Kilimanjaro Trip Report and Pictures

Old Jan 12th, 2009, 07:14 AM
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Kilimanjaro Trip Report and Pictures

In August and September, my husband and I went on a five week trip to Africa. The trip was a huge success, thanks in no small part to the posts I read on this forum during the planning stages. I loved reading people’s accounts of their travels while I was planning, so I’d like to share mine also, for anyone who is interested. I will start by posting a report on my Kilimanjaro trek and I hope to eventually post new threads with reports on the rest of the trip.

Our Itinerary:

Kilimanjaro: Seven Days on the Machame Route (Roy Safaris)
Safari: Seven Days, Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater (Roy Safaris)
Zanzibar: Five Days, Paje Beach, Stone Town, Chumbe Island (independent)
Egypt: Two weeks, Cairo, Aswan, Luxor, Sharm el Sheikh, Sinai, Alexandria (Lady Egypt Tours)

After a very long flight from the States, my husband and I arrived at Kilimanjaro Airport late in the evening. We entered the small airport reveling in the fact that, after many months of planning, we were actually beginning our five weeks in Africa. While we waited to buy visas, I nervously paced in line hoping that our two duffel bags had arrived at the airport safely. We were scheduled to begin our seven day hike up Kilimanjaro early the next morning, and all our gear was in those two bags. I strained to see the conveyor belts bringing in the luggage, but I didn’t spot the shiny blue of our identical waterproof bags. We were at the end of the visa line and when we finally paid for the visas, we hurried into the baggage claim area where most of the passengers had already picked up their bags. I recognized one of our bags and ran over to it, but the second bag was no where to be found. Having lost baggage almost every time we’ve traveled, I can’t say we were surprised. We were, however, a bit devastated at the thought of not having all our gear when we started the daunting climb. I filled out the necessary missing luggage paperwork while my husband tracked down our very patient driver and explained the situation. One bag short, and exhausted, we got in our van, arranged by our tour company, Roy Safaris, and headed to our hotel in Arusha. Though we couldn’t see a thing out the dark windows of the van, we were still intoxicated by the excitement that everyone feels when they’re in a new country.
We were relieved to arrive at the lovely Kibo Palace, where we had a very comfortable room. Nervously, we opened our bag to survey what supplies we had for our trek. Luckily, our cold weather gear and most of the essentials were packed in the bag that had arrived. We were missing our clothes, so we’d have to start the hike with only one extra shirt and pair of underwear each… About the time that we got everything spread out on the bed, I started feeling sick to my stomach. I laid on the floor in the bathroom for about half an hour and then made my way into bed, completely unable to help my husband with the repacking. We went to sleep, hoping I would feel better in the morning before we met our guide.

