I’m not exactly sure when climbing Kilimanjaro became a dream of mine but the earliest I recall it being a realistic dream was a year ago. I don’t really know why it became a dream of mine but I think being at the highest point of mother Africa sounded amazing. I heard that you climb at midnight and reach the top to watch sunrise..and that you could see the border of Tanzania and Kenya …it all seemed so magical and easy almost.. . Even though me and my friend spoke about it over coffee at Tim Hortons in December of last year..it never really materialized and this dream went on hold..
Somehow a year later ..fate brought me to Tanzania..and after deciding to come to Tanzania, I figured I would try and find a good local company I could go with and find better prices from within the country. Yet, even when I got here there were many failed attempts. I had first planned to go in October with two volunteers I had met who were going to Arusha yet after doing much research on 3 different companies they decided to back out. The companies that I had been doing my research on were not that internationally known as they specialized in private climbs so I had to start all over looking for a company that had their own groups that I could join up with. It was already the end of October and I started looking again. There are many different companies that organize Kilimanjaro climbs but some companies did not have the right dates or were overly priced or some were well-priced but looked dodgy and there was not much I could really tell just from looking at a company’s site. I was also short on dates as the 26th of November till the 6th of December were holy days that I didn’t want to climb during and I was set to leave Tanzania 3 weeks into December. Time was slowly running out and so were my options. Luckily on the about the 1st of December my friend found me a good group with a good company and they were set to leave on the 9th of December which was pretty good timing for me. It was a little bit last minute but I was ready for last minute because I was still hoping I would find a good group and didn’t know if I was going to get this kind of opportunity again. However there was one obstacle now. I was starting to get sick. I had a sore throat and was getting quite light headed. It seemed to be a virus that was going around. A cold is generally not a big deal but I remember reading that colds and coughs only get worse on a trip like Kili and then you’re going up to high altitudes and you don’t want to mess with sinuses and pressure and altitude. From about the 2nd of December till the 6th I tried every single remedy I knew off to get rid of my sore throat and luckily with about 3 days of rest I was almost back to normal. Even though in my head I was going on the 9th I was only going to confirm my trip when my cold was going to go away and so it was only on the 7th of December that my trip was really confirmed. I had however been accumulating the equipment I needed in the mean time so that I would be ready to go on time and not do too many things last minute.
A doctor’s appointment was something I needed to do before I left because I needed diamox to be prescribed to me. I had read up on diamox which was a type of medication people took for altitude sickness and needed a doctor to prescribe that to me as a precaution and my friend had told me to get a malaria test and a full blood picture (I’m not exactly sure why for the malaria but the blood screening had something to do with making sure I had enough oxygen in my blood) and so went to the doctor with a friend I had made in Dar. Luckily her sister had gone to Kili in the past and so she had a lot of the random equipment I needed like waterproof pants, a warm sleeping bag, fleece sweaters, thick socks ( all the things I had back home but wouldn’t think of bringing to a country like Tanzania) and was able to borrow a lot from her.
There was also equipment that she didn’t have but another guy was renting and I had to figure out exactly what I didn’t have and see if he had it – it was basically a lot of running around at the end of the day…
Then there was random stuff I had to go buy like snacks that I would need on my climb (you get provided with meals but you need to provide your own snacks which sustain you during your climbs such as chocolate, biscuits, chips). It was hard to decide exactly how many snacks to get because there was a weight limit on your big pack which was 15 kgs and you didn’t want to carry too much on your day pack because that weighs you down. You also apparently get sick of milky stuff up there and lose appetite with altitude so exactly how much of what you needed was tricky to decide.
I also needed random medicine and supplies in case I got sick up there or treatment for blisters and so Tara ( a volunteer who had come to Kibaha recently from Toronto who I totally could not have done without ) and I went through town looking for all of these random supplies everywhere.
