| Kili for my 40th
Disclaimer: Long report
Machame Route (7 Days)
Distance: 39 miles
Elevation Gain: 16,044 ft
Elevation Loss: 16,444 ft
• Intro / Pre Hike
• Daily Trip Report
• Gear Review
• General Thoughts / Alpine Ascents Review Summary
Intro / Pre Hike
After completing the 14ers in 2010, there was a nagging, “what’s next?” Since I no longer live in CO, the 13ers is an extremely lofty goal, and I am not sure I have the time to devote to more technical, which leaves higher by default.
After some research on this site and others, I chose Alpine Ascents International to book with, I will go into more detail after the report, but I was very happy with my choice, even considering the relatively high cost.
I booked the trip (Jan 1 – 12, 2012) in May of 2011. I was surprised at the gear I DIDN’T have that was on the list from AAI, and spent the summer accumulating bits and pieces. I suspect if someone is a long time CO resident, and has done some winter hiking, they will probably be very well equipped for the AAI list.
During the fall, I trained as best I could, with a lot of inclined treadmill, step mill, and trips to CO in Oct/Nov/Dec. During those months, I was above 13,000’ four times, twice in December. I think that helped me somewhat, especially for testing my new winter gear.
I left Houston on Jan 1. Perhaps one of the few positives about Houston was that I could fly Houston/Amsterdam/Kilimanjaro via KLM airlines. It was pretty nice to have only one plane change between home and the mountain.
We arrived sometime around 8pm local time, and were met and picked up by the safari company that was used for the back half of the trip. This was my first time to a third world country, and the ride from the airport to Arusha (our hotel location) was very interesting and seeing it for the first time at night was a bit unsettling. Over the trip, we would travel that road four times, and it got more familiar and comfortable. We got to Arusha and checked in to the New Arusha Hotel, and tried to get some sleep.
We would have a down day between the flight and the hike, for orientation, gear check, and walking around town. After the flight, it would have been hard to begin hiking the next day; I was grateful for the down day.
The next morning, we met for orientation and ultimately a gear check, with our American guide, Eric (Murphy). One of the things he impressed upon our group of nine was that AAI treats this as an intro to other big mountain expeditions, so some of the things/gear would be different from other tour groups, or seem a bit unusual. He talked much of “self care”, which was basically that we need to pay attention to our bodies, and treat anything early versus trying to suffer through. He spent considerable time talking about hygiene. We would have hot water to wash hands outside of our mess tent at each meal, and we were not to touch any of the communal food. For example, we would have a spoon to transfer popcorn from the communal bowl to our own plate, and then we could eat. I don’t think any of our group of 9 had any stomach issues, so I would say that it all was worth it.
We also talked about the diamox, which we all had, but our guide suggested we not take until we got sick. I had been back and forth about this, but decided to leave it in the bag. Over the week, several of the group began to take it and several (including me) never did.
He also talked about breathing, about taking deep in/out breaths, and then pressure breathing occasionally for a bit of an oxygen boost. On the mountain, each night we would use a blood oxygen/pulse meter to gauge our acclimatization, and demonstrated how the breathing can increase the blood oxygen levels.
After lunch, we had our gear check in the hotel. This was mostly checking what we had against the AAI list, but also a chance to discuss with Eric some different strategies. I will go into gear more later, but I cut out quite a bit of my drink mixes, and went with one glove strategy over another. One of the things on the list was a 115L Boundary Bag for the porters to carry, so we also had to make sure that our stuff also fit volumetrically.
Here is our group sorting gear.
Good time to introduce our team, we had nine people, plus Eric our AAI guide. There was a family of 4 from Austria who would be celebrating a 60th birthday on the mountain, his wife and two kids (college age). We had a dentist from NYC, a film producer from England, a lawyer from DC, and a hiking guide from CA. As for the extremes, the son from Austria and the hiking guide from CA were coming into this very strong and fit and the gal from England had never climbed a mountain nor slept in a tent prior. The group was all relatively strong and fit, which was good.
