Ten Tips for climbing Kili

Since I’ve been back from Kili I have met people who have done it – and I’ve also increasingly met people who are going to do it.

Everyone you meet has different questions to ask and I can talk about it for hours – I am after all now a self-proclaimed expert, I’ve ‘been there, done that’ and have the photo (see above), although I didn’t buy the t-shirt, not because I respected Nike’s possible patent breach of an entire range of ‘Just Done it’ t-shirts, its just I didn’t find one that I would ever wear again – as I’ve become older I appreciate this part of a purchase more, there were none in my colour….

A Quick top ten tips for those thinking of it –

1. If you are already training and you’re not going for 12 months or more, don’t worry, its in the bag.

If you followed my journey at all you will know my training was quite ‘compact’ and if I can do it, YOU can do it, and then you can buy the ‘Just Done it’ t-shirt.

2. Don’t spend a lot of time googling ‘Summiting Kilimanjaro’ or more specifically ‘failing to summit Kilimanjaro’ not good for the motivation and there are hundreds of horrifying You Tube videos out there of people gasping what appears to be their last breath, looking un-showered and in some distress due to altitude sickness or they might just be faking it – who knows, that’s why you can’t always trust the internet- people. You will make it!!! Believe!!!!
(Watch those videos when you get back, like I did)

3. Take Vicks – this is related to the fact that at some time in the vast rocky wasteland that is about three days worth of climb you will have to use a long drop or portable toilet. The Vicks is for across your top lip to protect your gagging reflex. I don’t think I need to elaborate further.

4. There will be things you take you don’t use, things you wish you took, the hours and days spent worrying about your packing will feel useless above 3000 metres so don’t worry too much. If you take one of everything you will still make it (although I do recommend two poles and two boots).
4a. Don’t wear all your gear at the airport before you get on the plane to go to Kili, boots maybe, we all understand luggage restrictions, everything else – not so much. It just looks wrong – on the way home, sure go for it, just not on the way there.

5. Walk, walk and walk those boots in. Your boots and you – going up a mountain. That’s as close as it gets to the most important thing you take with you. Wear your boots in, if you get blisters still after a month or so of wearing them in, if you have time, change boots, if you don’t (like me) just wear plasters and pack enough for the trip – they still work, there is no pain and your boots will have a slightly worn in look before you start. You don’t want to be the only person with brand new boots at the start – because, you just don’t.

6. Kilimanjaro is the zip off pant capital of the world, you will buy some zip off pants, you will wear them, you will notice no guides or porters wearing them. You will probably never use any of the zip off functionality – or you may. That’s just how it is. You may give your gear at the end to the porters as many do, no idea what they do with the zip off pants – they must sell them. Remember – you will probably never wear the zip off pants again, give them away.

7. Do not listen to all the other people in your hotel / backpackers / lean-to that are just back from the mountain if they have anything negative to say, didn’t make it, vomited a lot, or if they talk about Diamox. It is unlikely any medical professional or other climber knows as much about taking Diamox as your guide does. Only listen to your guide about Diamox. The guide you will have does that sh*t once a week – you have trained for months and they turn around and do it every SEVEN days – they know their stuff.  Listen to the returned hikers only about glory stories. It will make you feel better, it will also make you think – if THEY made it, I can make it.
(I am not a medical professional, so don’t listen to me about Diamox either)

8. ‘Pole, pole’ (pol-ay, pol-ay) – this has nothing to do with the two walking poles most climbers carry with them.  It is how you are told to walk – slowly, slowly. If you think you can walk slowly now – you are wrong, you have never walked as slowly as you will climbing Kili (unless you’re up for Everest next) it will feel so slow and yet still too fast, especially on that midnight trek from whatever base camp you are using up to the top.

9. Take the longest route you can. You don’t want to train, fly all the way to Tanzania (guessing most of you don’t already live there) and then not make it because you chose the six day route, not the seven day one. Far fitter and stronger men and women than me failed to summit (22,000 a year attempt and 10,000 make it) because they had to walk past that second last campsite while I got to lay down and sleep for a night. I know because I watched them do it and spoke to them afterwards.

