Trekking Kilimanjaro, March 2014

Packing for this trip had not been easy.  I put in stuff and took out stuff endless times.  Trekking gears and diving gears were all mixed up and I was trying hard to focus to make sure I left nothing out.  There were lots of ‘firsts’ on this trip. First time to Africa, first time on Ethiopia Airlines, first time bringing 2 sets of sports gears, first lone camping trip….  I was a bit jittery about the whole thing.

The flight was long and I was a bit lost during my transit at Addis Ababa airport. The lines were a bit confusing and I had to ask several people before I got to the right queue.  The waiting area was crowded and I was glad and grateful when a guy removed his luggage from the seat and gestured for me to take it.  Needed that as it was a 2 hrs long wait.   Finally got the logistics of things sorted out and I was heading towards Kilimanjaro Airport.  I had heard a lot about missing or delayed luggages and I was keeping my fingers crossed that I would not have this problem.  Seeing the blue belted red luggage on the belt was an instant relief.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Arriving at Springlands Hotel

It was drizzling when I reached Springlands Hotel.  I had imagined it to be much nearer town, so I was kind of disappointed when I realised how far out it actually was.  The metal gates and security post seemed to highlight how unsafe the city was.  Or perhaps it was simply all part of my imagination.

The hotel was definitely much better than what I had expected and the pool was a nice surprise.  It was kind of quiet as it was the low season.  Too wet was the right phrase.  Chatted with a few hikers who had just returned and they mentioned that it had been raining quite a bit.  It wasn’t difficult to spot the ones who had returned from the climb.  The same unshaven and tired but slightly smug look.  I hope I can do it too.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
My favourite hangout place

Briefing was at 4pm and I met up with my guide from Zara tours.  Turned out that I was the only one doing the Lemosho route, so it will simply be me and Filibert.  Oh wait, I also just realised that I would have 2 porters, 1 toilet man, 1 cook and 1 assistant cook, making my ‘entourage’ of 7, me inclusive.  Seemed to be a real overkill and I was genuinely worried I might not have enough for tipping the group.

I had an early rest as I was still jet lagged.  That was a bad move as I woke up in the middle of the night at 3am, that translating to 8am Singapore time.  My biological clock is a mess.  I forced myself to sleep a little more.  For obvious reasons,  I was not surprised to be the first to turn up for breakfast.  An early start might not necessarily be a bad thing.  I had to check out, put my bags into storage, get my money and passport into the security safe, so there were really quite a bit to be seen to and settled.   Filibert was early too so it was a good start that we were both early risers.  The 3 hours ride to the Lemoshe gate meant that I could take five on the ride.  That should make up for a bit of my sleepless night before.

We had to go get our permits and check in at  the gate.  Filibert got that settled while I took a quick lunch at the rest area.  Just as I thought we were ready to set off, I was ushered into the mini bus again.  Another hour ride meant another nap time.  It wasn’t as long a ride as we thought it would be as the rain had made it impossible for the vehicle to proceed further.  We had to get down earlier than expected and start our trek on foot.  Well, though it was drizzling, the sun was out so it wasn’t really that cold.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Checking in for the Trek
Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
A great start? – wet and muddy

Filibert and I started off first while the rest of the crew sorted out the food, tent and other necessities.  It was a 3 hours trek to our first campsite.  I have always loved jungle trekking so I knew I would enjoy this.  Of course, with the exception of the rain.  We chatted as we walked and it seemed that it had been raining mainly in the afternoon.  Filibert’s suggestion was to start early the next morning and hopefully get to camp before the rain comes in.  He was also a bit concerned that we were moving faster than the porters as that meant that tents would not be ready when we reached the site.  I told him not to worry about that.

It started to pour as we moved and i was really all muddy on just my first day.  We stopped for a short break to get dressed for the rain.  He took out his big umbrella and he was surprised when I took my little one out too.  He laughed and told me it was not usual for tourist to bring umbrellas for trekking.  For him, he doubled it up as a walking stick.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Trekkers who believe in brollies

Saw this strange looking plant along the way and Filibert told me to remember it as I would be seeing a slightly different version of the exact same plant on higher grounds.  I made a mental note.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Love the trees and foliage

Love how the trees trunks and branches mangled together in an interesting pattern.  Apparently some of the trees with name tags were the notably protected ones.  No chopping and no sale of these species were allowed.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Checking in at Big Tree

