Saturday, September 1, 2012

Bye, Bye Nairobi

Struggling through CBD and speeding on Mombasa Road on my way to the airport, I was thinking about that things I would miss and the things I would not miss about Nairobi. And that perhaps I am not ready to leave yet; that perhaps three months is not enough time to get to know a city and to make your mind; that perhaps I want more time with the people here.

But such is life that we have to move on. And so I do too. Bye, bye Nairobi. Asanthe sana for all that I liked and that I hated. It’s been great.

I’ll catch you on the flip side.


One great adventure ends with another. Why, Fred asked? For the challenge!

The question remains how to pack a 9 day adventure into a readable, page-scrolling post. Impossible, I know. What follows is as good as it can get :) Yet, this is a story, I’ll love retelling.

Day –1:

IMG_1800 2
Target revealed en route from Mombasa to Nairobi. In 8 days, I will be on the top! 

Day 0

Board random Nairobi-Arusha shuttle. Argue extensively that I am a resident to get a cheaper price. Fail. Pay more.

Border crossing proves interesting as well: managed to overstay my visa and on top of that come across a rather unbribable official.. tia In usual Lily style, I get away with it.

Arrive in Arusha, beer and A Storm of Swords (nope, still not done with the Song of Fire and Ice). Fail to find anything interesting to do in Arusha for the remaining 3 hours of daylight, so just succumb to wondering what should be happening for the rest of the day.

Meet chief guide and chef for 5 mins in the evening. Yet again everyone finds my dietary, no-olives restriction weird.

Day 1:

Tanzanians apparently run on the same time as Kenyans. Leaving at 8 AM soon turned to leaving at 9 AM with an extra stop to KIA to pick up some luggage. More and more travel took us through Moshi and finally to Rongai Gate (turned out we actually skipped a step because the other group got our permit for us, how nice of them). The road to Rongai Gate took us through several villages. The striking difference with Kenya was a little unnerving. What was most interesting to me was that most people lived in houses made of bricks, not improvised materials. The road from Marangu Gate back to Moshi was even nicer.

Lunch – why not just give us each a simple sandwich and get going…. A 3 course meal is really not what I need before hiking/climbing, but in the end, after 7 days of this, you get used to it. It was weird this morning having only one course for breakfast….

Had to learn to use my gear. Thought I knew how to put gaiters on, but apparently some of the subtleties were lacking. P.S. Gaiters are now my favorite piece of climbing gear.

First glimpse from Rongai Route
3 hours and 4 km later we made it to the first camp: Simba Camp at 26262m.

Day 2

Breakfast starts with porridge (I had to ask what that was :) Coming from a non-breakfast-eating-family means I never tried this before. In the few times we ever ate breakfast it never consisted of something like that. As gross as it might look, porridge is actually great mountain fuel, especially when coupled with eggs, sausage, toast, honey, peanut butter, mangos and oranges). Side note: I really cannot understand how this company can have a bad review about food. Either people had extremely high expectations, or they really upped their game.

7 hours and 12 km later we made it to camp two: Kikelewa at 3679m.


An interesting aspect of Kili climate is the the drastic fall in temperature with sunset. Probably as much as 15-20 C. From a nice, warm sun to a cold, see-your-breath-in-the-tent in minutes. We all agreed we had never experienced such temperature difference anywhere else. Ohhh, and by all I mean our group of five: a Belgian, an Englishman, a Pakistani, a Scot and moi.

Daily highlights – chameleon, caves, clouds, mountain views, fish and chips (What kind of fish is this?, we asked. Fried, answered Patrick) Open-mouthed smileOpen-mouthed smile 

Day 3

Up, up, up we go to 4303m. Now, that was a first (most of this trekking trip was one personal record after another, since I’d never before made it above 3000m (and this is an approximation of two of the highest peaks in Bulgaria, neither one of which is actually 3000m, but I’ve lost enough bets on the actual height of both, so I’m not even gonna try now)). 4303 is uncomfortable. A slight headache turned worse with an afternoon excursion that took us a little over 4600m.

Again, the view makes the effort worth it.
The Mawenzi is the second highest peak in the Kilimanjaro National Park. Long time ago (Tanzanians are as bad with years as with time. P.S. They start reading the clock from a different angle, like 6 or something, so they are always off by at least 5-6 hours when telling the time), there were three mountains – Mawenzi, Kili and another one. The last one went down, Mawenzi stayed the same, around 5600m, and Kili first went up to over 6000m and then came back down to its current height of 5895m.
Paracetamol (and some other poisons) saved the day and let me sleep during a windy, cold night. Trust me, getting up during the night to pee was one of the most difficult things during the first 4 days of the trip. With the amount of water we drank and liquids we imbibed in various forms during the day, there was no way that was not happening. Also, sleeping for over 10 hours per night leads to toilet breaks every so often (sleeping or lying in your sleeping bag trying to get warm, you can look at it either way. I tried to focus on the sleeping part).