Day One
Unfortunately, I wasn’t any better when we woke up. I managed to enjoy my last shower before the trek and we went downstairs to have breakfast. The breakfast bar was beautiful, but I could only eat half a slice of plain French toast because of my stomach. I was really getting worried about starting the hike in this condition.
At around 8:00, our guide, James, met us in the hotel lobby and we drove down the road to Roy Safaris’ offices where we were greeted by the exuberant owner. Our single bag was carried off by porters to be tied to the top of a van, while the owner took us in the offices for a briefing. He was a bit frazzled over our missing bag, which our driver had told him about the night before, but was relieved to find out that we did have our sleeping bags and essential cold weather clothes. He assured us that he would send a porter up the mountain to bring us our bag when it arrived. We rented trekking poles and each bought a t-shirt so we would have some extra clothes in case our bag didn’t arrive. I was still concerned about my upset stomach when we set off.
We had a long drive from Arusha to the Machame Gate where our hike began. Along the way, we stopped in Moshi to pick up half of our porters. We met the remaining porters at the gate. Our entire group consisted of the two of us, our guide, a cook, and eight porters. The porters took everything off the top of the van and packed it for transporting up the mountain. It was cold, foggy, and drizzling at the gate, so we put on our new waterproof jackets and followed our guide to check in and get started on our hike.
The large crowd at the gate quickly dispersed as we made our way up the muddy trail. Our guide filled us in on what to expect for the duration of the trek, and he forced us to walk “pole pole” (slowly slowly). We are normally fast hikers, so the concept was difficult for us at first, but we were experts at walking slowly by the end of the week. The rainforest was incredibly quiet and the fog made a beautiful backdrop for the first day of our hike. We stopped for lunch at the halfway point and opened our white plastic lunch pails to discover more food than we could possibly eat. There were three different sandwiches, bananas, a hardboiled egg, juice, orange slices, and some chocolate for dessert. My stomach was still acting up, but I forced myself to eat a little.
After lunch, we continued to walk through the dense rainforest. The clouds and fog cleared in the afternoon, and we started taking off layers of clothes in the heat. We ended the day at Machame Camp, just outside the rainforest tree line. After signing in at the camp hut, we walked the short distance to our campsite, where, thanks to our porters, our bag was waiting for us outside our orange and gray Mountain Hardware tent. James told us we would have tea shortly in the dining tent, and he pointed out an olive green pitched roof tent nearby. We took off our boots, unstuffed our sleeping bags from their stuff sacks, and enjoyed a few minutes of rest. Our waiter porter brought a bowl of hot water and a bar of soap and left it outside our tent for us to wash up. This washing would become a morning and evening ritual. We entered the dining tent to find a small folding table covered in well-worn table cloth. The tent was divided into two spaces by a cloth flap, and the larger back portion of the tent was where the chef prepared meals. A platter of popcorn, boiled water, and an assortment of powered drinks and tea were sitting on the table. We squeezed into the tent and sat on stools, hunched over under of the sharp slope of the tent roof. My stomach was feeling better and together we ate the entire platter of popcorn.
We spent the rest of the evening until dinner enjoying the beautiful views and the sunset at camp. We got our first view of the summit peaking over the top of a ridge behind our tent. I couldn’t believe we were going to travel that far in just a few days time.
We ate our first African dinner by candlelight in a tent on the side of Kilimanjaro. What an amazing experience. The food was good and still fresh because it had only been carried up the trail for one day. The first part of the meal was a creamy soup that tasted like ginger and onions. It was served with dense, floury bread slices. James said it was good for an upset stomach and I appreciated the fact that the chef and crew were looking out for me in my illness. We thought that the soup was our entire dinner, but after we finished the whole pot, our waiter brought in a huge platter of fried fish, potatoes, and green beans. It tasted good, and we ate as much as we could, but didn’t even eat half the food provided. After we finished, James pushed aside the flap into dimly lit tent and pulled up a stool to go over our plan for the next day of hiking.
That evening, I had my first experience with a Kilimanjaro pit toilet. All of the toilets on our trek were basically wooden shacks built around holes in the ground. The wooden planks around the hole were soaked and the smell in the confined space was sometimes unbearable. There was no door. Instead, the hut was built with an interior wall that you step around to reach the hole. I can’t tell you how long it took to get the smell out of my tennis shoes after the hike.

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Old Jan 12th, 2009, 07:21 AM
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Day Two
I woke up on day two feeling queasy and weak again. I ate a small breakfast and our waiter filled our camelbacks with filtered and boiled water from the glacier-fed streams. In addition to the boiling, we treated all our water with iodine tablets, just to be safe.
The second day’s hike took us through giant heather forests and a much dryer landscape than the one we had hiked the previous day. The trail went up and down over a series of ever-rising ridges and I struggled to keep up, even at our guide’s slow pace. Although the hike wasn’t difficult, I was feeling incredibly weak from my illness and lack of food. Along the way, we got some beautiful views of the summit, still very far in the distance. We also got the happy news that our missing bag had been recovered and a porter would arrive with it at the next camp. We had been wearing the same clothes for four days, and were excited about the chance to put on something clean!
At the lunch stop on this day we saw the white necked ravens of Kilimanjaro for the first time. As we got higher up the mountain, these scavenger birds were the only living thing around. They frequented the lunch stops and campsites, looking for food. Once again, my stomach started to feel better in the afternoon, but I was still very weak while completing the last stretch of the hike to Shira Camp. I thought this was the most beautiful stretch of the day and we saw some amazing plant life, including our first lobelia.
By the time we reached Shira Camp, the clouds had settled over the mountain again and the rocky terrain was covered in thick fog. There was little vegetation at this altitude and the gray landscape was quiet and eerie. As expected, our bag arrived on the back of a tired porter, who had walked the entire distance from the gate to the second camp in only one day. He spent the night at camp and we gave him a generous tip before he headed back down the mountain in the morning.
Dinner the second night was less appetizing than the night before. We ate the same soup and then had pasta with a boiled sauce of canned meat, carrots, and cumin. It was enough food for a family of five, but we only ate a small amount.