After the gear check, we had a walking tour of Arusha, an intro dinner at a local restaurant, then back to the hotel, leaving in the morning. We probably left the hotel at about 8:30-9:00am local time, and drove to the Machame Gate. We stopped at the corner and looked at the mountain; Eric gave us a basic overview of our route. For those who don’t know, the Machame route basically takes you to the west side of the mountain, then spends several days traversing around to the south. Those several days of traverse are the acclimatization days.
Overview map showing our route/camps. Alternating black and green for each day.
Eric showing us the mountain from afar
We soon enough got to the Machame gate. While the porters unloaded our gear and the communal stuff, we checked in, had lunch, and generally got ready to go.
Here is our team, minus Eric the guide who is taking the photo
About 1pm, we were on our way.
Daily Trip Report
Note that all mileages, elevations, and distances are approximate.
Hike Day 1 Start: Machame Gate 6,000 ft End: Machame Hut 9,900 ft
Elev gain: 3900’ Distance: About 6 miles
The guides began their comments of “pole pole” which meant slow, slow. Interestingly, “pole sana” means I feel sorry for you. We leapfrogged several groups, stopping to rest about every hour (would be our routine each day), but generally stayed together the whole first day. A bit confusing, but even though we started at lunch time, we stopped for lunch about half way to our camp for the night. I suspect this was as much as giving us a longer break than anything.
Here is our mess tent
A good time to get through some logistics and a bit more information about AAI. Our tent was huge. It would seat 11 people comfortably around the table, with plenty of room to walk around the perimeter fully upright. A lot of the other tents we say could only seat 4-5 and didn’t look like one could stand upright. After walking, it was nice to have a large tent to relax and dine in. We got plenty of looks; I will call them all jealousy. While it would certainly be possible to hike Kili the hard way (carrying all of your own gear), once you give over to the colonial style, AAI seemed to do all of the little extras to make the trip more comfortable and nice. A good example; you can see in the background the water cooler. We had filtered water breakfast/lunch/dinner for individual use. AAI wouldn’t go so far as to say it was safe to drink, but it certainly gave many purification options, including the steri pen. We also had boiling water on the table for tea/coffee/cocoa.
For all of the lunch/dinner meals, we started with soup. The soup was always great. Then for lunch we would have lighter fare, sandwiches and fruit and stuff. For dinners we would have fuller meals, pasta and meat. It seems that with limited variations, the menus seem to be the same among tour groups (based on other trip reports), so I won’t go into too much detail.
So back to day 1, after lunch, we watered up, and hit the trail again. Much of the walking to the Machame Camp was on easy trail, through the jungle. For the whole trip, porters were passing and generally had the right of way, so we had to step aside or off the trail to let them by.
First day trail conditions
Toward the end of day 1, it started raining slightly. We all donned our raingear for the last 30 minutes or so.
We got to our first camp, put our gear into our tents, and had dinner. Our tents seemed to be high end standard 3 person mountaineering tents. I was very lucky to be the odd man out, so I had a tent to myself, which was NICE. The others commented that it was pretty tight to keep all of two peoples’ gear in the tent and vestibule.
Each night, shortly after arriving at camp and settling into the tents, we were brought hot water and soap for washing. This was also NICE. The combination of wash water and the slow pace (general lack of sweating), made for a very comfortable trip.
I would say that the first and last camps were the coldest feeling overnight. Since Machame Camp sits at the upper edge of the rainforest, but at 10,000’. It was cool, but also still humid. It would feel much warmer at the next few camps where the air was dryer. We all settled in, had dinner, and then went to bed.
Hike Day 2 Start: Machame Hut 9,900 ft End: Shira Hut 12,500 ft
Elev gain: 2,600 ft. Distance: About 5 miles
The next morning, we were woken up at 6:30am with hot coffee/cocoa and cookies delivered to the tent. That warmed me up enough to get around and start packing up the gear. Before breakfast each day, we had to clear our tent, repack our day and porters bags, and drop them off at their designated tarps. Our camp manager was around to help everybody stuff their things in the porter bags.
Then into the mess tent for breakfast. Each day breakfast had porridge, toast, some meat, and fruit. Some days we also had French toast or pancakes. Of course more boiling water on the table for cocoa, coffee, or tea. After breakfast, we were quickly off for the day.
