Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Kilimanjaro Climb in December 2012

The Plan

The idea for climbing Kilimanjaro came in after figuring out where to visit during the winter of 2012.  Since we had not visited "real" Africa (visited Morocco and Egypt), decided to put our foot prints there too.  One week Safari seems to be fine but needed to find something to do for another week, and that's when the idea of climbing Kili came into the picture.  You may ask why not relax in Zanzibar !  I am not a big fan of relaxing during the vacation ;-)  Also, why should go to the beach in Zanzibar if I can go to beaches in Mexico or Hawaii.

After some research, decided on the Machame route because:

  • Best success rate and better scenery (compared to other routes)
  • Real camping on the trek and most challenging route (want to build stamina before the final push ;-) )
  • More tour operators support this route 

Choosing the Tour Operator

My main source for research and choosing operators is TripAdvisor.com.  I started sending out request for 7 day Kili climb and 7 day safari quotes to about 10 operators.  The list of operators that I found are from the book "Kilimanjaro : the trekking guide to Africa's highest mountain" and the  list of operators with positive feedback in TripAdvisor.  The price quotes that I received from these operators varied anywhere from $3400 to $6000 for the two week trip.

I sent followup questions to these operators (standard ones for all of them)  and filtered out some of the operators who didn't respond within a week or based on the thoroughness of the response.  Also, I filtered out some of the operators who don't provide the service for Kili and Safari by themselves.  Safari-Infinity is one of the providers I really liked to work with but this company didn't provide the direct services for the Kili climb.  I couldn't find any references for the sub-contracted Kili climb operator, so I had to eliminate SI from consideration (even though I very much liked their customer service/price quote/lodge choices).  Most of the operators were not responding on time at all.  The best in responses for all the questions came from Basecamp Tanzania.  The feed back on their services also ranked very good in TripAdvisor for both the climb as well as for the safari.  The price that I quoted for both is reasonable and at the lower end of the range.  So decided to go with Basecamp Tanzania.

Arrangements with the Tour Operator

With more than 40+ emails communicated with Basecamp Tanzania, I have made the following arrangements:
1.  Shuttle bus pick up from Nairobi Comfort Hotel
2.  Shuttle bus drop in Nairobi International Airport
3.  Vegetarian food during the climb/safari
4.  Optional day for acclimatization at Karanga valley
5.  Safari items storage while climbing
6.  Settling the final payment using traveler's checks while in Arusha
7.  Asked for sleeping bags and sleeping pad part of the regular package (didn't want to haul three sleeping bags from Seattle)

Decided to book the hotel in Nairobi by myself because the price quote from Basecamp was much higher than what I wanted to spend.  Booked the double room in Comfort Hotel using Expedia for about $90 and called in the hotel directly to add additional bed for $20.  This worked out to be a better rate than booking a triple room using Expedia which was costing me around $190 ;-)

Nairobi to Arusha

The immigration at the Nairobi airport was quick and easy at the airport.  Since we already arranged for cab pickup from Comfort Hotel, there's no hassle in getting to the hotel on time for good night sleep.  The only thing that I was worried about was that the luggage not making on time knowing of the British Airlines track record.  But luckily, we had our luggage waiting and checked in to the hotel before 11 PM.  The hotel is located in center of the town in a busy area, so there's a lot of road noise early in the morning.  Anyway, we had to get ready by 730 AM to catch our shuttle, the road noise helped us get out of the bed quickly to enjoy the breakfast at the hotel more relaxedly.

The front desk at the Comfort Hotel was very friendly and helpful.  I'll recommend this hotel anytime for a quick stay in Nairobi.  We felt very safe in this hotel and the room was clean.

The Rainbow shuttle driver came over to the hotel to get us around 730 AM and the 18 seat shuttle van (not really a bus) was just 2 minutes away from the hotel.  The driver told us that the shuttle van is operated by Basecamp Tanzania too.  All of our luggage were secured on the top of the van and we were able to get comfortable seats at the front of the van.

The road from Nairobi to Arusha was really good and no issues of pot holes or bad section.  The ride was comfortable.  The exit from Kenya was quick but getting the visa on the Tanzanian side was becoming problematic because my lack of knowledge on the requirements.  The USA citizens can only get multiple entry visas and they cost $100 per person.  The immigration guys at the border were asking for newer dollar bills that were printed after year 2000.  Unfortunately, all of the dollar bills that I had were printed before year 1997.  They don't accept any traveler's checks or any other currency, so I just told them that that's the only bills that I had.  They issued the visa after discussing among themselves.  So when you travel to Tanzania, please carry the newer/crisper dollar bills.  Also, when you budget for the expenses, please remember to include the money needed for the visa.

The overall trip from Nairobi to Arusha took about 5 hours and we had to wait in the bus stop for some other car to drop us in the hotel.  After an hour, we were dropped in the Ilboru Safari Lodge for our stay before the climb.

