Happy 2015

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We had a lovely hike with friends to the top of South Mountain. We love starting the year this way and have carried on this tradition for quite a while. I am really looking forward to many things in 2015, but most of all I have 8 trips planned. I’ll give plenty of info about them as they get closer, but I’ll say a few words about one that I’m very excited for.

On our aughts and fives John and I do adventures. For my 40th we hiked the Inca Trail and for his 45th we hiked Kilimanjaro. This year I turn 45 so we are going to run the Tour du Mont Blanc course, starting and ending in Chamonix France. We will also motor through Italy and Switzerland while we are at it. If you want to know more about the course there is a great documentary called Outrun the Sun that follows professional athletes covering the course in only about 15 hours. We will take six days.

We are so lucky to have some dear friends running with us. Lori and Joe, pictured above, and Kaylee and Brian, and Kaylee’s brother Ed and his colleague at Nike, Cipriano.

Let the training begin! If you want to run or hike with me in the next six months please let me know!

Happy New Year!

Day 14: Millenium Camp to Mweka Gate

Waking up on Day 8 of our climb was really hard for me because I was so sad that the trek would be over soon. Stanley came to our tent with hot coffee and a high-pitched “good morning!” John and I sipped at our cups before starting our last packing process. It was hard to believe we would not be sleeping in a tent again that night. Coffee cups down, we started organizing our gear into piles. We were giving a good bit of it away to the porters.

In addition, Larry, Cindy, John and I had brought with us on the plane from Phoenix a 50 pound duffle full of camping gear. We were looking forward to donating the gear to our group. Kapanya had arranged to have it carried to Millennium camp so that we could use it as part of our tipping ceremony.

We had our last breakfast in the mess tent, and after that we all gathered in a clearing where Manase formally presented the birthday cake to Larry, and the whole crew sang to him. I caught this on video.

Larry then cut the cake and shared it with as many porters as he could. After that party broke up, Kapanya laid some tarps on the ground and we emptied the contents of our duffle onto it. We added some items we had used on the trek, and we also carefully sorted out some individual gifts to give to guides. Kapanya had told us it was best for us to hand gifts to the people who influenced us most.

I had spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to give each guide. To Neema, I gave boots. To Nuru, I gave sunglasses. To Nile, I gave gloves. And to Nicksoni, I gave the iPod that had kept me company each night on the mountain. I loved handing the gifts to each guide, and they enjoyed taking pictures with us after they received the presents. After that, John gave Kapanya the gift of our sleeping bags and Thermarests. Others in our group distributed all of their gifts too, then we moved on to the next part of the gifting ceremony.

Kapanya had an ordered list in his hand: he had made decisions about who would get to choose from the presents first, based on their performance on the trek. The first person to pick was Manase, the cook. Manase wanted a pair of sunglasses, and there were about 6 pairs on the tarp, but half of them were mine & Cindy’s, so every time he put them on his big face we all laughed at how little they were! He finally found a pair that fit. And the picking went on person by person. It was fun to see who got what items. It was also fun to see the porters take off what they had on so they could wear the gifts we brought. It made me feel very happy.

Next, Kapanya lined everyone up so that we could hand out tips. I was glad that this was so organized because it ensured that nothing got lost in the shuffle, and we were able to say thank you personally to all 71 people who supported us. After the tipping was over, the group sent up for a photo, and as you can see from the video, it inspired some song!

After the festivities wound down, it was time to head off the mountain. John, Nicksoni and I started walking and soon ran into Jerry, the 85-year-old hiker we had met the day before. He was looking a little tired, but not deterred from the task ahead of him.

As John and I first started hiking we were still above the clouds, but soon we dropped into the rainforest where it started to get very muddy. This made us a move a little slower than we would have, but I didn’t mind it so much since it seemed to buffer a little of the pounding of our 7,000 foot descent.

At one point Nicksoni said to me, “Thank you for the iPod. Does it have music on it?” I had to tell him that it was full of podcasts! He asked me why I had podcasts on it instead of music, and I told him it was because I wanted to hear someone’s voice when I was afraid. He smiled, nodded, and gave me the sweetest look ever. What a kind soul Nicksoni has. How will I ever hike without him?

John, Nicksoni, and I were having so much fun motoring through the mud—chuckling at each other whenever someone slipped, and taking lots of pictures of the plants. But soon came my favorite Nicksoni moment of the whole trip.

Our trail met up with a Jeep road, and after a while walking on it Nicksoni asked, “How long have we been hiking?” John told him almost 4 hours.” Nicksoni got a sly look on his face and said, “Hey John, if you run you can make it sub-four.”

Can you picture John’s face? He latched on to that idea like it was his life’s goal. He yelled, “See you!” and started running. Nicksoni and I just laughed and laughed! I can still picture Nicksoni slapping his knee as we chuckled. And John did it! He made it in under 4 hours. I came in just over 4. It was not required, but it made it a fun end of day, especially since it was supposed to take 7 to 9 hours.

