Tanzania August 2005 - Kilimanjaro Climb

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Aug 24th, 2005, 03:07 AM
  #1
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Tanzania August 2005 - Kilimanjaro Climb

Kili Climb:

We did not summit but loved the trip. We used Machame Route and booked through Roy Safaris, who also did our safari portion. We did a 7 day trip to allow for acclimatization. Be warned, this trip report has all the very icky details of the climb. Despite the “yuck” factors, the trip was so great that we have no regrets and will certainly make another attempt some day. Just trying to give details so that those planning a trip know what to expect.

Why no Summit?

We did 7 days on the Machame route but did not summit (DH came down with me when I needed to stop). Why not? Well, my body decided not to adjust to altitude from day one. We live at a fairly low altitude and this was the highest we have ever been. The first night, at dinner my stomach felt strange and I kept burping. Frankly, these burps smelled like they should have been coming out the other end of me. I ate a full dinner anyway and we went to bed. Around 11PM I vomited just outside the tent and felt much better. The next morning the nausea was back and I vomited during breakfast. Again feeling better, we walked to the next campsite and, you guessed it, I vomited after lunch. I ate something else immediately after that and kept it and dinner down. I was feeling much better and had no problems until our third night. That night I vomited about 5 times within an hour and never felt better that night. The next morning I was groaning with a stomach ache and no appetite. I wanted to vomit but couldn’t. I tried to walk around to feel better and couldn’t even stagger back to the tent. Then I lay in the tent after taking some magnesium pills and started passing wind. A lot. Finally, relief. Apparently my body just wasn’t able to digest all the food I was eating and painful gas was building up in my intestines and since food couldn’t go down it came up. My plan for the rest of the trip was to eat only small amounts. I didn’t vomit anymore but it also meant I wasn’t really up for a summit attempt.
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Aug 24th, 2005, 03:08 AM
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Day-By-Day Report:

Day One- We met out guide, cook, and assistant cook and drove to the mountain. There, the guide (W), picked our porters and our crew totaled 10 for just the two of us. How embarrassing! We took their photograph (where the assistant cook is showing off his sweet personality with a huge smile!) and were ready. W stayed to fill out paperwork (there is a lot of paperwork in general) and the assistant guide, B, started us on our trek. It was a gorgeous hike through the rainforest where I fall in love with the Impatien Kilimanjarica flower that grows there. We drank plenty of water and didn’t have any problems trekking through the muddy path. We wore long pants, hiking boots, t-shirts, long sleeved cotton shirts, and Tilley Hats. We stopped for lunch (although DH and I had already eaten part when the cook handed them to us to carry at the start—oops). There was a carrot and mayo sandwich each, boiled egg, some kind of meat pastry for DH, a veggie samosa for me, an orange, a banana, a muffin and juice. This was the basic lunch for most of the trip though sometimes there was a sandwich instead of pastry. The end of the day’s trail was really misty and chilly and we were glad to get into the mess tent for hot tea and cocoa.

Our tent was pitched near an outhouse (thank goodness) but the outhouse was truly foul. There was human waste all over the floor and by the next morning, about an inch of liquid surrounding the hole. It looks like a lot of people are having diarrhea. Yeah—we could see the problem all around the hole—gross! We prepare ourselves for each latrine to be this way.

We were totally amazed at how much stuff the porters are carrying just for our comfort---table and fold out chairs, silverware, bowls, mugs, and all the cooking dishes. We had tea and popcorn and stayed in the warm mess tent until dinner. Dinners were about the same each night with a variation on the “sauce” for the main dish. Tonight was fried fish for SH, veggie sauce for me, rice, soup, bread, and avocados for dessert. We went to bed in our cozy tent (hats on because it was chilly) and looked forward to the next day. Headlamps were a big help for nighttime latrine breaks. I got sick that night but on the plus side, it meant seeing all the gorgeous stars and the Milky Way as I stood outside to be sick!

Day Two – We awakened to our first small view of the summit with excitement. We had breakfast of porridge, fruit, toast, and eggs for DH as well as juice and tea then started our trek. I really struggled today and we were the last ones out of Machame camp and the last ones in at Shira. W was unfailingly patient and concerned only with my well being. He insisted that I eat lunch so that I would at least vomit something rather than stress my diaphragm with dry heaving (and vomit I did). Because of W, I made it to Shira Cave camp feeling quite well. Convinced it was better to keep walking than to nap in the tent, B took us over to a different Shira camp on a walk. It was beautiful. We loved this campsite because we were near the cave away from most campers which also meant really clean latrines (hooray!). We had tea outside in the pretty weather. It was the best view of the summit we’ve had yet and our other view shows us we are above the clouds. Far in the distance we could see Mount Meru. It was all truly breathtaking.

