Sunday, December 30, 2007

Home Again

I'm too tired to be entertaining, so I'm just going to fall into bed. But I wanted to let everyone know that Mark and I are safely back in LA. No problems on the trip back, although the nine hour bus ride from Moshi to Dar wasn't comfortable, to say the least. And was Heathrow Airport designed by Franz Kafka?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Breach Wall

Mark needed to stop by a different internet place to send an email, so I took the chance to post this photo. This is the breach wall, as mentioned in my last posting. I wish the photo did it more justice, but you get the idea.

The Breach Wall

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

at 5000 meters comes the madness....

mark and i are down from kilimanjaro, and back at the internet cafe with the deeply problematic shift keys.  i haven't the energy to do the blog entry the 8 days on the mountain deserve, but i'll start it out.

most importantly, we are both back and safe.  the claim that 50% of climbers make it to the summit proved true in our case.  mark made it to the top, but i did not.  igot pretty sick on the evening of day 4, at barranco camp.  not altitude sickness, but some sort of stomach parasite which still has my a bit laid out.  i also got mountain sickness at the upper reaches of the climb, but i knew from nepal that i was prone to that, so i had planned my itinerary around more acclimitization than average to try and avoid the problem.  i might have been alright with the altitude sickness, but the stomach problems led to pain and dizziness that pretty much took me out just short of the summit.  on the final night climb, i had to turn back at 3:30 am, while mark continued on to reach the summit less than two and a half hours later.  i was very close, but just couldn't marshall my body to do it.  (a wise choice -- it took me a full two and half hours to get back to camp at dawn because i was having so much trouble walking, meaning mark ascended the last 2000 or so feet in the same time it took me to descend that far.)  on a side note, i did make it about 2000 feet higher than our guide, who didn't feel well enough to even attempt the night ascent.

the trip, even feeling as lousy as i did, was amazing.  the mountain is beautiful.  i'll write again about it soon.  for now, here is a little recap.

day 1 -- the day it didn't rain -- a lovely day through the rainforest, and it was indeed the only day it didn't rain.  i'll dwell on weather more in the future, but on day 2 it rained all day, so we had to build tents, eat meals, everything in a driving rain.  on day 3 it was raining as we climbed, so at a certain altitude the rain turned to hail, and as we kept climbing turned to snow -- the middle couple of hours of the day was in a blistery and window snow storm.  on day 4 it merely rained, and not all day.  on day 5 it rained, and then hail at night.  on day 6, that's right, rain.  on day 7, it was fantastically beautiful for the night climb, although bitter, bitter cold, and for the daylight descent it was the most powerful rain yet, which turned to a painful hail, even through our gear, and on day 8, we made it to the basecamp and the jeep early enough to miss the rain.  but trust me, it is raining there now....

day 2 -- the day eligi became ill -- a steep climb (in pouring rain, yes) that mark and i hit hard and took without pause, so we could get to the camp in the afternoon and enjoy ourselves, plus do some extra climbing to acclimate.  in the middle of the day, i commented that our guide was going slowly -- and while i know a slow ascent is crucial on kilimanjaro and all the guides do it, i said to mark that i thought he couldn't go faster even if

