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A Different Perspective from Mt. Kilimanjaro

1 October 2012 · 2 Comments

New lesson learned: Every once in a while, it is good to look up — both mentally and physically.

This past week plus, I have been on a Mount Kilimanjaro expedition with Kenji, 3 other scientists (2 from Japan, 1 from Russia), 6 students (1 Tanzanian, 5 US), 6 teachers (1 Tanzanian, 5 US), 7 guides from Big Expeditions, 3 cooks, 2 camera crew, and 63 porters. Part of the GLOBE program, the expedition moved through different biomes with students and teachers taking measurements of clouds, soil & water temperature, relative humidity, etc. Each night, the scientists talked with the students about what was going on and their interests. Data was uploaded to the web each night and classrooms from all over the world ‘virtually’ followed us, asking questions via email. We (the ‘science team’) also took measurements – largely focusing on permafrost (at the summit) and water pathways. Overall, it was a pretty cool project. My personal goal of the expedition was just to step back a bit and view things from a different perspective for a while – personally and scientifically. I think I met that goal.

Mt. Meru

After being in airports/airplanes for nearly 36 hours, I arrived in Arusha, Tanzania on 20 Sept. The next morning, I went with Andy (camera crew), Micheal (logistics lead), Safi and Freddie (guides) on a short hike to the base of Mount Meru to help work out the knots in my legs and start acclimating. I was definitely pretty foggy from the long flight, but it was a really good for me. The rest of the day was spent getting my personal stuff together, knowing that when Kenji arrived, “chaos” would arrive with him (which was true).

The Expedition!

Our Route. We followed the yellow line to the top then down the purple line. (

Day 1 [23 Sept] – Base camp (Arusha to Big Tree Camp):

Rain Forest - Day 1

After getting our permit (crazy place) our crew of nearly 100 started up the Lemosho Route. The first day was spent going through rain forest to the Big Tree Camp. We saw a few monkeys and birds and stopped at the Big Tree Camp (2804 m, 9200 ft) which was completely crazy. My initial impressions were that the porters are amazing in what they can physically do (that impression is still true) and that I felt like a tiny ant in a long line of trekkers – impossible to be alone and have quiet time. Mentally, I think this was the worst day for me (although “worst” is a harsh term as I was beginning to climb Kilimanjaro. The whole experience was pretty amazing).

Day 2 [24 Sept] — Big Tree to Shira 1 Camp:

Ant Trail. Kenji is in the foreground.

We took about a 6 hour hike to Shira 1 Camp (3500 m, 11450 ft) going from the rain forest through high shrubs over the Shara rim and down onto the Shara Plateau. Today was the first day where my stomach started acting up, having to stop more than a few times along the trail – I’m not sure if it was the altitude, food, travel, water, etc., but it seemed to be a pretty persistent problem. After lunch, the science team left before the main group to train (walking somewhat faster), download data and start preparing some equipemnt. Highlights of the day included Kilimanjaro clearing in the evening, knuckles in the morning, snacking in the moss forest, Kenji reminding me of old times with the classic “ahhh shit” comment while working on a data logger, and attempting to make peat corers from a small diameter pvc pipe using a leatherman. Kenji to himself: “Just like a BMW”. Narita to me: “You put a man on the moon?” My response back: “I was on the Mars Rover design team.” Julia: Giggles. Note: none of the corers worked.

Day 3 [25 Sept] — Shira 1 to Moir Hut Camp:

Today was a long hike with Kenji showing “no mercy”. Today we climbed up above treeline into moonscape sort of terrain. Once again, the science team left before the main group to take measurements of water and to collect peat measurements. After reaching the Moir Hut Camp (4114 m, 13500 ft), we climbed an additional 200 m to help acclimate and collect water samples and collect addional peat. Today’s highlight was the boulder field on top of the cliffs above Moir Hut with Kili summit and moon & really amazing carrot ginger soup for dinner. Lowlight was a ripping headache on the decent down the cliffs to camp. A lot of the members of the expedition are starting to really feel the effects of the altitude.

Day 4 [26 Sept] — Moir Hut Camp to Lava Tower:

Break time with a ripping headache

A short hike to Lava Tower (4600 m, 15090 ft). Kenji and the other scientists walked ahead to do some veg measurements while I walked behind the main group as I woke up with the ripping headache I went to bed with the night before. After arriving at camp, I took a long nap and did not wake up until dinner. The Lava Tower was a pretty cool site, but I was not able to really enjoy it with my headache. At dinner, I attempted to open a canister of Tang which exploded like a bottle of champagne all over me causing lots of laughs. Kenji also held a webinar which I would call moderately successful as the satellite phone kept losing its signal – over and over again. This was our last day with the main expedition. Safi, one of our guides and a very cool person, hung on every one of Kenji’s words during the webinar. It is clear that he is hungry for knowledge about his mountain and occassionally makes comments about being Kenji’s assistant professor.

