Kilimanjaro – My Journey from a Dream To Reality by Gaurang Patel
Summit Date: Jan 3 2015
Climbing Kilimanjaro has been on my bucket list for a long time. I used to do lots of hiking when I was a teenager in India but the rat race after I came to USA and other responsibilities made hiking one of the things that was last on priority list. Now I am 38 and 20 lbs over-weight. I realized that I needed to start doing things I really enjoy doing and what I have always dreamed of. My love for the mountains was always there but the dream of climbing them was slowly slipping away as I was getting older and the thought of that was just unbearable. Back in college I read about how majestic and magical Kilimanjaro was. Climbing it was like climbing from equator to north pole in 7 days with its four different climate zones. It is a “trekking mountain” which means it is not technical and you can walk up all the way to the summit without requiring ropes, ice axe and bottled oxygen. It is the highest freestanding mountain in the world and climbing it comes with risks of altitude sickness.
My brother-in-law, Greg, has been wanting to climb Kilimanjaro so he was the first person I called and he immediately agreed to join me. My friends Adonis and Samir got lured into my “adventure of lifetime” marketing efforts. They were already in great physical shape. Tushar was on board when he heard about our “ambitious” plan and we were thrilled to hear that he would join us.
I was fascinated by the idea of conquering that mountain alongside with my buddies but before doing that I had to conquer the mountain within me. The dream of climbing Kilimanjaro will have to come with a major fitness overhaul, change in eating habits and a massive training program to loose weight, and build endurance as well as stamina. I started training in March and for the next ten months I trained seven days a week. Adonis trained along with me and continuously inspired me stay on my toes. Also, I trained on real mountains by climbing three mountains with Adonis ( including Mt. Elbert – highest mountain of Colorado) and three 14k feet mountains (14ers) in Colorado along with Samir and Tushar. Mountains demand respect as they have their own weather system, exposed steep sections and false summits. I was ready for Kili after climbing them.
While climbing these mountains in Colorado, I learned that having proper gear is absolutely essential and the lack of it can be fatal. My favorite part of this endeavor was researching and procuring gear that I would need. Krupa, my wife, started making fun of me when she noticed my frequent trips to REI and deliveries of mountain gear from online purchases. When she asked me if I really need all these fancy gear, my response was “Do you really need all the fancy stuff you buy when you go shopping?”. She smiled and said “good point.. carry on!”.
Finally December came along. I increased my training routine to 2 hours daily. Greg drove down along with my sister from St. Louis on Christmas. We were comparing our mountain gear with “toys show and tell” like little boys.
January 28, 2014 : We fly to Africa
My 7 year old daughter, Anya, made me a “Good Luck… hope you make it to the top” card. The thought of not being able to make it to the Kilimanjaro summit gave me chills when I looked in her eyes so sure that her daddy would stand on top of the mountain. I shrugged off the feeling and told her that I would take a picture of myself with the card she made and send it to her. My 3 year old daughter, Natasha, kept telling everyone she meets “My daddy is going to climb a mountain in Africa”. Daddy felt like he was going to climb mount Everest.
On January 2nd , we checked-in at Weru Weru River Lodge, a beautiful lodge near Moshi, Tanzania. We met up with our Kilimanjaro guide, Julio, for a pre-climb briefing. He briefed us about what we should expect during our 7 day adventure up to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro via Machame Route, a strenuous but most scenic route up to the “hill”. My friends,Samir, Tushar, Adonis and Greg were all in great shape and full of excitement. The five city slickers were ready to take on the adventure of their lifetime on the next morning.
January 3rd 2015: Day 1 – Machame Gate (5300ft) to Machame Camp (9300 ft)
It was morning filled with excitement when we all got ready by 8 am to be picked up from Weru Weru River Lodge, owned by the same outfit that arranged our Kili climb, Ahsante Tours. Our guide, Julio, picked us up in a Land Cruiser for the drive to the Kilimanjaro National Park – Machame gate. We stopped at Machame village to take photo of the Kilimanjaro Summit as it was a clear day. From a distance it just looked like a “hill”. On a mountain as big as Kilimanjaro the distances can be deceiving. It did not look so high as there was no way to gauge the distance or height. The summit showed only glaciers and there was no snow. If everything goes as planned we would be at the summit in 5 days.
|View of mountain from the bottom. No snow. Only Glaciers.|
Kilimanjaro National Park required us to use a local mountaineering outfit equipped with proper gear and porters, guides, etc. We picked Ahsante Tours. We were asked to put all our belongings into a duffel bag (to be carried by porters) while we only carried water, rain gear and our clothing layers that we may need during the hike. For a group of five of us there was a support team of 15 people including porters, guides and cooks. It felt more like a “luxury trek”. On the flip side, we were happy that 15 people were employed for a week because of us. People in Moshi depend a lot on tourism and because of the recent Ebola threats in West Africa, the tourism industry in East Africa had a big impact. To those who would like to go to east Africa for Safari or Kilimanjaro I would like to assure them that it is absolutely safe to visit East Africa.
