Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A reminder of my own mortality

We had only been off of Kilimanjaro for two days.  We were in the Serengeti at a visitors area, awaiting the Land Cruiser with the lunch bags.  Then we heard the news...

- People die on Kilimanjaro due to rock slides

Donovan, our trip leader, received a call from a friend/guide and we heard the news.  The details were not exactly clear..the numbers of people, where it happened, if there were porters or Tanzanians killed, etc etc etc.  Silence grew over the group.  We were *just* on the mountain two days before.  Hell, it could have been any of us...but then we heard it happened on the Western Breach route, which has the highest camp elevation for the summit push.  We had been on the Machame route, with our summit push camp being Barafu.

I didn't get the full story until I went back to the states. 

The report from the Washington Post:

NAIROBI, Jan. 5, 2006 -- Three American mountain climbers were killed and another was seriously wounded in a rockslide on Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak, an official said Thursday.

The climbers were crushed as they slept in their tents on Wednesday when rocks and boulders were dislodged by a strong gust of wind. They had been hiking above the Arrow Glacier on the western slope of the mountain at about 16,000 feet, said James Wakibara, the acting chief warden of Kilimanjaro National Park.

Two of the hikers who died were found alive but did not survive a flight to Nairobi, Kenya's capital, for treatment, Wakibara said.

Tanzania's regional police commander, Mohamed Chico, identified the dead as Kristian Ferguson, 27, of Longmont, Colo., Mary Lou Sammis, 58, of Huntington, N.Y., and Betty Orrik Sapp, 63, of Tennessee.

An American and four Tanzanians were seriously injured.

"The rocks were flying every which way," Wakibara said by telephone from the base of the mountain. "This is a huge catastrophe and has never happened during the modern history of the mountain. It's a very sad day here."

Park rangers said they would examine whether the rocks were loosened by receding ice. There has been widespread concern in recent years about the pace of the glacier melt on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Warm temperatures and deforestation near the park have contributed to the shrinking of the glacier, which once covered the outside of the dome with thick snow.

When I came home, I didn't hear the end of it from family and friends.  They thought, for sure, I had been affected when the heard the news in the states (even though they knew I was summitting New Years Day).  I blogged just enough (right after the climb), which kept my sister informed.  She was able to relay the information to my mom, which was envisioning her worst nightmares.

I read a post from which included a full investigation of the incident as follows:

25th - 27th January 2006
An investigation to determine the cause of the Western Breach accident of 4th January 2006 and to offer recommendations for the way forward for this route.

1. Description of Western Breach
Location of Arrow Glacier Camp: 0304.580' S, 03720.357' E. Altitude: 4871m
Location of point of entry onto Crater: 0304.396' S, 03721.105' E. Altitude: 5726m
Mean gradient of slope: 38.0
Mean gradient of route: 26.0
Linear distance from Arrow to Crater: 1.39km
Route distance from Arrow to Crater: 1.95km

The present route ascending the Western Breach can be said to consist of 7 phases:
1) Route zigzags on scree slope from Arrow Camp at 4871m,
2) attains red rock band at 5090m,
3) emerges from top of red rock band at 5205m where attains scree slope 230 metres beneath right arms of r-shaped glacier,
4) trail moves diagonally left on scree before switching right to cross tributary (2nd water point, sometimes frozen) at 5308m at halfway point en route to crater lip,
5) trail continues diagonally right to top of 'rock train' where attains rock spur until base of crater wall
6) ascends rock tower with series of switchbacks and rock steps before emerging onto narrow scree slope,
7) route moves diagonally right across scree band to emerge through crater wall onto crater at 5726m. 'O' indicates location of Western Breach on Kibo's south west face

2. Causes of the Accident
Residual glacial deposit assumed to have been formed over many years at intersection between left
and right arms of r-shaped glacier (see figure 5). Part of this deposit collapsed, estimated by group
at 39 tonnes, sliding 150 metres down the slope, reaching a group estimated speed of 39 metres
per second at the point where the climbers were struck.

Cause of dislodgement: melting of ice in ice-scree composite bonding residual glacial deposit
combined with strong downhill winds measured at 177 km/h on morning of accident. Climbers failed
to respond to threat because of following factors:
- estimated only 4-5 seconds* before sound emanating from rocks gathering speed reached climbers;
- strong winds deflecting sound;
- poor visibility with snowfall.
the team examined a conspicuous cavity at the accident source site from where the recent fallen rocks were believed to have been dislodged that caused this accident. Based on the apparent concentration of remaining rocks adjoining this area, members estimated the number of 7 tonne truck loads required to re-fill this cavity. An average was taken and the figure of 39 tonnes arrived at.

based on compared experiences of three members of the team who themselves had been exposed to

measured by Zara Guide George Lyimo during ascent of Western Breach Route on morning of accident, using Austrian manufactured "Ciclo" wind speed gauge wrist unit, assumed error of 5Lyimo quit camp approximately 3 hours before the deceased.

*mean velocity = distance / time, thus (39 - 0)/2 = 150 / t, thus t = 7.7 seconds. Subtract from this time taken for sound to reach
climbers, 0.5 seconds, (speed of sound = 300 m/s), thus time between sound and rock reaching climbers = 7.7 - 0.5 = 7.2 seconds.

