Ah, Zanzibar! Just the name of it alone sounds like paradise.
Yes I’ll be going there. But before I dive into that awesome chapter, I still gotta get off this damn mountain!
After about ten minutes at the summit, I put back on my gear and made my way back down the path I just came on. It was extremely liberating to know that I wouldn’t have to ascend any further, just mostly descend. I still felt like crap and I still had a hard time catching my breath. I passed my group and made it back to Stella Point with relative ease. However I had zero energy left.
I didn’t realize just how steep we came up. I thought going down would be a piece of chocolate cake, but it was tiresome. Kili’s last resort to try and bring me down. The gravel going down was so loose that with each step I would sink into the mountain. I was exhausted and after three hours, finally stumbled down to Barafu Camp, the site where we stayed right before Summit Day. Three hours! That’s how battered and beaten I was. I told Nderingo that I needed to sleep for at least an hour or two before I hike any further. My body couldn’t go any further. I wasn’t the only one who needed to rest. Everyone else in my group slept as well.
I only slept for about an hour and a half but it was all I needed to regain my strength. I was rejuvenated and anxious to get off this mountain. I walked with another member of my team who suffered more than I did at the summit. After walking for a bit, I became so antsy to get off Kili that I ran full speed down the mountain. I leaped over mud-pits, hopped from rock to rock, and sprinted as if I was running for my life. I found it quite fun. It felt good to feel normal again. The lower I descended in elevation, the better my head felt. It was easier to breathe. Eventually I made it to the bottom of Kili. We all made it down one way or another. I was done with this mountain.
On the way back home to Arusha, we could see Kilimanjaro behind us in the horizon. I didn’t have the same awe-inspiring feeling when I used to see this picture. Before it was “Wow, that looks so amazing!” Now it’s “Screw you Kilimanjaro…”. We all pretty much had the same thoughts :).
I haven’t showered in about a week. I was the dirtiest I have ever been. My beard was bushes and my hair was matted to my head. I immediately darted to the shower and watched all the black goo come off my entire body. I gave myself a haircut and shaved off my beard. I looked like a new man! No time to rest though, because I had to pack my bags again. Myself and a few others would be leaving Arusha tomorrow morning and going to spend a week on the tropical island of Zanzibar! I considered it to be my reward for conquering Kilimanjaro. I have been looking forward to this for months!
Katie, Tanner, Lana, and myself took an eleven hour shuttle in the morning from Arusha to Dar Es Salaam, one of the major cities in Tanzania. Later on we would eventually reunite with Nick and join up with Lana’s hometown friend Ben (Vancouver, Canada). We opted to take a shuttle and then a ferry to Z because it was much cheaper than flying. The big drawback is that it takes a day in a half to get there rather than just an hour by flight. We finally made it to Dar and booked a hotel in the city. The next morning we took a two hour ferry across the Indian Ocean to Z. Out of all the things that make me motion sick, boats are the biggest culprit. I took three motion pills before hand and it knocked me out! I managed to make myself cozy in the aisle of the upper-deck in the ferry. It was a rocky start but I got through it.
Finally, after a day and a half of traveling through the country and in the ocean, we docked in Stone Town, one of the main hubs of the island.
Stone Town had a completely different feel from any place I’ve been in Tanzania. I felt like I was in the middle east. Everything about this fabled town had an arabic vibe to it. Such a nice change of scenery. Another thing, it’s Ramadan here. It’s a muslim holiday that lasts a few weeks (I think) where muslims can’t eat or drink anything as long as it’s daylight outside. Because of this, a lot of restaurants were closed but we managed to find a few that stayed open along the beaches. We had to be careful not to drink our water bottles in the middle of town, out of respect for the locals here.
After a few hours of exploring the city, we took a taxi to Nungwi beach, the setting of my holiday for the next week here on this dream island. I can’t wait to tell you all about it!
Summit Day a.k.a the WORST day of my life. Also the best, but mostly the worst. That will make more sense later.
So we woke up at 11pm in the bitter cold (mind you temperatures are below freezing) to eat a quick breakfast before the final ascent. For some reason, I had ZERO appetite and that is not a good thing. Having no appetite is an indicator for altitude sickness. I forced myself to eat two orange slices, but that’s about all I could muster. The others in my group told me to eat as much as I could, but I just didn’t want to. They barely had an appetite as well.