The second day, we would basically ascend a rib for several hours, then traverse to the left to gain the Shira Plateau and our second camp. The rib was pretty easy, but muddy from the day before, and took a while to go up. This was also the first day that the group began to split up based on hiking paces. We may have been a day or so early on this, but I think that the guides expected it at some point, so weren’t so inclined to keep us shepherded together.
A good example of the second day, ascending the rib
Given that for any particular trail, the various groups starting will be on the same schedule (until the extra acclimatization day on Machame), we saw the same people over and over. Also, given that everyone tends to leave camp at the same time, and we all have plenty of porters, the trail was generally crowded.
Today, I felt the need to stretch my legs and push a bit. I went from the middle of the group to the front; thinking that since we were between 10,000-12,000’ that I should be strong and fast. Although mildly interesting to walk at or faster than the porters, and having the ability to get to camp early to pick a tent, there really is no reason to walk fast enough to break a sweat. After the second day, I steadied my pace such that I never really broke a sweat. I was comfortably in the middle group until summit night, practicing my breathing and pacing. Odd to do this below some of the trailheads in CO, but looking back, I am a firm believer that for mortals, it is what you do on days 1-5 that set you up for success or failure on summit day.
Given the faster pace, we arrived at our lunch camp before the porters had our tent set up, so we basically just sat around in the mist/fog. Again, reinforcing that there is really no reason to hustle up the mountain.
After lunch, we began to ascend the Shira Plateau. This was the first place that one might encounter a bit of scrambling. Since our guide hadn’t seen any of our climbing resume in action, he was watching closely as we did our first bit of “scrambling”.
First fun steps of the hike
It wasn’t too long from reaching the plateau until camp. The weather threatened rain; occasionally we put on our rain jackets, but we never got more than a few drops.
By the second day, the camp routine was getting to be just that. We all settled into our tents, gathered in the mess tent for snacks, or “self cared”.
Perhaps some of the photos will show, but we had two tent toilets for the group. It is a bit of a stretch to say that the toilets aided in our health, but speaking for myself, it made for convenient use in camp and at lunch. Aside from that, it basically helped with trash on the mountains. Our guide was adamant that if we went on the trail, we packed out any paper (we had trash bags at camp/lunch). Given the amount of paper on the mountain, having a toilet porter, at a minimum, helped with the garbage situation, but I was glad to have it otherwise.
Being up on the Shira Plateau, we started having great views, here is one off to the west.
It was still a bit humid at camp, but not as much as at the first. After dinner, we all settled into our tents and for me at least was much more comfortable this night. I didn’t sleep too well though, even with earplugs.
Hike Day 3 Start: Shira Hut 12,500 ft End: Barranco Hut 12,900 ft
Elev gain: 2100ft* / Elev loss: 1700 ft. Distance: About 6 miles
*+600’ for the Lava Tower
Day 3 had a lot of promise. For most of us, we would set our new records for altitude, and be higher than the continental U.S. It was also the day for the optional Lava Tower climb.
Out of camp, our trail to lunch was much gentler, but got us above tree line and into the rocks, so the trail had to weave around them much more. By now we had fairly settled into three groups, and I stayed comfortably in the middle. One thing that was becoming routine was the changing weather. We would go from sunny (hot) to cloudy (cold) quickly and frequently. Everyone got to the point where another layer was available from the most convenient place on the pack.
The weather is about to change
Given the cloudy weather, our views of Kili were fleeting. So lunch was at probably above 14,000’. Given my CO experiences, it was a bit strange to be sitting in a large tent, sitting around a table, with a good spread and hot drinks.
The candle and the battery lit flowers may have been a bit much, but everything else on the table was appreciated
After lunch, we began to hike up to the lava tower. We would pass between the tower and Kili, and split for the optional climb. Who could pass up an opportunity to set a new altitude record?
Pretty sobering to be around 14,500’ (higher than CO), seeing the tower ahead of me, and the crater rim still about a mile above us.
So we stopped below the tower, and 4 of us elected for the climb. There were a few class 3 sections, but I can only recall one difficult spot, coming around an inside corner and ascending a ledge. It was a bit more difficult since the rock was snowy and wet.