We signed in at the Kilimanjaro National Park’s Machame gate. We were the first group to get there so the formalities took only a few minutes before we started our hike through rain forest at the base of the mountain.
I saw some blue monkeys and a chameleon on the way. The hike through mossy trees with soundtrack of water rushing down the streams was soothing to the soul. It was a pleasant hike through the rain forest. Four hours into the hike it started raining. We put on our rain gear and were happy to come prepared. Soon that feeling of happiness turned into a feeling of guilt as whole bunch of porters passed us who did not have proper waterproof boots or enough rain gear. They were sprinting up the mountain to get to the first camp long before we did so that they could have the tents setup by the time we got there. Sure enough, while it was still raining we arrived at Machame camp where our tents were already pitched in and hot tea, popcorn and biscuits were waiting for us in our mess tent. Garciano, a young boy barely 18 or so, went above and beyond to serve us food, tea and water. We were not used to this level of service and attention and reluctantly appreciated with a bit of guilt. We decided to donate our waterproof boots and rain gear after our climb to the porters. It rained for another hour or so before the weather cleared up for us to walk around a bit. It was a busy campsite with people from different countries sharing the same goal. We met people from Russia, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Ethiopia, China, Chile, US and Canada.
Dinner was basic but plentiful.. We were ready to retire to our first night in our tents. We had rented our own “toilet tent” that was a big hit in our group as a trip to one of the public pit toilets at these camps was an adventure in itself. The condition of these toilets was beyond any of us could even imagine. I brought a pee bottle so I did not have to make frequent trips like others. At higher altitudes in coming days it was a lifesaver. My friends made fun of me using it on the first night. Starting second night they adopted the idea.
|Summit.. so far but so close|
|Summit Hidden in clouds.|
January 4th, 2015; Day 2: Machame Camp (9300 ft) to Shira Camp (12500 ft)
Next morning I woke up to the sounds of birds chirping. Garciano brought a hot cup of Milo (malt drink) to my tent along with hot water for washing up. We had breakfast of ouji (porridge), eggs, toast and fruits before starting our trek to Shira camp. Ouji tasted good the first day (and only the first day).
|Shira Plateau with Mt. Meru popping out in a distance|
It was a beautiful day. There were no clouds and a cool breeze made the relatively steeper hike quite pleasant. We were already above the tree line of the rain forest and now passing through heathland.
|Porters: The Unsung Heroes of Kilimanjaro|
None of us were feeling any symptoms of altitude sickness…at least not yet. Five hours later we arrived at Shira camp. Our arrival was welcomed by a hailstorm. It hailed cats and dogs for 2 hours along with very strong winds. We were hoping that the groups we passed on our way up made it safely to the camp. Finally the weather cleared up back to sunny but it was a little chilly. Tushar, Greg and I decided to climb up to a nearby rock formation at a distance above the Shira cave. Shira is one of the three volcanoes (it used to be highest volcano before it collapsed millions of years ago) that constitute Kilimanjaro. Kibo is the largest of the three and Uhuru peak is the tallest point on the crater rim of Kibo where we were headed. Mawenzi is the second highest volcano of Kilimanjaro.
As the sun went down the temperature dropped significantly. We were already shivering in our down jackets during dinner when Julio warned us that it would get really cold at night. I don’t remember which one of us said “Are you kidding? Its only the second night!”. None of us were taking any Diamox (a medicine that helps with altitude sickness) up to this point. Samir is an eye doctor and he felt that Diamox was a very potent medicine and should be taken only if we needed it. Julio also recommended that we take it only if we feel the need. So we decided against it. We retired to our tents by 7:30pm to get a good night rest. It was really cold night with frozen ground sending chills to the bones.
January 5th, 2015: Day 3- Shira Camp (12500) to Lava Tower (15,190 ft) to Baranco Camp (13044ft)
So the plan for today was to hike up to Lava Tower (four hours hike up to 15000 ft) and after lunch there we would hike up to Arrow glacier (16000ft altitude) for better acclimatization before descending down to Baranco valley. That is, of course, if everything goes well and if the weather cooperated.
