04 May 2016

A Quest to tame the Bear

I have all of these half-finished (or maybe it's half-started?) blog posts and videos detailing the 'work' I do out here.
Well, I have finally finished a video. A little bit of Kodi fun.

23 April 2016

The Up's and Down's of Mt. Kilimanjaro - Part 11, final

14 February 2016, Sunday
Day 7
Final Climb Day

Mweka Hut – Mweka Gate
3100m (10 170ft) - 1828 m (6,000 ft)


I woke up very stiff, and very sore. I somehow managed to ease my boots on without putting too much pressure on the blisters. Deep heat applied on my legs, and anti-inflammatories taken, I steeled myself for the pain to come...

The route down was beautiful, but tough, as the day before. At one point I discovered that jogging down put less strain on my legs than walking. So, I would let the group go ahead, then jog and catch up, then walk slowly and let the group go ahead, and catch up again. It still hurt, but it was better.

With about 1-1.5hrs to go, the path changed to wide forest track. I wish they supplied mountain bikes; it would have taken 30 minutes to make it to the gate.

When we got to the gate, I managed a quick photo, stumbled to some chairs, and flopped, my feet throbbing. They gave us a packed lunch (fried chicken, fruit and a muffin), which went down incredibly well!

Now it was just a case of resting and waiting for our certificates.

I was tired, dirty, stank, hurt, but I had climbed a mountain. It felt like I had been away for months. And my achievement hadn’t quite sunk in. It still hasn’t.

Happy Valentines Day!

I was put in Room 14 back in the hotel

21 April 2016

The Up's and Down's of Mt. Kilimanjaro - Part 10

13 February 2016, Saturday
Day 6, Part 2
Summit Day

Uhuru Peak – Barafu Camp -  Mweka Hut
 5895m (19 341ft) – 4550m (14 920ft) – 3100m (10 170ft)

About 7hrs to the summit, gaining almost 5000ft
Then 3hs back to Barafu, and a further 3hrs to Mweka Hut

If getting to the top was the toughest mental challenge I had faced, then going back down was the toughest physical challenge.

After almost 15 minutes at the peak, the visibility deteriorates and it's time to turn around

Glacier near the peak. It is huge!

With the photos taken, and hugs and high-fives shared between another group that had summited, I was ready to return to more oxygen-rich air. With ever step I took, I forced myself to believe the air was getting thicker. And I started to feel a little better.

We retraced our path to Stella Point, where I snapped a few more photos, and then carried on the same path we had followed on the way up. I was glad we had summited at night, because if I had seen what we had to climb UP, I probably would have turned around!
A ledge near Stella Point. It's a long way down...
At one point, we changed to another route, which is used for the rest of the descent to Barafu Camp. This ‘path’ is loose gravel and rock, and sometimes we would find ourselves sliding down. Step, step, slide; step, step, slide.
A photo of a guide and our picking our way down the path

The frozen soil gives way to loose rock and stones that you can slide down

It was painful; my legs were tired from the ascent, and now my knees were taking a beating. And to think, I had to endure another 4 hours of this (at that point). Absolute torture.

The views were spectacular though.

Mawenzi Peak

It was like being on a different planet

Hey! I can see my tent from here!
Despite being at over 15 000ft, it got hot quickly, and soon it felt like I was in a sauna. The snow pants and winter gear didn’t help. But the camp was in sight, and after hundreds of steps, I made it. The relief was short-lived, and I only had time to hang up my wet clothes to dry, change, pack a few things, eat lunch, and we were packed up and ready to go to the next camp.
So many options
Resting at High Camp

The route had changed to dry river bed, with massive steps. I tested the strength of my hiking poles by using them as crutches and swinging myself down the steps.

I didn’t record much of the descent, so this is all from memory, and not too exciting.
There was one exciting, and scary moment, when we were taking a break and a group of four or five guys came hurtling down the mountain with a stretcher. When I say these guys fly over the rocks and ledges, I’m not kidding. They almost flew over the 2.5m drop where we were sitting during our break.
I was very glad I hadn’t hurt myself on the mountain; the stretcher ride looked incredibly uncomfortable.

The Stretcher

Fynbos-like flora
When we made it to camp (Mweka Hut), it was sweet relief. Just one more three-hour day, and we were done. But for now, shoes off, face washed, and food.

