Friday, 31 July 2009

At the karanga camp at the foot of the mountain (4000m)

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Our current view of kilimanjaro....!

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Technologically (and physically) challenged...

Sorry to anyone following us for the intermittent and haphazard nature of the blog posts... Phone reception has been pretty non-existent up until now and my iPhone has no data connection. I have had to laboriously rewrite all post onto Semjon's blackberry. That's unfortunately also the reason why there are no pictures attached to the posts. It such a shame as the changing landscape and vistas are magnificent and would truly bring the words to life. I will definitely add pictures later when technology allows (as you can see, now that I am below the clouds pictures have been added).

I have also been suffering from pretty bad altitude sickness over the past 48 hours so haven't felt much like doing anything, let alone concentrating on writing an entertaining blog post... consequently, posts are about two days behind. Paul has also been suffering, but Semjon, consistently feels "great!"... If he says it one more time I will strangle him while Paul holds him down...

The good news is that today we all awoke feeling really good and we are assured that phone reception will also be pretty good from now on. Therefore, I aim to catch up on blog posts today. It's been a pretty tough but equally amazing past couple of days, but I will post more about that later...

We are just about to set out from camp to climb the Barranco Wall (yes- it looks pretty vertical in places!!!). I am standing here looking up the North face of Kilimanjaro. Its glaciers literally sparkle in the early morning sunshine. The summit is approximately 2000 metres above us. We summit in 48 hours...

Day Two: The first day of the ascent

We all awoke at 7AM. I jumped into the shower to take full advantage of the hot water and proper washing facilities in my hotel room, as for the next 8 days this is a luxury that we will all be deprived of. A thorough wash was followed by a breakfast of fruit, eggs on toast and coffee. Fed, washed and watered we all got our kit ready - as we would be trekking and camping for 8 days we left non-essentials at the hotel. Life will be pretty basic with little opportunity to wash, use conventional toilets or use any item that you can't charge via a AA battery charger. We met Bruce at 8AM and headed out in our landrover to the registration station at the foothills of Kilimanjaro.

The car journey took about 3 hours. The roads soon turned to tracks as the town of Moshi fell away behind us. The journey was notable for two reasons. Firstly, during our first of two stops, at a local supermarket where we stocked up in some beers and whisky to see us through the cold nights, we were passed by the Presidential motorcade. Bruce explained that the President was arriving for an official visit to Moshi and would stay several days for government business. We waved the President by - if not the grandest motorcade we had ever seen, it was certainly the longest.

Even more exciting than our brush with the President was our next sighting, about 2 hours into the drive, when we stumbled across herds of Zebra and Hartebeast. Our driver took us off road to get closer to the herds (I use ther term 'off road' loosely, as by this point of the journey it was pretty hard to distinguish between road and open land). We were very lucky to get so close to the Zebra. They are a notoriously skittish and shy animal. We'll post pictures when we are technologically able...

Once we registered for the climb ("at the same station where Cheryl Cole also registered", we were excitedly told by the official) we ate a packed lunch and head off on our final drive to the point where we would commence the ascent.

We are taking the Lemosho route up Kilimanjaro, which is one of the longest and is widely reputed to be the most picturesque. The route is quite new, but owing to its beauty it has become very popular over the last 10 years or so. As the route lasts 8 days in total and there are 6 full days before you attempt the summit climb it also gives you a better chance of avoiding AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness).

After taking a few pictures for posterity, the three of us took our first steps towards the summit of Kilimanjaro. For the next 3 to 4 hours we hiked through lush, dense jungle. We stoically undulated along our walking track lead at a metronomic pace by Bruce and surrounded by verdant vistas in every direction. The ground was muddy, which made some of the steep sections tricky if not quite trecherous to complete. Along the route we came across swarms of African (killer) ants and spotted the odd Colobus monkey.

I kept reminding myself to drink water regularly s that I'd fall into the habit. Regular rehydration is vital as you experience successively harder days of trekking as you get higher up the mountain. It is recommended that you take on 3 litres a day, which is definitely more than I am used to.

We reached our first camp ('Big Tree' camp) about three and a half hours after we began walking. The first ting we noticed was how cold the temperature felt when we arrived. We all agreed that we had underestimated how low the temperatures were going to get the higher we got on the climb. I am shivering just thinking about how cold we are all going to be on summit night...

