Mt. Kilimanjaro Climb: Days 5-7 – Slowly But Surely!

Let’s continue on the journey to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro! If you haven’t already ready days 1-4, I recommend you read them now before continuing.

Day 5 (October 5)

Altitude: 2700m – 3500m / 8,860ft – 11,483ft
Weather: Daytime temp: aprx 10-15 Degrees Celsius early day, aprx 20 Degrees Celsius, sunny
Extra: Shoulders really hurt by end of day 

We began the morning ritual at around 5:30am waking up to one of our guides knocking on the tent door, zipping down the first layer of the tent, and asking us what we would like to drink: tea, coffee, or hot water. I would always ask for black coffee and it tasted soooo good! Sleeping in the cold and being able to have a fresh cup of coffee minutes after you wake up really helped start the day and warm you up inside the tent. A few minutes later the guide would deliver a bowl with an inch of warm water. This was our ‘washy wash’ bowl. Use the warm water how ever you like to bathe. By 6am we needed to head to the food tent for our first meal of the day. Breakfast consisted of: bread, scrambled eggs, bacon, and porridge.

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The terrain changes once you leave the rainforest

By 7:30am we were on the dirt track passing through more rainforest terrain. There was lots of tree coverage and the weather was relatively warm but not too hot and sticky. Once again, no bugs or mosquitos during the rainforest trek. We kept the trek very very slow. Pole pole.

By about  2pm we hit a clearing and were out of the rainforest. In the distance we could see the cloud cover rolling above us. After some lunch we continued onward until one of the porters told us there was cell service near a few rocks. Almost everyone ran to the boulders that held magic powers to send cellular waves into the sky…and we all began to text our loved ones. I was surprised to get such great cell reception (I’m lucky if I can get cell service on the 20th floor of a condo in Toronto!). Receiving words of encouragement and text messages from friends and family really provided the energy to continue on the long 8hr trek day.

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Shira One Campsite – Kilimanjaro in the background

Two hours later we arrived at our new campsite. It was very spacious, no trees – which meant it was windy and cold. Beyond the distance you could see Kilimanjaro…staring down at us. Jagged around the sides, a bunch of difference snowcaps all around the top. Chi and I quickly jumped into the tent to rest and wait for dinner. After dinner (soup, rice, veggies, stew, and pineapple), a few of us stayed behind in the food tent until about 10pm sharing stories and life experiences. It was great company. Upon leaving the tent, the extremely cold hit hard. Frost on the ground and tents. Slept well that night!

Day 6 (October 6)

DSC00281Altitude: 3500m –  3,840m /  11,483ft – 12,600ft
Weather: Daytime temp: aprx 10-12 Degrees Celsius early day, aprx 15 Degrees Celsius, sunny 

Today was an easy day to help us acclimatize. We started with fresh coffee being delivered to the tents at 6am, followed by washy wash at 6:30am. Breakfast started at 7:45am, and we were back on the trail by 8:30am. Before hitting the trail I threw on my running shoes and ran a lap or two around the camp site to show my support for the CIBC Run for the Cure which was taking place in Canada a few hours later.

The trail was very flat as we walked around the base of Kilimanjaro. The pace stayed very slow and we tried to enjoy the ease of today’s trek as we were told the next few days would get much more difficult as we get closer to the top. Unfortunately, altitude sickness started to set in one of our female climbers and she had to be checked out by the doctor. He was concerned, but mentioned she should be able to pull through – and we carried on.

DSC00241We arrived at camp shortly after noon, and enjoyed a  quick lunch (boiled egg, day old french toast, salad, and some popcorn). Following lunch, we were advised to take a nap to prep for the late afternoon acclimatization climb.

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Jeff tries to get cell reception

Those who wanted to go, were led on an hour climb up to about 4,000m, and if you were lucky enough, you could get cell service before heading back down to camp for dinner and a good nights rest. I was able to get 2 text messages out, while some people were lucky enough to get a phone call!

Dinner consisted of an unidentifiable meat product rolled in a ball (meatballs), soup, potato wedges, and green beans. Dessert was a crepe-like pastry with honey. After dinner everyone went straight to bed (9pm) as we would see the greatest gain in altitude (over 1,000ft) in the extremely cold weather the next morning.

