The Unclimbing

I may not have summited the mountain, but I did discover the amazing wonders of the pee bottle.

I would not have thought it possible for women. I’ve long heard about men peeing in


The view from our tent at basecamp (4,300 meters).

bottles while on the road and I was always envious. With years of camping, hiking, and cycling under my belt, I had become accustomed to the quick squat behind a bush and getting my business done. When I set up my tent on a campground, I always made certain it wasn’t too far away from the toilets. I’m the type that gets up at least twice during the night to pee; more during the winter when I’m cold. It’s a bother getting up, getting dressed, unzipping the tent, going to the toilet, coming back, unzipping then rezipping the tent, undressing, then getting into my sleeping bag. But what was I to do? If you have to pee you have to pee.

But on Aconcagua, Latin America’s highest mountain, I learned that it is very possible for a woman to pee in the comfort of her own tent into a wide-mouthed Nalgene water bottle with perfect aim. Of course, this means peeing in the same tiny confined space that your tent mate is sleeping in; that same tent mate that you only met for the first time three days ago. But does that matter? No! Not one single bit. Not when you don’t have to go outside into the freezing cold to pee in a dark, smelly toilet. Not when you can get your business done in seconds and quickly snuggle back into your warm sleeping bag. Besides, who wants to watch someone else pee? No one. So all you really need to worry about is others hearing the sound of a water bottle filling up with liquid. Actually, your real concern is peeing in your actual water bottle instead of your designated pee bottle. That is why the pee bottle gets taped up with duct tape that you can clearly feel in the dark to distinguish it from your other bottles.

The pee bottle is one of my most important takeaways from an extravagantly expensive trip up part of a mountain.

Aconcagua beat the crap out of me. (more…)

A New Adventure and New Fear: To Mont Blanc I Go

June 27: Why, oh why, oh why?

It’s that time of the year again. I’m preparing for another adventure; this time to Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe.

“Why?” you ask. Since you are asking me only a few days before I set off, I really have no satisfying answer for you. I’ve been asking myself that same question. Why, Nadia? Why, oh why, oh why?

Mont Blanc is a mountain that involves ropes and ice axes, crevasses that people fall into and falling rocks that cause people to slip and fall.

Why, Nadia? Why, oh why, oh why?


Kilimanjaro: Day 6 – To the base of the mountain

Directly from my diary:

We woke up at 6am. Breakfast was at 6:30 and we were to leave at 7:30 am. We actually left around 7:45 am.

This was our last day on the mountain and we had several hours of downhill

Porters heading down Kilimanjaro

Porters heading down Kilimanjaro

 hiking to reach the bottom.

I was suddenly and for the first time the strongest of the group. Both Renate and Amy had feet problems, mostly because their hard boots had injured their feet. Amy gave her bag to Alphonce. Peter wanted to take mine but I refused, offering to take his instead. I was in high spirits and feeling strong.

I spent my time down the mountain texting friends, taking pictures of the fauna and flora I was too tired to take pictures of on the way up, and meeting new people.

We passed the German group and they passed us several times.

I had met the Irish group earlier that morning at breakfast and asked them how they all did. They all enthusiastically confirmed a successful summit. Later after returning to the base of the mountain I checked the registration log and found that they all had indeed reached Uhuru Peak.

The first time we passed the Germans I warm-heartedly asked them how they did and got a mixed “mmmm” reaction with some making the so-so sign with their hands. I agreed the hike was miserable but congratulated them, not sure how many actually succeeded.

Much later I walked with two of them near the end of the path and was told that out of a total of fifteen, eleven had reached Gilman’s Point and only five reached Uhuru. The ten all had altitude problems. It turned out that their group doctor, a specialist in altitude, had told them not to take Diamox unless they felt sick, and were told to stop when they felt better.

The group were colleagues in an IT company that does development projects in Tanzania. Part of their pre-trip regime was hiking 2800 meter mountains. Another was spending time in a special center where one can exercise in a room that simulates high altitude by taking away the oxygen from the room. Amy and I theorized about the reasons behind their high failure rate. Not taking Diamox could have been a problem. Another might have been group morale. I wonder if the group pushed too hard in the beginning of the summit hike so that some people just couldn’t keep up. That might have resulted in the first few dropping out, which might have started lowering group morale, resulting in a large number turning back after Gilman’s Point.

