Monday, March 4, 2013

Kilimanjaro: Pole Pole!

"Pole pole!"  I'm not sure how fast the guides and porters expect you to be moving while on a seven-day trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro but they frequently remind you to move slowly while en route.   "Pole pole" (pole-ay pole-ay) --- "slowly, slowly" --- was the catchphrase of the week.  Our seven days on the mountain, abridged and at a clip faster than what we were hiking, follows. 

Day One:  After breakfast in the hotel, we met with the trekking agency coordinator and our guide to make introductions, collect the gear we were renting (sleeping bags, down parkas, fleece pants, ponchos, & rain pants), and make any last-minute preparations prior to setting off.  When we arrived at the entry gate, a two hour drive from our hotel in Arusha, we signed in, ate lunch, and watched the various agencies collect their porters, weigh & distribute supplies, and prepare for the seven days ahead. For just Lisa and I, we had a guide, an assistant guide, a cook, and seven porters.  Lisa and I were a bit surprised by the number of porters provided, especially since we considered what we brought with us to be quite modest (definitely not industrial strength hair-dryers!), but it turns out most of what the porters carry is food.
Day packs for us, duffels for the porters. 
Mount Kilimanjaro from just outside of Arusha
Welcome to Kilimanjaro.  Hike slowly, drink lots of fluids...
The rest of the rules.
And we're off!
The guide, Vincent, and me.
Lisa and Vincent at our first night's camp.
 Day Two:  Pretty tame day.  About 2,800' of climb up to our next campsite, Shira Hut (~12,600').
Kilimanjaro in the morning
Tough girl bravado.  You got this!
"Kilimanjaro is THIS big!"
The orange tent, our humble abode for seven days
Day Three:  In addition to "pole pole", much of what we read about Kilimanjaro (and to high-altitude climbing in general) was this idea that you "climb high and sleep low."  Today was that day, relatively speaking.  We hiked up to a junction called Lava Tower (~14,930'), had lunch, then hiked back down to the Great Barranco Valley to camp (~12,795').  Fortunately, this was the only day it rained. 
Dry and toasty underneath this poncho.
Signing in at the Barranco Hut.
Afternoon pick-me up = Instant coffee + unsweetened cocoa.  Kilimanjaro Mocha?
Day Four:  Aside from a steep climb up the Barranco Wall first thing in the morning, we spent most of the day traversing over to our next campsite, Karanga (~13,123').  Our bodies were holding up well at altitude so far --- no headaches, decent appetites, virtually no nausea --- although my appetite was starting to dwindle as the day wore on and wouldn't fully recover until after we returned to Arusha (day seven). 
Much better view when it's not raining
Line of porters heading up Barranco Wall
Pointing out the obvious
Some of our porters lounging around on a rock outcropping adjacent to our campsite
Lisa getting balanced and centered at 13,123 feet
The slowly moving warrior
Liquid diet of coffee and water substituting for a hearty appetite
Day Five:  The last day of hiking before our summit bid.  We arrived at the campsite, Barafu (~15,092'), shortly after noon then spent the afternoon relaxing and preparing for the late-night departure to the summit. 
Breakfast with a view
Barafu camp just on the other side of the ridge
Chillin' in the tent with our it's-been-five-days-since-we-showered-selves
Day Six:  The porters woke us up at 10:30PM, brought us coffee, tea, cookies, and reminded us we should be ready to depart by 11:30.  We spent the next hour piling on the layers:  thermal base layers (top & bottom), mid-weight fleece layers (top & bottom), heavy fleece (top), down parka, as well as an outer shell.  I also wore two hats, a neck gaiter, and down mittens.  Lisa was similarly fortified against the cold.  We emerged from our tent just after 11:30PM and began the slow march to the summit fifteen minutes later.  We trudged up the steep trail (~4,250' of climbing to the summit from camp) --- our guide ahead of us and the assistant guide behind --- and after nearly 6.5 hours, we reached the summit (Uhuru Peak).  A couple of friends of ours who'd summitted Kilimanjaro before had told us that when you finally summit, you spend much less time on the top than you'd expect.  They were right:  it was so cold and we were so exhausted that fifteen minutes after we summitted, we were already en route back down.  19,340 feet:  the highest point on the African continent and higher than we've ever been. 
No rest for the weary
19,340 feet:  that's a lot of feet!
Sun rising over Tanzania
Back to Barafu camp almost nine hours after departing the night before
Day Seven:  A leisurely forested walk from Mweka Camp (~10,170') to Mweka Gate (~5,410') where we had lunch, tipped our guides and porters, and caught our shuttle back to the hotel.  
Group photo:  two pasty Westerners, seven porters, a cook, an assistant guide, and a guide. 
Farewell, Mt. Kilimanjaro!

No comments:

Post a Comment