It is assumed that while rock begins to become dislodged a significant volume of sound is not emitted within the first 2-3 seconds, before the originating rocks begin to impact other rocks and build speed.

3. Current Status of Route
The route is judged currently to be not safe with special concern over two risk zones: Risk Zone A (yellow, below): residual glacial deposit at intersection of right and left arms of r-shaped glacier resulting in a death risk from rock fall zone from 5180m to 5315m.
Risk Zone B (red, below): crater wall and rock tower subsidence at 5440m to 5780m resulting in a
death risk from rock fall zone from 5280m to 5480m.
The remainder of the route is judged to be subject to no specific identifiable imminent threats.

4. Recommendations
1) Our principal recommendation is to divert the route from near the top of the red rock band to the
base of the prominent rock feature known as the 'Stone Train'. The route should proceed to handrail
up the left hand edge of the Stone Train to attain the rock spur adjoining the base of the crater wall
at approximately 5400m.

2) A signboard should be erected at Arrow Glacier camp stating the following, or similar:
"The Western Breach ascent route is subject to considerable objective risk, primarily from rock fall.
Climbers should be aware that while it is not possible to avoid all risk, in order to minimize exposure
to rock fall, ascents should depart from Arrow Glacier camp no later than 5:30 am."

3) The route should be clearly signposted with prohibitions not to proceed beyond the red rock band.
The new diversion should be clearly marked with warning sign advising climbers that they are
entering a rock fall risk zone and requesting that they proceed swiftly across the demarcated zone
to the base of the Stone Train. The Stone Train diversion route should be well prepared with steps
cut to assist swift passage across tributary at base of risk zone B. The team believes that this
measure will reduce the time spent in a rock fall risk zone from some 55 minutes to 5 minutes.

4) Consultation with, and commissioning of studies by, further specialists (seismologists, glaciologists, geologists, meteorologists, etc) to assess the long term future risks associated with climate change and Kilimanjaro's altering geology and glaciology.

5) The present team to form the basis of a future safety patrol team tasked with visiting the mountain
on a monthly or bi-monthly basis to survey and identify possible future risk areas in the light of the
rapidly changing climatic situation on Kilimanjaro. The team believes the following areas to merit
close and regular inspection:
1) Western Breach
2) Barranco Breach Wall
3) Area beneath the Kersten and Decken Glaciers
4) South East Valley beneath Stella Point
5) Final re-entrant before attaining Barafu Rib on the Machame Route
6) Area between Hans Meyer Cave and Gilman's Point
(On 29th January the team learned that precisely this area had suffered rock fall only 3 days prior).
7) Lava Tower
It would be hoped that this team would be instrumental in averting future disasters by offering
appropriate recommendations to contain or evade perceived threats throughout Mount Kilimanjaro.

7) A survey of visitors to Kilimanjaro National Park should be conducted in order to ascertain the
general feeling of the tourist community towards the prospects of:
a) closure of the Western Breach ascent route
b) continuing to conduct ascents via the Western Breach despite proven risks of ongoing possible
rock fall, albeit following the implementation of a new route section that will significantly reduce
exposure to these hazards
c) continuing the use of the other two assault routes on the mountain, via Barafu and Kibo Huts,
which are also believed to be becoming more risk prone as rock bonding agents throughout the
mountain lose integrity with perceived rising temperatures and a reduction in precipitation generally.
Appendix A Mathematically, the maximum speed obtainable by a rock falling in unresisted freefall from the source site (130 verticalmetres above point of impact) would be 113 mph by the time it reached the casualties:
1): (V2 - V1) / t = a = 9.81 m/s/s, thus, 9.81t = V2 - V1
2): (V2 - V1) / 2 = d / t, thus, (V2 - V1) / 2 = 130 / t, thus, 260 = t(V2 - V1), and V2 - V1 = 9.81t, thus, 260 = t(9.81t), thus,
9.81t = 260, thus, t = (260 / 9.81) Thus, t = 5.15 seconds, thus max. mean velocity = 130 / 5.15 = 25.24 m/s, thus max final
velocity (in freefall) = 2 x 25.24 = 50.5 m/s = 182 km/h = 113 mph.

Appendix B
The estimate of 39 metres per second (140.4 km/h or 87.2 mph) is based on the compared experiences of three team members (Elias Msemo, George Lyimo and John Rees-Evans) who themselves had been exposed to rock fall on previous occasions and who for the purpose of this report each independently estimated the speed at which rock fall that they had witnessed had passed them on similarly angled slopes to that beneath the r-shaped glacier from the base of which the recent rock fall was dislodged. An average of
these three estimates was taken. This method is not claimed to be systematic or accurate however we believe it to be a reliable approximation. The team is aware that an eyewitness survivor estimated the falling rock to be travelling at "150 mph" but as this rock originated only 150m above the accident site the accelerative force acting on this rock would be required to be in excess of the resultant gravitational force acting upon an unresisted rock in freefall:

150 mph = 67.1 m/s
time required for unresisted projectile in freefall to obtain this speed = = 6.8 seconds
With the accident being sited at a max. elevation of 5280m (evidence was recovered from 5245m) the rock fall would have been required to have originated at 5736m which is above the level of the crater wall at this point:

final velocity = thus, 67.1 = therefore x = 456.3 metres, added to 5280 = 5736 metres elevation
Further, note that these calculations describe a rock in freefall which we would judge to be considerably faster than that of a rock
rolling down a 30 - 40 degree slope.

