Kilimanjaro – 2 – The Kit

Friday, 6 May 2011 00:14 by ranjanbanerji

In my previous post on Kilimanjaro I talked about my initial planning.  One of the challenges I am facing right now is buying all the equipment.  Many tour operators offer equipment for rent and at very affordable rates.  I am choosing to buy new equipment because I go on backpacking trips often and anything I buy will be used for years to come.  Most of what I currently own is old and at the end of its life.  So I need to go through the painfully expensive process of buying new equipment. 

I am basically using the kit list recommended by Team Kilimanjaro.  The table below shows the selection I made, where I purchased the item from, the approximate cost and some notes.  I will update this list as I go through the process of acquiring various items.  I tried my best to get the cheapest items without, hopefully, compromising on quality.  Time will tell whether the choices made were good or not.

I started writing this post before my trip to Kilimanjaro.  I am back now and so I am going to make edits and evaluate the gear I took. Also, now that I have successfully climbed Kilimanjaro I would like to say that a minimalist approach is much better.  I know buying gear is fun but you must try to travel as light as possible.  Yes, there are porters on Kilimanjaro, but they can carry only so much of your junk.  So focus on buying only the essentials.

Large Backpack/Duffel Bag (carried by a porter)

This is the bag that your porter will carry.  It will contain about 90%-85% of what you will need on the mountain.  The rest and water you will carry in your day pack.  Do not get a backpack.  Get a duffel bag.  The porters carry their own belongings in a backpack and then carry your stuff on their head.  Its easier for them to carry a duffel bag.

Brand: REI Classic Duffel Bag XX Large.

Evaluation:  Good bag but too large.  I could easily have done with a smaller bag and fewer items in it.  After Kilimanjaro I had gone on several safaris and this bag was a huge liability on the mountain and elsewhere.  The bag itself is great.  Get the Large one instead.

Daypack

Team Kilimanjaro recommends getting a 25-35 liter bag.  I got a much larger bag because I was carrying a lot of camera equipment.  My bag was 50 liters.  You do not need such a large bag.

Brand: Kelty Redwing 50.

Evaluation:  This is a nice bag.  I guess I could have done with a Redwing 45 but it was not avaliable at the time.  It is strong, and has lots of pockets etc and can carry a hydration bladder.

Waterproof Daypack cover and Duffel Bag cover

You can get elasticated waterproof covers at REI.  It can rain on Kilimanjaro and you really don't want to be carrying a wet pack, nor do you want wet clothes and a wet sleeping bag.  For the duffel bag it was impossible to find a cover so I went to Home Depot and bought a box of 55 gallon heavy duty trash bags.  So my entire duffel bag would fit in one.  I carried about 5 spares in case the trash bag ripped.  I also packed essential items in these trash bags and then put them in the duffel bag.  Extra waterproofing :-).  The bags also come handy for keeping your dirty clothes.

Sleeping Bag

Just because its Africa doesn't mean it cant get cold.  Kilimanjaro is 5,895 m (19,341 ft) high.  It gets cold up there.  So I needed a sleeping bag that can handle the cold but it also needs to be light.  So given budget constraints, reviews by people, and temperature ratings I settled on:

Brand: Mountain Hardwear UltraLamina 0 Degree Sleeping Bag Regular.  It weighs about 3 lbs 5oz.  Which is pretty good considering cost and its temperature rating.

Store: www.campmor.com

Evaluation:  This sleeping bag was amazing.  A bit of a tight fit.  I am 6 feet tall and weigh about 180lbs.  This bag kept me very warm, even on summit night but it was not easy to twist and turn around in.  Overall I would buy it again if I had to.

Sweat Wicking Shirts

This was a tough call.  All sports stores sell these and the are pretty darn expensive.  So I went hunting for sales.  I bought a few big brand name shirts on sale and then a few exercise T-shirts by Champion that I have used in the past and do a good job at keeping dry.

Evaluation:  The Champion shirts worked just fine

Thermals/Base Layers

Same as the T-Shirts.  I got one pair of Polartec mid weight base layers from REI and then a few base layer tops by Champion.  Once again the Champion purchase is a cost saver and I will find out if they are any good.  Based on my experience with regular workout clothes, I like their products.

Evaluation:  The REI Polartec base layer was perfect.  On summit night I had a Champion base layer top, REI polartec top and bottom, a tshirt, Patagonia nano jacket, balaclava, and a waterproof outer shell.

