Oh Africa, where do I even begin? This trip was truly a once in a lifetime trip and we had the most incredible life-changing experiences there. We were able to travel with 19 of our best friends (including our sister and brother-in-law), who just happen to be my husband Zacks co-workers. We are so grateful for his company Ninefold and the opportunities it gives us to see the world. I will be breaking up our trip into 2 or 3 blog posts because I have so much to share. Today we are starting with the 6 day trip up Mount Kilimanjaro and what that experience was like for us. The video is raw and unedited and frankly pretty dang vulnerable. If you want the full story of how it went watch the video below. I am going to break it down day by day on how our experience on the mountain was.
Day 1: Our journey started just outside of Moshi in the country of Tanzania. We booked everything through Altezza Travel, who I cannot speak highly enough of. I highly recommend using them for any traveling in the country of Tanzania, they were absolutely incredible to work with and I will never forget the friendships I made with our guides and porters. They are truly remarkable people. It was Sunday November 7th and we had a 3 hour drive to get to the gate where we started our summit. Upon arrival, we were greeted by 8 guides and 70 porters. We were shocked that it took 70 African men to be able to carry all of our personal stuff plus all the things we needed throughout the week up the mountain. They are the true MVPs. After feeding us a hot lunch, we started our climb. Once we started going we were shocked by how incredibly slow they made us go. We were going about 2x slower than our normal walking pace. It was honestly kind of frustrating at first because we just wanted to freaking walk normal but we trusted their guidance and went super slow. We only hiked for about 2.5 hours on day one before arriving to our first camp. When we arrived at our first camp, Simba Camp, the porters were working very fast to get the mess hall tent set up and our sleeping tents setup for us. There was a beautiful view of Mawenzi Peak in the background of our camp (the smaller peak on Mt. Kili) and the energy and vibe at camp was super exciting and fun. Each camp had “bathrooms”, if you want to call it that, which were basically just shacks with a hole in the ground for you to squat over. That got old really fast, but we got used to it. After everything was set up, they fed us a huge spaghetti dinner with fresh fruit. Once the sun went down, it started to get pretty dang cold. It was around 40 degrees F on that first night so we bundled up and were about to head to our tents when the guides started passing around what appeared to just be stuffed animals but turned out to be little heaters that they filled with boiling water for us to sleep with. These stuffed bunny rabbit heaters ended up being lifesavers for much colder nights to come. We went to bed warm and excited for what the next day was going to bring.
Day 2: We did not sleep good at all on night one, mostly because I had a major head cold so I wasn’t feeling great to begin with. The guides woke us up at 6:50 am and greeted us tent side with hot tea. We packed up all of our stuff and headed to the mess hall for breakfast. This was our first breakfast on the mountain and we were shocked at how well they fed us. They started with hot porridge and then brought us out eggs, toast, sausage and crepes with Nutella. We had to make sure and eat a lot because of the amount of energy that we were going to expend throughout the day. They also gave us Diamox which is a prescription medicine for altitude sickness. We ended up taking this every morning and every afternoon to help relieve the symptoms of the altitude sickness. The only downside to it was it made us pee all the freaking time. We started our day of hiking straight up the mountain for a total of 8 miles at an incline the entire time. We stopped at the halfway point and ate a hot lunch. About 7 hours later we made it to our second camp Kikeelwa Camp at about 12,000 feet. We were pretty dang exhausted and were excited to just lay in our tent and rest. We went to bed around 7:40 pm, which apparently is standard because the guides were handing out our little heater bunnies at 7:30 telling us goodnight. Apparently we needed the rest, and they were right!
