Peace Corps 2018

Getting High for the Kilimanjaro High.

January 21st- February 21st

Big Bro comes to Ethiopia! Big Bro comes to Ethiopia!

Long post ahead of you but well worth the read, so you and your eyeballs just go ahead and continue on. 🤗

On January 31st David traveled from Cairo, Egypt to Jimma, Ethiopia. Jacob and I sat outside the airport waiting for David to make his way through the gates. Once his now long haired, sun-glassed, James Bond appearance made it outside, I hollered with rapture letting him know where I was.

No exact words can describe the giddy feeling that bubbled out of me. My brother is in freaking Ethiopia!

David and I spent a night in Jimma and two at site and then made it back to Addis to head to Tanzania.

My compound family was enraptured by David. Every person at my site that saw us declared how we look so much alike and that David was “Big and King like” I was not a fan of this phrase…”He is not a king!”  I would shout. “He is just my brother ughhhhh”

His bigness was appreciated by most except for the youngest of the bunch. Haasna. She was NOT having it and when she saw David she ran away crying. She was almost hysterical as panic ran through her and she ran to hide behind any other person nearby. It caused a great laugh for the family.

The time in Ethiopia was quick but David and I had a bigger adventure to tackle.

Mount Kilimanjaro.

Mount Kilimanjaro is 5,985 meters high (19,341 ft)  It is the highest point in Africa. It is the world’s highest free-standing mountains and is one of the 7 summits of the world.

We were going to attempt out of 30,000 a year to summit this treacherous mountain where there are a reported 10 deaths per year. (More than likely the number is higher).

It started with a flight to Moshi, Tanzania from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

(Oh it might also be important to note that David had set up this tour company before he left the states) We were paired with Paul Shayo Trekking and Safari (A company that many fellow Peace Corps volunteers use).

We landed, waited an outrageously long time in line for our visas then were picked up by a shuttle that had the steering wheel on the right side of the car and drove on the left side of the rode.

(First experience with that and it was kind of nerve wracking as I thought every car was going to be hitting us). From the airport we headed to a rather nice hotel called Mbugani.

Moshi was a nice town no doubt because of the tourist that pour through.

As we prepared our bags, tried out our gear, we cozied up in our beds and tried to get some shut eye before our grand trek.

DAY 1

The first day entailed us sleeping in, eating breakfast, getting a slight view of Kili( it is covered by clouds a lot of the time),

…getting picked up by a shuttle, meeting our camp crew, and driving to Machame Gate. We arrived and were quickly overwhelmed by the amount of people. We thought we were climbing Kilimanjaro at a slow tourist time; wrong we were. We signed registration sheets, ate a boxed lunch, then sat in the grass waiting for our Guide, Allen, to tell us to leave.

We waited a ridiculous amount of time and both question what was going on. While you hike Kilimanjaro you are required to have a “Crew”. A guide, cook, and Porters: people to haul all the gear. (These people are f*ing nuts. They would carry copious amounts of gear on their backs/head/neck and then frolicked from rock to rock passing hikers with no bags…Da F?!).

Anywho, our guide reached an issue of not having enough porters or the pack “weight” being too much and it caused us to stall. David and I were one of the last people to leave the gate and start our trek. We also left without our guide Allen and were directed to hike with what was deemed the “assistant guide” named Raj (His real name is longer than this but I couldn’t remember it for the life of me, So I told him I was going to call him Raj instead).

We headed out with Raj and instantaneously the theme was “Pole. Pole.” (Slow, Slow) This was almost a week hike and in order to accomplish it you had to get acclimatized to the elevation and this means: Go slow. Not a normal walking pace, think snail pace. Step…..Step……Step…. Every movement is to be mindful.

At first this was beyond painful for me especially because we were not at high altitude yet. But, I wanted to make sure that I could summit summit day so I inched along behind Raj, stopping frequently to take pictures and marvel at the rain forest’s splendor.

Kilimanjaro goes through four different climate zones.

Day one was filled with a tropical rainforest with high humidity and a light drizzle with various flora.

