Saturday, September 19, 2015

An Aerial Viking Funeral Off The Roof Of Africa

I did not expect the best part about climbing Kilimanjaro to be the people.  Summiting high things is always pretty cool (although I am not a mountaineer by any stretch of the imagination and have only done Everest Base Camp as a high point of high points before this).  But honestly, Kilimanjaro was occasionally boring, occasionally death defying, and altogether not that much fun.  For one thing, although it's pretty good, the scenery never changes!

Uhuru Peak (5,895m) is somewhere at the top of that cliff that is about a quarter of the way from the right edge of the top.

Again, the peak is in the top left corner of this picture...several days and about 1800m walking away.
The summit day route snakes in and out of the right side of this picture.
We were above the clouds the entire 8 days
Stalking us in the clouds like a shark was Mt. Meru, 70km west
And, outside of walking, the only thing to do is sit around and eat while talking to your climbing partners.

And then there were 13: 5 Brits, 4 Norwegians, 2 Danes, 1 Aussie, and 1 person from Obamaland

What made it enjoyable was the people, my diverse climbing group and the 55(!)-strong army of guides and porters that supported us.

Notice Mt. Meru
Sorry this is sideways, but our porters passed us like this every day: flying, as if they aren't carrying 100-150 lbs in addition to their own body weight at 10,000+ feet of altitude.  In comparison we were constantly told "pole, pole" ("slowly, slowly") so we wouldn't over-exert ourselves and experience any of the acute mountain illnesses.

An assistant guide, Angel
Our head guide, Abraham

A porter, Veronika

When we took off from base camp, it looked like we staging a military assault upon Stella Point and Uhuru Peak, which is not an altogether inaccurate comparison.

We ascended to ~3500m and then stayed between that altitude and 4600m for 6 days until the final, middle-of-the-night 1200m ascent to 5895m.  Then we took a nose dive: over 7.5 hours of walking we descended 4000m.  That's 2.5 MILES of elevation difference between Uhuru peak on Friday at 7:15 AM and Mweka Gate on Saturday at 12:15 PM.

End of summit day: "I was all the way up there just this morning?!?"
Considering that descent was through rainforest on packed mud and slippery as hell, I might as well have side-stepped down a 2.5 mile-tall waterslide while the water was running.

Put another way, I would have preferred an aerial Viking funeral: to be lit on fire and thrown off the peak.

My camera actually had the privilege of such an honor.  I dropped it to its death on Day 5 in spectacular fashion and hiked the 6.5 hour summit morning with an iPad in my pants (to keep it warm) so I could get a picture at the top.

The sun rising over the clouds over Eastern Tanzania

This video is one of my prize possessions from this trip.  In advance of summit day, my group discussed that none of us actually knew what the top looked like because most people took a picture with the sign (see above) and neglected pictures that set the scene.  This video sets the scene pretty damn well.

I carried an iPad to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in my pants to take this.  Never say that I never did anything for the sake of this blog.

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