Saturday, March 30, 2013

Enjoying the Journey

One of my priorities for the climb – a refrain constantly in my mind, even before we started climbing – was: “When you’re on the mountain, be on the mountain.”

I’ve run seven full marathons, including one while training for the climb. Starting these races is typically full of excitement, with crowds cheering, people holding signs, and the adrenaline that accompanies the commencement of a long-anticipated event. After a few miles, however, my mind naturally starts drifting toward how far I need to run until I reach the halfway point – or whatever the next big checkpoint is.

In thinking about the second day of our climb, I’ve also recalled making motor home trips from Ohio to the western United States with my family, especially while I was growing up. The act of pulling out of the driveway, the packing behind us (not a fan of packing, in case you missed it), promised great adventures, but belied the fact that between Ohio and national parks far west of the Mississippi were a lot of corn fields.

The journey was the point. Our second day of climbing included roughly eight hours of getting from our first camp to our second. It was a day to deepen relationships with fellow climbers and to enjoy God’s creation.

I made adjustments to my pack – to lighten it and to carry the weight more efficiently. My teammates were more than accommodating with my surplus of gear. Several offered to carry camera equipment in their bags. While I held tight to my camera equipment, I offloaded non-essentials from my day pack: my journal and reading material, clothing I would not immediately need, even extra snacks. Some of my teammates had not packed their full weight allowance for the bags their porters carried. My gear landed in some of these bags. I felt bad to weigh down porters.

We woke up and started our second day of hiking in the rain forest. Eventually we emerged from the rain forest and entered areas of heath and moorland. I’d still fail a quiz on the differences between heath and moorland. Regardless, the scenery was interesting and included vegetation unique to Mount Kilimanjaro.

The Cutout Named “Phil”

A few moments from our eight-hour climb stuck out. The first was a break we took for water and snacks in the rain forest. I took photos of energetic teammates during this break.

I also first encountered the endearing, yet kind of creepy cutout of Phil, whom I gathered worked at the eMi office in Kampala. I never really sought clarification on who Phil was or why my teammates carted a cutout of him to the top of Africa.

Three Johns
Photo of three teammates named John, plus photo-bomb by cutout of “Phil.”

When I was in college, I worked at a coffee shop that had a cutout of a cowboy, and he perpetually had a lei around his neck. For years, he was “The Cowboy with the Lei.” I had heroic adventures rescuing “The Cowboy with the Lei” from miscreants who absconded with him to a freshman dormitory. It became the stuff of legends. Then, on the final night the coffee shop was ever open, I read the fine print at the bottom of the cutout and learned that it had been Bud Abbott, of Abbott and Costello, all along.

In an instant, our knowledge of the cutout’s true identity eviscerated the mythology of “The Cowboy with the Lei” that had taken years to develop. To this day, however, I have a cutout of Bud Abbott in my room. I digress. All of that is simply to say that I’d prefer to know as little as possible about the true identity of “Phil,” the enigmatic cutout that accompanied us to Africa’s highest point.

Welcome Sights

Not long after the aforementioned water and snack break, we left the rain forest and could see above the vegetation around us. I enjoyed views of Mount Meru, another volcano in Tanzania, roughly forty-three miles (seventy kilometers) west of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Mount Meru
After we cleared the rain forest, we could see Mount Meru.

We stopped for lunch roughly an hour and a half later. This was our first lunch break on the trail. I’m not sure any of us completely grasped that our porters would have tables and chairs set up for our lunchtimes. To crest a long hill and see lunch waiting for us was a fairly spectacular feeling. It’s difficult to overstate how much work the porters did to get us up the mountain.

Lunch Table
Pleasant surprise: This awaited us for lunch.

At lunchtime: Jeff and David.

Two and a half hours after lunch, we rounded a corner and finally had a view of the peak we’d already spent two days pursuing. That was cause for another break and myriad team photos.

View of Mount Kilimanjaro
We rounded a corner and had a great view of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Team Photo Kili Backdrop
Team photo with best full view of Mount Kilimanjaro during entire climb.

