Memories fade, but I kept notes

It’s happened – just as we predicted. Although I was there less than five months ago when eleven tired and weary, mountain sore people sat around drinking beers after their first shower for a week, determined to never forget the pain. Ten of those (don’t forget we had Superboy doing it for fun with his mum with us) said in no uncertain terms ‘it was the hardest thing mentally and physically’ they had ever undertaken. I know because I listened to them say it and wrote notes so I wouldn’t forget later.  I feel sure if you asked them now their memories of it would be softer and they would say it was ‘one of the hardest’ or ‘quite tough’ ‘it’s just a matter of really putting your mind to it’ – which is EXACTLY what all the people who we talked to beforehand who had done it told us.

The 'kitchen' - birthplace of many a cucumber soup and fried chicken dish

Those that are yet to climb it – I will tell you here and now, there is a conspiracy by those that have gone before you, no-one tells you how hard it actually is. To be fair to them this is because unless they got back yesterday – they probably can’t actually remember. Like a lot of terrible experiences – your mind seems determined to protect you and glosses the memory to make it fuzzy and happier. I imagine this is so you don’t have some kind of post-traumatic stress situation about eating eggs where you are unable to differentiate between the ‘yolks’ and the ‘whites’ every day for a week, or wonder how there can be ‘fried chicken’ on Day 6 of a non-refrigerated trek.

Of course if I dig very very deep they are still there – the flashes of pain, exhaustion, whiffs

Toilet tent and a 'Vicks fix' - Camp Day 4

of the stench of sweating daily and not bathing for a week, along with the retching accompanied by a quick splash of Vicks under the nose so I could go back into the bathroom tent because it was that or the great rocky  outdoors with no coverage and about 200 people I didn’t know looking on – with their cameras at the ready as this photo shows.  Or the shame of the memory of being excited that the LDL was having a nose bleed so we all had to stop and rest for ten minutes and then I could manage a sip of water from my camel-bak and then face the next thirty minutes after we had been told not to ask for stops as we were simulating ‘summit day’ conditions.

My little book of notes – collated on a day to day basis while lying in the tent at night with the OAC has proved an excellent memory prompter for reliving the pain and agony and even the teary conversation we had the day before summit about handing the flag to her to photo at the top if I didn’t make it.

I promise more posts about the week that was Kili -before I tell you about what’s next as my pseudo mid-life crisis rolls into 2012.

Thanks again to all my sponsors – I now understand the South African postal service thought they would rather keep the thank you notes I posted in December (my bad doing it at Christmas time). I hope someone’s house is made much brighter by the many signed photos of me summiting they collected. I haven’t found anyone trying to sell them on eBay yet so it seems they may have worked out I wasn’t famous after all. I have more on the way – watch this space.

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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)

We did it!

And just like that – two weeks away is over and I am back home again from Kilimanjaro ‘Zip off pant capital of the world’,  having actually climbed the mountain all the way to the very top.

There are so many things to tell – I could write a book about the experience, with one chapter alone dedicated to the toilet and toilet paper situation on that mountain…. that might not be to everyone’s taste but is possibly a story that needs to be heard.

It was hands down one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life – its likely parenting will win that race in the long term but for now – moving countries, giving birth (although I was too posh to push), the previously hardest physical event I had subjected myself to – the HK 50km Greenpower hike pale in comparison to eventually hauling myself to the top of Kilimanjaro as one of the 22,000 ‘ordinary’ people who try that every year (remember only about 10,000 make it).

The whole experience from the minute I left home on Tuesday September 6th, till summit day Tuesday September 13th, descending and showering for the first time in seven days Wednesday September 14th to the sneaky few days at a game reserve with the OAC afterwards – to returning home yesterday Monday 19th September to a huge poster on my front door put there by friends to congratulate the LDL and I on our ascent – was amazing and almost surreal.

There are many upcoming posts in the works for now I just want to say thank you to everyone for all the support you gave us.

Thanks to friends and family for their heartfelt and unwavering support (and congratulations when we made it)

Thanks to those that have donated to The Jodi Lee Foundation and supported such a worthy cause. I remember my promise to you all for that signed photo – once I get the photo from the LDL’s camera (mine didn’t make it to the top) I will happily oblige.

Thanks to my climbing companions, the LDL and the OAC – and our eight new South African friends Heidi, Anette, Antonette, Ryno, Kevin, Charles, Salomien and Henk who although took a little bit of cracking (OK not Charles or Kevin) were the best climbing crew we could have hoped for – supportive, friendly, handy with the duct tape & prepared with the Vicks, educational and even super hero like (told you there are many more stories to come – and you guys reading this – still not my whole speech).

Thanks to Thomas & Nico our guides, Simon the most amazing camp manager and to Stator my personal guide for summit day. I had not seen him before that terrible night and didn’t again until we had walked off the mountain, but he was the only person who could have got me there and back, of that I am 100% sure.

After falling out of the main group early on in our 8 hour hike through the night uphill he was like a patient angel who coaxed me through it – always telling me ‘you will make it, I don’t lie – I am telling you the truth. Pole, Pole*, Twende**….’ – and he was right.

Swahili words
*Pole Pole – pronounced Pol-ay, Pol-ay meaning slowly slowly (much more on this later)
** Twende – Let’s Go

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)

How many rolls?

With 48 hours from now until LDL and I will be getting on the plane in Durban and slightly less time until the OAC boards in Hong Kong we are definitely in the final countdown – the last minute items on the ‘To Do’ list are underway.

One of these items was the pharmacy visit, the one where you stock up on everything you think you might need and will probably find in the back of your cupboard in 4 years time when you are moving house and wondering why you never knew that was there and try to remember why you have it.

The pharmacy haul

Its your standard conversation with the pharmacist when you pick up your prescription for Diamox, you debate the pros and cons of the generic brand Immodium vs the real thing and so on down the list for a range of medications designed to relieve symptoms of diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramping, vomiting, headaches, insect stings and various other aches and pains you anticipate you could encounter during the climb.

When you finish your exchange, exhausting the list of items you have and the extras they have added the conversation finishes by them wishing you an ‘amazing trip’ – and to have a ‘fabulous time’. The thought running through my mind at that point was ‘Only if I don’t have to use any of this stuff.’

You then cruise the aisles for band aids, baby powder (no shower for a week remember) and wet wipes (the no shower thing again) and ponder the big question –
How many toilet rolls will I really need to take with me?
One imagines it will have something to do with whether you need to delve into your pharmacy treasure chest for that generic brand Immodium you decided on after all…..