And finally we reached our campsite.  Not sure was it because we stopped moving or the winds were coming in, but it was getting chilly.  We waited for our group to come.  It was at this time I saw Vinnie, another Singaporean climbing with a different operator.  The world is not that big after all and it turned out that I had once emailed her for some trekking trips before when she was working for an adventure company.   Talk about coincidence.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Setting up my tent

The guys arrived and I see my tent being set up.  This was to be my ‘home’ for the next few days.  I got unpacked, washed up a little and was just chilling when I spotted the lovely monkeys.  The black and white Colobus were beautiful with their long bushy tails.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Gorgeous looking monkeys

The night was cold and once I snuggled into my sleeping bag, I wasn’t really prepared to leave the comfort of it.  Not sure if I was still jet lagged or I went to bed too early, but I was up and wide-eyed around 3am.  Tossed and turned a little but couldn’t get back to sleep.  By 5 am the big group that was camping right next to me woke up and were making quite a bit of noise.  I got up around 630am before the guys came to wake me up.

We broke camp and started out at around 8am.  Filibert was checking with me on how I was feeling and if everything was alright.  I told him I was a bit concerned as I didn’t seem to be eating much.  I didn’t really like the food but was not prepared to tell him that.  This was unusual as I had never been picky about food.  Anyways that was the last of my concern.

Today was a 6 hours trek and according to Filibert, today would be a bit tougher.  We were leaving the forest today which meant that we would be fully exposed to the sun.  It would be a hot hot day ahead.  Well, the truth was that I wasn’t the least bit concerned about the blazing sun. I love the sun. Anything beats being wet and cold.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
last day in the forest
Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
A rare bright and sunny moment

Today’s hike was a bit more strenuous compared to the previous day.  I was guessing the reason was because of the sun and heat.  Wasn’t much of an issue for me and after last night and this morning’s cold winds, I knew I was going to enjoy the heat.  We had fun chatting and some of the other porters were catching up on us.  They were amazingly fast.  Filbert kept asking me to slow down and not to keep pace with the guys.  To be honest, I wasn’t and I didn’t think I can even come close to that. The air was really thin and not easy to breathe.

I kept seeing this spiky looking flower and I finally decided to ask for the name.  Turned out to be the national flower of Africa.  Wow….. its a tough flower, growing strong and wild.  Some that didn’t blossom was completely burnt out and remained a black bud till it finally withers and drops.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Me, the national flower and the ever-changing weather

As we got higher up, the winds started to blow again.  I could literally see the mist of clouds coming in, bringing in a chill.  I was putting on and removing my jacket countless times and was definitely glad that I had a super patient guide.  He was amazing.  He literally was a camel because he wasn’t drinking at all.  But a superb guide, he never forgot to remind me to drink up constantly.  I laughed and said I would help drink up his share of water.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Walking in the clouds

Every now then it drizzles a little, got a bit windy and chilly then back to hot and sunny again.   I was too lazy to pull out my umbrella and I was just watching Filbert.  Well, if he wasn’t concerned, I guessed I didn’t have to be too.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Taking a breather

A hot hot day and we took a break to have some snack and water. Even at this height, the view was breathtaking.  I had become a little lazy to pull out my camera but there were moments when I knew I shouldn’t miss.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Me and pretty lone flower

As usual, it was weird and a little unusual to see an Asian lady traveling alone.  I had met an American lady and a German lady on the trek alone with their guide too but somehow that didn’t seem unusual.  I told Filbert I wanted to go diving in Zanzibar and he started asking me why I was all alone.  Along the way, I saw this amazingly pretty flower and Filbert told me it was always growing alone, just like me.  Maybe because of that, I felt I had a special connection to it.

Lunch was at an interesting spot.  It was all wet and muddy from the rain and there were these stumps of grass that stood out from the mud like little stools.  We had to walk across by hopping from stump to stump.  And of course, we sat on one each for our lunch.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
and its always alone

We finally hit a flat plateau of grassland and suddenly, it became a breeze to walk.  The weather was nice with a slight breeze blowing.  I checked my watch and my guess was that we were near camp as it was almost 6 hours.  That was if I had been on target all this time.  Filbert was asking me to look ahead.  I caught a glimpse of the green roofed tent right ahead and he told me we were nearing camp.  That sounded pretty encouraging and I moved a little faster.

