Kilimanjaro - 3 - The Climb

Monday, 29 August 2011 17:13 by ranjanbanerji

The journey to not just up Kilimanjaro can be a long and tiring one. I started my journey in the US with a long flight to Zurich (about 8 hours). Luckily the wait in Zurich was very short and then I switched to a Swiss International Airlines flight to Nairobi (another 8 hours). Swiss International had a pretty good aircraft with some pretty awesome entertainment in economy. Their monitors were much larger than what I have seen on other aircraft. But, as luck would have it the monitor on my seat did not work. So I had a long boring flight. I was wondering if this was not a bad omen.  It wasn’t.  Just my lousy luck….   LOL

At Nairobi I had arranged to stay at the Wildebeest Camp and they had a taxi arranged for me so my ride to the camp was quick and I did not have to deal with getting a cab and negotiating rates etc. I found the Wildebeest Camp to be nice, clean, very affordable, with ok food. I had a deluxe tent, which came with a bathroom and the bed was comfortable. Not very good sound proofing so I could hear city sounds but I was tired and I slept well. The tent was large with one queen size bed and one perhaps twin size.  So you can probably get three people to stay there.

The next day the Wildebeest Camp arranged a cab for me to go to the Parkside Hotel. This is where I got the Riverside Shuttle to Arusha. I had already booked my ticket with the shuttle via their web site.  When buying your ticket at the riverside shuttle web site remember to put your hotel name in Arusha or Moshi.  Don’t just select the city as your destination.  The shuttle drops off people to several hotels in Arusha and Moshi.  But the web site does not explicitly offer the option for the hotel drop off.  The bus ride is ok.  Took about 6 hours.  Riverside shuttle has some newer and some older buses.  I got an old one.  It was pretty cramped.  So after 16 hours of flying this 6 hour ride was not exactly joy.

In Arusha I stayed at the Outpost Lodge.  I found this to be very affordable and they have good rooms.  The same day I was visited by my Team Kilimanjaro guide Nick.  Nick reviewed my gear, gave me a briefing and we were all ready for the Kilimanjaro climb starting the next day.

So why the rush?  Why not get some rest before starting the climb?  Well many people tend to get sick when they visit a foreign country.  Specially if it is in Africa or Asia.  So one runs the risk of getting an upset stomach and some mild viral flu like illness.  Minimizing your time as a tourist on the streets of Nairobi, Arusha, or Moshi helps prevent picking up some bug.  Climbing when sick is not fun.  Leave the tourism for after the climb.  So try and get as much rest in those long flights.

Day 1

Day 1 started early with leaving the Outpost Lodge and a long drive to the main Kilimanjaro gate.  This is where you sign in and get all your permits etc for the climb.  Once the paperwork is all done (my guide Nick took care of it all) it was another long drive on very bad roads to the Rongai gate.  The drive was referred to as the “African Massage” and I must say it lived up to its name.  At the gate we had lunch and then the climb started.  I was asked to go slow but the path was pretty flat so I was going at a good pace.  Nick was quick to tell me to slow down.  He was establishing the Pole Pole rules early on.  In retrospect this was a good thing.  Keep a slow pace.  This is not a race, most of us are not used to high altitude and the effect of high altitude can hit you fast.

The Rongai gate is at 1996m (6549ft).  Day 1 is a short day since most of the day is spent driving to the gate.  We walked for 6.7km up to 2626m (8615ft).  By the time we got to Simba camp the porters had already setup camp, tents, mess hall etc.  Had some tea and later had dinner.  Also started to observe all the other teams that were on the Rongai route.  There was a small team of the 3 Americans from out west, another team of a few American women climbing for some charity.  One woman on that team was well how do I put it, large.  So large that the guides starting placing bets on how fast will she quit the climb.  I got to meet her.  I think her name was Cara and she has a web site http://www.fatwomanonthemountain.com/.  Now that is confidence.  Found out she had already succeeded at climbing Kilimanjaro.  The fact that she had already succeeded got a lot of the guides and porters to start respecting her effort.  That was pretty cool.

I also noticed that Team Kilimanjaro had setup have a seat like contraption as a toilet inside a small tent so I don’t have to squat to take a dump.  Make sure you request one.  These make life a lot easier.  Specially at night when it can be very cold and very windy.  Trust me you don’t want to be stripping outdoors.

I was hoping to get some wildlife pictures of monkeys and birds as day 1 goes through a rain forest.  But got very few.  I could hear a billion birds but could barely see any.  A big joke on day 1 was that despite the fact that we were climbing Mt Kilimanjaro we could not see the peak.  However we could get beautiful views down into Kenya which is north of Kilimanjaro.