After a few hours of hiking, around 5:30 pm we had made it to our first camp site…

Machame Camp where the first order of business was to fill out a registration book

and then we unfortunately had to wait for our tent to get setup. David and I both had a feeling things were not going as planned for the crew. We weren’t entirely sure what was going on but knew something unusual was playing out.

We got into our tent after about 30 minutes to find my one and only bag (Ozzy) hanging out. We both looked puzzled at each other. Where was David’s bag?? It was quickly confirmed that David’s bag was yet to arrive and that Allen was supposed to be bringing Davids bag (as there was something wrong with the porters).

Okay…

David and I shrugged off his bag not being there and indulged in the warm water served to us to wash off and then the hot thermos for hot chocolate or a drink of our choice. **Which after a couple days of this routine I realized that I had all these options of what to drink; coffee, tea, hot chocolate, energy drink, milk, I found myself repeatedly asking David what he thought I should drink. All these options were now overwhelming to me and annoying for my dear brother. Sorry Daveo 🤷🏽‍♀️

As the sun was settling our dinner came out. We were served cucumber soup, tuna meat patty things? potatoes, bananas, vegetable soup. A feast! David and I thought we were only going to be served soup so we finished the entire bowl they gave to us, to then find out there was alot more coming. Oops, rookie mistake made for extremely happy bellies.

While eating our food, Allen our guide had made it to camp and immediately we could tell something was wrong. Supposedly, the porter that was supposed to take David’s bag had went home instead of coming and Allen needed to leave to catch us, so David’s bag was left inside Machame Gate.

I could feel David becoming irate and the “OH fuck” swirling around in my stomach. If we didn’t get his bag, this trip could be kaput. All the worst thoughts were worming their way into my mind. “Is his bag actually there?” “What if someone steals it?” “What if they stole things from the inside?” Question after question after question. Allen let us know that he was going to leave at 6 am to hike back down, get David’s bag, and that he would meet us at the next camp for sure.

The crew lent David a sleeping bag and sleeping pad and luckily we were not in high enough altitude for David to need all his winter gear.

After all the drama, we decided to see if Allen would hold true to his promise and we finally hunkered down and fell asleep.

Oh how I’ve missed camping.🤗

DAY 2

Day two we woke up with a left over sickness from Ethiopia and both had the rumbling stomachs. We tried to knock it out before we came to Tanzania to no avail. We didn’t want to take an antibiotic just yet because we knew it would make us more fatigue so we decided to take Imodium and troop through.

For breakfast we were served porridge,  eggs, hot dogs (weird no?), toast, crepes, and coffee. Shortly after we were on our way again. Today we were told it was going to be a shorter hike of 4 hours but it was going to be a constant uphill climb.

I was fine with it. When you move at a snail pace and can still breathe fine… it makes for an easier trek.

“Pole. Pole.”

The second day we ascended into what is known as the low alpine zone. Here the rainforest rapidly gives way to semi arid grasslands and moorlands. Where heather and small shrubs cover the landscape and the weather is significantly less humid and temperatures can get into the sub zeros in the evenings.

We were able to get out of the trees and on to some rocks that led to stellar views. (and a great place for us to goof off and take pictures).

The clouds would roll in and out which would keep us from being able to see very  far in front of us however, when the clouds would clear out, it was beyond stunning.

We ended around one PM at Shira Cave Camp.

We signed the registration book and were able to relax until 4:30 pm. At 4:30 we were to take a short hike up to 14,000 feet for a quick acclimatization and back to camp. David and I ate lunch; pasta and veggies and unfortunately two hours later each had rumbly stomachs. I was livid. I didn’t want to be pooping all the way up the trail. So I took some imodium and drank some oral rehydration salts and was quickly okay again. I decided that I was going to have to take Imodium on a regular basis for the next few days. I still was not having any affect of the altitude just yet which I was thrilled about.

Right before we were going to head out for our evening walk, Allen appeared with Davids bag with everything still intact.

1) Oh praise the lord!

2) Allen is a beast at hiking.

We were beyond relieved and now we felt like we could really hike this dang thing.

4:30 rolled around and we walked with Raj up to a higher elevation that took us to a rock garden. My heart swelled as it quickly flashed me back to the rock gardens on the Appalachian trail.