We started our hike at 7:30am. It was a pleasant day with warm weather, no wind and hardly any clouds. The weather was getting colder as we hiked higher. We started the hike with only base layer on. Within an hour we already had three layers on. As I was being optimistic hoping there would be no rain on the way, our guide Julio smiled at me and said “Kilimanjaro has its own weather system and it could be sunny one minute and raining the next.” Sure enough, just an hour or so into the hike the clouds rolled in all of a sudden and before we even put our rain gear on, it started hailing. Strong winds accompanied by hail, in a landscape that resembled to rocks on Mars, was a sight none of us will ever forget. The hail was turning into snow after some altitude gain. The hike up was not as steep as it was yesterday but as we were climbing higher we were starting to feel symptoms of altitude sickness. I was feeling dizzy. None of us has ever been at this high altitude ever before. Highest we had been was to 14000 ft during our training treks in Colorado.
Lava tower is a volcanic rock tower at 15190 ft altitude. Quietly, despite of the altitude sickness affecting us in different ways, but all of us made it to Lava tower. Samir was born in Kenya and spoke Swahili fluently with porters. At Lava tower his swahili was turning into Spanish. We had a good laugh about it. One of us had been constipated for days and he had to finally pay a visit to the “internet cafe” (the only public pit toilet at lava tower with a reputation of being the worst of all and would only to be used in dire circumstances. There was a mini Kilimanjaro of its own in there.). He was not the same person anymore. He was psychologically damaged. We hailed him with “maximum respect” fist bump.
It was still snowing as we started our descent towards Baranco valley. The slushy snow/hail mix made the rocks pretty slippery while hiking down. It took us long time to get through the icy mix. The snowfall finally stopped and green vegetation started showing again. It was a valley of Lobelia trees. It felt like we were walking through Dr Suess land. On our left was the mountain completely covered with ice and snow. It looked a lot more intimidating now with snow. Tushar looked at this intimidating face of the mountain with ice glaciers, looked at me and said words that, if translated into civilized language, said “What did we get ourselves into?”
The stream we were walking along with had numerous waterfalls along with flora and fauna. Finally we arrived at the Baranco camp. Porters put us to shame again as we saw our tents already setup. They welcomed us with their Kilimanjaro song. We sang and danced along with them and forgot that we were tired. A fresh jolt of energy was pumped in.
Before retiring to our tents early we looked at the massive Baranco wall that we were supposed to hike next morning. Samir gave me a look that said “What the hell were you thinking?” but not in so many words. He is not big fan of heights and this part was not something he was looking forward to.
We got another round of hail for the next 30 minutes. Then it became nice and open for few minutes for us to take some pictures, walk around a bit and there we go again.. more hail. This mountain was punishing us for using the word “hill”. We were tired and a bit cranky. Greg was showing severe symptoms of altitude sickness. He was already on Diamox by now and diamox made him feel worse. We were walking like zombies to our tents hoping that next day would be an easier day.
January 6th, 2015: Day 4 – Baranco Camp (13044 ft) to Karanga Camp (13106 ft)
We woke up to a beautiful morning. We started putting Milo (chocolate malt mix) in Ouji as it was getting old very fast.. Loss of appetite is common at high altitudes. Julio asked us to force feed ourselves for much needed calories. It was Julio who cooked that day as our cook had to go to next camp and apparently Julio was a great guide but not a good cook.
Looking at the Baranco wall I noticed what resembled to be ants walking in a line a line of people zigzagging their way up to the “wall”. There is a trail that has whole bunch of switchbacks making it easier to get to the top of the so called “wall”. It is class three scrambling (for those who use hiking classification on 14ers of Colorado). The view of the waterfalls below was breathtaking.
|Scrambling on Baranco Wall|
As we started going up this trail I noticed that though it looked a lot more intimidating from a distance, it was not as strenuous or dangerous as we expected. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed the scramble up the steep rocks and boulders. There was traffic jam at a spot called “kissing wall” where the trail is narrow so you have to walk sideways with your face almost kissing the wall. The trick is to not look down and get through it quick. Samir was the first one to go through and was quite relieved after it was done. An hour and half later we were on top of the Baranco wall. Here we met a beautiful Ethiopian girl from Sweden who was climbing by herself (along with her guide). We admired her courage to be climbing by herself. “Boys” were tired but none of us were showing it.. wink wink. After that it was an “easy” hike up and down to Karanga valley.
|View From Top of Baranco Wall|
|Descending down to Karanga Valley|
Finally we reached Karanga camp. We were again bombarded with a hailstorm for an hour or so. Luckily were were already in our tents by then. The sound of small hail beads hitting on the tent was no longer scary. It was soothing. I took a short nap. Hail stopped and just in matter of few minutes the sky cleared up and and the mountain decided to show off its white blanket of snow. While Samir and I was admiring the view, Tushar came out his tent and saw the view. He went back inside to get his camera and came back out in less than a minute. We all laughed as his jaw dropped when what he saw was only clouds … the mountain disappeared in clouds within a minute . We all were at an agreement that weather swings on this mountain were faster and more frequent than our wives’ mood swings.
