2015 – A Year in Review

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2015 is almost over and it is time for the year in review which, I think, is an exercise not just in writing but in re-living the many blessings the year bestowed on me.  Here it goes and share with me some of the travels in your 2015!

In the city of brotherly love – Philadelphia, USA

My first trip of the year was to Philadelphia where family and friends live.  It is a place I love to visit though I do not get to do so often.  I welcome the opportunity whenever it comes though as I greatly enjoy spending time with my aunt and uncle who make me feel so at home whenever I go.  Though I got to see many, I did not get to see all my relatives nor all my friends which was a bummer – but good reason to go back!  As usual, my uncle likes to show me around places historical to both country and family.  I had not visited Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell since the early 90s and I enjoyed my visit there.  We also went to Valley Forge which had a special look since it was winter-time (and was also very cold!).

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Liberty Bell with Independence Hall behind it

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Independence Hall across the mall

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Valley Forge in winter – reminder of the cost of our freedom

Now, those places are not where the family history comes from 🙂 instead this building served as their home right after they moved up there from Miami.

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House where my parents and relatives lived

My first hike of the year – Blood Mountain, Georgia, USA

My first hike of the year was a training hike as I was going on a trek to Patagonia with Trekking for Kids.  My friend Phil who also enjoys hiking and I decided to do a hike near Blood Mountain that ended up -accidentally- in a climb of Blood Mountain.  While it was unplanned, it was a fortunate ‘accident’ as it all ended well and we enjoyed great vistas and trails.

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Entering Freeman Trail from the Appalachian Trail

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Along Jarrard Gap, the start of our hike

An amazing metropolis – Buenos Aires, Argentina

The orphanage work related to my trek to Patagonia was going to take place on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina.  So I knew I was going to be spending time in this great city – and more importantly, eating the best beef in the world paired with great wine!  I enjoyed walking about town and having nice meals with my fellow trekkers (some which I knew already and some which I met there).

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The parrillada at Campo Bravo

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Don’t forget dessert: this beauty courtesy of Cabaña Las Lilas

But the best part was meeting the children and staff of the two homes we worked with on our projects which included repairing a very leaky roof and damaged walls and furniture.  Much as I loved spending time in BB.AA., this work was the highlight of my time there!

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Painting new furniture with the kids was an adventure onto itself!

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These kids were hard workers and also great with the soccer ball!

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At Temaiken, Buenos Aires’ zoo

Back in time – Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

When planning my Buenos Aires travel, I decided to add an extra day to cross the river by ferry and spend half a day exploring a town that was a good throwback to the colonial period of the region:  Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay.  I sold three other trekkers on doing this short trip with me and we had a great time walking the streets of this easy-going town.  I highly recommend making the crossing if you ever have time in Buenos Aires!

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One of the MANY vintage vehicles in town – an Austin

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Basilica del Sagrado Sacramento

My favorite spot on Earth – Chile’s Patagonia

As I wrote earlier this year, I loved Patagonia when I first visited the Perito Moreno glacier and Chile‘s amazing Patagonia in 2010.  I’d always hoped I could return some day and that did happen… in 2015, much sooner than I’d ever thought possible.  I returned to hike around Fitz Roy in Argentina, re-visit the Perito Moreno glacier, and then trek through the Torres del Paine National Park – which I had not done in 2010.  And it was a rewarding effort for sure with great vistas and a glacier hike to boot.  Memorable is not a good enough word for the experience.  And, secretly, I hope I get to return a second time for my third visit!!  (click on the hyperlinks above to see more photos from each of the visits)

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Grey glacier, where we hiked

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On the trail to Fitz Roy

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The Torres del Paine massif

The great northwest – Portland, Oregon

Thanks to work, I spent five days in Portland, Oregon.  I had never been to Oregon so it was cool that I got to go there.  I arrived at mid-day on a Sunday and decided to take a walking tour of Portland as it would be the most effective way to see the highlights of the town while enjoying the great weather.

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Portland street

Mercifully, daylight went on late so I got to take advantage of it to take a drive along the Columbia River to see the waterfalls that dot the riverside.   I also got to enjoy dinners in establishments along either side of the river which was a phenomenal day to end the workday.

Family, friends and food fest (4 F’s) – Spain, olé!

Friends of mine were going to hike the Camino de Santiago, a hike I did in 2014.  I thought it would be cool to combine my wish to meet relatives I had not met who live in the outskirts of Santiago with my friends’ arrival in Santiago de Compostela.  My grandmother has two surviving cousins she never met in person who live in Bastavales.  I had met one of them last year when I finished the Camino walk but I had not met the other.  So I met María and her son, grandkids and great-grandkids for the first time and enjoyed their warmth and sharing special memories and photos of the family.  I also visited time with Flora, the cousin I had met last year.  It was really cool.

Bastavales, Spain, family, Vilas, genealogy, farm, travel, Galicia

With Maria, my grandmother’s cousin

I then welcomed my friends and their fellow trekkers as they arrived in Santiago at the end of their Camino.  It was wonderful seeing them glow in joy as they wrapped their long walk.  After they got their Compostela and going to Pilgrim’s Mass, it was time to celebrate with some cañas (beer) and tapas in one of the many beautiful old streets of this phenomenal city.  We also took a day trip to Finisterre on the Atlantic coast, a nice place.

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Beer and tapas in Santiago de Compostela

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The left side of the Cathedral

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With friends Phil and Tommy at Finisterre

The visit with my friends continued in Madrid and, after they left, I got to spend time with madrileños friend of mine, enjoying good drinks, food, and atmosphere around town.  It was fun spending more time in Madrid (check out “6 Cool Things to Do in Madrid“!).  I love Spain but I loved more the opportunity to be there with friends!

Reuniting with dear friends – California

In late May, dear friends left Atlanta to head to California due to a job opportunity.  It was hard to see them go as I spent many a Friday night over ten years hanging out with them pre-kids and after-kids.  So, it was great when work offered me the opportunity to go to San Francisco so I could spend the weekend after the conference with them in their home outside of San Jose.  They took me to two great Mexican restaurants, one of them right by where they live.  I enjoyed a drive down Pebble Beach on the famous 17-mile drive (which I still have to write about!).  And we visited the charming coastal town of Carmel – and its impressive mission.

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Glorious skies at the Carmel Mission

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Waters along the 17-Mile drive

Up-north (WAY up north) – Duluth, Minnesota

Work took me for a brief business trip up north, to a small town 45 mins north of Duluth, Minnesota.  Driving along the coast of Lake Superior was very nice and peaceful.  We only had one night in Duluth but enjoyed a nice breakfast at a mom-and-pop type of place and dinner at a pub.  Of course, being the traveler that I am, never having gone to Wisconsin, and realizing I was just a bridge-crossing, I just had to do it… We had mostly an open morning so, along with a colleague, I drove across the water to a coffee shop I found online in the town of Superior, Wisconsin!  A coffee later, we crossed the bridge again and back in Minnesota!

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Wisconsin, here we come!

