Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Wrap-up of Kili 2010

The long and winding trudge descending from the summit of Kilimanjaro reminded me of making the last tracks down Lake Louise at the end of the ski season. It was roughly 10:00 in the morning when I began the traverse down to Stella Point. The footing was well anchored on fairly solid snowpack, then the conditions changed to slippery marble like scree. To keep from sliding downhill at a faster rate than I would like, I needed to build steps with the heels of my boots for traction. Masai, a wild and crazy guide came "kai ai yipping" at break-neck speed airborne half the time and in ankle deep scree driving his boots inwards to maintain some type of control. And to think these thrill seeking guides earn their living doing extreme sports, albeit $ 8.00 per day doesn't get them too far ahead, they're loving it! Seeing this I shivered with the heebie-jeebies as my solemn goal was to slog my way down this mountain and have a good meal of anything but "Kili soup".

The others on the team were having issues of their own. Gregg was suffering from AMS, so arm in arm with his guide Jared they shuffled along in an attempt to "take him off the mountain" before the AMS really took a grip on him. He looked like a limp rag reminiscent of "Gumby".

Usay from Istanbul Turkey, resembling a defensive lineman and having never experienced the technique of skiing, thought it best to jog down a stretch stumbling in the process to try and catch control of his downhill slalom course. A face plant and mountain rash on his knuckles he bravely clambered back onto his feet and continued plodding along.

Alphan having barfed 3 times and experiencing a empty gas tank mimicked my steps
one-by-one. In particularly steep pitches we would traverve sideways to maintain
control of our descent.

A pause for some nutritiuos Canadian jerky was a welcome change from the Powerbars and glucose supplements consumed over the last 5 days. There was no water source from the 2:00 am departure at Barafu Camp (not to be confused with "barfed") other than the remaining ounces left after reaching the summit.
Our bodies were feeling the effects of dehydration as the weather was incredibly warm
due to the clear skies at this altitude and proximity to the equator. The lower
altitudes offered a higher level of oxygen and we found the AMS symptoms of headache
and nausea alleviating. In hindsight, the research I'd done on the prescription Diamox (which is often prescribed as a prevention to AMS) was well worth the effort. Utilizing the natural supplement Gingko Biloba 180mg twice a day for 1 week prior to and for the duration of the climb was the optimum choice for me.

Upon our jubulient arrival at Barafu Camp hot potato soup and water awaited us
along with the celebratory cheers from the climbers who arrived before me.
After a short rest, a group of us (15 - 18) packed up camp and headed downhill
in the remaining daylight hours.
The last group of summitters were joined by the guides who are required by law to remain at Barfu camp until all in our group were safely accounted for. They descended in splattering rain and darkness guided only by their "head torch" taking considerably longer as the earlier group who had the benefit of sunny, warm weather. By evening the remainder of the troop had arrived at Millenium High Camp. At 9:00pm the debriefing of the team was tiresome as we slowly chewed down a very late dinner of scorched rice.

The condition of Gregg's already weakened feet was worsening and excessive blistering was rapidly detioriating the ability for him to continue on his own accord. The park ranger had been notified and his reply quoted a cost of $600.00. Not too bad for a heli ride..............we thought..............
At base camp Wendy was researching the options of a helicopter evacuation to take him "off this bloody mountain!" Numerous phone calls into the wee hours and attempts to coordinate with "Flying Doctors" failed when the acutal cost was discovered to be over $9,000! The situation was not life or death so to speak, so the chaotic search to find another suitable mode to evacuate Gregg ensued.

With rain damped spirits and feeling exasberated, we crawled into our tents for rehabilition from the exhaustive efforts put forth by all.

8:00am came far too soon but knowing this was the last day of the climb I was excited to continue the perpetual pace and depart from Millenium High Camp. A stone in my stomach from the porridge ritual, feeling clammy and missing my morning routine of a hot wake-up shower didn't bother me, bother me, bother me, too much.

At 9:30am Alphan and I accompanied Gregg (triple G, as he was now nicknamed by the guides) toward the base of the mountain. Gregg reluctantly submitted to the Park Rangers' insistance to be strapped onto a stretcher and with the aid of 8 porters and the park ranger his evacuation began............This metal contraption was fitted with an undercarriage of a motorcycle wheel and shock to attempt to minimize the jarring and bumps and grinds downhill. Notice "attempt". The park ranger built like an NFL linebacker led the group, chose the trail, and held back the stretcher from overtaking the porters during the steep descent preventing " a run-a-way".
From the camp down, through the rain forest was a series of smooth paths intermittently dropping with stone steps, some 2 feet high testing GGG's dentisty. Partway down we came upon a porter heading up hill with another 80 pound stretcher on his head to replace the one gregg was occupying.

