Part 1: Poa Kichizi Com Ndezi
Day 2- To Second Caves, 9,450 feet to 11,320 feet, about 4 miles
The food has been amazing here. I don’t know how the porters get all that food up the mountain (on their heads is the short answer). Cucumber chicken noodle soup, eggs, oatmeal, grilled cheese, spaghetti, popcorn, fresh fruit. We are all eating like pigs, which is good, because “they” say we won’t be hungry as we get higher. I was still about six pounds light when I left Park City, and I’m still concerned about being cold on Summit Day. On Day 2, I’m already wearing my Hot Chillys. I need fat.
Today, we climbed less than 3000 feet to 11,340. We are in the clouds. It’s cool and windy. Some of today’s hiking was harder than I expected, I won’t lie. It was hands and feet, on boulders, criss-crossing streams and mud. The next two days are supposedly easier. Less elevation gain with similar mileage (4-5 miles) But we got a preview of the next two days after the rest day, and they look brutal. A 6-hour day and then Summit Day. Anticipation, excitement, hope.
Day 3- Second Cave to Kikelewa Camp, 11,320 feet to 11,800 feet, 4 miles.
Best day yet. A hike that only netted about 300 feet of elevation (we are at around 12k now), but the trail to get here was really rocky, muddy, fun. Our first full-on sunny day, and we had a great pace. We walk for 55 minutes, then rest/eat/drink/pee/whatever for 5 minutes, and it’s off again. Nelson keeps us on task (Bad Cop). It’s a good system.
We went on a little exploratory hike after we got to camp (where it is windy and cold, just like always). We found a cool cave and the most amazing view of Mt. Mawenzi, right next to Kili. Even Nelson said it’s the best view he’s ever seen of this jagged, evil-looking hostile mountain.
I am so enjoying the people who are along on this adventure. They are funny and smart and accomplished. Four cancer survivors, Bree, Doug, Jeremy, and me. We range in age from 24-62 and come from all different backgrounds. But with this common goal, motivated by a common passion, we are all compatible. A great team.
The weirdest thing I find is that we have cell service up here. Bizarre. I’ve sent Patrick a couple of texts. People are making phone calls that probably cost a gajillion dollars, too. So odd.
The 64ish porters, kitchen crew, and guides from Tanzania sang two songs that were absolutely stunning today. Apparently, the ability to sing on-key is a birthright in this country. I loved it.
Day 4-Kikelewa Cave to Mawenzi Tarn Camp, 11,800 feet to 14,200 feet, 3 miles.
Today was tough. We gained about 2600 feet in less than 4k, so most of it was pretty steep. I think we figured it ramped up to 17-18%, averaging to about 7-8% for the day. It was so cool, though. The terrain changed–the trees are gone. The rock is mostly volcanic and there are these cool cairns everywhere. It almost feels like you are on holy land. Our group is amazingly similar in either ability or desire. We are mostly staying together. And we are fast. It’s sometimes hard to tell if Chris and Nelson are telling the truth or joking, but they said we are fast. Our planned 5-hour hike turned into a 3-hour hike. Our tents and stuff weren’t even set up when we got to camp.
We are now at Mawenzi Tarn Camp. 14,100 feet. It’s cold and damp. Everything is wet. We sleep with damp stuff in our sleeping bags to get it to dry. Clouds just kind of cruise through camp. We saw the sun for about three minutes today. Hardly long enough to get the solar charger to fire up. Miraculously, there is cell service here, so I will send Patrick a text tomorrow.
Tomorrow is our acclimatization day. Not sure how we are going to fill the whole day, but we’ll figure something out, I suppose. For now, it’s raining. AGAIN. (Oh, I didn’t mention that we hiked in the rain for a couple of hours today. I had to sit on my pack to take off my boots to get my rain pants on. Eeek.) Hoping there aren’t any leaks in the tent. Of course, last night, brilliant me, I filled my Camelbak to be efficient, then laid the backpack on the bite valve and half the water dumped out into the tent overnight. Genius. Luckily, Cindy, my tentmate, sees faux pas like this as a normal course of action.
I feel a lot better than I thought I would at this point (knock on wood). Stomach is ok, breathing is a little tough. Only had a headache once, knee was slightly swollen the first couple of dayas. My biggest concerns are the altitude, having had altitude sickness once before, and the cold, especially on Summit Day. I froze last night, even in my zero degree sleeping bag.