The Team:
Imani Kikoti Park Warden, KINAPA Acting as Chairman
Joseph Paul Nchereri Athlete, Team Kilimanjaro Acting as Secretary
Ambrose Mlay Rescue Ranger, KINAPA Member
George Lyimo Guide, Zara Tours Member
Elias Msemo Guide, African Environment Member
John Rees-Evans Director, Team Kilimanjaro Member

Imani Kikoti, Chairman Joseph Paul Nchereri, Secretary
Left to right: Ambrose Mlay, Elias Msemo, George Lyimo, John Rees-Evans, Imani Kikoti.

For the climbers that Mt. Kilimanjaro has taken, let's remember them as adventurous souls, doing something they have always wanted to do or loved to do.  However, the mountain has also taken the lives of porters as well, a fact much overlooked in the public eye.  Let's remember them as hard working men, trying to make a better life for themselves.  Porters are not always well equipped and get altitude sickness as well, but many take a passing eye at. 

I am an adrenaline junkie.  I do crazy shit that puts my life in danger.  Like climbing mountains.  Not that this was true *mountaineering*, per se.  Kilimanjaro is a long, high altitude hike.  However, you are dealing with mother nature, and anything can happen...

Would I do it again?  Those who know me best would say, of course.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Africa blog part 2: Kilimanjaro Climb -- Day 5 & 6 - Summit Attempt

Day 6: High Camp to the Summit and then Mweka Camp (10,500’)


Summit time: 7 hrs, Elevation change: 1300 M
Estimated distance: 5km, Final elevation: 5895 M
Descent time: 5 hrs, Elevation change: -2800M
Estimated distance: 12km, Final elevation: 3100 M

We will start trekking early before sunrise (1-2 am) as the walk today will take 10-14 hours. We will avoid the mist that sets in later in the day; the scree and snow will still be safely frozen. The 1,100-meter (3,600’) ascent in just over 3 km (1.86 miles) will take us about 6-8 hours. After a brief stay at the summit of the highest point in Africa, Uhuru Peak, at over 5,898 meters (19,340'), we descend via the Barafu Route roughly 2,500 meters (8,200’) in 12 km (7.44 miles) in about 4-7 hours to Mweka Camp.

- "Marisa!"
- "Huh?"

Donovan woke me up sometime around 11pm, New Years Eve. Between dinner and the time he woke me up, I had barely slept a wink. It had only been a few hours since dinner, but I had so many things on my mind, so I tossed and turned for quite a while. I slept with all of my summit clothes on because I knew that waking up at 11...I would be so tired, and surely, would take forever to get ready.

I reached for my headlamp, turned it on to gather my things while trying not to wake Sean up. I was going to be part of the "slow" group, whose ascent was to begin at 11pm, New Years Eve, Dec 31, 2005. Sean was part of the main group, whose ascent was to begin at midnight, New Years Day, Jan 1, 2006.

I put on my boots then clumsily stumbled out of my tent, in what felt like an altered dream state, dragged my pack and trekking poles out. I walked a few feet away from the tent, turned my headlamp off, pulled my pants down, squatted, and took a piss underneath a blanket of stars, so many that I could not even recognize one constellation. I put my pack on, held on to my trekking poles, and proceeded to do the upward hike to the meals tent, where we were to have biscuits and tea. The hike to the meals tent alone was hard enough to do during the day, but to do it in the middle of night, no moon to guide you, shattered rocks everywhere, fatigued as hell...surely, it seemed like it would be disasterous.

Fuck, it was cold!!! The slow group gathered in the meals tent. The group consisted of me, Daisy, Cindy, Madhu, Teresa, Sara, Donovan (but he's not slow), and assistant guides of Ulrich, Godlisten, and Emmanuel. Donovan briefed us a bit on how things would go, if someone were to descend and whatnot. We were all fatigued. Still, many thoughts in my head. Some..."I can't believe this is the summit push", "I can't believe I made it this far!", "Oh my god, what the hell did I get myself in to?"

Because of my bout with altitude sickness on night 3, I decided that I would be happy to make it to 17,000 feet. We were ascending about 3,600 feet in the summit push alone, and every foot gained in altitude, the farther up you go, seems to have more of an effect on your body. So I set my expectations low so that I wouldn't be disappointed. And if I felt fine at 17,000, then I would push on and see how far I'd end up. But not risk my life at the same time. If I were 100 feet from the summit and had to descend because of altitude sickness, I would...

I was wearing everything I owned and was loaned to me except for a pair of warm weather pants (ie. day 1 pants) and my rain jacket. Everything.