Day Before the Climb

The lodge was way away from the town and we had to go through some small streets before getting to the lodge.  The lodge was decent and the rooms are clean/spacious.  After checking into the lodge, we sorted things that are not needed for the climb and put them in the storage in the lodge.  The lunch time was over in the restaurant by the time we went there, so ordered some spring rolls and other appetizers for lunch.  After a short nap, I got woken up by a call from our climbing guide from Basecamp Tanzania.  The guide, Deo, came over to give us the briefing about climb and to check the climbing gear that we were carrying.  In my opinion, he didn't do a thorough and felt like he just made the visit to make sure that he checks off from the list of things that he needed to do.  He didn't even bother to take a look at the things and didn't even ask about the sleeping bags.  So the moral of the story is that not depend on anyone to check your climbing gear and make sure that you do it your self.

Achmed, the owner of Basecamp Tanzania, visited me at night to just meet and greet over the Kilimanjaro beer.  This guy has traveled all over the world during the 90s and been to different places in India, Sri Lanka  Iran, etc.  Had a nice chat with him and reminded about the vegetarian food choices.  We decided to meet in his office the next day to settle the account.

Morning of the Climb

The vehicle to pick us up came up at 8 AM and from the lodge, we went to Basecamp Tanzania office to settle account with the traveler's checks that I brought.  After that, we went to pick up the camping supplies from different locations and when I asked the climbing guide about the sleeping bag, he acted surprised about me not having the sleeping bag.  I was glad that I asked him about it and didn't make assumptions ;-)  The guide collected the sleeping bags and pads for us before leaving for the Machame gate.  Also, I had to get some money from the ATM for the tips because most of the dollars that I brought for the tips were spent on the Tanzanian visa.

The drive to the Machame gate took more than 90 minutes and we were driving through the village of Machame.  Before the gate area, we were driving through the harvesting area where there're a lot of banana trees and other vegetables (beans) planted.  Reached the Machame gate around 1030 AM.

Day 1 

Start: 5718 ft/1738 m
End  : 9927 ft/3018 m
Distance: 7 miles

The start of the day-1 was not good for my daughter Sharada and she started the day with bloated stomach. Also, at the Machame gate, she threw up and after throwing up, she felt a little better.  I was thinking that it may be due to the Malaria medicine.

After signing up in the guest register, we were just waiting there for more than 2-3 hours to start the trek.  Looks like the registration process takes some time and there's computer problems at the gate which was delaying the start.  Also, I saw the porters packing and re-packing things for a long time.  So really not sure what was causing the delay.  We were provided packed lunch which had mango juice, chips, muffin, boiled egg and cheese sandwich, enjoyed our lunch watching a few black tail monkeys in the gate area.

Finally, we were ready start the climb at 130 PM and looked like we're the last few people starting that late.  There were a team of 2 guides, 1 cook and 11 porters to support our climb.  The porters were carrying all of our stuff except our day pack with water and rain jackets.

The trail was not that difficult and but my daughters found it little difficult (because they didn't train for the climb at all).  Even though, my daughters were not trained specially for the climb, they are in a decent physical shape because Shabina (younger daughter) was in the swim team from September-November and Sharada was working out a couple of days a week (also a good swimmer).  In addition to this, they used to hike a lot and they were able to trek the 4 day Machu Pichu earlier part of this year.  Since they were trekking after a long time, they found it difficult the first day with leg pains.  But with some whining and complaining, they were able to do it without killing themselves..;-)

The first day trek was through the rain forest area and it was beautiful trek in cooler weather.  We didn't need any sun screen or need for rain jackets the first day.  The weather gods were good to us the first day.  We didn't take a lot of breaks but took short breaks every hour.  On the trail, we started chatting with a couple (Huttons) who may be in the age group of 60+ and sharing our background.  There's another team of five Indians (Balas) from India also climbing Kili with the Basecamp just behind us.

The climbing guide was coordinating different things with the porters and there's no track of him, but the assistant guide Emmanuel (Emman) was educating us on different plants/flowers on the trail.  The trail was clean and a number of toilets were placed on the way for the trekkers.  With the number of people trekking everyday, the trail was clean and well maintained.  The guides and porters play a major role in keeping the trail clean, and I see them picking up trash left by some other people.  Also, there's a cleaning crew takes care of the trail every now and then.

We reached the first camp site Machame Hut around 630 PM.  Once we reached our tent, hot water was provided to wash our face/hands and after which we met for dinner.  At dinner, the guide, Deo, apologized for not joining us in the trek and provided the brief on what to expect the next day.  When inquired about the mosquito presence at the higher elevations, Deo advised that there won't be any mosquitoes and no need to take the malaria pill while in the mountain.  So decided not to take the malaria pills while on the mountain and tried to see whether it improves the side-effects.  There're tents all over the place and it's a good idea to carry ear plugs because each tent is located to very close to the other.  In addition to the ear plugs, it is good to carry the peeing bottle and Benadryl (to help you sleep).

Even without taking the malaria pills that night, Sharada started to have stomach pain and bloated stomach.  So she took some Tums and Ibuprofin after which she felt little better.  Now I started to think whether the side effects were due to Diamox.  Shabina was able to slept well but neither Sharada nor I were able to sleep well at night because of the jet lag.