Day 7 (October 7)

Altitude: 3,840m –  3,900m /  12,600ft – 12,795
Acclimatize and trek to 4,600m / 15,090ft
Weather: Daytime temp: aprx 5-10 Degrees Celsius early day, aprx 10 Degrees Celsius, Cloudy with rain 

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Two guides having a good laugh

Boy oh boy did I underestimate today’s events. It was very very hard. I have never felt my muscles this way before – especially at the end of the day. The best way I can describe it, only skiers would understand: Picture this – it’s the last ski run of the day, and you’ve been skiing all day long in really bad cold, wet, weather. Now triple that pain and exhaustion. The last hour leading up to the camp, my legs were shaking as I climbed. My mind was very slow and I realized my thoughts were slightly muffled. Altitude and exhaustion had kicked in hard…but let’s start from the beginning of the day!

Up at 6am with a temperature of 0 Degrees Celsius (freezing). Breakfast included: eggs, bacon, cold toast, porridge, and water. They warned us today was going to be a tough day and we needed to drink as much water as our bodies could take. We left camp by 8:30am. By about 10am the female climber who had some issues the day before had some major ones today…and passed out in front of me. She required medical attention immediately. Everyone thought she was going to be evacuated from the mountain…and the morale of the group dropped fast. As the lead guides noticed this (20mins after we’ve been watching her laying on the ground waiting for the Dr to assess and make sure she was okay), the guides told us to continue on as they worked on her.

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Lunch

We slowly continued onward and upward for several hours in the cold and finally stopped for lunch (stale bread, cookies, stale pound cake, orange slice, and a boiled egg). As we were finishing lunch, the female climber arrived safely to meet us with tears and smiles ready to keep going and show the mountain who was boss. Everyone cheered when they saw her arrive. About 15 minutes later a male climber from our group appeared slowly from below. I wasn’t aware he was so far behind…and he didn’t look good. Once again, everyone in the group became worried.

It was at this point the guides divided the groups into 2: the strong and the weak. They advised the strong ones to carry on to acclimatize to the highest point of the day (Lava Tower @ 4,600m) while the weaker group take a shortcut to the camp which would effectively reduce the height they were climbing. Even though I was getting pretty tired, I stayed with the strong group and continued on to the Lava Tower. I’m glad I did.

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Jeff & the Lava Tower

As our reduced size strong group headed towards Lava Tower, we continued to climb tougher terrain higher and higher. The terrain was a mix of boulders and lava rocks with some flat land in between. It was very picturesque. However, the morale dropped again when we saw 4 porters slowly walking towards us carrying a stretcher with a female climber bundled up inside. They weren’t part of our group, but we all knew what it meant. She was being evacuated from the mountain. It definitely set the mood for the next hour or so and we kept silent for a while.

Arriving at Lava Tower was pretty amazing. With little energy to continue onward, hard to breathe, and the sense your mind was slowing, you still felt accomplished. It was a great sight and fantastic feeling. We hit 4,600m! Now we need to head back down to camp for the night. Slowly but surely, we made our way back down the mountain. As we progressed, I could feel myself becoming more and more tired, lethargic, hungry and all of my leg muscles screaming in pain. I wanted to break – but we couldn’t. About 2 hours into the decent, we ran into some porters from our group carrying someone’s belongings with them. We were advised the male climber in our group who had a difficult time earlier in the day was being evacuated off the mountain. It was a very scary and sad moment.

In just a few hours we had seen 1 of our climbers pass out, 1 of our climbers be evacuated, and 1 unknown climber (not with our group) be carried off the mountain. Not to mention, about a handful of people in our group were starting to really feel the full effects of altitude sickness and became pretty ill (throwing up, diarrhea, headaches, etc.). Today was very mentally challenging.

DSC00491Thankfully, we arrived back at camp, and had such an amazing view to compensate for it. I will never forget it. It was breathtaking. Mountains on both side of us with a centre crevice where clouds were billowing up towards camp. You could see the bottom  of Africa below. It was amazing. It was so breathtaking, I cried.

After dinner I made an appointment to see the doctor as I started to develop blisters on my shoulders from the bag I was carrying. As the sunset, the temperature dropped to -5, -10 degrees celsius. That night I would have a hard time sleeping due to the cold and the worry for the next day. We were told after dinner that tomorrow would be the most technical of the days, where we would need to scale the Barranco Wall. They warned us there wasn’t much room for mistakes…so we must get as much sleep as possible to be mentally prepared. Boy was he right!

Until next time….
Jeff

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Helicopter landing pad

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Vegetation found along the trail

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Vegetation found along the trail

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Technical climb down from Lava Tower

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Behind Lava Tower

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Terrain changes again

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Barranco Camp

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