It was time to start our summit attempt. Ulrich lead the group, Emmanuel stayed in the middle, and Godlisten was the guide at the end of the group.

The hike was difficult. A lot of big steps on rugged terrain, and not knowing whether or not there was a cliff beside the boulder you're using to bring yourself up. It was pitch black except for the headlamps of our group and the stars in the sky. We trusted Ulrich with our lives, to guide us to the right path.

- "What time is it?"
- "Just past midnight"

Yeah, happy fucking new years. Only an hour on the mountain and my feet were already frozen, my hands already numb. What the hell was I doing to myself?

I carried my pack for over an hour, refused Emmanuel's offer to carry it. I wanted to do this on my own. Then it came to a point where I said screw it, and handed my pack over to Emmanuel. I'd been carrying 25-35 pounds all the way up the mountain thus far. If this is my chance to make it to the top, damn it, I don't need to carry about a third of my own body weight as well. I gave in. So call me a wimp. It was definitely *a lot* easier not having to carry my pack.

We took frequent breaks. I tried to find boulders to huddle by to block the gusting winds that felt like I was in a Category 1 hurricane..okay, well maybe a tropical storm. But regardless, the winds were very strong. It was a bitter cold out and with the wind, it felt somewhere in the negatives. We stopped for water breaks, where Emmanuel would hand me the insulated tube to my camelbak hanging out of my pack. I took sips, then blew air back in the hose to prevent freezing in the hose. With no luck...on a later water break (I want to say not even 2 hours on the mountain), it was frozen. I chewed at the mouthpiece to dislodge ice, to try to suck on it, but there was no luck. My insulated camelbak had frozen. Many more hours at altitude hiking, without water...

We continued on, following Ulrich who was leading the person in front of the person in front of the person in front of me. I followed behind Cindy, following her dark blue Summit backpack cover for a while, while Emmanuel followed behind me. One time, Cindy's backpack cover flew off, but Emmanuel caught it right then and there. Then later it flew off again (the winds), I thought it was a goner because it had flown over a set of boulders, which, who knows what was behind them. Emmanuel ran after it like a crazed man..uh..disappeared, then came back with the backpack cover in hand.

On a break, I looked at my compadres to see Daisy's balaclava freezing with ice crystals where she breathed, Cindy's hair as icicles, frost on Sara's trekking poles, frost on everyone's headlamps. We had only been on the mountain for a few hours...

Looking down, you could see the lights of Moshi as well as the headlamps, mere white dots, of the hikers below. The large group must have been our main group. Looking up, you could see headlamps of hikers far ahead, the enormous amount of stars, and you could somewhat make out where land met sky by where the stars ended. It was a far way up still.

Some hours on the summit attempt, and our main group caught up to our slow group. There were other groups going on the trail as well. There was mass confusion, at least to me, there was. I somehow got separated. Emmanuel was there. Emmanuel said, "Twende" (Let's go) to me. I understood. I had assumed that the rest of my group was ahead. An assumption I made because these were assistant guides leading our small group, and I thought they would know what they were doing.

Emmanuel lead me alone for a while. Then I asked him, "Where is the rest of the group?" He looked at me confused. I repeated myself. He shook his head. He said something to the effect that he didn't understand or speak English. Holy fucking hell. What the hell am I doing..I'm here with an assistant guide? who cannot understand me. What if something happens? What if I feel like I need to descend? How am I going to communicate this with him. I was worried, but pushed on because he was persistently pushing me on.

Emmanuel walked some 10-15 feet in front of me, without a light, and without even turning around to acknowledge where I was. I could have fallen off the moutain, and had I not made a sound, he would not have even known.

He seemed so eager to get up to the summit, he pushed me way to hard, making me hike beyond my capabilities, speedwise, at this altitude. I was worn. Fatigued. Luckily, I know how my body reacts to altitude, so I made sure to stay in tune with my own body's signals. We passed group after group after group after group. I panted heavily. I grew frustrated with this guy. Where the hell was my group???

The higher and higher we got, I grew more worried for my own safety. Because it seemed obvious that Emmanuel did not care about it. I wanted to go down. I was tempted to go down and meet the big group then hike back up. But what? Am I crazy? I'll have to re-hike all the way up! So I devised a plan. Lots of long breaks so that the big group could catch up with me and then I could finally have comfort of mind. Time to put this plan in action...

It seemed like such a lone mountain, just me and Emmanuel. I would stop, hunch over by a boulder that protected me from the wind. Emmanuel understood, "coldie" and "tiredie". Those became my catch phrases to take breaks. It was frustrating because the way to keep myself warm would be to continue moving, but I forced myself to take breaks, saying, "coldie, tiredie". Yes, I was cold, frigid, frozen like a popsicle. I was tired from fatigue, not hiking. I would look down the mountain to look for a large group of headlamps walking one by one. They were way in the distance. Whenever Emmanuel would see any headlamps approaching us, he would force me on, "Twende". Shit. I would hike a little more. Find a convenient boulder to huddle by. This game continued on for hours. The group had not caught up with me. Surely, they were not too far behind?