I slept like the dead that night.

You can see for miles and miles

Surreal being above the clouds

Looking back up towards the Peak

20 April 2016

The Up's and Down's of Mt. Kilimanjaro - Part 9

13 February 2016, Saturday
Day 6
Summit Day

Barafu Camp – Uhuru Peak – Barafu Camp -  Mweka Hut
4550m (14 920ft) – 5895m (19 341ft) – 4550m (14 920ft) – 3100m (10 170ft)

About 7hrs to the summit, gaining almost 5000ft
Then 3hs back to Barafu, and a further 3hrs to Mweka Hut

I hardly slept a wink. And when I did doze off, I had very weird dreams.
11pm rolled around far too soon. I got up, kitted up, and managed to force down a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Midnight. Let the summit begin!
It was cold, and there had even been a bit of snow. The tents were covered in a layer of ice, like a sparkly scene straight of the movie Frozen.
My ice-covered tent
Leaving camp, we could see trails of headlamps winding their way up the mountain, disappearing into inky blackness. Gulp.

The sky was clear and there was hardly a breath of wind.

Having slept at 4600m, it wasn’t long before we were out of breath because of the altitude.

The ascent was a steep zig-zagging path. As we got higher, the dirt was frozen solid and the rocks glistened with ice. Gone was the smell of freshly-trodden soil that I had come to love.

It wasn’t long before I was completely out of breath and questioning why I was up there. I managed to make a joke, saying that all the frost and ice on the ground made it seem like we were in a giant disco-ball-like world. Umtsss, tsss, tsss. Lame. But I figured that if my sense of humour was intact, I would be okay. I was wrong.

I struggled not with the steepness of the path; that is a simple case of putting one foot in front of the other, but stepping over or on to rocks got to me. I needed a break after each section of rocks, and as we climbed higher and higher, I got more and more winded.

In the beginning, my guide said my backpack was too heavy. Stubborn that I am, I said that I could handle it. Not too long after that, I asked for help and we put 2l of my total 2.5l’s of water in the guide’s backpack.

I felt a little better, but my shoulders hurt. I think it was a combination of fear, stress, and not using my hiking poles properly, coupled with the cold creeping in to all of my joints. I couldn’t take it. I don’t know how long it was, but I swallowed my pride. I needed help. Badly. I asked the guide to carry my entire pack.

With a weight off my shoulders, literally, I could enjoy the view every now and then.
Moshi town was far, far below us, lit up like a Christmas tree. No load shedding there.
And above us, in the ink-black darkness, was the Universe. Thousands and thousands of stars with no discernible horizon making it seem as if the sky and the Earth were one. The sky was so clear that I felt as if I could just reach up and grab the stars.
Magical, surreal, otherworldly… that doesn’t even begin to describe it. It felt like I was hanging in the balance, floating in the middle of the galaxy.
And I had it all to myself, as I stood there in my own little world, gazing at the Heavens above, and the Earth below.

3 hours in.
I’m half way.
I was huffing and puffing and wheezing. My buff was frozen across my mouth, and moving it to my chin made the rest of my face too cold.
Maybe I didn’t eat enough. Or maybe I didn’t drink enough water. Either way, my body didn’t like the lack of oxygen and I was taking breaks more and more frequently.

The guides keep telling me to relax, that we would summit at sunrise, that I was strong.
My mantra became “Pole Pole, Hakuna Matata. Pole Pole, Hakuna Matata.”Over and over again. It helped me to shift the focus from my fatigued muscles, but I was falling behind, and getting slower still.

My shoulders were killing me, even without the weight of my backpack. I kept thinking about the hiking poles, adjusting my grip, pushing differently. It didn’t seem to help. Every time the guide asked how I was, my response was the same- “Tired. Sore shoulders.” I couldn’t muster enough air to say anything more.

I remember sitting on a rock in an effort to catch my breath. I was cold and sore, and closed my eyes. It was comfortable, almost. I didn’t feel happy, but I felt… okay, I guess. And then I felt the guide’s hands on my shoulders, and thought he was trying to warm me up. But he was shaking me awake, and my oxygen-deprived brain managed to make out the words “Wake up! Don’t sleep! Keep walking!”
Oh, okay.
I opened my eyes and nodded that I understood the words. He gave me a shoulder massage and I felt a little better.

