Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
By Courtney S. Ries
Along with a motley crew of BootsnAll members, I climbed the Machame route of Mt. Kilimanjaro, summiting on New Year’s Day, 2006. Climbing Kili was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, but along the trek, I picked up a few things that wanna-be mountaineers might find helpful.
When the guides say ‘7 hours’, they mean, it will take 7 hours: It’s hard to believe that it will take you 7 hours to go 7 miles, when you can run that in 60 minutes at home. However, with altitude, stopping for breaks, meals, etc. it’s amazing how slow you actually move.
Smaller the tent, the better: Sure, when you’re camping at home, you take the four man tent for two people. However, on Kili, if you’re two people, take the two man tent. The body warmth and extra degrees that you get from snuggling with all your gear will be worth it.
Tent placement is everything: Good tent placement can mean the difference between a solid night of sleep and 8 hours of misery. The flatter, the better, and if you’re at the bottom of a slope, make sure you have a small trench dug around your tent so you won’t float away in the middle of the night. Also, look for an area near some well-placed rocks or bushes. The bathrooms are scary, scary things.
Earplugs are a godsend: Even if no one snores in your group, the 40-year-old beer-swigging men in another camp don’t promise to be as quiet. Earplugs will also help you block out the sounds of people making breakfast, or cleaning up dinner. Get wax earplugs, as they work better and are more comfortable – just bring two pairs, as they get pretty grimy.
All soups taste the same: Well, maybe not all, but most. They’re vegetarian but tend to taste suspiciously like chicken stock…and not much else.
Rocks and bushes are your friends: Nature is a vast improvement over the bathrooms, which are only available in camp. After the first few days, modesty tends to decrease, which is good, since so do the size of the boulders.
Toilet paper takes too much effort: When you’re peeing behind a rock, at altitude, every 30 minutes, some things just aren’t worth it.
You can never have too many plastic bags: Bring lots of extras. They’re good for keeping clothes dry, or the gag-inducing shirts from the merely stinky ones. You’ll also want them for muddy sandals, wet clothes, or disgusting boots.
Let the porters pass you: They’re carrying your stuff, and going faster than you – why shouldn’t you let them go ahead? Or, to put it another way, if they don’t to camp first, they can’t set up your tents or prepare food. Step aside, slow poke.
Altitude can be blamed for all your ills: Headache, stomachache, gas, lack of hunger, etc. You name it, altitude is probably the culprit. Know the difference between mild altitude sickness and potentially deadly symptoms.
Love your wet-wipes: Although we got water for washing at almost every meal, wet-wipes were still great for getting off the grime, especially after the gritty descent from the summit.
Big groups move waaaay slower than smaller ones: The larger the group, the slower you are going to go. Waiting for meals, people to catch up on breaks, etc. can be frustrating. Smaller groups with similar athletic abilities are more harmonious.
Ask for help: Don’t be afraid to ask for something you’ve forgotten, especially medicines. Guides and other climbers tend to be very helpful.
Reaching the summit is difficult and not everyone is going to make it: Understand that most people that climb Kili don’t reach the top, and no matter how fit you are, you might be one of those people. Altitude, adjustments to foreign foods, how you sleep, etc. all affect your ability to reach the top. Don’t jeopardize your health to reach the top.
Guides are flirts: Guides lavish attention on their female guests.
Going downhill can suck even more than going up: Once you get to the top, it’s a scramble to get back down again, and into better air. It can be very rough on your knees and if you wear contacts, make sure to keep some solution handy – or your glasses – as you’ll kick up lots of dust and dirt.
Don’t rely on hand warmers: Apparently, hand warmers stop working at a certain temperatures. No joke. They started warming up again when we got to lower elevations and toastier temps. Gee, thanks.
Even insulated bottles freeze: The insulated CamelBaks worked for about 2 hours, and then promptly froze, as did nalgenes, plastic bottles, etc. Hard alcohol, however, did not. You will be desperate for water on your descent from the summit – make sure you have some wrapped up inside of your bag, and maybe mix in a little scotch to help keep it from freezing?
Everyone becomes human again after a good shower: No matter how miserable, dirty or gross you feel at the end of your climb, a shower makes everything better.