10. Don’t be Henk the guy with the fancy equipment that tells you how far you’ve walked that day, hour, minute, the temperature & perhaps more specifically and importantly what your altitude is. Or if you are that guy/girl, don’t tell Charles anyone else – because they will share the good news of your technologically advanced scientific device with others near and far and every 10 seconds someone will ask you something about how far / high / what the temperature is. If you can believe it this will be more annoying on the way down than on the way up. Trust me!

Go with old friends, make new ones, have fun!

That’s my Top 10 – what are your tips? What questions do you have left? I can help – the expert now remember?!

Even got the photo to prove it….

This was not an easily come by photo and it wasn’t just the climb – my big camera (with accompanying giant lens) was relegated to my overnight bag after finding it way too heavy to keep in my day pack after the first day, weak I know but a necessary strategic move & in no way justifies my husband’s commentary that it was too big and heavy and not to take it. My smaller point and click camera slept with me in my sleeping bag to keep it warm and the batteries from draining too fast – unfortunately at some point this meant it got rolled on and apparently didn’t enjoy the experience so while it still took photos – you just couldn’t tell what they were of.

Luckily the main group were sighted on my approach to the summit as they were returning, so after tears and hugs the LDL handed over her camera so when we got to the ‘photo place’ a grumpy Kiwi took the shots for us. I’m not sure why he was grumpy – but he was a little begrudging and didn’t seem that caught up in the euphoria of ‘making it’. However – he took not a bad photo – so thanks to him for that.

With Stator the magic guide

The pre-summit group (as in pre my summit) The LDL third from left and OAC third from right both standing

Here's one we took earlier - Day 2, the smiles still seem fairly genuine. OAC second from right, LDL, third from right then me in the middle with the big blue hat and plaits (there's a look that won't be rushing back)

And we’re off….

OAC's last shot of HK as she boarded the plane

By the time you read this it is likely we will be off on our adventure – one happy camper aka the OAC has already left her home and is winging her way across the skies in her Cathay business class bed, nice for some – but it is a 12 hour flight and her ‘0’ birthday pressie so we don’t begrudge her too much. We also expect her to travel a 15 hour day with us once she arrives so – she can have a lie down for a little while first.

At 8am Durban time the LDL and I will leave to join her in Jozi for a few hours before taking off for Moshi via Nairobi (where we have several hours waiting time – be prepared for many airport photos at a later date).

The confirmation phone call came today from our travel organiser, as well as the list of the other members of our group – 8 more. With the three of us there will be 11 altogether – not sure how many porters and guides that translates to but I imagine you won’t be able to miss us as we traverse the slopes.

As all the other travelers are South African – I joked with the organiser – ‘I hope they don’t mind traveling with foreigners…’ in all seriousness she said to me ‘I’m sure they won’t but please call me if you have any concerns and I can arrange something’ – …………. moving on……. I was joking but am now thinking we may have to tone our ‘Aussie-ness’ down a little, although it will be too early in the Rugby World Cup for any fixtures that may cause fisticuffs. I’m sure the LDL can smooth it all over, although she has found amusement in the surname of two of our travelling companions which means ‘scary monster’ or something similar in Dutch. We may need to make that phone call after all.

As I am avoiding packing I will just include a quick itinerary so those of you who are interested can follow our projected path as we do the up and down thing.

Day 1 – Thursday 8th September – From Machame Park Gate at @1500m 18km to the Machame camp at @2980m (approx 7 hours)

Day 2 – From @2980 9kms to the Shira camp at @3840m (approx 6 hours)
Hmm already half the distance but nearly the same amount of estimated time

Day 3 – From @3840 up to the Lava Tower @4600m and then to Barranco camp @3950m +/- 15kms (approx 7 hours)

Day 4 – From @3950 to Karanga Valley camp at @4100m – not a lot of metres gained but it will be about 7kms and 4 hours.
Apparently a lot of the time is spent getting across the scarily named Great Barranco Wall.