Evening rolled around and David and I had a big dinner of oranges, rice, and veggies and went to sleep.

We unfortunately were not able to sleep very good and throughout the entire night could hear people up and about. It seemed like we weren’t the only ones.

A feeling of nerves had pulsed through my body as well. I knew that tomorrow I was going to be going to an altitude that I had not yet. I was nervous about how my body would react. Yes I am in shape but altitude can hit anyone. It can be so unpredictable.

DAY 3

Every morning on the hike the skies were less cloudy and you could clearly see every mountain and landscape before you.

Mornings were by far my favorite time of day while on this trail.

We woke up and headed out but this time with Allen leading and Raj following suit behind. Raj is on the left and Allen on the right.

It was frustrating for me to figure out what in the world to wear to start out everyday because the weather was so unpredictable and I could deal with being hot, but the cold. You guys all know how I feel about that. Additionally, my day pack was a small camel pak that couldn’t fit alot of extra clothes. So I had to guess what to wear and then send my pack with the porters which meant I would not get it back until that evening when we reached camp. Huge delima I know.

Day three consisted of us making our way up a hill to Lava Tower Camp that was at 4600 meters.

There we were to eat our packed lunch and then make our way back down to 3900 meters for camp. Going up that high to help get our bodies acclimatized. We made it and I had a slight headache forming but while I was walking for the most part I could push it away.

Right before we hit our camp for the night we ran into the strangest trees that grow in the low alpine zone.

They look like giant pineapples and what made them even more mysterious is the fog surrounding them that evening. I felt like I was walking on another planet.

We made it to Baranco Camp where like every night, there was a ton of people and tents plopped down everywhere.

The rain had started, so David and I quickly got in our tent and before we knew it, we realized our tent was leaking water. So we hopped out to try to fix it and the crew saw us and quickly took over and moved our tent to a flatter ground where the water wouldn’t pool underneath us.

Once settled we both realized how much our heads actually hurt so we started to chug water and relax and luckily it quickly subsided. In the evening the rain subsided and we were able sit outside our tent and enjoyed the stunning view that was before us.

This was night number three and David and I thought we had three more days till we summited Kili, but after more conversation with Allen we realized that no, we were actually heading to basecamp tomorrow and then at midnight that night we would be summiting Kilimanjaro.

OH MY GOD.

I thought to myself. I am summitting Mount Kili in two days. I felt a twinge of panic expand from my belly to fingertips.

David and I ate dinner which was soup and some yummy chicken pasta and then were off to bed. I found myself actually falling into a deep sleep which my body needed more than any thing.

DAY 4

Day four we woke up and had a tall gleaming wall facing us that we had to climb. My body was starting to become a little more fatigued than usual but I was excited to do some rock scrambling.

Rock scramble!!!!! Unfortunately, with all the people there was moments where we had to wait on people ahead of us but for the most part it was fun to put my trekking poles up and use my hands and feet to shimmy my way up the mountain.

We were now starting to reach the third climate zone of the  high alpine zone that is characterised by an arid desert environment that is rather inhospitable. During the day the temperatures are hot and solar radiation is high and at night the temperatures plummet to below freezing.

We hiked and came to a beautiful outlook that was surrounded by clouds.

Day Four was stunning. I think I took most pictures on this day.

The skies just kept opening up and allowing us these incredible views.

Today was a big hike day. We were to hike 6 miles that consisted of a lot of ascends and descends. Where we were to eat lunch at a camp site where most people who were on the 7 day hike would stay the night. We showed up, had our tent out to eat lunch and a slight rest before we had to hike higher up to base camp.

David and I felt a little hesitant that we picked the faster route of 6 days just becaue it did indeed feel like everything was moving so fast and we were so nervous that our bodies weren’t going to get acclimatized.

But on we moved. I mean, what else do we do? I had a faint headache and felt my emotions starting to play games with my mind and decided that I needed to set a mantra to get me to base camp so on repeat, I said “I am strong, I am confident, I can do this” and slowly one foot after another we had made it to base camp named Barack camp.

We were excited, exhausted, and fearful.