Day 3: We were able to get about 9 hours of sleep on night 2 which was much needed but I woke up with my head cold just throbbing which was not conducive to hiking the tallest free standing mountain in the world. We had a “short” day of hiking on this day. Only 3-4 hours of hiking but it was supposed to be the hardest day yet, and they weren’t wrong. It was literally 4 hours of straight uphill the entire time. It was pretty challenging for me, mostly because of my head cold and my inability to take a full breath because of my congestion. But the views were insanely beautiful. We were literally above all the clouds and it was so surreal to be there. Everyone had great attitudes and were in great spirits. Walking into our 3rd camp, Mawenzi Tarn Hut, was absolutely breathtaking. It was situated at the base of Mawenzi Peak, which looks like a Swiss Alp. Videos and pictures don’t even do it justice, it was so gorgeous. I was pretty beat up by the time we got there and was ready to take a nap but we decided to do a group meditation (pictured below) and then we had the opportunity to get up and speak in front of everyone if we chose to on what the experience had meant to us so far and how we were feeling with everything. It got very emotional and it was a really cool experience to be able to hear and speak in front of all my peers about how blessed and lucky we were to be having this incredible, once in a lifetime experience. After our little pow wow, we had an optional acclimatization hike that was 30 minutes up and 30 minutes down. I had started to experience some altitude sickness so we decided to opt out of the hike. Only about a dozen of the people in our group ended up going on the hike. The rest of us stayed back and a few of the guys and the porters set up a mock soccer field and rolled a tarp into a ball with some rope to play a soccer game. Watching these porters, who speak very minimal English, play soccer with some of the guys was one of my favorite moments of the entire trip. Watching them laugh and high five each other, when they can’t communicate with words was truly so cool to witness. Everyone speaks human and I witnessed that first hand. At one point, our friend Adam whipped out a handful of $20 dollar bills and told the porters that each time they scored a goal they would get $20. Watching the competitiveness and drive from these porters working hard to score some cash ($20 for them is like 3 days worth of work on the mountain so its a lot of money for them) was so humbling to watch. They were so grateful and happy to be there with us and it showed. I will never forget how big of a smile I had and how happy my heart was watching them play. After we got some rest, we had dinner and hit the sack for what was going to be the most challenging day yet, day 4.
Day 4: Oh day 4, where do I even begin with you? This day was supposed to be, as one of the guides said, “Like pushing a drunk man to the beach”. I took that as it was supposed to be easy to get to camp. Oh boy was I wrong. We were supposed to gain about 3,500 feet in elevation this day, getting us to about 16,500 feet. It was supposed to be 4-5 hours of flat walking and minimal incline. I woke up feeling positive about the day but planned on going extra pole pole (slow in Swahili) to try and acclimate better to the elevation. I stayed at the back of the pack and went very slow all day. There was minimal incline and it wasn’t extremely challenging physically other than the altitude sickness started to take over my body at this point. I became extremely lethargic, short of breath and very out of it in my mind. We made it to the point where we had about 1/2 mile to the base camp and at this point everyone else had made it except for Zack and I. I started getting very light headed and couldn’t stand on my own. Zack had to hold me up with this arms on my back as I walked. Everything started to become very fuzzy and honestly, at this point I don’t remember a lot other than 6 out of the 8 guides ran down to us to help me get to the base camp. All I remember is I passed out. I went straight down to the ground. Everything went blurry and my body gave out. I sat down for a few minutes before being able to stand again. I got up and went about 30 more feet before I passed out again. At this point we were seriously only like 10 minutes from arriving at camp so I was able to come to and successfully get to camp with the help of Zack and the guides. I was so out of it and so lethargic that they immediately put me in my tent and put me on oxygen. I fell asleep almost instantly and was on oxygen for 30 minutes before they came and woke me up and made me eat something. Once I came to, I felt like I had just gotten run over by a bus. If you ever have had a concussion, you know what this feels like. I was physically and mentally exhausted. My body simply was not acclimating to the elevation and it showed but I am not a quitter. I would not quit. I ate lunch and then we were told to go try and sleep from 4 pm-11pm and then they would wake us up for dinner before we started the final summit at 12 am. I got up and was able to get a little bit of food down before starting the summit. I had a positive attitude and was going to give it 100% to make it to the top, I was determined. The summit climb was unlike anything any of us had planned for. It was literally straight up the mountain side, straight up hill. It was also about 16 degrees F at this point too, so freezing cold. I don’t remember a lot from summit night but I know I was going extremely slow just one foot at a time, taking a big breath in with every single step. We got about 3 hours into the 9 hour climb and my body started to fail me again. I went down, I passed out again. I was able to get back up pretty quickly and keep going but it wasn’t even 5 feet before I passed out again. This time they pulled out the oxygen and hooked me up to it. Zack told them I wouldn’t quit, that they would have to force me down the mountain if they had to but I wasn’t going to willingly give up. I was physically prepared and mentally prepared for this climb so I was extremely heartbroken and frustrated that the altitude sickness was making my body unable to do something that I was so physically prepared and capable of doing. Our guide, Ally radioed in the head guide Stanford to let him know I had passed out a couple times again and was on oxygen. Stanford radioed back in Swahili what I was soon to learn was, “Take her down now. She is at too high of risk of dying at this point.” DYING?! Really? Apparently the second stage of altitude sickness is High Altitude Cerebral Edema which can be fatal and the first symptom of it is passing out. I immediately started bawling because I did not want to give up but I quickly realized the importance of getting me down to lower elevation so that I could be safe. I did not want to die, obviously. At this point I too became worried about my safety and making it back home to my babies who need their mom, so I obliged and thanked them for keeping my safety their number one priority. Zack asked me if I would be okay if he kept going and I obviously wanted him to be able to make it all the way so I of course told him to go and I would be alright.
