We boarded a plane leaving Canada, heading towards a world that I knew very little about. As I sat on the plane I questioned a lot of things that put me there in the first place.
I was on my way to the other side of the world...
Am I running from something?
Or to something?
It was just a subtle conversation, had between Shannon and I, that is sending me to an unknown land to climb a mountain which I also have very little experience in.
Was I hoping to find something?
What am I even looking for?
You would think that 20 hours on a plane would give me enough time to find some of the answers, but nerves and tight quarters made deep, rational thinking rather difficult.
We landed in Amsterdam for a short layover. Ryan and I separated for a bit knowing that we would see a lot of each other over the next five weeks. I wandered around the airport people watching and wondering to myself about all the other stories each person had.
What paths led all these people to be here?
Where are they all going?
Are they here for business or pleasure?
What am I doing here....?
Just another 10 hour flight and I will be landing in Africa. The world seems so small. I was able to get an hour or two of sleep before touching down at the Kilimanjaro International Airport. The nerves I had been feeling became a bit amplified when I stepped onto the runway.
What if they don't let me in?
I felt like I had done as much as I could to prepare but nerves don't have to be rational. And they proved to be unheeded as within an hour we obtained visas and were in a van on the way to our hotel. It was past midnight by the time we got into our hotel room, so after some unpacking and repacking to get ready for the early morning hike we got into our mosquito netted beds and caught some rest.
We awoke on time and got our things together to meet with our guide. I was excited and nervous, which seemed to be the theme of the trip for me thus far, but having someone with me like Ryan to either share in the nerves or push me past them was very appreciated.
We met Frankie around 8 AM.
Frankie Kizito would be our guide, interpreter, educator, motivator, personal trainer and friend over the next 8 days. My first impression of Frankie was great, as he was friendly, spoke english, and was very confident in our ability to make it to the top of the mountain. My impression of him only increased as I got to know him.
After weighing our gear and a bit of organizing we loaded up the Land Cruiser and headed out. I say "we" loaded up the Land Cruiser, but in honesty the porters did all of the loading and unloading of everything. We had our day packs but that was pretty much all they would let us carry no matter how much we insisted.
It was a long drive to the gates where we signed in and paid for park entrance fees, but it was full of beautiful scenery, things that were very new to me, and some pretty impressive driving maneuvers that you would not easily get away with in Canada. It's all part of the adventure.
We arrived at the gate, snapped some pictures and enjoyed a box lunch before getting back in the truck and heading for the trail head. We passed huge potato fields full of people working in the heat, picking and bagging potatoes. With the heat blasting on them, their hands dirty, and having to carry massive amounts of weight they always managed to smile and wave. Everyone here seemed so happy. It's contagious. It's been hard not to smile here.
At the trail head there was a massive group of people starting out on their adventure. I again wondered what everyone was doing here.
Raising money for a cause?
Ah.... I got one... maybe not the main reason I did this, but at least I had something now. It's a cause that Shannon helped even before she got sick. A cause that is so close to me and many of you reading. Ryan and I set a goal that we felt was very ambitious, but all of the support we had, made short work of that goal.
Looking at the trail head, with my day pack on and the large group, along with many of our porters, gone on ahead, I took my first steps on a trail that would lead me to somewhere or something that I felt I needed to be.
That was the first thing that came to mind. Up and up and up were the next three. The rain started. Rain, up, rain, up, rain, up. Is this my whole trip? This is supposed to be enlightening and freeing. This is only an hour in, Dan. Be positive. Shannon would love to be here. Enjoy it.
Sometimes I just need a quick reality check and she was always great to give it to me. Thanks Shannon. The rest of the day was amazing. Walking through a forest. Seeing new things at every turn. The rain let up and we settled down for our first night camping on Mount Kilimanjaro.
The next morning we woke up and packed our things for the porters and packed our day packs for us to carry. It was a physical day but relatively short. We were up and down but it was a climb for the most part. We eventually ascended out of the trees and came into a much less vegetated and much more rocky area. We walked along a ridge that increased quite steadily until we were able to come down a few hundred metres to our next campsite.
The first several days are mostly used to acclimatize your body to the elevation so that you hopefully won't have many problems when you attempt the summit. The slower start was welcome for me and definitely gave me some confidence for the remaining days. Frankie was continually encouraging and happy with our pace and progress.