Views into Kenya

Day 2

Day 2 was a 11.8km hike going from Simba Camp at 2626m (8615ft) to Kikelewa Cave at 3679m (12070ft).  The first half of the day was supposedly harder.  Majority of the altitude gain occurs then.  But I was fine except that my urine was dark yellow, i.e., I was dehydrating.  This is a bad sign.  I am not sure why it happens but high altitude dehydrates you fast and staying over hydrated is one way to reduce chance of high altitude illness.  I needed to drink a lot more water.  So for lunch I had plenty of soup and water along with chicken and grilled cheese sandwiches.  Sitting eating lunch out in the open made me a little cold so I put on a light wind breaker and decided to continue with the climb.  I felt if I kept sitting I would get colder.  So instead of letting my lunch settle a little I started the hike.  This was a bad idea.  Lunch was not digested.  My heart rate shot up, i started to get a bad taste in my mouth and I was breathless fast.  So I stopped got some rest and then things got better.  This was a lesson learnt and good that this happened so early in the climb.  I now knew I have to be a lot more careful.  At Kikelewa Cave I had some some hot chocolate and peanuts.  But I started to get a mild headache.  I was told it was normal.  A good nights sleep took care of that.

During the hike I asked Nick what's with the summit night concept?  Why don’t people make the summit during the day?  Why start climbing at 12am?  He said its mostly because people want to see the sunrise from the top.  Hmmm! I had absolutely no interest in watching the sunrise.  I simply wanted to climb Kilimanjaro.  So we started discussing the option of doing a day summit.  This way I do not have to focus on keeping warm during the climb.  Just focus on going up.

I also noticed that there was a small number of climbers who did not make it to camp.  I did not think people would start feeling the negative effects of high altitude so fast but it happens.

Early morning Day 2 is when I saw the Kilimanjaro peak.  My first view.  I thought I would be able to see it on the drive to Arusha from Nairobi, or from Arusha itself, or on the way from Arusha to the Kilimanjaro gate.  But due to clouds I was unable to do so.  It was day 2 when I got this first view and I was thinking to myself, oh! crap, is this what I have to climb?  lol

First View of Kilimanjaro

Day 3

Day 3 is a short 3.7km hike from Kikelewa Cave at 3679m (12070ft) to Mawenzi Tarn at 4303m (14117ft) but you actually go much higher than 4303m and then you descend to Mawenzi Tarn.  So a short but very steep hike.  Had lunch, was so exhausted i napped in my tent.  this was good as  i have not been getting much sleep.  Yesterday i stopped taking the malaria pills.  I think they were keeping me awake. In the afternoon we went for an acclimatization hike to about 4700 maybe 4800m.  Very very steep.  I also loaded my backpack with a little extra weight.  I wanted to start preparing for the summit.  So the acclimatization hike followed by a 30 minute rest at a higher altitude for a while before descending was the strategy.  Get used to rare air and get used to heavy loads.  I came back from the acclimatization hike with severe headache and nausea.  I had to force my self to eat soup.  I was not at all hungry but I made myself eat.  I knew I needed the energy. Within minutes of eating I started to feel better.  To make matters worse I now also realized that I had diarrhea.  This was not good news at all.  Luckily it was more along the lines of loose motion and not some kind of a stomach bug that required me to run to the toilet frequently.  So I did not take any Imodium.  Later that night I felt a lot better and did some night time star trail photography of Mawenzi peak.  It was cold.  I was now high enough to be in sub zero temperatures.  Staying out at night taking long exposure pictures was fun but it took me forever to warm up in my sleeping bag.

At Mawenzi I noticed that more climbers had abandoned their efforts.  My guess is that by now about 10% of the total number of people attempting the climb had dropped out.  So despite my headache and nausea I was doing good.  Pole Pole was a good strategy and so far working for me.  By now people across the different groups started to get to know each other.  There were climbers from all over the world.

Earlier in the day during the acclimatization I once again discussed the climb schedule with Nick.  I wanted a day climb and instead of descending to 3rd Caves on day 4 I wanted to proceed to School Huts.  If we got to school huts early I could do another acclimatization climb on day 4 and then attempt a day summit day 5.  Or if the acclimatization climb at School Hut shows I am not fit then I stay an extra day at School Hut, acclimatize, do more acclimatization hikes and then I can summit on schedule on day 6.  After some discussion we had a new plan.

