“Do you think I’m alright to climb Kilimanjaro?”
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.