Guest post from Tusker Alumni Morgan Silverman, who climbed Kilimanjaro in October 2015.
I suppose the photo above could be considered a spoiler – that by showing us at the top of Kilimanjaro at the very beginning of this blog entry takes away the excitement of reading a different post; a post that was written to build suspense by starting off with a photo of giant Kili and talking about how difficult the climb was (because it was really hard), how we all got sick, and how cold it was; causing folks to think to themselves “That sounds really hard! I wonder if they actually made it to the top of that massive mountain?!” If I’d done that, I could’ve ended this post with this triumphant (i.e. slightly hypoxic) photo of us at the top.
BUT – I have to admit that climbing to the top of Kilimanjaro feels like such an enormous accomplishment that I don’t want to write suspenseful posts – really, I just want to talk about how I stood on the top of Africa’s highest peak, overwhelmed with awe of what I had just accomplished and the amazing people I got to accomplish it with.
I apologize for the cliche, but our trip to Tanzania was truly the adventure of a lifetime; hiking Kilimanjaro was incredibly difficult and incredibly humbling. It also provided me clear focus on a simple task – to keep walking up the mountain – in a way that my regular life and daily responsibilities don’t provide. That I got to go on this adventure with my partner, my friends (some old and some new), and amazing guides, made it all the more remarkable.
A bit of history: many years ago – 10? 15? – I got it in my brain that, one day, I wanted to hike up Kilimanjaro. I have no mountaineering skills (I wouldn’t know what to do with a rope or ice ax), but since Kili is just a regular (albeit long and steep) climb, it was actually a somewhat reasonable goal. I’ve been talking about it with Brandon for a long time, and after we’d had such a good time hiking in Italy, it seemed reasonable (to me!) that our next big trip was to Tanzania, and Kilimanjaro. Brandon was enthusiastic, and after talking it over with my friend Tracy, it seemed like a good idea to her and her boyfriend Jay.
A quick word about the Kilimanjaro guides we worked with; we spent quite a bit of time getting recommendations about tour groups and repeatedly heard good things about Tusker Trail. In speaking with their staff, we were impressed by their approach to the climb, and also swayed by their membership in the Kilimanjaro Porter Assistance Project, an organization that fights for porter rights and working conditions on Kilimanjaro. In the end, we couldn’t have been happier with our choice to go with Tusker; our climb coordinator here in the US was extremely helpful in getting us prepared and answering our (my) billion questions, and the guides and porters in Tanzania were simply amazing. They were confident, responsive, patient, and extremely knowledgeable about hiking, camping, the mountain, and how to take care of American tourists who are sometimes overwhelmed by the adventure they’ve chosen. Based off this experience, I would go anywhere with Tusker and truly cannot say enough good things about them!
And with that, here’s a bit of a photo guide of our trip…
This is our group at the start of the climb. We entered through the Lemosho gate, at about 7,000 feet (the top of Kili is 19,341 feet). From left to right: Sam, Alex, Brandon, me, Tracy, and Jay.
A blue monkey at our campsite, Forest Camp (aka Big Tree Camp), on the first night.
Brandon and me at the end of day 2, enjoying our first real view of the peak of Kilimanjaro.
Our three guides and one of the porters – from left, that’s Stanford, Uri (porter), head guide Tobias, and Pastori. Three of the most calm, competent men I’ve ever met (and a very entertaining, very boisterous singing porter).
And we made it above the clouds! Part of what was remarkable about the climb was getting to hike (and sleep and eat) above the clouds for so many days. That’s chef Alex on the right (with a box that’s marked “coconut cream” on his head). He was remarkable, making delicious food (for tourists with sensitive constitutions) at an altitude that the rest of us would’ve had trouble boiling water.
Here’s Sam and Alex – a word about these two. They became friends over 30 years ago, when they met in medical school. You know how, when you’re in a group, there’s always one person that’s so irritating you want to strangle, just a little bit? Not in this group. They were both amazing – funny, sincere, incredibly sweet. This was Alex’s third time climbing Kili, so his approach was much more laid back than the rest of us, and he was able to provide invaluable support and advice. And Sam was hilarious and kept us laughing. I felt so fortunate to have them in our group.
The view from our tent at Barafu camp. “Barafu” apparently means “icy” in Swahili, which made sense – it was freezing up there, at about 15,000 feet. We spent 2 nights here, since we left (and returned) to this camp to before and after summiting the mountain. The altitude was really rough – as we settled in to sleep that first night, I rolled over in my sleeping bag, and Brandon asked why I was panting. It was hard to catch my breath! The altitude was no joke.
And… day 7, summit day! We left around 4:30 am and hiked in the dark for a few hours. The climb up was difficult and exhausting; partially because of the altitude and the cold, but also because – at that point – we’d been hiking and camping for 6 days, and we were worn out. We were all nervous (well, all of us except Alex) and excited to get to the top. Here’s the only photo Brandon and I took on that 13 hour day, save for the photos at the top. This is Mawenzi.
And then we were there! Here’s our whole group at the top. Left to right: Pastori, Brandon, me, Toby, Tracy, Jay, Alex, Sam, and Stanford.
Here’s Tracy and me. I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge this lady and what her friendship has meant to me. We met about 15 years ago when we had both joined Team in Training to prepare for the NYC triathlon. We were at a practice swim and both struggling to take off our suction-like wetsuits. I remember standing poolside, hot and sweaty, half in and half out of this ridiculous wetsuit, and made some comment to Tracy about how stupid this all was – and a friendship was born. Since then, we’ve traveled to private islands and cocoa plantations in Honduras, ran costume-and-wine filled marathons in southern France, toured Graceland, and had about a hundred other adventures. It was incredibly meaningful to also stand on the very top of Kilimanjaro, lightheaded, slightly nauseous, and headache-y, with her.
And finally we made it to the exit gate! Here are the amazing porters that literally made our climb possible
After we got back to the hotel in Moshi, we all showered and met at the hotel restaurant for dinner. My birthday was in a week, so Tracy had worked with the Tusker staff to get me a cake on our final night. They all came out singing and clapping. I usually find these things embarrassing, but I honestly was so touched that all I could do was try not to cry at how sweet it all was. And look at my cake! It’s in the shape of Africa! Could there be anything better?!
That night and the next morning, we said our goodbyes (some of us – mostly me – were tearful) to Sam, Alex, Tracy, and Jay; we were all headed off in our own directions. For Brandon and me, it was a 4 day safari followed by 5 days on Zanzibar.
See more of Morgan’s adventure on her blog: http://strudelandstreusel.com/2015/11/09/tanzania/