One of our local guides, ascending the ledge
Another shot (on the way down) showing how far you would fall. Still probably would end your trip, so a good spot to be careful.
Above this spot, a bit of fun slab scrambling, reminded me of Evans’ West Ridge proper.
We stuck around on top for a bit, shouted to our group down below, then came down. Here we are on the way down, with some of the easy class 3 scrambling. Our guides are still checking our “resumes” and spotting us on really easy class 3.
So back down from the tower, the rest of the group had already headed down toward Barranco Camp. Since the Lava Tower group was also the fast/middle paced groups, we quickly caught the others. As we headed down, we came into the senecio forest, which are the Dr. Suess trees. Great photo op, but for the conservation of photos, you’ll have to find elsewhere.
The Barranco camp was nice enough, the clouds were in so we couldn’t see much of the wall. I had trouble picking out the trail, even in the evening light which was shining on the wall.
Here is Barranco camp, looking up at the valley we came down from the Lava Tower.
Easy to spot the trail when there are colorful jackets on it, basically from the lower left above the tent, over the fur hat, and up diagonally to the sun.
Hike Day 4 Start: Barranco Hut 12,900 ft End: Karanga Valley 13,300 ft
Elev gain: 1,300 ft. Elev loss: 1,000 ft. Distance: About 3 miles
Hike day 4 for us was short; this is the day that gets split into 2 if you are on the 7 day route. Otherwise the group would be going up to Barafu or Kosovo for the night. Our agenda generally had a long day followed by a short day, and had the days prior to summit day as short days for us.
Although we had frost on our tent before, this was the first day we had ice on the ground. After our morning routine, we started out for the “Breakfast” wall. I don’t think that I burned off all my breakfast, but it was certainly fun hiking with a bit of scrambling to get up to the top.
After crossing the Umbwe River, we began up the wall. Here is a shot of some of the lighter scrambling.
A bit higher up, with more light scrambling. Probably class 2.
And the famous “Kissing Rock”. I was glad to have presumably been deemed sufficient by the guides, because they neither helped me across nor spotted me from below.
The last little bit of scrambling (still class 2) before the top. Note that the porters are present (always); the Barranco Wall was probably the most crowded spot on the mountain, and you had to be selective of where you pulled off to allow a pass.
On top of the Barranco Wall, we encountered our first sick people. I saw one person laying down in fetal position, and another guy who was sick. Here I was thankful of our western guide. Eric spoke to a German couple (the guy was sick). Apparently, they could not communicate with their local guide. Eric discussed some options for them and perhaps gave them some Excedrin.
After resting on the top, we headed down to the Karanga Camp. There were several small valleys to traverse, then crossing the Karanga River and up to the ridge and camp. The Karanga River is the last place for water prior to the summit. Our porters would carry water up to the Karanga Camp, and ultimately up to our high camp (Kosovo). The only thing we lacked was wash water at the high camp.
I thought that the Karanga Camp was very nice. Possibly because this is the “extra” camp and thus was less crowded and trashy. This was the only camp we arrived at for lunch, so we had the whole afternoon to rest, although it was recommended that we walk around to help with the acclimatization.
Karanga Camp was also my birthday, so we had birthday cake and non-alcoholic champagne with dinner. This was really nice, especially since the porters had to carry up the ingredients. The cake was made onsite, and was good.
By now the evenings and mornings are routine, but still setting records, this one for highest slept (so far).
Hike Day 5 Start: Karanga Valley 13,300 ft End: Kosovo Camp 15,600 ft
Elev gain: 2,300 ft. Distance: About 3 miles
Day 5 started easy enough, we had another short day, but we were gaining a bit of elevation in our 3 miles. It was starting to get colder (altitude) so I think I started wearing a bit more out of camp, and keeping a little more insulation accessible.
Uphill and across one or two small valleys to reach the Barafu camp and our lunch tent. Since most of the trail on the mountain is easy and easy to follow, here is the only picture I will post of the normal trail. We had to cross this valley, go up and to the right to the conic bump, then follow the ridge up to the left to the Barafu camp.