Day 2

Start: 9927 ft/3018 m
End : 12355 ft/3756 m
Distance: 3 miles

Woke up around 7 AM and got ready to leave by 8 AM.  The breakfast was decent: omelet, pan cakes, fruits and porridge.  After taking pictures with the climbing team, we started the trek around 830 AM.  It was sunny and nice but this didn't last for long.  The weather gods started to piss on us exactly at 10 AM every day starting today..;-(

Sharada was still suffering from the bloated stomach, so  narrowed down the cause to Diamox (we didn't take the malaria pills the previous night).  Asked Deo whether she could stop taking Diamox and he advised against it.  So asked Sharada to take Diamox with two Tums and wanted her to drink a plenty of water.  Gave her the camel bag with 3 liters of water and wanted her to finish it before reaching the next campsite (also nagging all the way to drink water).

Today's trek involved some scrambling and steep rocky sections.  The tall and mossy trees slowly disappeared and sparse short trees started to appear on the trail which is a moorland zone or heath zone.  Today's trail was steeper than the yesterday's one and involves using hands sometimes while climbing on the rocks.  The first hour or two was tough with steep trail and after hiking for about 4 hours, we took a shelter under a rock to have our lunch.  Already getting sick and tired of the boiled egg that we were having for lunch.   With the rain and clouds we didn't have any views of Kibu or Mt. Meru today.  But the overall views of the landscape was really good and the feeling of walking above the clouds made the hike well worth it.  After walking on the ridges and river gorge, we finally had a sight of the Shira campsite dotted with a bunch of colorful tents and a number of white necked ravens around the camp site.  By the time we reached the Shira campsite, it is about 4 PM and couldn't believe that we took more than 7 hours to hike 3 miles.;-(  In our trek today, we saw another person who was walking much slower than us and we didn't see him after today.

One of the plants in this zone produces anti-freezing liquid to survive in the hostile freezing environment.   There's Giant Senecio Plant in this zone, keep growing upwards and able to survive in the hostile weather.  We hiked pretty slow today and took a lot of breaks.  Every time we had to give way to the porters or fast hikers, we took breaks and walked very slowly today.  Felt like we were the last batch of hikers reaching the campsite  today.  It is was raining and cold, felt miserable hiking in this weather.

Sharada had more than 3 liters of water and she was feeling much better than the previous two days.  So decided that the water was the best medicine ;-)  By the time we reached our tent, it was time to wash up and have dinner.  We decided to leave early the next day and reach the next campsite before dark.

After dinner, Shabina started to complain about cramps and throwing up.  Some stretching and Tums, she was feeling better but started complaining about headache.  Checking her camel bag showed that she didn't finish her 2 liters water and so after some nagging about the importance of drinking more water, we went to sleep.  Both Sharada and Shabina slept well today but I couldn't sleep after 4 AM in the morning.  For the last two days, I had been sleeping less than 5 hrs/day.  But overall, I was feeling better and no sign of any altitude sickness.

 Day 3

Start: 12355 ft/3756 m
End1 : 15190 ft/4630 m
End2 :  13044 ft/3976 m
Distance: 6 miles     

We have been told that it's going to be long tough trek today and we'd be reaching more than 15000 ft to have lunch at the lava tower before climbing down to sleep.  So we decided to start early and reach the Barranco wall camping site before dark.  Deo mentioned that the hike about 8-10 hrs today and it'd be a tough hike because of the elevation.  We told Deo that we won't take any long breaks but we would keep going slowly but steadily.

Day started without any problem for any one and it was very sunny when we got out of the tent for the breakfast.  We had very nice view of the mountain and it looked very beautify.  We started the trek around 730 AM but within an hour the weather turned nasty and started to rain, hail and snow while trekking Alpine Desert zone where there are very little trees.  Luckily we packed our down jackets in the day pack with the rain jackets.  As we planned earlier, we didn't take any long breaks but continuous to make progress.  We were hungry even before getting to the lava tower but the guide advised us to wait 'til we reach the lava tower before having lunch.  We reached the lava tower just around the noon, it was still snowing and cold, and we told shelter under a huge rock to have our lunch.  None of us had any altitude related symptoms at this point  and after two days of hiking everyone of us was feeling strong.  There were few people camped in the lava tower area and guessing that these are the people who trek through the Arrow Glacier route.

After our lunch, we started to trek down to the Barranco camping site.  The trek is basically hiking down a water fall and climbing down rocks.  It was continuous climb down and as we get closer to the campground, there were more vegetation and still it was raining.  We were able to come down to the Barranco camping site pretty quickly from the lava tower.  As we reached camp, it was 330 PM and the overall time that we took today to get to the campground was decent.  The view of the Barranco wall was threatening and we were supposed to climb over the wall to get to the Karanga valley the next day.  At the end of the day, all of us were feeling good about getting to the campsite before dark and still feeling strong.