Day 5 [27 Sept]: — Lava Tower to Arrow Glacier Hut:

I’m finally feeling good again! After completing our last protocal with the students and teachers, the science team (Kenji, Julia, Narita, and myself) climbed a short distance to the Arrow Glacier Hut Camp (4800 m, 15748 ft). Today was the last day to rest before our big push to the summit tomorrow. After arriving at camp (about noon), we walked around, looked at the last remains of the Arrow Glacier, took a nap, etc. Beside the 4 of us, we have a support crew of 16 (2 guides, 1 cook, 13 porters). This camp is not used very often as the route from here is the long and steep Western Breach. The camp is pretty run down, but the scenery is pretty amazing!

Day 6 [28 Sept]: — Arrow Glacier to Crater Camp:

Kili Casts a Big Shaddow at Sunrise

The big push with no mercy. This was by far our longest and hardest day. We woke up before sunrise (and seeing Kili’s shaddow across the clouds – amazing in itself) and climbed straight up 900 meters to Crater Camp (5700 m, 18700 ft) — just below the summit of Kilimanjaro. After taking a short rest, Kenji, Narita, myself, the guides and porters (Julia was wiped out and stayed behind) headed across to the western ice field to start our main science work – drilling a temperature bore hole & installing a data logger near the edge of the glacier. After walking about an hour from camp, we worked for about 6 hours (at 5700+ meters!!!) working at the bore hole site, only stopping because the drill broke and we could not drill any longer. I call this my ‘virtual summit’ day as we crossed a location on the crater rim that is only a few meters below the very top of Africa. As I mentioned, this was by far my hardest day. Until this point, I was feeling pretty good. But soon after we arrived, both of my calves cramped up at the same time – forcing me to sit down for a while. Soon afterward, my sunglasses broke. Between the intense sun, the glaciers, and the altitude, my vision became really foggy, which scared me a bit. After the sun went down, it became really cold very quickly. I was working on wiring the data logger and my fingers became very cold (quickly followed by the rest of me) and my water froze. By the time we left the site, I was pretty exhausted and it took a while to get back to camp. When I arrived, I was not hungry, but the guides forced me to eat. I am thankful for them helping me out that night. I’m not sure if I was too tired or the altitude was working against me, but I slept very poorly.

Day 7 [29 Sept] — Crater Camp to Uhuru Peak (the summit) to Mweka Camp:

On top of Africa !

After “sleeping in” to just after sunrise, I woke up feeling much better than the night before (just a mild headache). After breakfast, Kenji, Julia, and Narita went back into the crater to find a data logger that wasn’t found the night before (it was found this morning). I went with Rodrick (guide) and Edward (cook) to the Uhuru Peak (the summit, 5895 m, 19330 ft), making it with no problems! The night before, I expressed no desire to go to the summit – I think because I had already ‘virtually’ summited and partly because I was exhausted and was ready to go down the mountain. I was glad they talked me out of it. I definitely felt a sense of accomplishment after spending an anxious summer wondering if I could make it (physically and mentally). It turned out it was much easier (although not easy) than I had anticipated. After reaching the top of Africa, I flew down the mountain, which was a blast. I was definitely feeling good about life and enjoying the ride. Kenji and the others caught up with me at one of the camps and we decended down to Mweka Camp (3100 m, 10170 ft, purple line on map). I never thought the air at 3100 m could feel so good!

Day 8 [30 Sept] — Mweka Camp to Base Camp (Asura):

The end of the expedition. Today was a short 2.5 hour hike down to the “finish line”, although it felt like the expedition ended the night before. I spent most of the time thinking about what had happened this past week. Personally, I think what I am taking away from this experience is that is important to “look up” every once in a while. For the past 7 days, I spent a lot of time looking down at the trail, focussing on the next steps that were immediately in front of me. Every once in a while, I would look up and around and was struck by my surroundings. I already knew this was important, but this experience very much hammered it home.

Note: I will upload remaining photos after I return home in mid-October. The internet connection is not so good.

Tags: Kilimanjaro · Life · Travel

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Shannon // Oct 1, 2012 at 9:02

    Congrats, Bob. We’ll have to catch up when you return.

  • 2 The Dels // Oct 1, 2012 at 20:56

    So great and a hearty congratulations! Thanks for sharing….