In our group, the slowest (me) was in front and the strongest (Renate) behind. This meant that we were moving at my pace. And each time Amy and my morale started to go down Renate would call from behind: “You’re doing it girls! You’ve almost made it! You’re doing a great job!” And Amy and I would push on.

At the summit Renate came to me to shake my hand and congratulated me for making it. I shook my head to her hand shake and hugged her instead, crying a bit on her shoulder. She kept telling me what a great job I had done and that nw I knew I could do anything. I replied in a very whiny voice, “But it was so hard!”, to which she replied, “Yup. But you still did it! You can do anything you put your mind to!” I owe that woman something serious.

Back to the way down:

I also spoke with a couple of Canadians who would be going to Egypt after Tanzania and gave them advice on tons of stuff to do while there. The man apparently found summiting very difficult, he told me. He said he was the guy sitting down every five minutes. He summited at 7:45 am, 15 minutes after us. He was probably at the summit as we left. I have absolutely no idea who was up there with us. I only remember a couple of Japanese guys taking each others’ pictures. The others are a blur. There were many other people there at the same time. Probably 15 to 20. Who they were, what they looked like is not a question I can answer.

On the way down, we took pictures of a chameleon, the Colobus monkeys, trees, flowers, and a grasshopper. I really was enjoying my new-found health. Heck, I was descending without the trekking poles even! AND I only peed once the whole trek down when we stopped at Mandara.

At around 3pm we reached the base of the mountain. I felt so happy and proud. Amy and I registered in the book and I started flipping through this year’s log to see if any Egyptian women had been up. none. Only one Egyptian named John Mado had gone up the same route earlier that year.

Peter promised he’d check the computer databases to find out if any Egyptian women ever summited. We were later to hear that at least four Egyptian women had indeed summited to Uhuru Peak in the past two years.

The log showed at 3:15pm that 63 people had descended from Marangu route the same day (August 16). Among them, 41 had successfully reached Uhuru Peak, with Amy, Renate, and I among them.

Renate signed the log book and we went to have lunch. Renate and Amy both

Alphonce sweeps me off my feet as we celebrate a successful summit

Alphonce sweeps me off my feet as we celebrate a successful summit

 had gear they could give away to the porters and cooks. it was spread out on a sheet. And then the celebrations began. There was singing and dancing and passing out of certificates. The guys got their tips divided out by Peter. Peter also chose who would choose different clothing items. He himself got Amy’s hiking boots (his were worn with holes in them) and the chief cook, assistant cook, dishwasher and others were also chosen, each coming and shaking our hands at the end. And it was off to the hotel where we had hot water issues but eventually we all showered and were as good as new if not for the aches and pains and crust under the nose from the frozen snot of summit night.

Kilimanjaro: Day 5 – Down to Horombo

Directly from my diary:

I had an uncomfortable nap. I woke up at 1pm, having slept only for 45 minutes, and sat in my warm sleeping bag writing my diary. I eventually got up, washed, prayed (sitting as always), and dressed for lunch.

Lunch, as usual, was perfect. We had to hurry because a group that had just arrived needed our room so we quickly packed and left.

Both Peter and Alphonce offered to carry my day pack but I told them I was feeling stronger and would carry it till I felt tired. I did feel tired about an hour later and Alphonce took it from me.

Although long, the walk was easy compared to what we had just done and we were all cheerful. We discussed some of the things  we’d heard about other groups.

An Israeli father and son team were shuttled down from Kibo the night before, we had heard. The father had gone blind, probably an effect of altitude sickness.

A mother and daughter team from Wisconsin we had met ended with the daughter only summiting. Apparently the mother, who looked like she was in her late 50s, saw the trail of lights going up the mountain, clearly showing how steep the mountain was and decided not to go.

We wondered about all the others. We laughed about Alphonce pulling Amy down the mountain and at ourselves for being such spoiled brats asking Alphonce and Peter to do almost everything for us. We were in a good mood.

Amy also gave her day pack to Peter and it eventually ended up being carried by one of the men who served us at meals.

Renate was as always our power woman.

