01 June 2011
Day 2 Climbing Kilimanjaro: This is a marathon, not a sprint
We are awakened at 6:30am by our guides, who deliver a cup of tea, coffee, or milo and a bowl of hot water to wash our hands. The mornings are a rather frantic affair as you quickly roll your sleeping mat, stuff your sleeping bag in its case, repack your large bag, pop in contacts, prep your feet to prevent blisters, get dressed, and purify water in a matter of fifteen minutes!
I swing my outer tent flap open and wander down to some of the other folks in our group. They are looking high in the sky behind me and when I ask them what’s up, they just point. I swing around to find the summit of Kilimanjaro is looming high above us. To think that we will be at its peak just five days from now does not yet seem possible.
Breakfast is - as expected - massive. Eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, honey, peanut butter, tea, coffee, milo, and more. We still have our appetites so continue to stuff our faces. By 8:30am we return to our main task - walking pole pole (slowly slowly) up the side of a rather large mountain. The forest begins to turn into shrubs and that outer fleece layer is no longer necessary by 10am, as the African sun is now blazing at a very hot 24 degrees. By 11am we are climbing natural stairs on a particularly steep section that seems to never end. It isn’t until nearly 1pm that we surface to a large plateau and find our mess tent set up. Lunch is served!
By now we are under no false pretenses. There are only three things we need to do for the next several days: Eat, sleep, and walk. Everything else is entirely irrelevant. The faster we eat, the faster we get to our evening’s camp which means we’re chowing down at record speed. It’s only 1:30pm when we set off again. The short rest and large meal leave us re-fueled and ready to charge forward on what will become our longest day of trekking save for summit night.
As 3pm rolls around the group’s exhaustion begins to settle in. We’re taking regular water breaks and telling jokes and stories to keep people motivated. Without warning, my stomach begins to rumble. While it is expected that a little tummy trouble might come your way half way up the world’s fourth-highest peak in the middle of Africa, it is still not something you are ever ready for. I allow the group to wander ahead while I duck behind a rock to deal with the situation. This situation is something that every single person in the group will face before we get back down to sea level. Though it is not a particularly nice topic, it does become an area of necessary support and guidance that works to unify us. The more open and relaxed you become, the easier it is to simply let go and fully take in the experience.
We reach the top of a ridge at 5:30pm and can now finally see camp in the distance. This feeling of “nearly there” is something that cannot quite be explained. After nine hours of walking, to know you are just moments away from warm clothes, a wet wipe bath, and yet another enormous feast feels good. A note on wet wipe bathing: start with your face and then move outward. Cleanse under-underwear sections early on as well, finishing with your feet. It will keep the top-priority zones cleaner and odor-free.
At this point, the flora is no more than fifteen centimetres high which allows for unobstructed 360-degree views of the snows of Kilimanjaro on around to the cliff’s edge and outward to the Kenyan savannah. This place is breathtaking and we do our best to take it in before sliding back off into dreamland by 8pm.