Day Three
I woke up feeling worse than ever on day three. I didn’t want to walk into the dining tent because I dreaded smelling breakfast. I think we were served porridge and oranges, but I couldn’t eat anything. James had the cook make me ginger and lemon tea with honey, but as soon as I drank a sip, I ran out of the tent and vomited. In tears, I insisted that I didn’t want to try to eat again and I was ready to start hiking. James was clearly concerned, and suggested that if I wasn’t better by the next day, we should turn around. My husband and I knew that my illness was not related to altitude, because I had felt sick before we even began the hike. We knew it wasn’t dangerous for us to keep moving to higher altitudes. I was determined to keep trying, so I took some Pepto-Bismol and we started off. One of the experienced hikers in another group asked how we were, and, when he heard I was sick, he suggested that I take cipro and Imodium, advice which eventually saved our trek.
With no food energy, I literally stumbled down the trail for about half an hour before we stopped to add vitamin C tablets to our iodine-treated water. I got sick again when I tried to eat some orange banana flavored energy gel. As we continued down the trail, James took my pack from me so that I could devote all my energy to moving forward. I managed to suck on some mints, which tasted awful but had enough sugar in them to actual give me a bit of energy.
At lunch, I ate half a corned beef sandwich, and felt much better. By the time we reached the Lava Tower at elevation 15,090 feet, I had much more energy. At the base of the tower, I took a cipro and an Imodium pill. By this time, I had stopped taking diamox and our malaria medication, because we thought the pills might be contributing to my illness. The cipro was our last hope for a cure so that we could keep hiking.
The descent from the Lava Tower to Barranco Camp was amazing, and one of my favorite parts of the hike. The clouds and fog returned as we made our way through a forest of giant senecio cacti. It was an unreal landscape that I will never forget. Barranco Camp was cold and rainy when we arrived. We had our usual tea, took a nap, and then forced down dinner. The clouds cleared later in the night and just before going to bed, I emerged from the tent and turned around to find a completely unexpected and absolutely breathtaking view. I called my husband, still in the tent, and told him he needed to come out and see this. The summit, glaciers glowing in the moonlight, was towering over us, impossibly high and closer than ever. Standing there under the stars starring at the beautiful glaciers lacing the rocky summit is definitely one of the most vivid memories I will take away from our trip.
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Old Jan 12th, 2009, 07:21 AM
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Day Four
When I woke up in the morning, I was relieved to find that my stomach was much better. We concluded that the problem must have been a bacterial infection that I picked up on the plane. We were relieved that we now had a solution, and I started taking the cipro doses regularly.
During breakfast, we opened the front flap of our dining tent and watched other hikers, like tiny ants, making their way up and over the steep Great Barranco Wall. We nervously forced down porridge and mangos as we watched their efforts. Soon afterwards, we were scrambling over the wall with them. For the most part, the climb over the wall wasn’t too bad. I needed help from my husband and James at a few points where there were no handholds on the rocks, but everyone made it to the top without much difficulty. We marveled at the porters’ balance as they climbed the steep rock face with heavy, bulky items precariously resting on their heads and backs.
I was feeling reenergized now that I was recovering. At the top of the wall, we looked back out over last night’s camp, far below. The rest of the day’s hike took us through very dry, gently sloping valleys. We ended the short day of hiking at Karanga Valley Camp where we arrived in time for a hot lunch. Again, the camp was cloudy so we couldn’t see the view until later in the evening. Hikers doing the trek in six days instead of seven continued that afternoon to the last campsite at Barafu. I was tired, and grateful that we’d added an extra day to our hike.
Karanga Valley is the last source of water before the summit, so our porters stocked up on water to get us through the last few days. The campsite is built on a very steep slope, making the landscape quite disorienting. Though you could walk around and be perfectly stable, comparing the horizontal cloud line with the heavily sloped ground made you feel like you were going to slide right off the mountain. When the clouds cleared that evening, we once again had a beautiful view of the summit, even closer than the night before. We could also see the peak of Mt. Meru off in the distance. At breakfast, our waiter moved our table outside of the stuffy, cramped dining tent, and we enjoyed our porridge with a backdrop of Kilimanjaro’s summit. I can’t imagine a restaurant with better atmosphere!