Emmanuel and I passed a group of about 7 hikers and a guide huddled together by a group of boulders. I heard the guide say that we were at approximately 17,400 ft. Yes!!! I had indeed surpassed my personal goal. No altitude sickness. I will keep on going.

I tried to make a pitstop, but Emmanuel said, "Twende", so I continued for a bit. I looked up to see the line where the stars didn't look too far, yet it was deceiving because it was in the dark. About 2,000 more feet in elevation to gain. I looked back down the mountain, saw a huge group of headlamps. It *must* be them!!!

I took enough rest breaks for the huge group of headlamps to catch up with me, only to find that I did not recognize anyone. No one...

- "Twende"
- "Coldie, tirdie"

I started to become stubborn, so I refused to budge, as cold as I was. I let the large group pass, then continued on for a bit.

What I could see with my headlamps was that everything had a fine layer of frozen ice on it. I was frozen. My trekking poles were frozen. My backpack, that Emmanuel was carrying, was frozen. Every rock I sat on was frozen. The pathway was frozen.

I took another break and just sat down on a rock. Emmanuel continued on, looked back. "Twende". Argh!!! I was wondering when the big group would catch up. I got 'lucky' this pit stop because one of my (Zamo's, really) poles collapsed. I continued to sit on the boulder that was freezing my ass, and fiddled slowly with the pole. Looking down the mountain. Looking up the mountain. Wondering..what kind of a fine mess have I gotten myself in to? A large group of headlamps was just behind us. I fiddled with the pole more to buy time. "Twende" When they neared, I got up and started off slowly. I recognized the colorful purple, yellow, red, and black ski jacket approaching me. I cannot even remember who it was, which guide, but finally, this was the main group. Emmanuel and the guide talked to each other in Swahili. I breathed a hugh sigh of relief.

My spirits were lifted, I felt reenergized. I was ready to tackle this mountain, summit this volcano, get to the highest point in Africa, do my first of the 7 summits, see the sunrise over Africa, see what is left over of the glaciers...I was ready.

I found Sean and hiked with him. As I hiked behind him, I looked at the thermometer, covered in frost, hanging off of his Old Navy backpack. It read about 18 degrees Farenheit. Someone else had a readout of about 15 degrees Farenheit. The winds were still extremely strong, knocking me off balance. It still felt well, well below 0 F.

At a rest point, I took some of his water which had not frozen in the Kilimanjaro bottled water plastic bottle. I was desperate for even a sip because it had been hours since I had had any water.

The sun was starting to rise so that you could look back and see the sky, a dark orange color, fading to black as the horizon hit the land near Moshi. We continued on as the sun was rising. We were getting close to Stella Point (19,000 ft). We started walking up pure scree. Scree -- "Loose rock debris covering a slope". That seems like an understatement. Picture walking on fine rocks at a steep incline where with every step you take up/forward, you fall back down half a step. The scree was torturous with progress. Stella Point, I can see you.

The sun rose, the sky grew more orange. We passed Zamo, with his black solar powered backpack, sitting down on the scree. He looked pretty worn down. We continued up in the step forward, a half step forced backwards...

And finally, we arrived at Stella Point, 19,000 feet. Extraordinary. We took a group pitstop there to rest, rehydrate, regroup behind a huge boulder. The sun was rising higher, part of the sky turning blue. Inspiring.

Sunrise from Stella Point (19,000 ft) - by Jonathan Lieberman

We only had 340 feet in elevation to gain, a mere step in the 13,000+ feet we had already hiked over the past 5 days. I heard someone say 20 minutes to Uhuru peak. 20 minutes, bah, I better make it now!!!

The 'twenty' minutes turned out to be a Kilimanjaro twenty minutes, which meant about an hour...

We left Stella Point and pushed on to Uhuru Peak. To the right of us was the ancient caldera of Kilimanjaro. Once active, now dormant. A huge crater filled with ash and frozen ice pellets. The trail in front of us, a well worn dirt path to Uhuru Peak flanked by frozen land. And to the left, magnificent glaciers. We had to pass by the Rebmann Glacier, Decken Glacier, and the Southern Icefield to get to Uhuru.

Hikers -- somewhere between Stella Point and the Summit - by Chuck Beauzay

The last push from Stella to Uhuru seemed to take forever, deceivingly close, you think it would be around the corner..yet you reach the see the pathway continues...It was extremely windy, so windy that the ice pellets were swept from the crater up the peak, and repeatedly hit my exposed face.

We admired the massive glaciers to the left of us, while the morning sun lit them up. It was relatively cloudless for the moment. A fleeting moment on the mountain as the clouds would soon roll in.

Hiking from Stella Point to Uhuru Peak -- Glaciers on the south side of the mountain - by Jonathan Lieberman

Sun rising over the glaciers - By Jonathan Lieberman

Glaciers - By Jonathan Lieberman

Glaciers - By Dillon Mosnot

Clouds rising up Kili, near Uhuru peak - By Dillon Mosnot

On the way from Stella Point to Uhuru Peak, I was overcome with emotion. I teared up. It was uncontrollable. I don't know why. Perhaps it was the achievement, although I had not yet summitted. Maybe it was the beauty of the seeing the sunrise over the glaciers. Or because I honestly did not think I would get this far due to the altitude. The anticipation of getting there, knowing that at this point, there was no turning back, I will make it. I sniffled, smiled from ear to ear behind my thick balaclava, occassionally wiped my eyes with my gloves. I couldn't believe I was almost *there*. No words could describe what I was feeling at that moment...

