Monday, January 23, 2012

I climbed a mountain.

A big one.  Tallest one in Africa.  Welcome to my 2012.  (It's probably all downhill after this.)

It was the first time I've ever done anything like this and I definitely learned a few things during my time on Mount Kilimanjaro.  For one, I am probably not going to make mountain climbing a regular hobby.  Sure, I loved the experience and I would definitely be up for climbing something again - the experience at the summit makes every moment worth its effort - but I think I'm more of a casual hiker and/or rock climber.  I'll enjoy some pretty scenery and I'll love hauling myself up a rock face, but when it comes to walking up a mountain, really, it’s not something I need to do every weekend. 

Porters carrying camp up the Barranco Wall.
The one caveat to this is if I found a mountain that required the sort of half hiking, half climbing endeavor that took us over the Barranco Wall.  Something not shear enough to require ropes, but too steep and rocky to just walk up.  Now that I could do all day and be very very happy. 

I suppose it's kind of a shame that I'm not so much into the mountain climbing, because I also discovered that apparently I am pretty good at altitudes.  Most people experience a bit of dizziness, headache and/or nausea at a certain point.  Some have really severe reactions.  There is a decent percentage of people that don't make it to the top.  I had a bit of headache the first time we went up past 4000m and aside from that was pretty much fine.  I actually kind of enjoyed watching how my body reacted to the different altitudes.  We kind of had a stairstep approach on several days where we would hike up a few hundred meters during the day and then come down again to sleep.  While this seemed like a lot of extra work, it also gave my body a chance to adjust.  Going up was really tiring and uncomfortable, but then when I got back down I felt amazing - even if I was at a point that had felt terrible the day before. 

In terms of being at camp, I have determined that, if I ever do something like this again, it is worth it to bring things for evening entertainment.  A long enough book or deck of cards is not an extravagant weight expenditure, but an integral part of the experience, regardless of whether I am carrying it or giving it to a porter.  (Did I mention the porters?  They carry everything for you and somehow manage to do it twice as quickly.  Camp is there when you leave in the morning and then magically it's already waiting for you when you get to the next place at the end of the day.)

Sunrise from the top
Overall, the experience was pretty incredible.  I am still amazed at the beautiful views, the energy required and the logistics of the entire operation.  It took 10 people to get myself and Kurt, my climbing partner for the week, to the summit.  All we had to do was walk.  And walk we did.  I don’t think I have ever done so much physical activity in any given week in my life.  It was definitely worth it, though.  Nothing I have done so far compares to the experience of reaching the summit.  We walked up to the snowy peak with the sun rising above the clouds to the left side of the ridge and the moon still setting on the right. That fleeting moment of surprising beauty coupled with the elation upon reaching the highest point on the ridge are the legacy of a hike on Kilimanjaro.  Already, the moments of headache and fatigue are fading, but the pride (and relief) of knowing that I did it, I persevered through the Shira Plateau, the Barranco Wall, the Karanga Valley, all the ups and downs, to stand and look out from the ice and snow of the Rooftop of Africa will always be with me.  

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