Sunday, August 27, 2017

The waiting is the hardest part.

Today was an odd day of waiting ... exacerbated by our increasing anxiousness about leaving for the climb tomorrow.

We had breakfast with the group. Everyone has now arrived, but some of the bags haven't. Really, really glad ours did!

To kill a little time before our 10:30 meeting, we headed out for a little leg-stretcher to the rice paddies and were again surprised by how green everything looked.

Then we joined 39 other nervous people, Erik and Jenny, and our three lead guides in the restaurant overflow room for our pre-climb meeting.

Jenny said a few words, Erik introduced Yesse, Hillary, and Maisha to the group, and then described the support crew. We're supported by a whopping 163 people -- an entire village moving up and down the mountain! Here's how it breaks down:

3 lead guides
20 additional guides
5 chefs
8 waiters
7 toilet attendants
120 porters
= 163 support staff!

Then Erik went into logistics for our group. Tomorrow we leave at 9am. Before that point we need to have checked out of the hotel and paid our bill, had our climb bags weighed and be under 15kg, and stow our excess baggage. Then we'll have a three-hour drive to the Rongai trailhead.

We'll hit the gate at noon, have a boxed lunch while the porters and guides complete the paperwork. Then we'll be on our way.

Day 1: Rongai Gate to Simba Camp
1900m -> 2550m
A gradual uphill to Simba Camp through agricultural land. We'll walk at our own pace; there's no need to keep up with anyone else.

Day 2: Simba Camp to Kikelelwa Cave
2550m -> 3600m
In the morning we'll hike to Second Cave for lunch. This is the steeper part of the day. After lunch we'll hike the rest of the way to Kikilelwa Cave, where we'll camp. There's no need to rush.

Day 3: Kikelelwa Cave to Mawenzi Tarn
3600m -> 4330m
It's a steep but short climb today. We'll have lunch at Mawenzi Tarn, "the nicest camp on the route".

Day 4: rest day at Mawenzi Tarn
There's no set program, though it's highly recommended to do some day hikes. Make sure you get some elevation. Potentially hike to Kibo Hut?

Day 5: "Summit Day"
Option 1: DAY SUMMIT, Mawenzi Tarn to Kibo Hut to Uhuru Peak to Kibo Hut
9km + 5.4km + 5.4km = 17.8km
4330m -> 4750m -> 5895m -> 4750m
6am breakfast, then set out at 7 to cover the 8.5km to Kibo Hut, arriving at 9:30 or 10. Take a short break, then get started climbing. You may come down in the dark. Can decide at last minute to take this option.

Option 2: NIGHT SUMMIT, Mawenzi Tarn to Kibo Hut
4330m -> 4750m
8am breakfast, then set out at 9. Leisurely make your way to Kibo Hut, then lunch, then rest. Have an early dinner, then try to sleep till midnight. Then up to the summit around 1am.

Day 6: Kibo Hut to Horombo
Day summit folks -
4750m -> 3705m
Sleep in, then walk down to Horombo Huts, overnight there.

Night summit folks -
5.4km + 5.4km + 9km = 17.8km
4750m -> 5895m -. 4750m -> 3705m
After summiting, come back down to Kibo Hut, regroup, rest, then go down to Horombo Huts.

Day 7: Horombo Huts -> Marangu Gate
3705m -> 1860m
Head downhill 15K through the rainforest. Not super steep, very pretty. 

Overall, Erik stressed that you need to examine yourself and how you feel when you get to Kibo. You can always come down in the dark. Ask yourself, "What's the best chance FOR ME to get to the top?"