So, John, Nicksoni and I had some Kilimanjaro beers and sat down for a while to get cleaned up. Kapanya had told us that you haven’t summited Kilimanjaro until you’re down safely. So this was something to celebrate. When the others arrived we ate a delicious picnic lunch and said our last goodbyes. A bus took us back to the DikDik lodge, where we all piled out ready for showers and rest. I was happily startled when Welly, the manager, came running out of the lodge and hugged me like I was her own daughter! “I prayed for you every day!!” she said, and we hugged and cried and hugged some more. She said she had been very worried about me after our long conversation on departure day, and she was so hoping that I would make it to the top of the mountain. We took pictures together and I just felt so lucky to have someone show me that great kindness.

The hotel staff had all come out to congratulate us, and they gave us orange juice as they carried our bags back to our rooms. John was kind enough to give me the first shower, and I was just about to enter the hot water when I heard a knock at my door. It was Welly! She let herself in with her key, which was so adorable I had to just laugh even though I was half naked. “I have gifts for you,” she said. “I wanted to give them to you here.” The packages were beautifully wrapped. The first one contained a carved wooden love bird. The second was a colorful sarong with some Swahili writing. “This says you will have a very long life,” Welly said. And she hugged me ten more times before she headed back to the lobby and I hopped in for my first shower in 8 days.

Here are some pics from the day.

Here are the specs on the day’s hike, though, to be honest, the real story here is how wonderful people are all over the world. What a humbling, lovely experience.

Here’s what our hike info said:

Day 8 of the Hike
Millennium Camp to Mweka Gate
6 Miles
7 to 9 Hours
Start 10,300
Finish 5578
Loss of 4722

And here’s what my GPS said:

7 Miles
4 Hours
Start 12,492
Finish 5364
Loss of 7103

Day 13: Crater Camp to Summit to Millenium Camp

During all of the planning for the trip, sleeping at 18,800 feet was the thing I feared most. Our friends who climbed in 2004 did not sleep at Crater Camp due to harsh conditions, so I did not have a first hand account of what it felt like. For me, it worked out fine. The night was long and I was very cold, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I did not suffer from any apnea and thanks to the Diamox I didn’t even have a headache. And the Terry Gross podcasts on my iPod gave me plenty to think about other than, I don’t know, dying in my sleep.

We got our 6 am wake-up call and I was ready to go. I was a bit surprised that it had snowed overnight and that we were in the clouds. I took some video for you. I’m a bit short of breath. I don’t really know how cold it got. Someone said 10 degrees, someone said 10 below. I slept in all my clothes and still shivered all night.

We had a breakfast of porridge and we all started getting our gear together and getting ourselves ready for the short ascent to the summit. I was very cold and had a hard time with my fingers. My struggles with my equipment sent Manase and Stanley into action. Manase grabbed my gaiters and put them on my legs. Then Stanley grabbed my sunscreen and put some on my face. I don’t think Stanley has worn a lot of sunscreen in his lifetime because he was a bit too generous with the cream. It made for a great laugh and a funny picture though!

As soon as everyone was ready we started walking up. The trail was slippery with the new snow and I was pretty short of breath. Soon, though, Nicksoni, John, and I crested the rim of the trail and we could see a long snowy plateau leading to the summit sign. We took a nice stroll through the snow and the picture taking began! I have some video of it here, and I apologize for the quality, because as you can see we were hugging a lot and it shook my iPhone. But at least it gives you a good idea of what the summit was like. And if you thought you saw vomit in the snow, you did. It was not from our group. But it was a good indication of the carnage we were about to witness as we descended.

We were especially excited because it was Larry’s birthday, so John brought out his flask of Scotch and we all proceeded to toast! I was so proud of Larry and I hope I get to do such a fun activity on my upcoming birthdays! We stayed at the summit for about half an hour taking every photo combo you can imagine. I took a moment to spread some of my dad’s ashes just near the sign. He’s now memorialized in Peru, Portugal, and Tanzania. I miss him so much.

Soon John and I apologized to the rest of the group, because we were about to motor. I love descending. And I love descending fast. So Nicksoni, John and I went ahead. Our first taste of the trouble other groups were experiencing came about 10 minutes from the summit. We saw a group huddled around a woman who was passed out in the snow. We asked if we could help but they said no.

Soon we arrived at Stella Point, which is an hour from the summit for those who ascend through the southern approach. Just past the Stella Point sign, we saw a woman who had broken her leg and was wrapped up in an emergency bag waiting for more porters who would carry her down. Just after that, we saw 2 other people who were being half-carried by their porters. It was a grizzly scene, and very different from what we had experienced with our expert guides and careful route.