Day 5 – From @4100 to Barafu camp at @4600 about 5km and 4 hours.
Leave early, get to camp early and get ready for summit night

Day 6 -Tuesday 13th September (starting midnight) This has it all – loose gravel, altitude, cold, dark & possibly vomiting.
7 hours from camp @4600 to Stella Point at @5250m
Then another hour to Uhuru Peak @5895m – the highest point in Africa
Photos, high fives and then straight back down to @3100m to Mweka Camp.

Day 7 – Wednesday 14th September about 15kms straight downhill and out – the itinerary says something about enjoying the scenery through the rainforest but am thinking my thoughts will be firmly on the shower ahead (after drawing straws with my roomies to see who gets to go last – longest shower)

I have spent so much of today receiving good wishes and support for the trip – I am so thankful to all my family and friends new and old, online and IRL who are supporting me in this climb. Your support makes me really believe I can do it!

Will give the last word tonight to my gorgeous children and the card they made me for my trip – presented this afternoon.

My good luck card - by 8yo son and 4yo daughter (WAFYO)

But why?

But why are you doing this thing? Is it on your bucket list?
Ummm. Sure it is – or not, don’t have a proper bucket list, more a meanderer looking for opportunities. But say that yes – it is. Does that count?

The honest truth is I’ve always looked for an opportunity to spend a week without showering or washing my hair, and in all possibility vomiting profusely for at least a couple of those days.
No, actually, that’s not it either.

I guess I like to set goals for myself and achieve them and this is one that came along and I just signed up. I’ve got some form on the hiking front, for starters my other blog lists hiking as a personal interest, as does my resume – that counts right!?! I’ve also fronted up three times for the Hong Kong Greenpower hike from the Peak to a far flung beach – 50kms no less, up (and down) the green corridors that are surprisingly plentiful on that small island.
I think I can still get up this mountain and when I do it I will remember others that can’t.

I’m not good at writing seriously – not because I can’t be, but because I am afraid of missing something in the telling. There are so many people that can write so beautifully about things that mean something to them and are important, but I’m afraid I can’t, I can only tell you how I see it.

Fuck Cancer!
Sorry to use a swear word (look away under 18’s, or is it under 16’s?) but I know you all agree. I am sure anyone that reads this has a friend, family member or acquaintance that has been affected by the dreaded Big C. It’s a horrible disease that defies logic along with many other things, there are so many different forms of it and not even they follow agreed paths or timelines.

For example, two people who are special to me were diagnosed with Bowel Cancer, Stage IV at diagnosis.

One is my mother. When I was pregnant with the child currently referred to as the World’s Angriest Four Year Old (WAFYO – just because she’s bound to appear on here again at some stage) I took a call at work in Hong Kong one day from my Mum at home in Australia and she told me she had Bowel Cancer. That’s not a good phone call. What followed was something that people who have been there with family members and friends understand, statistics like 30% success rate for operations and treatments suddenly seem to be amazingly positive possibilities (as opposed to when you were at school and that was your possible exam result). Because the alternative, what could happen the other 70% of the time is just not able to be considered.

It was five years in May since my Mother’s diagnosis, I cannot understand what she has been through although I know the facts – the number of operations, the number of chemo treatments that worked and didn’t, the ‘overlooking’ of a new related tumour for two years because of apparent radiographer/oncologist incompetence, another operation, the Chinese doctor that has kept her body and mind healthy through all the western treatments, her ability to stay focused and positive and still come and visit us overseas in Hong Kong and South Africa (on occasion against medical advice) to enjoy the company of her adoring grandchildren, who love their ‘Mumma’ all the time even when they don’t like me very much. Through it all she has kept her own record of events for the hundreds and hundreds- and I am not kidding about that number- of people all over the world that she counts as friends.