Dinner, a beef stew cooked by kerosene burners, was better than any of us were expecting. Although, as usual Paul is attempting to stick to his usual staple diet of cheese sandwiches and sweets (this is a worry!!). The fact that you are not allowed to build fires on the mountain limits the evening acitivities. Cooking is more basic and communing around the warmth of a camp fire is not an option. As a result evenings are pretty uncomfortable and you tend to be tucked up in the warmth of your sleeping bag (or two) pretty early.

Before we started the climb this afternoon I was only concerned about the impact of altitude sickness, but now I have a real appreciation of how bitterly cold it will get and I know that dealing with the cold will be a major part of the challenge of summitting Kilimanjaro in winter. Now more than ever I believe that we will all feel a genuine snese of achievement at the end of this adventure.

The sense of foreboding is more than matched by our excitement about what our first full day of climbing will bring tomorrow. We went to bed cold, but with expectant smiles on our faces...

Day Three (Part 1): So this is what it's all about!

What an amazing day! After a breakfast of hot porridge (my favourite meal so far) we set out from our jungle camp further up the mountain. We kept climbing through the jungle for a couple of hours. It was a breathtaking morning and the sun was out, where possible spraying its rays through the canopy of leaves and vines created by the dense jungle that enveloped us. The scenery this morning was breathtaking and it was impossible not to wear a broad smile as we progressed.

Today's climb was to be one of the longer treks of the trip, as we would be climbing for about six or seven hours and would elevate from 2600 metres up to 3800 metres and then back down to 3600 metres, where we would camp on the Shira Plateau. As a result of the altitude and distance we were covering we experienced several different types of terrain, moving from dense jungle to moorland to mountain scrub land.

After approximately two hours of walking the jungle suddenly and abruptly stops and is just as quickly replaced by moorland. The freshmint blue sky opened up before us, as a combination of elevation, soil quality and weather conditions could no longer support the growth of towering trees. Bushes, grasses and mountain flowers replaced the jungle as the landscape turned burnt green, orange and yellow. We climbed and traversed the rocky moorlands for another 2 hours before lunch. The vistas were as different to those of the jungle as they were beautiful. The expansiveness of the views was stunning, with ripples of jungle extending beneath us in every direction. I enjoyed the openness of the terrain, as the warmth of the late morning sun pressed against my skin.

The climb from our lunch spot up to the Shira ridge was steep and challenging but yielded the most phenomenal view yet. We literally climbed through the clouds onto what felt like the roof of the world. Ironically we had only climbed to 3800 metres and had a further 2095 metres to the summit (which we still had not seen). Nevertheless the combination of the steep climb, low clouds and amazing views made me feel like I had already reached the peak... it wasn't long before my perspective was changed dramatically.

After about an hour of traversing along the Shira Ridge that we caught our first glimpse of Mount Kilimanjaro. The snow capped Kibo peak appeared from behind the Shira Ridge, towering above everything else around it. It is undoubtedly a magnificent sight. It put the climbing of the previous day and a half in perspective and there was an immediate realisation that this gigantic rock will dominate our lives for the next 6 days.

We began to descend onto the Shira plateau with the mountain directly in front of us. After about a further hour of walking we reached Shira camp on the plateau itself. The camp is very exposed so all I could think about was how cold it was going to get in a few hours. We all unpacked our gear into our tents - we have individual tents that quite spacious - and then had popcorn and tea or coffee. This would become the post climb ritual everyday.

After sleeping for an hour or so we awoke for dinner - soup followed by chicken and rice - which was as good as the previous night.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Day One: The journey to Kilimanjaro

I arrived in Nairobi at 6AM local time having had a pleasant flight, except for the fact that I only managed a couple of hours of sleep. Air Kenya was much more civilized than I expected it to be. I was lucky enough to sit beside an interesting Kenyan named Reggie who was a student of genetics at Manchester University. After struggling through an attempted discussion about the nuances of the human genome project (it was more of a lecture really, as I listened attentively), Ui steered the conversation toward Africa. Reggie kindly entertained my interest by telling me a little about the culture, religions, food and language of his motherland - Kenya. I learned about the Bantu tribe, a few basic word like Assante (thank you) and, that to my surprise (and disappointment) that Kenyan and Tanzanian food was not very spicy. If everyone I meet on this trip is as good company as Reggie I'm certain to have a great time.