Day 5: Coming down off the face of the mountain at 4 am is really blurry at this point. I had one of the guides Agrey, carrying my backpack and one of the porters Kochepa basically carrying me down the mountain side, arm in arm they literally carried me down that mountain. I had tears rolling down my face as I bawled in disappointment and embarrassment that my body had failed me. I will never forget Kochepa, who barely speaks English rubbing my back and saying “Don’t cry sister, hakuna matata, don’t cry” as he carried me off the mountain. I get super emotional just thinking about how much the porters and guides truly cared about us and our safety. Once I got safely down the base camp, I immediately fell asleep for 6 hours. Once I woke up, I had the most pounding headache and my entire body was swollen. I couldn’t even keep my head up, I was so sick from the altitude still. Agrey made me get up and get some food in my system to try and help me feel better. It didn’t help much, I just laid my head across the table and rested while I waited for everyone else to come off the mountain. I was worried about Zack because he had also been experiencing some altitude sickness the past 24 hours. I asked Agrey if he was able to radio in and check in to see how it was going and he informed me that Zack had really been struggling because his oxygen kept getting dangerously low (around 70%) and he required oxygen to be able to make it to the first summit, Gilmans Point, at which point they wouldn’t let him continue to Uhuru Peak which is the highest point on the mountain so they made him come down to a safer elevation. He was the first one to successfully reach the top of the mountain to get back (everyone else continued to the highest peak). I greeted him with tears of joy and so proud of him. He was in bad shape at this point and was experiencing horrible altitude sickness. It didn’t help that he hadn’t been able to go to the bathroom (if you know what I mean) since we had been on the mountain, so over 5 days now. His oxygen was still extremely low so they hooked him back up to oxygen and asked us to quickly pack our things to get us down to a lower elevation. Once we got packed up, we started our 4 hour hike down the opposite side of the mountain to our last and final camp. The whole way down Zack kept puking a black tar substance and Agrey and Kochepa had to carry our packs for us because our bodies were so weak from the altitude sickness. We were finally able to make it to our last camp and much to our surprise were able to stay in cabins and sleep in actual beds instead of sleeping in our tents. A few hours later, the rest of our group made it down to the camp. It turns out a few of them also were experiencing bad altitude sickness so there were a handful of us in pretty rough shape. I immediately felt so much better after coming down to 12,000 feet. My symptoms immediately subsided and I felt like a whole new woman. Unfortunately, Zacks symptoms were not improving so they once again hooked him back up to oxygen which seemed to give him some relief. After a hot dinner and a good nights rest, we had finally made it to the last day.
Day 6: This day was short and sweet. We were supposed to hike 12 miles down the mountain to be able to finish but ultimately there were 9 of us that were unable to make the trek down due to altitude sickness so we were able to get in a big rescue vehicle and be taken off the mountain. The other 12 people in our group started the trek down the mountain but only 4 of them ended up making it all the way down without having to be picked up. Turns out this hike was way harder than anyone ever expected it to be. We were all so beat up. After a 2 hour drive back to our hotel we were able to take a much needed shower after not being able to shower for nearly a week and get into some clean clothes. That night everyone (except for me) was awarded a certificate and a medal for successfully climbing the mountain. I got a medal for effort, which was very humbling and hard for me to accept in front of everyone, just because I was frustrated that my body was unable to acclimate and finish the climb. We heard on the mountain that 97% percent of people successfully reach the summit and it turns out 97% of 21 people is 20 so I guess I just took one for the team and decided to keep the statistic accurate.
This experience was truly something that is hard to put into words unless you were there and experienced it. I know it sounds crazy but it truly was life changing. A piece of my heart got left in Africa with the guides and porters who served us endlessly with no complaints for such a petty wage. My heart has been aching because I truly miss them and want to give them the world for their service and for the impact they have had on my life. Zack and I are going to film a YouTube video in the coming week that will hopefully be able to better articulate what this trip truly meant to us and how its impacted our daily lives.