3 days to Kilimanjaro

I only look thin here because I am completely depleted of water from all the peeing

Me on Mt. St. Catherine. I only look thin here because I'm completely water-depleted after peeing continuously for two days

I figure it’s about time I start a log of my Kilimanjaro trip. I have three days before I fly to Tanzania and I’m bloody freaking out, dude!

The idea came…came…I have no idea how I got this idea. The little man in my head tells me to do things and I’m just crazy enough to listen to him.

I’ve actually been dreaming about going up Everest for many years. I think I got that from some of the books I’ve read (books of people dying on the mountain). I figured if I really wanted to go up Everest I should try something more simple first. Kilimanjaro immediately jumped into the picture (actually Little Man gave me the idea).

So I started doing some research more than two years ago. I had started going to the gym already and I was feeling rather good about myself. But the information I found gave me the impression that I wasn’t fit enough just yet. So I continued training until I decided that if I didn’t do this now I’ll never do it. It’s a good time in my life. I’ve been training, I left my fulltime job and started freelancing, which means I have a flexible schedule, and my husband will be around to take care of the kids.

So I made reservations for August. I had more than four months to prepare so that seemed good enough for me.

Preparations meant jogging, swimming, horseback riding, biking, and going up and down the stairs of my ten storey apartment building.

Now, mind you, when I put it that way, it sort of looks like I’m a superwoman with super-physical skills. The thing is, I’m not. I jogged about two to three times a week in the beginning. I jogged around the horse track (about two kilometers) at the Cairo Horse Club. I started by going around once. Eventually I could jog around it twice, then three times. I’d get severe headaches afterwards and it took me awhile to figure out what my body needs to avoid post-exercise fatigue (my body wants water, bananas, and lemon juice…ask Little Man, he’ll tell you).

I went swimming twice a week. That means that I’d swim the width of the pool at Al-Ahly Club, rest a few minutes, then swim the width of the pool back. I’d repeat that for awhile and then get out and read a book. Eventually I was able to swim the length of the main pool once, rest a bit, then swim the length of the main pool back. And I also managed to swim the length of the diving pool several times back and forth with minor few-second-breaks between each lap. That’s big stuff for me. You have no idea.

When I say I went biking, that means I went biking about three times in the whole four months. Once I took the bike out onto the Cairo-Alexandria road and biked up hill and down hill for about 20 km as far as I can remember (it might have been twelve…I’m pretty sure there’s a two in there somewhere). The second time I biked through Zamalek (and got whistled at by a doorman and a young traffic officer). And the third time was in Alexandria along the sea shore. That’s me biking.

I did a lot of horseback riding. That was real. I took lessons three times a week for several months. Do you have any idea what horseback riding does to the thigh muscles?

I also really did go up and down those apartment building stairs. I eventually was doing 10 storeys, 10 times, in less than an hour, and about two to three times a week.

After ALL THAT, I pretty much figured I was the strongest person (not even just woman…PERSON) in the world. Now what I needed was to get some camping experience (yes…I had reservations to go up Kilimanjaro and I had absolutely no experience in camping). Thus one of my previous posts dedicated to peeing in the outdoors. Quite an amazing experience, that.

Now that I had peed in the outdoors I was ready! I cannot fail! If I couldn’t summit Kilimanjaro then no one could!

Oder?

Last weekend a group I hooked up with organized a special honorary hike for me up Egypt’s highest peak, Mt. St. Catherine. Yehia, our organizer, planned it to be a rigorous hike to simulate what one day up Kilimanjaro would be like. I carried 17 kg on my back and we had very short and infrequet breaks on the way up. The group was all young (no one in that group was older than 27). Almost all of them went up as if they were strolling along the Nile on a cool summer’s night. They chatted (I have no idea how they had the breath to do that) and could have done without the breaks if they were allowed to. I panted all the way up. It wasn’t easy. But I managed. My main problem was that I had to pee (a main theme in my life these days) very frequently. I later learned that altitude diuresis is a healthy sign of acclimatization to high altitudes. How the heck it’s healthy to get dehydrated I have no idea. But I did get dehydrated. The result was that the way down was really hard for me. I did not bring anything that would make up for the loss of electolytes that was bound to happen. I had to give my backpack to our guide to carry for the last hour of the trip. I was that out of it.