A strange thing happened in transit through Nairobi airport. A rather sickly looking old man was wheeled into the departure lounge in a wheelchair. Upon hearing the boarding announcement the gentleman appeared to expire... he sighed, his head fell back and he then fell completely limp. The commotion that ensued involved a lot of frantic conversation, but no attempt at resuscitation (admittedly the old man looked too frail to withstand any physicual trauma). Eventually, the lifeless old man was wheeled off into another room... as the passenger sitting next to me said "life in Africa is fragile...".

After the short but tragic stop in Nairobi airport I boarded the short flight (60 mins) to Kilimanjaro- the highlight of which was flying past the Kibo peak of Kilimanjaro itself, protrudin through a blanket of candy floss clouds. If only I could of hopped out there and then I could have saved myself a mighty long walk...

After landing in Kilimanjaro and negotiating customs, visa and passport control as well as a swine flu checkpoint I met my driver who drove me the fifty minute trip to my hotel in a town called Moshi. Once there I met up with Paul and Semjon who had flown in the previous evening. It was great to exchange our latest news and share our excitement about the upcoming adventure over a cold beer (Kilimanjaro brand).

The afternoon was spent on a shopping expedition to Moshi town centre. Considering that Moshi is a town with a population of over 400,000, the amenities were quite basic (even by African standards) so we quickly acquired a few sun hats and made our way back to the hotel (not before Semjon managed to grab himself a fetching pair of trendy designer original 'Gilvan Klain' underpants).

Upon our return we met up with our guide, Bruce, for the first time. He seems like a very nice chap except for the fact that he claimed h had just come from a family party and was consequently clearly quite drunk... on that basis, Paul (dressed in his fourth outfit of the day) immediately took a shine to him.

Our hotel is clearly a clearing house for Kili climbers in transit. It was interesting to hear the experience of several of the climbers who finished their descent today. After our various conversations we were left with the clear impression that completing the climb would not be straightforward. Many climbers talked of experiencing periods of self doubt - not feeling that the summit was achievable - and several did not complete the task (climbers receive a gold certificate for achieving the summit and a green certificate for achieving the main camp before the summit at 4300 metres). We all finished our first day feeling positive that although we would inevitably experience tough moments during the ascent the rewards of staying positive and persevering to the summit would be tremendous.

Our enthusiasm intensified at sunset when after a cloudy day, the sky cleared and we got our first glimpse of the snow capped peak of Mount Kilimanjaro on the horizon.

We leave tomorrow for the foothills of Kilimanjaro at 8AM...

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Bags packed...

I am a pretty private person, generally quite quiet and never one to shout from he roof tops. So the thought of writing a travel blog fills me with as much intrepredation as climbing Kilimanjaro itself... However, I really feel that it will be a fantastic way to share the experience with all those people close to me who have an interest in my journey. I hope that those of you who choose to follow me will enjoy my commentary. I will endeavour to be as informative, relevant and entertaining as possible.. at all times.

I arrived at Heathrow with plenty of time to spare and I am sitting in the departure lounge waiting to board my flight. I spent the afternoon finishing packing and then had lunch in Notting Hill close by to where I live. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. Notting Hill is at it's best in the sunshine... but you can say that about just about any area of London. However, with it's market, all of it's restaurants and bars and general hustle and bustle Notting Hill comes particularly alive
when basked in sunshine.

Lunch was spent with my girlfriend Suzi and one of my best friends, Gheeve, discussing last night's escapades at Annabels... I will miss them both but in very different ways.

I am not sure what to expect from my journey, but I am beginning to look forward to it. Up until now I haven't felt excited about leaving, but I can presently feel my expectations building. I am really looking forward to meeting up with my fellow travellers and friends, Paul and Semjon (they are flying from NYC), in Tanzania in about 15 hours. While I have no preconceived expectations for this journey I know that it will be truly amazing experience for all of us.... I hope to be able to share how and why over the next 10 days.

If you are interested in learning a bit more about the experience I am about to embark upon then take ablook at the following video:

The video blog was recommended by a friend, Nigel, who successfully climbed Kili a few months ago. It's pretty good and conveys the excitement and drama of the climb - if you have a few spare minutes take a look.

Next stop Tanzania...