Hikers on the summit trail - by Jonathan Lieberman

What the roof of Africa looks like -- trail from Stella Point to Uhuru Peak

We rounded a corner, climbed higher, and was finally able to see the famous wooden sign atop Uhuru Peak. It was obvious that we weren't the first to make it. I was surprised to see as many people there as I did, crowded around the sign. But it made sense as it was New Years day. To summit New Years day would be popular.

And within minutes, we were there, at the roof of Africa. Unbelievable. We all exchanged hugs, wiped the tears of joy. And as my friends were celebrating the turn of New Years day back home, clinking champagne glasses, here I was, half way around the world *at* the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro at about the same time, experiencing a New Years that I will never forget...

Me and Sean at the summit sign, celebrating our 5 year anniversary together, to the day

The BnA gang at the summit - Cindy, Emmanuel, Megan, Freddy, Sherry, David, Mary, Tracy, Court, Sean, me, Donovan, Soyan, Dillon, Lara, someone with a beer, Alexa and Brian kneeling

Silhouette of lots of people at the summit

Me, Emmanuel, Brian, and other unidentifiable frozen people at the summit

Icicle growing from the bottom of Sean's balaclava

View of Mawenzi peak from Uhuru

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Africa blog part 2: Kilimanjaro Climb -- Day 5

Day 5: Karanga Valley to Barafu Hut (4,600m)

Hike time: 3.5 hrs, Elevation change: 600 M
Estimated distance: 4km, Final elevation: 4600 M

Today involves gaining a little more elevation, acclimatizing and resting for the summit attempt the next morning. This day will take us 4 to 6 hrs of walking.

Me and Sean at Karanga campsite, in front of Uhuru Peak

We started off as usual, waking up to see a cloudless Uhuru Peak on one side towering above us, but not looking as menacing as it did before, Mt. Meru on the other side, breakfast, then packing up.

According to the description for this day, I thought it did not seem too horrible. We were not gaining too much elevation in comparison to what we had gained previously. Doable. And as always, with the estimates...damn, I'm slow...

I went straight to the back of the pack, where my place was. We ascended from camp on rocky terrain, once again. It was such a sunny day that it did not remind me of the other rocky terrains we encountered on other days. The rocks, everywhere, small, medium, large, boulders with a walking path worn down amongst the rock landscape. Freddy, in his bright neon pink/orange jacket, led the group..and we hiked in single file, one by one. The group started to separate pretty quickly..the fast ones, and the pole pole. Sean took his place in the medium-fast group, while I stayed back with the pole pole group.

Our gang, led by Freddy, hiking one by one

Soon enough, the clouds started rolling in. They swept up the mountain across us, and up to Uhuru, where the clouds swirled around magically. We grouped up and took a break for a little bit. The girls found a huge boulder to squat behind for a bathroom break. Then we continued on. We ascended to a high point -- you could see the trail continuing on in front of you through a low, flattish spot for quite a distance. The trail, a line, surrounded by rocks everywhere. The result of the previously pyroclastic nature of Kilimanjaro when it was volcanic.

The scenary doesn't change that much

The fast group was way ahead of the pole pole group. I hung out with Daisy and hiked the rest of the way with her and Godlisten. We descended to the flattish area for quite a while. The trail was nice, a worn away footpath. There was not much cover if you had to go to the bathroom, though. We found a few boulders to take a resting stop at. None big enough to be fully concealed from the path for a squat break. But well, it had to be done, so a few porters saw my brown ass. That's okay. By this point, a lot of the modesty had dissipated.

The trail became rockier. The rocks, broken fragments of what looks like exfoliated rock -- in sheet form. It was great hiking with Daisy. We kept each other company, talking, and listening to the clanking of the sheet like loose rocks as we hit our trekking poles on them as we hiked. Sometimes it was hard to hear because of the winds, the clouds rushing by us to be swept higher.

The rocks that made the clanking noise

The rockiness of the trail cleared a bit back to the worn footpath. And kept going...

The trail

We could see the fast group, as indicated by Freddy's neon jacket, way ahead of us and uphill. They were taking a break. Daisy and I took short breaks, and took it easy. Enjoyed it. We were after all, at some 15,000 feet in elevation. We had already gone higher than Mt. Elbert, the tallest mountain in the Colorado Rockies. Something I never imagined would happen.

The fast group resting (taken by Sean)

The fast group continued on, as did we. They were long gone. We could look up and see huts. Camp??? It didn't look too far. Distance, as we knew, was deceiving (the valley separating us from the Karanga Camp!). We trucked on, talked, panted, panted more, laughed, smiled, panted more. Then it was time to ascend. The path grew rockier again. We clanked our poles against the rocks and made music. Every rock made a different noise. We crossed a part that involved some scrambling as well.