Socks

Smartwool medium weight at REI, thin liner sock to be worn before the hiking sock (mostly for summit night) at REI and then some cheaper hiking socks by Columbia (http://www.campmor.com/outdoor/gear/Product___19489).  I wore the cheaper socks for a 5.5 mile hike and they performed perfectly well.  The SmartWool socks at REI are good but pretty darn expensive.  I also purchased socks liners from REI.

Evaluation:  The Columbia and Smartwool socks worked great.  The Smartwools were a tad bit more comfortable.  Make sure you keep a socks liner and one pair of socks clean and fresh for summit night.  Wet, sweaty, compacted socks don’t keep you as warm.

Hiking Boots

Vasque Wasatch.  Go try out different boots, read reviews, and get what fits you best.  Make sure you wear them a lot before your trip.  I wear mine everyday to work and I go on weekly hikes.

Evaluation:  In my opinion, the best boots ever.

Calf Gaiters

I must admit I had never heard of or thought of these.  But now that I see what they are meant for I wish I had used them on prior long hikes.  There is nothing more irritating (and often painful) than having small pebbles managing to get into your boots.  how effective are the gaiters?  Well I will tell you after my trip  lol.

I got Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain Low Gaiters from www.campmor.com (http://www.campmor.com/outdoor-research-rocky-mountain-low-gaiters.shtml)

Evaluation:  Excellent.  I had no dust, water, and pebbles getting into my shoes.  A must have.

Hiking Pants

Do not use jeans.  They are heavy, bulky, take forever to dry, oh and are heavier when wet.  I bought some convertible pants (zip the leg off to create shorts) from LL Bean.  They also have a lot of pockets, some with zippers others will velcro etc.  Overall they are very well designed.  I have to admit they were expensive but I just could not find equivalent light pants at a better price. http://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/49301?feat=916-SR1

Evaluation:  The pants were nice light with lots of pockets to carry stuff.

Waterproof pants and jacket

If you are unlucky it can rain on Kilimanjaro.  I have heard stories of rain on all 6 or 7 days of the climb.  I was lucky.  No rain.  We had clouds everyday but no rain.  I carried a set of old Columbia sports rain pants and jacket.  I used the jacket as an outer shell for protection from wind.  There are some pretty expensive Goretex pants and jackets that are in the market.  I am not convinced that they are needed.  Or maybe I was just lucky and did not end up needing them.

Down Jacket

This is one are where I am trying to do as much research as possible.  For the summit night one needs to have the right kind of clothing as it will be cold (0F, –15C), possibly raining, possibly very windy.  My goal is to have my base layer on, a tshirt (maybe something with log sleeves), then a PrimaLoft jacket (Patagonia Nano Puff), a fleece jacket, and an outer shell.  Many people recommend a heavy down jacket and many recommend a lighter PrimaLoft jacket.  I will find out if my choice was right.

Evaluation:  The Nano Puff was incredible. Very warm and light.  I love this jacket.

Gloves

Gordini Aquabloc® Down Gauntlet Mittens from the Sierra Trading Post.  I am guessing I will need these only on summit night.

Evaluation: I used these along with a pair of Manzella Glove Liners. They worked just fine. The mittens felt a tad bit tight. So you may want to consider one size larger.

Balaclava

Seirus Hoodz from REI.

Evaluation: I used it for the summit and also during the evenings as warm head cover on other evenings. Pretty good.

Sun Hat

I got a Columbia Sportswear hat that looks a bit like this one.

Evaluation: The French Foreign Legion design of this hat was pretty nice.  It keeps mosquitoes away and protects the back of your neck and your ears from sun burn.

Head Lamp

Petzl Tikka Plus 2.  As a safety I also got a $8 Eveready LED head Lamp.

Evaluation: It worked well..

Water Bottles and Camelbak

I got some Nalegene bottles and a 100 fl oz Camelbak bladder.

Evaluation: The Camelbak was in my day pack and I made sure I kept pushing the water back into the bladder so the mouth piece would not freeze.  It worked well.

Walking/Hiking Poles

Hmmmm.  Most Kilimanjaro bloggers seem to say that these are very important.  So I bought them.  For me it was a total waste of money and extra weight that I had to carry.  When it comes to trekking poles I guess there are three categories of people:

  1. People who have done a lot of hiking and never used poles.  I fall in this category.  You do not needs the poles for Kilimanjaro
  2. People who have done a lot of hiking and often use poles.  Well take your poles.
  3. People who do not hike much and therefore have never used poles.  I guess the poles may be of use to this category.