We got up early again the next day and packed our things. We were told to bring a few extra layers as it was going to get cold. We loaded our day packs and left as the porters packed up the remaining gear to lug up the mountain to set up for our next camp. The porters are quite amazing. Lugging so much weight on their heads and backs in nothing more than worn out running shoes, which were often without laces. Doing so with a smile on their face and always being polite is so commendable. We were so impressed with their insanely hard work.
This hike led us up, and up again. I'm not sure what I was expecting. We weren't going to reach the summit by going down. We had left all vegetation a few hours in and were getting into some cold temperatures. We approached what was called Lava Tower. A huge rock formation that lived up to the name "Tower". It was a bit chilly here as the rain and mist swept in. It was also above 4000m in elevation and I could feel the tingling in my hands and face that is caused from being at high elevations. Here, under the Lava Tower, we stopped for some lunch and then descended along a different route to our camp. The descent was long but just like the rest of the trails it was full of awe and beauty.
That evening we sat out in front of our tent and snapped pictures of the amazing scenery. It was clear so you could see the lights of Moshi and along with every star imaginable. I was concerned about the tingling in my hands and face. I thought of the man we saw passed out being helped by porters and guides. I started to wonder about not making it. I hadn't really thought about not making it. I started to be concerned about the disappointment I would feel, then I recalled what my mother and Shannon's mother, Brenda, had both said to me before I left. "Don't push yourself too hard. Just do as much as you can. Be safe. Love you."
I had so much love and support from my family and friends. If I didn't make it no one would be disappointed. I was still doing something new and exciting. It's not the destination, it's the journey. There was no failure.
Ahhh... another one. I'm here on an adventure. To get out of my own way. To see a world outside of my own. Take my mind off of things back home. Not to run away from anything, but to see a different world at a time when I find my world difficult. Seems like a good enough reason to be here. Not the whole reason I did this but I'll take it for now.
Now forget about the tingling, Dan. Enjoy the stars. Enjoy the quiet. No time for worrying, you've got a mountain to climb.
The next day we were heading up what they called the Baranco Wall. It appeared to be just that, a wall. Lucky for us there was a hiking trail to navigate us up this behemoth. We made good time getting through this large ascent and continued to descend and ascend several times until we reached our next camp. Here is where we, along with Frankie's encouragement, decided to continue our day and move along to the next camp. Frankie was continuously impressed with our progress and push each day and was confident we could cut a few days off of our trek. We talked about it and thought of the porters and cook and guides. Christmas was approaching and I didn't feel like spending christmas eve in a tent and I'm sure the crew would rather be home with their families.
We were happy with our decision, but it meant a long few days. We reached the next camp around 4 in the afternoon. This was base camp. The porters set up camp, we ate supper and got a few hours of sleep before being woke at around midnight to eat and start our venture to the summit. This is where people often stop their trek. Combinations of altitude sickness, and steep gains over loose shale make the climb to Stella Point the hardest part of the hike.
But I felt good. We started out around 1 AM and slowly plodded along. Frankie in the lead followed by Ryan, Me and our assistant guide followed closely behind.
It is Swahili for slow, slower and it is very frequently heard from guides all along the trails. Slow ascents are key to avoiding altitude sickness and reaching the summit.
The time also moved "Pole Pole" along this ascent. The cold wind, steepness, and altitude made for a difficult hike.
Just keep your head down.
Another one! Another reason to why I'm here on this mountain in Africa. To accomplish something that I may have doubted I could do. Thats why I'm doing this. To challenge myself. To push myself to newer limits.
You can do this. You have so many people behind you. Helping you with every step. There's no stopping you.
I won't lie. It was difficult, but it was also so very beautiful. The stars were lighting the way. The sun rose as we ascended from the steepest area to what is called Stella Point. From there the walk remained slow but much easier than the previous few kilometres.
The steps became lighter and lighter as we came to the summit sign.
I did it.
I was here.
I reached into my pocket and with tears in my eyes I pulled out a picture of my father together with my wife. All three of us smiling. They would be so proud of me. I gained a part of their adventurous souls and I used it to put me on top of a mountain on the other side of the world. I felt amazing. I was living my life.
I left a lot of emotions and hurt on top of that mountain. Uhuru Peak. Swahili for freedom.
Why was I here? Why did I do this?
It was clear to me once I reached the summit.
I did this for him.
I did this for her.
I did this for me.