Returning to one my favorites – Chicago, Illinois

I first went to Chicago in a bitterly cold January in 1991 with company for training.  And I kept returning over the years mainly in winter.  This year I got to go in August for pleasure, after spending a few days in Minnesota for work.  I got to enjoy walking everywhere, getting to the lake, which I had never done.  I also explored new parts of town thanks to friends (including little gems in terms of eateries).   Overall, what I enjoyed most about this trip was a first for me in Chicago:  going to a museum!  The Art Institute of Chicago was right up my alley as very much an amateur in terms of art.  It made it all approachable and enjoyable without overwhelming.  I highly recommend it.  I look forward to returning to Chicago and having more time to see all the friends who live there (this was practically a day-and-a-half visit) – and explore a new museum or two!Chicago, Illinois, skyscraper, cityscape, photo, glass. buildings, architecture

An epic trek to close the year – on the route to Everest Base Camp, Nepal

I was not planning any other hike on 2015 after having done Patagonia earlier in the year.  However, I found out that several folks I knew from prior treks were going to do the trek to Everest Base Camp and I started wondering if I could go…  I was generally fit even if not well-trained, it was a generally good time to go from a work standpoint, and though I did not have vacation time to be able to go to base camp, the trek offered a shorter itinerary.  So, I went for it.  I had a great time and was thrilled to having seen the Himalayas, Mt. Everest, and the hamlets and people of the highlands of Nepal.  I am still writing about the trek so I will just point you to a couple of the writings:  flying into scary Lukla airport to begin the hike, day one of the hike (you can keep going from there to later days), and one of the neat sites I saw in Kathmandu.  The best part of the trek was the work done before the trek in the village of Kumari.  Check out the work we did with Trekking for Kids here.

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The prayer wheels

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Kids from Kumari

Epilogue to a year that ends…

2015 was an epic year.  From great hiking experiences, time with family and friends, new destinations, and good food and drinks, it had it all.  I got to step in South America, North America, Asia, and Europe all in one year!  However, as the year came to a close, we lost my stepdad, Rubén.  It was a bittersweet time as he had been suffering from Alzheimer‘s and his last week was one full of suffering.  So his passing offered him rest that we were thankful for, sad as it was to not have him around us any more.  Rubén, as my Mom, loved to travel.  They traveled across Europe and other places many times.  I got to travel with them and my sister and her family in several cruises to the Caribbean, Alaska, and the Baltic Sea, as well as explore places like Copenhagen, Panama, and Paris (where they visited me in 1999 when I was living there).  Though we will sorely miss him in this final journey he has undertaken, I know I will see again at the final destination.  Until then, I will continuing journeying here.  Rest in peace, Rubén!

ilivetotravel, family

In Panama in 2009

On My Way Back to Trek in Patagonia

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Soon, I will be headed on another travel adventure.  This one will be another trekking adventure with Trekking for Kids (TFK) with whom I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, hiked the Transylvanian Alps in Romania, and “pilgrimaged” on the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  I am thrilled because I get to return to a part of the world that is remote, pristine, and with which I fell in love the first time I went in 2010:  Patagonia.  No, not the store but the southern part of the continent of South America.

The trip begins in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  OK, it really begins at the Atlanta airport but that’s just a technicality.  We will spend a few days in the Argentine capital working with a local orphanage that is benefiting from our trek.  If you would like to donate to the work TFK is sponsoring, please visit my fundraising page; all donations go STRAIGHT to the orphanage, not my costs and are 100% tax-deductible in the U.S.  In any case, I have gotten to visit Buenos Aires a couple of times and it is truly a great city!

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ilivetotravel in Buenos Aires MANY moons ago!

But I decided to take advantage of having some flexibility and will arrive a couple of days early to head over to a lesser-known jewel in neighboring Uruguay:  a colonial charming town appropriately and simply named “Colonia,” mentioned in the book 1,000 Places to See before You Die.  Not planning on dying anytime soon but better safe than sorry, no? 🙂

After the orphanage work, we will fly down to the town of El Calafate on the Argentine side of Patagonia.  From there we will hike around the iconic Fitz Roy peak and its siblings,  and visit the famous and imposing Perito Moreno glacier.

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Note the size of the glacier when compared to the boat in the red circle on the upper right

After visiting the glacier park, we will transfer the next day to Puerto Natales, the Chilean town that is the real gateway to the wildness and beauty of Patagonia (I like the Chilean side better!).

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At the waterfront in Puerto Natales, gateway to glacier boat tours

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Example of the local architecture in Puerto Natales

I stayed in Puerto Natales when I visited in 2010 and there is something about its remoteness, its simplicity that was charming to me.  From there, we will launch our trek to the impressive Torres del Paine, surrounded by lakes and glaciers.  Our route is the typical route to trek there – it is called the “W” route.  Take a look at the map (with the route in red) and you will see where the name comes from!

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The W circuit

I am thrilled at this upcoming adventure and have tons to do to prepare.  I also wonder if I am physically ready enough as I will be needing to carry about 30 lbs on my back – a first for me in any of my hikes.  Wish me luck and stay tuned for future write-ups on the experience!

 

Trekking for Kids and the Bayti Centre in Essaouira

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In the summer of 2014, I decided to do another trek with Trekking for Kids (TFK) with whom I have trekked in Romania in 2012 and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2013.  When I learned TFK was going to go to the Camino de Santiago, something I’ve wanted to do since I learned about it, I knew I just had to go as it was the perfect combination of a trek and of service to improve the lives of children, something I am very passionate about.  The group of trekkers paid their own way and then raised funds for projects to be done at the center selected by TFK.

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The group of Trekking for Kids trekkers before the first day of work – I was in GREAT company!

The service work was going to take place at a center for street and at-risk children in Essaouira on the Atlantic coast of Morocco – a town that surprised me and of which I am writing separately.  TFK decided to work with the Bayti Centre to improve the facilities where they work with the children to protect them against violence, to provide psychosocial rehabilitation, to reintegrate families, and other related activities.

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TFK being welcomed by Bayti Centre staff

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A group shot with tons of kids is hard to pull off…

TFK selected a number of improvement projects like helping the exterior of the building be repaired and painted.  Another project was a kitchen renovation that facilitated the two kitchen staff to be able to work side by side in the small kitchen with two sinks, a new fridge, and a new stove as well as more shelving to better use the space.  New equipment for instruction (like a flat screen TV) and other items for the children were donated as well.  In summary, a series of projects that would enhance the facilities to create a better environment for Bayti to deliver its services and attend to the children of the streets of Essaouira.

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The facade of the Bayti Centre after repairs but before painting

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Finishing touches being applied on the repairs prior to the painting

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Painting the exterior – street level

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Building a wall garden requires woodworking skills!

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One dirty (and happy) trekker after a day of work at the Centre!

Along with the works, we also got to take the children on outings and threw a party where we all got to enjoy food, games, and music much to the delight of the children.

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Getting ready for one of the outings

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Face painting in progress!

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A fellow trekker doing the artwork!

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Another great face paint job and a happy kid!

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The end product of face painting!

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One of the outings was to go to a park in the city for fun and games

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The girl on the right sure knew the right technique for jump rope!

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Precious little girl!

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He was having fun at the park – and I was glad to be a part of it

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Fun and games at the pool park in one of the outings

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More fun and games at the pool

A final word is to thank the amazing staff and volunteers who are the ones who truly made the world a better place for these children.  Je vous remercie, mes amis!

Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Samsung Galaxy

TFK trekkers with the staff and volunteers of the Bayti Centre

I look forward to another TFK trek in 2015!

Kilimanjaro Hike: Day 4 – The Barranco Wall and Its Challenges

Hiker, Trekker in front of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania wearing Arcteryx

(Please feel free to ask questions by leaving a comment below – I will respond as quickly as possible!)

Day 4 on the Machame Route up Kilimanjaro began like every other day:  get out of the zipped-up sleeping bag, figure out where the full pee bottle was to not accidentally crush it, find the camp shoes, put on some warm clothes, have some water, take any of the daily meds required, etc.

There is a morning routine to camp life in Kilimanjaro – at least I concocted one all of my own (did you feel that too, if you have climbed Kilimanjaro??).  This routine quickly moved from these individual tasks to those that were about packing up and getting ready to go.  While I was a little more leisurely about the first set of tasks (I woke up early enough), I usually felt rushed on the latter and somewhat worried I would slow down the group’s departure.