Slight Change of Scenery

After the impromptu photo session, we had a relatively short walk to reach camp. Most of us were not in a hurry to reach camp. One of my teammates, believe it or not, decided to go for a short run upon arrival at camp. This part of the story has nothing to do with him.

As we approached camp, we noticed a handful of cairns marking the trail. I’ll show you two photos of one of these cairns. One has Anthony, one of our guides, pretending to arm wrestle Meggie, my teammate, over a cairn. You’ll notice that, in this first photo, the cairn is a bit taller than in the second photo.

Cairn Photo 1
Anthony and Meggie pretended to arm wrestle over the cairn.

The second photo shows Katie, another teammate, leaning on the same cairn, after she’d taken it down a notch.

Cairn Photo 2
Katie, leaning on cairn, after “the incident.”

If I told you that Katie leaned against the cairn and knocked it down – despite the fact that our fake arm wrestlers managed not to damage the cairn – it would be kind of a boring story. Therefore, my official story is that Katie roundhouse kicked the top of the cairn to the ground.

Katie also took steroids and attempted to grow a beard.

Washing Porters’ Feet

My teammates became accustomed to my ridiculousness, perhaps even to appreciate it. However, I broached a subject of greater significance when our group met that evening. Our porters worked incredibly hard to serve us. By the end of the second day, this was already obvious. I wanted to find a meaningful way to serve them in return.

Each person on our team was a follower of Christ and took seriously the example that Jesus set. Jesus demonstrated great humility by washing his disciples’ feet. I suggested that we consider washing our porters’ feet. Others were already thinking along these same lines.

Kili from Shira Camp
Evening view of Mount Kilimanjaro from Shira Camp.

Ultimately, we did not wash our porters’ feet. My teammates took the suggestion seriously. Perhaps our relationship with our porters was not analogous to Jesus’ relationship with his disciples. I could understand the potential for a well-intended gesture of foot washing to be received completely other than how we meant it. I deferred to those who had more experience in the East African context than I had. Nevertheless, I wished we could have expressed appreciation for our porters more meaningfully.

Two days later, I found myself revisiting this topic in my mind – from a source I had not expected.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

It begins.

A month ago today, our team of fourteen North American climbers, along with a small army of guides and porters, began our trek up Mount Kilimanjaro. It has taken me a month to begin communicating the experience of climbing to the Rooftop of Africa. Even today as I write, I struggle to extract stories and experiences that can be meaningfully shared with others. If you’ve invested enough time to navigate to this page, I assume you want more than sound bites. I’ll do my best to deliver.

Yesterday I pointed out projects and reflections from two of my teammates. If you need a few more spoilers, I highly recommend those of my teammate, Paul. Frankly, you should probably stop reading this post, check out what Paul has already written, and then check back here for my personal reflections. He’s done a masterful job of capturing our daily routines – what happened every single day of our climb, as well as what made each day unique.

Packing and Porters

Anyone who has traveled with me during the last decade knows that I still haven’t mastered the art of packing lightly. I recently checked a forty-pound (eighteen-kilogram) bag for a four-day trip, and I also took a fully-loaded carry-on with me.

I don’t enjoy packing. I also don’t believe in Purgatory, but if designing such a place fell to me, I’d make sure people there spent most of their time trying to pack for every plausible contingency, believing they were about to spend over a week at a remote, multi-climate, once-in-a-lifetime destination with no convenience stores, delivery services or access to showers. I’d permit them thirty pounds (fourteen kilograms), and I’d give them the twenty minutes just prior to departure, start to finish, to complete the task.

Part of the previous paragraph relied on hyperbole. I didn’t have twenty minutes. My camera gear alone weighed roughly fifteen pounds (just shy of seven kilograms). While it was true that I had a day pack – I would personally carry this on my back, and it wouldn’t count against the fourteen kilograms (thirty pounds) of stuff I handed to my porter – I had a fairly poor sense of how to make sure I was adequately prepared for the climb, while also limiting equipment to what my porter and I would carry. My camera alone weighed half of the porter’s allowance, and as I wouldn’t see my porter again until I reached camp each day, I decided to keep my camera gear with me.

To be sure, these are chiefly #firstworldproblems. The porters worked hardest of anyone on the mountain, and they were almost certainly paid the least for their work. They were also underappreciated – not in that we didn’t value their incredibly hard work, but in the sense that we were rarely with them to develop relationships with them and express our gratitude. The entire time we climbed up and down the mountain, a steady stream of porters passed us, carrying their stuff and their groups’ stuff, traveling ahead of their groups to prepare meals and camps. Many porters, we were told, had never reached the summit, instead regularly resting at the final pre-summit camp while teams made their final pushes to the top.

Two of our ClimbKili porters, just prior to starting the climb.

First hour of the climb: Porters to the left, our group to the right.

Having “Extreme” and Starting to Climb

Prior to commencing the climb itself, we registered with officials at Londorossi Gate. There we saw a handful of signs with various rules, pointers and prohibitions to observe inside the national park. One of these signs mentioned, “DO NOT PUSH YOURSELF TO GO IF YOUR BODY IS EXHAUSTED OR IF YOU HAVE EXTREME” and then didn’t provide an object of this extremeness. Throughout the climb, we determined that we all had “extreme.”

“Points to Remember” at Londorossi Gate

From Londorossi Gate, we rode an hour or so to where our trek began. Due to road conditions, the vans dropped us off a short hike away from the Lemosho trailhead. Our hike to the first camp lasted five hours. It started out at an incredibly slow pace, while we walked on fairly level ground. As Paul mentioned in his post, during a short break from hiking we eventually requested to move a little faster, not realizing that a significant climb awaited us immediately after that request.

Team of eMi climbers at start of climb.

David and Jeff at Lemosho Route trailhead.

As I already mentioned, I had a difficult time figuring out how to pack. On our first day of the trek, I carried more on my back than what I handed off to my porter. Once we picked up the pace and started climbing, a few things were true. First, I was glad my training had included walking quickly uphill on a treadmill with a heavy pack on my back. Second, I realized I needed to make some adjustments at camp, if I hoped to reach the summit and survive the remaining seven days of the trek. Third, I admittedly had momentary “What have I gotten myself into?” thoughts.

Camp in the rain forest on first night.

Partly because we had hauled uphill through the rain forest, we arrived at camp an hour or so earlier than advertised. I was a bit surprised at how densely packed our first camp was. It was crowded! Our guides told us that camps would be a bit more spread out after that first night.

I also discovered, during that first night, how cold it would get on the mountain at night. My sleeping bag, which I rented from the climbing company, did not fit me. One of my shoulders stayed outside the sleeping bag all night, so my sleeping bag literally gave me the cold shoulder. If I wasn’t staying warm on the first night of the trek, where we camped at our lowest sleeping elevation of the entire eight days, what would happen as we continued to gain elevation?

It was clear that I needed to make some adjustments.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Reflections from Teammates

During the next several days, I’ll post my own reflections from the Kilimanjaro climb. The goal is to reflect on each day of the climb, one month to the day after the actual climb. Today, I’ll preview my look back by sharing reflections and presentations of teammates. At the end of this post, I’ll begin my reflections with stories from my first full day in Tanzania.

Presentation of Entire Climb from John

Our group of fourteen North American climbers included three teammates named John. One of them combined route information with photos to make the nifty presentation below.
Blog Posts from Jeff

My friend, Jeff, who invited me to join him on this climb, posted two reflections about the climb. The first post presented a recap of the climb, including an update on the fundraiser aspect of the climb. The second post gave a more personal look at how the climb impacted Jeff personally and spiritually.

Fundraiser Update

As of February 2013, the team of fourteen climbers raised over $50,000 to help eMi build their new office. Thank you for all of your support toward that!

Arrival in Tanzania, Pre-Climb Stories and Photos

Finally, in the spirit of what I’ll be posting here over the next several days, I’m providing a couple pre-climb photos I took in Tanzania upon my arrival a month ago. One of them deserves to be accompanied by its story. To set that up, I’ll tell a couple stories of photos I was unable to take – ones that got away...

