My Kilimanjaro. (Part 2)

17 September 2017 Day two dawns with the bad news that three large kit bags did not arrive in Tanzania. Left behind at the airport in Amsterdam. This is a problem because not only does our guide not have his clothes, sleeping bag and other necessary gear, the group is also without the emergency oxygen supplies as well as the medication to treat symptoms of AMS. Mark manages to borrow clothes and a sleeping bag. That meant that we could start the climb but if the emergency oxygen and medicine do not reach us before camp 4, we would probably not be allowed to push for the summit.

After  weighing the porter bags at the hotel (that is the stuff you won’t need during the day and that are carried up the mountain for you – it may not exceed 12 kg / 26.4 lb) we board a bus and set off for the Park entrance.  The bus ride (which is scarier than anything you would experience on the mountain) proofs to be a test of my patience. First we made a stop for the local guides to indulge in “pap-en-vleis”, a traditional African dish of porridge and barbecued meat, we then got pulled over by a Bubba Smith lookalike (remember the big black dude of Police Academy…). After paying the customary bribe we were allowed to proceed along a never ending, bouncy gravel road. There’s tangible excitement in the bus when we finally arrive at the entrance of the Kilimanjaro National Park. The excitement is however quickly drowned out by a light shower and an unbearably long weigh-in process. There’s only one scale and everything has to be weighed. The total weight of equipment and gear determines the number of porters that will accompany us up the mountain. Three hours later we head off for Big Tree camp with 56 porters in tow!

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All smiles – that would soon change to all smelly

The lower slopes of Kili are covered in typical rain forest vegetation. Huge trees, ferns, dense shrubs and a leavy canopy about 20 – 40m high. Every now and again a stream crosses the path and we manage to spot a couple of Black-and-white colobuses (or colobi). So-called Old World monkeys native to Africa and Asia. I’m not one for forests, they’re claustrophobic and the greenery does not appeal to me. I prefer deserts, like the Namib, want to see the horizon. After a 4  hour hike we reach Big Tree camp (2 650 m / 8 694 ft).

The camp is a beehive of activity. It’s overfull and our team manages to squeeze into a clearing at the top-end of the camp. It’s a battle to find a big enough clearing for the dining tent. After what seemed an age the dining tent is erected and we sat down for dinner. Our local guides dish up a bowl of hot cucumber soup accompanied by a few slices of white bread. The cucumber soup is not to my liking but because I thought that was all we were going to get, I force down as much of it as I could mange. Right after my second bowl of soup and 5 slices of white bread another guide enters the tent with a large bowl of spaghetti bolognaise. Shit. I tuck in anyway.

Notes on Day 1 We climbed in September but I reckon the rain forest section is always hot and humid. You don’t need to carry warm clothes but do stick your waterproofs in your back pack. Wear a hat. Because of the heat and humidity you need to carry a bit more fluids than you would higher up on the mountain. a Water and re-hydrate sport mix worked well. Wear long pants and boots. Lots of shrubs and mud.

 

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My Kilimanjaro. Because you also have one. (Part 1)

cropped-stella1.jpgSomething about the mountain: Kili is not only Africa’s highest mountain, it’s also the world’s highest freestanding mountain. With an altitude of 5895m (19 340 ft) it is the 4th highest of the 7 summits. Roughly 10 people per year lose their lives on Kili. Majority thereof caused by Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).

Something about AMS: At sea level there’s 21% oxygen in the atmosphere. As altitude increases, the percentage remains the same. What happens is that you get less oxygen molecules per breath. For example, at 3600m (12 000ft) you are inhaling roughly 40% less oxygen molecules per breath, requiring some or other adaptation of the body to cope with the reduced supply. If the required adaptation does not happen quickly enough you end up in trouble. The clever people recognize three altitude categories:

  • High altitude 1 500 – 3 500m (4 900 – 11 500ft). Namibia’s highest mountain, the Brandberg (2574m or 8 445ft) falls into this category. I climbed it during June 2017 and it required my full attention. Yes, I know, some people would call that a hill.
  • Very high altitude 3 500 – 5 500m (11 500 – 18 000ft). Of the 7 summits, we’re talking about mountains like Mount Vinson in Antarctica and Puncak Jaya in Australasia.
  • Extreme altitude 5 500 and above (18 000ft). Kilimanjaro falls into this category.

To explain it in simple terms. On a high mountain you are likely to get horny and will most probably be able to do something about it. On very high mountains chances are less of getting the urge and it is even less likely that you will want to do something about it. At extreme altitudes you won’t even think about it because you will be too busy trying to stay alive.

16 September 2017 We arrive at Kilimajaro International Airport on a Kenya Airways flight from Nairobi. With me on the expedition is my wife Leonie, my best mate Fanie and his wife Anneke. Leonie and I have been married for 19 years and Fanie was there from the start, he was the best man. The rest of the team are from Europe. There’s Gary, a middle-aged detective from Ireland. Gary is a man of few words. There’s Mary from Scotland, she likes to talk. Richard and Tracey are from England and they somehow managed to always look clean, tidy and immaculately dressed throughout our time on the mountain. Eric and his two kids, Julian and Larissa are from France. Pleasant people. Jedd and Simon are two young men from Scotland who knows a thing or two about whiskey and beer… And lastly there was Chris and Matt also from England.

We booked through Jagged Globe, a British-based company specializing in all sorts of adventures from climbing to skiing to trekking remote wilderness areas (www.jagged-globe.co.uk). The guy who’s job it is to galvanize 15 strangers into a team of people who care about each other falls on the able shoulders of Mark Hendry from Herefordshire, England (go check out www.sandwoodmountaineering.co.uk). After a short briefing and a delightful dinner we hit the sack. Tomorrow we’ll head out to Camp 1 (Big Tree Camp at 2 650m (8 694ft). Camp one is higher than Namibia’s highest mountain…

to be continued…