 Hiker, Trekker in front of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania wearing Arcteryx

Once the morning routine was completed, this trekker looks like a pro!

A mental and physical wall?  Meet the Barranco Wall

But on Day 4 I also woke up with something else on my mind beyond my routine:  the Barranco Wall.  I had on purpose not read every detail about the Machame Route before I left for the trip because I figured leaving some element of surprise would be good.  I didn’t want to be anticipating what came next but, instead, enjoy each moment.  Then, the night before we went on the Barranco Wall, I was told about it.  I was not sure what that meant but I had seen the wall on our way in from a distance and I got a little worried about what it would take.  Clearly it was going to be a narrow path with the wall on one side and the “fast” way down on the other…  I tried to not think about it because there was no sense in over-processing it.  But I was hoping it was not wall climbing with a cliff under me…

Of all the things to have worried about, wall climbing was not it.  No mental or physical wall there (that does not mean there were not a couple of tricky moments!).  The real “wall” was the wait to cross the Barranco Wall!  See, normally trails are wide enough to walk two people side-by-side which allowed for letting porters pass you without you having to stop or get out of the way.  We appreciated porters because they make the trek possible for the hikers (more on the porters here).  So we always let them pass if we were walking side by side at any point.

However, the trail on the Barranco Wall narrowed to single file for most of it.  The wall did require some times pulling yourself over rocks but always with the trail on either side of it (that is, never floating over empty space below).   So porters would be trapped waiting for hikers to work their way through.  Our group stayed off to the side right before the Barranco Wall started to let as many porters pass but it became rather tedious as we ended up sort of waiting for like a good 30 minutes or so.

The Barranco Wall on the Machame Route climbing Mt Kilimanjaro

Long line of climbers and porters entering the Barranco Wall. Me?  In the waiting room to enter the Wall, I suppose!

The Barranco Wall on the Machame Route climbing Mt Kilimanjaro

Barranco Wall, here we come! OK, in 2 minutes. No, in 10. No in 20…

Wondering what lay ahead of me, I was very ready to go and I sensed others around me were ready to go for whatever reasons of their own.  We finally got going and the wall was actually quite doable.  Yes, the trail narrowed at certain points to widths not comfortable for everyone but this actually did not bother me – but I still made sure I was closer to the wall than the edge 🙂

Climbing on the Barranco Wall in Kilimanjaro

At the beginning of the Barranco Wall, finally! (Photo courtesy of K. Shuman)

Given we had to go slow, I had the time to look back at the direction of the Barranco Camp and the entrance to the Barranco Wall…

View towards Barranco Camp from the Barranco Wall

Camp was in the direction of the green-roofed hut on the top left. Note that trail of trekkers and porters.

Entrance to the Barranco Wall on the Machame Route

Closeup towards the almost-dry stream we had to cross to enter the Barranco Wall’s “waiting room”

There is a trail post-wall:  a trail of doubt for me

The wall behind us, I felt relief that now we were going to be back on a more “normal” trail.  Well, we were not quite back to one of those.  The trail after the Wall required climbing over a lot of rocks (without a cliff around) and the exertion of climbing over large rocks actually left me quite winded.  I could see myself lagging the group a bit more with every passing section of the trail and I was not happy.

Our Trekking for Kids lead reassured me that the extra exertion of the legs would definitely have this impact (picture, if you will, the difference between walking uphill vs. walking up the same incline using stairs:  it is harder on the latter).  I still was disappointed and wondered if my fitness level was not up to par and – furthermore- what did this presage about summit night??  Our hiking guide, checking in on me at the next break, told me that an accelerated heart rate is also caused by altitude and may not be a statement about fitness level.  I appreciated the support of the TFK lead and our guide and mustered enough strength to get me past this stage of the trail – but just barely…

Onwards!

Mercifully, after that stage, the trail become more the normal up and down hills so I was OK on those.  Occasional rocks along the way were further apart from each other so the issue did not re-surface and I once again believed I could do this.  My first moment of doubt since entering the mountain had lasted maybe less than an hour but, mentally, it had been huge.  So this is what people mean when they say climbing Kili is both a physical AND a mental challenge…

Along the way, the weather seemed to have taken a turn for the worse so we donned our rain gear but it really did not rain much or for long at all – whew!

Rain hits while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania

Hikers walking into the cloud…

We arrived at the Karanga Camp (13,800 ft; 4,200 m) after a 4 mile (7 km) hike that took around 5 hours and we were pleased it was yet another nice camp.  The tents were on a little bit of a slope but after one slightly uncomfortable night on Day 2, I learned the trick to make the sleeping bag as horizontal as possible:  just put stuff under the sleeping pad to even it out – simple!

Karanga Camp at Kilimanjaro's Machame Route

Yet another beautiful camp! (Photo courtesy of K. Shuman)

It is worth explaining that we used sleeping pads under the sleeping bags for two reasons:  one, further insulate you from the cold ground and, two, a little more comfort in sleep with the extra padding.  Mine was an inflatable one (but not self-inflatable).  I thought this would be an issue given the altitude and diminished oxygen levels but it actually was no trouble at all.  Plus it helped me practice my pressure breathing!  Folding the sleeping pad in the morning after deflating it to slip back into its tight packing sleeve was actually THE worst moment of my morning routine!

It’s all in the views…

Like many moments on this climb, neat views delight when they appear.  After the Barranco Wall waiting room, the post-wall stage that slowed me down big time and brought doubt, and the slight rain, it is the nice views that really motivate you to continue with every day and every step.  Such was, for me, this view on Day 4…

Mt. Kilimanjaro's summit beckons climbers

The summit beckons!

Back to Day 3

… or on to Day 5!!

—————————————————————————————————————————————————

Other posts about the Kilimanjaro trek:

–  Preparing for the hike is more than training and gear

–  The Machame Route:  our way up

–  7 things you will not see me without as I climb Kili

–  Day 1 of the hike

–  Day 2 of the hike

–  Interview with fellow Kili climber and Ultimate Global Explorer

Kilimanjaro Hike: Day 3 – A Lava Tower, Then All Hail Broke Loose

Mt. Kilimanjaro with a beautiful blue sky and clouds

Morning greeted us at Shira Camp where we had arrived on Day 2, and we started our way up around 8:45 AM to the famous Lava Tower of Mt. Kilimanjaro (though, admittedly, I had not heard about it before I signed up for this trip…).  Excitement combined with anxiety as to how I would perform at the higher altitude.  Our hike on Day 3 started at 12,600 ft (3,840 m) and would peak at the Lava Tower at 15,200 ft (4,630 m).  I had not been that high before (airplanes aside).  Not the longest climb we had done so far (that was on Day 1 of the Machame Route).  But given the altitude, I expected a challenge.

Climb high – and then come back down?  Seriously?

So, the plan for the day was to go up to 15,200 ft.  I remember reading the itinerary and thinking “wow, only 4,000 ft more to go to the summit!”.  And then I read we would end the day at 12,700 ft, barely above our starting point at the Barranco Camp.  “Say WHAT??!!!,” I jived to myself.  I quickly learned how smart this approach was.

The “climb high, sleep low” approach allows for the body to exert itself at higher latitudes with lighter air but sleep at a lower altitude where more oxygen in the air would help the body recover.  As I learned,  this would help the body adjust to altitude better.  I am not sure one fully adjusts to the altitudes in the mountain but you are closer to that with this approach.