Now for Miscellaneous Small Items

Toothbrush, toothpaste & deodorant Yes, yes, no (trust me, no one is trying to smell you.  After 6 to 7 days of no showers the deodorant is not going to help.  Remember, the lighter you travel the better of you are).  Also, deodorants prevent you from perspiring and perspiration is your body’s way of regulating temperature.  So using something that prevents your body from working naturally under conditions of stress is not exactly a brilliant idea.
Flat packed Wet Ones, travel wipes, or similar for personal hygiene on the mountain. I carried these and regret doing so.  They are heavy and I never ended up using them.  I was provided with a tub of nice hot water every morning, afternoon and evening which was much better.
Kleenex tissues in plastic travel pouches or toilet paper Check with your climbing company.  Mine provided me with toilet paper.  So what I carried was just extra weight.
Hairbrush / comb Sure
Sanitary products hehehehe, Its good to be a man.
Lip salve with UV protection Yep
Vaseline, to prevent chafing skin and heel friction blisters I carried it but never used it.  Extra weight.
Pain killers (Ibuprofen) Yes
Diamox (acetazolamide) if you choose to use this Yes but I did not use it.  Check with your climbing company.  They often carry it.
Paracetamol No
Zinc oxide tape and small scissors No, yes
Compeed blister pads (not corn pads) Yes but did not need them.  Get good boots, wear them in, get good socks.
Loperamide / Immodium diahorrea tablets Yes and I needed them, though that was soon after the climb.
Any medication you normally use  
Dioralyte sachets or similar rehydration packs No
Malaria Tablets Yes, but not sure I needed them.  Its so cold there are no mosquitoes there.
Sun Screen Yes
Water Purification Tablets – Katadyn Yes.  Very important.
Mobile Phone Yes.  Get an unlocked GSM tri band phone.  Buy a local SIM chip in Tanzania.  Most of Kilimanjaro has mobile coverage.

 

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Kilimanjaro – The Initial Plan

Saturday, 2 April 2011 02:07 by ranjanbanerji

Its been a while since I have been wanting to visit Africa and also climb Mt Kilimanjaro.  Climbing is really not the right way to describe the Kilimanjaro adventure.  Its more of a walk, though by no means an easy one.  Or so I have read and been told.  In a few months I will find out.  Why?  Well I am planning to go there this year.  As I plan, prepare, and climb I will write about the experience.  It takes a bit to plan your climb.

Route:  First of all there are various routes up Kilimanjaro.  Use Google and you will find plenty of information on this.  I am not going to get into details over the different routes.  I am choosing the Rongai route.  Its one of the two routes (the other being the Marangu route) that does not require you to deal with the Barranco wall.  The Barranco wall can pose a bit (not significant from what I hear) of a problem with people who have a fear of heights.  Apparently I have developed one (subject for another blog post).  So I picked the Rongai route.  Pretty simple huh?

Operator:  There are many operators that can take you up the mountain.  I am certain that like in any other business there are good ones and bad ones.  I currently looking at Team Kilimanjaro.  I read good reviews on them and they have been extremely helpful and responsive to all my queries and I have been sending them at least one email a week for the past 10 weeks.  If nothing else, they appear to patient.  They seem to be in the middle of the road when it comes to cost.  I have seen some that are cheaper and some that cost more.

Equipment:  This is a big cost and I believe an area that one should not be cheap.  As someone who does a lot of hiking and backpacking I know that good equipment is critical for having a good experience.  Your climb should be a challenge but fun.  If you want to be tortured go to the middle east, china, or go screw with the CIA.  Kilimanjaro is just an adventure :-).  Team Kilimanjaro provides a good list of equipment you will need.  Several other web sites have very similar lists.  So I will go with Team Kili’s list.

I will add a table of the exact brand of what I own or purchase for this trip here.  Since I am also very interested in photography and I plan to do a safari while in Africa I am breaking my kit list into two categories of climbing and photography.

Look here for updates on the climb and photography kit.  For photography related information you may also want to see this thread:  http://www.juzaforum.com/forum-en/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=20183&start=0&hilit=kilimanjaro

Training:  While Kilimanjaro requires no technical mountaineering skills it should be noted that it is 5,895 meters high (19,341 ft for those who can’t multiply by 10).  At these altitudes you are in a region with very low oxygen levels.  This therefore makes the simple task of walking quite difficult.  So being in good physical shape is probably a good idea.  I, however, am not much of a runner.  So running 5 to 10 km 3 times a week is out of the question for me.  So far I have been going for long walks, short runs, and been doing the insanity workout videos (yep! I am a sucker for the those infomercials).  If I make it to the top of Africa in good shape I will let you know.