The fast group resting again(taken by Sean)

The path grew steeper and rockier. Every step at this altitude grew more tedious, my feet grew heavier. We had to ascend quite a bit to even get to those things that looked like huts.

Looking back at the low trail from a higher point

And then damn..where the hell do we go? Where is the path? Godlisten had to direct us the right way. The path became very steep, rocky. All we knew is that we had to go up...and it was not easy...

We finally saw tents. They were not ours. Where were our tents? No one knew. It was me, Daisy, Godlisten. He kept on hiking higher and higher, and we followed, tired, fatigued. We were in the high alpine desert - extremely dry. At one rocky steep stepping point near the first tents we saw, it reaked of old urine. Not as bad as a smell as the long drops. But a stench nevertheless. Godlisten hiked on, we followed, wondering where the hell our camp was.

Mawenzi in the distance

In the distance, we saw a beautiful jagged peak -- Mawenzi. We passed by a really fancy longdrop. And finally, our campsite! Now...finding the partners in crime was one thing. The campsite was extremely rocky, the chances of stumbling were..well..pretty high. I had no idea where Sean was. And in a campsite of 27 hikers...that's a lot of tents...I went uphill..nope...finally, someone directed me downhill..all the way downhill by a valley and a cliff ledge.

Fancy longdrop with Uhuru Peak as the backdrop

The sun was so strong here. The clouds sporadic. The winds, very strong. The tent acted like a dry sauna because of the sun. I stripped off all of my clothes down to a tank top and lightweight long johns. It was hot. Damn hot. And windy like hell.

We had lunch uphill at in the meal tents. We also had briefings. Donovan had the approval for a slow group to start the summit hike at 11pm. The fast group would start at midnight. Even talking about this made me nervous. Wow, I'm actually doing this. I told myself that I would be happy to get to 17,000 ft, knowing how my body reacts to altitude...and if I do fine beyond that, I'll push for the summit. But if I didn't make it, I wouldn't be upset. Some things just can't be prevented. But I was going to give it my all...

After lunch, we retreated to our tents to take a nap till dinner time, which was a few hours later. Our tent was sweltering and it was extremely windy out, so I had a hard time napping. I got a few winks.

Then dinner time came around sooner than I thought. I tried to eat as much as I could, but it was difficult. The higher in elevation you go, the less your appetite is. Plus, I was nervous, had a lot of thoughts on my mind. Not everyone made it to dinner. A few people chose to sleep through it. Dinnertime was over. We retired to our tents once again for a few hour catnap for before the summit push. Again, I tossed and turned on my Thermarest. I did get a few winks and had a dream that no one woke me up for the summit push...

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Africa blog part 2: Kilimanjaro Climb -- Day 4

Day 4: Barranco Hut to Karanga Valley (14,800’)

Hike time: 3.5 hrs, Elevation change: 100 M
Estimated distance: 4km, Maximum elevation: 4590 M
Final elevation: 4000 M

From Barranco Hut we climb up through the edge of great Barranco 95 percentage of that day walking will be on elevation of 4250m. We will break our day at Karanga valley campsite at elevation of 4,000m walking time is 4 to 5 hrs on this day.

Our frozen tent at Barranco campsite

I woke up and amazingly, I felt awesome. Took a deep breath, I could breath again. I think the megadose of Diamox helped me, plus I seemed to have adjusted to the altitude overnight with sleep. I was still worried, because the imposing Barranco wall was pretty high and steep. We were still ascending, not by thousands of feet, but ascending sharply nevertheless. From here on, I would take it day by day...

I still was carrying a good at least 25 pounds, but ditched my down jacket to save weight. The day started out sunny and brisk. Godlisten kept on telling me that I'm carrying too much weight, but I told him I would drink a lot of it anyways.

Barranco Wall (looks small in the picture)

I stepped outside my tent to see my frozen soup remains at my feet and to the left of me, Barranco Wall with Uhuru peak dotted with glaciers and much, much higher than the top of Barranco Wall.

Uhuru Peak (left) overshadows Barranco Wall (right)

We had breakfast in the meal tents. As we were having breakfast, we could see Uhuru Peak and the clouds changing ever so swiftly as they crossed the peak. At one point the clouds formed zebra like stripes, which fascinated me. And in seconds, the clouds changed to wispy veils over the summit. Everyone asked how I was doing since I was in bad shape the previous night. I felt fine, ate as much as I could (which was not much), and took 2 glucose tablets for a bit of an energy boost. I felt good, but I was definitely lacking the energy I needed for continuing the hike. Pole pole

Zebra striped clouds over Uhuru Peak

We finished up breakfast, the porters packed the tents, I warmed up with my every morning stretches, then we were off to battle Barranco Wall. One by one, we hiked on down the valley, then up to the wall. We put up our trekking poles for this part, since it involves some class 3 climbing, which means you'll be on your hands and feet at some points.

See the white specs -- those are Barranco Wall climbers

Barranco Wall was a pretty fun hike to do. In short, it consisted of some switchbacks on a rocky trail. Some parts, the guides helped people get up. I think it would have been intimidating if I weren't a rock climber, but I could handle the vertigo just fine. The difficult part of Barranco wall was that the path was so narrow and porters needed to pass as well, so we stopped quite a bit for porters to pass.