We had dinner and went to bed very early, exhausted from getting so little sleep the night before when I was sick.

Day 3 – The plan today was to climb high (to lava tower) and sleep low (at Baranco camp). I had a really good day and felt good the whole way. W could tell I was feeling better and started talking to us and giving us more information as we climbed. We saw wild dog and mole rat footprints as well as eland tracks. It was really cool. The landscape was rocky with only very dry flowers and brush. The Lava tower was really cool and then we made the sandy descent into camp. We had tea outside again—it was very hot and we thought we were sunburned in spite of regularly applying SPF 50. Actually, it was wind burn that cleared up the next day. We were surprised that after all the trekking we still weren’t sore anywhere. We get sore just hiking our little mountains here in VA! But since we were taking it slow and steady we didn’t have any soreness.

All the crew members who knew any English came to ask me how I was feeling and check on me. B was especially sweet and made sure to ask every single afternoon how I was feeling.

We were camped near only two other tents but latrines here were repulsive anyway. Again, it looks like a lot of people have diarrhea and apparently cannot actually manage to use the hole when they urinate. DH commented, “At what point is it easier to urinate on the floor than to even aim for the hole?”

We ate dinner and went to bed where I virtually guaranteed DH I would not be sick. Oh how wrong I was. I awakened a nearby tent with all my vomiting such that he came over very concerned about me in the morning.

Day 4 – This was my really bad morning. I was so frustrated that I seemed to be the only person trekking who had these problems. W called the owner of Roy Safaris who was very concerned about me. He spoke with DH and embarrassedly asked whether the problem could be pregnancy or menses. It wasn’t. The owner apologized many times for asking such personal questions but, of course, we appreciated his concern and interest in putting my safety first. He thought it couldn’t be food poisoning because I had so much time where I felt fine, same for AMS. I did not continuously feel bad. W told me that unless I got well enough to go to the next camp for descent, I would need to descend today on a rather steep route. DH started packing up and I started crying and apologizing for ruining the trip. Then the magnesium tablets kicked in and I started feeling better and figured out the problem (gas). I ate a plate of fruit—which the cook kept preparing for me because he knew that was easiest for me to keep down and eat.

Feeling totally well and finally understanding my problem, we headed for Karanga camp. The first part was really steep and W took my pack because gas started building up and I had to take a lot of breaks and go really slowly. He held my arm to make sure I was going steadily throughout most of the hike. We finally saw the camp in the distance and thought we were there---wrong! There was still a ravine to go down then up. It was a tiring day yet the porters were going down and up this ravine to fetch water. DH lent B one of his hiking poles and carried the jug of cooking oil B had been carrying. B was very grateful. I don’t know how DH managed his heavy pack and never had problems.

We camped in very windy conditions so our tea was brought to our tent. I was feeling well by this point because I was eating only small amounts at a time. I was so glad to finally feel better. The tent was again close to an outhouse which, luckily was very small with others nearby. Since the one was small, most people were not using it and it was reasonably clean.

Day 5 – We awakened early and had breakfast, where I got a bloody nose (does it ever end?) but it stopped and we were ready to go. Before we went, however, the owner from Roy’s sent a message to W’s phone saying he wanted to check on me. We spoke and I assured him I was better then he spoke to DH to make sure I was really ok, then he and W spoke and confirmed that any more problems would require a descent. Well, I had no more serious problems until the summit attempt.

We walked to Barafu, the camp before our summit attempt, in only about 2 hours because DH and I both felt good. It was really rocky in the camp. Here, the ranger assign tent locations so while we were near a latrine, it was up a steep, rocky hill that was really hard to climb in the daytime, let alone at dark. Also it had a pool of filth in it when we arrived, which only ever got worse.

DH and I both got headaches at this camp but ibuprofen and a nap took care of them. We had dinner and then went to bed as soon as it got dark since we would be getting up at midnight for a summit attempt. Unfortunately, it was hard to sleep both because of the early time and because other campers continued talking in loud voices around us. Eventually we got to sleep then awakened for tea and cookies before our summit attempt. I fell over the rocks outside but was uninjured. I made my way to the latrine very carefully but it was so hard to see and so rocky that I stopped halfway up and peed behind a rock. Oh well.