We reached Horombo just before sunset (around 6:30pm). It was beautiful and felt like home. We registered and were given the same hut we stayed in on our way up. We were overjoyed. We washed, changed, toileted and had dinner.

As he had done throughout the hike, Peter put his little contraption on each

Peter's gadget

Peter's gadget

 of our index fingers to check pulse and oxygen saturation. This was always a fun time of the day – done always after breakfast and dinner. The numbers on the contraption never stood still. They would continuously go up and down and Peter would always wait to see a number he liked before writing it down on his sheet. Amy’s fingers took a long time to register anything. Both Amy and Renate especially had good heart rates (they are both athletes). I usually had a high heart rate but very good oxygen saturation. This night my heart rate was particularly high at about 110 beats per minute, which was understandable because I was so sick all day and we exerted a lot of effort. But Peter wouldn’t have it. He refused to register any of my numbers and said we’d try again after the others. When we tried again the numbers were still the same so Peter reluctantly wrote them down. We had fun teasing him.

That night we were supposed to give Peter the tips for the staff. We were confused by the guidelines we were given so Renate spoke with Peter and figured it all out. We’d each pay $345 and Peter would divide the total among everyone. We decided we’d give him the money in the morning. We went to the bathroom then to our hut, slid into our sleeping bags and had the first restful sleep any of us had since we started. None of us got up once for the bathroom! We were all finally acclimatized, comfortable, tired and happy. We woke up early next morning.

Kilimanjaro: To the summit we go!

Directly from my diary as logged on August 15 at 1:10pm

Just back from the summit. I made it!

I’m sure a few days from now I’ll feel good about my accomplishment, but right now I’m just feeling sick, tired and miserable. In 15 minutes we HAVE to get up for lunch after a one-hour nap (I only slept for 30 minutes), pack, then walk I don’t know how many kilometers back to Horombo for the night. I don’t know if I even can. My muscles are completely spent and my head feels like heat is coming out of it. I’m checking my temperature as I write.

The summit hike started last night at 11pm. Peter woke us up (we slept from

Hiking to the summit at midnight

Hiking to the summit at midnight

 6 – 10pm) and we put on all our layers and gear.

I had on thermal underwear top and bottom, fleece top and bottom, winter pants bottom, and on top two more fleece, a down jacket and a wind jacket. On my head I had a semi-ski head cover thing, and a baklava on top of my hair cover and triangular scarf. I had two socks on, two gloves, gaiters, and boots. Inside both socks and gloves were these cool hand and toe warmers Amy gave us. I THOUGHT I’d be warm with all that on. I was wrong. VERY wrong.

We had a small breakfast and left immediately. Peter led with Alphonce holding the rear. We stood outside and Peter led a small prayer as we held hands asking God to help us on our journey.

And we started.

The first few minutes were fine. Then POOF! We were basically climbing a 90 degree incline. It was horrible. Amy and I were terribly cold and we had trouble on the way up. It was hugely tiring. Amy’s fingers froze early on – she has Raynaud’s disease – so much so that she was crying in pain. Renate gave Amy her really warm mittens and she spent the rest of the hike without gloves at all! She is one of the strongest women I’ve ever seen. Because Amy had clenched her hands around some hand warmers inside Renate’s mittens to get some kind of warmth to her hands, she wasn’t able to hold her trekking poles, which made the hike up for her extremely difficult. I have no idea how she did it.

The way up starts as a dusty, sandy, pebbly trail that is sharply inclined. So we switch-backed for awhile. Since the incline was sharp it was hard but it was doable. About a fourth of the way up the scrambling starts. That was awful and miserable. Along the way, we met a German woman returning (we were the first group to start that night but because we were going pole, pole a couple of groups passed us). The German woman wasn’t feeling well. Both Alphonce and Peter told her we were close (they were lying) and she should continue trying. I told her to join our group of women because we go slowly. She said she really couldn’t and continued down the mountain with one of her group’s guides.

We also saw another fellow sitting on the side along the way, clearly not feeling well. It looked like he needed a rest before he could continue. And of course we saw vomit, which made me nauseous most of the way up (that and dehydration and altitude).

We made only one real stop in some sort of a cave and drank and had snacks and I peed. We could see below us the headlamps of other climbers slowly making their way up in a trail of lights from our route and another route.