After dinner we had our usual briefing with Julio about the next day. I wanted to skip the Barafu camp (official base camp to summit at 15000ft altitude) and get a special permit to setup our camp 1000 ft higher at Kosovo Camp. Julio agreed that it was a good idea. We had our toilet tent (requirement to get permit for Kosovo) so getting permit was not a problem. This ended up being the best decision as we covered more distance in daylight and gave us a head-start of an hour for the summit night push.
|Our support team of outstanding people at Karanga Camp.|
January 7th, 2015: Day 5 – Karanga Camp (13106 ft) to Kosovo Camp (16,200 ft)
Karanga valley was the last place where we saw any green vegetation. As we started walking to higher altitude the snow started getting thicker/deeper and the temperature a lot more colder. We put on an additional layer of down jacket and quietly started following our guide in small and slow baby steps (as they call it in Swahili “Pole Pole”). As we started walking up the ridge after skipping the Barafu camp we finally saw snow covered Mawenzie (the second volcano of Kilimanjaro). The Kibo (Kilimanjaro summit) was playing hide and seek with the clouds. The trail was pretty steep and we were so glad that we were walking up during the day. Parts of that trail was a long steep slippery rock that would have been tough to climb at night. An hour later we reached Kosovo camp. It was beautifully situated with great views of Kibo and its glaciers on one side and Mawenzie on the other.
|Kosovo Camp – Base Camp before Summit Night|
Few minutes after arriving we were rewarded by clear sunny weather along with a clear view of the summit (finally!). We ate a quick lunch and were advised to take a nap. The sun was strong. Because of the sun’s refection from snow it was very bright. The air inside the tent was very warm but the ground was very cold as the tent was pitched on a few inches of snow. It was a strange combination of hot and cold. I quickly shed layers and tried not to think of the summit night. Air was noticeably thin up here. It was harder to breath with oxygen level significantly lower than at lower altitudes. Anxiety levels were elevated. I can’t say for everyone else but I sure got chills thinking what if I don’t make it? What if I get altitude sickness during the final summit push? I had no doubts about my physical fitness or self-confidence. I was concerned about the factor that I have no control over, the Acute Mountain Sickness (commonly known as altitude sickness). It has nothing to do with fitness or the lack of it. Greg was brave to be pushing for the summit despite of the severe altitude sickness symptoms. I was concerned and had a talk with Julio whether it is safe for Greg to push forward. Julio was confident that he would make it to the top and worst was over for him. Greg’s courage was an inspiration to all of us. Rest of us were feeling fine and there was no need for us to take Diamox.
As the sun was about to disappear from the horizon, I came out of the tent and just sat there watching changing colors of the snow-covered mountain. I tried to find any traces of the trail but could not find it. More snow was dumped up earlier in the day. It certainly did not look easy with so much fresh snow and no visible trail. It was clear that the mountain demanded a lot of respect. It sure was not going to let us conquer it without a fight. At this point it wasn’t a “hill”.
|Glaciers of Kilimanjaro|
We ate dinner at 6pm. Our guide got wind advisory/warning from the office on his radio. We had five hours to sleep before getting ready for the final summit push. We would begin climbing at midnight hoping to reach summit at sunrise. With so much snow he told us that it could take us longer. I asked the assistant guide if it is normal to have so much snow because I have never seen so much snow in the thousands of Kilimanjaro pictures that I had seen during my research. His reply was: “I have never experienced so much snow during the previous 95 times I have climbed this mountain.”. My buddy gave me the same look again that pretty much said “What the hell were you thinking?”.
As the evening progressed the wind started picking up. I woke up at around 9pm when the tent wall was touching my nose as the wind was bending the tent fiercely. Not a good feeling to wake up to. I just laid there thinking about my family. The visual of Anya’s confidence in her dad gave me a boost of confidence. It dawned on me that I had worked very hard to train for this night. I can not fail. There was no way I was going to let the mountain defeat me. I put on my headlamps to go see what was going on outside. I have to admit.. that the wind was scary from inside of the tent but when I got out of the tent it did not feel so scary. However, it was cold.. very cold. Everyone was quiet. I am sure every single one of us was feeling some level of anxiety. We gave each other reassuring fist bumps hoping that all five of us would conquer this mountain.
