Sunday, November 7, 2010

Kilimanjaro continued....

Read the first excerpt of Kilimanjaro here


It feels terrible to be back in Mumbai. Kili was ruthlessly cold with fierce winds, sleepless nights, no beds or showers  - but I still miss it :).  I'm going to write a a brief synopsis of my experience.....

The porters collected our backpacks every morning & transferred it to the next campsite. They also setup and dismantled our tents. The campsites are always near a water source. We carried our own daypacks which were loaded with water, snacks, packed lunches, warm clothing, toiletries and other essentials. Everyone dined together in the cozy mess tent & it was fun to mingle with new friends.

We had full service candlelit dinners with meals served in chinaware ! Although there were no showers, the support crew gave us small containers of hot water every morning to freshen up. We had portable toilets for the group. It's amazing how much they spoil you on the mountain ! Without a doubt, its mission impossible without the porters, guides & the support crew at the campsite.

Eat well, sleep well & drink plenty of water was the success mantra to make it to the top. It sounds simple - but hard to obey. Guides advise you to eat carbohydrates, sugar rich foods like chocolates & drink 4-5 litres of water everyday. The water we drink is collected from the stream and boiled every morning on request. After drinking excess water, my bladder really annoyed me every night. Towards the end of the trek, I despised water and chocolates.

I'm a fragile sleeper and didn't get any sleep the first night. After sleeping in temperature controlled rooms & thick mattresses it's initially hard to sleep in a compact tent and rocky surfaces ! My last experience camping was probably in school. But subsequently, the body got really exhausted climbing & it was easier to sleep. You're always snoozing on the mountain, rather than being in a state of slumber.

I was the sole lacto vegetarian (a diet which includes dairy products, but excludes eggs) in the group. I kept my hands away from omelette's and scrambled eggs for breakfast. My only option was to gulp down the utterly unpalatable porridge seven mornings in a row. The food was disappointing initially, but after everyone grumbled  it was a tad better. They served us hot soup every night before dinner - a real bliss in freezing temperatures. As my sole aim was survival, I ingested whatever was offered. I had begun to appreciate the little things in life :).
 I was well prepared for altitude sickness - but it never showed up ! We all used a drug called diamox to fight altitude sickness. There are contradictory opinions on taking diamox. My dosage was 1/2 tablet for breakfast and another 1/2 for dinner. Everyone in the group was absorbing diamox & it seemed to work well for all of us.  Once, in the middle of the night I had a stomach disorder & I was unable to find my headlamp in the tent. It was pitch dark & impossible to walk without any illumination. It took about 15 minutes to find my headlamp & rush to the toilet. That was harsh !

 The summit day is brutal and the ascent begins at midnight. Luckily, the weather was only about  -7 C that night (can get as bad as -25 C). It's pitch dark and & you cant see any further than your next step  with your headlamp.  My pace was awfully slow that night and eventually I lost my colleagues. I was left all alone along with Lucas.  Lucas was a backup guide in case someone splits from the group.  I don't know how I crawled my way to the top. Each step took more effort than the previous one; I must have paused about 80 times in those 8 hours. Eventually the sun came up we could see the surreal landscape - the glaciers, the several hundred foot drop into the crater, the mind-blowing expanse of the debris field stretching down to the tiny dots of base camp below.

Finally on Saturday 21st August, around 8 A.M, I concluded my ascent at Gilmans point (5695 metres) . Gilman's point is on the rim of Kilimanjaro. However, Uhuru peak (5895 metres)  is the highest point on Kilimanjaro about 200 metres higher up & 2 hours further away. The park authorities give you a successful completion certificate if you reach Gilmans or Uhuru. When I reached Gilman's I was all alone - without a camera & a frozen water bottle. Some colleagues had descended back to the the base camp & others had departed for Uhuru peak.

Except for the extreme exhaustion, I was feeling comfortable. I didn't suffer from any sickness, headaches, vomiting etc, unlike some fellow climbers. I had the stamina to go all the way to Uhuru, but Lucas advised me to retreat in order to make it on time to the base camp. It was still 4 hours to the base camp & another 4 hours to a lower camp where we would be spending our final night. Most big mountains are summited at night to avoid hazards like ice falls.  Another  reason to climb Kili at night is to avoid the shock of seeing what you have to climb because its dark.


My candid thoughts on Kilimanjaro...

Kili was undoubtedly a dream come true. I certify its not technical climb & can be attempted by anyone who is reasonably fit. Although the trail is not vivacious like the Himalayas, its fun. The path except for the summit day inclines very gently making it a comfortable trek. We walked about 6 hours each day except for the summit day which was 16 delirious hours. The summit day is demanding, but not impossible. About four climbers in my group were in their sixties & they all made it. Their courage & determination was really commendable. I now believe that "age" only exists in the psyche & reminiscences of their conquest will be an immortal source of inspiration.

The porters are the real hero's of Kilimanjaro. An average trekker like me spends his time at the camp moaning about the hardships he is suffering – white eating popcorn & sipping a steaming hot cup of tea. The porters are the hardy individuals - putting up the tents, helping with the preparation of the food, refilling water bottles and generally making sure every trekker’s desire is catered for. The average wage for a porter is $5 per day (excluding tips) & the weight they can carry is capped to 15 kilos. Every time I saw a porter on the mountain, it felt terrible that someone has to carry all the weight to make my journey more pleasurable. But as an afterthought, the process generates employment for porters in a country where poverty and unemployment is high. Unfortunately this is the fate of the world.

The trek made me poorer by around $3000 & I wouldn't exchange it for an overwater villa in the Maldives! It's unbelievable the amount of satisfaction the ego derives by climbing great heights. Why else do climbers from across the world commit to their own misery ? Now this was my closest encounter of "mountaineering", but definitely not the final one. When I signed up for Kili, it was merely another adventure. The journey's initial motive was to get to the top & prove my physical capabilities. But when I concluded by climb, my belief had changed. It turned out to be a spiritual journey. It helped me stretch my limits, inspired me, expanded my consciousness & made me aware of the little joys in life, which are often ignored at home. Adventure was a measly part of the package.

As Dr. Joseph Dispenza says:

 Travel is intrinsically associated with expanding consciousness. Travel is an inner experience as much as an outer experience. Travel is the great metaphor for embarking on a journey of emotional, psychological, and spiritual growth. Being essentially materially minded, we undertake physical journeys so that we can better understand the inner process that is at work when we go out. We will eventually discover something about ourselves that we had not known. We travel to complete ourselves. We need these journeys to understand how all the pieces of our lives fit together. Every time we go out we are going in and seen in that way, all travel is a spiritual experience.”

(P.S. - All images by Jayant Sasikumar & Sanjeev Ganju)