Four days down, 3 to go.
Day 5, Rest day at 14,200 feet
I had wondered how we were going to occupy ourselves on our rest day at Mawenzi Tarn, but it’s actually been a really fun day. It’s funny, every night, we are in the sleeping bags some time around 8, trying hard to stay awake for no other reason than breakfast isn’t til 7. Do the math. That is a loooooong time to be horizontal. If I were actually sleeping, I’d be the most rested I’ve ever been Of course, with the hyper-hydration and the Diamox (to fight altitude sickness), “overnight” involves at least a couple of trips to our traveling outhouse. The last couple of nights, the full moon has meant I didn’t even need a headlamp.
Anyway, back to today. We had a late breakfast of our staple, oatmeal (porridge), plus french toast. And Chris brought his French press, so we have good coffee every day. Then, we went on our “active recovery” hike. OMG. It was steep and slippery and tough. The footing was volcanic ash, and the grade was somewhere under 20%. But, my God, the pay-off was breathtaking. We hiked through some patches of snow, all the way to the foot of Mt. Mawenzi. It is as hostile and beautiful up close as it is from miles away. We took pictures and built a cairn and texted and talked on the cellphone (4 bars. Still blows me away.) It was an optional hike, but I am so glad I went. The grade and the ground are exactly like what we’ll get on Summit Day, according to Chris. I feel much better prepared.
This afternoon, after massive plates of french fries and chicken AND Coke and Fanta (a surprise from our fabulous kitchen crew), we are trying to recharge electronics with our solar chargers…. but it’s raining again. We have a popcorn and hot chocolate break scheduled for four, then dinner and prep for tomorrow, which is supposed to be a pretty tough day. We get up to Kibo Hut, 15,600 feet, and our last stop before the summit… which still makes me gulp a bit.
I am blessed to be able to do a lot of really cool things, from swimming with sharks and manta rays to heli-skiing to world travel to volunteering in Kenya. But nothing has captured my friends’ imagination like this climb. I am prone to downplaying things that I do– “It wasn’t that hard,” “I’m just stubborn, that’s how I qualified for 70.3 triathlon worlds (2x), the Boston Marathon, Kona Ironman.” But after a week here on this adventure, I have to say… THIS IS COOL. It’s hard. It’s a mental and physical challenge. Lots of people are watching what I/we am/are doing and I am thrilled to be here. This morning, Rob (whose birthday is today) said he feels the weight on his shoulders, which is lifting his feet. Jeremy and Claire’s mantra is “relentless forward progress.” I am part of something powerful and big and emotional and symbolic, and there is nowhere else in the world I’d rather be. This is how I Livestrong.
Day 6, Mawenzi Tarn Camp to Kibo Hut, 14,200 feet to 15,600 feet, 5 miles
Today was by far the toughest day, and it’s only half over. We hiked only about 1,000 feet up, but it was foggy and relentless and snowy… AND 5 1/2 hours. We are now at Kibo Hut. where we are recharging with lunch, naps, dinner, and then leaving at 11:30 pm for the summit. Can’t believe it’s here. We are all starting to feel some effects of the altitude, strange food, weird schedule, etc. I have the beginnings of an altitude headache, and my stomach is just not right. Hopefully, I can hold off any bad symptoms for about another 24 hours. Then, we’ll be back at a more manageable 12,000 feet.
We consolidated backpacks today, so I won’t be carrying up a backpack tonight. Rob is my buddy and he’ll have my jacket and extra water in his backpack. I just have to take my Camelbak and al my food. It’s a trick, trying to manage clothes. Too little is a bad thing, but so is too much. Like Nelson said, “Sweat is the kiss of death in mountaineering.” Praying for no rain on our hike tonight, but it’s already been raining and snaining (rain + snow) off and on all afternoon. I really want all of us to make it up at the same time tomorrow. We have honor flags and photos to take and victories to prove. Bree and Maddie don’t look so good. Neither does Marc for that matter. The altitude is really taking a toll. I guess what’s different about this mountaineering team than most is that it is a TEAM. We are working hard and will work hard to make sure we all summit as one. It’s like an adventure racing team, like I used to race on. It’s all for one and one for all. Hoping the Decadron cures what ails our three. Because no one gets left behind.
Next up: Summit Day
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Part 3: Rise Up