I loved the tall grass by the sides of the trail.  My first thoughts were of Jason as he gently caressed the soft corals when we dived.  The only difference is this is on land and I brushed my hand through as I moved along.  It was fun.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Feeling the lush softness of the field

And finally, I reached camp.  The rest of the crew had just reached too, so I helped to set up tent again.  I was beginning to wonder if we were moving a little too fast as both Filbert and me were always reaching the camp sites ahead of the crew.  I didn’t mind helping set up the tents but I was worried that I was moving way too fast.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Counting down to another checkpoint
Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Setting up the tents

It was early afternoon and I figured it was too early to crawl into the comforts of my warm sleeping bag.  The wind was picking up and it was gusty.  I took my jacket and checked out the what the rest of the guys were up to.  Filbert was sitting by himself and just staring into blank air.  I decided to join him.  We talked a little and I decided it was too cold for my comfort.  Yes, lousy me crawled straight back into camp.  I decided to nap.

My appetite was still poor and I barely ate dinner.  Taking a nap in the afternoon was bad as I couldn’t get to sleep in the night.  I tossed and turned and when I finally got to sleep, I had a nightmare.  It was scary when I woke myself up screaming.  As my tent was a distant away from the rest, I didn’t think anyone heard me.  I recalled a friend, Leslie’s experience in the mountains when he had restless nights and nightmares and woke up crying.  I was pretty stressed up with work and the impending lack of communications for the next few days.  I guessed that bad dream was an exact reflection of that unease.

I forced myself to have breakfast.  I tried to eat as much as I possibly could.   Filbert came in to check on me and told me to get ready to go at around 8 am.  The night had been cold and I saw the layer of ice on my tent when I crawled out of it.  It was raining the night before so that explained the layer of ice and frost on my tent.

I was eager to be out in the sun.  Today’s a short hike, only about 3 hours of walking to Shira camp 2. We started out with an amazing view of Kilimanjaro in the distance.  It seemed so near yet so far and I really hoped I could reach the summit.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Looking majestic from afar
Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
shira 2 and my fat tree

It was an easy and scenic hike.  Finally saw the fat tree.  Filbert asked if I remembered the skinny tree we saw in the forest.  This was the high altitude version.  Looked kind of strange and definitely a lot fatter than their forest counterparts.  We reached the campsite pretty early and I was wondering what I could do for the rest of the day.  It was cold but Shira 2 plateau  was beautiful.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
My final campsite

This time round, the rest of the crew got to site faster and by the time I reached campsite, the tent was already set up.  To my shock, they had put me right in the middle of nowhere with no other nearby tents and I was entirely out in the open in the cold gusty winds.  For some reason, I got a bit worked up and I went to confront Filbert and I surprised myself when I insisted a change of location for my tent.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Superbly cold, wet and windy night

I felt a little bad after the guys moved the tent but I really really just wanted to be a little warmer.  I changed into clean sleeping clothes and put on an extra layer of jacket for the impending cold night.  I had an excellent appetite for lunch which was really surprising.  I hoped it stayed the same for dinner.

The night sky at Shira Plateau was beautiful and I could finally appreciate why people would actually make this a trekking destination.  I was told some people come specifically for this instead of the summit climb. Wasn’t a good night photographer so nothing turned out really well but it was starlit night and I was mesmerised by the silent beauty of the place.

March was not the best time to trek because of the rain.  I had rain almost every day, be it in the night of the day.  The good thing was that it was quiet.  I had very few trekkers around and the campsite was dead quiet at night.  That was enjoyable for me.  My only regret was not bringing my book along.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to eat as much for dinner and I asked for some cookies and snacks that I can munch on should I get hungry in the middle of the night.  The guys left the hot flask and beverages in my tent too.  It rained heavily that night and I could hear the guys digging outside my tent.  Apparently it was flooding up and they were all out in the rain, digging a trench for water to run off.  Filbert was asking if I was dry inside.  I dozed off again after that little commotion.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Waking up to a beautiful morning

It was a little chilly in the morning but the sun was out.  Filbert wanted to set off early again and my guess was to miss rain in the afternoon.  Today was a long trek, 6 hours with lunch break at Lava Tower for  acclimatising.  We set off well and although it was sunny, I had to put on a jacket as it was chilly.  The air was thin but the trek upwards was gradual so it wasn’t bad.  I took a few more breaks than usual and Filbert was asking if I was feeling alright.  I got worried that I was slowing us down too much but he assured me we were doing just fine.