Mt. Kilimanjaro with a beautiful blue sky and clouds

This view early on Day 3 certainly motivated us to tackle Day 3’s challenge

The way to the Lava Tower

So off we went, walking in semi-desert terrain.  It is amazing how the terrain is so different every day of this climb.  It keeps it interesting.  I heard the Machame Route is actually the best to truly enjoy this diversity and, as far as I could tell, it was definitely true of the route (though I cannot personally compare it to other routes).

Alpine desert in Mt. Kilimanjaro near the Lava Tower

Some little vegetation…

Alpine desert in Mt. Kilimanjaro near the Lava Tower

… gives way to no vegetation in no time!

As the day went on, the skies darkened and, at different times, fog or clouds passed us, like right after we arrived at the Lava Tower (around 1 PM).  The Lava Tower, one can safely assume, is made from the rocks that the mountain spewed during its volcanic heyday.  But for me, what was more important when we got there was the fact I had managed OK to get to this altitude (“OK” does not mean piece of cake; but it does not mean “barely made it” either).

Lava Tower shrouded in clouds

Clouds coming in to the Lava Tower camp area

At the Lava Tower in Mt. Kilimanjaro

Celebrating arriving at the Lava Tower with my hiking buddy for the day, Melanie

Making it to 15,200 ft is a celebration worthy moment.  For us, that meant a warm lunch!!!

DIning tent while hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro

Our dining room on the mountain

Every day, our porters would set up the tent at camp and serve our meals there (though, normally, lunch was taken on the trail during a break).  The food was so good – or was it just we were starving from the exertion??  I think it was a little bit of both.

So let’s go down from Lava Tower to the Barranco Camp – piece of cake

After having succeeded in climbing to over 15,000 ft and surviving the thinner air during the one hour lunch break, it was time to go down to camp (and more oxygen density!).  We felt at this point we had this covered – everyone was in great spirits, talking and laughing.  We exited the Lava Tower Camp area by going between two very large rock formations and proceeded to go down.

Exiting the Lava Tower Camp area in Mt. Kilimanjaro

Exiting the Lava Tower Camp area

Well, Mother Nature had a different plan for these hikers.  Just after we cleared the rock formations and had proceeded down the rocky terrain some, the weather turned.  A little rain and we all got geared up (covering our daypacks, putting on the hard shell pants, etc.).

Daypacks covered during a storm in Mt. Kilimanjaro

Stormy weather in Kilimanjaro

The umbrella person was not one of ours, for the record. They may have just been blown away by the winds after this photo was taken…

And then it started to hail.

At first, we actually kind of liked it.  Cool was the word.  Until it started hailing harder.

Our collective recollection now is it was hail the size of a small motorized vehicle.  That day, they were the size of mansions.  Upon closer examination of our pictures, the hail was the size of small pellets (my fellow trekkers may kill me for revealing this).  However, this group of trekkers had been spoiled -er, blessed- with awesome weather so we can be forgiven for talking about this hailstorm for a day or two as if it had been a preamble to the Apocalypse.

Hail on Mt. Kilimanjaro

See the MONSTROUS pieces of hail?? The humanity!

We got to camp (still raining some) around 4:45 PM and quite a few folks had to make a run for number one or number two since we had not made any stops during the hail/rain.  No one will forget our guide’s impression of one of our trekkers who was suffering more from an urgent number two run.  As we discussed the day over dinner, we all kept talking about the storm.  Until our guide, Luis, proceeded to tell us that the storm had lasted exactly 1 hr 47 mins and that, on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of bad weather in the mountain, this ranked as a 0.5.  We pondered his point for a moment and, I believe, someone asked for the mango plate to be passed…

E.T., phone home

The Barranco Camp, where we were going to spend the night, was my second favorite camp after the Shira Camp.  I think it was the sense of proximity to the summit combined with a nice setting (though not the expansive vistas of the Shira Camp).

Barranco Camp in Kilimanjaro

One of our trekkers managed to get mobile network signal at this camp and offered the phone for quick calls home for anyone interested.  Having a Cuban mother, I decided I had to take advantage of the opportunity to tell her I was eating well and alive (I think those are her priorities for me, in that order).  She was ECSTATIC to hear my voice, that I was eating food, and that I was alive.  Thanks, Annie!!

More of the scenery

Barring the summit, my favorite vistas were coming to a close.  That does not mean there were not going to be other great views but the best for me had been Day 2 and Day 3, in that order.  Before you close this browser window, a couple more pictures of the scenery of Day 3.   Day 4 will be bringing the Barranco Wall – something that had me wondering how scary would the wall be…  Stay tuned.

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Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro

Back to Day 2

On to Day 4

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Other posts about the Kilimanjaro trek:

–  Preparing for the hike is more than training and gear

–  The Machame Route:  our way up

–  7 things you will not see me without as I climb Kili

–  Day 1 of the hike

–  Interview with fellow Kili climber and Ultimate Global Explorer

Kilimanjaro Hike: Day 2 – The Moorlands and Shira Camp

The summit of Kilimanjaro from Machame Camp

While the excitement of getting going made Day 1 a great day, Day 2 was no less exciting.  For many of us in the Trekking for Kids group, that was mainly due to the change in the landscape (and maybe having one day under our belt?).  Day 1 on the Machame Route had us hike through the forest zone at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro; nice but not terribly interesting (at least to me).  We had heard Day 1 could be tough if it were raining or had just rained with the mud, etc.  But we had good luck on the weather front.

In any case, on Day 2, we moved into what is called “the moorlands“.  And it was a landscape I really liked, offering interesting plants and great views as well.  But before we got going on Day 2, I took a look around when I got out of my tent at the Machame Camp (at 10,200 ft / 3,100 m) and this is what was waiting for me!

The summit of Kilimanjaro from Machame Camp

The top of Kili!

A moorland?  What is that?

I had no idea what moorlands were prior to the hike.  So I looked the term up and it said it was a climate zone at some elevation with low-growing vegetation and fog.  In the end, the descriptions I had found didn’t really help me conjure a good mental picture though the Wikipedia article actually had a picture of Kili’s moorlands.  No worries, I was about to spend a whole day hiking the moorlands of Kili so I stopped trying to get that mental picture.  And these are some of the sights of the moorlands!  (Hope they give you a better sense of the moorlands than Wikipedia gave me.)

Plant in the moorlands terrain of Kilimanjaro with fog behind it

One of the most interesting plants we saw on the climb

Plant in the moorlands terrain of Kilimanjaro

Another interesting plant of the moorlands zone

Moorland terrain in Mt. Kilimanjaro

Great example of the terrain and sky that day! Here a guide walks in front of me

Moorland terrain in Mt. Kilimanjaro

The trekkers making their way in the low vegetation and fog typical of the moorlands zone

Great vistas were part of our reward on Day 2!

We left camp early in the morning around 7:45 AM under a great and beautiful blue sky.  We could see neighboring Mt. Meru in the distance which made for some good photos of the view.

View of Mt. Meru from Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Mt. Meru in the distance

View of Mt. Meru from Mt. Kilimanjaro

I told you it was a photo opp spot!

The trail that day was pretty rocky but not in an intense way as other days.  Interesting larger rocks along the way also made for photo opps that the group did not let go to waste.  This group let NO photo opp go to waste!!

Rock in Mt. Kilimanjaro's moorlands

Hikers on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Everyone trying to get their photo taken on this scenic spot

A beautiful place to spend the night:  Shira Camp

We had had a great day but it was to get better after the 5.5 mile (9 km) hike:  Shira Camp at 12,600 ft (3,840 m) (a gain of 2,400 ft in the day), where we were going to stay that night, was one of the most beautiful spots I saw on the entire climb.  It overlooked a ridge (the Shira Ridge) and, turning 180 degrees, would leave you facing the summit of Kili.  It was breathtaking, especially at sunset.  We were fortunate that we got to camp about 6 hours after we started (around 2 PM) which allowed us ample time to soak in the views – and get good rest before the challenge of Day 3!