John and I continued to descend down the sandy scree. It was so much fun! We were skiing really, and the views were amazing since now we were facing forward. We took lots of pics and very soon arrived at our lunch spot, Barnfu camp, which is the launch point for ascents from the south. The camp was very crowded with people who had attempted the ascent or would attempt it tomorrow. From this camp you have to get up at midnight and hike all morning, which is one reason people get so sick.

While at Baranfu camp, a funny thing happened. We heard some people shouting and pointing in the air. A tent had become airborn, and we all watched as it soared higher and higher and then it landed about 15 feet from us. What a show!

John and I waited for some time for the rest of the group. When they arrived we all got into the mess tent, and guess what Manase did? Brought us grilled cheese sandwiches!!!! Oh my they tasted so good. After lunch we started hiking again and ended at Millennium camp where we unpacked and had a nap. When we went into the mess tent for tea, a guy wandered in looking for “Paul.” We thought he wanted Paul from our group, but he was really looing for his guide Paul. But we asked him to sit and we started chatting. The man’s name was Jerry and he was 81 years old. It turns out he had been a math professor at U Mass Amherst, where Larry was a math major! So they couldn’t remember each other, but we did determine that their time had overlapped. It was a funny coincidence.

That night we had a wonderful dinner, and after we ate the crew surprised Larry with a cake, a birthday song, and a Maasai blanket. It was such a fun ceremony, but it was only a small token compared to the ceremony to come the next day– our last day on the mountain. We all crawled into our tents and fell straight to sleep, preparing ourselves for the morning festivities, and then the long descent.

Here are some of the pics from the day’s hike:

Here’s what our trip itinerary said:

Day 7 of the Hike
Crater Camp to Summit
1 Miles
1 to 2 Hours
Start 18,500 Finish 19,341
Gain of 841

Summit to Millennium Camp
6 Miles
6 to 8 Hours
Start 19,341 Finish 10,300
Loss of 9041

Here’s what my GPS said:

6 Miles
4.5 Hours
Start 18,500 Finish 12,497
Gain of 517
Loss of 6841

Day 12: Arrow Glacier to Crater Camp

Day 6 of the Hike, Day 12 of the trip, or what Kapanya called D-Day. He was pretty serious about it. And I’ll tell you why. In January 2006 a rock slide on the Western Breach killed 3 hikers. The route was closed but then opened again after a full investigation. Now climbers who choose this route are required to use helmets and sign a waiver. It’s difficult to find porters willing to go because of the risk of rock fall and of HAPE and HACE at Crater Camp.

Since the Western Breach route asks you to ascend about 3000 vertical feet in a day, it’s one of the hardest routes on the mountain not just for fitness but also for acclimatization. Here’s what Kapanya’s description said about it: “Hiking up the Western Breach wall to Crater Camp may be one of your most grueling days on the mountain. It is a 7-8 hour trek. It is steep all the way to the rim, and in some sections you will be forced to go 1-3 yards on all fours while negotiating the rocky parts.” I was excited about the climb, especially after lava tower. For some reason I love scrambling.

We got our wake-up call at around 4:20 am. We gathered in the mess tent and ate some Porridge, Sausage, and French Toast. Then we all went to make sure we had everything we needed: helmets, lights, water for the climb. We started climbing slowly up the rock path, re-tracing the steps of the acclimatization hike we had done the day before. It was very cold. It was very steep. It was very dark. Our group of 7 hikers and 5 guides stayed together for about the first 30 minutes, trekking over rock and icy slopes. Although Kapanya and the crew had ascended to cut steps the day before, there was still some cutting to do in the ice, and we waited several times as Nicksoni sunk his ice axe into the snow.

The steps we were taking felt big. In fact, at one point Kapanya yelled up and asked Nicksoni why he was cutting such big steps. “Because I’m tall,” Nicksoni replied. He always made me chuckle. I don’t know that smaller steps in the snow would have mattered, since the steps on the rock were not small either. I was taking big steps, and it occurred to me that all the squats and lunges with our trainer Ryan were paying off.

Soon I saw sunshine on the cliff face to our right. I thought immediately about my friend Amy. Do you have a friend like Amy? She checks on me every single day, no matter where she is. She runs with me. She meets me in the shoe department at Nordies. Sometimes we have coffee. Sometimes we have beer. She photocopies Miranda July stories for me. She texts me pictures of the “art” her cats create with Q-Tips on the bathroom floor. In short, everyone should have a friend like Amy.

Amy had hiked to the top of South Mountain with me several times in preparation for the Inca Trail in Peru, and she did the same thing when I started training for Kili. She knew how nervous I was. One day about 2 months before the Africa trip we stood at the top of South Mountain and she said to me, “Imagine what an amazing view you’ll have on Kilimanjaro.” And I thought about that, because somehow in my frenzy to get ready I had not thought about that before.