I was fine and strong 'til I reached the campsite and after my trip to the toilet, I ran down the slope to reach my tent which made me suffer from shortness breadth.  When asked Deo, he indicated that it is normal for anyone to have shortness of breadth when over exert themselves.  After a few minutes, I felt better and lied down for a couple of hours before the dinner.  So far, all of us doing well and Shabina's altitude problems were disappeared after she had Tums/Ibuprofen and a lot of water while trekking.

We were sick and tired of the dinner that was provided by the cook and even though we indicated to Basecamp that we were vegetarians, there's no attempt to made by the cook to provide different kind of vegetarian food.  Every night, we were getting the same mixed vegetables and pasta.  One of the things that you may want to do when requesting for the special food is to ask for the detailed menu for each day.  I wish that I had asked this information.  When complained to the guide, Deo, he indicated that the cook came to know about us being vegetarians only on the first day but Achmed (the owner of Basecamp) told me that the cook knew about us a long time back.  Not sure whom to believe ;-(

It becomes a routine to take Tums with our Diamox everyday and depending on the body pain/headache, my daughters were taking Ibuprofen at night.  I am still not getting enough sleep and wish that I brought some sleeping medicine ;-(

Deo was insisting that we could do the 6 day trek instead of 7 day option that I opted for and he was not willing to listen to my concerns.  I basically gave up convincing him and decided to follow him.  So his plan was to trek to Barafu camp the next day to reach @2 PM, without stopping in the Karanga valley, and start the climb for the summit at 3 AM.  I was not comfortable with this plan but decided to go with this.  To make this happen, we had to leave early the next day, so decided to start the trek at 7 AM.

Day 4

Start: 13044 ft/3976 m
End  : 13106 ft/3995 m
Distance: 3 miles

Woke up around 6 AM and Sharada had bad stomach.  Sharada had diarrhea kind of symptoms so she took a Imodium AD with the breakfast before the trek.  We started the trek around 7 AM and guessing that we were the first ones to start the trek that day.  We had asked the porters to carry to hiking poles today because of the amount scrambling that we had to do.  The initial climb was not bad but constant climbing and jumping down was tiring me out.  There were no vegetation and most of the trek was scrambling.  After climbing more than half way in the Barranco wall (just before an hour or two reaching the Karanga valley), I couldn't trek up without taking constant breaks every 5-10 minutes.  Deo asked the kids to hike with him and trekked past and I was trekking slowly with the Emman to the Karanga valley camping ground.  Somehow, Deo communicated with the porters to set up the camp in Karanga valley instead of going straight to the Barafu camp.

When I reached the Karanga campground, I was pretty much no energy to move any where.  When I entered the tent and started removing my shoes, I start to breath heavily while sitting down.  I thought that I would feel better if I lie down but lying down didn't help things anyway, instead of feeling better I was feeling worse when I lied down.  So sat down to breathe and hoping that my breathing will come down to normal state in a minute or two but my heavy breathing continued non stop for the next 30 minutes.  While I was breathing heavily, Shabina started to look at me as though it's the last time I was breathing..;-(  It was scary to breath non stop while at rest.  The guide, Deo, came over to the tent to figure out what is happening.  He asked whether I had any asthma or previous breathing issues, for those questions the answer was negative.  Also, he listened to the breathing to see whether any strange sound coming from the lungs and he couldn't find anything wrong with the lungs.  There's a strange sound coming from my throat and I didn't have any chest pains.  Then he left to find out whether there're any doctors in the campsite to get help and I am not sure whether he reached out to the Kilimanjaro First Res-ponders for any help.  Before he could find any help or any doctors, my breathing came to normal in less than 30 minutes.  I had some tea and skipped my lunch to go to sleep.  After a short nap for 2 hours, I was feeling better but while I was sleeping I had amazing hallucinations and dreams about weird things.  I could remember a few details and the dreams were about some international conspiracy involving Russia/China/USA and I woke up with the feeling that I was Jason Bourne ;-)

When I woke up from the nap, Sharada was complaining about diarrhea and vomit again.  Before dinner, Sharada threw up a couple of times in a plastic bag and had to go to the toilet to take care of the stomach.  At that point, I seriously thought that Shabina would be the only one person who could make it to the summit.  But Shabina was in shock and worried about the whole turn of events happening around her.  Sharada took more Imodium AD and Tums before going to sleep.

At dinner, Deo mentioned that there're two teams turned back at the Barranco campground and there's nothing wrong in going down at this point and gave a couple of options for me:
#1.  I go to the lower elevation and the kids will try to summit
#2.  I go to Barafu camp the next day to see how I react to the altitude and decide what the next step for me
I decided to go with the option#2 because me going to the base camp (Barafu) will give some confidence to the kids to summit that day night as well as it'd allow both the guides to go with the kids to summit.  If I decide on option#1, one of the guides would be tied up with me.  So decide to trek up to the base camp next day to see how I do.