While I was signing the registration form a group of four elder men came in and started chatting me up. One of them asked if I was planing on being part of the groups that are hiking at midnight and I told him yes. He then gave me a worried look and said “Wow, thats a really short time to get rested. We changed ours to five AM since we just now arrived at base camp.” Then gave me a “sincere” good luck which seemed more like “you are an idiot” which I didn’t appreciate but I thanked him and then went back to our tent. His doubts had sent a fear silvering through me. Maybe we should change it I thought. Maybe it won’t be a long enough time to rest I thought. But I equally processed that these were guys well over their 40s and decided I’d discuss with David what we should do.🤷🏽‍♀️

Evening came quickly and David and I messed around taking pictures as the clouds let up and we were able to see a the distant mountain Mawenzi and watch the sunset.

The view was breath taking, we were literally camping as high as the clouds. How cool is this.

Kilimanjaro was still covered, so we had no idea how tall it really was. Which you know…Was kind of scary.

Around 8 PM Allen had come to our tent to discuss the details of waking up and setting out. We asked if we should wake up later and he said “No, we should be fine” and so we decided to wake around 12:30 to 1 and to head out before two AM.

DAY 5

Did I sleep from 8 pm to midnight?

No.

Big ol fat no.

My mind was racing and my stomach hated me.

What did I do instead? Watched a movie on my phone and let out monstrous farts. (They say high altitude induces farting. This is true folks, it induces big, scary, fall out your pants farts where you look around with a “Holy Shit” expression).

Needless to say, I was snug in my sleeping bag dutch ovening myself and did not want to venture out into the cold night and start hiking. But after a while of laying there, David and I started to get up and not change clothes, but started to continue to add layers on.

What did I wear on summit day?

A tank top, a t shirt, two long sleeve shirts, a smart wool long sleeve shirt, a jacket, followed by a big fluffy jacket, followed by a big wind breaker.

And tights, trekking pants, sweat pants, followed by rain/wind breaker pants.

Two pairs of wool socks.

Five pairs of underwear.

Haha just kidding, that would be unnecessary. Just one.

Additionally a beanie, a balaclava, a neck warmer, and a scarf.

And big gloves!

I was going to do my best to stay warm even if that met I could hardly move. Like I said I hate being cold. 🤷🏽‍♀️

We set out around 1:30 am. Allen in front and Raj in back. All of us with head lamps lighting the way.

I was beyond nervous.

Step. Step. Step. Step. Step. “Pole, Pole”. We were like a machine moving our way up the mountain.

I continuously found myself looking up at the sky watching the stars. They lit the sky up so fully, it was beautiful. Then I would look up the mountain and see a trail of headlights. All these people who had left right at midnight.

We hiked slow and steady. Taking breaks frequently. My body became warm at first then the higher we reached and when the time reached 4 AM it became very cold and I was now walking with ice bricks for feet. But I knew that they would thaw eventually and just kept going on.

“I am strong.” Step. “I am confident.” Step. “I can do this.” Step.

 On repeat.

“Pole, Pole”

Even as I said this mantra a part of me was scared I could not do this. My stomach was going haywire and I thought I was going to have to pull down my pants and poo in front of everyone in the early morning light. Additionally, my body was becoming very tired. The less oxygen that my body was receiving the more I felt like my body had aged 30 years.

Also, every time we came over a semi peak, it would lead to another outrageously steep climb in front of us. It felt almost never ending.

Over 3 quarters of the way the sun had started to peak through and we took a break on the mountain and watched the sun light up the world. It was amazing to watch the stars start to fade and the first lights peak through.

The final climate zone is the glacial zone. Over 5,000 meters and consists of high altitude artic conditions. Life is very scarce in this zone as oxygen levels are near half what they were on the lower reaches of the mountain. Fine glacial silt covers the slopes that reach up to Kilimanjaro’s summit.

We had reached Stella point after a 6 and half hour climb.

We reached this thinking that this was the end. We celebrated, took pictures, and then were ready to head back down until Allen had let us know that we were not done. That we had to make it to the other sign he pointed out to us. It was all the way on the other side. We fought him on this but then decided we would go with his constant determination.

Oh my God I thought..