And we started again.

Our goal was to reach Gilman’s Point at 5685 meters. Peter had told us that getting to Gilman’s was the hard part and the rest was a semi-straight walk along the crater to the summit (he wasn’t lying here).

The climb was so miserable that Amy and I both told Peter and Alphonce not to stop for any breaks and to just go on. We were both afraid that if we stopped we wouldn’t be able to continue.

I asked the question, “Are we almost there?” a gazillion times, just like a child. Each time, Alphonce, who was now in the lead, would give me a number of minutes that sounded doable so I’d persevere. Then after that number of minutes I’d ask again and he’d give me the same number or more and I’d realize he was lying to keep us going.

Once, when I told him, “You’re not telling the truth!”, he said, “Twenty minutes on the mountain is 40 minutes in real time.” Ya salam! But I continued, hoping all the time we were almost there.

The cold was horrible and bone-chilling. I had snot running down my nose with no way to wipe it away because my double-layer of gloves made my hands useless. So I’d do as Arab men do and blow the snot out onto the ground and wipe the remnants off on my arm. My nose felt like it would fall off. There were times when all I wanted out of life at that stage was to be able to wipe my nose.

We continued our scramble for what seemed like forever and then suddenly, at 5:30 am, Alphonce said we were there. Of course I had stopped believing anything he told me by then. But I looked around, saw Alphonce doing a happy dance, and sure enough a sign said “Gilman’s Point: 5685 meters”. I couldn’t believe it! I cried like a baby. I sat down and purified myself quickly tayamum with gloves and jacket on and all and prayed fajr as I could see the line of coloration between black and white in the sky. I prayed sitting down where I was and didn’t even try looking for the correct direction of prayer toward Mecca. While I was praying, Alphonce and Peter both rushed us to get up and continue. They wanted us to stay on the mountain for as little time as possible to avoid altitude sickness. I was praying but they didn’t notice and they continued to urge me on. Amy yelled at them, “She’s praying. Just leave her alone!” I finished and got up, hoping we could now make it to the summit.

The hike to the summit from Gilman’s Point wasn’t too horrible. It goes up and down in small hills along a crater. The ground has frozen crystals all over and Renate realized our own clothes did too. I looked at my clothes and sure enough everything was crystallized. I was literally freezing! I was starting to feel really miserable. I hadn’t eaten or drank hardly anything since our cave stop and felt I couldn’t. We hadn’t slept well, we were at very high altitude, and I was exhausted from the climb. I was starting to feel sick but the hope that we were almost there kept me going.

On the way to Uhuru Peak, we started seeing people who made it there coming down. One had a lot of energy and said, “You’re almost there. You’re almost there! 15 minutes!” It wasn’t 15 minutes. Awhile later (you lose sense of time up there) we met two other guys who said it was about 45 minutes to summit. That was closer to the truth.

Eventually, after about forever, and amidst a thick cloud covering, we saw people stopped on the peak, gathered taking pictures.

I reached the peak, threw myself down to the ground actually completely lying down, and cried. I couldn’t believe I made it. They weren’t tears of joy, mind you! They were tears of: That was so hard and now I just want to go home!

I forgot to mention on the way up, Amy said: “This could be one of the worst days of my life.” I said, “I have no idea what made me think of doing this for a holiday. I must be sick.”

Also on the way up, we stopped Alphonce several times: “Alphonce, please put my gloves under my jacket sleeve for me.” “Alphonce, please buckle my day pack.” “Alphonce, please get me my water.” “Alphonce, please put my water back in my day pack.” Alphonce, Alphonce, Alphonce, na na na na na na na.

Back to peak: immediately after I lay down Alphonce came and picked me up, forbidding me from sleeping on the mountain explaining that I would get sick that way. So I just sat there for a few minutes catching my breath and crying.

I then bent my head to the ground in sojood, thanking God that I made it to the summit. And I started looking for my flag and my wreath. “Alphonce, can you get those out of the bag for me?”