day 3 -- the day with the good bathroom -- a good bathroom, in the context of this trip, means an outhouse that looks like nothing more than 3 and a half foot square closet with 5 inch square hole in the middle of the floor.  consider for a moment what constituted a "bad" bathroom....  one bit of genius that set this particular bathroom apart from the rest was the inclusion of a door.  i'll let you imagine the other innovations other bathrooms lacked.
day 4 -- the first day crossing 15,000 feet -- beautiful and snowy, i wish the weather had been nice enough to allow for more photos.  by the end of the day i had a clanging headache informing me of the altitude, even though after spending time at 15,000 feet we dropped back down to camp at just over 13,000.
day 5 -- the first day craig didn't eat -- in the morning, the headache was gone, but so was my stomach.  i wasn't able to eat anything all day, except for a few slices of cucumber.  our guide company estimates trekking kilimanjaro burns 5,000 calories a day, mark and i think that is far north of the real number, but i'm pretty sure it requires more than the 74 calories i was able to stomach.  also, i'd love to attach a photo here, but this computer lacks usb, so you will have to imagine "the breach wall."  our itinerary was planned out pretty carefully.  each obstacle of the hike was estimated to take a certain amount of time -- an hour or 3 hours or 30 minutes -- and then all of those added up to the estimation of the length of the day and when we would reach our next camp.  the first 40 minutes of day 5 was allocated to topping the breach wall: an 880 foot rock face rising nearly straight up from the campsite.  first we had to descend into a small valley, to assure that we had to climb the entire 880 feet, and then the wall.  i'm not even going to try and describe it beyond saying the term "wall" is 100% accurate.  it is absolutely not a hill.  the night before, as mark and i surveyed the wall, we couldn't see how it was even possible.  i have to say, i suspect more people get harmed climbing kili than anyone admits, and i think it starts at the breach wall.  when we reached camp that night, we heard of a porter who fell while carrying a tent for a large 12 person group that shadowed most of our trip.  i was told the porter was "ok," but when i asked if he was good ("zuri") i received only a shadowed glance.
day 6 -- the short day -- the campsite from the fifth night was easily the most desolate campsite i have ever seen, and we hiked through wastelands for only about 3 and a half hours before reaching before reaching what is now the most desolate campsite i have ever seen.  the location, our only campsite above 15,000 feet, is known as "barafu huts" which means "ice huts."  there are no huts, by the way.  ice, yes.  waking in the morning our breath had crystallized on the ceiling of the tent to make a hanging frost.  i wasn't able to eat any breakfast, but i managed a bit of lunch when we reached barafu, and then climbed another hundred meters to try to acclimate as much as possible.  i wasn't able to eat much dinner, unfortunately, but did have some vegetable soup and a few noodles.
day 7 -- the day of the death marches (also known as the second day craig didn't eat) -- i don't know how else to entitle the day, which was really 2 days.  from midnight to ten am was time to climb the last 4000 feet from barafu to the summit, and return.  mark stayed on the summit less than five minutes before having to flee the cold.  i was struggling on the side of the mountain, knowing that a full ascent was unlikely in my condition but having to take a shot at it since I was so close.  at 3:30 my stomach became unbearable.  i would have liked to wait it out, and then continue my ascent, but in the sub-freezing temperatures at 17,500 feet in the snow, sitting and waiting wasn't an option -- constant motion was all the kept you warm enough.  so, unable to go up, i had to begin a slow and methodical descent.  that, unbelievably, was only the first death march of the day.  eleven am to 5 pm was set aside for another 5,000 feet of descent.  5,000 feet down in less than 4 horizontal miles.  incredibly steep, and the rain and hail never let up.  an unbelievable misery.  my told descent in that 24 hour period was 7,000 feet, and mark's was 9,000.  our knees are knackered.  at reaching that night's campsite, we thought of ourselves as "off the mountain," even though we remained at over 10,000 feet in elevation.
day 8 -- the day we returned -- we hiked down the remaining 5,000 feet, this time over 6 miles, to the jeep that brought us back to moshi.  i managed to feel a bit better and enjoyed some breakfast, and now, in the evening, am feeling sick to my stomach but little worse than that.  the hike down i tried to take slowly, to enjoy our second journey through rainforest and colobus monkeys, but we were both so ready for a real bed (mark) and a real bathroom (me) that we covered the 5,000 feet and 6 miles in under 2 hours.  that included stopping for photos....
I hope everyone had a fabulous christmas eve and christmas day.  i was shivering on the side of a very tall mountain, but somewhere in the middle of that i thought of you all.  or i think i did.  i meant to....  in any case i am thinking of you now.  merry christmas.
now i'm going to enjoy a bathroom that involves fixtures.
with love,

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Just a quick update:

We've arrived in Moshi. The journey here can only be described as third-worldian. I'll give the full tale later, but let it be put this way -- we flew to an airport by accident we'd been assured we couldn't possibly get to, and then jumped off the plane, grabbed our luggage, and ran for the street before they realized we were leaving.... The terminal of our airport, by the way is photographed here:

Airport in Mweba

I'm not kidding. That is the terminal. The runway is that grass you see in the foreground. Notice the fire extinguisher on the hand truck....

So many little tidbits of stories to tell, but I'm afraid I'm off to dinner and then to bed early. Tomorrow begins the climb. Here is the view of the mountain from here:

Kili from the Coffee Tree Restaurant

It doesn't look that far away, right? The distance you are looking at is, roughly, the trek that starts early tomorrow. The day begins with a 3-hour 4-wheel drive that allegedly requires motion sickness pills, but the drive doesn't take us any closer. We'll just be shifting around to the bottom of the mountain on the west, so to the left side of the photo, and beginning from there.

