The Travelling Trooper Takes on Kilimanjaro: Day 1

Today, we set off on what is sure to be an adventure of a lifetime. Today, Trevor and I begin our hike up Mount Kilimanjaro. At over 19, 000 feet, it stands as the highest point in the entire African continent. Needless to say, I’m a little worried. I’ve never done anything remotely close to this. All in all we’ll be hiking just over 70 kilometres over the course of eight days.

My biggest concerns are the lack of oxygen as we get closer to the top, and of course, my decrepit old knees. No point in worrying right now, though.

The first day was a piece of cake, but I already knew it would be. We’ll see how it goes from here.

The day started with breakfast back at our hotel. We already met the other eleven people in our group yesterday during our meeting with the Ultimate Kilimanjaro guides. There’s Jean Michelle and his mom, Nancy, who are from Gatineau, Quebec. JM is a punk and metal drummer at heart with a passion for Japanese culture–anime, in particular. His mother is a sweet and kind woman who glows with positive energy.

Mary and Rich are from North Carolina. They’re the seniors of the group, at 60 and 61 respectively. They’ve been two Africa twice before on Missionary work. Mary’s brother, Jim, is also along for the ride, as is their brother-in-law, Curt. (I’d find out later that Kurt is a Bills fan, God help him. And Jim married a Patriots fan. Poor guys.)

Eugene hails from Alaska, where he works as a meteorologist. From the minute he opened his mouth, I thought to myself, “Oh my God, it’s Ted Fairhurst.” Fairhurst was my Journalism Law and Ethics teacher in Journalism School. He was the one professor who I admired most in the program. He treated Journalism with the respect and care it deserved. His passion for his work was transparently clear. I always imagined him going home from work and having long poignant conversations revolving around Journalism and Ethics at the dinner table with his wife.

That’s the man that Gene immediately reminded me of–not only in his looks and voice, but his demeanour and character as well. And as we’d all quickly learn, he treated his field with the same reverence as Fairhurst had for Journalism. I just hoped that I wouldn’t accidentally call him Ted at some point.

And last but not least, there’s the foursome from Wyoming. Sara and Brandon are together, and Sara brought along her friend, Kate, who brought along her friend, Danielle.

The twelve of us have put our lives in the hands of our six guides: August 1, August 2, Jerome, Joseph, Vincent, and Maximilian. After breakfast, we all gathered together to collect our equipment that we rented, such as our -30 degree sleeping bags and hiking poles.

We also had our first medical checks. They place a reader on your finger and check your oxygen levels and heart rate. There’s a medical check every day in the morning and evening.

Once all the formalities were taken care of, we hopped in our bus and headed out. We drove to the Moshi city limits and stopped for some last minute things, like wet wipes and water. (Alcohol was tempting, but we all chose to be responsible.)

We drove about three hours to our starting gate at Londorosi and were given our lunch boxes. They were cardboard boxes with things like a piece of chicken, a sandwich, a juice box, biscuits, and a banana.

This was the first time we saw our entire entourage. I think including our guides, there were 36 people responsible for helping us reach the summit. It was like we had our own village. It was a little overwhelming.

Before officially heading off on our hike, I bought a second water bottle from a guy selling hiking gear just outside the gate. August 1, our team leader, said we have to drink at least three litres of water a day to keep our bodies in working order, and the bottle I’d brought only carried 1.5 litres. I also bought a cover for my backpack in case of rain. I was now good to go. The only unfortunate thing was that because my itty bitty Jansport was already packed with rain gear and snacks, I had to tie my 1.5 litre bottle on one of the straps of the bag. This left me a little unbalanced, but it would just be incentive to drink as much water as I could.

Once lunch was over, we hopped back in our bus and drove the rest of the way to the Lemosho gate–where we’d be climbing Mount freakin’ Kilimanjaro!

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We were surrounded by beautiful forest trees that brought a sense of tranquility and made you forget you were hiking a mountain. We hiked for four very easy hours.

In fact, the hardest part was just getting used to the very slow pace. Pole pole, as they say. (Pronounced Po-lay, po-lay.) And despite the slow pace, we took regular drinking breaks (and subsequent pee breaks, of course). Everybody else seemed to be pissing like a horse on account of the Diamoxin they were taking to combat the elevation effects.

The porters were constantly passing us on our right and left, carrying ridiculous loads on their necks and heads. Everything about what they were doing defied the laws of gravity.

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Tour guides of any sort can make or break an experience. From the get go, our guides were the friendliest bunch imaginable. Joseph, for example, is basically a big teddy bear. However they’re also exceptional professionals. While they do everything in their power to ensure that you’re both healthy and having fun, their top priority is your health.

We saw loads of black and white monkeys on our hikes, which gave us an excuse to take even more breaks.

When we got to the camp, our guides announced that it would be Happy Hour shortly. Unfortunately, it was a dry Happy Hour–only biscuits and popcorn.

They also informed us that there was a Wi-Fi tent! I think Cate and I were the only gullible fools who actually believed them. Wi-Fi was their euphemism for the crapper. We got a tutorial on how to “send a message.” (Pull the lever to open the bottom, do your business, and press the button a few times to flush. Pretty straightforward.)

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We went to bed at 7:30 that night and slept at an elevation of 2, 650 metres at the MTI Mkubwa camp.

I woke in the middle of the night and heard what I swear sounded exactly like the Predator from the movies. I was waiting to hear Arnie come bursting out of the bushes yelling, “GET TO THE CHOPPA!”

It should be an interesting week from here.

*Some photos courtesy of the lovely Kate.

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