From that point on, every time I stopped to rest, I got a shoulder massage. Whether it was to alleviate the pain, or keep me awake, I don’t know. Either way, my guides went above and beyond the call of duty.

That was all probably around sunrise. I don’t remember much of that, just that the sky got lighter (as it does), that the visibility started to decrease, and that the guide took my headlamp off my head. By now I had slowed to a snail’s pace, and before I could tell the rest of the group to go ahead, I realised that they had already done that. So it was just two guides, and me, and the mountain.
Almost 6am, and it is getting light. A guide from another group carrying what looks like three packs
The guides were amazing. For our group of 5, we had 4 guides. And as we climbed, one was at the front, one at the back, and the other two were like silent ghosts, paralleling us on non-existent paths. They negotiated the terrain with ease, and didn’t even use torches. Or gloves. Or walking poles. They were always watching, always ready to catch us should we slip or stumble, always willing to help.

I was so tired. I was ready to quit.
No, Heather doesn’t quit. I kept putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward less than 1ft at a time. But at least I was moving forward.
Eventually I caved, and asked “Are we there yet? How far to Stella Point?”

“Not too far. Just around the bend up there.”
Up where? Which bends? All I see are corners? But okay. Let’s get to Stella Point. Then we go back to camp. I hated to do it. I hated to not see my task through. But I was finished. Stella Point was my new Peak. I just had to make it there, and I would have achieved my goal.

As it turned out, Stella Point was still far away, but I pushed on. And I almost cried when I finally saw the sign. I managed to pose and smile for the photos. I had made it to over 18 000ft.
Scrat was there too, of course!

So, I didn’t summit. But I made it here. It’s good enough, Heather. My body didn’t know how to feel. But my mind, while relieved that I had reached this point, felt guilty. All this way, not to summit. I told myself that it was okay, that I had already got far and achieved something great. I was waiting for the guides to say “Come on, let’s get you down this mountain.”

But it never came.
“Uhuru Peak next. Let’s go.”

I was cold, tired sore. I knew I was lucky just to reach this point. I wanted my tent. I wanted to be warm. I wanted air. And yet, my mouth was moving and words were coming out “Is it safe to continue? Okay, let’s go.”
I had no idea how long I had been up there without supplemental oxygen. But my legs were moving.

Uhuru Peak is about 45-60 minutes from Stella Point, when walking at a ‘normal’pace.
But by now, I wasn’t walking; I was shuffling, barely a few centimetres at a time. 45 minutes turned into over an hour.

I was taking a break every 10 steps or so, sometimes just standing there, trying to keep my eyes open. People who had already summitted were coming from the opposite direction, covered in ice.
One of our guides, covered in ice. Visibility was poor
I kept waiting for the guides to turn me around. A part of me wanted them to make that call. But instead they stood by me, motivated me to keep moving, and at one point the one even linked his arm in mine, and supported me as we shuffled forwards. He hardly spoke a word of English, but he kept me upright.

A few more steps forward. My body was screaming NO! My mind said I couldn’t give up, not now. NO! So tired. My muscles didn’t hurt- it felt like they had simply vanished. Those who had summitted wished me luck. A blur. I passed the rest of my group. They had made it. It was amazing. We all hugged.  “You’re 10 minutes away! You can do it, Heather!”

I was starting to choke back tears as I thought about quitting.
10 minutes… one of the other guides who had been with the rest of the group had a flask of warm tea. I managed a few sips, my snow-covered fingertips frozen, despite my two pairs of gloves, and an extra pair that a guide sourced for me just before we left the camp.
10 minutes… come on. Almost there. Breathe. Step. Breathe. Step. Over and over again, for what felt like years. Centimetre by centimetre.

We were in the cloud. Visibility was bad. I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. No. I have tried. I have pushed myself to the limit, and then gone beyond it. This is it. I am done. I shuffled forward one more time, and got ready to turn around. I looked at the guide ahead of me, the other was by my side, and he was pointing forward. “Look!”
I looked at him, then followed his arm to where he was pointing, and through the snow and cloud, I could make out a sign. THE sign. Uhuru Peak was just 50 meters away. I couldn’t contain the sob.

I saw the sign...

Eyes focused on that sign and hands buried deep in my pockets to try and keep them warm, I shuffled forwards. 40 meters. Wind whipping across my face. 20 meters. Ice had encrusted my jacket. 10 meters. I couldn’t feel my toes despite wearing 3 pairs of socks. 1 meter.