On the way up to Stella I had become a little dizzy and occasionally felt like I was going to hurl. But felt decent enough. David was a little worse than I with headache and fatigue but…

We continued on. It took around another hour to reach the final point and when we did. I was fading fast. The headache was full force now and I was feeling more dizzy.

I was so happy to be at the “Roof of Africa” and was amazed at the views but David and I were not feeling okay, we needed to head down.

Our guides took our phones, started taking pictures for us as we took off some layers as the sun was heating us up, chugged some water and we started walking.

It was amazing… we were literally high up in altitude feeling high/drunk off our rocker as we were not in a natural state. We were getting high (in altitude) for the Kili high (altitude sickness).

As we started the trek down back to base camp my headache increased and I lost vision in the right side of my right eye. At first I felt like something was in my eye and then held my hand up and realized that I couldn’t see it that it was a big blur.

Oh sweet baby Jesus I thought.

All of it made me want to go faster down the mountain. It felt almost like we were skiing down.

Then I started to become into a fog like state. Were I was present. But I wasn’t. Like there was a gap between where I was. It’s hard to explain it. All I knew is that I was NOT okay.

David was in the same boat as he had passed out slightly to his knees and with assistance from our guide had continued on.

We finally made it back to base camp both feeling pretty miserable so we started chugging water, eating what our stomachs would allow and then falling asleep in our tents.

We knew our crew was all planning to head down to another camp at 12,000 feet about an hour and half hike down but we told them we needed rest first. So after a few hours of sleep and food. David and I packed up our bags and the crew and us headed down to Mweka camp for our final stay.

We made it to camp around 5 and settled in pretty quickly. Headaches still lingering, a slight fog, and twitching bodies, we were exhausted.

We were able to eat more for dinner and then went to bed.

DAY 6

I woke up Day 6 feeling a million times better. I also had fell into a deep deep sleep which I knew my body needed. All that remained from the altitude sickness was a slight headache, kind of like the pain you get when you have the leftovers of a migraine. But SO much better.

While we were being served breakfast we heard a helicopter approaching and David and I looked at each other. It had come to land at a helicopter pad a little further up the trail and when we asked Raj what it was doing he let us know it was coming to pick someone up from the mountain that was probably suffering from altitude sickness.

My jaw was on the ground. This mountain is no joke. It’s the real deal. Even on the way down to this camp we saw these metal cart looking things with one big wheel in the middle and they let us know that these were considered to be stretchers to wheel someone down the mountain fast.

Crazy no?

We finished our breakfast, packed our bags for the last time and and the crew sung a Hakuna Matata song for us in farewell.

There, we tipped them and then David and I were ready to set out and we flew, literally flew down the mountain. We were passing group upon group as the oxygen level increased.

My body wanted to blast into a full out run but decided it might not be best on all the rocks and slick mud.(I’m becoming an old woman 👵🏽)

We reached Mweka gate in a short 3 hours and were officially finished with our Kilimanjaro Hike.

I was elated.

We did it.

We freaking did it!!

We signed our last registration book and grabbed a celebratory beer as we waited for our shuttle to come and take us back to the hotel.

At the hotel we indulged in warm yummy food, cold beers, and hot showers.

Our faces were sun/wind burnt but we did it.

Hip hip hooray!!

We left Moshi the next day and spent a couple days relaxing in Addis Abeba before David was to make his trek back home.

I could not of asked for a better person to be with for the past two weeks.

David, thank you from the bottom of my heart for coming all the way to Ethiopia and letting me join you on a wild adventure in Tanzania. I wouldn’t have wanted to hike Kili with anyone else.

I love you my big bro and miss you very much.❤️

Till next time!

Iz and Oz

P.s If you have any questions about this trip please don’t hesitate to ask!

3 thoughts on “Getting High for the Kilimanjaro High.”

  1. Great read Izzy, this brings it all back. Barafu for me was the most miserable camp, there was a rodent hanging out in my sleeping bag which sort fo freaked me out. That last climb from Barafu to the top was so tough, and the very last bit from Uhuru to the summit was sooo tough too. Great experience though, would love to do more …

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Finally got to read all of your blog. I think all my prayers for the two of you were answered. So thankful you made it back safely. What a wonderful adventure and how great that you and David did it together. As always……gma

    Liked by 1 person

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