I do have to add that it was very much worth it. The view from the summit was gorgeous. And while I was at the summit I was perfectly fine and healthy and had a great time. I have the pictures and the videos to prove it.

But on the way down, I had to take very frequent toilet breaks. On facebook, one friend asked me how I chose the rocks behind which I’d do my thing. Here is what I told her (I actually do think this is interesting enough to share with the world):

“Well, it has to be a boulder. You also need to make sure that when you go behind it that you are not exposed, i.e there are larger boulders behind it (unless when you go behind it you are exposed to a vast mountain with absolutely no humans in sight which I did once and must admit that it’s quite liberating). You also want the spot behind the boulder to have a flattened area without rocks that’s surrounded by what I call my stepping stones. The flat area is to avoid splatter which indeed does happen. The stepping stones allow you to be above the flat space. It’s also a major plus to have an additional large rock right behind you that you can rest on once done while you fumble through your toiletry kit for your toilet paper and wipes. It also helps keep your feet out of the puddle.”
That is experience beyond my years. And now you never have to worry about figuring something like that out. I’ve done it for you.
Since that trip up Mt St Catherine I haven’t been feeling very well. My muscles have not ached, thank God. That’s a good sign. But I’ve felt generally ill. I’ve only just now started thinking that this might be due to the anti-malarial pills I’ve started taking. I also might simply be coming down with a bug. Or my body just detests high altitudes and it takes days to recuperate from them.
Either way, I’m off to Tanzania in three days and I am absolutely convinced I am crazy. What the heck is a 40-year-old woman – who has never in her whole life been athletic – thinking when she makes reservations to go up a 6000 meter mountain! You crazy woman! (Actually, I really only blame Little Man, but still).
I’ve spent weeks, neigh months, getting properly equipped for this trip. For the past two years every time I go to the US or Europe I make sure to check off a few things from my list. I have the sleeping bag suited for 0 degree Farenheit weather, I have the walking sticks, the wool socks and hiking boots, mole skin to prevent blisters, a headlamp to pee at night, a first-aid kit I put together myself…and the list goes on and on and on.
I bought extra mobile phone and video camera batteries too. I’m hoping that I can twitter/facebook my ascent over the phone. I expect all you’ll get from me is: “Feeling very sick today”. But who knows who might be interested in that kind of stuff? And I’ll try to video-log the trip. I feel very weird about talking to myself in a camera, but I’m willing to try.
My goal four months ago was to reach the summit. My goal now is just to go and enjoy myself. If I get too sick to summit then to heck with the ridiculous sum of money I paid for this trip!
Bas khalas. I’ll keep you all updated when I next feel like it.

6 comments

  1. Good luck Nadia, but if the going gets tough, get back, we won’t hold it against you.
    PS I am kind of encouraged by your story. And, as I have been doing some walking in the evening these days and feeling super fit, I am tempted to try a hike myself. Do let me know about your next not-so-taxing hike, I might join. That is provided of course you have one of those Little Men to spare

    1. I have many little men to spare. I only talk about the one so people don’t think I’m crazy. There are actually several in there and it’s sort of getting crowded! I will most definitely tell you when I go on my next hike. That is, of course, if I still even consider hiking after I come back from Kili!

  2. You know..I kept imagining the little man all the way to the end of your post..how he looks like🙂..a wise man with tiny glasses and deep sight..a little white hair showing out of his hat🙂

    Don’t forget to close your eyes when you stand on the top of the mountain and open your arms just like Titanic  ..but alone ..and feel like you fly ..it is amazing when you feel the cold winds pass through you..

  3. Nadia,

    I can’t wait for the next post. I’m so excited for you. But, I think you should stop messing with people’s heads – you always were thin. J

    Oh, and I heard the malaria drugs make you feel bad.

    You go, Girl!

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