This is the end of communication until we return. f all goes well, we'll be on top on Christmas day! Merry Christmas to everyone!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

You are in Dar

(in honor of sandy, this entry will be in second person.  in honor of the nearly useless shift key on this computer, this entry will be in lower case.)

you look longingly at the overhead luggage bin on the airplane.  your third flight has just ended, in nairobi, and you aren't going to be allowed off the plane as you wait for the next leg.  as you stand for a moment in the aisle of the plane, on tip toe and off, stretching and hitting your head on the exit sign, it can't help but occur to you that the overhead luggage bin is far more comfortable than your seat.  there is a bit of strut in the middle, but you could think of that as a stomach pillow and just stretch out up there.  is that allowed?  can you stick a luggage tag to your face, and perhaps scrawl the word samsonite on your forehead in permanent marker?

it isn't that you aren't used to traveling.  it isn't even that the rather intimidating man sitting in front of you leaned his seat all the way back, even before take-off and all the way through landing because the flight attendant seemed afraid to talk to him when she leaned everyone else's seats back up.  actually, you aren't allowed to complain about him, because the intimidating man in front of mark was able to lean his broken chair back even farther....  ok, you don't know what it is.  but you really, really want to stretch out to sleep in that overhead luggage compartment.

you don't.

you take another flight and get to dar.  you get a visa.  apparently they hand them out by height, starting with the shortest person.  you are in the line a long time....  a cab takes you to the econolodge.  it doesn't look to be related to the econolodge chain, unless perhaps the chain specializes in moldy front entries?  you need tanzanian shillings for the room, so you walk to the petrol station for an atm, to discover that your atm card doesn't work.  unfortunate.  you walk back, and send mark to the petrol station....

the room is quite nice, accepting that it is in the third world.  you fall asleep on the pallet almost immediately and rest 8 and a half hours, waking up, finally, refreshed.  a beautiful morning out on the balcony.  urban and filthy, but still a bit beautiful.

touts offer all kinds of ways to get to the town of moshi, but most can't manage it today.  the bus ride will be 8 hours, and you think of the small chairs and overhead luggage compartments.  a plane ticket for a one hour flight is purchased.  a bit more expensive, and you won't get to see all the little villages on the road, if there are some, but the single hour of travel is more temptation than you can resist.  and, finally, you sit at the airport internet cafe.  the airport has no interior rooms other than the gate, and you can't go there this early, a little self-serve super market, and the internet cafe.  it has an air conditioner.  the air inside isn't cool, but it is conditioned.  whatever that means.

when you get to moshi, you will write again.

you love everyone.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Leaving for Tanzania

The blog is back!


But don’t get too excited….


This trip is only a couple of weeks, and most of that is either on a mountain (8 days) or on a plane (3 days), so I don’t think you have many blog entries coming your way.  I’ll take many photos, of course, and perhaps I’ll be able to post a few from the road.  But perhaps not.  We’ll all find out together!


To start building a bit of expection, here is the itinerary:


December 14 – Depart LAX at 6:45 am.  To get us to the airport three hours before my flight – please exit row, please – a yellow cab is arriving at my driveway at the charming hour of 3:15 am.  Yeay!!!  (Us, by the way, refers to myself, and my friend Mark Guirguis, who is joining me on the entire venture.  Unless we are chased by an angry crash of rhinoceros, in which case I will take advantage of my longer legs and leave him behind.  But I’ll feel bad about it.)


December 15 – Having endured 30 hours of plane flights and layovers – NYC, Zurich, Nairobi – and a serious time zone change I will be in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania as of 9:05 pm.  I’ve been assured I can get a visa at the airport (cross your fingers) and I suspect I can find a place to stay that night without too much trouble (cross your other fingers.)


December 16 – Mark and I need to travel to Moshi.  We have no solution to this problem yet, but we believe we can find a short plane flight of about an hour, or perhaps a bus ride for 6 hours through Tanzania, or maybe a “cab?”  I’ll fill you in later.  If our luggage is lost en route to Tanzania, we’ll wait a day in Dar Es Salaam, in hopes it catches up.


December 17 & 18 – Rest in Moshi, acclimate to this tiny bit of altitude, and sort out final details with our guide company, which has already been booked.  I need to buy a Balaclava here in Moshi, because how can you climb Kili without a Balaclava?


December 19 – A 3 hour drive in a jeep is required to get us to the starting point of the trek, because some gangly over-achiever has selected a ludicrous starting point.  And then the hike begins:

Elevation Change + 650 M

Final Elevation 2650 M  

At the gate, we pick up our game ranger who will accompany us, as we might encounter elephants and buffaloes during our trek. We drive to the trailhead at Lemosho Glades and start our trek through the rain forest. In places, the vegetation is so untouched that it grows right across the narrow track. Our trek today will be along a little used track known as Chamber's Route. In about 3-4 hours, we reach our camp in the rain forest at Mti Mkubwa (Big Tree).