January 8th, 2015: Day 6: Midnight Summit Push from Kosovo Camp to Summit (19,341 ft) to Kosovo Camp to Millenium Camp (11,000 ft)
The moment we all had been waiting for and training for months, had finally arrived. We were asked to get ready for the summit push at 11:30pm. I put on seven layers of clothing on top. Yes.. it was that cold. I had three base layers (two of which were Merino wool), a mid layer, a fleece vest, a 900 fill down jacket and a wind/waterproof shell. For bottom, I had two layers of thermal merino wool (smartwool) long underwear, hiking pants and wind/rainproof shell. I had smartwool liner socks along with smartwool thick expedition socks. My fingers were protected with a pair of liner gloves along with REI extreme cold thick mittens. I brought enough oxygen activated hand warmers for all five of us. I was trying to “activate” them when our guide pointed out that there wasn’t enough oxygen at this altitude for them to work well. Bummer! We filled hot water in our camelbacks to keep water from freezing for longer duration. I put a sleeve over my Nalgene water bottle, filled it with boiling water and put it inside my backpack upside down (water freezes on top first).
I don’t know if the layers we were wearing or the wind really decided to take it easy we forgot about the wind and cold. We started trying to focus on following the step taken by the guy in front. The trail was not visible so our guide was just negotiating the most obvious route. At some places the snow was ankle deep and whenever I took wrong step it was knee deep. An hour into the climb we started feeling the toes and fingers going numb. I was wiggling my toes and fingers constantly to avoid frostbite. It was bone chilling cold. I have never been so cold in my life and I have lived in Chicago for 12 years before moving to Dallas, Our guide kept going up slowly and we kept following slowly only taking breaks for nature calls (I was drinking a lot of water to help avoid mountain sickness). Our assistant guide, Itafa, started singing in Swahili. He sang beautifully. On days 2,3 and 4 , his singing made me want to plug sock down his throat. But not tonight. It was soothing in the nervous silence of the night.
It was best that we did not take many breaks and kept walking up, that helped maintain the body temperature and a steady heart rate. I followed Adonis who had snow and ice climbing experience from recent Mt. Rainier attempt. He was digging his feet into snow to get better footing. I would simply step on the same footing. This went on for hours. I realized that I should have brought my crampons. Then again.. who knew there would be so much snow! Three hours into the climb the water in camelback froze. I am glad I put the additional water bottle upside down inside the backpack. The gatorade powder I put in that bottle gave instant boost of energy along with a home-made snack (mother’s sesame seed homemade energy bar). Breaks were kept short as it felt really cold if we were not moving. I drank a lot of water to help avoid altitude sickness (and lower the weight of my backpack). I always stayed at the tail end of the group as I had to empty that water every few minutes.
It was almost full moon night (two days after full moon). The moon light was pretty bright. At around 4am the glaciers on our left became more visible with moonlight reflecting through them. My camera was in my backpack and I was too tired to take it out. I would never forget the view. It was getting more and more steeper as we were getting closer to the crater rim.
|Sun rising behind Mawenzie|
At around 6 am I saw the horizon behind us spilling out red and orange colors slowly. Sun was much needed to warm things up a bit. We couldn’t have timed it better. As the sun was rising we almost made it to “Stella Point”, which is the crater rim. I watched the sunrise in disbelief… the first rays of sun shining on the glaciers.. I was too cold and tired but took my phone out and took picture of the sun rising.
|Stella Point – 18,885 ft – Crater Rim|
We congratulated each other at Stella point as the steepest climb was over. From here it was an easy hour long stroll along the crater rim to the Uhuru peak, the highest point at 19,341 feet. For some of us it was still not sinking in that we made it to the crater rim. We were not experiencing any signs of fatigue or altitude sickness. One of the porters who came along with us stayed at Stella point and kept our backpacks there while the rest of us hiked up to the “true summit”. In the excitement I forgot to take my sunglasses out of the backpack that I left at Stella point. Big mistake! I enjoyed the hike going up parallel to the glaciers, but soon I realized that as the sun came up everything was very bright because of snow and ice. An hour later we made it to the summit! Oh what a view! I could see beyond the horizon. The crater was deep and vast.
Luckily the mountain rewarded us with clear weather. The massive crater was so deep and white with snow. We took pictures by the famous summit sign. I had to pull out Anya’s handmade “good luck” card and take a picture with that. I know its no Everest but at that point I felt like I was on top of the world. At that moment I knew that the memory of making it to the summit of Kilimanjaro would be cherished forever. It was an emotional milestone for me to some extent as I had trained hard for this moment everyday for the last 9 months. It was the toughest adventure I had every been on. I am sure everyone there felt the same. I was happy that all five of us made it.
|Summit with my daughter’s “Good Luck” card|
Now that we climbed “the hill”, it was time to go back down. Adrenalin wore out. We were not looking forward to climb down the thick and steep snow we came up from. This was the first time for our guide as well to see so much snow. He sat down and started sliding slowly. We followed him sliding while sitting down. Because of the steep terrain we quickly gained dangerous speed. We had to dodge rocks on the way down and felt more than a few “bumps” on the bums. This was a bad idea but it was a lot of fun. Our nylon shell pants and jackets provided almost no friction and we picked up speed sliding down. This was probably a stupid thing to do but it was fun and we came down more than a thousand steep feet in just a few minutes. We were rewarded with holes in the but-cheeks of our shell pants. Was it stupid? Yes. Was it dangerous? Yes. Was it worth it? Hell yeah!