Approaching Shira Camp on Mt. Kilimanjaro

When we first spotted the camp – notice the fog

Shira Camp in Mt. Kilimanjaro

We enter camp and look for the green tents of Zara Tours

Shira Camp in Mt. Kilimanjaro - Zara Tours tents

We finally found our tents and everyone proceeded to settle in. We had THE BEST location in camp!

One of our trekkers, Annie, had brought, of all things, a couple of small kites, and it was neat to watch her and others fly them.  Myself? I joined fellow trekkers Olivia and Austin in doing some stretches after the long day of hiking – but enjoying the great views while at it!

Flying kites in Mt. Kilimanjaro!

Kites on Kili

One of the spots with the best view of the ridge and, therefore, a great spot for a photo opp also seemed to be the best spot for a cellphone signal as a few guides would sit on those rock and text away for a while.  This spot also happened to be like within 10 ft (3m) from the toilet-tent nearest to my tent – a place I would visit a couple of times during the night as Diamox (the med you take to help prevent altitude sickness) is a very effective diuretic…  One of the best pieces of advice we got pre-trip was to bring a so-called “pee bottle” so one could relieve oneself within “the comfort” of one’s own tent… Easier for guys than gals, I am sure.  Of course, if the bottle runneth over or a case of bad aiming hit, neither would not be a good situation (not alluding to ANYONE in the group…) so care must be taken in the use of said bottle…  Sometimes though, the bottle did not have enough capacity for production so one still had to go outside.  That was a slight pain as one had to put on the shoes, maybe a jacket and long pants, find the headlamp, etc.  But I never failed to fall asleep easily upon returning from these small nighttime outings, mercifully…

I am not sure how this post took such a turn, dear reader, so I will bring myself back to the more pleasant topic of the hike…  OK, since I have already brought the topic up, here is a gratuitous photo of the portable toilet in the toilet-tent. (I know some of my friends and family are DYING to see a pic of one of these.)  Are you glad I went “there”?

Toilet in a tent in Mt. Kilimanjaro

At least I made the picture smaller than the rest…

So, quickly switching gears (warning:  awkward turn of topic coming…), this day we had one of our many favorite lunches:  grilled tomato, cheese and cucumber sandwiches!  A real treat and we all gobbled up these babies up happily!

Grilled sandwiches during our Kilimanjaro trek

Grilled sandwich goodness!

When it is all said and done…

So all these make for great memories of Day 2 but these are the images that really capture the “awesomeness” of the day for me.

Sunset at Shira Camp with clouds going by hikers

Shira Camp with Mt. Kilimanjaro as its backdrop

A happy if tired hiker by his tent and the roof of Africa!

Back to Day 1

On to Day 3

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Other posts about the Kilimanjaro trek:

–  Preparing for the hike is more than training and gear

–  The Machame Route:  our way up

–  7 things you will not see me without as I climb Kili

–  Day 4 of the hike

–  Interview with fellow Kili climber and Ultimate Global Explorer

Kilimanjaro Hike: Day 1 – Getting Going

Backpacks ready to go up Mt. Kilimanjaro

Writing about our hike of Mt. Kilimanjaro is no easy task.  What to share?  Clearly the “facts” of the route, camps, durations, weather, gear, the day-to-day routine, etc. are all important elements of the story.  But the more I thought about how to write about this experience, the more I realized I wanted to share how it felt first and foremost, covering some of the elements listed earlier as they fit into the overall story, instead of making those the focus.  As I mentioned in another post, preparing for Kili is more than training and gear.  As you will see over the series of writeups, the emotional element also applies to actually doing the climb.  Let’s get going with Day 1!

The route and the climb

Well, before getting into the hike itself, a quick word about the route and the climb.  We went up the Machame Route, known for its vistas and for not being as crowded as other routes.  Also, Machame is a route with a higher likelihood of success than the so-called “Coca-Cola” Route (the Marangu Route) since it offers better altitude adjustment (climb high, sleep low; 6 days of ascent; etc.).

The climb itself is to Uhuru Peak.  Mt. Kilimanjaro actually refers to the entire mountain, the tallest free-standing mountain in the world.  Uhuru Peak is the highest point on the mountain and, therefore, in Africa!  Uhuru Peak is the goal and the entry point to the summit area on this route is called Stella Point.

Getting going on Day 1:  the Machame Gate and the wait

It starts on day 1 when, full of anticipation, the trekkers finish prepping the daypack they will carry on their backs and the other piece of luggage that will be taken from camp to camp by the porters accompanying our group.

Backpacks ready to go up Mt. Kilimanjaro

Daypacks waiting for their trekkers!

We got up at the crack of dawn to head from our hotel (the awesome Honey Badger Lodge) to the hotel from which the mountain trek would leave, the Springlands Hotel, home base of Zara Tours who Trekking for Kids had hired to do our trek.

The ride to the Machame Gate, entry point to the Machame Route, could not start quickly enough.  As with many things, one gets ready and then one waits.  After we finished leaving some of our non-trek stuff in storage at the Springlands, our bus arrived and the process of loading up our trek bags began.  Soon enough we were on our way to the Machame Gate.  It seemed to take forever but it couldn’t have been more than 1 hour or hour-and-a-half.  We were just so ready to get this climb going!

Once we arrived at the Machame Route, we proceeded to, you guessed it, sit and wait for about an hour.  The reason, though, was quite simple:  the permits had to be purchased by the lead guides.  This process takes time as we were not the only ones there (fancy that!).  This would be a reality throughout the trek:  others are there with you.  Not that we expected to be alone, mind you.  Just that one never stops to consider that until one gets to this first gate.  While it could have been chaotic, it really was not.  We proceeded to eat our boxed lunches while we waited and took a few pictures to commemorate the start of our climb!

At the Machame Gate at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro

ilivetotravel doing the obligatory photo at the Machame Gate, looking ready and clean!

Another thing you can do while you wait is read the few signs posted with instructions and warnings for those starting to climb Kili!

Sign on Machame Gate at Kilimanjaro

We cheered when we saw our guide come over with paperwork – it meant we were ready to go.  The funny thing is that we saw other guides come out around the same moment with their papers.  You would think the first-come, first-serve approach would have led to guides coming out gradually and sequentially.  Nope.  It seems all permits were issued almost at the same time for all the groups waiting!  That meant, everyone got going at the same time creating a little bottleneck at the entrance gate.  We got to pass quickly through without waiting long so we were FINALLY on our way!!

The hike on Day 1

Day 1 was mainly going through a forest habitat starting at 6,000 ft (1,830 m) and ending at the Machame Camp at 10,200 ft (3,100 m).

Day 1 of the Machame Route of Kilimanjaro

Typical of the Day 1 Machame Route. Notice the porters on the trail.

It may have been the built-up anticipation but, for the most part, I didn’t feel the altitude wear on me as the day went on.   We were fortunate it did not rain that day so the gaiters were not really needed (those green things I am wearing on my legs in the earlier photo to help prevent mud or pebbles from getting into our boots).  This part of the trail is about the nicest one with some work done to create a good trail for part of the way.

We got to camp about 4:30 PM, five hours after we had started.  We were thrilled at having completed our first day of 6 to get to the summit!  While we knew we still had a lot of challenges ahead, it felt SO good to have one day under our belt!  At this point we did our first book signing to show we were there – a requirement if we wanted to be issued an official completion certificate at the end of the hike.