Tonight is the night, I had one of the best night sleep with a lot of weird dreams and it felt like it is worth having altitude sickness ;-)  Also, I was talking a lot while sleeping and when I woke up in the morning, I was  having part of the conversation in my dreams and continued the same conversation with my kids..;-)  When I woke up the next day, I was feeling better and strong.

Day 5

Start: 13106 ft/3995 m
End  : 15331 ft/4673 m
Distance: 2 miles

Had a nice sleep and woke up feeling better.  Also, Sharada was feeling better with her stomach and we were ready to move to the base camp (Barafu camp) today earlier.  Deo indicated at breakfast that we would reach Barafu before noon and after lunch we could go to sleep 'til 5 PM.  At 5 PM, we will have dinner and go to sleep again 'til 10 PM and at that time, we would have our breakfast and start the climb at 11 PM.  Not sure why he changed the plan but decided to go with this plan because it's our original plan.

The morning was beautiful and sunny, and we had very awesome view of the mountain.  The other Indian team with the Basecamp was camped next to us and found out that two of them were not feeling well so decided to go down to the lower elevations.  At that point, I had thoughts of going down with them but decided to stick with the original idea of going to the Barafu.

I was able to trek from the Karanga to Barafu pretty good without any problem considering the elevation gain.  I was just 15 minute behind my kids while hiking up to the Barafu camp and at the end of the trek near the tent, I felt really good.  One thing that I was very conscious while trekking was that I kept my heart rate low and if any time I felt it was raising, I reduced my speed.  Luckily there's not much rain on the way to the Barafu and we reached our tent at 1230 PM.  The whole area is very rocky with very little vegetation.  With the rain started around 10 AM, we couldn't see any peaks or any landscape around us.

On the way to the Barafu campground, I got totally pissed off with the sight of porters sitting around and smoking, not because of second hand smoke or anything but because of my feeling about their ability to going up the mountain without any issues even after smoking and I am having all these breathing problems..;-(  Since I was able to climb up to the Barafu, I thought that all of my altitude issues had been taken care of and I could try to summit.  So I let Deo about my decision and we had made arrangements for one more person to go with the Deo in case I had to come down with Emman.  I had paid additional money for one of the porters to go with us to the summit and Deo decided that we won't be carrying anything instead the guides/porter will carry even our water/day pack.

After lunch, I was checking all of our climbing gear and packing them separately for each one of us so that we could get ready quickly.  Also, I was adding the Gatorade power to all of the water that we were taking up the summit.  By the time I was ready to sleep, it was 230 PM and I couldn't sleep at all.  Also, Sharada was complaining that she couldn't sleep but Shabina was sleeping nicely.

We woke up at 5 PM for dinner and after tried to sleep.  Both Sharada and Shabina slept well and I couldn't sleep well but could get some sleep.  We dressed up in our climbing gear before going to sleep and when we woke up at 10 PM, we were ready to eat and leave.  But unfortunately, we took more time to wear gaiters and pack/repack our day packs.  We left around 1130 PM and by that time there're other groups those were already on their way 30 minutes earlier.  When I started itself, I was feeling sleepy and finding it hard to hike up on the slippery rocks during the initial stages of the hike.

Day 6

Start   : 15331 ft/4673 m
End1    : 3820 m/12530 ft (Millenium Camp)
End2    : 10,138ft/3090m    (Mweka camp)
Distance: 5 miles

It was a struggle for me to trekking up the slippery rocks as I started with a decent speed in the beginning but I start to slow down pretty quickly.  After sometime, Deo advised Emman to accompany me and took off with my kids and the porter.  Around 230 AM, Deo showed up again and advised me to move faster if not I won't be able to reach the summit before 11 AM and I told him that I couldn't move any faster.  He told something to Emman and left.  After a couple of minutes, I asked Emman what my chances are reaching the summit on time and he was not very confident about my state and told me that I had only 50/50 chances. When I try to move faster, my heart rate started to go up so I had to slow down.  Around 245 AM, I told Emman that I am thinking of going down and he conveyed that message to Deo by screaming.  While I was standing and taking a break before going down, I met Tracey, a fellow climber whom we became friends,  and she encourage me to try climbing.  When I told Emman  about my change of mind, both Emman and Deo got pissed about it and wanted not to take any risks.  Deo started saying if something happens to me, he would go to jail or lose his job, etc.  Told them that I'll decide in 5 minutes whether to continue or not.  Surely, in 5 minutes after climbing a few steps, I decided to turn back.  Emman screamed again the message to Deo and we started go trek down.  For the next 30 minutes, I was able to come down the mountain at a very good phase but as soon as I came closer to the base and to the slippery rocks section, my speed slowed down a lot.  Constantly watching foot steps and hopping down start to tire me down,  and I had to take breaks for every five minutes and I could see the campsites but it was taking forever to reach there.  Emman constant encouragement about "let's get to the tent and sleep" start to irritate me and told him that I also wanted to sleep but wanted to find a way to reach the tent without killing my self.  I could understand the frustration from his point that I was taking forever just to get down ;-(

