Cara's Account of Kili

Warning: In an attempt to give you an authentic piece of our Kili trek this post contains many strong exclamations and many photos of pit latrines.

Since we spent so much time working up to our Kilimanjaro climb, I thought it would be a good idea if both Jeff and I documented our experiences. Read Jeff's account here. Climbing Kili has been Jeff’s baby, and he has been the most excited about this part of our trip, which is AWESOME and I fully supported him. I guess it’s a good thing that I didn’t do much research on the hike, because if I had known what we were getting into, I might not have wanted to go.

I knew this was going to be the ultimate physical and mental test, possibly the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. There were always little doubts playing in the back of my mind, but once we paid $966 each at the gate in government park fees alone, there was no way I was NOT getting to the top. Funny how spending a huge chunk of money gives you motivation to follow through.  

Let’s get this straight- besides not having real bathrooms and showers, we were definitely ‘glamping.’ As we arrived to the campsite every day, our tent was already set up, bedrolls unrolled, and all we had to do was show up for afternoon tea in our mess tent. Each morning we received a wake-up call, during which we were served hot tea. Tea before I even get out of bed??!!!!! Now this I can get down with.

Some meals we were served by our waiter. Yes, we had one person in our crew whose job was to wait on us….

Something else I am a fan of? Pit toilets. For those of you who don’t know- I spent my entire senior year of college studying ventilation in pit toilets. AND. I. LIKED. IT. No joke!  I tried explaining this to our guide, but he just looked at me like I was a crazy person.

Studying a pit toilet in Houghton, Michigan (aka frozen tundra) makes it a little difficult to correlate the data to sub-Saharan Africa (which is what we were trying to do). However, I found a place where our research was validated!!!!!! On the top of Kili!!!! It was so cold that most nights I slept in 2 pairs of pants and a winter coat.

Along with the cold, came Mountain Fever. Altitude sickness is one mean Mother. I was hopped up on Advil and Excedrine all week trying to battle the headaches and nausea. I can’t tell you how many times I mentally flipped the bird to the summit as we were slowly climbing. Climbing Kilimanjaro is like those annoying Sour Patch Kids commercials…It pisses you off so much as you are climbing that you can’t even remember why you thought this was a good idea in the first place. Then as soon as you go downhill a little bit and get some more oxygen, you just want to hug the mountain and tell her she’s the most beautiful thing you have ever seen. The ultimate bitch playing mind games. Like this:

On Day 6 of our climb, we started toward the summit at midnight. I did extremely well for about the first 5 and a half hours in the thin air. I took super deep breaths and kept repeating mantras to myself. I was pretty much in a meditative state for that long. Once the sun came up, things started to go downhill (figuratively- remember we already paid all that money and I wasn’t going to quit?!). My steps got even slower and each time I closed my eyes I felt like I was going to pass out, fall asleep, or throw up. Fortunately, none of those things happened.

As we got near the top, I tried to dig deep. My legs burned all over from the bazillion baby steps, my heart was racing and my lungs were tired from the lack of oxygen. You always have a little bit left in the tank, right?! Wrong. I can always push through, but that day it was like I didn’t even have a tank. I would take 10 baby steps, then stop and breathe. 10 more steps then stop. It was painfully slow. Poor Jeff, he was doing great, and just wanted to get to the summit. Jeff was awesome- he and our guide, Paul, ended up taking me by the arms and walked me the last 600 meters to the peak. The Roof of Africa!!!!!

I don’t mean to be Debbie Downer about our whole Kilimanjaro experience- we are so happy with the company we chose to use and we were treated so well. But when you are sick and not feeling yourself for the whole trip, it puts a huge damper on things. The most impressive part of the whole hike were the porters. These guys are amazing. They carry all your stuff, their stuff, and any food or gear the group needs for the whole week. The first picture below is our porters getting their bags weighed. They are only allowed to carry 15-20 kg of our stuff. Everyone gets their bags weighed before heading up the trail. We ate watermelon on the 5th day. That means that one of these guys carried a watermelon on his head for 5 days before we ate it! 

Talk about some strong neck muscles. I calculated how much money the porters earned in the 7 days they were carrying our stuff around the mountain. I used to make that much in about 3 hours behind my desk. It definitely puts things into perspective. We are so thankful to our crew- we definitely couldn’t have done it without them!

Kilimanjaro gave Jeff and I a lot of ‘First’s’ together:

1.       Summiting above 19,000 ft.

2.       Not showering for 7 days

3.       Camping for 7 days together

4.       Not cooking for ourselves for 7 day

The good news is that we still seem to like each other- even after not taking a shower for a week :) On our last day, after the peak, our group sang to us: