Thursday, February 24, 2011
We have had a busy few weeks over here so let me try to recap some of it for you. On February 4th Mark and I and a group of 4 more friends reached the highest point in Africa, Uhuru Peak, on Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. It took our group of 6 approximately 24 porters, cooks, and guides and 7 days of hiking to do it, but we did it! Reaching the summit was probably the most difficult physical and, at times, mental challenge we have ever faced before. There were times, especially during the 6 1/2 hour hike to the summit which started at midnight, that I thought..."Am I really paying to do this to myself?! Some vacation!" But when we did reach that summit it was with an incredible feeling of pride and accomplishment. In the weeks leading up to the trip I was especially worried about my ability to get to the top successfully. Thoughts about altitude sickness and just the general physical stamina needed made me nervous. So getting there despite my own self-doubts made it that much more rewarding for me personally.
We took the Machame Route, which is one of the more difficult routes. We summitted on the 5th day and it took two more days to hike down to the base camp. The entire trip was beautiful and diverse. We started hiking through lush rainforests and then went through alpine forests with some crazy looking trees and beautiful rock formations. Every night our porters had our tents and camp set up for us when we dragged ourselves in. Our cook made us surprisingly delicious food at every meal which was very much appreciated! There were also hundreds of climbers at every camp along the way as Kilimanjaro is a very popular mountain to climb because despite it's difficulty you do not need to be a "mountain climber" to do it successfully. Each day we hiked between 3-6 hours, always uphill of course. Some of the days were more challenging than others. On the 4th day we had some scary moments when we were scrambling up rocks with a vertical drop of quite a ways that was just one misstep away! The camp site on the 4th night was literally in the clouds and when we were watching the sunset that evening I remember someone saying that it could only be described as majestic and it truly was. Arriving at Uhuru Peak right as the sun was raising over Africa was also incredible. It was so clear and beautiful. I only wish that we could have stayed up there longer taking it all in, but at that altitude (5,895 meters or 16,795 feet) it was not safe to be there for long, plus it was so cold I was worried that my feet and hands were getting frostbite!
After all of that work to get to the summit it only took 2 days to hike back down to the base of the moutain, but that wasn't as easy as it sounds. I thought it was really scary to go down because it was so steep and you had to kind of run in order not to ruin your knees. The summit "marthan" day was a total of 14 hours of hiking starting at midnight and ending the next afternoon several hundred kilometers down the moutain. We were so sore when we got to camp that day! And so dirty too....7 days without a shower or a real toilet was pretty gross and hard!
Of course, everything was better during the trip because we were with a really great group of friends. Two of our friends from BC, Brendan Collins and Kelli Broekema, came to Africa a few weeks early to do Kili and Zanzibar with us before they went on to volunteer in hospitals in Malawi and South Africa. Two of our good friends from our Peace Corps training group also came, Mark Homco and Matt Leonard. The funny thing was that before the trip no one knew everyone except for us, but by the end of the trip we were all good friends with some great shared memories. All in all, it was an experience of a lifetime and I am so glad that we were able to do it together.
After this we went on to get some much needed R&R on Zanzibar Island...but that is another post entirely!