We also needed to make it to the Wipahs office in order to print a Kilimanjaro form that basically confirmed my going there. We met mama Keki and a few other people there. Mama Keki is one of the founders of Wipahs and is nothing less than amazing. She’s a woman I look up to whole-heartedly. She’s in her 60s and has an amazingly positive attitude and huge determination.As I told her I was going to climb Kili she stated that she had wished she had known because she would have done it with me. At first I was a little taken a back but there was a little sense of relief that she wasn’t because there was probably a good chance that she would make it to the top and I wouldn’t. I know that when I would sit for a break she would be up and going strong and would definitely put me to shame. Yet at the same time it was funny because I was looking for someone to do this with and knowing mama Keki I should have known she would have been up to it. As another lady came in she told me to take it easy on the climb and that it was ok if I didn’t make it to the top and Mama Keki replied confidently by saying, “ No, why wont she make it to the top? She’ll make it ..just go slow .” I just smiled and hoped that I wouldn’t let her down.
After printing out the form me and Tara were back on the road. As we went from pharmacies to random shops on the streets looking for these things people asked me if I was ready for Kilimanjaro and told me about how others had done such rigorous training for this and some didn’t even go because the training was too much for them. They asked me if I had trained and I just said that I had but in reality I hadn’t done much training. I figured my walking in Kibaha was enough and I had heard that Kili was more of a psychological mountain than a physical mountain. It was weird in the sense that the really fit people didn’t really make it to the top and the unfit people did. I’m sure its not fitness that really made people fail at this but their perception of the mountain. Apparently the highest failure rate at Kili was amongst males from the age of 20-25 which sounds a little confusing but I think the whole point behind it is that the young fit people always seem to be in a hurry and all competitive about the mountain and rush ahead only to get tired over the course of the trip. Also rushing the mountain is not a good idea in terms of altitude sickness as you don’t give your body enough time to adjust to the altitude because you’re going high really fast. The main saying for Kili is “pole pole “ and that seems to be the key to the summit ( go slow ). I was lucky in that I got to hear a lot of first hand experiences with the mountain. My friend’s dad told me how when he had gone there was one man who kept taking breaks throughout the trip while he rushed ahead and they would get annoyed with this man but on summit day her dad could not summit because he was vomiting from altitude sickness and that man made it to the top. He advised me not to talk too much with the others in the group during the day and that I could socialize in the evening and that on the summit day to also conserve my energy. Because I had also heard of failures to reach the summit I was a lot more determined to listen to all of this advice. I had also met one girl who had made it to the top in October and she told me how it was all about the mind and when I asked her if you needed to be fit – she pointed to herself and asked : Do I look like I’m fit? I will admit though as the days approached I worried if I had been too relaxed about the training bit and if I was going to just waste this attempt because I had really done no training. I do however consider myself a somewhat fit person so I thought it would be ok …only time would tell at this point.
Tara and I got back from doing all of our random pick ups at about 7pm and started to pick and choose what I was going to take on the trip with me. I was really lucky to have her because she had a lot of knowledge about camping and hiking and also seemed to be well read on Kili and what exactly I needed. I don’t know where our time went but we probably ended around 11pm that night. As she helped me pack my stuff I really thought about how blessed I’ve been with my friends. (I had been kind of paranoid that day because I was highly nervous that I was forgetting something essential and it wasn’t like I could just pick it up in Moshi – I would be on a mountain without something essential.) But as she helped me, It highlighted how lucky I had been with my friends. I could imagine being back in Toronto and having my friends do exactly the same thing with me and there was no real obligation to sit and make sure I had everything I needed but I was lucky enough to have her there double checking with me and it did make the world of difference. She was a lot more methodological than I was and she gave me little tips as we went along. I was freaking out a little about the diamox too because I was feeling a lot of tingling in my fingers but then she read up on it and reassured me that it was a normal symptom. With such a trip ahead where I would have no real cellular connection nor any means to a proper doctor or such, it was good to have a friend to reassure me.
We finally decided to call it a night at 12 am and headed to bed…