months, we never saw a city that didn’t have at least a couple huge new building under construction. More often, we saw buildings being built by the dozen(s). A small village is what the Chinese call a city with a 3.5 million people. We were never surprised to discover that the thing we were looking at was the biggest, the largest, or the tallest, etc, because it usually was.
We thought that with China’s rich history of propaganda we’d be in for a treat. We’re used to seeing big public billboards attesting to the greatness of leaders and the government in countries where leaders aren’t elected. We were both surprised to find China nearly devoid of propaganda except for an old picture of Mao here and there. Of course the state run media more than compensates, but politics here serves only one master — economic growth. The cultural revolution is dead.
The cultural divide extends to social customs as well. People rarely smile to acknowledge strangers. If you bump into someone, no apology or even acknowledgement is offered. Line jumping or cutting is common. Spitting, and the process that precedes it, is almost a ritual — much to Sasha’s chagrin. Perhaps most frustrating of all, there was often an unwillingness to acknowledge or attempt to decipher pantomime — a decision that often left us feeling intentionally shunned. To a foreigner, all of this could feel downright rude.
But at the same time, many Chinese people befriended us, offered us food, invited us to dinner, toasted in our honor and even urged us to sing karaoke. In the same way that Russians don’t smile for pictures, the Chinese people show friendliness in their own distinct way.
On average the service in China was atrocious. It was unlike any place either of us has ever been. We often felt like the restaurant or the vendor was doing us a favor by selling us their wares. Our only theory to explain why it’s so bad is that two decades of continuous growth means that businesses have never needed good service to bring customers in the door.
We had the good fortune to talk to the head of guest relations at a Sheraton. He told us about some of the incredible lengths they went to to provide even the most basic standards of western customer service — essentially constant training. This task was made even more difficult by the fact that it is unacceptable in China (people quit) to tell an employee they did something wrong — one can only suggest privately that they try doing something a different way. And to give you some perspective on growth, the Sheraton is opening 32 brand new hotels next year in China alone.
It’s the speed of this economic growth that shapes almost everything in China today. To give you an idea, adjusted for inflation, the average salary in China has doubled every 10 years for the last three decades. GDP is the metric by which regional party leaders are measured. It is transforming the skyline of cities and moving rural inhabitants into the cities by the tens of millions each year.
It’s not all good of course. China is belching pollution that literally clouds the sun from the sky. A bad smog day in Beijing is the equivalent of smoking 3.5 packs of cigarettes in a single day. Or my favorite fun fact, China’s coal power causes 25% of California’s air pollution. Forests are being clear cut, their desert is encroaching on cities, they’re running out of water and their glaciers are melting. China is already an environmental catastrophe, it just waiting to become a human one.
People work long hours in dangerous conditions, they have an aging population without enough kids to take care of them, polluting factories are causing deformities in nearby residents, food is virtually unregulated, and they are competing with America on income inequality. They also torture political dissidents, journalists disappear, and people riot from time to time. And that’s just the start…
But, this economic growth, this tangible and dramatic improvement in their lives year after year, breeds soma-like contentedness despite all of the above. I was told by an expat that there are so many people in China that 50 million people want any given change or believe in any given cause. But satisfaction with economic growth puts all the frustration with an otherwise corrupt, big brother-like, and sometimes brutal government on the back-burner.
When I look at our upcoming election back home, it’s commonly understood that a bad economy is bad for people in elected office. The lesson I learned in China is that a great economy makes almost anything forgivable. Of course, an economy can’t grow like China’s has forever. It’s only a matter of time before it shrinks or simply slows down. I wouldn’t want to be in power there when that happens.]]>
Of course, that’s nothing compared to China’s time zone craziness. All of China is in a single time zone UTC +8. This is despite the fact that China spans five international time zones. It’s a policy that’s not ideal for farmers out west — think sunrise at 8 am. That’s why it’s unofficially ignored in a couple of western provinces.
I’m sure the Chinese government is working on getting the sun to conform to its time zone policy.
Sunday, October 16, 2011 4:02 am EDT