Mawenzi

Mawenzi

Mawenzi Tarn is like bowl so you are protected from crosswinds.  During the day it really heats up despite the high altitude, but at night the temperature drops rapidly.  I think we went from 20C to –5C in an hour.  So be prepared to get into your sleeping bags before it gets too cold.  At high altitudes even shivering can get you breathless.

Kilimanjaro

Star Trails around Mawenzi

Day 4

This I thought would be an easy day.  But that was not the case.  The hike from Mawenzi Tarn at 4303m (14117ft) to School Hut at 4722m (15492ft) doesn’t look all that tough.  After all its only a 400m altitude gain.  But getting out of Mawenzi Tarn itself requires a steep climb, then you descend for a while before you cross this saddle between Kibo Peak and Mawenzi peak.  It’s just a long walk. We got to School Huts for lunch, I napped then went for an hour long acclimatization hike up to 4900m or more.  it took us 10 maybe 15 minutes to descend.  This was an indication as to how slow I would be on the summit attempt.  Once again during this acclimatization hike I overloaded my daypack and I made sure I sat at the higher altitude for a while.  Not just walk up and down.  All the other climbers from Mawenzi went to Kibo hut.  School Hut is not a commonly used base camp.  So I was alone with respect to the group of climbers I started with.  There were two groups with two people each at School Huts and then there was me.

So Since we are pretty much at the equator the sun is really hot.  Even at 4700 meters it is hot.  But the moment the sun sets the temperature plummets to -15C.  After my experience at Mawenzi where I found it difficult to warm up I decided to stay warm this night.  I needed the energy for the summit attempt at 4am.  I wasn’t sure why Nick wanted to start at 4am.  Since I was not interested in the midnight summit and sunrise is at 6:30am I was not sure why we had to leave at 4am.  Anyway, so I dressed into my summit gear:

  1. Top:  Champion base layer, Polartec mid weight base layer, Tshirt, Patagonia Nano Sweater, Columbia anti wind and rain shell, Balaclava, glove liners, and mittens.
  2. Bottom: Polartec mid weight base layer, socks liners, smartwool mid weight socks, hiking pants

I had dinner and jumped into my sleeping bag in my gear.  Smart idea and it worked well till I realized I had to pee.  Except for my first night on the mountain I kept a pee bottle with me in my tent.  At first I was repulsed by the idea, but one trip out of the tent when it is below 0C and windy was enough for me to agree to the pee bottle idea.  Something you should seriously consider.  Despite having a pee bottle, peeing with all these layers of clothing was not easy.  Luckily I did not have to go take a dump.  For those of you thinking this is funny or disgusting, this is actually a serious issue  LOL.  Its too fucking cold up there and due to the oxygen shortage once your body gets cold, it takes a lot of energy to warm up.  So staying warm is critical.

Mawenzi from the Mawenzi Ridge on my way to School Huts.  Our camp was down there.

Kilimanjaro from the Mawenzi Ridge.  You can see the trail going straight to Kibo huts and the ascending up the mountain. Way down the trail splits and one fork to the right goes to School Huts.

Day 5

Day 5 started really early.  Not at midnight as for most but early.  There are not many people who stay at the School Huts so I was not super disturbed when they left at midnight starting their ascent.  I was woken up at 3:30am to get ready for my climb.  I had a light meal but I was still concerned about the diarrhea from the day before.  I was much better now, but this was no time to eat like a pig and suffer from further indigestion.  But I knew I needed the energy. Ah! the delicate balance of life.

I have already talked about what I was going to wear.  In addition I was carrying:

  1. Camelbak in my daypack and two bottles of boiling water.
  2. Couple of cereal bars and some Toblerone chocolate bars.

We started off slow but were actually going at a reasonable pace as we reached the point of our 1 hour acclimatization hike in about 45 minutes.  The hike from School Huts is a steady steep climb but on firm ground.  No scree.  So this makes it better than the climb up from Kibo Huts.  As I hiked I could see a line of head lamps headed up.  After about 2 hours I met up with the scree slope that all the climbers from Kibo Hut use.  I got there at around 5000m at Williams Point.  Basically I escaped about 300m of scree climbing.

The red line is approximately the path I took from Mawenzi to School Huts to Gilman's Point and then you circle around the crater to get to Uhuru Peak. The green path takes you to Kibo Huts and then to Gilman’s.

Sunrise from Hans Mayer Cave

Now the real painful part of the climb came.  Though soon into the climb I reached Hans Mayer Cave which is at 5150m.  It was now about 6:30am and the sun was rising.  This was quite an amazing view, so I stopped, took a few pictures, got some much needed rest and water.  Because I started at 4am my water had still not frozen, so this was good.  So far I had not encountered any other climber.  They were all way ahead of me.  In fact about 4 hours ahead of me.  So most of them must be summiting.