Register at camp in Kilimanjaro

The Machame Camp sits in an area with plenty of vegetation.  This means we had more smaller animal life than we would have higher up; read, mice.  Key here is to keep the tent zipped up when not coming and going!   The Machame Camp has a toilet building that is pretty new.  I heard it had both Western toilets and Turkish toilets, if those are the proper names for the fixture types.  We also had a pair of portable toilets-tents and I preferred those… (less smelly).

In any case, getting to camp means setting up the sleeping tents and the mess hall tent.  Normally the porters who carry these items and set them up get there ahead of the trekkers and the guides but on Day 1 we got there at the same time.  So this day we got to watch them at work.

Camp being set up in Kilimanjaro

Setting up camp

Once the tents were set up and before dinner was ready, I, like some of the other trekkers, got organized by washing up, taking out the items needed for the night (headlamp, etc.), and preparing the daypack for the next day.  Oh, and the getting drinking water and treating it (Steripen worked wonderfully!) – a staple of the every day life on the mountain!

Trekker at camp in Kilimanjaro

Yours truly getting ready for my first night camping ever!

We got to enjoy a beautiful sunset before heading to the mess hall tent for dinner and an early bedtime so we could be well-rested for Day 2.  Dinner included a hot soup, potatoes, fried fish, vegetables, and small bananas along with tea and hot chocolate.  On to my first night camping ever and Day 2!

Tents at Machame Camp during sunset in Kilimanjaro

Our tents with a beautiful backdrop courtesy of the African sunset

On to Day 2

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Other posts about the Kilimanjaro trek:

–  Preparing for the hike is more than training and gear

–  The Machame Route:  our way up

–  Day 3 of the hike

–  Day 4 of the hike

–  Day 5 of the hike

–  Day 6 of the hike (summit night)

–  7 things you will not see me without as I climb Kili

–  Interview with fellow Kili climber and Ultimate Global Explorer

The Machame Route: Our Route to the Top of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Moorland on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

 (At the end of this post, see the series of posts written post-climb about this route!)

I am a few days away from leaving for Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the rooftop of AfricaEager anticipation and a modest level of anxiety are my constant companions these last few days before the trek…  How fun will it be to finally see the mountain?  Did I have the right pieces to deal with the extreme cold?  Will my body cooperate?  Will I summit?  etc.

As I do a final review of the gear list, I am checking against the hike itinerary to be sure I am accounting for the right number of pieces given the varying climate zones we will encounter.  Let me share with you what the climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro looks like.  Mind you, this itinerary is based on going up the Machame Route (one of several routes available).  The Machame Route is known to afford better altitude adjustment, offer better views, and typically have much less trekker traffic.  All of these make it -ding, ding- a winner for me.  Especially the better altitude adjustment since it increases the odds of summitting, something that is not assured even with a good fitness level since the lack of oxygen at high altitude can hit every person very differently.

Here is a view of the routes to climb Kilimanjaro to which you can refer as you read the day-by-day breakdown below.

Routes to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro

Source: apartmentinlakeview.com

Itinerary to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro via the Machame Route

Day 1Adrenaline day!!  Start at the Machame Gate at 1,800m/6,000ft.  Head up to Machame Camp at 3,100m/10,200ft.  It should take anywhere between 5-7 hrs depending on the number and duration of stops along the way.  We should be covering around 18km/11miles.  The habitat will mainly be forest.  I am praying that adrenaline will carry me through the mud or whatever we encounter on this part of the hike!

Day 2 “I can’t believe I am here” day.  Continuing the climb, we go to the Shira Camp at 3,840m/12,600ft.  This day we go for 4-6 hrs covering about 9km/5.5miles.  The habitat here is moorland.  You may ask what “moorland” looks like (like I did).  So here you go, courtesy of http://www.africaimagelibrary.com.  The landscape looks surreal, doesn’t it?

Moorland on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Day 3Reality check day!!  We leave the Shira Camp and move into semi-desert habitat.  We head to the Lava Tower at 4,630m/15,200ft but descend to 3.860m/12,700ft to camp overnight at the Barranco Camp at 3,860m/12,700ft.  As you may notice and wonder (like I did), why if we go up do we go through the effort of going BACK DOWN??!!!  Seems counter-intuitive but after hearing the explanation, it makes perfectly good sense:  you want to climb high to force the body to exert itself at altitude but then climb down so you can sleep at lower altitude (which means more oxygen) to help the body adjust better.  OK, maybe also just the lay of the route contributes to this approach.  This is the type of factor that helps improve the odds of making it to the summit.  This hike will take 5-7 hrs and cover about 15km/9miles.

Lava Tower in Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Lava Tower (Source: scottkress.com)

Day 4“OK, how much worse can it be compared to yesterday” day.  This day we cross Alpine desert to go up to the Karanga Camp at 4,200m/13,800ft.  This day we go up, and stay up.  But we are not camping at the maximum height reached the day before so we are still sleeping lower than our maximum exertion the day before.  Total time climbing should be around 4-5 hrs covering about 7km/4miles.

Day 5The “are we there yet?” day.  Continuing to climb without descending, this day we move to 4,600m/15,100ft going for 4-6 hrs and covering 6km/3.7miles which seems a cake walk compared to the prior days given the shorter climb and duration but I am sure it will be anything but (you will see why as you read day 6)!  We will stay at the Barafu Camp this night.

Day 6 The big day!!  This day we actually wake up at midnight (midnight between day 5 and day 6 – which means little sleep which will make ilivetotravel a little cranky – if he can muster the energy for that!).  Why do we barely sleep this night?  So we can see sunrise at the summit!!!  It will be a long hard night for most of us as you can imagine.  My headlamp will absolutely be my second best friend after all the layers of clothing that will keep me warm.  Uhuru Peak (the tallest peak on Mt. Kilimanjaro) sits pretty at 5,896m/19,340ft.  It will take us 7-8 hrs to go 7km/4miles.  Yes, twice longer than the same distance on Day 4.  Why?  Well, it will be slower going due to the altitude.  Pole, pole (slowly, slowly in Swahili) will rule this day.  There will be ice/snow towards the summit and I hope to see the glacier that, it is said, will be gone in 30 years or so at the current rate.  Stone scree will also be present so our gaiters will play an important role in keeping stuff out of our boots.

On this same day, of course, we have to get off the summit.  So on to 7-8 more hrs. of descent to the Mweka Camp at 3,100m/10,200ft to what it will feel like drowning in oxygen!

Day 7The happy day!!!  OK, Day 6 will be a VERY HAPPY DAY for those of us who summit.  But Day 7 is happy in other ways – we get to celebrate our climb and we get to shower!!!  We climb down to the Mweka Gate which sits at 1,830m/6,000ft, walking down for 4 hrs and covering 10km/6miles through a forest habitat.  A beer will never taste as good as the one I am planning to have that night at dinner!

Again, another view of the route (there were a few good ones so I couldn’t just use one…).

Machame route to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro

Source: apartmentinlakeview.com

Climbing Kilimanjaro is not without risks

The key to a safe and successful climb is to be aware of what is ahead of you (literally and figuratively).  Going slowly, staying hydrated all the way, minding where you are walking, and very important:  listen to the lead guide and his aides.  We are lucky to have a veteran of Everest, Kili and the rest of the Seven Summits (tallest peaks in every continent) which makes me feel much better.  Able to detect altitude sickness early, knowing the landscape well, supportive leadership, etc. are very important traits in a lead guide and we have that in our lead guide, Luis Benitez, one of the leading high altitude mountaineers in the world.  In addition, I have been on a prior trek with Trekking for Kids and everything is well thought through and planned.  So Luis and TFK are what make me feel confident that I will have a safe and successful climb regardless of the highest point of my climb:  at the summit or somewhere on the way there!