December 20 –


Elevation change + 950 M

Final Elevation 3,610 M

After breakfast, we start the climb cross the remaining rain forest towards the giant moorland zone. Today is a full day trek with an altitude gain of 2,000 ft. A great lunch stop is One, a beautiful valley just outside the Shira Crater at around 10,000 ft. After lunch, we cross into the Shira Caldera, a high altitude desert plateau that is rarely visited. Shira is the third of Kilimanjaro volcanic cones, and is filled with lava flow from Kibo Peak. The crater rim has been decimated by weather and volcanic action. Today you will get your first close views of Kibo - the dramatic summit of Kilimanjaro.


December 21 –


Elevation change: + 240 M

Final elevation: 3,850
After breakfast continue hike east across the Shira Plateau past the Shira Cathedral towards Shira Two camp. We only gain 700 feet in elevation – this allows us to acclimatize slowly to the altitude. The views of the plateau are nothing less than spectacular.


December 22 –


Elevation change: +100 M
Final elevation: 3950 M

Today is the last of the "easy days". It is about a 7-hour superb hike. We pass the Lava Tower, around the southern flank of Kibo, and slowly descend into the spectacular Barranco Valley, interspersed with giant lobelia and senecia plants. After arriving at our most spectacular campsite, everyone stands in awe at the foot of Kibo Peak, looming high above, on our left. Our camp is only 465 feet higher than where we were last night, but during the day,  we will have climbed to just over 14,000 feet. This is one of our most valuable days for acclimatization.


December 23 –


Elevation change: +240 M (787 ft)
Maximum elevation: 4190 M
Final elevation: 4000 M

On the eastern side of the valley, across the stream is the Barranco Wall - a 950 ft. barrier of volcanic rock.  Although it is tall and looks steep, it is very easy to climb.  This is our first challenge of the day. The views from the wall are nothing less than magnificent.  The rest of the day is spent skirting the base of Kibo peak over our left shoulder. We descend down into the Karanga Valley, where we rest up for the night before the tough climb up to Barafu hut.


December 24 –

BARAFU CAMP (15,088 ft.)

Elevation changes: +410 M (1,345 ft)
Final elevation: 4600 M

First thing, we will be making a steep hike out of the valley. The air starts getting quite thin, and we will be running short of breath. It is a tough, but rewarding uphill to the rocky, craggy slopes at the camp.  Barafu means, ice in Swahili, and it is extremely cold at this altitude. So, we will go to bed early because we will be waking at midnight for the final leg to Uhuru Peak.


December 25 –

BARAFU to UHURU PEAK (19,340 ft.) to Mweka CAMP (9,550 ft.)


Summit time: 7 hrs, Elevation change: +1300 M
Final elevation: 5896 M
Descent time: 5 hrs, Elevation change: -2800M
Final elevation: 3100 M
We dress warmly, because we start climbing around midnight, on the steepest and most demanding part of the mountain. The moon, if out, will provide enough light, and we will reach the Crater rim by sunrise, after a 7 hour hike, and welcome a new dawn.  From the Crater rim, rugged Mawenzi Peak is a thrilling sight, with the Kibo saddle still in darkness beneath you, and the crater's ice-walls looming ahead. We now continue to Uhuru Peak (1-2 hrs.) This is the highest point in Africa, and the world's highest solitary peak (19,340 ft). It is the best view in Africa!

The descent is invigorating. It is a good idea to have a little rest once in awhile as you continue down back to Barafu Camp (4 hours), and then down the Mweka route to Mweka camp (5 hours). This is where we spend our last night on the mountain.


December 26 –


Elevation change: -1250M
Final elevation: 1828 M

In the morning we walk down to the road head. After a welcome lunch, it is time to say "kwaheri" to the guide. We then get a lift back to the town of Moshi.  We are not at the same trail head as where we started, so it is a much shorter jeep ride….


December 27 –  Rest in Moshi.  Or, perhaps, get down off the mountain if we experienced delays.


December 28 – Now we need to reverse our travels to Dar Es Salaam, whatever they were….


December 29 – Back on a plane to Nairobi, and then Zurich, and then London, and finally LA.


December 30 – Back in Los Angeles!!!  But you’ll here from me again before then….


And since I have no photos of the trip to post yet, here is my nephew Carter – isn’t he awesome: