Well, I did it!
I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro!
We reached the summit about 4 pm Wednesday afternoon, August 14th. It was easily the most difficult thing I have ever done on every level. Many times I found myself questioning why am I doing this? I’ve hiked and climbed a good portion of my life, but this ~ this was different. It’s impossible to write an entry regarding something as transformational as this experience. What I will try to convey are the highlights.
Being outside trekking up a mountain in Africa IS as magical as it sounds. 60 miles of life zones that were amazing to experience first hand. Walking in, up and out of the clouds … Surreal. On the second day we turned the corner and “BAM” there she was, the first time we all finally saw Kili. She was daunting and exilerating all at the same time. But honestly, I was scared. To see a mountain that massive and think I could be successful in reaching the top seemed arrogant. From that point forward she would stare down at me everyday and everyday I would quietly mutter under my breath my respect … and request mercy. In all my years on the planet one of the things I know for certain :: Mother Nature is a reckoning force.
The most valuable piece of the entire adventure was The Porters. Onest, our Head Guide with the sweetest, kindest eyes put us at ease and softly encouraged us on our way. Sunday, one of our Assistant Guides has a smile & belly laugh that are infectious and can change your mood as quickly as the weather on that mountain, while offering reassurance and trust in his skills. Then, there was the second Assistant Guide, Pablo who often goes by “Rasta” who’s unsuspecting lanky frame was cheerful, attentive, knowledgable & freakishly strong.
There were another 30 Porters that made our trek possible. David, Felix and Mark made sure we were fed three times a day (when our appetites would comply). Our meals were well thought out and I was always amazed at the food. Porters carried our tents, food, supplies, water and gear while we managed our “day packs”. Each Porter has a weight limit of 33 pound plus their own stuff - which roughly equates to 35 to 40 pounds. Everything is placed in large waterproof bags that they balance on the nape of their necks or atop their heads. If you think you have a difficult job I beg you to witness what these men do while smiling and thanking you for coming to their country.
As we would hike our daily route these Porters would dash by us as if we were standing still. They would race each other for fun and in order to secure the “best” campsite for that evening. As they passed, sweat rolling from their bodies saying “jambo”! Some of these Porters were just boys (rule is you have to be 18, but some lie about their age for the work) others were grown men aged with experience and physical hardship. On long hiking days of 8-9 hours we were greeted with song and dance from this lovely group of people. They were honestly proud of us for finishing everyday. What a selfless existence.
Over those 9 days we learn about our Guides lives… why the do this, what their family think of their jobs, how they are treated by their company and what it was like only years ago before KPAP ( Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project). We discovered that some companies still don’t comply with the weight limit and some Porters carry way too much so the profit margin is greater for the company. We did business via Thompson Safaris and we were assured countess times how ethical, involved and fair they were. Many Porters strive to work with such companies so they can have good working conditions, meals, proper equipment, good wages & fair tips.
When I arrived at KPAP to drop off the socks I’d collected from SmartWool I heard stories that rattled my insides. I interviewed David, who helps run KPAP as he told me his story of when he started as a Porter. Sadly, I know there are many stories like his.
This mountain was difficult for me. Maybe for some it’s a long hike, but for me it was not. My body was strong enough, but my lungs worked hard. I had my struggle with altitude sickness the morning after summiting, and camping at 18,500 feet. I couldn’t sleep at that altitude or in that type of cold. I had been congested since day two and breathing only thru my mouth made it challenging. I woke, vomited and started down just ahead of my group. Within 30 mins I started feeling better but a slight fever had set in. It was a long hard day that had me in tears when I arrived at camp that day… Relieved, tired and ready to be done. My body couldn’t regulate it’s temperature and was pissed at me. I laid down for a nap and within 2 hours was feeling so much better. We had a ceremony for the Porters that evening before the sunset, then I climbed in my bag, got toasty warm (as warm as you can at 12,800 feet) and slept. I skipped dinner and hadn’t eaten since the previous days breakfast. The next day - I was back at nearly 100%.
Besides having the goal of summiting, I also had the “job” of filming this journey which was also taxing as well. Always keeping my “eye” on and aware, anticipating that “capture” while maintaining all my systems - emotional, physical, intellectual, spiritual…
Needless to say, I’m tired.
We descended from the summit in a day and a half. Each step down was like breathing in water, my body a sponge, soaking in the richness of life. We slept with glaciers the night before and now I was walking in a rain forest.
Now I’m back at the spot were I started. Waiting for the electricity to come back on so I can post this.
It may take me months (once I get home in October) for me to review all this content… I can’t wait to see what stories surface. I have a million of them jolting thru my body right now. Gratitude seems to be the theme.