Soon after Hans Mayer Cave the climb gets really steep.  You can see Gilman’s Point.  Many people say it looks so close.  To me it looked really far away.  At this point you do some serious zig zagging to go up.  The effect of the scree is really felt here.  You get the feeling you are sliding down rather than climbing up.  Its like walking on sand and it gets tiring really fast but I was doing ok.  Pole Pole was the way to go.  I was in no race and in no rush.  I took my time.  I decided to walk to each switchback, stop, count 5 and then walk to the next.  All the interval training I had done was now paying off.  I noticed that my heart rate would shoot up but each time I stopped it would drop back down.  I was able to recover really fast.  Having a heart rate monitor was useful.  I noticed that at these altitudes my resting heart rate was over 100, while climbing on this stretch my heart rate would peak at about 190 but the moment I would rest it would drop to about 130.  I made sure I got some rest every so many steps.  I did not want to collapse.

Breathing was tough.  I could clearly tell that there wasn’t enough oxygen.  Another thing that helped out was this concept of breathing from your belly.  Before the climb I was reading somewhere that when we breathe we do so by expanding our chest.  This brings air into the top 2/3 of our lungs.  However if we breathe by inflating our belly or expanding our diaphragm we fill the entire lung with air.  A friend who plays the saxophone told me they are trained to do the same.  I practiced this technique prior to the climb.  Now that I was over 5000m and really short of oxygen I started to breathe in this manner specially when I would pause at each switchback.  It was incredible as to how quickly I would feel myself recover with the additional air coming in.

Its on this stretch that I now started to see other people.  The first bunch were people that appeared to be unconscious being taken down by guides.  Then I started to see people pretty much collapsed, unable to go any further.  Some were just throwing up, others were collapsed sitting, trying to catch their breath, and a few were just emotionally broken.  I eventually caught up with a group that had set out from School Huts.  One of their climber was doing well the other two not so well.  We stopped and offered some help.  One the climbers had just completely broken down and was unable to move.  Their guide decided to make her descend.  The other lady joined us.  This slowed us down more but Hakuna Mutata (no worries as everyone in Tanzania says) I was in no rush.

All of a sudden we reached a bunch of rocks just before Gilman’s point.  The top was so close but now in addition to walking one had to scramble up some of the rocks.  I met the team with which Cara (The Fat Lady On the Mountain) was climbing.  They were on their way down after deciding to stop at Gilman’s Point.  Still a great achievement.  A few encouraging words from them had me going up again.  By about 9 maybe 9:30am I was at Gilman’s point.  When I got there I met several people that I had come across during the previous days.  Most seemed to be having some pretty adverse effects of high altitude.  They looked like a bunch of zombies.  No one had the look of success and joy and elation despite their achievement. 

I on the other hand felt fine.  But I knew I needed rest.  There are plenty of rocks at Gilman’s Point so I sat on one for a bit.  Nick gave me a red bull and I have to admit that gave me a surge of energy that I did not know I had.  Now that I was full of energy and suffering from no high altitude effects I started to enjoy the views.  Uhuru peak is a short distance (about an hours walk but can be done in less time) and I was full of energy.  So between helping this other team and me walking around taking photographs I actually ended up taking a lot of time getting to Uhuru from Gilman’s.

The walk along the rim of the volcano from Gilman’s to Uhuru is pretty easy.  On one side you see the crater, with trails going down, I wanted to go down but Nick said no way.  On the other you soon start seeing huge glaciers.  You can tell that they are receding.  From what I heard, once upon a time you had to walk almost next to them, now they appeared to be a mile away.

Finally above Mawenzi.  It feels good to look down.

Kilimanjaro Glaciers

Eventually as I wandered around I reached Uhuru Peak.  There was a bunch of people ahead of us so we waited almost 30 minutes for them to be done with their photo moments.  Then of course I took my obligatory Uhuru Peak photograph.

I made it to the top of Africa

Once we were done with the pictures the return journey started.  This was long, very long, very very long.  The first step was to get back to Gilman’s point.  This was easy.  From here you scree ski down pretty much all the way to Kibo huts.  The way back does not require going to School Huts.  The scree skiing was incredible fun.  I would climb Kilimanjaro again just so I can scree ski down.  I think I made it to Kibo Huts in an hour or two at most.  Then there was the long endless hike to Horombo Huts.  This was one night I really enjoyed my sleep.