A few more notes from the meeting: 
  • A typical day on the mountain would be waking up at 6:30, and packing up your bags for the porters. Then breakfast at 7, and then walking at 8. 
  • It's crucial that we communicate -- if you aren't feeling well, tell a guide. "You can feel terrible and be puking, but you'll be fine. You won't get kicked off the mountain if you tell us you have a headache. Just let us know so we can gauge your health."
  • On summit day you might not feel like eating -- but it's a good time to eat simple energy like gels, blocks, candy. 
  • Wrap everything in your duffels inside plastic bags -- things won't dry on the mountain if they get wet. 
  • And remember, being at the equator + being at elevation = SUNBURN.
Then Yesse led us in a chant:

strong HEART
strong MIND
don't THINK IT
just LIVE IT

We were issued numbers so that the porters could deliver bags to pre-marked tents. We're 16 and 17, for what it's worth. Not sure yet what that means. 

And then we all nervously dispersed. I think the meeting left me undecided on which way to try to summit. One long day? Or an afternoon nap and an "alpine summit" at midnight? I feel like there was a little ripple of anxiety about it. We shall see.

Then back to the room to pack and weigh. I'm coming in at just over 13 kilos, Wil right around 11. Other people seem to be struggling to get under 15... which begs the question, what AREN'T we bringing? 

By the time we had sifted and packed it was lunchtime, when we discovered a HUGE group of British students had arrived. So tonight we're going to rumble. Or trekking poles at dawn. Or something. 

After lunch a group was gathering to be shuttled into town ... we didn't want to get caught up, so we slipped out... and were instantly assaulted by the HEAT. We walked along the train line for much of the walk, but then felt a little iffy a couple of times as we saw a lot of "youths" posing to look tough in front of each other. So we cut away from the tracks and walked parallel on the road ... for what felt like way too far. But then we saw a road that went to a railway crossing, so headed down ... and there she was, Moshi Station (closed since 2003). 

We poked around the abandoned station, resisting the please of a cafe owner to have a beer at his establishment. The station looks as if they sent the last train down the tracks, locked the doors, and walked away. There are still notices on bulletin boards, chairs in waiting rooms, signs on empty offices. It's quiet and still. Skinny dogs lay on deserted platforms, goats graze on silent tracks.

station entrance
booking office
waiting room
to the platforms
office of the "Steshen Masta", which might also be my new rap name
memo on the notice board from December, 1997 
Then more wandering -- out to see two roundabout monuments (weird). This one was apparently in honor of soldiers, but now bears the slogan "Water for Life".

Whereas this one bears the Uhuru Torch (a replica, I assume), and the legend "SIASA NI KILIMO" ("POLITICS AND AGRICULTURE") and "UHURU NA KAZI" ("FREEDOM AND WORK").

We also wandered around the Nakumatt -- a large, western-style supermarket, where the limited inventory was spread out across the shelves, often in single depth. And at the front, four cashiers sat silently at their stations, waiting. Bored out of their minds.

Amusing Swahili moment #1: While walking through a busy market full of tiny stalls, some vendors with only a few carrots for sale, I heard a man say "Mzungu..." in distaste as we approached. A woman nearby said, "Mzungu?" in disbelief, and then noticed me. Her frieilind said, "How are you?", so I replied, "Nzuri sana, asante. Na wewe je?" ("Very well, thanks. And what about you?") and everyone laughed in a THAT JUST HAPPENED sort of way.

Amusing Swahili moment #2: Ordering soda water at the bar in my limited Swahili: "Chupa mbili za ... soda water?" Jacob the head of staff praised my pronunciation (blush). Then Fatima, the bartender, said that now I drink soda water. I told her that after I climb, I'll drink "pombe kidogot" ("some beer"), and she laughed. Then when leaving the bar, Jacob was blocking the doorway so I said, "Samahani..." ("excuse me") and he turned, clearly expecting a member of staff, and said, "You have surprised me! Nzuri sana!"

The group is gathered in the bar. I'm fighting off drowsiness in the long slow crawl to dinner.

We are packed! After dinner tonight I'll have a shower, set an alarm, and go to sleep. In the morning, another shower -- THE LAST ONE FOR A WEEK! -- get dressed, have breakfast, then clear out of the room and get checked out. But till then ... I'm really fighting sleep. I guess that's good -- I'm hoping we'll sleep well again tonight!

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