I then slowly got up and headed towards the signpost on the peak for my

At 5895 meters on Uhuru Peak

At 5895 meters on Uhuru Peak

 peak picture. “Peter, can you please take my picture with my camera?” He tried but it had frozen and wasn’t working. “Renate, can you please take my picture with your camera? Mine isn’t working.” To which she responded by giving her small camera to Alphonce. I dutifully waited my turn in line while other hikers took their pictures next to the signpost. I then stood next to it, tried to hold out my flag, but the wind was blowing it away so I wrapped it around me. I have no idea if I even attempted a smile or cleaned the tears from my frozen face and I then had my picture taken. I never looked at the signpost to see what it said. I could really care less. I was miserable. I can’t say that enough times. But I did assume it said Uhuru Peak and its altitude (5895 meters).

I then went back and sat down for awhile, ate a couple of dates and drank some water that I asked Alphonce to get me, until Amy asked Renate and I to get up and take a group picture. We did; one with Peter and the other with Alphonce.

I saw one man getting his picture taken with the glacier as the background. It really was amazingly beautiful and it’s such a shame I was feeling so awful that I couldn’t fully appreciate it. But I did have enough presence of mind to ask Renate to take a picture of me with her good camera, which she had taken out. I then asked Peter where the “Internet cafe” was. This was our code word for bathroom. He pointed to a spot just beyond the peak so I asked Amy to come and guard the way while I marked my spot on the roof of Africa. It was pretty flat there so if not for the clouds everyone could have seen me. I was probably partially seen with the clouds but I really didn’t care. Putting on my three layers of pants was LABORIOUS. It really felt like hard work up there.

Renate asked for my mobile to make a call to her niece so I just gave it to her to figure out how to use. I wanted to get off the mountain as fast as possible.

There was no network so she gave it back. As Amy and I moved just a few meters from the peak I received a couple of text messages and thus discovered there was network coverage at that spot. I quickly write a simple text message and sent it to perhaps five friends who were rooting for me and I called my father. “You are the only person in my life who really deserves this special call,” I told him. “And now I have to shut the line because the altitude is making me sick and I really need to get down,” I added. He seemed genuinely happy to receive that call even though he was never enthusiastic about this trip. I love my dad, if you can’t tell.

And Amy and I headed slowly down with Alphonce protectively behind us. I gave my mobile to Renate and left it with her. No one answered but she said she did manage to send a short text message.

The hike down was arduous. I was feeling sicker and sicker. A few meters from the peak an Asian-looking man was semi-sitting on the ground looking very sick but clearly willing to crawl to the peak if he had to. I told him not to worry. He really was almost there. I as very sick too but I made it, I told him. He nodded and we continued on.

I wanted to rest at intervals because I was becoming very nauseous, but Alphonce pushed and pushed, urging me to move on because we HAD to get off the mountain. “You are just tired,” he’d say. “You don’t have mountain sickness.” He had checked my eyes before for something and did seem to know what he was talking about. “But if you don’t go down quickly you will get it,” he said. I couldn’t.

Eventually somewhere between Uhuru and Gilman’s Point I threw up what little I had in my stomach. Alphonce stood by, rubbing my back. I waited till my stomach calmed down and continued slowly on. But I was just so tired and drained that I could hardly move a few steps without stopping. A short way after Gilman’s Point I just sat. I couldn’t go another step. And by then, of course, daylight had made the trail of our previous ascent clear to me and I just couldn’t imagine how I’d get down. It was almost straight down! It was a horrifying sight. Both Amy and I said that if we had seen that during the climb we wouldn’t have done it. So I sat and rested then decided if I couldn’t walk down, maybe I could just slide down on my butt. So I started doing that. Alphonce looked at me disgustingly. He said, “You can’t go down the mountain like that. If you’re going to do that, we might as well just get you a stretcher.” So I stood up again and tried again. I really could only walk a few more steps. By then Renate and Peter had caught up and Renate got me some gew from Amy and insisted I needed some quick energy. I obeyed but it tasted awful. I managed only a few licks and a couple of sips of water.

Alphonce seemed so fed up with me that he took charge of Renate and Amy and left me behind with Peter. Peter insisted he support me with my arm in his while we continued our way slowly down. It was pretty much a slide down using our heels to support us in the sandy/pebbly ground. We’d slide, rest and have gew and water, then slide again. Peter now had my arm on his shoulder and his arm around my waist so he could support me more. It really did help. Eventually as we descended and as I had more water, electrolytes and glucose in my system I got strong enough to support my own weight. I could see Amy, Renate and Alphonce further down with Alphonce supporting Amy and rushing down the hill. She’d stop every now and then and would bend over. I worried she was sick like me. I later learned that Alphonce told her we must get off the mountain fast and grabbed her arm and basically pulled her down the mountain. This had a bad impact on her toes, which hurt her for the rest of the hike down.