Finally reached the tent after stopping every five minutes or less and felt that I am completely out of any strength.  When I reached the tent, I started to breath heavily and started to cough.  Any time when I cough, I could feel that my upper body was feeling warm and had to unzip my jackets to cool down the upper body.  I didn't have enough strength to remove my shoes and took me more 20 minutes to remove my shoes and removing my ski pants was another major undertaking for me.  Couldn't believe that I was feeling warm at the 15000+ ft level at 5 AM in the morning.  After removing my shoes and ski pants, I was trying to lie down to see whether it would slow down my breathing but lying down made me feel worse and could not stay lying down for more than a minutes. So I was just sitting down and breathing heavily hoping that it would be better in a next couple of minutes.  As I cough every time, I was feeling miserable, so slowly removed my upper thermal and jackets, and just started wearing only my down jacket which made my life little easier because every time I coughed, I just unzipped my jacket and then zipped up.   I was trying to calm my self and slow down breathing by meditating but when I closed my eyes and try to bring up an image that I normally bring up when I pray or meditate, I was not able to bring up that image and instead I was seeing all kinds of weird images.  Not sure how long I was sitting down breathing heavily (guessing that at least 60 minutes) and looked like I went to sleep while sitting down, I woke up after some time (may be after an hour or less) and still breathing heavily.  It was not dark outside any more, decided to call for help, so yelled for the cook (Billas) and asked him to get the assistant guide, Emman, as soon as possible.  Told Emman that he should go and find help from someone and I was feeling terrible.  He was asking whether I slept and whether I could walk to the ranger office for those questions my answer was no.  He asked me to wait for sometime and after a couple of minutes a bunch of people were outside the tent, Emman asked me to come out of the tent.  I asked for his help in putting my shoes, someone put my shoes and helped me get out of the tent.

There was guy with a ranger hat introduced himself as Balster and that he was with the Kilimanjaro First Res-ponders   He asked me a bunch of questions related to my condition and finally told me that I have altitude sickness and I needed to get down to the gate or to the town now.  He asked me whether I would be able to climb up the slop to the ranger station with the help from two guys, and I answered that I would try but when I tried while two guys supporting me, I could not walk much.  So he asked me to wait for sometime and someone made me sit on a chair outside the tent.  After a few minutes (felt like a long time), someone brought the stretcher, Emman pulled out the sleeping bag from the tent and put it on the stretcher after that I was asked to lie down on the stretcher.  I was bundled up in the sleeping bag and they told me that they are going to take me to the lower elevation and I responded with gratefulness to all of them.  By that time my breathing had slowed down but I was still in a pretty bad shape.  Three porters (Billas, Ayubu & Abiudi), Emman and a helper from the Kilimanjaro ranger office were helping me to get down to the gate. Four of them carried me in the stretcher and started climbing up the slope by that time I was completely blocked out and started going to sleep.  Suddenly when I woke up (after 5-10 minutes), I realized that I was talking in my sleep to the people who were carrying and they were almost at the top near the ranger station.  I could remember that every now then, they let me put down and take turns in carrying the stretcher and also there is one person making sure that I didn't fall off from the stretcher because they were walking in the slopes.

After carrying me in the stretcher for sometime, the put me down and informed me that they're going to transfer me to the one wheel stretcher that they're planning to use.  It looked as if they put the wheels to the stretcher that they were carrying me and it was much simpler stretcher than the ones that I saw on the way down.  There're some stretchers with springs and two wheels, but this one is with one thin wheel (just explaining how I came down and no complaints).  Couple of guys carried me from the stretcher and transferred me to the rolling stretcher and tied me to the stretcher.  Now, instead of four people carrying me, one person pulled me in the stretcher.  At one point, Billas was pulling the stretcher, he stumbled down  and dropping me down. Since I was tied down to the stretcher, I didn't fall down.  I remember asking him whether he's fine and joking with them not to roll me down the slope.  Also, I remember that I kept talking in my sleep, after sometime I felt much better and start to feel bad for the guys who were pulling me down.  The ride in the stretcher was not comfortable also, since we were going through the rocky section, my head and back kept on hitting the frame of the stretcher and start to hurt.  At one point, when they were taking the break, I told them that I'd like to try walking from the Millennium camp to the Mweka camp instead of them carrying me.  Emman showed me the Millennium camp where we were and told me that we're pretty much close to the campground and we'd decide once we reach there.

At this point, I was feeling better and start to breath normally, and almost felt like sitting in the stretcher to enjoy the ride..;-)  By the time we reached the Millennium campground, it's was 9 AM.  I got off of the stretcher and start to walk a bit around the resting area without any problems.  Sat down in the ranger office with the helping crew and shared whatever energy bars that I had in my day pack.  Also, I had a couple of energy gels and energy bars.  Asked Emman to advise the porters, whom we left behind at the Barafu campground, not to mention about my rescue episode to my kids.  He told me that he already told them that before leaving the campground.  While taking rest at the campground, met the elderly couple (Huttons) whom we met on the first day and they were able to summit Kili and interested in finding whether Sharada/Shabina submitted.  We shared our contact information and they headed down.