I layered myself in clothing. Three thermal pants, three pairs of thermal socks, winter pants, maybe about 3 long sleeve shirts, a hoodie, a fleece jacket, my big down jacket, gaiters, a scarf, a snowcap. I was stacked and very warm. The freezing cold was no longer a main concern. However, I felt a headache breaching. “Nooo!”
I was viciously sleepy. I could have slept where I stood and I think I did a few times. Nderingo summoned our group to get into a line. Allison was first in line. I was second, Mike was third, Kang fourth, Lana fifth, and Nick was the anchor. And up we went on the snow patched slope towards the summit.
It was pitch dark. All we had were our head torches to see in front of us. We went extremely slow. Pole pole. I needed to. I don’t know what happened to me. Yesterday I felt golden, but now I feel like the start of something terrible. My sleepiness opened up the door to altitude sickness. I kid you not, half of me slept walked up the mountain. We would stop every ten minutes to take a quick two-minute break which I needed badly. And when I say quick, I mean quick. If we rested too long, we would fall asleep and freeze to death. Whenever I stopped for more than a minute, my toes and fingers would grow numb. It happened where I would instantly fall into slumber after pausing momentarily. That’s how insanely tired I was. The lack of oxygen and sunlight didn’t help my case either. The guides tried to give me sugar and chocolates to boost my energy. They literally forced it into my mouth. I had no choice. The others in my group told me no matter what, not to fall asleep. This was torture and I still had so far to go.
As I slugged my half asleep body up the zig zagging slope, a few people in my group decided it was a good idea to start sing-a-long songs. Everything from local melodies to Disney tunes. Then they started to sing “Call Me Maybe”…
That’s when I decided, either I jump off this mountain or I separate from my party. No offense to LX6, my forever mountain family, but I’m gonna do this alone. With little disturbance as possible. The songs were like lullabies and were drowning my eyes even more than what they were. So at the next rest, I went off to find a place to go number 2. I told the rest of my group to go ahead without me; I could take a while. It was the perfect diversion. It was also the coldest poo of my life! Two of the guides stayed behind with me to make sure I stayed alive.
I don’t remember a lot of the night hike because I was sleeping every few minutes. All I could see was that I still had ways to go. I saw my group far ahead; their head torches glistening like stars in the sky. I’ll admit, I stopped a lot. It was so hard to breathe up there. In addition to my breathlessness, my coughs came back a vengeance. The end of each death cough felt like I was going to vomit. My headache grew worse, but it was nothing a little aspirin couldn’t fix. The cold was the least of my worries. The sickness that I had increased ten-fold. I just wanted to sleep for five minutes.
Finally, after hours of zombie-like trekking, the sunlight cracked open the dark starry sky. A sea of light rose from the snowy clouds. I saw blue skies in front of me.
And like magic, my drowsiness wore off. I was still exhausted, but I didn’t feel the need to sleep anymore. However, it was difficult to catch my breath. After every few steps I wanted to lay on the ground and relax to catch air. By this time, my camel-pack has frozen over. I couldn’t drink any water because the hose was frozen solid. No water for this guy! My camel-pack even had insulation covering it, but it was useless. I even did the trick: blow back the water after every time you take a sip so it doesn’t freeze in the hose. I was in such a trance that I forgot to do that a couple of times.
The guides told me once I get to Stella Point (the point before the summit) its smooth sailing from there. They said it was a straight path to the peak. This was extremely encouraging as the last part before getting to Stella was the steepest. The guides literally had to push me up because I was sinking in the gravel with each step. But finally, I made it to the point and joined my comrades who were resting there. I fell to the ground and felt like I could have died right on the spot. They seemed to have an easier time than I did. That’s the thing about the altitude, it doesn’t matter how great of shape you are in, it effects everyone differently. I knew for certain now at this point, the altitude hates me. She hated me in Peru, she hated me even more on this mountain. I laid on the ground and saw my group look as if they wanted to pass out too. Nderingo pointed to the summit of the mountain, Uhuru Peak. The guides lied to me. They told me it was smooth sailing from here. It turns out I have to ascend more but this time through an icy crevice to reach the peak. I motioned for my group to go ahead of me. My guides suggested I go with them but I wanted to rest a bit more before my last trudge up to summit. I caught my breath, stood up like it was my first time standing on my own again, and slugged away.