Eventually, I held two trekking poles and started down on my own. The incline now was steep but not as steep as before and I could see Kibo in the distance so I had a goal to walk to.

Eventually I reached Kibo. I was feeling much better. I went into our room where Renate and Amy had arrived a few minutes earlier. I couldn’t even wait for the wash-up water even though we were covered from head to toe in red dust. I took off my boots, gaiters and jackets and gave them to Peter upon his instruction to have them dusted off. So did the others. I opened my sleeping bag and threw myself in. It was 12:15pm. Peter would give us till 1:30pm to sleep then we’d lunch and rush down to Horombo. No one is allowed in Kibo longer than 24 hours for safety reasons against altitude sickness.

I had no idea how I was going to make the four to five hour hike and didn’t care. I fell asleep.

Kilimanjaro: Day 3 at Horombo

Directly from my diary logged on August 13 in the evening:

I woke up this morning with a minor headache and have had one most of the day today. So I’m now focusing on re-hydrating myself.

Our morning ritual is:

7:30 am (times change according to the day’s itinerary) is “knock-knock”, where two cooks wake us up and offer a choice of tea, coffee or hot chocolate. I’ve been choosing hot chocolate.

8:00 am: “washy-washy” (Peter’s terms) when we’re given water to wash up with. I haven’t been using this option in the mornings.

8:30 am: breakfast.

Breakfast today was a ground millet soup (something quite similar to cream

Breakfast at Horombo's!

Breakfast at Horombo's!

 of wheat), an assortment of hot drinks, bread, butter, peanut butter, marmalade and other stuff. And there’s always one form of egg or another but I have eggs boiled specifically for me because I’m really not enjoying fried food.

After breakfast we put our day packs together and hiked up beyond 4000 meters (Horombo is at 3720 meters) to Zebra Rocks. This is to help us get acclimatized. It was a steep hike but lasted only about an hour up and was enjoyable. Zebra Rocks is a cliff in the mountain where rain and run-off carry minerals and calcium that then dries on the rocks giving them a striped black-and-white color that is very beautiful.

We stopped there, rested and had freshly made popcorn (compliments of the cooks) and biscuits. It was windy and cold but we were well insulated. Others had piled up rocks all over that area – we were told as a symbol that they’d been up there.

So I went about piling up an Amy/Renate/Nadia pile. We all had pictures

Renate (left), Amy (middle) and Nadia (right) pose in front of their special Zebra pile

Renate (left), Amy (middle) and Nadia (right) pose in front of their special Zebra pile

 near our pile and with Zebra Rocks and headed down, which probably only took about 20 minutes.

An hour or less later we had lunch: pumpkin and carrot soup, a rolled crepe with spinach inside, french fries, lemoned chicken, cole slaw, and pineapples for desert. I have no idea how all that food is carried up this mountain. Actually, I do: on the porters’ backs!

I’m told the kind porter who carried my day pack yesterday fell ill. Peter believes it was malaria from an earlier trip to Dar-es-Salam. He was sent back down the mountain.

After lunch we came back to our hut. I packed my bags for the next two days. I put together, in separate bags, the outfits I’ll be wearing on the next two hikes: up to Kibo and then to the summit. I had all my clothes stored in large zip-lock bags to keep them dry in case it rained and also to compartmentalize everything and make it easier to find.

I then slept for 20 minutes and started writing in this journal.

I should probably mention that between lunch and now (about four hours) I’ve been to the bathroom twice. I’ve been drinking lots of water to keep myself hydrated. As opposed to the bathroom in Mandara, the ones here at Horombo are horrible. There are three stalls for women. Two have normal sit-down toilets (without seats). One doesn’t flush and the other leaks so there is a huge puddle on the floor. I’ve been using the third: a hole-in-the-ground baladytoilet. It was in a semi-acceptable state yesterday but today it’s all clogged up with poo and toilet paper and flushing just makes it worse. I added to that pile by pooing on top of it. Ewwwwwww!