Day 4

Back to 3980m and all the altitude effects gone. Yay!

3 hours, 8 km, 1 break, fast pace…. this guide kept lying to me when I started whining about a much necessary pit stop. Just after that ridge. And just after the next ridge, the one after that and the one after that, we actually reached camp. Way too early for lunch. Now what?

Afternoon excursion to 4200 was nice, calm, windless and warm.

The setting sun revealed some magnificent views of the mountain.


Day 5

Again trekking direction is up! We have to make it to 4720m before lunch. On the way, we are taken on a side route for a surprise.

Dead buffalo! I know it doesn’t look that way, but it is actually dead. It’s been there for 7 months now. It’s just too cold for the body to rot. There was no smell. The poor stupid animal got stuck there trying to lick some salt and couldn’t get out.
The further we continue, the more I fall behind. With the altitude my place slows down and I’m the last to make it to camp. You lose appetite above 4000m and you can’t get any sleep, is what everyone said. Well, let me tell you… neither happened. Me losing appetite would be like the dinosaurs coming back to life. That’s right, damn f*cking impossible. As for sleep, different poisons bring different levels of serenity. An afternoon excursion to 5000m brought another headache to be cured with Paracetamol. Which also puts you to sleep at 6 PM in the evening which was the goal.

Day 6


We are woken up at 11PM on Day 5 to finish getting ready (I thought I’d change into clean clothes at this point. The idea was to keep all summit clothes dry, but it was so cold I had to change earlier and hope that they remain dry), have tea and biscuits and embark on the journey.

Around midnight, 3 groups head up the mountain from our camp. Summit attempt begins. Summit attempt will end 9 hours later for me.

It all went good for a while: taking quick breaks here and there (more than 2 mins of break means getting chilled to the bone. You have to keep moving), moving forward, guides singing and yelling, catching up with other groups. Soon, this was all to end. I think I made it to about 5200m and then the altitude really started taking its toll on me. First to go was my backpack. No questions asked, Give me that. Second, I was given trekking poles (I had borrowed those, but it was too difficult to use them. Too much coordination and attention to be paid and too bloody difficult to take out my camera to take pictures). Those helped for a while. But sooner rather than later, my breathing worsened, heartbeat quickened and I was taking a breathing break every 10m or so.

Well now, I was taking other breaks as well. As the dawn approached, the sky turned from a star-ridden black to a fiery burst of orange.

Not sure what time this was, but probably around 30 minutes later, we made it to the first point on the peak: Gillman’s point at 5685m.

First Kili goal achieved immediately: see the sunrise!
At Gillman’s point we were fed Pringles and forced to drink Red Bull. I couldn’t finish either one. With the altitude came some nausea, which was the first adverse effect to go almost immediately after we left Gillman’s.

From here, we continued around the crater to Stella Point at 5756m. More pictures with the group and more indifference from me. I think the main driver that got me to the top was that for me nothing else but Uhuru Peak with its 5895m existed. Not Gillman’s, not Stella Point. 

I’m not sure where my worst ordeal began, but I remember the last couple of km from Stella Point to Uhuru Peak as one of the most miserable during the entire trip. One foot in front of the other, deep breaths and yet I could only make about 5 steps without taking a break. One of the guides carried my stuff, supported me here and there, encouraged me every once in a while, and totally helped me reach the top!

There I collapsed and started chewing on anything I could get my hands on that hadn’t frozen during the night. Mostly chocolate. Water as well (this was the only day, that I did not drink the minimum 3l of water required by our guides. No wonder the altitude took me badly). I had an entire photo shoot with poses prepared in my mind. Yet, I could only stand up for 2 individual ones and a bunch of group photos.

Second Kili goal achieved: reach the top!
I probably spent 10 to 15 mins on top before we started heading down. I thought this would be easy, it wasn’t. I only made it back to Gillman’s point on my own. Again, significantly slower than the rest of the group. From Gillman’s to lunch camp at Kibo Hut (we went back via the Marangu Route) I was basically dragged by one of the other guides as I could not stand up on my own without wobbling. I couldn’t even sit without leaning against something. At this point, I’m not sure whether it was dizziness from the altitude or simple exhaustion and lack of sleep, but  again I needed help to make it down.

On our way, it started snowing. Which didn’t really help much. Moreover, it was icicles, not snow flakes. Anyway, it was hard to see ahead, but it was beautiful! It only snows above 4500m or so, so later that day we saw the snow go away completely.