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I have added to this post the writeups for each day AFTER the climb so you can read more about each day!  Also here is a post about the actual clothing I took to climb Kilimanjaro item by item with the corresponding explanations in case it helps you plan your own hike!

Day 1 – Getting Going

Day 2 – The Moorlands and Reaching the Shira Camp

Day 3 – A Lava Tower and then All Hail Broke Loose!

Day 4 – The Barranco Wall and Its Challenges

Day 5 – Rocks Everywhere!

Day 6 – Reaching Kilimanjaro’s Summit:  Uhuru Peak

The descent from Uhuru Peak

Preparing to Hike Kilimanjaro: More than Training & Gear

Kilimanjaro, schoolchildren, kids, Tanzania, Africa, vista, view, Olympus, travel, photo

I sit here, two weeks before my departure for Tanzania, asking myself “Oh my, what did I get into??”.  As you may have read, I am headed to Tanzania to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro, something that 5 months I would have told you was the furthest thing from my bucket list.  Seriously.  As I contemplate the process so far, I have learned a few things and I wanted to share those with folks who may be thinking of hiking Kilimanjaro.  Conditioning and gear are two important elements,  But there is a less immediately obvious element in being prepared…

Before that:  How did I decide to hike to Kilimanjaro?

I already knew I wanted to do more treks with Trekking for Kids (with whom I trekked the Transylvanian Alps) because of the great work they do with orphanages but I was not expecting Kili would be the trek for me.  I attended a TFK event last September where I heard Len Stanmore speak about his incredible journey of extreme outdoor adventure.  His story is quite inspirational and others started talking about TFK’s upcoming trek to Kilimanjaro in February 2013 at the reception afterwards.  I was hooked.  Somehow.  Not really sure what had just happened but I was in.  ALL IN.

Besides the orphanage work (fundraising for it and actually spending a few days there), there are three key aspects for me about the hike itself:  training, gear/packing preparations, and a third that I have yet to name at this point in this writing…

Kids, uniform, Tanzania

The kids at the Kili Centre orphanage sporting the new uniforms paid by funds raised by this trek

First – Training for the hike

Fortunately, when I decided to go on this trek, I was still relatively fresh from my Romania hike and had continued exercising in general.  It makes for a good starting point!

I started more serious training by getting on the treadmill and increasing the incline over a few weeks to 15%, ending up doing this for a couple of hours.  I also used a backpack whose weight I kept increasing beyond the expected weight we would carry on the hike (about 15 lbs for our day needs; porters would be carrying the rest) .  I was doing great with this and was planning to mix in real hikes by going to small but still helpful Kennesaw Mountain near Marietta, Georgia, where I trained for the hike in Romania.  And that is when a mini disaster struck:  I over-stretched my Achilles tendons (both legs!) likely due to the imperfect simulation of a 15% incline on a treadmill.  It all seems obvious now but I had not contemplated that I could hurt myself that way – you just don’t know what you don’t know!

That set me back about 6 weeks at a point when the intensity of my training was really beginning to pay off.  (I am almost back to normal and training again at this point.)   Not only that but I gained weight due to the double whammy of Thanksgiving and Christmas falling squarely in that 6-week period…  So now I will carry even more weight uphill 🙂

Advice:  If you embark on something like this without that type of starting point – don’t fret!  Just be sure to start gradually.  Aggressive training from cold is more than likely counterproductive if not outright a risk!  That’s the easiest way to get injured.  And also, stretch even of days you are not training.  Stretching is your best ally in physical readiness.

Second – Getting in gear.  Into gear, that is.

After being in good conditioning for the hike, the next item on the list is all the stuff that I will need on the hike.  That short word “stuff” covers a wide range of things that I will need to make this a successful trip.  After getting the packing list from TFK (VERY thorough!), I did an inventory of what I had and what I needed to research/acquire.  I started staging all my items in a spare bedroom.  It looks like a mess but it does two things for me:  1.  allow me to start gathering in one place all that I will need to pack making packing later a lot easier and 2.  allow me to start enjoying the upcoming trek by seeing it shape up!

packing gear for hiking trip

The “mess” in the spare bedroom!

Advice

  • Get a good packing list for the type of hike
  • Go talk to your local outfitter before you acquire things to learn about what they recommend, what materials are out there, criteria for choosing items, etc.
  • Then proceed with sourcing the items (borrow or buy).

Let me share some more specifics about gear and packing here (for a more detailed description of the clothing I took, go here)…  But do check out this post on what I considered my 7 key items for this hike (written BEFORE the hike) and then the top 14 things I took (written AFTER the hike)!

I am happy to email you a copy of my packing list!

Clothing

Mt. Kilimanjaro covers multiple climate zones ranging from forest where one may be trudging through mud to extreme cold and windy terrain towards the top.  Guess what?  That means carrying gear to deal with all the climate zones but, most importantly, to deal with the extreme cold and wind which is far more dangerous to a hiker.  The key to all this is layers.  Not rocket science, I know.  I hear the cold towards the top is brutal!

The list I was provided by TFK was very clear on what was needed.  I went (a few times!) to my favorite outfitter and explores the options available for each category of item needed.  I have learned WAY more than I thought I’d ever learn about gear.  And spent way more than I ever thought I’d spend.  But two things help:  one, I have bought thinking of re-use especially at ski time or in future treks and, second, I have tried to borrow some items (though it has not been as much as I would have hoped for).

Advice My advice to you is to borrow, or buy used if possible, and think of re-use as you make choices on what to get.  For example, instead of buying the absolute best gloves for the extreme temperature, think of using liners, etc. so the gloves themselves can work for you in less extreme weather back at home.

Accessories

This covers a whole range of items like the hiking poles (with shock absorbers!  see here for more on them), headlamp (not only to read at night or go potty in the middle of the night but also for the night hiking we will do on summit day!), sleeping bag liner (to make it warm enough for the coldest nights), sleeping bag pad (for comfort and further insulation from the very cold ground), cameras (yes, plural:  the big one is not summiting with me – too heavy), even duct tape!

Advice:  Borrow, or buy used if possible.  Buy new if that suits you better.  However, another possibility is renting some of the items on-site.  This helps you in two ways:  not buying stuff if you are not going to be hiking/camping more than this trip and also reducing the amount of stuff you have to lug half way around the world!  However, some potential downsides of this:  you don’t know the condition of the item you will rent (dirty, torn up, etc.) and you may not find the right type for the item you are looking for.  For example, you need to be sure that sleeping bag will be warm enough.

Health/”Medical”

For this destination, one does have to be ready with anti-malarial and other items as recommended by the CDC.  I have all the hepatitis stuff from prior travels so the anti-malarial (which is taken for every trip) and the typhoid (which I needed) were on the must-have list.  But the medical category is not just the innoculations/vaccines.  Things like ibuprofen, Cipro (for the potential digestive maladies that could affect a traveler…), and maybe even something to help you sleep get on the list.  Other items, such like the iodine tablets, sunblock with DEET, high-SPF chapstick, etc. are more preventive in nature but just as important.  This list is very important and is sometimes less obvious than the gear and clothing lists.

Advice:  Do your research, ask people who have gone before (feel free to ask here!), and don’t try to save money by skimping on these items!

Third – Is it the emotional preparedness?

