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February 2016

How High Have You Climbed? Mt. Kilimanjaro

IMG_4744IMG_4351IMG_4400IMG_4412 Humans push their limits. It's in our DNA. Maybe that's what Adventure is? If anyone is considering climbing a big mountain, consider Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania East Africa. It's one of the 7 summits, maybe a good one to start on. If you've skied in Colorado, you've come close. Getting there is simple- we chose Delta to Amsterdam, then a 9 hour flight to JRO Kilimanjaro Airport and a 40 minute drive into Moshi. Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,341ft) towers over Moshi (3,000ft). It's powerful to be sitting in the heat of the Union Cafe in Moshi, while contemplating Kili's ice so closeby. Unlike a lot of other mountains which are peaks, or shoulders of other peaks, in a long ridge, Mt. Kilimanjaro juts up (almost) on its own out of the savanah. Elephants and zebras over there, glaciers right up there. Just south of the equator. One problem: there is about half as much oxygen at 20,000ft as at sea level. Don't get winded or start gasping for breath. Luckily you don't have to be an Olympic athlete, you can just 1/ acclimatize and 2/ go very slowly. Diamox helps too. Endurance athletes with onboard oxygen are running up Kili in under 9 hours. We took 8 days. It's a very cool place to hang out. And the guides and porter are likewise good guys and gals. I'm sure there are problems, but we booked with African Scenic- owned by an Australian married to a Tanzanian. They understood managing customer expectations and logistics as well as anyone we've met in the tourism business. They have a good website and are very responsive. We recommend them highly. There are various world class game parks within a half day drive of Moshi, including Serengeti and Tarangire. Big African animals are in abundance, excluding the rhino- they are around but hard to find. Day or multi day trips are easily arranged, either booked ahead or spontaneously while there. The guides get as excited as anybody when they spot new animals to view. Zanzibar and Dar-es-Salaam are an hour flight away. They are much more urban, beach inspired versus the mountain and big game focus of Moshi. We didn't go. It was fun to just hang in Moshi (and recover from walking down from 19,000' to 5,000' in 10 hours). Like someone who has seen the movie you are lined up for, this is deliberately vague. Is the mountain impressive? Yes, it's huge but well worn. Kili is a gigantic stack of calderas one on top of the next. It must have been quite the volcanic show way back. But there is no climbing or scary stuff on most of the routed treks. The final push to the summit is still just a walk. Pole, pole! Is there ice? Yes, lots of 40-60' deep, glowing blue glacial remnants. But no sulphur or gas smell, the mountain is dormant. Should you expect cold on top? Definitely. You'll start off in the tropics, but for the summit push you'll need good base layer, fleece, down sweater, rain shell with hood, winter gloves, rain or ski pants, a toque, a warm sleeping bag. What other gear should you bring? The Diamox pills will make you pee so take it first thing in the am, and if you're lucky you'll only get up once at night. Headlamp is imperative, bring spare batteries. I felt safer with my Steripen. Check the various gear lists online. Sun block and lip balm for altitude. Hiking poles are useful going up, but necessary coming down. We started our climb of Kilimanjaro on Christmas Day and summited on New Years Eve, 2015. We returned in good shape, with a bit of a sunburn and legs ready for skiing, and a much better understanding of the challenges facing our new friends in Tanzania. Thank you Ami, Doudi, Moses, Sam, Eman and Thomas! You are welcome in the Great White North any time.