Sunday, November 24, 2013

Girl tips for Kili trips (and some unisex hints as well!)

I've been meaning to post this since my return. Now that a friend has decided to embark on a Kili adventure, I'd be remiss not to share with her, and others, the "tips" I gathered based on my journey.  I must give credit for some of these to two other women who made a similar post (which was very useful to me in planning my trip), but alas, whose names I cannot recall.  If they see this, no doubt they'll know who they are!

So, in no particular order of importance, here it goes!  Apologies in advance for the degree of attention to bathrooms and bodily functions -- but that's where I found the tour companies to be most lacking in specific information.

1. Travelling toilet kit: In your day pack, always have handy a large plastic bag filled with a roll of toilet paper and/or tissues, hand sanitizer, and a small plastic bag for the post-pee remnants so you can "leave no trace behind" (at least no trace of non-biodegradable materials).
2. Hair care: I was a fan of the "dry shampoo" I purchased at REI (or likely could find at any camping supply store). I'm not sure it really does anything to clean you, but it squirted like a mousse and kept my hair feeling fresh and not too oily, even after 10 days on the moutain.  It was my hairspray moment each day to keep me feeling like a girl in my group of 35 other males!  I also kept my hair perpetually in a "do-rag" (bandana), which though less than fashionable, I think really helped keep the dust in my roots to a minimum.
3. Go-Girl: I didn't use one. For those of you not yet initiated, it's a contraption you can use to pee in your tent during the night. The fear of peeing all over my sleeping bag or dry clothes outweighed the lack of desire to venture out into the dark cold night to visit the toilet tent.  (If your tour company doesn't have a toilet tent, consider an upgrade! Most of the groups we saw on the mountain had them.) The extra added benefit was a glimpse of the night sky like you've never seen -- complete with the Milky Way and the "Southern Cross" (especially fun for those CSN fans out there!)
4. Training: Do squats at the gym.  Makes those intermittent bathroom breaks on the trail much easier!  And work out in your hiking need them to be your friend. 
5. Contact lenses: If you wear them, take them out before it gets dark. It's just easier.  Also, don't store them in the wall pouches of the tent -- they may freeze (mine did at Crater Camp!)
6. Headlamps: This is NOT an optional item. Make sure you get a good one that secures comfortably, and you figure out what buttons to press to make it work without blinding yourself.  For those of you making a nighttime summit bid, it is indispensable. Bring extra batteries.
7. Trekking poles: In my mind, these were no less optional, and were invaluable not only for the downhills (especially slippery through the rain forest), but for those of us less gracefully inclined in general.
8. Sleeping pads: Try them out in the store.  Mine was thicker, but narrow, so I frequently rolled off it. If your trekking company provides a rubber mat on the floor of your tent (this was a big plus), I'd use a thinner pad.  Get the widest one you can find. They are not designed for female hips!  Also, I brought a pillow case and stuffed my down jacket in it for a pillow--the blow up pillows you can buy were really uncomfortable for me.
9. Camp footwear: I was so tempted to bring a pair of low Uggs (or the equivalent) for camp at night. They're lightweight and warm. BUT BEWARE: The campsites are often rocky and sandy--Uggs have no support and little sole grip, so it would be easy to slip or trip over rocks, especially on those late night potty outings! I'd recommend lightweight Merrills or sneakers with wool socks.
10. Nail Care: Ditch the nail polish before you go. It will be destroyed by the dust in a day.  Bring something to scrape dirt from under your nails on a daily basis (it was part of my "wash up" routine), even though they won't be clean until at least a week after your return!
11. Moisturizer/Lip Balm: Don't forget either.  The air is drier and thinner than you can imagine, and wreaks havoc on your skin and lips!
12. Advil: It's your friend. Use it. I took it 3x a day from day 1.  Warded off headaches before they started.  As for Diamox (altitude sickness medication), the jury is out. I started taking it (at my guide's recommendation) after the first night. I wasn't feeling sick, but the altitude did affect my sleeping.  I didn't really feel any signs of the altitude again until summit day and Crater Camp. Still didn't puke, but really felt it.  Not sure anything would have helped...
13. Nalgenes: If you're using wide-mouth nalgene bottles, invest in those rubber caps to make drinking on trail easier.  Also, they recommended we bring 4 bottles with us. I don't think I ever drank that much, though the 2 filled with hot water at night were great in the sleeping bag.
14. Cold: Yes, it really gets that cold. As soon as the sun goes down, even at lower altitudes, the temperature plummets. No matter how many layers you have stripped off during the day, you'll want a down jacket, hat and gloves. Really.  Keep anything you want warm for the next day in your sleeping bag at night.
15. Daily washing: Despite the cold temps, a once a day wash up keeps you feeling human.  Our porters brought warm water to our tents before dinner each night.  I'd do a head to toe strip down cleaning, with a combo of warm water and baby wipes.  Changed undies, and put on fresh deodorant and baby powder.  (Also the dry shampoo, mentioned above.) Changed into less dusty "camp" clothes, usually comprised of fleece pants (sweatpants), fleece sweatshirt and down jacket. 
16. Privacy: Even if you have a private tent, you have no privacy. Expect to become familiar with your campmates' bodily functions and expectorations, including snoring, and feel free to do the same.  In fact, the snorers are envied -- it means they're actually sleeping!
17. Underwear: I loved the "IceBreaker" brand sports bra and undies recommended to me by another Kili climber. It's light weight wool, not itchy and very comfortable.  Not supportive enough to run in, but you're not running anywhere at this altitude!
18. Shopping: I'm not getting any discount or payment for this, but I loved REI.  I joined their rewards club and was able to book a "personal shopper" at the local store.  Got an hour of someone's time before the store opened.  Still made lots of trips for all the equipment, but they were knowledgeable and helpful.  I also heard good things about EMS, and they carry a great line of "Ascent" wear -easily layerable fleece with wind protection and gortex jacket and pants.
19. Reading material: Bring some. There's lots of down time in camp, and it can keep you company when you're up in the middle of the night...which you will be.  My iPad kept a charge the whole trip, set to airline mode, and used sporadically for reading and music.  Small paperback book serves as a good backup.
20. Music: iPod was also helpful for getting back to sleep after waking up -- wide awake -- at 11:30 p.m., and this was only at 13,000 feet!  Also used it for motivation on the summit push.
21. Panty-liners: Think about using, for those couple nights you'll be disregarding daily changing advice above, and won't be able to think about stripping down to nothing...At least you can change these when you go to the bathroom.
22. Camping equipment: For those less initiated in the camping world, if you want to have a visual of what you'll be experiencing on the mountain: (a) find out dimensions/brand tent your company uses, and check one out at your local outdoor store: (b) find out the thickness of the sleeping pad they provide, if any; and (c) ask if there's a "cot" option -- Abercrombie and Kent had some cozy looking beds and the largest tents on the mountain (no doubt with a price tag to match!), if that's an issue for you.  I personally found my mountain hardware tent cozy enough, especially for one. HOWEVER, if you're travelling solo, I WOULD NOT recommend you consider sharing a tent with a random trekker.  It's a very intimate experience...too close for comfort, in my book!
23. Descent: Probably the only thing you'll be sore from is the day and a half amount of squatting at the gym prepared me for this part!
24. Mweka Gate: Congratulations! When you finally arrive, you'll feel like you're crossing the finish line of a great race. You'll be assaulted by many locals trying to sell you tee-shirts and clean your boots.  Skip them all for the time being and find the person selling the Kilimanjaro beer! Nothing will taste so good -- and you'll even recognize the view on the label from the way down! (You can get the tee shirts after!)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