Day Five
The hike to the last camp before the summit was barren and cold. Red scree in large sheets covered the path and the harsh environment supported no plant or animal life. It felt like we were walking on another planet and certainly reminded me that we were trekking up the side of a volcano. We arrived at Barafu Camp in the early afternoon. Barafu is a Swahili word that means ice, and it was definitely icy cold on the windy cliff side. The whole area was rocky and dry, and chilling winds whistled through the narrow passages in the rock. I was surprised to find nice clean pit toilets at Barafu. They were made of stone instead of the usual wooden planks and they and hung precariously at the edge of the cliff.
By this point in the hike, our appetites were almost non-existent. There were a number of factors contributing to our lack of hunger, including my illness, lack of fresh food, and the altitude. My one major craving all week was for a chicken sandwich. When we arrived at Barafu, we took off our boots and huddled under our sleeping bags in our cold tent. We opened our lunch pails, cringing once again at the thought of eating. I unfolded a piece of foil to discover, much to my surprise, a chicken leg! I briefly stopped to wonder if it was safe to eat chicken that had been carried, unrefrigerated, up a mountain for five days on the back of a porter. Then, I ate the entire delicious thing. My husband later asked our guide how they preserved the meat and was told that they cook the chicken before the hike and then rub it with a ginger mixture that keeps it good for up to ten days. We never got sick, so I guess it was safe, and that chicken tasted wonderful to a tired hiker.
After lunch we crawled into our sleeping bag to rest and to prepare for the final push to the summit. It was not hard to fall asleep, and it was so cold that we didn’t want to be anywhere else but in our fluffy down sleeping bags. Thanks to the cipro, my stomach was feeling almost completely better, and neither of us was feeling any affects from the altitude. Our chances of making it to the top were as good as they were ever going to be.
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Old Jan 12th, 2009, 07:22 AM
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The Summit and Day Six
We woke up at 11:00 PM in the cold, icy darkness and put on as many clothes as we could. We could hear other hikers stirring in the campsite, getting ready to leave. We stopped in the dining tent for hot drinks and shortbread cookies, but couldn’t put our nerves behind us. James presented us with a bag of candy and snacks that Roy Safaris’ had packed for us as a treat during the summit hike. It was a thoughtful gesture. At 11:30, we set off from camp, carrying only the essentials in our packs.
It was incredibly dark as we forced our way past icy wind gusts on the steep path. At its base, the path consisted of rocky, natural stairs. Soon, we found ourselves walking on a slick gravel slope. It was a lot like walking up an endless sand dune - your feet slid back every time you took a step. My husband counted forty steep switchbacks before he lost track. Hiking in the dark is disorienting. There was nothing visible around us, and as we walked, we glanced back to see the long line of headlamps following us up the trail. The water in our camelbacks froze before we were halfway up and my feet quickly became numb in my boots, despite the foot warmers still nestled inside. Oxygen levels lowered quickly. I was breathing fine at camp, but as we ascended I started to panic because I couldn’t get enough oxygen. Gasping for air, I stopped walking, and our guide let me breath for a few moments. Then, he pushed us to continue on, stating that if we stood still, we would freeze. He wasn’t exaggerating. As soon as I took another step though, I couldn’t breathe again. I tried hard not to cry, because I didn’t want cold tears on my face. Our body’s natural breathing rhythm just wasn’t enough to get oxygen. I finally worked out a forced rhythmic breathing that allowed me to take one entire breath, inhaling and exhaling, with every step. This breathing helped a lot, but required concentration. Every time I stopped thinking about it, I couldn’t breathe again. And it only got harder as we went higher.
Hours into the hike, our guide pointed up into the sky. “Stella Point,” he said, “you’re almost there.” We looked up. Straight up. Above us were the lights of all the hikers ahead of us. “Sure, almost there,” I panted incredulously. By this point, James was carrying both our backpacks and practically pushing me up the mountain. Several hours later, he was still assuring us that we were almost there. When we finally did reach Stella Point, I broke down. James wanted to keep going to the summit, but I collapsed on a rock and started crying. I remember repeating over and over, “it’s not worth it, nothing is worth how terrible this feels.” Other hikers passed us on their way, and the sky was turning slightly orange as the sun began to rise. James assured me that we were really almost there and the rest of the path was easy. I didn’t believe him, but I wasn’t about to risk turning back if the path really was flatter ahead. Dizzy and stumbling from lack of oxygen, I’m not sure how I didn’t fall off the side of the mountain. James was right though, past Stella Point, the biggest challenge was getting enough air. My lungs felt as if I was running as fast as I could, when, in reality, I was walking incredibly slowly on a slight incline. My husband had been doing well up to this point, but he was suddenly hit hard by the altitude and, minutes away from the summit, he wasn’t sure he could make it.
After many tears and lots of pain, we reached the highest point in Africa at 6:41 AM. The sun was up, but it wasn’t warm yet. Our pictures from the top of the mountain pretty much illustrate how we were feeling at that moment. Most of the photos are crooked, some have fingers in the lenses, many are cropped terribly. I actually don’t remember much from the top, and I think James may have taken most of the photos. He grabbed the camera and pushed us in front of the wooden welcome sign to take the obligatory summit shot. His first photo cut out half the sign, but luckily he got the whole thing in the second.
We were exhausted and eager to get down, so as soon as the picture was taken we headed back, grumbling all the way. There was no excitement or jubilation, just pain and lots of complaints. I think we may have hurt poor James’ feelings - he was so happy for us that we made it to the top, and all we wanted was to get down!
Now that the sun was out, we could actually see our fellow hikers. Some seemed unaffected by the altitude, others, like me, had collapsed at Stella Point. We encouraged them to keep going, but I’m sure the pained looks on our faces did not support our words.
The descent was almost as excruciating as the ascent. We spent hours and hours sliding down dusty gravel slopes, praying that we didn’t fall and twist an ankle. I don’t know where everyone else went, because we saw almost no other humans the whole way down. I started to think James was leading us off into the wilderness. We did finally make it back to Barafu Camp, where our porters greeted us joyfully with congratulations and smiles. We quickly crawled into our tent to savor two hours of sleep before we had to be up and packed to continue our descent. Our final camp, Mweka Camp was located back in the rainforest where we began our hike. On the way down, we passed through all the climate zones that we had hiked through in the five days before. There is no such thing as “pole pole” on the way home. James practically ran down the mountain, and I could barely keep up. My toes and knees still hurt from the gravel slide that morning, and pressing my feet into the ends of my boots on the steep downhill was painful. Many hours later, we reached Mweka Camp where we signed into the log book for the final time on the mountain. Deciding we deserved it, we bought and shared a Coke from the man who worked in the Mweka Hut. We had a great view of the summit from camp, and we were shocked at how far away it was once again. It was difficult to believe that that morning we had stood on the peak.