My mum is a special person, she is after all my Mum, but she deals with so many things (not just her cancer) in such a positive and upbeat way for the most part- as well as forgive me my many failings as an absent daughter that not enough can be said about how wonderful and unique she is and what she inspires in others.
So apart from the fact that she sent ME flowers for Mother’s day this year (correct- I sent her none) let me give you an example.
After discovering Mum’s illness and diagnosis one of her very closest friends took off on a ‘short’ 850km walk across the Camino, the pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostela to find a challenge as close as she could think of to the one facing Mum. After completing the journey, she wrote a book, dedicated it to mum and donated all the royalties from the first edition to Cancer research. These are the kinds of amazing friends that she has.

Five years on the doctors do not exactly know what to do with her, the cancer keeps coming back and somehow Mum keeps turning it away. Its back again now, and this time, like the other times it seems worse than before but part of me just keeps believing once again she will conquer it. If recent blood test results continue their trend, it appears that once again she will push it back and carry on with her grey nomad adventures in the ‘Hopemobile’.
I will climb Kilimanjaro for my Mum and remember how hard her journey has been and the unknown road ahead.

The other person is my friend Jodi. I met Jodi in 1995 when she was sharing a house with my boyfriend Sam (now husband) and some other friends in Bris Vegas (that’s Brisbane, Queensland for all you non-Aussies). They were all from Adelaide, living in Queensland and like ‘Adelaidians’ and South Australians everywhere – even though they had never met before managed to find each other in another location and become friends. Jodi started seeing Nick, a friend of Sam’s from school – of course. Later, the three of them moved to Sydney (not together) and we continued our friendship all living in the same city. Nick was a groomsman at our wedding, I organised Jodi’s hen’s day in Sydney in the absence of her out of town bridesmaids and Sam was a groomsman at their wedding. Our adventures together continued as Nick and Jodi became traveling Aussies at large, as we were, first in the UK and then in Vietnam. The Lees and the Moffitts holidayed in Ho Chi Minh, Hoi An, Hong Kong and Adelaide together. Our kids played together, we had fun and plenty of laughs. Jodi was a wonderful reassuring presence and support when our son was going through his diagnosis with Aspergers having worked extensively with ASD children during her teaching career.

Then one day, we got another phone call. It was Mum’s diagnosis all over again. Jodi had to be air lifted from Ho Chi Minh to Bangkok once they realised there was a problem and she had to be operated on nearly immediately. The upheaval and changes caused not only by her diagnosis but by living away from Australia and in a country with a different medical system were huge. Soon afterwards Nick, Jodi and their children Jack and Arabella moved back to Australia and Adelaide to be close to their families and continue their fight against the disease. I thought I knew how it would go from there, but no cancer, not even one with the same name and numbers follows the same path. She fought the cancer bravely for two years and then we got another phone call. My gorgeous friend had died. We were here in South Africa by then and only one of us could travel back to Australia for the funeral. I remember my ridiculous comment to Nick at the funeral ‘Sam and I had to draw straws on who would come’ (I am absolutely hopeless in these situations, can you tell?) Nick said ‘I hope you were the one that won’. Of course we had both wanted to go – to remember an amazing person, mother and friend. There were hundreds of people there, many had traveled from different, cities, states and countries to attend and say their own goodbye to Jod.

Not long afterwards The Jodi Lee Foundation was formed and in less than 18 months through some amazing efforts and activities it has already raised AUD $250,000 towards promoting awareness of bowel cancer and encouraging early detection through regular screening from age 40. People such as Nick, Alastair Cavill who just completed the Gobi March and Andrew Poole through his organisation of The Ride for the Little Black Dress (Jodi’s outfit of choice) have made tough, endurance type of activities a hallmark of fundraising for the foundation.
I hope to contribute to the Foundation through our climb and fly the Jodi Lee Foundation banner atop Kili. If you would like to donate to support me you can go here and do so, remember to choose the drop down (gulp) ‘Kilimanjaro climb’ so I can thank you later for the extra pressure to make it up there.
My target is to make it to to the top and fly that banner.

I know Jodi would want me to do that as quickly as possible. I am almost sure what her advice for the climb would be
‘The sooner you finish this Nikki, the sooner you can have a shower and wash that vomit out of your hair.’