Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Because It's There

By Ann

Mount Kilimanjaro during a safari in Kenya
John and I are just days away now from embarking on what is definitely the most difficult and challenging trip we have ever taken.  It easily surpasses our round the world trip that we dubbed “14 airports in 14 days” which was exhausting in its own way.  But this time we are undertaking a physically challenging endeavor.   We are climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.  It’s the first part of a three week trip to Africa that includes safaris in Botswana, visiting Capetown and Johannesburg, South Africa and spending our 20th anniversary at Victoria Falls in both Zambia and Zimbabwe.  But climbing Kili overshadows everything else and for good reason. 

Although it is not a technical climb, it is not a walk in the park either.  It is a long slow climb to the summit altitude of 19,000 feet.  Not everyone summits either; some have to give up and turn back. 

The preparation for this trip and the gear that we have had to purchase is unprecedented for us.  Even though we have maintained a regular exercise program for the past many years, we have added to it for the climb.  We’ve also had to get vaccines and other shots updated and purchase medications to prevent malaria, altitude sickness and brain adema which is life threatening. 

We did a lot of research into the gear that we will need and, months ago, started collecting everything.  We began by buying good hiking boots and then wearing them to break them in.  Then there’s been a laundry list of other things to buy such as duffel bags, hydration packs, water repellent clothing, walking sticks, headlamps, water purification tablets, energy bars, and sleeping bags among a multitude of other things.  The sleeping bags were a last minute purchase when the hotel where we are staying prior to the climb said they could not guarantee the quality of the ones we would rent from them.  Since we didn’t exactly relish sleeping in a bag that a bunch of dirty climbers had slept in before us anyway, we decided just to buy some.  The problem is in the packing to take them.  Then there’s all the clothing.  You have to dress for hot temperatures when you start out and then freezing cold when you summit.  In the past, most of my trip preparation was buying new shoes and getting a mani/pedi!

The big issue with this climb is the altitude.  You just don’t have any way of knowing how it will affect you.  We’ve been to Machu Pichu in Peru which is at 11,000 feet and we’ve been to Lhasa, Tibet which is 12,000 feet.  I got rather sick from the altitude in Tibet.  The difference though is that we had no time to acclimate on either of those trips since we flew in.  With Kilimanjaro we are slowly making our way to the top.
It will take almost a week.  We are taking the Machame route which is one of seven different routes that you can take.  We will have a guide, a cook and two porters for each of us to carry our stuff.  We will sleep in tents for 5 nights on the mountain.  We won't bathe and we will be totally cut off from the world.  I think it sounds like an incredibly freeing experience.  I never dreamed I would look forward to not wearing makeup or shaving my legs, but I am!
We’ve had friends say “that just sounds awful” and one of John’s brothers asked if we were taking hammers so we can beat each other over the head for attempting this.  I’m sure we will have moments that we wonder what possessed us to do it.  You know the old saying about why you would climb a mountain?  Because it’s there!  I think for me it’s much more than that.  I want to prove that I’m tough enough to do something like this.

It’s a beautiful mountain.  We have seen it from the Kenyan side.  We were on safari and Kilimanjaro was shrouded in clouds and we couldn’t see it.  Then after an hour or more, the clouds suddenly parted and there it was!  It actually brought tears to our eyes. 

I am very excited but nervous but we'll have more about that and what we encounter as we blog daily during our trip.  Oh, and by the way, I did get new shoes and a mani/pedi!

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