The scenery changed almost instantly. I was surrounded by masses of snow, ice, and what looked like huge icebergs just hovering in the clouds. I felt like I was an explorer in the antarctic. I literally stopped to look around and thought to myself, “Daniel, what in the hell are you doing up here?”
I saw other trekkers coming from summit with a happy smile on their face. They glanced at me and asked if I was okay. I guess I looked pretty pitiful haha! “You’re almost there! Just a little bit further.” One of the guides told me to put on my sunglasses. I told him no. “You will get snow blindness!” he said. I’ve read about snow blindness before coming up here. Apparently the sunlight gleans off the pure white snow more so at this high elevation which can cause a nasty glare to the unprotected eye. I was too focused on trying to breathe than to worry about snow blindness, but he insisted that I just put them on. I then let him in on a secret of mine. Sunglasses make me motion sick. I know it’s strange. Don’t ask me how or why but they do. I put them on anyways to please them.
As I was hiking, I stopped and just about collapsed on the ground. My energy left me and I was struggling for air. I remember the day before the hike when the guides went over safety precautions and showed us an oxygen tank they will bringing for emergencies. I remember thinking to myself that I won’t be the one needing it. Oh how I wish that was true! They whipped the oxygen tank out of their backpack and strapped it to my face. After a couple of minutes, they asked if I was okay. I felt the same. I’m not sure if the oxygen helped, but I felt like it did nothing. I nodded my head anyways because I was starting to become worried that they were going to make me stop if I said no. So I slugged along. I’ve never felt worse in my life.
It was the last stretch. The guides pointed to the summit but it was hidden in clouds. I knew I was close. So close in fact that I saw most of my group heading my direction. They just left the summit and were surprised to see me. They thought I had passed out and wasn’t sure if I would make it, otherwise they would have waited for me at summit. They thought I was down and out for the count? I couldn’t really blame them, I looked like a dead man walking. They showered me with excitement and momentum. “It’s just right around the corner Dan!”
Each step I made took a little life out of me but I pushed through…and then finally…
I SAW THE SUMMIT!
I threw off my hat. Tossed my sunglasses. Stripped off my scarf and dropped my walking poles at my feet. All of my ill fated symptoms, headaches, coughing, breathlessness…everything went away. I wasn’t even cold. I was fully conscience.
I made it.
I could of cried. Everyone else certainly did. This was by far the hardest thing I have EVER done in my life. I’ve never felt this level of accomplishment before…ever! I was in a state of euphoria. All of this hard work paid off. I was standing over 19,300 feet in the sky and it was the most amazing feeling in the world. 9:20am is the time I clocked in. I was overwhelmed in relief and excitement. It’s hard to explain in words the feeling you get from this.
I can be honest with you. As much as death grabbed me by the legs the entire summit day, not once was I even thinking about giving up. Not even a little. I knew from the get-go that I would make the summit, no matter how long it took me or how hard it was. That small ounce of determination is what I needed to keep me alive and sane. There was no way I could live this down. I literally felt like I was going to die where I stood, but my strive to get to the top was the stronger force in motion. I never looked back. I never gave in. I came way too far to turn around without any consolation. With that, through all the odds, I found sweet success. My sickness before climbing definitely played a part into my struggle. Even if you have the slightest cough I do not recommend you do this. I learned the hard way.
The doctor didn’t answer me immediately. He instead checked my heart rate and prescribed me with a bunch of meds. “If you take these, you should be okay by then” he said. It was friday, which meant I needed these drugs to work by Sunday in order to be in good shape for the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. What a long shot!
I rarely ever take any pills or medications back at home. If I have a headache, I refuse to take an aspirin; I just sleep it off. If I have a cold, I just let my body build up the proper immunity. What the doctor here in Arusha prescribed me with is just insane! Just look at it all…
It’s so much! I’m very naive when it comes to this stuff. I feel like a pill popper. Will I die from taking all of these drugs at once? I don’t even know what those yellow tablets are for. In addition to the malaria pills that I have been taking once every day, now I have to take all of these at least once or a few times per day. But I felt like I had to do whatever was necessary to feel better. With that, I made my decision that I was going to climb. So I told Lana (Vancouver, Canada), another volunteer in charge of organizing a team of trekkers, “I’m in”. I would regret it if I didn’t at least try. However, if I didn’t make it to the peak, then it would be one of my more embarrassing moments.