We lunched at Barafu camp. Barafu camp has to be the armpit of the Machame Route. It is crowded, smelly, and not very level.
That being said, our lunch tent was placed on a nice, large, level slab. This bears mentioning, as AAI tends to have some porters depart early in the morning to secure the next lunch/camp sites as soon as it is vacated by the previous days’ occupant. This was a nice touch that was easy to miss, but greatly appreciated. Our lunch tent at Barafu was right off the trail; we heard many comments and snide remarks about our tent and lunch spread. I have to say it was good advertising for AAI.
After lunch, we pushed up to Kosovo camp, approximately 1 hr above Barafu. Here we would relax, have dinner, then try to sleep prior to our 12am departure.
Shot of Kosovo camp, with the route above.
Hike Day 6 High camp to Summit Start: Kosovo camp 15,600 ft Summit: Uhuru Peak 19,341 ft
Elev gain: 3726 ft. Distance: About 4 miles
We were “awakened” at 11pm, breakfast at 11:30pm and departing at 12:00am. The hot water in the tent was a big help to getting us started; we had porridge and toast as well. The guides wanted us to stay together for the first hour to get a sense of how we were all feeling. After the first break, four of us wanted to move a bit faster. This was OK, since we needed to move at an efficient pace to keep warm, so off we went.
The terrain was a bit soft, but I don’t ever recalling sliding backwards too much. The switchbacks were short, many back and forths.
Up until about 18,000 – 18,500’, I had felt fine. No headache, good pulse and blood oxygen. However, I started feeling light headed and a bit dizzy. Ultimately I think that it was too little food. I didn’t eat much for breakfast, and was only taking Gu on the way up. At our last break before Stella Point, I ate the rest of my solid food (a good sign), mixed up Gatorade in my water and drank about 1/3 L. By the time we got to Stella Point, I was fine.
We had heard over the radio that we were moving too fast, and were in danger of missing sunrise on the summit, or even the crater rim. Even slowed down, we reached Stella Point at about 4:35am. We parked ourselves on the rocks, and enjoyed some warm tea. After a bit, we moved on toward the true summit, Uhuru Peak.
As far as times go (measured by my camera), we left camp at 12am, hit Stella Point at 4:35am, left Stella Point at 5:03am, and reached Uhuru at 5:41am.
Between Stella Point and Uhuru is rumored to be “easy”, but again, it is all relative. Our group felt good, but we were moving slowly. We got our turn at the sign, and snapped photos. There are new signs there now, not the old familiar wood ones. They show up on camera flash easy though.
After “checking in”, we continued to the west a bit and got some good views of Mt. Meru, the shadow of Kili, and the crater.
By the camera, we spent 1hr and 5 minutes on the summit. The weather for us was good. It was cold enough to slush up my Gatorade, but we all still had clothes in the pack. The wind was relatively calm. We all felt pretty good at altitude.
Ultimately we began back down to Stella Pt. We passed the rest of our crew between Uhuru and Stella; all 9 of our team would make the summit (and down safe). We got to Stella Pt. again at 7:11am, so we spent just over 2.5 hours on the crater rim. For me, this was further proof that my struggles below the rim were energy related, not altitude related.
Looking down on the route between Uhuru and Stella
And back up from Stella Pt.
The route down from Stella Pt. was fast and loose. It is separate most of the way from the ascent route, and there is plenty of scree skiing. We were back down to Kosovo camp at 8:36am; 1hr and 25minutes after leaving the crater rim.
We were scheduled to depart Kosovo camp at 2pm, so we had 5.5 hours to recover, pack, eat, hydrate, etc. which was nice. By about 12-12:30pm, the entire group was back in camp, feeling good. By 2pm, we were packed up and back on the trail.
The trail was good, following a ridge/rib down down down. Pretty easy to follow, and but for a few spots, pretty gradual descent.
We stopped at the Millennium camp (about 6,000’ of elevation loss), not the lower Mweka camp, based on the energy level of our group as a whole. I felt OK, but I was glad to stop at Millennium. They sold beer at both camps, so that was not a consideration. Actually, I was glad to sleep up high, as the night was cooler.
