Climbing Kili was not my idea, and frankly, I’m not sure I ever actually agreed to it.
Shortly after I arrived in Dar es Salaam, Tal and I had the following conversation:
Tal: What do you think of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro?
My totally appropriate response: HAhahahahahahahaha
Tal: I was thinking maybe, March 2nd through the 10th?
Me: Dramatic Pause
Me: You’re asking me if I want to climb Africa’s highest mountain, less than a month from now?
Tal: Puzzled look on face, head cocked to one side
Me: You’re not joking?
Tal: So I can book it?!
Me: How did you reach that conclusion?
Tal: HIGH FIVE!
See what I mean?
And yet, on the evening of March1st I found myself on a plane with a pair of hiking boots, the ugliest portion of my wardrobe, a sleeping bag, a trekking pack and a deliriously happy husband.
We were greeted in Arusha by my equally giddy father-in-law. Amir had flown in from Boston the day before to join us for the trek. Get this; he has already climbed Kili, he thought it would be fun to do it AGAIN.
Some girls get to marry into families who go on cruises together.
The next morning, we were scooped up from our hotel by our fabulous guides William and Francis. After a quick check of our gear, we were ushered into a mini bus already filled with the 10 porters who would make up our climbing team.
That wasn’t a typo. We had 10 porters. I initially joined you in thinking that this was absolutely insane. I’ve hiked before! I’ve camped before! I don’t need no stinkin’ porters!
Omg. Yes I did.
After a couple of days on that mountain I would have given a kidney to these men. Heck. I’d have given them my first-born.
It took us about an hour to reach the gate of the park. To say that I was nervous would be an understatement equivalent to the size of the mountain itself. But I was genuinely excited too. There are several trails that ultimately reach the summit, we were following a route called Machame.
The first day of trekking was a breeze. The incline and gain in altitude is gradual and the rain forest terrain is gorgeous to the point of distraction.
By day two we were more aware of the shift in elevation. The trees were beginning to give way to rocks, and the thinning air meant that we were finding ourselves out of breath after simple scrambles.
But the elevation also meant that we were at the start of what was to be a week of spectacular views.
Day two also included the introduction of my first blister, four more would follow in the days to come.
Each day, our beloved porters passed us on the trails (despite carrying loads two and three times heavier than what we had on our backs) and arrived at the campsite to set up before we arrived.
When we did finally reach each site, sometimes hours after they had, we found our tents already pitched and we were welcomed to our home for the night with bowls of warmed water so that we could wash up. Once we’d freshened up and reset our gear for the next day, we joined our guides and porters in the larger Mess Tent, where they’d boiled water so that we could make ourselves hot drinks.
On the third day of hiking we were in the clouds. The vegetation was almost completely gone and we were surrounded entirely by rocks.
Day three functions as an acclimation day. We spent the first several hours of our hike on a steady incline towards a point called Lava Tower, 4600 meters above sea level. But after a lunch break, our fearless leaders William and Francis lead us down a trail for the first time on our trip. Our camp that night would only be slightly higher than the previous night’s. Though we were taking altitude sickness medicine, this is the best way to prepare your body to reach such unusual heights.
Day four was simultaneously my favorite and least favorite day. We began the day began with the total domination of Barranco wall. I’d like to call this portion of the climb “harnesses are for sissies”.
I absolutely loved the bouldering portion of the day, and even if I hadn’t, the view from the top of the wall would have made it worthwhile.
But then, we had to climb down other side. This might be a good time to explain to you that I have a totally irrational and unfounded, seemingly unconquerable fear of falling forward. I am not afraid of heights. I am not abnormally afraid of falling backward. I am only afraid of falling forward. When I was little I used to tell other kids that I had a medical condition that made it hard for me to walk down the stairs, so that they wouldn’t make fun of how slowly I took my turn in childhood’s endless stream of single file lines.
So on day four I introduced our guides (who thought they knew all there was to know about climbing maneuvers) to: The Nora Technique.
Ass first ladies and gentleman.
This is the very steep, multiple hour trail we did that day. On day five I found my first gray hair.
The fifth day’s climb finally took us to Base Camp. It wasn’t a long hike, or an especially difficult one, but it was filled with anticipation.
When we arrived at camp, even though it was much earlier in the day than we typically ended our treks, our main goal was to rest. We tried our best to sleep the afternoon away, and while Tal and Amir were moderately successful, I wasn’t able to quiet my mind.
At 11pm we began to put on our layers for the final ascent. The summit climb is done in the middle of the night when the ground is the hardest. With our headlamps turned on to guide the way, we began the trek with the ability to see only the feet of the person preceding us. Throughout the last 5 days, William and Francis had repeated the Swahili phrase “pole, pole” over and over again. Slowly, slowly. This became our mantra that night while we walked in silence, steadily upward. As the clock neared 2am, and we reached an altitude of 5000 meters, I began to feel the combined effects of lack of sleep, multiple days of hiking, and the overall anxiety of what was still to come. After several breaks I was forced to admit that I could not climb further. As heartbreaking as the decision was, I knew that I did not have the mental stamina to push through what I was feeling.
I wished Tal and Amir luck before I turned back, but I knew that they would make it.
At 6am, they reached Uhuru Peak, the rooftop of Africa.
They returned to camp just after 9, and by noon we were on our way down the mountain. As far as I’m concerned, they’re rock stars.
By the end of the sixth day, we were all getting a liiiiittle bit punchy.
On the last day of our adventure, we took a moment before leaving our final campsite to snap a few photos with our incredible crew.
If I’m being perfectly honest, I need to admit that by day seven I was done. I was sore and cranky, I wanted a shower and a bed, and I wanted OFF of that mountain. But when we saw the gates at the end of the weeklong trail, I was a little bit euphoric too. I may not have made it to the peak, but damn it:
I CLIMBED MOUNT F***ING KILIMANJARO!!!!!!!!