Preparation Day (Sunday July 15th)
For the next few blog posts, I’m going to treat my experience on Kili as sort of a rough guide for any of you readers out there in the world who are interested in summiting this gargantuan beast. I’ll share what to do and what not to do. My first-hand experience.
There are six of us making the journey to the summit: Myself, Lana, Mike, Nick (London, UK), Allison (Chicago, US) and Kang (China). We are team LX6! LX6 stands for “Lana times 6. We were picked up from Arusha and taken to Moshi in the morning.
The name of the company we went with is called Karibu. They are a little cheaper than most other companies and well worth it. We went to get the necessary gear we needed. This equipment place had everything we could ever want. So if you come unprepared do not worry. Everything you need for the climb is here available to rent and is included in the lump cost. The items I had rented as recommended by our guides are :
1 large down jacket
3 pairs of thermal socks
3 pairs of thermal slacks
1 head torch
1 fleece jacket
1 rain proof pants
1 pair of gloves
1 pair of gaiters
1 pair of heavy-duty pants
2 walking poles
1 water bottle
In addition to those items, I had already brought with me:
1 rain jacket
1 winter hat
1 pair of hiking boots
5 long and short sleeve shirts
1 cargo shorts
1 cargo pants
1 hand torch
You can rent all of those from the equipment shop as well. I used all of these items on the mountain and found that everything was absolutely necessary for the long ascent. I rented the water bottle just in case there was a hole in my camel-pack; I would have a back up. Maybe I could have done without the scarf but it was a nice touch to have. Next we hit up the local grocery to load up on snacks. I will burn a lot of calories hiking hours upon hours so it was essential that I brought plenty of snacks to replenish some energy. This is what I brought:
2 cases of Pringles
4 Snicker bars
1 bag of mini Mars Bars
2 bags of roasted cashews
1 box of chocolate cookies
Being the chocolate fiend that I am, I ate two of the Snicker bars before the hike even began :). I will tell you first hand though, pausing to eat a Snickers after hours of hiking is the best thing in the world! I never had a Snickers bar that tasted so good. I would advise against getting cashews or peanuts. They dried my mouth out and I didn’t get the glucose energy I needed from them like I got from the chocolates.
We were taken to our hostel for the night where we were given a brief lecture about important things we should know about our hike. We met our three guides there: Nderingo (the chief guide), Peter (assistant guide), and Sosteness (assistant guide). We would wake up in the morning the next day to start our ascent up the Machame Route, the second hardest ascent to the summit of Kili.
Day 1 (Monday July 16th)
The hike on the first day was through a humid, muddy jungle. Trees were draped with vines and covered with bright green moss. Flys and mosquitoes were everywhere! It was a sweat fest for sure.
It’s highly recommended that climbers hike very, very slowly to let their body acclimate properly to the increasing altitude. And that’s exactly what I did. I had the pace of a grandma crossing the street. The guides would shout “pole pole!” which is Swahili for “slowly slowly!” So this would be my first tip for you: Take it slow! Statistics show that young males are the least likely to summit because they go too fast. I would have been part of that statistic if I had not read about how important it is to go pole pole.
It was a bit frustrating at first going such a snail pace because I could have gone much faster. But I knew from past experience what altitude sickness felt like and I didn’t want to succumb to it again. The slower I went, the less oxygen I used which meant my body could use more oxygen to acclimate properly. On top of that, I was still sick so I didn’t want to take any chances. After about 6 hours of hiking, we made it to the site of our first campsite at the Machame Huts (9911ft). Our guides set up three tents, two trekkers per tent. The tents were very small but they did the job.
Everyday the cook in our team would make us breakfast, lunch, and dinner. All hot meals! Breakfast is usually porridge or oatmeal with a rotation of juices, sausage, eggs, crepes, and fruits. Lunch and dinner is where we would get soups, chips, pastas, rice, salads, fruits, and other side options. Lana, who is vegetarian, was given specially prepared meals just for her. Much to my surprise, we were very well fed the entire time on the mountain. There was also plenty to go around. The cook did an amazing job. We even had our own personal waiter each day who brought us anything we needed. Such a nice touch :).