We were met by porters going up the route to help us if necessary. Which in my case was. First, they took my guide’s backpack: It’s heavy enough to carry that lady. I like to think of it as supporting, but I’m not sure how much of my weight was actually left to the guide. Then, they brought me juice. Sitting for 2 mins to drink a cup of what was pretty awful juice, I was ready to just stay there and take a nap. Yet, I had be dragged further below 5000m to feel better which was taking forever. Here the problem was piercing bursts of headache every so often that they pulled me to a stop.

Long story short (mostly because I don’t remember very many details), with the help of the guide, I made it to the camp and collapsed in my tent. Completely passed out for just over an hour before a light lunch. Awful headache which went away with more Paracetamol and more loss of altitude.

NB: I feel it’s important to say that headache is very common with altitude gain in the mountain. But if it goes away with painkillers, then it is not altitude sickness and you have nothing to worry about. Which happily was the case with me. All the headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath and so on are just a natural part of going up to oxygen-poor environments. Yet, I must have not looked as bad as I thought, otherwise they would have taken me down earlier.

From Kibo Hut, Marangu Route took us to Horombo Camp at just under 4000m. The scenery was changing quickly,

from a snow blizzard
to the alpine dessert (with a different view of the Mawenzi)

to the moorlands (these trees called Senecio kilimanjari only grow in the water-rich areas of the moorlands of Kilimanjaro and also appear on the certificate. Yes, I did get a certificate for successfully reaching Uhuru Peak!!!)
And finally we made it to Horombo Camp, where popcorn was waiting in the dining tent! This day was so much longer than this post! It was as if Day 5 never ended. A rich dinner made us all happy. Some worrisome news from the other camp (we started in two groups going up at the same time) almost ruined everything, but then by next morning, it turned out that everything would be ok.

Total time 15 hours+, 20km+, 1100m+ up and nearly 2000m down

Day 7

Early rising, later leaving. 5 hours and 20+ km to go. At the end, burger lunch and after that shower! Goodness gracious! Honestly though, I felt less filthy than I should have after 7 days of camping and 7 days of hiking. Here finally we saw a glimpse of real wildlife! (We saw some lizards on Rongai, like a flat-back chameleon and something else, some birds and so on, but not real real wildlife).

Just before the last Marangu camp on the way down: blue monkeys and black-and-white monkeys.

This little guy is only 5 months old. Yes, I did ask how they know. One of the guides seemed a little taken aback by my question. Because we know about monkeys. And then something about size, color and so on.

Not rocket science to say which is which kind of monkey.

Finally, at Marangu Gate a celebratory picture. We all made it! All 2 groups, all 12 people, 100% success rate! But the other group was always 20-30 mins behind us, so never made any pictures.


Lunch was at Mosh in Moshi… how original! A burger place where all the Kili groups are taken. Imagine an American style burger, but with about 1/4 of the meat. Mosh had some more interesting items on the menu as well, i.e. 13 an 14:


Back to the hotel. Looong, looong, use-up-a-piece-of-soap shower despite the lukewarm water. More beer with dinner and we all said our goodbyes.

The next morning it was unfortunately time to get back to Nairobi.

Things I learnt

Whoever tells you that it’s easy, lies! People call it a walk, and if by that they mean it’s a non-technical climb, then bloody say it that way! It is nothing like a walk.

Mountain chefs can prepare amazing things in a tent! My personal favorite was the popcorn and orange colored pancakes/crepes with manga jam.

All of us were so fascinated by the orange color that we demanded several times to talk to the chef until he told us what his secret was :)
Shoes at least one size bigger make a huge difference. I got them bigger so I could fit with 2-3 pairs of socks and remain warm during the cold summit night. On top of that though, apparently the further up you go, your feet swell (as do your fingers), so you need the extra space. Bigger size is also key for the way down. Let me just say that while some were losing 2-4 toe nails, I didn’t even have a single blister. Thank you Toi market and whatever dog brand those shoes are.

Chocolate, not energy and cereal bars, is the best mountain fuel. Also, apparently my relationship with chocolate is so strong and obvious that people felt the need to make fun of me from the start. Little do I care. 

You haven’t seen me wolf down good chocolate. RSA-made Cadbury is not my primary choice.

Things I didn’t fully learn

None of us actually understood why the climbs start at midnight. With all the different reasons they gave us, it still made little sense.

Things I proved to others

The camelback didn’t freeze! Told ya!

You don’t lose appetite with altitude! Or at least our group didn’t.

The need to wear so many layers when all you do is shed (the layers I mean)

Things I proved to myself

Am true to my motto. Do.