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Old Jan 12th, 2009, 07:23 AM
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Day Seven
We slept well that night, though the camp was much more crowded than others and the toilets were disgusting. The next morning, our crew posed for pictures and we handed out tips. We had brought a pre-planned amount of cash for our entire trip, and ended up giving out more than we expected in tips because we didn’t know we were going to have a private hike with such a big group of porters. We must have tipped correctly, because the porters were thrilled, and there was lots of celebrating in camp. Along with money, we also gave the porters some of the food and gear that we wouldn’t use on the rest of the trip. We gave them a lot of hand warmers, Nalgene bottles, powdered energy drink mix (which I don’t think they recognized), and Cliff Bars. They were so happy to receive such simple things, that I truly wish we had more to give. If I went again, I would take extra clothing and warm hats to distribute as part of my tip. Porters certainly need and deserve money, but it’s exciting for them to receive something that they wouldn’t be able to purchase in Tanzania.
On our last day, we only had to hike for a few hours to get to the Mweka Gate where the Roy Safaris van was waiting for us. We signed the log book and proudly received our climbing certificates. The company had sent us lunches with fresh food and even cold bottles of Coke for the ride back to Arusha. As we drove away, our eyes were glued to the windows of our van, and we scanned the sky for views of the mountain from below. Clouds covered the peak most of the time, but there were a few moments when we could see the mountaintop. It was high above the clouds, and much further above the horizon than we expected.
Our final farewell to Kilimanjaro came a week later, after our safari, when we flew out of Kilimanjaro airport on our way to Zanzibar. It was a cloudy day, so I didn’t expect to see the summit. However, when we reached cruising altitude above the clouds, our pilot told us that we should look out the left side of the plane because we were passing Kilimanjaro. When you look out of a plane window, it is your instinct to look down. Kilimanjaro, however, was right outside the window, practically level with our plane!
Our trek to the top of this amazing mountain was truly a once in a lifetime experience, full of stories that I will recount for the rest of my life. I learned a great deal about myself over that seven day journey. Every day of the hike, I marveled at how far two feet and a lot of determination can carry a person. I stood in places that are among the most spectacular in the world and I feel incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to experience the magic of Kilimanjaro.