Day 2 (Tuesday July 17th)
The next day we made the ascent up to our next stop, the Shira Caves (12,595ft). The terrain was different from yesterday. It was dusty and there were small shrubs all over the place. The day was a bit cooler and there were hardly any bugs. Even though the path was considerably steeper than yesterday, I found this trail to be a bit easier and more enjoyable. I kept the “pole pole” pace going. In addition to going slow my next big tip: Drink Plenty of Water! I cannot emphasize that enough. The suggested amount of water a climber should drink each day is about four to five liters. Every few minutes I would drink a sip of water from my camel-pack. In other words, I was constantly drinking water all day long. It keeps you hydrated and is an important source of oxygen for your body. Every time I urinated (which was quite often), I made sure my pee was crystal clear.
Eventually we made it to the site of our camping grounds for the night. Although we made it to camp, our hike for the day wasn’t over. Our guides suggested that we ascend about a half hour further and then descend back down to camp. This brings me to my next tip: Climb High, Sleep Low. Basically by going up and then coming back down, you are preparing your body for what lies ahead.
Tomorrow is Day 3. Previous hikers told me that Day 3 is the day when most start to feel symptoms of altitude sickness. Better prepare myself, off to bed I go!
P.S. My coughs haven’t gone away yet. At this point, I ran out of cough syrup and I finished my antibiotics. I’m at a stale mate.
Ok, Day 3. I heard this is one of the longer days of the hike. And it is. Today looked like we were hiking on a distant rocky planet. Dull colored and strewn with boulders and a tad brisk. It was a steady hike up a long slope and down through valleys. After hours upon hours of hiking, we ultimately didn’t ascend as much as we did the previous two days.
Most trekkers hate this day because it is so long and dusty. It certainly was both of those. I didn’t get any symptoms of the altitude though. No headaches, no nausea. Nderingo said it was normal if I should feel these symptoms and they should disappear after descending a bit. I was completely fine. Just tired. Sleepy tired. I just wanted to find a nice boulder, sprawl out, and fall asleep next to it. I managed to sneak in a quick ten minute nap during lunch break.
It didn’t last long. I had to continue the long hike towards the Karanga Valley Campsite(13,235ft). Before that we reached the Lava Tower(15,180ft), rested and had to descend down to Karanga. Today overall, was more about acclimating rather than ascending. We constantly went up and down and up and down. So far so good.
Day 4 (Thursday July 19th)
Today was definitely my favorite day of the hike. Why? Because the terrain today was very rocky and the path wasn’t as laid out as previous days. I find I fare better with rocky conditions. I consider myself a pretty good rock climber and loved scaling the stone walls up the mountain. It was quicker than following the narrow path which took ages. This is the only time I broke my “pole pole” rule. I was fine though. I had fun doing it. I felt like Spiderman. I don’t know why anyone else wasn’t doing it too, but climbing the walls was very exciting. Maybe a little dangerous but I knew what I was doing. The guides let me climb because they saw how comfortable I was doing that, rather than walking along the set path. Very cool!
There are two other useful pieces of information you should know. I completely forgot to mention that I had “anti-altitude” sickness pills with me called Diamox. Every morning during breakfast and at lunch I would take half a pill. What this does is acidifies your blood, allowing you to breath more conditionally and enters more oxygen into your bloodstream. I have no idea if it worked for me or not. I have nothing to compare it to. But it didn’t hurt to have these. They may have helped. It’s highly recommended by everyone who has been on the hike up Kili.
Another useful piece of information is to make sure you fart and burp, a lot! Passing gas and burping is a great indication that your body is acclimating properly. So don’t be afraid to let loose on the mountain. Myself and the others in my group had no shame. “Whoops sorry guys, just acclimating!” We would even applaud someone when they let out a giant fart haha! Never have we been more open about our gases, keeping count of how many times we cut the cheese. It’s something we can only do on this mountain. No shame. Just acclimating :).
Today was a lot longer than the other days but I enjoyed today the most. We finally made it to our last campsite for the ascent, the Barafu Huts(15,295ft).
Tomorrow is the big day: Summit Day! We went to bed because we had to wake up in three hours for the night crawl! Yes, just three hours of sleep. It was so cold that night too! We certainly had to sleep close to each other to stay warm. We had to wake up ate 11p.m and start the final ascent at midnight. So far all of the days have been…easier than I imagined. I felt zero symptoms whatsoever. Besides my coughing that seems to never go away, I felt great. Just sleepy. I drank plenty of water each day, took my time, ate plenty of food, and enjoyed myself. If this was any indication, I thought summit day would be a breeze as well…right?…