I will have to get back to you on this after the trip for a full report.  However, I had heard that a lot about hiking Kili is the mental strength to power through tough conditions like mud and rain, tiredness, perhaps pain, and other discomforts.  So I am thinking this would fall under emotional preparedness.  I have heard from people who have hiked it before that, in the end, this is the most important elements in preparing for Kili.  You may be fit, you may not.  Altitude sickness could keep you from summiting and that is independent of your fitness level (amazing!).  But if you don’t have some toughness in this realm, you may fall short of your goals.

We are lucky that our lead guide is one of the foremost mountain expedition leaders in the world, Luis Benitez.  He is also a Board Member of TFK!  In an email he sent the trekkers last week, he told us that the best thing to do in this category is to expect discomfort, understand it will happen, understand it starts and it ends.  All that so that when it hits at any point in the trip, you remember it will pass and you don’t let it bring you down (figuratively speaking!).  I think this is a great piece of advice that will serve ME well in these 2 weeks before I leave for this hike.

Advice:  Listen to Luis’ advice!

Final thoughts…

I am almost done doing all the things that I need to do to be ready but, in the end, it is the emotional preparedness that I am not sure how to measure.  I cannot check it off a list, like I can do with the other items on my packing list.  Yet it is likely one of the most important success factors in this trek.  I don’t know if altitude sickness will beat me to the summit.  I can’t control that.  But I sure hope I am ready enough to control my willpower and discomforts to summit or get very close to it!  Kili, I shall meet you very soon!

Uhuru peak or Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

P.S. – Thanks for all the words of support, advice, and for orphanage donations via Trekking for Kids!

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A month after this post went up, I had completed climbing Kilimanjaro and started writing about every day in the trek (7 total days) and about the route we were to take.  Check it out!

–  The Machame Route

–  Gear for climbing Kili:  clothing

–  Day 1 (and links to the subsequent days)

Trekking with a Purpose – the Best of Both Worlds

A hike around the Bucegi Mountains in Romania

My trip to Romania and Moldova was triggered and centered around a hike in Romania organized by Trekking for Kids to support a local orphanage.  If it were not for this organization, I may have waited much longer to get to Romania and, more than likely, never hiked the beautiful trails along the Carpathian Mountains.  And, if it were not for this organization, I would not have met the wonderful kids I met at the orphanage in Romania.

A hike around the Bucegi Mountains in Romania

The Bucegi Mountains

Trekking for Kids

Trekking for Kids (TFK) was created in 2005 to find a way to support orphanages around the world while combining those efforts with treks for those helping fundraise for those orphanages (see their full story).  Over the years, they have conducted treks (some of them they repeat over the years) and helped orphanages in (trek/orphanage):   Everest Base Camp/Nepal, Camino de Santiago/Morocco, Inca Trail/Peru, Kilimanjaro/Tanzania, and others.  In fact, Kilimanjaro is planned for 2013 along with a couple of  other unnamed destinations but including college- and family- oriented treks!  So go check them out and bookmark; you never know what will call to you!

The Romania Trek

In this Romania trek, TFK organized a well-planned and well-run hike whether for newbie trekkers like me or experienced ones as some of my fellow trekkers.  Their choice of the hike guides (Your Guide Romania) was simply outstanding; they do more than hikes and should you desire to explore Romania and mix with adventures like hiking, paragliding, skiing, etc., they ARE your guys and this group of trekkers seriously endorses them!

More importantly, TFK found and carefully vetted a local orphanage that would not just accept funds and other contributions but one that has a philosophy of truly caring for its children, offering them a healthy home environment, and that thought about the children’s long-term needs:  those once a child turns 18 and, normally, gets shown out of an orphanage.

The Foundation for Abandoned Children (Pentru Copii Abondonati) clearly has a vision not only for the immediate care of the children and young adults, but for preparing them to enter life outside of the home.  And that’s what I found so wonderful about the choice TFK made:  I knew my efforts, my donors’ contributions, and my time would be magnified as this foundation’s philosophy and approach was perfect to take the unexpected support they were receiving via TFK and translating it into bigger possibilities for the children and young adults.

Our First Day with the Children

We arrived at one of the three houses in the town of Ghimbav, near Brasov, all eager to meet the children and wondering what specifically the conditions at the orphanage would be.  As we arrived, a couple of children came out as they were clearly all eagerly awaiting us.

We had just made the 2-3 hr drive from Bucharest on a Saturday morning which means it takes longer than normal due to weekend traffic from the big city to the country.  We had stopped at our hotel, the Kolping Hotel, on the outskirts of Brasov by the mountain with the BRASOV sign, to drop of our luggage before meeting the children.

So, we entered the orphanage and immediately started meeting both children and staff.  Lots of names to remember but TFK had brought name tags which would greatly facilitate remembering everyone’s names.  At some point, I traded names with one of the kids named Anton, and I started a mania – all of a sudden, and for most of the rest of the day, a constant flurry of name tag changing began.  The younger kids loved it and it made for part of the fun.

Clearly my name is not Anton but that was my name at the moment. Here with Alex, one of the older teens.

We were shown around the houses (2 owned by the foundation and 1 rented if I remember correctly).  The facilities were pretty good and that made my heart feel good as I have seen orphanages elsewhere where the conditions, while not the worst, still did not feel adequate for children.  Clearly, the foundation has done a good job of establishing a healthy environment for the children to live in.

The largest home houses kids, boys and girls, of all ages.  The second home houses boys.  The third home right now has mostly work space (e.g., a woodworking workshop) but will be prepared to take the older children/young adults after a new roof is installed and the indoor space renovated.  Some of the funds raised will go to the repair of the roof and some of the older boys have contributed to the prep work and will participate, led by the construction crew, in repairing the roof – a good skill to pick up!

House in Romania

The roof and space to be renovated

Old roof in a house in Romania

The upper space to be renovated

After getting a lay of the land and seeing the garden where they grow produce, we proceeded to break up into groups to do different projects.  Some of us stayed at the boys’ house to sand furniture down so they could be restored.  Others went off to help bottle up jam (to sell, along with crafts made by the kids, in local markets).  Others started doing a tie-dye shirt project which they kids and teens greatly enjoyed (and we the saw the end results when we returned after the hike – really good job!).  At some point, we all moved through some of the activities along with the children.  These activities enabled us to get to know the kids and the kids to get to know us.  It was a great afternoon.

Working hard and having fun with tie-dying!

Tie-dying

And lots of concentration!

Post-Hike Time at the Orphanage

Hike concluded, we went back to the orphanage for two days of activities:  on the first day BBQ/dinner and games at the orphanage; and the second day a morning hike followed by lunch.  The kids sported their newly-made tie-dye shirts and they truly were amazing!

The BBQ/dinner was a lot of fun.  These kids know how to fend for themselves and the food was delicious!  We then did several activities:  making smores, playing football (soccer) & basketball, etc.  I played my very first soccer match ever and apparently I am great at defending and goal-keeping!  Who knew!

Amateur soccer player

Yet-another Spanish-blooded Raul who can play football/soccer

 

The hike and lunch was a fun day too.  Not all the children went up the trail and stayed earlier in the trail.  The rest of us went to the top with a few of us hanging out and the bulk of the group going through a more difficult section of the trail.  I hung out with a couple of adults and a few of the kids who didn’t want to go on.  Afterwards, we treated the kids to a lunch out which was a great way to hang out before our departure for Bucharest, and back home.

Zoli and I killing time as we waited for the rest of the group

In the end, it’s never enough time to spend with the children and teens, especially once you make the connections.  While I do not know what the future brings, I sure hope I can remain in touch with the foundation and hear about the children – and, who knows, perhaps seeing them again some day!  And I also hope I am blessed with another opportunity to go on a trek with TFK.

Group picture

The entire group – thanks to the wonderful staff and the great children!

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