I made it!

On July 4th at 3:50 pm Tanzania time I summited Mt. Kilimanjaro all the way to Uhuru Peak at 19,341 ft, aided by my trusted guide Godlove and my personal porter Umsafiri. It was by far the most difficult physical feat I ever accomplished, made painful by the high altitude for which there is no real way to train. The climb overall was an adventure which had us just about circumnavigating this beast of a mountain which taunted us the whole way.  The trek was not physically challenging until summit day, when I hit a wall at about 17,000ft with more than 2000 ft to go.

I thought it was hard getting to this point...
 I didn't know it was possible to walk so slowly and still engage in any forward motion (and at times I didn't as the surface was so sandy that sometimes one step forward resulted in a slide two steps back).

...and this point...but there was still more uphill to go!
 But reaching the ice fields and glaciers at top, with the summit to ourselves since we reached it so late was exhilarating.

The glaciers distracted from the lack of oxygen on the way up.
I was truly at the rooftop of Africa and atop the highest freestanding mountain in the world!

Almost there -- the summit sign is finally within sight!
Finally made it (though the sun's angle killed the pix!) Now I know why people do midnight summits!
Me and my trusted guide Godlove...
Go Team Fox!
Feeling like I'm at the top of the world and the end of the earth, soaring above the clouds!
The next challenge was sleeping at Crater Camp, elevation 18,600 (the little orange dots in photo below were our tents), with temperatures in the single digits and and oxygen levels depleted to 60%...sleeping was a challenge but the 430 am bathroom run was even more so!

On July 5, we began our descent and it was remarkable how much elevation you can climb down in so short a time.

It seems so much less intimidating on the way down!

The last views of Kili before we descended below the clouds...
Sleeping at 12000 feet was literally like a breath of fresh air, and I ended the day's final descent with a healthy paced jog, even passing these porters (who are totally amazing in how much they carry and how fast they both climb and descend, often with gear merely balanced on their heads!) After leaving the gate of the park it was a most deserved "Kili time" (Kilimanjaro is the local beer that was hawked to returning trekkers) and I quickly befriended the local vendors.
My climbing mates...

...and the amazing staff who guided, cooked, set up camp, blew up mattresses, deflated mattresses, and carried it all up and down the mountain!

 I now sit in a very western hotel in Arusha having taken the longest shower ever yet was still unsuccessful in getting the encrusted dust out of my fingernails... I think it will take at least 3 manicures to get that done! Looking forward to meeting Ben for our safari which starts on the 7th... In the meantime, I think I need to find another Kili.

By the way and for the record, according to the local guides, I may have been the first person to summit Kili in purple hiking boots...though at the moment they look the same dust colored grey as everyone else's.  I am confident that I was the first person to do so with purple boots, gaiters, trekking poles and goretex jacket, however dust-encrusted they may have been!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Getting ready at ndarakwai ranch

Greetings from the western slopes of kilimanjaro. In true glamping style, this will be the last mattress, shower and running water after tomorrow morning, when we finally depart on our trek.

We met our guide Godlove this morning for a briefing, giving us a flavor of things to come. This northern circuit route certainly seems circuitous, and at time will be going down to go up...but we're promised it will all help with acclimatization and ultimately summit success. Even the two nights here at 4000 feet is supposed to help ( and besides,it has allowed me to postpone my "last beer" yet once again!). So the day was not wasted, after a hearty breakfast we were treated to a game ride around the many thousand acred property, encountering our first baboons, grouse, gazelles, elephants, zebras and giraffes (no "oh mys" but some of the most vibrantly colored birds I've ever seen!). Pretty if I could only figure out how to get any of those pics posted here! (finally managed to do it!) As it is, this is my third time trying to get this post posted...I remain technically challenged and may even have to break down and get a smart phone when I get back!
Off now for a game walk...will be good to actually stretch my legs after doing not much physically for past few days...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Greetings from Tanzania!!!

At 3:45 am on tues, June 25, after countless in flight meals, movies, cat naps and fortunately not too much wine (ok, so I haven't gone cold turkey yet!), I finally arrived in kilimanjaro international airport outside the city of Arusha, Tanzania. I have always loved those airports when you descend out of the jets onto the Tarmac (vail and Jackson hole being perennial favorites!). The air was crisp and breezy, though with skies cloudy as told by the absence of the night sky display i had hoped to see, in stark contrast to the sweltering heat of the Istanbul jetway or the stuffy cabin air in flight (ok, so Turkish airways was more pedestrian on this leg of the flight, but at least I had a bulkhead). I was quickly greeted by the smiling customs agent ("jambo") who was kind enough not to think my visa photo was too awful.  Even my luggage arrived in one piece, minus only the team fox stickers I had plastered all over it...Emerging from "customs" I was met with a sea of dark welcoming faces bearing signs, including one with the KIA Lodge and my name. After awaiting another guest, we embarked on the bumpiest, darkest 1mile journey down a rutted road and entered the gates of is peaceful lodge. Disconcerting at night, unable to properly assess my surroundings, I was escorted to my room, complete with the iconic mosquito netting and more surprisingly air conditioning.  After a long needed and mostly hot shower,  I finally got to sleep at 530, rejecting the temptation to stay up until sunrise. Waking just in time for lunch served in an open air gazebo style building, amidst flora and fauna (well, at least birds with many unfamiliar sounds, one of which sounds uncannily like a background noise in a favorite don omar song), I'm off to explore the grounds and re pack my bags for the umpteenth time, still unsure what I'll  need and what I won't...maybe the guides can help with that:)
More later, at least for as long as I have power and connectivity!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Greetings from Istanbul