I looked up at that sign, and was overwhelmed with emotion. I grabbed both guides by the shoulder and pulled them towards me, and cried. And between sobs I uttered “Thank you” over and over again.

I had done it. Thanks to their support, their quiet encouragement, and some willpower buried deep within me, I stood on top of the world’s highest freestanding mountain. I stood on the Roof of Africa, Mt .“Kili”Kilimanjaro.

18 April 2016

The Up's and Down's of Mt. Kilimanjaro - Part 8

12 February 2016, Friday
Day 5

Karanga Valley – Barafu Camp

4-5hrs, about 4km
Start: 3950m (12 960ft), End: 4550m (14 920ft)

I slept surprisingly well, despite my leaky tent. When I woke up, it wasn’t raining and there wasn’t much wind.

Yesterday I hit a low. I was fed up. Not even food cheered me up. I like the rain and the outdoors, but not sopping wet clothes. In Botswana if you get caught in a rainstorm, it is still warm enough that you will be dry within an hour. I don’t know what the temperature up here is, but it’s cold!
^ Waking up to a beautifully clear day! v

At one point yesterday, I just sat in the mess tent with S and read my book while he fiddled with his iPad. Then we got chatting. He is from the States, and I am planning a holiday there in 2018. So we spoke about things to do. Amazing, sitting at almost 4000m, discussing a world that by now, felt a million miles away.
We also spoke about the hierarchy of needs, and how they have changed since our first day on the mountain.
My first and only photo of the inside of the mess tent
From wifi and electricity, to a head torch, to somewhere warm and relatively soft to sleep, to just wanting to be dry and somewhat warm. Creature comforts, what’s that?
Breaking camp

The registration off with Mt. Meru in the background

Today was a short climb, but it took me a while to find my groove.
It wasn’t too steep or rocky, which was a relief, but I was mentally drained, and it had started to drizzle. I was ready to cry. Again.

Our guides are inspirational. They somehow motivated us to keep a good pace so that we got to the next camp before the real rain hit. And we did. What a relief!

Lunch was good, as usual. But today we were treated to toasted cheese and tomato sarmies (sandwiches), which I hadn’t had in ages. It is also warm, so the mess tent is like a green house. “Literally” as S said, as the tent is green. We all cracked up at that. Everything is funny when you’re sitting at 4500m.
Other campers a little further up at Barafu Camp

Our campsite

Our guide has briefed us. We will start our 6 hour trek to the Summit at midnight. Time to rest before dinner, which will be at 17:30.
Toilets on a ledge.
...A few hours later...

It’s about 16:40
I managed to get a couple hours’ sleep. About 40 minutes ago the crew started making a racket; they’re playing cards.
There was a bit of rain and even sleet, but now the sun is shining. It heated up my tent nicely, so a lot of my gear has dried, which I am very happy about. My gloves aren’t quite there yet, but at least they are no longer dripping water…
I think I will wear socks as mittens over the other two pairs of gloves I have, and then put plastic bags over my hands as water-proofing.

I will have to pack the stuff that has dried before dinner, otherwise it just gets damp as the temperature plummets. My pants from yesterday are still wet though.
Mawenzi Peak as clouds race up the mountain
The crew has been amazing. Hauling what must 15-25kg loads, and still being chirpy despite being drenched in rain. Every day they break camp after we have left, allowing us a 40 minute head-start, and overtake us to have the next camp set up long before we arrive. Most of these guys don’t even have hiking boots and wear worn-out ‘tekkies’ with no laces.
I feel bad that I can’t tip them more.
I had set aside a certain amount, but now I think I will give them everything I have left in my wallet.
You can't not appreciate this view!

Second-last dinner on the mountain.
I am sad, but so happy!
We had a good dinner, and talked all sorts of nonsense. From fears about the summit, to what music to listen to. Adele’s Hello had as all snorting into our cocoa with laughter.

Amazing view of cumulonimbus clouds building below us. We can also see Mawenzi Peak. As the clouds build, the thunder rumbles. The mountain is angry again, like it was on our first day. Perhaps she can sense that she is almost rid of us. Or maybe she is giving us a warning, a taste of what is to come.

Either way, I snuggle deep into my sleeping bag, looking forward to a few hours’ rest.

