Kilimanjaro: At Mandara Huts (end of day 1)

Directly from my diary. Logged August 13 at 4:40pm

When I reached Mandara Huts (after dark on August 11), I was very pleased and excited to have reached my first goal. I suppose along the way I wasn’t certain I would.

I forgot to mention that Amy and Renate had gone on ahead of me at a much faster pace. And Peter had sent a porter ahead of all of us early on to a reserve a small hut for Amy, Renate, and me so we’d have privacy rather than stay in one of the 24-person huts.

So I arrived, registered my name, and went to our hut.

I arrived and registered at Mandara a bit after dark

I arrived and registered at Mandara a bit after dark



The huts are triangular in shape, I suppose for the rain to slide off. Ours had four cots. Most small huts do. There is one cot on each side and on the third side two cots lie one above the other. Amy took the high cot, Renate the one below that and I had one of the side cots. Each cot is a little wooden rectangle with planks underneath, raising it above the floor of the hut a bit, and a mattress and pillow on top. You just throw your sleeping bag on top and you’re ready!

On the fourth cot we all threw our day packs and duffle bags. That cot was our really messy cot. Above each cot is a small wooden shelf. Here’s what I have on that shelf as of this moment:

My toiletry kit (so it’s readily available for my many pee runs), my head lamp (so I can see at night during my pee runs), toothpaste and toothbrush, 1st aid kit (so I can find my Diamox easily), anti-fungal powder (after wearing heavy woolen socks non-stop for three days I have athlete’s foot; I wear socks even at night while sleeping to keep warm), and some tissues (my nose normally runs when it’s cold).

On my cot with me – in addition to my super-warm sleeping bag – I have my down jacket and wind jacket (to put on and off easily during the night when I need to pee), water (to keep it warm next to my body), fleece jacket (for warmer times of the day), a book to read, my camera (to keep warm), and my passport/money pouch.

At Mandara Camp, I immediately started changing into dry camp clothes and was rather rushed about it. That was a bad move. I should have given my body time to cool down first. My headache that had started in the latter half of the hike up began getting worse. Since we arrived past dark, dinner was immediately ready, so we hurried out to the dining hall. Our cooks had laid out the food on one of the tables and poured me my soup. I just took one sip and that was it. I had a pounding headache and was very nauseous. I couldn’t even think about food. So Renate took me to our hut and I was instructed by everyone to sleep. I took two Panadols and lay down. They told me they’d bring me some food in case I felt up to eating later that night. I was so worried about praying Maghrib and Isha (I prayed Zuhr and Asr at the mountain gate before the hike) that I half-heartedly did tayamum on the cabin floor and prayed lying down saying the words but making no movement at all. Moving anything hurt. Then I slept for four hours and woke up at nidnight feeling mildly better. I had to pee (of course) so I layered up and looked for a nice dark spot near the hut. There was no way I was going to walk all the way to the toilets.

Throughout the night I tried different peeing spots and eventually decided my favorite spot was just to the side of the hut where the night shade made it particularly dark. Of course anyone could have come out of their hut with their headlamp on and spotted me, but I really could care less. It gets to that, you know.

During one of my pee breaks that night – while I was peeing further away from the hut near the forest – I suddenly heard a thump followed by a yell in the direction of our hut. It was Renate. She had missed a step (the steps to our hut were narrow, wooden planks with holes in between) and fell all the way down to the concrete slab below. I zipped up and semi-hurried over. She was fine. She was too tired to check her injuries but she woke up in the morning to a stiff back and neck and a small wound on her knee.

After my first pee I did my best to drink water (hydrating oneself is important at high altitude) and eat. I could only manage to eat pieces of breat and potato and a bite of fish. Each time I woke up, I tried to eat another bite. It was hard work but I knew that’s what I needed to do.

By morning I was feeling only a bit better but as I started getting up and

I (left) can barely support myself as we take a picture at Mandara before we start the 2nd day of the hike

I (left) can barely support myself as we take a picture at Mandara before we start the 2nd day of the hike

 slowly moving around in the fresh air I felt relatively better. I ate a small bowl of oatmeal, which was an achievement. We packed, met out on the green and did some stretches.

Kilimanjaro: Up to Mandara Huts, Day 1

Directly from my diary. Logged August 13 at 7:30 am

Today is the first day I’ve felt well enough, awake enough, and had enough time to write. I’ll probably need to write in installments to get everything in.

I was unable to get an Internet connection on the mountain which is a shame. Supposedly it’s possible, but no one at the cell phone companies I spoke with had any idea what I needed to do to get online.