Saw a number of stacked stones as we walked and before I could ask, Filbert laughed and told me they meant nothing.  He must get a lot of people asking to pre-empt me this way.  The landscape had now changed dramatically and it was rocky everywhere.  It was getting cold too and I needed another jacket.  By now I had my umbrella out too as it was raining ice again.  My pants were soaked through now and I wasn’t really sure how the extra layer of thermal would help much.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Lava Tower, my last stop

I began to feel really unwell at this time.  Filbert pulled me aside and told me to rest and drink water.  By now he had repeatedly asked me more than thrice if I was ok to continue.  That was the first time I threw up.  I actually felt better after that and I was all cheery again, teasing Filbert even about his worries.  But it wasn’t long before the nausea returned.  This time, I was all flushed up, according to Filbert.  He sat me down and told me again to think through if I wanted to go on.  I wasn’t good with nausea and I knew how badly I can continue throwing up once the bout started.  I made a decision to continue for another 100m before turning back.  The mountain would still be here and I would want to enjoy the summit if I ever made it.  I knew I would not enjoy the rest of the journey in my present state.

Turning back was surprisingly not as tough a decision to make as I thought and Filbert was surprised too.  I guessed most people would insist on going up till they were really really sick.  At this point, I was totally not interested in taking out my camera anymore though there were times I thought I should take one with my sick look.  As I made my way for descent, I bumped into several trekkers going up and it was obvious I must be sick to be going in the opposite direction.  Though I was still walking, I had to stop several times to throw up.  I was glad I did not turn back only when I was really sick.  Filbert offered to take over my daypack and gave me his red bull to get some energy in me.  By now, I had thrown up a record 6-7 times and it was all pure gastric juices as I could taste the bile in my mouth. The red bull helped but I guessed that came back out eventually too.

I had never been sick on any trekking trips so this was very much a first.  I was cold, wet and ice continued  raining down on us.  I felt weak with no energy and my stomach was just churning with no food for it to burn.  I felt miserable.  But I had to continue till we get to the main road where Filbert could call for the rescue car.  He kept pace in front and he turned back every now and then to make sure I was still walking.  We had to make it to the roadside before dark and i knew he was just moving on so I wouldn’t rest.  He must be worried that I would simply stop moving.

I had no idea how I made it back to Shira camp where they made me sign in the logbook.  We waited for the rescue car at the ranger office.  They were playing a chess game and I sat at the edge of one of their beds, shivering still.  I had been sipping on the red bull and I continued doing that.  I ran out to throw up at least twice before Filbert told me to make my way down to the main road.  we walked in the cold for almost another hour before we reached main road.  Filbert was making calls again and I was so cold, I squatted by the roadside and started hugging myself in a bundle.  I was freezing and ice was still coming down.  The wind was gusty and there was no where to hide.  Filbert told me to try to eat something and continue drinking the red bull.  He also offered me his jacket to keep me warm. I was really glad to have him around then.

The wait was agonisingly long and I guessed it was almost another hour before the car arrived.  Besides the driver, there was a really young boy in the front seat.  I was told to sit in front where there is a heater.  I asked Filbert for a plastic bag in case I wanted to throw up.  The driver was funny and he told me to sit by the window and to throw up out of it if necessary.  I smiled and I saw Filbert’s relief when he saw that.

To be absolutely truthful, I was actually feeling a bit angry when I was waiting out in the cold and I was wondering how ridiculous it was for a sick person to wait this long to be rescued.  Then I witnessed my F1 driver’s skills.  He was fast.  I couldn’t make out if I wanted to throw up because I felt sick or I wanted to throw up from the speed he was driving.  On a bumpy road, he was making every corner without reduction of speed.  Amazing driving skills.  Now I know why people died in the mountains.  It just took time for any form of rescue to arrive and I was really glad I could still make my own way down this time.

I was supposed to feel much better once we reached lower grounds but I continued to throw up even at the last checkpoint where I signed out to leave the parks.  Then it took another 3 hours before we got to Springlands Hotel.

I ate a little fruits that night and I threw up one last time, making it a total of 10 times that very day.  It took me a day and a half before I felt I was alright again.  Will I come back to try Kilimanjaro again some day? I definitely would but for now, I was glad to be sitting by the pool and feeling all well again. 🙂