Dinner tonight: tomato soup, spaghetti bolognese with peas, carrots, and oranges for desert.

Peter told us a 15-minute joke (he calls them smiley stories) that none of us wanted to hear but he’s been wanting to tell it to us since last night so we had to be polite and listen. We checked out the stars, which you could almost touch, and had our last bathroom break before going to sleep.

Kilimanjaro: 2nd day of hike up to Horombo

Directly from my diary logged August 13 in the evening.

We started the second day of our hike on August 12 around 9am.

Peter arranged for a porter to tag along and carry my day pack because I was still feeling weak and sick. I was very appreciative. As we walked I felt better and better. The walk from Mandara to Horombo went through a bit of tropical rain forest followed by moorland.

Peter stopped frequently in the beginning to show us different plants. He also caught sight of a Colobus monkey and we all stopped to take pictures. Peter turned out to be an expert at making the grunting noise the monkeys make and he made calls to which they would respond. He also made some movements to get them to jump from tree to tree. There were probably two monkeys but we could only see one really well.

Meeting the Colobus monkey was definitely one of the highlights of my trip

Meeting the Colobus monkey was definitely one of the highlights of my trip

During the hike I started getting sick again after one of the breaks in which I drank and ate. Amy and Renate went ahead with our assistant guide, Alphonce, and I stayed behind moving pole, pole (slowly, slowly in Swahili) with Peter and my porter. At one point I just had to sit down and do nothing. The sun was piercing hot and I felt I may be getting a heat stroke.

I lay down for about 5 – 10 minutes on the rocks on the side of the trail. That made a world of difference to me. During that break I only drank some water. And it was that break that made me realize what I was doing wrong. 

I continued on – stronger – to the half-way point where we found Renate and

The second day of hiking takes you through moorland. The tree groundsel is one of the most beautiful images along the hike.

The second day of hiking takes you through moorland. The tree groundsel is one of the most beautiful images along the hike.

 Amy waiting. They had just finished their lunch. The cooks actually had a cooked lunch for us! Amy and Renate wished us luck and moved on with Alphonce. I lay down on the metal bench and rested awhile. I then began to eat slowly.

We had tomato soup and pasta with tomatoes, vegetables and red sauce. We also had beef stew, some salad and fruit for desert. I was unable toeat the salad because I couldn’t stomach the idea of a mayonnaise dressing, but I ate small portions of the rest and felt very good afterwards. I rested so I could digest, peed in the bush, and got up and started hiking again.

Peter and my porter said they’d catch up. I really liked hiking alone. I also had lots of energy and a good pace. I set a goal of one hour. Two hours remained till Horombo Camp, I was told. I stopped at 5p for some water, now following my 15-minute break rule. Peter and the porter had caught up but remained behind again as I moved on. I was using both trekking poles and lovin’ them.

After another hour, Horombo came into view and I was overjoyed. This was partially because I managed to reach my second camp, but more because I was feeling healthy at last.

The view was amazing. We were above one cloud layer and the sun was

Horombo at sunset

Horombo at sunset

 setting. The camp was abuzz with campers and porters. I registered and went to our hut, which was very similar to our hut in Mandara.

I was going to be smart this time so I rested first then slowly began to change into dry clothes. I purified myself from the provided water pail in preparation for prayer and prayed sitting down. I started praying while standing and found that the up and down movements were very dizzying. I rested more, went out to take some pictures, back to rest, and eventually it was dinner time. For the first time on the hike I ate a full meal: sweet corn soup, rice and beef stew, broccoli and cauliflower, and apple in a cream sauce. We really have been getting gourmet meals on this hike and they are really yummy!

The sky that night was clear and the stars were so close you could touch them. You could see the whole Milky Way up here.

It was freezing cold (I have no way to know actual temperatures) and we went back to the hut and slept almost immediately. I slept very well. I only got up twice that night to pee (a major improvement on my about-ten-times the night before). I had decided not to drink too much water that night so I wouldn’t have to pee in the cold. Again, I just decided to pee next to the hut’s door and couldn’t care less if anyone suddenly opened their hut door and saw me. They’d just have to deal with it.

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.