As I feared, my group has two super-bionic power women. Renate, 43, is originally German but has been living in the U.S. since she was a child. She does TRIATHLONS. She crossed the U.S. from East to West on BIKE in three weeks when she was 20. Her next goal is Everest. Amy, 33, is an anaesthesiologist who runs MARATHONS.

Needless to say I was seriously scared when I learned all this. But both are very nice and I’ve enjoyed their company. When I haven’t been up to their pace they just move ahead and I keep my pole pole pace (slowly, slowly in Swahili).

Part of my problem has been overcoming my own psychology. I spent the better part of the trip until now constantly worrying about not being up to the hike up, especially because I was so ill the week before the trip. This was probably because of the mefloquine, the anti-malarial pills given to me by the Egyptian Ministry of Health. I’ve stopped taking these pills and will re-start on my way down. I’ve worried about my body’s ability to acclimatize. Ive worried about my overall fitness. I’ve worried and worried and worried and that wasn’t good at all. I am certain that part of what made me ill for the first day-and-a-half of the hike was all the worrying.

But what really got me sick – and I’ve finally realized this – was that on the way up Id stop frequently to drink water, orange juice, and snack (worrying about dehydration) and each stop was short. I quite easily started getting sick after a few stops but hadn’t realized the reason. What I’ve learned is that my body can’t be active and then have my stomach requested to process food and drink at the same time. It just refuses and makes a huge fuss. So now, starting from the last half of the second day of the hike, I stop less frequently and have longer breaks. When I stop, I first allow my body to cool down. THEN I drink gradually in small sips and eat gradually in small munches. When done, I continue to rest to let my stomach do its job. Fifteen to twenty minutes seems to be good for me and I have to make sure not to take in too much; just enough to sustain me. Since starting my new system I’ve had more energy and all the nausea and headaches have gone.

We started our hike on Tuesday, August 11.

We left our hotel in Arusha, which was very nice by the way, at 9am and

Peter shows Renate where to register before the hike

Peter shows Renate where to register before the hike

 drove to the Marangu Gate. We arrived early afternoon because we stopped along the way several times for toilet stops (I’ll get to that later) and to find a SIM card for my phone. When we arrived, our jeep was unloaded and the porters started putting their stuff together. We registered our names at the gate and hand lunch.

Peter, our guide, told us he was ready to have us meet the porters. So we went up the driveway towards the hike entrance to be met by EIGHTEEN porters and cooks. Eighteen for just the three of us! That makes 21 and with Peter, our guide, and Alphonce, our assistant guide, the whole group is composed of twenty three people. UNBELIEVABLE!

The 18 met us with song and dance. It was amazing. And it actually helped

The porters and cooks met us with song and dance

The porters and cooks met us with song and dance

 get my mind off all my worrying for awhile. The songs were mainly about the mountain and the different stops we’d make along the way, with hakuna matata chanted after each stop to tell us that there are no worries at all – we’ll make it! There were welcome songs with each of our names sung and on and on. It was really fun.

At the end, Peter gave each of us a wreath that he told us we’d wear and take pictures with on the summit and then frame with our summit picture.

And then we were off! (After a final toilet break for me, of course).

Getting to that, any sort of altitude makes me pee A LOT. I was peeing very frequently in Arusha and that’s only at 1400 meters above sea level. Wherever we went I was asking for frequent pee stops. It was ridiculous. At one point on the second day of our stay in Tanzania during a one-day visit of the city of Arusha, Peter actually had to call his daughter’s school to tell them we’d stop by to use their bathrooms. It actually got to that!

THEN I was encouraged by the REI people, the tour company I was going with, to take Diamox, which is a diuretic that is used as prophylaxis against altitude sickness. How could I take Diamox when I already had my own natural system of diuresis?

So I began worrying about dehydration. Note that I don’t worry about having to pee in the outdoors and that I actually find the whole thing quite interesting.

But since these were the mountain hiking experts, I decided to listen to their advice. And of course the result was that I was peeing even more frequently. Every half hour AT LEAST I had to stop.

So we started our hike through the tropical forest. It was absolutely gorgeous. The hike up is rather steep. The trail is wet because of frequent rains and dew from the trees. But it’s a good, clear trail and the views helped keep my mind off the effort I was exerting.

But around half way to Mandara Huts, I started getting sick. It started with a mild headache. I was also rather slow. But eventually I made it to Mandara Huts, at 2700 meters above sea level, a bit after dark.

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!


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.