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Below is a daily account of my climbing journal.

Day 1 - Machame gate / 18km, 4.5 hr, 2980m highest alt
Machame route is the 2nd most popular, with 20-25% of all climbers. It's the 3rd most difficult and the most scenic. There are so many people climbing Kili.

The group: 4 people, me and a family of 3 from Florida. It's graduation present for the son who is heading to the marines. Mother has prior experience from summiting Rainier. The support: 15 people. 1 head guide, 1 assistant guide, 1 cook, and 12 porters, who are responsible for carrying food, water, and heavy equipment, Probably the only time I'll have 3.5 people spoiling me with chairs and mess tents in between breaks. Don't worry; we carried our own day packs. Mine weighted ~10kg.

There are 6 different zones here. Today we ascended from cultivation zone into the forest zone, where 70% of all the mountain water is generated. Soon we entered the heather zone, where tall trees receded for shorter plants. It's very moist and misty the whole way.

Day 2 - Machame camp to Shira camp / 9km, 5 hr, 3800m highest alt
The comforts of our climb continued to surprise me. I was woken up by porter Joseph with a hot cup of team, which is followed by warm wash water, then a hearty breakfast in the mess tent. I was worried my appetite would disappear as it did in Tibet, maybe it's the cooking, but I age like a homeless for the whole trip.
Hiking at 8am, we quickly entered zone 4, moorland, with hard bushes, short shrubs, and wild flowers. Altitude already surpassed Colorado, and so far I felt no altitude sickness at all. The guides forced us to walk in a painfully slow pace, which I adapted to quickly. Very easy day, which is rewarded with amazing views of oceans of clouds and tip of Kilimanjaro at sunset.
Life of porter is hard. They have to bring ~20kg of goods up, not including at least 5kg of personal stuff. Per our guides, it's the lowest position people can get here if they can't find anything else in town. They are extremely nice people.

Day 3 - Shira camp to Barranco camp / 14km, 6 hr, 4590 highest alt
Step, inhale, step, inhale, step, exhale, step, exhale. "Pole pole!" Slow down the guides says in Swahili. Step, inhale, step, exhale. After walking like a snail, we cross the Lava Tower at 4590m, my personal record so far. Also we entered zone 5, the alpine desert, where hard shrub gave away to large volcanic boulders. There are few flowers and patches of grass. Weather also became unpredictable, where clear sun beating down with intense UV is mixed with cold London mist and Cape Town wind.

Today is definitely harder. The lack of altitude sickness is deceptive, as any fast movement for extended period of time will render you breathless. Good thing I have no headaches, as rest of my group seemed to be struggling with. Most of the time I had to consciously tell myself to slow down and take it easy. The urge to get to camp quicker is very strong, and very foolish. Furthermore, 2nd phase of the climb is downhill, as we gave up altitude gained earlier in the day.
So far I've been fairing well with the altitude. No symptoms, just waking up few times during the night as it's difficult to get good REM sleep. Much better than Tibet though.

Day 4 - Barranco to Barafu camp / 14km, 7 hr, 4540 highest alt
1st phase of the trail was an ascent with 30 degree incline, with some scrambling involved. Once again I'm amazed by the porters' ability to dart up the trail like mountain antelopes. The trail is the most interesting and hardest so far. Of course, we are awarded by the Kili peak on the left, where M-glacier and the Bridge Icicle route (technical and difficult route, rarely used) are visible, and Mt. Meru protruding from the clouds on the right.
Now my body is definitely responding to the altitude. During climb my HR is 130, although the pace is slower than you'd have on the way to get water in the office. At rest my HR is 80, which is way above my norms. Also, I developed a slight headache, which went away after some tea, but still alarming.

Today is the day before summit. 4pm we got to Barafu camp, which is a huge rock chiseled and dotted with tents. There are probably about 50 climbers summiting with us. 7pm we had dinner, After 4 hours of rest, we will wake up, get ready, and start the summit at 12am.

Day 5 - Uhuru Peak to Mweika camp / 14km, 14 hr, 5895 highest alt
After few hours of rest, I woke up in good condition. With tea and biscuits, we waited in silence and got ready mentally for the summit. 12 am, we departed. 1 hr into the climb, head guide Leonard check everyone's bag for weight, and commented my bag is way to heavy for the summit. Oh well. Much later I found out the bag weighted ~12kg, while we are suppose to carry no more than 5kg.

Weather was cooperating. Clear sky, full moon, low wind on the ascent. We didn't use much of our headlamps. In the next 3 hours, everyone in the group fought their own battles against altitude sickness. Some got nauseous. Some got extremely tired. I was breathing hard, very hard. In addition, the odor of my rental down jacket and the taste of hydration salt is making my queasy. I felt better after uncovering my nose and mouth, only to pay the price of sunburn and chapped skin later.

Breathing deeply and loudly, keeping mental focus, and talking out loud, I managed to get make steady progress with little rest, which I found to be the key. With the sun coming up, I spent 90% of my energy stomping up a steep hill, and finally got to Stella Peak at 6am. With a brief rest, the group trekked over frozen ice to Uhuru Peak, which rewarded us with stunning views of the sky, sunrise, glaciers, and sun capped Kili. Have to admit, I got a little emotional.

The descend was very easy. "Skiing" down dirt, it took us only 2 hours to get back to camp.

Day 6: Mweika gate / 7km, 2hr, 1500m alt
After getting down to the gate, I'm ready to sit. Afterwards, I'm very glad to have tested my limits, physically and mentally. I learned more about myself in harsh conditions than before, and now I know my capabilities much better.

Zack Ping, San Francisco, USA


Mount Kilimanjaro

Zack Ping





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