The Mountain Called & I Answered

Mount Kilimanjaro allowed me to conquer it by the 8-day Lemosho Route; up in 6.5 days, back down in 1.5 days.

I hated every minute of it.  I loved every minute of it.

This was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.  It was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.

Yes, this entire experience was an exercise in contradictions.

I’ll cover my 8-day experience in detail in a multi-part series.  The purpose of this post is to let you know about my pre-trek preparations and perhaps give you a brief taste of what’s to come.

Let me state up front that this series will be suffused with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, so the less spiritual among us should be forewarned.  I cannot write in any honest fashion about this experience without writing about my faith and the role that God played in getting me to that summit and back down again, and I wouldn’t want to. So here goes.

I approached this adventure in what I now know was a somewhat relaxed manner, thinking that I’d do what preparation I could then go climb this mountain in celebration of my upcoming 40th birthday.  This turned into so much more than that.  By day 4, which was my most challenging day up to that point, it finally occurred to me that this entire experience was an allegory for my  faith walk.  But more on that in a later post.  Back to my pre-trek prep.

I met with my Kili trek guide, Elly, the day after I arrived in Tanzania, which was also the day before our trek was scheduled to begin.  He checked out my gear, pooh-pooh’ed my really cool light, packable down jacket that I had bought, saying that would never stand up to the temperatures at the summit, and made a note of what I’d need to rent.  That was fine by me, as I had come prepared to rent some gear.  After all, I’m no seasoned camper and there was no need for me to purchase a lot of fancy stuff that I wasn’t sure I would need again any time soon.

In the end, Elly advised me to rent trekking poles (they saved me from a slip and fall more than once – apparently, I can rock the platform stilettos with no problem but I’m a little bit awkward and clumsy in flat hiking boots), a heavy parka and fleece-lined mittens (he was not wrong about summit temperatures!), camel bag (made drinking so easy once we really started walking), gaiters (whoever invented these should get a Nobel Prize in wilderness survival – not one pebble in my shoes!), a sleeping mat and bag (so warm and cozy) and a sports bag to put it all in (because who was going to drag my Pullman up the mountain, for goodness sake?).  I added to this my own few clothes that I had brought (extra t-shirts, undershirts, thermals, etc.), plus my Bible and very basic toiletries.

On top of checking out my gear, Elly advised me to start taking Diamox, a pill that helps combat the effects of altitude sickness.  You may remember from a previous post that this was the one thing I was truly concerned about because there was really nothing I could do to prepare for it.  Elly fixed that up quickly.  I had learned about Diamox in my readings about climbing Kilimanjaro so I wasn’t apprehensive when he recommended that I take these pills.  I refreshed my knowledge with Google and started on 250 mg of Diamox that evening – that’s half a pill.  I continued taking it for the duration of my trek – one after breakfast and one after dinner – upping the dosage to at 500 mg on day 2 then reducing again to 250 mg at the end of day 7.

I am happy to report that I had absolutely no altitude sickness.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.

Meanwhile, at every location we camped in from day 1 to day 6, at least one person had to make their way back down the mountain because of altitude sickness, which can cause death if you’re stubborn about it.  Walking past strategically placed stretchers leaning against random rocks while on a trek across the wilderness was surreal but absolutely understandable when I got up close and personal with the realities of what we were doing.

During our pre-trek talk, Elly also advised me that we would have to use 4 porters (this later turned into 5; more on that when we get to day 1) to carry all of our stuff up and down the mountain, plus a camp cook.  I had expected this so I wasn’t surprised.  Our stuff included my gear, our tents and sleeping bags and mats, food, a small cylinder of gas for cooking, cooking implements, and a host of other things I couldn’t fathom but am thankful that we had.  After ensuring that I understood all of his recommendations, Elly rushed off to complete the behind-the-scenes preparations for our trip.

Let me pause here to say that my approach to my guide’s advice was a very specific and deliberate one.  He knew the mountain and I didn’t.  He knew exactly what we were facing and I didn’t.  While I’m not inclined to blindly follow anyone’s advice, I would be a fool to think that the little I knew about surviving on and summitting Mount Kilimanjaro could even begin to compare to what he knew.  So I shut up, listened to what the man had to say, and followed his instructions.  My life depended on his good advice.

Meanwhile, I spent that afternoon relaxing around my hotel, blogging and Whatsapp’ing with friends and family.  That night, I packed and prayed and slept very well.  Maybe I was too stupid to realise that I should have been tossing and turning with worry but apparently, I’m learning to cast my care.

We set off early the next morning and reality caught up with me soon after.  More on that in my next few posts.

In the end, we walked a total of 69.5 km in 43.5 hours over those 8 days.  And I’m proud to say I lived to tell the tale.

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