Mother Nature treated us to the most amazing cloud formations as the sun started to set

17 April 2016

The Up's and Down's of Mt. Kilimanjaro - Part 7

11 February 2016, Thursday
Day 4

Barranco Camp – Karanga Valley

4-5hrs, about 4km
Start: 3950m (12 960ft), End: 3950m (12 960ft)

Last night we feasted on carrot soup, spaghetti bolognaise, pancakes and watermelon. We went to sleep early; I think I was snoring by 21:30.

I slept better last night as I had my snow pants on and my nalgene bottle was filled with hot water and acted as a foot-warmer (for a few hours at least).
Beautiful morning!
We woke up late today; 06:30. We will only climb from 09:00 as it is a short day; less than 5 hours of climbing. But it will be tough. All of my climbing clothes are damp from yesterday. Gross.
The Peak. The ledge to the right is a portion of the Barranco Wall
Today we take on the Barranco Wall. About 3000m up. A mix of bouldering and rock climbing had us scaling rock faces and negotiating big boulders. It was fun.
At one point we had to shimmy along a narrow ledge, while pushed up against the rock, holding on with our fingertips (no ropes), and one of the girls in my group, who was at the front, said “Hug the rocks like you’d hug your boyfriend!”It broke the tension and had all of us giggling.
The base of the Wall, looking into the mist
The amazing thing about this wall is that the porters climbed it while holding the gear in place on top of their heads. They hardly ever used their hands to stabilize themselves. That is serious leg strength!
The porters walking up as if on a Sunday afternoon stroll
But as we got higher, the clouds from the valley below caught up with us, and soon we were in mist, which turned into fog, which turned into drizzle. And on the final descent before the ascent into camp, it started to rain.

Woohoo, made it to the top of the wall!

Looking over the edge. Good thing I couldn't see all the way to the bottom - I am afraid of heights!
No jokes
Even thought it was cloudy, the view was amazing. Here, the clouds parted, a window to Heaven?

Slowly at first, so I wasn’t too bothered; I enjoy the rain. But it picked up, and before I knew it, I was soaked to the bone. R900 waterproof jacket be damned.

The lead guide. It was wet!

It’s 14:25.
Despite arriving in camp an hour ago, and after a short day, I am miserable.

After registering at the camp office it was a mad dash through the rain to our tents. Well, when I say “mad dash”, I mean I managed to shuffle just a little bit faster than before.
Once in the tent, you’re not out the rain really, because they leaked.
I managed to change into a dry shirt, but didn’t see the point of changing into dry pants as the mess tent and loo were far away, and I would just end up getting the dry pants wet enroute to either tent. No, I figured my pants would dry on me.
I want to cry.

I eventually got enough motivation to don my dripping-wet raincoat and move across to the mess tent for tea-time. After some cocoa, I felt a little better, but not by much.
Most of the others stayed in their tents and got “room service”. I was hoping that sitting in the relatively dry mess tent would get my pants drying faster. It didn’t work.

But I did get to chat to one of the guides. You know, the whole life story, the type of stuff that the tourists normally ask me when I am at work. It was nice to focus on something else for a little bit, and I could almost kind of forget that I was sitting on a mountain in a new country, with a frozen bum. Almost.

The guide eventually told me to change into dry pants, and then come back for lunch. I really didn’t want to go out into the rain, but I listened (which is amazing; I am normally very stubborn).
Another mad dash back to my tent. I peeled off the wet pants and pulled on a dry pair. Now, what to do with the dripping-wet pants… I could hang it in my tent, but the seams are coming apart. Oh, and now the centre of the roof is leaking too… Like the floor of my tent filling with water, my eyes were starting to well up again.
I will not cry. Get moving. Go to the mess tent.

...A few minutes later, in the mess tent...

I am a little warmer now, but still upset.
I almost want to throw in the towel.
How can I summit in wet gear? I will freeze! How can I survive tomorrow when I don’t even want to move from my ice-cold plastic chair now.
I am cold. Hungry. Tired. My gloves are dripping wet. Why didn’t I invest in those proper waterproof gloves?! Why didn’t I bring a spare poncho?! Why? Why?! Why!
And to make matters worse, I really need to pee and the rain is bucketing down!
Screw it, I’ll hold it.

The only photo I took when we finally got to camp.