We made our attempt to summit and the way was so beautiful to see all the headlamps winding their way up to the summit. Lord of the Rings Fans that we are, DH compared them to Elvish lanterns. We made a very slow start as my stomach was feeling weird (not nauseous, just off) and during one break I just sat on the ground. W gave me a pill (no idea what—oops) and I felt renewed so we continued. I kept asking for many, many breaks, which made me feel sort of defeated but after each break I felt very good for about 15 minutes of trekking.

The air was really getting cold but we were well protected by our gear. Finally, during one break I asked DH for a piece of chocolate. Although it made me feel better, I realized I couldn’t continue. We were about 2 ½ hours from the summit. I felt incredibly dizzy, like I was very, very drunk and so tired that despite the bitter cold my body wanted to curl up in the rocks and sleep. It was time to descend, which itself was a struggle. I leaned on W so much that he practically carried me. It was a really tough decision but one I am glad I made. The most frustrating part was exiting the route the last day and seeing all the other groups—it seemed like everyone made the summit. DH was incredibly supportive throughout all these problems and never once made me feel like I should have tried to summit.

I instantly fell asleep back in the tent and the crew let me sleep until I awakened naturally the next morning.

Day 6- Most people had already left camp to continue their descents when I got up. I was still incredibly sleepy and I could have gone back to sleep. Instead, I had some soup and bread and cake and we started to descend so that I would feel better, which I soon did. We arrived at Mweka camp which was so crowded that there was very little room between tents. Apparently Machame route was almost at capacity the week we went. We walked around camp, listening to people celebrate making the summit, which was a bit disheartening. The latrine here was so bad that we looked for another. The filth was actually running out of it onto the ground (and rather close to someone’s tent).

We ate our last dinner on the mountain and talked with W. He asked what we would have changed and we honestly said, “Nothing.” It was an excellent trip but my body just wasn’t up for it. The meals were great, the equipment provided was great and W was knowledgeable, caring and patient. The crew was incredible, too. We were sad our attempt was over.

Day 7 – We got up early to get on the trail before it got too torn up and muddy. After breakfast the crew sang us “Kilimanjaro” which was stuck in our heads all day. B came over, put his hand on my shoulder and genuinely said, “God bless you” to me. He was such a nice, thoughtful person. The descent was really easy. Along the way we saw blue and Colobus monkeys. I was so thrilled to see them that W and B laughed at me a bit. Getting to the gate was sad because when we signed out we had to put our point reached as 4,900M instead of “Uhuru” like all the other signers. Still, it was an exciting experience and one that we will surely repeat in 5 or 10 years.
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Aug 24th, 2005, 03:08 AM
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Lessons learned:

1. Know the generic or chemical names for common medications rather than relying on brand names. We asked W for Tums; he brought magnesium tablets and we refused them. They are the same thing. (We are fools, we already should have learned this lesson once when DH had to find cold medicine for me in London).
2. Don’t be afraid to descend. Even if I could have made the summit, I might have fallen and injured myself badly as I struggled to descend feeling tired and lightheaded.
3. If your climbing partner decides to head down and you do the same for support, realize that it was a really hard decision for her/him. She/he will feel like she ruined your chance to summit. Offer some reassurance—a little reassurance will go a long way.
4. Purify your water. We did this throughout, which let us eliminate as a cause of my illness any disease borne in the water.
5. Have fun. It’s the climb, not the summit. You are doing something most people never will and getting the best views of Kili in Tanzania. For us, they were our only views of it because the mountain was always cloudy.
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Aug 24th, 2005, 04:08 AM
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Hello Schlegal1,

I'm sorry to hear that your climb went poorly -- thank you for your frankness. You did the wise thing by coming down when you did. You can always try again at some point in the future.

Cheers,
Julian
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Aug 24th, 2005, 05:53 AM
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Thanks for this very accurate description of conditions on the mountain!

I am a strong advocate of a carry-out policy on Kilimanjaro and hope that we will one day have a mountain without ugly, smelly long-drops! It will mean more expensive climbs so a lot of education has to be done so mountain teams and climbers will understand why they have to charge more and pay more!

Altitude sickness don't discriminate. I've felt bad on one trip and perfectly fine on another, so don't give up! Try again in the future but do consider a more gentle route (in terms of altitude gain).

Your early problems (smelly burps, etc)were probably digestive. It's only a guess based on past experiences but there was something in the food (some sulpher maybe) or maybe the meat was questionable.

