Continued from Part 1…
The flight to Tanzania was long. It began on June 19th and I finally arrived the afternoon of June 21st. Katyann picked me up at the airport, then we got Alexa and Kelly, before heading to Moshi. We spent the day walking around Moshi, meeting up with some other climbers, and had a fabulous meal at the Union Cafe before retiring back to our hotel for the night.
Before the climb
The day before we began our climb, we rented all the gear we may need and had a pre-climb celebration dinner where we met our guides who had just come off the mountain that very day. We were also given beaded necklaces to wear up the mountain that the Maasai women had made for each of us. We always had something with us that reminded us why we were there.
The first day of the climb finally arrived on June 24th. We had a climb team of 17, which included Jacob, a student from The O’Brien School for The Maasai. Our guides met us at the hotel, where we each filled out a health questionnaire, and our pulse and oxygen levels were checked. (This would be repeated every night). We left to begin our climb way late and this would actually set the pace for the remainder of our climb. We were NEVER on time. We rode in a couple of vans about 3 hours to the Rongai gate. Our route was Rongai Up, Marangu down. We were told that the Rongai route was the “easiest” but less traveled due to the amount of time it took to actually get to the gate. However, we were not told before the climb the Rongai route had the hardest summit night!
When we arrived at the Rongai gate, we checked in (We would do this at every camp for the rest of the climb) and got our gear ready. Porters weighed our Porter Bags making sure we only had 40 pounds or less, and then we began our climb. Due to the increase in altitude we had to go Pole’ Pole’ which means Slowly Slowly. Our porters went extremely fast and beat us to camp by hours, and have it all set up for us.
We saw monkeys during part of our first day climb and finally arrived at our first campsite where our own individual porters introduced themselves to each of us. Mine was Daniel, looked to be in his late 40s, but he was awesome….he greeted me with so much enthusiasm and a big hug every time we got to our next camp.
Our meals were fabulous and there were two dinner tents set up that we would all squeeze into and eat by candle light. We would chit chat about our day, our lives etc. It was a good time to get to know fellow climbers as well as our guides.
Getting up there
Gabrielle and I shared a tent for the entire climb and waking up on day 2, I was freezing, but when I opened my tent Katyann and Becca were standing there. Katyann made me close my eyes and guided me through the maze of tents and when I finally was able to open my eyes we had the most amazing view of our final destination, and then when I turned around, all you could see was a sea of clouds…we were already above them. By the time we were done with breakfast and our day packs were packed it started to warm up so the layers started to come off.
It was recommended that we drink 4 liters of water every day. All but two of us were taking diamox for altitude sickness, it is also a diuretic so we peed more in one day than I think I did the entire week before. Having to carry 4 liters of water, plus other things in your pack started to wear me down and my shoulders were hurting, so by day 3 our guide, Steve was helping me and carrying some of my water. Thank God for him.
Due to the fact that we had 3 older individuals in our group our pole pole speed was barely moving. When they said we’d be hiking for 3 hours, then have lunch it was more like 5 or 6 hours, so days were very long.
Surviving the sun and altitude
By lunch on Day 2 my hands were on fire, I kept lathering them up with sunscreen along with every other exposed part of my body, and of course very part of my exposed body burned, however the pain I felt in my hands was excruciating. My only option was to deal with it.
As the next couple of days went on, Susan and some other climbers got sick, but bounced back, my hands continued to be on fire….you could seriously have fried an egg on them they were so hot. Our guides were constantly asking me how my hands were and making sure I was putting something on them.
Our group was always the last group to roll into camp, and we were also the loudest. You couldn’t tell the majority of us didn’t know each other before our climbing journey began; we got along so well. One night a group of us were sitting in the tent waiting for dinner and had our iPhones out playing music. Steve, the guide figured out that if you put the phone in a cup it amplified the sound so we now had a speaker. We created Kili Idol and dance parties that night.
Prior to dinner I was already freezing and in my summit gear. I had on 2 pairs of underarmour leggings, another pair of pants and then snow pants, 2 underarmour long sleeved thermals, another long sleeved shirt, a tshirt, a fleece, a winter jacket, 2 pairs of socks, a complete face cover, ear warmers, and a warmer fur hat.
I was cold, I was tired, I was hungry and my hands were on fire as we began our final ascent to Uhuru. One of our porters became my savior on this night as he carried my bag for me the entire night and day. He wouldn’t give it back either. Every time we stopped he made sure to rush over to me and give me my water….my camel back tube froze, which I wasn’t too sad about it because I really didn’t want to have to figure out how to pull down all my layers to squat behind a rock, but my little porter friend kept opening it and making sure I drank enough. Matt had brought some energy bars that we tried to eat, but those also froze so it was difficult to bite into them. Sitting down was difficult because all you wanted to do was fall asleep.
We were nowhere close to Uhuru peak at sunrise, so we sat on the side of the mountain and watched the sunrise. It was by far the prettiest sunrise I had ever seen. Once the sun rose, we started our journey upwards again, climbing over rock after rock until we were finally at Gilmans Point. Once there, we rested for a much needed break as we waited for the other climbers to join us. I was also getting warm, so my fleece and winter jacket came off. I really just wanted to lay on the rocks and sleep, but once the rest of our group showed up, we began the next leg of our ascent and made our way towards Stella Point.
The view was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The weather was amazing and you could see the curvature of the earth. It was nice to see how excited our guides and porters were that we officially reached Africa’s Highest point. They had been there hundreds of times, but were still excited for us.
After some champagne it was time to make our way down the mountain. It was nice, because you didn’t have to go Pole’ Pole’ any more, so it took a day and a half to get back down the mountain. I had now been up for close to 24 hours. As we were walking we started seeing things that weren’t really there, like people, rocks in the shape of animals etc. ( I was really happy later to find out it wasn’t just us seeing things, other climbers were too).
Once we reached the gate our porters and guide had a little celebration for us, which included a champagne shower, and hugs for everyone. Paul, one of our guides asked me the next day “If I paid for it, would you do it again?” my response “I’ve been off the mountain for less than 24 hours, my hands are on fire, my feet and legs are so sore I can barely walk, HELL NO, I will never climb this mountain again!” But now that my hands aren’t on fire as much, my legs and feet are feeling fine, and I’ve been able to sleep I would do it again!
The day after the climb, we celebrated with the students, women and the rest of the Maasai Village at The O’Brien School for the Maasai. When we arrived the women wanted to dress us in their traditional Maasai clothing for the day, it was so hot! It was a day full of performances by the students, and they were adorable, followed by a late lunch and then we ventured back into Moshi.
Leaving Tanzania was difficult. Two weeks was not long enough, I didn’t have any idea the impact the people would have on me. Since coming home, all I’ve been thinking about is going back. I turn 30 in November, and am determined to say goodbye to my 20’s in Tanzania. Frequent flier mile donations are gladly accepted! 🙂
~ By guest writer Leslie Vice who volunteered in Tanzania and Morocco. You can learn more about her trip and send her a donation by clicking here.