While I was breathing like a steam engine and riding down the mountain, Sharada and Shabina were summiting Kili with Deo and Pasco without the knowledge of what was happening to me as well as thinking that I was following them.  I was really impressed with their endurance and will power in summiting Kili even though on the first day they thought that they won't be able to do it.

Emman got a call from Deo around 915 AM inquiring about my status and Deo didn't have any clue about what rescue mission I was part of at that time.  Deo talked to me about my condition and I told him not to tell anything to my kids and I'd tell them the whole story once we're at home so that they won't be upset with him.  He agreed and told me that the kids were doing great.  The conversation was short.

After taking a break at the Millennium campground for more than 30 minutes, I was ready to hike down to the next campground which is at a lower altitude.  Just to improve my altitude sickness effects, I decided to take 250 MG of Diamox instead of regular 125 MG.  Not sure whether it is a good idea or not, but what to improve my chances of improving altitude sickness.  Even though the Millennium campground is at 12000 ft, I was feeling better because it is much lower than the Barafu campground that's at 15000+ ft.  We start to hike down slowly and I was able to walk at a decent speed.  The trail from Millennium campground to Mweka campground was basically on the stream path with a lot of rocks.  I was glad that I was feeling better as well as I was not in the bumpy stretcher.  Started joking with Emman why they were not using the bigger luxury stretcher for me and thanked all of them for bringing me safe altitude.

After hiking for sometime, the rain started to come down and since none of us have any rain jackets because all of us left in a hurry, we took a shelter under a huge rock for about 45 minutes.  When it rained, the hiking path was turned into a stream and amazed with the amount of water that's flowing through that area.  Once the rain stopped, we started to hike down slowly and luckily I didn't have any breathing or tiredness problems.  We reached the Mweka campground around noon and the ranger office was full of people.  Since all of our tents are still Barafu, we had to wait for the gang to come over to Mweka before we could set up our location.

We were sitting in the benches at the ranger office chatting with the people who came up to sign up for camping.  There's a friendly guy walking around talking with all of the climbers and joking with me.  After sometime, he mentioned that he's Balster, the ranger who helped me in the Barafu camp.  I told him that I remembered his name but I couldn't recognize him at all.  Also, thanked him and told him that he's my life savior.  He was humble and indicated that any ranger would have done the same thing, and I replied that he's the man who saved me today but for someone else some other ranger may be a savior. .;-)  He asked me why I didn't go to the town and decided to stay here.  When I replied that I was able to walk down from the Millennium campground to the Mweka campground and said that he's impressed.  After a few minutes, he informed that he arranged a bed for me to take rest and asked me to sleep for sometime before the porters show up with our tent.  After thanking him for all the help, I slept in the bunker bed 'til Emman woke me up with some lunch. 

It's one of the better lunches that I had in the last six days and guessed that the lunch was prepared by the cook from the other team from Basecamp.  It's the garbanzo curry with pan cakes and tasted much better.  I was able to finish the lunch given to me and ready to go to sleep again.  Before that, I wanted to go to the toilet and it's raining heavily, so I (literally) ran to the toilet  and ran back without remember how I was a couple of hours back.  Emman noticed that he joked about how I was running and started to laugh how I couldn't walk a couple of hours back.  Nicely slept for couple of hours, remembering that I was talking in my sleep now and then, and woken up by Emman around 5 PM.

The climbing team already setup our tent and I started repacking the bags with the cloths to be given away as well as cloths to be packed away before heading out for the safari.  Also, sorted out the tips separately for the cook, porters and guides. After having some tea, went to sleep again.  Literally the whole day I was sleeping, while my daughters were climbing up and climbing down the mountain for the 20+ hours..;-)

Hearing Sharada's voice around 730 PM outside, got ready and went to the dinner tent to meet.  They looked very tired and congratulated them what they had accomplished.  They were scolding me for leaving everything dis-organized/unpacked in the Barafu campground before I came down here and how tired they were coming down from the summit to pack all of the bags by themselves.  Looked like their trek from summit to Millennium campground was fine and after that they had to trek in the darkness.  They were literally sleeping while trekking on their way to the Mweka campground and luckily a few porters went to help them on their way to campground.

Had some dinner (not good) and discussed the plan for the next day with Deo before going to the bed.  Deo advised that we could disperse the tips the next day morning before leaving the campground.

Day 7

Start : 10,138 ft/3090 m    (Mweka camp)
End   : 5423 ft/1649 m
Distance: 3 miles

Woke up at 630 AM and got out of the tent within 15 minutes to leave soon to the gate.  The plan to be out of the gate and on the way to the city by 11 AM.  The breakfast was the same that we had been having for the last six days and we're glad that this is the last time we had to eat this food.  I was feeling much better than yesterday and ready for the climb down to the Mweka gate.  Once we were done with our breakfast, the climbing team gave song and dance performance for us.  We individually thanked every one of them as well as thanked specially people who helped Sharada/Shabina summit Kili and who helped them to reach Mweka campground safely.  I didn't mention anything about the porters who carried me from Barafu campground publicly but called them separately without my daughters knowledge and thanked them (and gave them special tips).  Following Deo's advise to give some special recognition for the porters who helped the kids to reach the Mweka campground, I thanked them publicly and awarded them with some special tips.