So here on Day 6 of the hike, on the Western Breach, scrambling up, eyes towards the rock, I suddenly saw sun on the cliff face to our right. I turned around to see what kind of view I really had on Kilimanjaro. I thought of Amy, and my heart soared. Not only could I see the new light on the copper rock and white snow, and on frozen waterfalls and glaciers, but I could also see the shadow of the mountain on the clouds below us. I never imagined such a beautiful sight. I started crying a little bit, which is inconvenient when it’s cold. But I truly felt like the luckiest girl in the world.

After taking a few pictures and downing some water, John, Nicksoni, and I were ready to roll. By this point we could not see the other members of our party. We had no intention of getting so far ahead of everyone. But we felt so good we did not want to stop. I loved this climb so much: the view, the physical challenge, the partnership with John and Nicksoni. I couldn’t stop smiling the whole way up.

Soon the sun was out completely and we continued up the Western Breach. Long before I thought we were near the top, Nicksoni told me we were almost there. We cleared some large rocks and saw some porters sitting on the edge of the crater. They clapped for us, then started dancing, then singing some songs. I glanced at my watch. We had completed the Breach in 5 hours.

We took a bajillion pictures and lots of video, and Nicksoni asked if we wanted to see the Furtwangler glacier. Part of our desire to climb Kili was to be able to see the “Snows” of Kilimanjaro, including the glacier, before it disappears. Some experts believe it will be gone in 3 years. We walked to its base as Nicksoni told us about the shrinking of the glacier that he has witnessed in the years he had been climbing.

After walking around the glacier we went back to camp and Stanley brought us some ginger tea and Peanut M&M’s. John and I unpacked, relaxed, and waited for the rest of the group. We watched as the porters cleared the rim and made their way towards camp. One of my favorite porters was a young Maasai man who was always singing and hooting. I asked Nicksoni what the hooting meant and he said “It means he is happy.” I could understand his feelings. John and I were anxious to see the rest of our hikers, and when we saw them crest the rim, we hurried to greet them.

Lunch was al fresco, and therefore a bit cold. We ate some soup, some fruit & veg, and then we hiked to the Ash Pit. The trail was covered in snow about 2 feet deep. It was really windy. John and Kapanya hiked all the way in to the pit and looked at the steaming rock while the rest of us turned around at the rim and headed down to camp.

Dinner was buttered macaroni and vegetables, a yummy treat. Then we got into our sleeping bags for what would be a very cold night. We were all anticipating the summit the next morning. It would start with a short 1 hour climb, then a long descent into Millennium Camp. I turned on my iPod shuffle and started the podcasts that I hoped would lull me to sleep. I didn’t expect to get much.

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Here’s a video of us at the top of the Western Breach, right when we arrive. We’re pretty excited. Nicksoni, who loves hip hop, apparently called me a “Fly Girl” because I flew right up the mountain. That’s why we’re singing it. Oh boy.

And one more bit of video at the top. You can hear Nicksoni yelling at John for getting too close to the edge of the cliff.

Here is what the information told us:

Day 6 of the Hike
Arrow Glacier to Crater Camp
2 Miles
7 to 9 Hours
Start 16,103 Finish 18,500
Gain of 2397

Here is what my GPS said:

1.76 Miles
6 Hours
Start 16,033 Finish 18,826
Gain of 2908

Day 11: Lava Tower to Arrow Glacier Camp

Do you mind if I put a lot of pics in this post? Because the day’s hike was super short and steep and I think for that reason I stopped a lot to take pics. The views were so beautiful and the angles were stunning, too, since we were so often perched on sheer cliffs.

Anyhow, there aren’t many stories to tell, except that we had French Toast for breakfast, and we got to camp and unpacked, and then we hiked 1/4th of the way up the Western Breach to get acclimatized and to see where we would be the next day, or “D-Day” as Kapanya called it. And Manase made empanadas! You remember how much I love empanadas, right?! So here goes. Click on an image to start the Gallery.

I also took some video at this camp so you can get a feel for it. Here’s our cook Manase talking with Larry and Cindy, and then a view of camp, and then Stanley at the end. Remember I told you that Stanley always spoke to me in falsetto? It was super cute. Oh, and one fun fact. Manase and Stanley are brothers!

Here are the specs we started with:

Day 5 of the Hike
Lava Tower to Arrow Gacier Camp
1 Miles
1 to 2 Hours
Start 15,092 Finish 16,103
Gain of 1011

Here’s what my GPS said:
.74 Miles
1:14 Hours
Start 15,205 Finish 15,924
Gain of 702

All in all, it was an easy day, another indication that our whole trek was well staged, because we knew the next day would be tough. We ate a light dinner and went to bed early, anticipating our 4:00 am wake-up call.