Medical:  Its a good idea to go see your doctor before the trip.  Based on my doctors recommendation and the CDC and The Kenyan and Tanzanian government rules I will be taking and/or carrying the following:

  • Malaria pills
  • DTAP shot
  • Yellow Fever Shot
  • Diamox
  • In addition I will also be carrying Immodium, Advil (Ibuprofen), and Acetominophen (Tylenol).

Getting There:  Planning my trip to Kenya/Tanzania is so far one of my biggest challenges  Flights to Nairobi are not cheap.  Specially not over the summer months.  Mostly because in the summer:

  • Americans are going to Europe on vacation.  This pushes up airline costs.  Most flights to Nairobi go through Europe.
  • Europeans and Americans are going to Kenya/Tanzania on vacation to see the great wildebeest and zebra migration.

So if you are a budget traveler you may be in for a surprise.  So plan ahead and avoid peak seasons. As for getting a visa, here are some tips.

Staying There:  Obviously during the climb you will be camping in tents or staying in huts depending on the route you take.  But when you get to Africa (depends on whether you fly to Tanzania or to Kenya) you may end up needing to spend a night or two in a city like Nairobi.  As a stranger in such cities we tend to find what we classify as safe accommodations which in simpler terms implies expensive hotels.  Now let me tell you this.  I am amazed, shocked as to how expensive hotels and for that matter everything else is in Kenya and other African countries.  This is going to be my first trip.  Once I have scouted around maybe I will learn to find cheaper places to stay.  Hotels in Nairobi during peak season are in the $200 plus a night and if you have kids, expect to pay more.  I have been to many parts of the world and have never had to pay so much.  Maybe when it comes to Nairobi, the internet is a not a good place to search.  I did find one place.  The wildebeest camp in Nairobi.  Its a tented campsite and is very reasonable with regards to cost.  I have yet to stay there (since I have yet to make this trip) but if I do end up staying there I will provide feedback on it.

Safari:  You are not going to go all the way to Africa and then not go on a safari.  For most people, myself included, a trip to Africa is expensive and will perhaps not be repeated too often.  So yes, you might be going there to climb Mt Kilimanjaro but you should take advantage and visit places like the Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti, Masai Mara, etc.  But now that I am suggesting that you go for a safari or two, let me warn you.  At least based on what you will find on the web, a safari can be incredibly expensive.  During peak season you can end up paying a mind boggling $1,000 a day and that’s at the low end, so called budget safaris.  I don’t care what kind of luxuries they throw at you, this is absolutely insane.  I am told there are cheaper options but none that I could find online.  Perhaps after my first trip I will learn more about local conditions and places to stay etc.  But as a first time visitor it seems like a trip to Africa is one very expensive endeavor.

I will provide updates as I gather more information and plan my trip.  Of course more will follow after my trip.

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Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Saturday, 12 March 2011 01:56 by ranjanbanerji

A week or so ago I learned about the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  A neat little place south of Washington DC.  I have been there just the one time.  I nice trail that offers some amazing opportunities to view birds.

One of my biggest surprises was seeing bald eagles.  I have heard they are common in this area but I had never seen one.  I did manage to see quite a few but they were really far away, it was a cloudy day and it was in the evening.  So the end result in terms of photography was not all that great.

Bald-Eagle-1

Despite a nice fast Canon 300mm f4 IS lens this was the best I could get.  But hey! I got to see the eagles.

I did get lucky with some nice captures of a blue heron.  Here are some of those.  These were at a slightly different location so the light was not too bad.  I got to practice some panning to get the bird in flight.

More photographs from the visit can be found here http://www.ranjanbanerji.com/Photography/default.aspx/Folder/Occoquan

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A New Era – Canon 7D

Friday, 10 September 2010 00:22 by RanjanBanerji

It seems that over the years I am cycling through each major camera manufacturer.  I started (wrt SLRs) with Minolta, but after my Minolta 7D broke down and Sony (who bought Minolta’s camera business) tried to screw me over on my refund I decided to move on and switched to Nikon.  I loved my Nikon D80 but I realized my passion was more in wildlife and sports.  Looking to upgrade my D80 for a better camera I strangely fell upon the Canon 7D.

So here I am.  Sold all my Nikon equipment and now with Canon.  I got to say, I love the Canon 7D.  Its going to take some time to learn.  Way too many options and configurations.  I like the ergonomics but its very different from the Nikon.  So its taking a while to getting used to the camera.  But I love the high FPS and the high ISO performance is great.  I read some people complaining about problems focusing.  I have experienced none.

So in the coming weeks I will try to write up on the new Canon experience.  Its time to start taking pictures.

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