I arrived in Tanzania in the middle of the night on January 20. Because I already had a visa, I cleared immigration quickly, reunited with my checked luggage, and proceeded to the area where I expected to connect promptly with my ride to the hotel. However, I quickly realized that none of the drivers assembled outside the baggage area were looking for me. After a few minutes of unsuccessfully trying to figure out which driver was waiting for me, I saw a sign with “ClimbKili,” a phone number and my name on it, resting on a post. Without a cell phone that worked in Tanzania, I sought the help of one of the drivers standing nearby to phone my driver, who had vanished into the night somewhere to catch a few winks. Fortunately, my driver reappeared on the scene quickly, and I had a pleasant – at times, even lively – ride to the hotel, where I met Jeff around 5am.

I wanted to keep the sign my driver had left on the post at the airport, but he wouldn’t allow me to have it. This was a bit puzzling to me, as the sign had my name on it. Nevertheless I didn’t come away with the sign, and I wasn’t able to get a photo.

When Jeff woke me up for breakfast at 8am, I truly had no idea where I was or who was bothering me. It had been an exceedingly short night, compounded by the exhausting pre-trip scramble to finalize gathering what I needed to bring with me, plus the journey of over a full day to reach Tanzania. I was out cold. Jeff spent significant stretches of that day helping me stay awake, a vital part of my readjusting to Tanzania time.

I had promised Nick Comande that, while in Tanzania, I would look for the flag he’d carried to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro years earlier. He told me that he had stayed at a Kibo Hotel. We asked someone at the front desk of our hotel where Kibo Hotel was located. One of many Kibo hotels was apparently nearby. Another was a two-hour drive from our hotel. We set out for the nearby Kibo Hotel – to look for the flag, but also to keep me moving.

Long story short: We never found the flag, and we’re pretty sure the hotel we needed was the distant one. After walking awhile on a hot day (80s Fahrenheit, 26-32 Celsius) in Arusha, I needed to purchase water. We stopped at a convenience store and were greeted by what you see pictured below.

Pittsburgh Steelers paraphernalia at a convenience store in Arusha, Tanzania.

Apparently, the Pittsburgh Steelers have arrived in Tanzania – at least in doormat form. The lady who sold me water wanted to know why I was taking photos outside her shop. I did my best to explain. I’m not sure Tanzania is fully a Steeler Nation just yet.

View of Mount Kilimanjaro from our hotel, the night before we began our trek.

After reorganizing bags to take with me to the mountain itself, I stayed awake until around 11pm. Prior to sunset, I climbed to the rooftop of our hotel and snapped the above photo of Mount Kilimanjaro. Our climb to the Rooftop of Africa would begin the following day.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pole, Pole

Now is probably a good time to introduce a phrase I used a lot while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Pole, pole (pronounced: POH-lay, POH-lay). It’s Swahili for “slow, slow.” The basic idea is that, by moving slowly, you’ll get to your destination eventually – sort of a “tortoise and hare” mindset.

I left Tanzania three weeks ago today. While I’ve wanted to update this blog and get the story of the climb out to friends and supporters, life has thrown a few speed bumps my direction. As a result, my blog has gone...well, you’ve probably caught on: pole, pole.

The Kilimanjaro climb was January 21-28. Stay tuned to the blog from February 21-28. On each of those days, I’ll post a few photos and highlights from what took place a month earlier.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Altitude Training

One of my biggest concerns about attempting to reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro at 19,341 feet (5,895 meters) has been my capacity to adjust to high altitude. I mentioned this in related posts here and here.

I live fairly close to sea level, where oxygen abounds. To help me adjust to an altitude with less oxygen available, I spent six days with friends who live at over 8,000 feet (2,438 meters). I also did some hiking, biking and running at higher altitudes. I’ve returned to sea level, and with just a few days remaining before the climb, I feel ready to go!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Something Completely Different

Here’s hoping that our expedition company, Climb Kili, is better prepared than the one featured below!

Truth be told, Kilimanjaro has not one peak or “twin peaks,” but three peaks. We’ll aim for the Uhuru Peak, or Kibo Peak, starting January 21 (not January 22).

The map above shows the Uhuru Peak/Kibo Peak to the left and the Mawenzi Peak to the right. Connecting them is “the saddle.”