Summit day was the birthday of another in our group, so finally after 6 days of hiking, a 12am departure, beer, cake, and celebration schnapps, I had a good nights’ sleep.
Hike Day 7, Start: Millennium Camp 13,000 ft End: Mweka Gate 5,580 ft
Elev loss: 7,420ft. Distance about 7 miles
After arguably my first good night on the trail, we got up, packed up, and headed down our last day. The trail below Millennium was rough. A lot of rocks, mud, and some very easy scrambling down. By the time we got to the Mweka camp, most of our feet were sore and tired. After a short break, we went the rest of the way to the Mweka gate. Again the trail was rough, but mostly because it was wet and slick.
It took us approximately 1hr40min to get from Millennium to Mweka camps, and another 3hrs down to the gate. By the time we got to the gate, we were all glad to be done.
At the gate, we once again walked into our great camp location, had a buffet lunch, with beer, cokes, water, and a local banana mushy alcohol drink. The porters washed our boundary bags, our shoes, and sang/danced for us. Not only at the end, they did this each day welcoming us to camp.
AAI handles the tips thusly, we all pony up the recommended amount before the hike, and then our AAI guide distributes it out to the porters, so we didn’t have to deal with any of them directly. I gave a little extra to the local guide I hiked with 90% of the time, as well as the camp manager who helped us pack up each morning. After all that was settled, we got into our rides and headed back to the hotel.
The hot shower at the hotel felt great, but not as great as I thought. The bowls of hot water each day, and the encouraged self care was a great help, reinforced by the relative lack of dirt coming off at the hotel. We had a celebration dinner in Arusha, then part of the group left the next morning for safari. One other guy and I were heading home instead, so we kicked around town in the morning, then packed up for our flight that left about 9pm.
Most of the gear on the AAI list was as expected. Some of the specifics that I noted are below:
- Gaiters: I took some of the REI desert gaiters. They worked marginally, but I really wished I had my normal (snow) gaiters. I was hesitant because I thought it would be hot, but they would have been much better to keep my pants clean and dry, and would have been much better for keeping rocks out of my shoes on the descent.
- Umbrella/Poncho: The guide’s secret. Yes, rain pants/jacket were essential, but most of the chances of rain are down low (so it was always hot to have the rain gear on), and didn’t last very long. Either or both the umbrella/poncho would have been great to deploy quickly.
- Camp shoes: I took my low top trail runners, and some waterproof light hikers (on the list). I only wore my hikers on summit day and the last day down, to protect my toes. It would have been nice to change into a pair of Crocs or similar around camp, to give my feet a break from my trail runners. (this wasn’t horrible though, but would have been if they were wet)
- R1 Hoodie: I debated on taking this (heavier weight top). I left it out thinking that it would have only been useful summit night. It would also have been useful as evening wear, as it tended to get cool late in the afternoon. I may have risked taking this and leaving my softshell (still would have had down jacket). It certainly would have worked for our conditions
- Steripen: Was worried about failure and batteries, as well as the condition of our water (cloudy). If I had been more inquisitive about the water situation, a Steripen would have been great. I used chlorine pills, so had to be somewhat strategic about the 4hr wait time, while the pen would have been immediate.
- T.P: The porters supplied TP at the tents, so I could have left a bunch of mine at home. Hard to beat the “insurance” value though.
- Wet wipes / baby powder / deodorant: I brought a lot of this for the smell, as I had heard that some of the tents smell bad (ours didn’t). These all ended up being useful for the self care aspect, and just all around made me feel better each day.
- Drink mix. I took a lot, I only used a few. Even though the chlorine has a smell, I was fine with plain water most of the time, but having some for the electrolytes was good. Take the full on Gatorade or equivalent, not just zero calorie Crystal Light. May as well get the calories too.
- Solar Charger / Electronics: I took a Goal Zero solar charger, my ipod, camera, and blackberry. Although we didn’t have too much consistent sun, when it was out, I was able to get a great charge. My camera batteries ran out on day 4. I swapped to my spare, but was glad to be able to charge up my dead one. I also charged up my Ipod, thus was able to listen to it at nights and on summit day (really appreciated it on summit day). The charger overall made me very popular with folks, probably because I had the ipod and blackberry adapters.