In just two hours we came down to the Kosovo base camp. We had enough time to take an hour and half nap before we hike down to Millenium camp. That nap was a lifesaver. I felt so refreshed and was ready for the six hour hike down. We were not as quiet going down as we were going up; cracking joikes, re-living moments from last night. When we reached Millenium camp, we had hiked more than 15 hours for the day. It was a long day but a day (and cold night) none of us will ever forget.
January 9th, 2015: Day 7: Millenium Camp (11000 ft) to Mweka Gate (5340 ft)
Next morning we sang and danced with the Rafikis (porters.. rafiki means “friend” in swahili). They were overjoyed with the generous tip our group decided to give. They earned every bit of it. Our summit bid would not have been possible if it wasn’t for them. When our guide announced the gratuity amount to each rafiki, it was heartwarming to see them so happily dancing with joy. These “refikis” work really hard and the pay they receive from their employers is absolutely ridiculous. They work hard for the gratuity they get from the climbers. I humbly request to those people who are considering climbing Kili that please do NOT skimp on tipping them. They are the true unsung heroes and absolutely deserve good tips. Most airlines allow two bags to be checked in. Take one bag full of clothes and shoes you no longer need and donate them to the porters. They will be grateful for your generosity. Donate your hiking boots and socks as they can surely use better pair of boots.
|Last day – with Summit in the background|
We started our long hike down to Mweka Gate. My knees were killing me as they were getting hammered every step I took. Going down was harder than expected. Finally we made it to Mweka gate. We celebrated our success with a few rounds of Tusker beer that we rightfully earned. Next day we were on flight back home. We were tired but our hearts were filled joy and a sense of accomplishment.
I would go climbing again in a heartbeat with this fine group of friends: Greg, Adonis, Samir and Tushar. My friend Adonis quoted the famous Helen Keller quote “Life is nothing but a daring adventure”.
Greg and I were super excited about the “Journey of the lifetime” as we arrive at the Dallas Fort Worth airport. Although we were supposed to stay away from alcohol, the first thing we do after we get to the gate was chugging up couple of pints of Guinness before we board the 15 hour flight to Doha. Let the celebrations begin!
Dec 30, 2014
It was a long long flight but we finally made it to Kilimanjaro International airport in Tanzania. The 45 minute ride to Mountain Inn was so long as we were tired and deprived of sleep. Our eyes were looking for a glimpse of the mountain but to our disappointment, Kili decided to be hidden in clouds that day. We were supposed to fly out to Serengeti National Park next morning. Greg and I found Adonis (my long time friend who already came a day earlier) and ordered us a round of Tusker (awesome local beer). For Adonis, this was first alcoholic drink after 5 years so it was special for him. Again, we were not supposed to be drinking alcohol as we were supposed to be climbing Kilimanjaro four days later. Instead we were supposed to train ourselves to drink 4 liters of water everyday. Our Indian chef at Mountain Inn treated us with an amazing Indian dinner that went down like it was the “last supper”. The dinner was followed by a cigar and another round of Tusker. It was midnight and we had only four hours before we wake up for our early morning flight to Serengeti.
|Adonis and Greg – Enjoying Tusker Beer|
Dec 31, 2014 – Serengeti National Park
There was a cool morning chill in the air when we drove to Moshi Municipal Airport. The airport was so small that we had to wake up the gate keeper to open the old rusted metal gate. We were the only ones there as Moshi Airport was nothing but a small dirt runway. A small plane was waiting for us where our pilot was doing engine check. Pilot told us he cannot take off until the sun rises because of the dirt runway. We enjoyed watching the nearby Kilimanjaro mountain getting the first rays of sun. It was beautiful.
|Our Ride to Serengetti|
We flew to Serengeti National park. The one hour flight was very entertaining with stunning views of volcanos and wildlife down below before we landed on yet another dirt runway of Serengeti National Park. I have flown thousands of flights in my life. This flight was by far the most memorable one. I mean how many times you see animals running away as your flight is landing on the open land or see the volcanic ash inside a perfectly circular crater?
|Flew over a dormant Volcanic crater|
Our guide, Godlisen, picked us up in a rugged safari Land Cruiser SUV. We set off for our busy Safari day. Honestly, I did not have high expectations of seeing wildlife. I was in for a surprise. Just within 2 hours of our Safari we saw over 50 different species of wild life including Lions, warthogs, water buffalos and hippos. After an amazing day of Safari we checked in Serengeti Wildlife Lodge, a beautiful hotel well situated on a hill in the middle of Serengeti. There couldn’t have been a better location for a hotel in Serengeti than this. The hotel had an observation deck from where we enjoyed a couple of Tusker beers while the sun was showing off beautiful colors in the sky. I told myself that I have to see the sunrise from this spot in the morning as well.