The Park Ranger was hollering orders in Swahili sometimes reprimanding the porters for losing a foothold and slipping. This underscored the seriousness of the danger at hand. Gregg's good-natured appreciation in spite of the predicament honored the porters with jokes intermittently broken by the orders being given. In hilarious laughter and other times apprehension the descent continued down precarious trails, wedging the stretcher through tight rock walls and steep 6 foot ledges. The porters risking their own bodies for the benefit of their "PaPa Gregg". In true Aussie form his comedic nature and humor entertained the group along with relieving the jitters he had while trying to remain as calm as possible while fearing for his life. After
three and a half hours the caravan emerged to a wider trail in clear sight of an awaiting Land Cruiser ambulance. Alphan who stayed by his buddies side during this entire ordeal proved the bond that friends stick by friends in the good and the bad.

Mckewa base camp is the last point on the trek where the climbers "come out of
the woods", trusty porters by their sides to a wail of cheers and applause from
the pick-up crew. First to arrive was Mick, Todd, Kevin and Emily. The remainder
of the troop approaching at intermittent times over the span of four hours. The ultimate moment was the arrival of the "ambulance" with Gregg and Alphan receiving high 5"s from many concerned parties.

"The old man cometh".................... Me being the oldest of the group climbing and descending on my own power, sheer determination and willingness to attempt
this without the use of diamox is a testament to my God given attributes.

Wendy armed with her Nikkon captured my arrival, looking very much like "the old man". With 6 days of beard and sun scorched nose I resembled Grizzly Adams albeit
the grin on my face and the fact that I came and I conquered indelibly printed
with a Chershire grin!

I successfully climbed the highest peak in Africa, the land which is going to benefit from over $200,000 dollars that was pledged on behalf of this group towards The Water School which provides a sustainable, drinking water solution to this amazing rugged land!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Summit of Kilimanjaro

Day 5 Summit of Kilimanjaro

The one word that describes Day 5 is Grueling!
My body was functioning on adrenalin, and high octane power snacks. I was not partaking in any race per se and was going at my own pace with my guide Hussein. Like an extension of my right arm he monitored my every step. From Barafu Hut at 15,091 feet we trekked for roughly 7 hours, eating dinner at 9:30pm and crawling into our tents for a few hours rest before attempting the climb to Stella Point and then the summit at Uhuru Peak to arrive at sunrise.
At 1:00am our guides woke us to start what was going to be the continuation of longest day of my life. The effects of high altitude combined with very little food and even less rest was taking it's toll. Roughly 3 hours into it I got a nose bleed that just wouldn't stop. The head guides were insisting that I turn around NOW and descend to lower ground. They assumed I had the sudden onset of AMS, Altitude Mountain Sickness which can induce very serious acute life threatening symptoms.

Nose bleeds happen with regularity to me at home and the altitude of Red Deer, Alberta in no way compares to Mount Kilimanjaro. I requested they give me some time to treat myself in ways that have worked for me prior to this climb. I proceeded to use snow as an ice pack and within a few minutes I continued on climbing albeit feeling a lot of sinus congestion. Any sunscreen that I had applied had long but disappeared and the reflecting glare from the glaciers and snow burned my nose like a flaming marshmallow had landed on it. Reminding me of campfires from years past.

Accompanying the disorientation caused by sleep deprivation, poor coordination and fatigue I would take 5 steps then rest for 5 seconds, take another 5 steps and so on.............. I'd come up to others also suffering, many having to stop and vomit from high altitude effects. At one point a stabbing pain was throttling my shoulder blade and my heart felt like it was going to pop my chest wall it was beating so fast. Uh oh! My mind started to gasp!
A group of four pass by me on their way down having already summited. They are focused and determined jocks giving it their max. My buddy Cabel, who is well trained in fitness, confirmed that the muscles in my shoulder were in spasm and felt like ropes intertwined in a hard mass. I was not having a coronary. Whew! Hussein relieved me of my backpack, encouraging my every step as I gimped my way upwards.
Stella Point at 18,815 feet was within reach and from there it was only 2 more hours to summit at Uhuru Peak.
Standing atop "The Roof of Africa" 19,340 feet seemed so surreal it could have been a dream. After taking photos, and in a matter of only a few minutes my toes started to tingle from the lack of oxygen, so a quick descent was necessary. My skiing ability helped me to navigate my way down from the summit skimming atop chunks of shale. I was able to assist someone who was unable to slow down or stop "running" downhill from the summit which resulted in one of the few injuries of our entire climb. A few band aids is all that were needed to patch him up.

Many of the climb team ambled into Millenium High Camp around 7:30 pm more than anxious to have a hot meal and a substantial sleep. However, the porters were still setting up camp when we arrived and putting up the tents. Nourishment did not begin until 9:00pm give or take and I had succumbed to sheer exhaustion. Over a period of twenty-eight hours, I'd only slept for three, and the longest day of my life jetted into no mans'land as my head hit the pillow.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Heading to Base Camp

Everybody's happy...... and we're on the road to Kilimanjaro. I'm in a bus carrying a ton of gear, full of smiling porters who are glad to be working.

Base Camp of Mount Kilimanjaro March 1 2010