- Snacks: I am a picky eater, so took a bunch, and only ended up with 3. I had cashews that I could have left at home, and replace with cookies. These were a godsend on summit day. I had 6 servings of Gu for summit day, and took it all.
- Neck gaiter/bandana: Has been mentioned repeatedly, but great for the dust.
- Medicine: I never got bit by a mosquito. I took doxycycline and was OK with it, for the stomach bug prophylactic effect, but our guide said Malaria is not much of an issue unless you go on safari or to the beach. I carried diamox, but never took it. I carried Advil (took 2 one night) and Excedrin (2x2 on summit night). I left the insect repellant behind. Rest of my kit was standard, didn’t use/abuse anything enough to mention
- Purell: Always in my pocket and heavily used.
- Goodies: One of the guys brought the schnapps and shared. One gal gave me a candy bar as a birthday gift. I would recommend taking something that you can dole out at dinner; it will make you popular.
- Money: I contributed $250 to the porters (we had 53 I think) which our guide gave out. I carried about $100 on the hike (beer on the last night and souvenirs at the Mweka gate). For town, you need new bills, the smaller the better. I wish I would have got/brought a bunch of 0.5 and 1 euro coins, as it is easy to fish those out of pockets for tips without having to flash your wad.
General Thoughts / Alpine Ascents Review Summary
This was a 40th birthday present to me, as well as a next step beyond CO 14ers. It was a great trip. Some general thoughts and several on the choice for AAI.
- I was happy that nobody from our group got sick. We were very disciplined (reminded frequently) to wash, and not use hands directly. I used Purell liberally and was glad of it. Given that, nobody getting sick was surprising, given the close confines.
- We only had one sunny day and one rainy day. The rest of the days were a mix of sun and clouds. It is good to have a strong strategy of layering and be able to quickly layer or de-layer.
- “Self Care” was discussed each day. Basically, you are walking for 5 days for a chance to get the summit. None of the hiking is challenging (not beyond class 2), none of the distances are that great (max maybe 8 miles in one day), nor are the elevation gains that much. However, anything neglected during those 5 days will come back to haunt you on summit night. Take care of your feet; address any aches/pains, acclimatization issues early.
- Diet was my biggest nemesis. I am usually a picky eater. I packed enough treats to balance, but was deficient on protein. Looking back, it is pretty easy to get your carbs and fat, but harder to get the protein. I didn’t really find most of the meats appetizing, so I wish I would have carried some sort of protein supplement. I had no trouble with appetite on summit day, just failed to bring enough calories.
- Breathing was another thing advised. It felt funny forcing deep breaths at 12,000’, but every one pays off up high (probably same as “self care”)
- I have seen reports that the trip can be done the hard way, but generally one needs to accept the use of porters and embrace it. That being said, once you are porter supported, the little extras go a long way to increasing summit success
- AAI definitely was on the high end of the things carried. The larger mess tent, the food (including condiments), the toilets, the filtered water, etc., really made a difference. We had 100% summit success, and no camp illnesses. The luxuries were a big part of this.
- AAI tends to treat this as an intro to big mountains. The breathing, the self care, the food, some of the gear (double sleep pads, bags, waterproofing strategies, etc.) seemed a bit overkill, but they freely admit they do it as the intro.
- The western guide (Eric) was great. He has guided all over the world, and it was nice to be able to walk with someone that has been on many other big mountains. His use of the blood oxygen and pulse measurements, the breathing exercises, nutrition and hydration strategy were all very helpful to keep us strong.
- The tenting locations were superb. Sending someone out early each morning basically meant an extra porter, but the resulting spots were worth it. We were generally on the edge of camp, near to the trail but not close enough to be bothered, away from the pit toilets.
- The big blue AAI tent and flag were easily visible at the end of the day, or at lunch. Good thing to focus on for the last bit into camp.
- Our western guide (Eric) spoke to many other hikers who were feeling ill. It was nice to see the generosity to the other companies.
Summing up, Alpine Ascents International was great. I thought they were well worth the money; their success rates were further justification.
This is a long report, but many things were left out. Let me know if I can provide any additional information.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):