Most of the cloths that we brought with us to Kili climb as well as for the safari, are to be given away as donations and not to be taken back home.  So after distributing the tips, Deo had asked the porters to come over and pick up a t-shirt from the plastic bag where we packed them.  They seemed to happy with the t-shirts and after that we had given a jacket to Deo and Emman as a token of appreciation.

The hike down to the Mweka gate was not bad at all but never ending, luckily there's no rain.  Saw a few black tailed monkeys on the way as well as a beautiful view of Kilimanjaro.  We met a bunch of people whom we met on the first couple of days of hiking and socializing with them on the way down.  Bruce is from Nova Scotia, currently teaching in Doha  and we were discussing about how the life is in Doha compared to the life in Nova Scotia.

Reached the gate around 1130 AM and getting the certificate of Kili summiting was taking forever.  In the meantime, there's a confusion about tips to the porters.  The tip amount suggested by the tour operator is really low (that I didn't realize 'til that point) and the tip that we had given to all of the porters were thought of tip for one porter ;-)  So I had to communicate with the porters that it's the communication from the tour operator caused this issue and will get back to them shortly to take care of them.  Told Deo that we'd like to be fair to them and want to give them more tips but the problem is that there's no ATM machine in the gate area.  So Deo decided that the money we had given them can be used to distribute the tips to porters and I could get money in the town to settle him.  Checked with the other climbers what the recommended tip amount and decided to go with that instead of the amount recommended by Deo, who was saying that I should give $60 per porter for 11 porters.  I thought that that's lot more than what I had in mind.  Finally, settle the tips at $22/porter and for the porters who did exceptional work (5 of them) I added additional $6-8.  I have tipped much more than what's recommended for the guides because they were carrying our day packs most of the time as well as took very good care of my daughters.

Out of the Gate

By the time, Sharada and Shabina got their certificates it's 1230 PM and we left in a car with Deo (after thanking the team again) to Moshi to get shampoo/soaps before getting to the hotel.  We couldn't believe that the Ilboru Safari lodge don't even provide soap/shampoos.  Took us about 15 minutes to find a shop that sells soap/shampoos that met my daughter's specifications ;-)  After that we drove to Arusha to have lunch and we were asking Deo to take us to the Indian place for lunch. But Deo doesn't know of an Indian place for lunch, we ended up in an Ethiopian place for lunch.  The lunch was decent and on the way to the restaurant we saw a health clinic that we wanted to visit after our lunch.

At the visit to the Health Center, Sharada & I decided to checkout our health before heading out to the safari and the checkup was quick.  I have been told that I have a lung infection as well as infection at the throat and in my tongue, so I was given an injection in the vein in my arm, cough syrup as well as some antibiotics.  Sharada got the same antibiotics too.  Went to the ATM to get the money to settle the money given by Deo for the porters and after that checked into hotel.

Repacked all of the climbing gear in a bag to left behind while going for the safari and washed some cloths that are needed for the next seven while on safari.  Dried the cloths outside the room at the back and when got ready to shower, Achmed showed up to discuss the safari plans.


Overall, the Kili climb was good and enjoyed it.  Few lessons learnt:
1.  When carry cash in Tanzania, always carry new dollar bills
2.  If you have any special dietary needs, get into details and ask the operator to provide detailed menu by day
3.  While budgeting or drawing money for the trip, remember to include the visa fees
4.  For personal spending, always carry cash and don't carry traveler checks because the rate you get for the traveler check is pretty low
5.  Read and prepare about the altitude sickness symptoms and don't rely on the guide for everything.  I should have come down from the higher elevation when I had breathing issues while resting instead of pushing my self to the base camp.
6.  Climbing equipment checklist - it is your responsibility
7.  Don't carry electronic items that will get spoiled by water.  Even though we kept our iPhones in a zip lock bag, one of the phone got spoiled because of the condensation.

I am really proud of my daughters, Sharada and Shabina, in accomplishing the goal of summiting the Kili.  I don't think that I will make another attempt at it because there's no killer feeling in me conquering the mountain.  If I happen to be in that region and if I have time, I may attempt the climb.  I may request for additional oxygen next time ;-)


  1. Gunny I saw a Russian and Chinese guy outside your home. They were talking to someone in Tamil.

  2. How old were your daughters. How old were you? What training did you do?

    1. My daughters are 16 and 17 years old. They didn't do any training. I was doing a lot of training (a lot of hiking, biking and stairmaster).

    2. My daughters are 16 and 17 years old. They didn't do any training. I was doing a lot of training (a lot of hiking, biking and stairmaster).

  3. Hi Gunny. This is a great post. I am climbing Kilimanjaro in 10 days and with above average training. Do you believe the Diamox helped your daughters? Congratulations to the ladies.