You can see pictures from our trek and the rest of our trip to Africa here:

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Old Jan 12th, 2009, 11:30 AM
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enjoyed reading your trip report. and seeing your photos.
i particularly like how you framed some of the shots from your tent, as well as the close-ups of the vegetation.
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Old Jan 12th, 2009, 12:27 PM
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Thanks for a great report and photos! I admire your determination to persevere despite all the problems.
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Old Apr 9th, 2009, 11:13 AM
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Wow, it sounds like your summit day was as bad as ours 3 years ago. Bravo on making it!

I know this is an old(er) post but I've been feeling Kili nostalgia and wanted to read more accounts. Off to check out your pix!
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Old Apr 11th, 2009, 06:12 AM
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What a sense of accomplishment you must have felt after this hike! Really enjoyed reading your report.
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Old Apr 24th, 2011, 09:33 AM
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Happened to chance on this great report. Glad you finally made it after starting out ill - that is a great accomplishment. My wife and I did this climb in 2005 and it brought back great memories. (Somehow, unlike most people, we were feeling strong on summit day, go figure).

I checked out all your photos. Great stuff.
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Old Apr 27th, 2011, 09:19 AM
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What a major accomplishment. I mention my BIL here once in awhile who shares his most facinating feats and journeys with me and he did this as well. I love hearing about his trip here but I really enjoyed reading your report!
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Old Apr 27th, 2011, 06:53 PM
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I was climbing Kili with you, minus all the discomfort.

After starting at a tremendous disadvantage, one bag lost and days of stomach illness, you pulled it off! Cipro has saved the day and the trip for me too in the past.

Your photos depict all sunshine and smiles without the difficulty and hardship of your written account.

You did it! Congratulations!
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Old Apr 30th, 2011, 07:55 AM
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Thanks for sharing your report and a HUGE congrats on climbing AND summiting Kili! It is a wonderful achievement, for sure. I did it back in '09 with 3 other people taking the Western Breach route and unfortunately only 2 of us were able to summit. The other two succumbed to altitude sickness.
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Old Nov 9th, 2011, 12:27 PM
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Thanks so much for your report. My hubby and I are planning to climb Mt Kili in the Fall of 2013. Can you tell me what you paid each porter? I want to make sure I show them my appreciation. Thanks also for the idea to perhaps bring them something they couldn't get from Tanzania. Congrats on summiting despite being so ill.
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