Day 6

Day 6 was another long walk to the park gate.  It was long and downhill walking can be pretty tough too.  The walk was mostly uneventful, I started from being above the clouds to finally going back below them.  Soon I was back in the rain forest region, saw a raptor of some kind but could not ID it and also saw a blue monkey which was pretty cool.

Blue Monkey

Not sure but I think its a Jackal Buzzard

Finally we were at the gate and the Kilimanjaro experience was over.  Well not exactly, there was one major task/destination that was still left.  I needed a shower.  I have never wanted to shower more desperately in my entire life.  Every time the car would slow down I wanted to scream and say hurry up.  The moment I got to the hotel I took that long, much needed shower.  Then I had a beer.  Now the Kilimanjaro experience was over.

A rough table of distance and altitude gain per day is in the table below.

Day   Alititude (M) Altitude (ft) Destination Alititude (M) Altitude (ft) Distance
(km)
Distance
(miles)
Elevation Gain
(M)
Elevation Gain
(ft)
Climb Rate
1 Rongai Gate 1996 6549 Simba Camp 2626 8615 6.7 4.16 630 2067 9%
2 Simba Camp 2626 8615 Kikelewa Cave 3679 12070 11.8 7.33 1053 3455 9%
3 Kikelewa Cave 3679 12070 Mawenzi Tarn 4303 14117 3.7 2.30 624 2047 17%
4 Mawenzi Tarn 4303 14117 School Hut 4722 15492 9 5.59 419 1375 5%
5 School Hut 4722 15492 Uhuru Peak 5895 19341 5.4 3.36 1173 3848 22%
  Uhuru Peak 5895 19341 Horombo Hut 3705 12156 15 9.32 -2190 -7185 -15%
6 Horombo Hut 3705 12156 Marangu Gate 1860 6102 19.7 12.24 -1845 -6053 -9%

Aftermath

Ever since climbing Kilimanjaro I have been obsessed with the idea of climbing other mountains.  Several of the 7 Summits (highest mountain in each continent) are non technical climbs.  This includes Elbrus (Europe), Denali or McKinley (North America), Vinson (Antarctic), and Aconcagua (South America).  Aconcagua is the highest non technical mountain one can climb and is at 6962.  Too bad Aconcagua is not at 7000m.  There are several other amazing non technical climbs, Stok Kangri in Ladakh, India is at 6153m.

Next summer I may attempt Stok Kangri to break the 6000m barrier and then try Denali and Aconcagua.  Let’s see how this works out.

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Kilimanjaro – Getting Your Visa

Thursday, 30 June 2011 01:15 by ranjanbanerji

If you are a US citizen you are going to need a visa to enter Kenya and Tanzania.  Kenya charges $50 and Tanzania charges $100.  Being used to travelling to Europe without a visa this comes as a bit of a shock though nothing of significant concern.

Obtaining a visa for either country on the other hand may appears to be a daunting task.  Kenya (according to their website) no longer accepts walk-ins to the embassy or consulates.  You must mail your passport to them.  So if you are someone who feels uncomfortable doing so, well it can be a problem.  Here was my experience for obtaining the Kenyan visa:

  • First you need to fill out an online form on their embassy website.  When you do so you get a tracking number which you use to track the status of your application (also a link on their embassy website).
  • I then sent them my passport with all relevant documents (please see their embassy web site for latest details) via Fedex.  In the Fedex package I had to add another empty paid for Fedex package using which the embassy would return my passport.  Now here you should be careful.  not just for getting your visa but anytime you send a return Fedex package.
    • If you do not have an online account with Fedex, go create one.  This way you can use your Fedex account number on the air bill for your return package.
    • If you do not create a Fedex account you will have to put your credit card number on your return air bill which can then be seen by many people.
  • Once I sent my passport via Fedex I knew the day it was delivered to Kenyan Embassy.  However for an entire week their website showed no sign that my passport was received by them.  This had me concerned.  I repeatedly called the Embassy but each time was transferred to voice mail.
  • Then one day I found a Fedex package at my door.  It was my passport with visa issued.  Just for kicks I checked the web site and it finally had a status of received.  LOL

The Tanzanian visa experience was similar though not identical.  Their web site has no tracking system.  But after about 6-7 days of waiting I had my passport and visa.  So all in all the process was really not all that bad and quite honestly it saved me the trip of going to the embassy or local consular office.

Alternatively you can fly to Kenya or Tanzania without a visa and get one issued at the port of entry.  People on several blog and forums have recommended this option.  But then I have also been warned that this is a risk.  Do you really want to fly all the way to Tanzania and find someone at the airport who says “NO”?

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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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