Well, I'm actually more than halfway there, on a layover in the Istanbul airport. And I now know why Turkish airlines is rated the number1 European airline...despite the nightmare dealing with their reservations agents who spoke varying degrees of English, couldn't confirm seat assignments until days before the flight, and who changed my connection so that I arrive at 3 am in Tanzania, the rating is well deserved because : 1. New clean planes with wifi, big bathrooms, flowers, fancy soaps, service by guy in chefs hat and jacket, real silverware, and a special cake for some honeymooners which puts any other carrier to shame  2. Economy comfort (which no one really tells you really IS the same as business class)for same price as Kim regular coach (only other viable flt option), with another shout out to my sister Jeni for the plane ticket! 3. The most awesome airport lounge I've ever seen, exceeding some catering halls and with as many (free) food stations as a lavish bar mitzvah...Turkish salad bar, Schwarma station, flat bread pizzas cooked to order, cheese carts with more guys in chef hats serving you, fine wine and booze selection, not to mention cans of efes just lined up for the taking.(thats for you, michael!) and even the bathrooms have fresh orchids the likes of an Arlene horowitz rosh hashana delivery run! Did I mention the fresh fruit, espresso, Olive Garden courtyard and player piano? I guess I deserve a last taste of indulgence before my alcohol/shower/plumbing-free climb! For the record, I haveno idea what day or time it is, how many meals I have had in e last 24 hours, how many hours of sleep I've had, or what's in store for the next 24--and I don't care! yolo!!!!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sunday, June 23, 2013 -- 3:527a.m.

19,341 feet = $19,341 for Team Fox and Parkinson's Research
In celebration of my "big" birthday about three months ago, I decided to mark it in a "big" way by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.  After months of planning, I leave in less than 24 hours.  I've been told it's an adventure of a lifetime. I confess, I'm totally psyched!

It's not that "Kili" was always on my bucket list -- I'm not even sure I knew where it was, exactly, or anything about it, other than that Hemingway wrote a story about its snows.  But I was looking to mark this birthday -- which was starting to get to me months in advance -- in a meaningful way.  After rejecting cooking trips in Tuscany (too indulgent and fattening) and building houses in Mozambique (sounded cool, but dates weren't right), I started stumbling upon Kili expeditions.  When I learned that mere mortals in decent shape could climb this mountain without serious risk of death, I concluded it was the perfect solution to my birthday blues. 

But why actually climb a mountain like Kili -- with no showers or running water or even alcohol for 9 days?????
Because Mt. Everest is too hard?
Because the snows are melting?
Because, like The Little Engine that Could, "I think I can, I think I can…"
Because YOLO? (tr: "You only live once!")?

There's probably a bit of truth in all of the above. But as part of making this a meaningful venture, I decided that for once, it's not all about ME ME ME. . . (really!). Instead, in honor of my parents, I set the lofty (no pun intended!) goal of dedicating my mid-life crisis climb to raising money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.  Unfortunately, I have watched first-hand the devasting effects of this disease, as both my parents suffer from it. 

Forgive my lack of eloquence, but Parkinson's sucks. Afflicting over five million people worldwide, PD is a chronic degenerative neurological disorder, which bit by bit hinders and eventually shuts down the most basic bodily functions. Currently available treatments temporarily mask symptoms while the disease continues to progress. At present, there is no known cure. But research is progressing rapidly, and the Michael J. Fox Foundation is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease through an aggressively funded research agenda and ensuring the development of improved therapies for those living with Parkinson's today.

Originally, my personal goal was to raise $10,000 before my June 23 departure. When I quickly reached and exceeded that goal, I raised the goal to $19,341 -- $1 for every 19,341 feet of Kilimanjaro's Uhuru Peak -- and I recently reached and exceeded that goal as well.  The support from family and friends from all parts of the world and from all parts of my life has been overwhelming.  But I have not reached the real goal, and hope to continue in my fundraising efforts until there is a cure. Please consider making a contribution. Donations are tax-deductible and can be made online through my Team Fox fundraising page at Of course, any donations will go directly to Michael J. Fox Foundation -- they are NOT being used to fund my trip or my equipment.

In my next post (for any of you interested), I'll spare the fundraising pitch, and promise to share more information about my preparations for my climb, the type of information I trolled the internet for incessantly: the company I selected (Thompson Treks & Safaris), the route (the longest I could find -- called the Grand Traverse, aka the Northern Circuit), the shopping and shopping and shopping and packing (the logistics were mentally challenging), and the training hikes I took to prepare my legs, break in my boots (Purple Lowa's) and test out my equipment and clothes (for which I shopped and shopped and shopped -- Yes, REI loves me!) (Harriman State Park is a great resource for anyone in the NY metro area).  As I'm electronically challenged, not sure how much "real time" posting there will be during my trek, but I plan to share upon my return if all else fails.  Stay tuned...