It was New Years Eve. The hotel had a New Years Eve Gala. We had a wonderful dinner at 8 and told ourselves that we will try and stay up till midnight. The hotel manager told us fascinating stories of wildlife where once a lion decided to relax right outside hotel room door and manager had no way to call the guests in the room to warn them of the lion. This prompted the hotel management to install phones in each room. Also, there was a resident leopard that hangs around at night so they advise the guests not to come out of the rooms at night. This was a problem as I wanted to go see the sunrise early in the morning. Visiting the leopard while I walk up to the observation deck in the morning would not be a great way to start the day.
|Giraffes from the Observation Deck of the Hotel|
|Whole Bunch Of Hippos in the Pond|
We enjoyed cigars and Tusker again while we listen to the hotel manager’s stories. It was only 9 o’clock and we were ready to call it a night. We went to bed early at 9:30 on New Years Eve.
Jan 1. 2015
At 5am next morning, I was woke up to be startled by a huge moving thing right outside of my window. It was a huge giraffe grazing leaves of tree outside of the window. All I could see was his belly and legs. I had to squint and pinch myself couple of times to make sure I was not dreaming. Adonis and Greg were sharing the room next door. I was reluctant to wake them up to go see sunrise. I had to gather up some courage to go up to the observation deck by myself especially now I know that there is “resident leopard” that hangs around at night. The freshness and chill of the morning air somehow gave me instant boost of energy (and much needed courage). I got up to the deck and just sat there watching the sky painting a massive canvass with different colors as the sun came up from the horizon over the pond. I was able to see whole bunch of hippos and giraffes grazing so peacefully. I stared at them enviously for a long time. Again… I had to pinch myself to make sure I was not dreaming. I made a promise to myself that I would bring my family to visit this paradise.
We had some good African coffee and omelets at the hotel before we set off for another day of wildlife safari. Our guide took us to all the cool wildlife hang out places where we saw lions, leopard, hippos, whole bunch of different kinds of gazelles, giraffes, warthogs, buffaloes and lot more. It felt like we literally were in Disney’s Animal Kingdom without the artificial and commercial aspect.
|View of the Ngorongor Crater from the Lodge|
Our room had the same magnificent view overlooking the crater. It was too good to be true and for once. it was true. I was not dreaming. I thought the view from Serengeti lodge observation deck was unforgettable but who knew there was something way better waiting for us on the next day. The hotel was owned by the same owner that owned Serengeti Wildlife Lodge. The manager over at Serengeti called the executive chef (who is from Nepal) at Ngorngoro and told him that we were craving some good Indian food. The chef prepared some delicious Indian food that tasted so good that we ate like there was no tomorrow. What an amazing service and the fact that they went above and beyond to make our stay memorable was just awesome! We celebrated and end of another marvelous day with cigar and Tusker beers. I had no connection to the outside world. No phones, no tv, no work… it was another world and I had to ask myself… is this for real?
|Sunset at Ngorongoro lodge|
|Sunrise at the Ngorogoro Crater|
|Masai kid with a spear to fight lions off|
|Abundant wildlife in the crater|
|Sun and Morning Fog|
|Zebras, Giraffes and Wilderbeast living in harmony|
|Lunch with a View|
Kilimanjaro – The idea and dream
My wife, Krupa, planted the seed in form of challenge and there was the beginning of Kilimanjaro dream taking some kind of form. May be it is her way to get my lazy bum out of the couch and start going to the gym. Regardless, it worked! I started giving it a serious thought.
So I went online to read up on it and was thrilled to learn that though it is tough climb it certainly is doable given that I get back in shape and train for it.
First I called Greg to see when would be better time to do this. He said “lets do it” and we decided to go climb Kili at the end of December, 2014. Then I asked my friends Samir and Adonis if they wanted to come along. They were thrilled with the idea and now we are five of us planning to climb Kilimanjaro in December!
