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Kili Summit Adventure

I embarked on a hike to summit Mount Kilimanjaro - Uhuru Peak at 19,341 feet (5895 meters).  Spoiler alert - I did it!!!  It took a total of 7 days of hiking - 5/6 up and 2 down.  I went with a great gang of fellow crazy trekkers - 14 including me plus 6 guides and about 30 porters (more about them later). Betsey took a safari to the Serengetti while I hiked (more on that next time).  It was all iincredibly organized by Altezza Travel, an absolutely top flight Kili hiking organization.  The hike was the most challenging thing I think I’ve ever done - the summit was harder than a marathon, 2k, or 5k - think of it as doing a marathon for 7 hours with a double mask over your face in -20 degree weather.  At 19,000 feet you have 48% of the normal amount of oxygen to breathe.

We started at Longrossi Gate and had a short (3km) hike to the Shira 1 Camp at about 12k feet.  Of course the porters had already arrived and had set up our camp.  The porters, the real supermen of the trip, are by law not allowed to carry more than 30kg (65 lbs) of your gear - they carry your extra gear, tents, cook tents, safety gear, bathrooms, food, sleeping bags, mattresses, etc.  And of course they also carry about a 50 lbs full large pack of their own gear - so they are carrying over 120 lbs twice as fast as you!

Our group consisted of 54 people - 14 hikers (4 from Toronto -including a newlywed couple, 2 Drs from India, a couple from Denver, 2 friends from LA/SD, a brother sister from TN now in TX and NY, a Lawyer from Pittsburgh (via USC), and me (and yes I was the elder member of the group).  We meshed together well and quickly found all the connections - in fact, Mona from Denver and I went to the same secondary school in Ft. Lauderdale a couple of years apart.  Victor, the chief guide as well as all the guides were excellent.  They helped each of us as we struggled (and we all did at some point) along the trek.

Day 2 was again a pretty easy day - about 6km mostly flat through volcanic dust powder about 13k feet altitude.  The challenge wasn’t the distance but getting acclimated to the altitude.  We took our time - we went ‘Pole-Pole’ which in Swahili means slowly, slowly.  By doing so,  it kept most of us from getting too sick.  Each day the cook and his crew created great meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner - lots of carbs, soups (hydrate!), and protein.  Force feeding mostly to keep up our energy.

Day 3 was a tough one for me.  The altitude hit, my stomach wasn’t right, and we had a very long uphill day.  We hiked up to the Lava tower (7k), Pole Pole, up to 15,000+ feet, had lunch, then down to about 13.5K (another 3k hike) then to the Barranco camp.  By the end I was exhausted but feeling much better.  Slept for 9.5 hours all night - thank god for Diamox the altitude wonder drug.

Day 4 was relatively hard but short, especially since I was back feeling well.  Short hike of about 6k but right up the Barranco wall - hand over hand, knees, and feet up the wall on rock hand/ foot holds.  Some places were only one person wide against the wall face - exciting.  After climbing the wall, we settled into several up and down hikes through some valleys,  finally arriving at Karanga camp in mid afternoon.

Day 5 was a short ‘rest day’ in prep for the climb to the summit at midnight.  We had only 4k distance and about 1000 feet to climb to the Barafu base camp at 15,080 feet.  Pretty short but given the altitude, we went Pole Pole and got there in early afternoon.  After lunch, we all rested all afternoon and into the evening - we were supposed to sleep but most of us just drifted off.  I watched an episode of House of the Dragons to relax.

At around 10pm we all got up and had a combined breakfast/dinner before taking off for the summit.  We left right at midnight with many layers on - I had six layers up top, and 5 on the bottom along with several hand warmers.  Everything but my fingers and toes were warm. We started up, very slowly, to go up about 4k feet in altitude and about 5 km in distance (roughly a 25% grade).  For the first couple hours the temperature dropped to about -20C and 20 kt wind; it was cold.  

The summit guides and porters, many who carried most of our gear and often wore no gloves, sang Swahili songs in perfect harmony - it sounded like a medieval chant in the cold wind - but it kept us all moving.  Around six am, after 6 hours of hiking and nearing Stella Point, the sun rose slightly and caused the entire sky to turn bright orange - beautiful and just what was needed to keep me, and everyone else, going to the top.

Shortly after sunrise, we reached Stella point, at 18,885 feet and just about a km to Uhuru Point along the crater ridge.  We paused for just a couple minutes before going along - a few needed help or oxygen - at least one was ‘seeing stars’ and was disoriented - a couple had fallen back but were still coming along.  We crossed the ridge line with the clouds far below, several large glaciers dotting the slopes.  The crater floor was a few hundred meters below us.  We all made it to the Peak at 7 am, pretty exhausted but exhilarated.  The view was magnificent.  Of course we all took lots of instagram photos at the sign - another group even did it in the nude!  After a little while we all headed back down.