The dizziness and "drunken" state you experienced later is a dangerous signal. You were clearly suffering from AMS symptoms worsened by the cold of the night and your healthy problems from earlier. It is a good thing you turned back when you did! That was the smartest thing you could've done and don't feel bad about that at all!
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Aug 24th, 2005, 06:05 AM
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Thanks CHSL, I have to agree about carrying out--it keeps things so much cleaner. That's how we camp around here (which is Waynesboro, VA BTW although DH and both grew up in Vienna, VA and are quite familiar with Falls Church).

Thanks for your reassurances about the AMS, too. Looking back it's hard to remember how bad I felt and, thus, I admit to being a bit wistful about not pushing harder. But I was really in no state to do so. Not sure what caused the stomach upset--I am a vegetarian so fish or meat or eggs were not to blame. Sometimes a person's body doesn't follow directions I guess!

Hope you get down to this part of VA sometimes and enjoy our beautiful Shenandoah Valley.
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Aug 24th, 2005, 10:00 AM
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Hi schlegal1!

Welcome home... I've been loving reading BOTH of your trip reports!

First of all, congrats on your admission to the Bar. My hubbie and I are both lawyers in Toronto and we took a 3-month long trip across Canada immediately following our Bar admission - there's such a weight off your shoulders at that time, isn't there? True enjoyment and relaxation!

Second, I've really enjoyed reading about your Kili Climb - congrats on your accomplishment. I was so sorry to read how sick you became while climbing - a fear all of us climbers have!

May I make a suggestion... you mentioned in your post that maybe one day you'll return and complete the summit... I suggest that upon your return, you consider climbing Mount Meru instead! Meru is actually known to be a much more difficult but more spectacular climb, it's a few thousand feet shorter (4500m) and so altitude sickness is less of a problem... My husband and I climbed it while in Tanzania in January and it was unbelievable. It takes 4 days and is truly a spectacular climb! There are very basic wooden mountain huts with bunk beds along the way (which is easier than camping, that's for sure!) and the views of sunrise over Kili on the morning of the summit are truly unforgettable. I haven't quite finished my trip report yet, but due to the encouragement of some of the posters here, I'm now continuing and will likely be writing about our Meru climb by sometime next week... if you'd like, look out for my report within "26 Glorious Days in Tanzania."
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Aug 24th, 2005, 10:15 AM
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I completely agree with AlwaysAfrica about the very attractive Mt Meru!

While I've not had the time to climb it myself, I do know many people who have and they all say the same thing - it is truly magnificent and really underrated!

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Aug 24th, 2005, 10:57 AM
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Schlegal1,

I found your report very interesting as I also tend to get "gassy" at altitude. I was in Peru in July doing the Inca Trail, as well as, the Santa Cruz trek in the Cordillera Blanca, and in both cases, I spent most of my time over 10,000 feet with a couple of passes at 15,000 feet. Fortunately, I did not have the stomach difficulties that you did, but I was indeed rather gassy. So, you're not the only one who gets that way, I assure you.

I am considering a Kili climb next year. Did Roy Safaris actually run the climb, or did they subcontract to another outfitter? If so, would you recommend them?
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Aug 24th, 2005, 11:17 AM
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Indeed, it's certainly normal to be gassy at altitude! On Kilimanjaro it's one of the reasons why some tents have vents

One reason - as the air pressure decreases the intestinal gas expands! There are other reasons too.

Tip of the day - Never hike at the back of a long line

Now let's get back to the scenery discussion
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Aug 24th, 2005, 01:28 PM
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Indeed, my DH indicated that his stomach felt bubbly at times, just not to the degree mine did.

Alwaysafrica thank you for the kind words and the advice on Meru--when we go back, we will have to look into your suggestion.

Lifelist - Roy's ran the Kili climb. I am not sure I would know if they "subcontracted." W, our guide, was specifically picked by Roy's owner to take us on the trek but neither Roy's nor W specifically indicated whether W works exclusively for them. W did seem to hint at it but we never asked outright.

I would recommend them because I had such an excellent experience overall. But as CHSL indicated when I said I was booking with them, Roy's is expert at safari, not Kili so you might want a company that deals exclusively with Kili. Your choice but I heartily recommend Roy's.

And yes, scenery would certainly be a nicer discussion topic. It was beautiful from day 1 and I like the idea of seeing Kili from Meru -- is it very clear?
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