Ok.. so we are committed to do this. Everyone but me are physically fit to do this. I am 195 lbs , have lower back problems and totally out of shape. So I have nine months to loose weight and train for the mammoth task ahead of me. I have been paying a hefty membership fee for a fancy gym (lifetime fitness) with coolest equipment but only used occasionally to play squash with my squash buddies. Just a flight of stairs to gym upstairs is making me feel out of breath. How am I going to climb 19,340 feet with 50% oxygen at top? I told myself that I can do this. All I have to do is train one day at a time. I walked half a mile on treadmill with a slight incline and fount myself to be gasping for air. Next day I did half a mile walk along with 5 minutes of StairMaster. I saw 12 floors climbed. I decided to add a floor every day. So I started going to gym every day and added little more time and effort one day at a time. I started watching what I eat and during weekends I started hiking 3-4 miles. I bought a FitBit bracelet that helped me keep track of my progress. It gives me a celebratory buzz when I reach my goal of 10,000 steps every day! I love it! Krupa started loving my FitBit so I got her one too so that we can share our workout progress. She used it for a week and gave up.
It has been little over a month since I started training religiously. I am 6 lbs lighter and feeling pretty good. Now I can walk 1.7 miles with 7% incline for 30 minutes and 15 minutes of StairMaster (40 Floors). Still… my focus is to increase the training slowly.. one day at a time… Pole Pole .. as I read on Kilimanjaro trip reports which means slowly and steadily.
I did extensive research on which tour company to hire for the climb and the selection came down to Ahsante Tours in Moshi, Tanzania.
Now that tour booking is out of the way, it is time to start looking into gear (my favorite part of preparing for this trip). Nothing worse than not having proper gear.
I decided to buy hiking boots for the Kilimajaro now and start breaking them in with some weekend hikes. I read online reviews and narrowed down to three choices: Asolo GV 520, Lowa Renegade GTX and Vasque Breeze 2.0 GTX. All three come with Goretex layer to prevent water from going in the shoes. I drove down to REI and tried them on. Found Asolo 520 to be too heavy, Lowa Renegade GTX wide to be not wide enough. Turned out Vasque Breeze 2.0 in Wide size to be a perfect fit. I am size 10 but I was advised by gentleman at REI that I should get size 11 because the feet may swell a little at that altitude, to have enough room for double layer of socks on the summit night (temperatures tend to fall up to -25 Celcius) and it is important to make sure that toes does not touch the front wall of the boot while coming down.
It is spring time. Lots of places have winter jackets for sale. It is time to buy jacket for the summit night. Down jackets are great for extreme cold conditions. Bought Marmot Quasar 900-fill down jacket. May be little too warm but I would rather be sweating in it than be shivering.
Finished April with a visit to gym every single day! I feel more energetic.
=> Booked Safari with Shah Tours before we start climbing Kili on January 3rd.
=> Booked Qatar Airways to fly to Kili on 29th. I offered Qatar airways, who is starting new route from DFW to Doha, to sponsor our group where they can donate money directly to charity they pick while we pay our plane tickets and all expenses ourselves.. no response! They should have at least responded with a response saying they were not interested.
=> Samir’s brother Tushar and another friend, Adonis decided to join us. Now we are a group of 5.
=> Bought most of the remaining gear needed for the trip: Marmot Never Summer 0 F down Sleeping bag, REI windbreak mid layer, Smartwool hiking socks and liner socks, REI rain pants, hat for sun protection etc.
I have been increasing my training consistently. Now I alternate between 2.5 miles with 10% incline on treadmill and 2.5 miles of StairMaster (level 5, 140 floors). Slowly building up.. one day at a time.
I have lost 4 more lbs this month. The beer belly has shrunk from 44 inches to 40 inches in two months. I may have to buy a whole new set of trousers next month as my 36 waist is trimming down.
The weight loss is getting slower now may be because of slight increase in muscle mass. Wife is not letting additional carbs (that I crave a lot) or fatty food making my progress slow. I get to be the guinea pig with her soups, salads and smoothie recipes.
Still going strong. Have not missed a day of gym or outdoors hike since February. Trying to increase training slowly. I was able to push myself to 200 floors on StairMaster with little over an hour of workout burning 550 calories. Weight is sort of staying stagnant at 184 lbs. Now that I have maxed out on Stairmaster I will start alternating different workout routines to trick my body to loose more weight. I have 9 more lbs to loose. The weight training I am doing seems to be adding muscle weight. At least that’s what I keep telling myself as the weight is not going down by even an ounce 🙂
In August I am driving with my friend Adonis to Santa Fe, NM and Salida, CO. We are planning to climb Santa Fe Baldi, Wheeler Mountain neer Taos and a 14k feet mountain in Colorado. This would be a good test for my training as well as test to see how my body handles altitude. Most people on Kilimanjaro who do not make it to top the reason is AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Adonis will be joining me to Kili trip and he has been a great inspiration so far.
Ended June with 180 lbs. I have increased the workout routine and time to two hours every day. Desperately trying to get to 175 in next few weeks. Lets see!