Our group hiking up Barranco Wall

We got to a point where we were rewared with a view of Mt. Meru in front of us and 4 waterfalls to the left of us, trickling down the other side of the valley below the site we camped at.

The four waterfalls

Our group letting porters pass

The group as a whole took a rest stop along the wall in a convenient spot where we could keep the trail clear and all gather.

Me at the rest stop, wearing a borrowed Cloudveil fleece and borrowed long sleeve shirt underneath as well

The gang at the rest stop, as porters (amazing men) pass carrying loads on their heads

We headed off once more, ascending steeply, using our hands to help us out. I was so tempted to climb straight up some parts (juggy), but refrained. I was pretty weak overall.

I had a rough night, what can I say. Alexa and Ullrich behind me

After hiking for a long time, we got to a point near the top. It levelled off, and we took a second group break there. The clouds started to rise to us. We took pee breaks, shared snacks, and rested. As soon I came back from the boulder I used as a bathroom stop, the group was already packing up to to the last bit of Barranco Wall...straight up.

View from the second break stop

The majority of the group (aka the fast people) went on, while I trailed behind with Madhu, Teresa, and a few others. I met an Australian guy hiking with a different group. He was carrying a Spiderman backpack all the way up the mountain (I kid you not). We talked about Australia for a while, then continued on. The last bit up Barranco wall was fun. Godlisten would not let me take my pack up, so he carried it for me for this portion. Scrambling.

Finally, at the top of Barranco wall!!! We gathered at the top and rested, ate more snacks. The view of the valley and slope across the valley was covered by changing clouds. Rock piles marked the route.

Sherri at the edge of Barranco Wall

Rock pile marking the route

Now what they don't tell you is how long the hike *really* takes...the estimate says 3.5 hours...yeah right!

From the top of Barranco Wall, we descended quite a bit immediately. My knees hated me. Luckily, I had both knee braces on the entire trip so they weren't as bad as they would be. The scenary changed dramatically. Uhuru peak was to our left, covered in clouds at times, peeking through thinner clouds at other times. We were in the alpine desert, scattered with rocks and boulders, jagged peaks surrounding us, dry grasses, and previously glaciated landscape. The land to our left sloped, while the path was straight for a good while.

The group hiking on, Sean K to one side probably on a pee break

We made another group pitstop after a short ascent. This pitstop was littered with boulders. And after that, the landscape changed even more dramatically. The fast group continued, a few slow-fast group trickled, I by myself, and a few hikers some minutes behind me. It was desolate. The landscape looked so foreign, once again, like I was on the moon. To the left, the summit. All around me, gravelly sloped lands with scattered boulders. A foot trail trodden down by previous hikers. Clouds surrounding everywhere and rising swiftly, so that you could not see very far in front of you.

A lone porter on the desolate trail

The summit is behind the clouds

I caught up with Sean and Deanna for a while. We hiked together, talked. Deanna sported her Nike pre-release beanie and all Nike gear(she works for Nike). We came to a point where we ascended sharply, then descended quite a ways into a valley. It was a pretty interesting descent, some parts slippery. I fell. No big deal. Got up, went on.

View of the tents (dots on the other side), the foot path leading up the valley that separated us from campsite

Then we saw the tents, and I grinned with excitement, pointing, yelling, "Camp!!!" It did not look too far, within reach. We hiked on only to find a vast valley separating us from camp. That meant that we would have to descend the entire valley, then climb it again in order to get to the campsite. Crap!

The picture does no justice to show you scale. But that's the footpath (straight up) to Karanga campsite. If you can see little spots, those are people hiking up it

We got to the bottom of the valley. I rested. Admired the view of Uhuru when the clouds would clear. Then began the ascent to Karanga camp. Sean and Deanna continued ahead of me. I continued alone. I worked up the pathway slowly, taking many resting breaks. There's not much oxygen to work with at this level, so taking it easy was the plan. Plus, I was not in tip top shape from my episode the night before.

A less cloudy Uhuru Peak

When I was about a third of the way up, I spotted Teresa in her blue jacket, Madhu in her red jacket, and Godlisten across the valley from me. They probably thought the same thing once they saw the valley...

Pole pole. I made it up to the Karanga campsite. Exhausted. I joined Sean in our little green tent with broken zipper. Karanga was windy as hell. And when I say windy, well, it's hard to describe. The clouds swamped us, the cold set in. The down jacket was out. Gloves as well.

A cloudy Karanga campsite

I walked around, ducked into the party tent (the green tent) which was packed, ducked out of it, found the 'decent' long drop further away (it had a door and a bigger square cut out of the floor -- which means less chances of other peoples' missed hole dumps, and it was level), met a hiker with another group who was not impressed by his tour company, then hung out with Daisy on a boulder. She was not feeling too well. I was feeling all right. We talked about anything and everything. Not believing that we had made it that far. Getting fresh mountain air. Oh damn, it was cold!!!

Uhuru Peak as the backdrop to our campsite