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Like Being on Mars: A Journey to the Top of Mount Kilimanjaro (Part 3)

Posted by Suzanne Heskin on 24th Mar 2016

This is part 3 of Suzanne’s journey to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in support of the American Foundation for Children with AIDs. To read the rest of the series, click here.

Later, we got to finally meet our crew. Our crew, who carries our mobile city so cheerfully, who greets us as we walk into camp with songs, or they meet us to carry our backpacks for us. Our crew, with names like Innocent, Gabriel, Godliving, Omichelle, Amadeus, Johannus. Who carried our spare clothes, who set up our tents, who carried and cleaned our toilets, who cooked meals for us, who served us tea and coffee in our tents, and who were there to do the best job of getting us up that mountain.

There were 36 of them. 36 crew for 9 climbers. That's 4 crew per climber. It was taking 4 men a week to get me up a mountain. They each introduced themselves with name and job, and all with pride. Guides, assistant guides, chef, assistant chef, camp men (who set up and tore down our tents), toilet cleaners, porters...one by one, and we clapped for each one. What a group, what an operation.

We were to have tilapia that night, which surprised me. Fish? On the second night? I tried to ask how they got it up there safely, but all I could get out of the that it was from Lake Victoria. The fish was great, and nobody got sick from it. These guys have this cooking thing figured out!I asked to see the kitchen tent, curious, of course, how such quantities of amazing food were made. I found a mound of fresh produce. Fresh eggs were carried up either in crates strapped to a porter's back, or in plastic jugs resting in nests of dried grass. I'd hate to be the porter with the eggs, what if I tripped!?!?!

Part way through our 7 day journey, more porters would meet up with our group to deliver a fresh batch of food. 

This night, at Shira Camp, we had Lake Victoria tilapia, fruit, rice, squash and hot banana fritters for dessert. As the sun set, Donnie and I sat on some rocks and talked.

We reflected on the trip so far, the trip ahead, and of course enjoyed the view....

Here's what the breakfast scene looked like some days.... Fruit tray covered up, table set, thermoses of hot water and coffee. The 5 gallon bucket by Melissa was always there, always full of filtered water for us. This is where we filled our water bottles. Ok, we rarely filled them, as a crew member was almost always on the watch for empty Nalgenes and he would take them and fill them. Water was collected at each camp from springs or creeks, then filtered. It's all snow/glacier melt and tasted fantastic. Nobody got sick from the water, which is a good thing!

We walked, up and up. What few plants were around soon shrunk or completely disappeared. We walked on dusty trails that intertwined like vines, weaving in and out of each other. I liked it, as it allowed us to sometimes walk next to someone, which was a welcome change from trying to talk to someone ahead of or behind, and the endless views of someone else's rear-end and backpack. The trails weaved in and out of large rocks and boulders, endless evidence of the volcanic action from long ago.

I was feeling good, Donnie was feeling good, but others were starting to really notice the effects of altitude. Many had regular dull headaches, which luckily Advil took care of. A few felt a bit nauseous, but luckily it passed relatively quickly. Our team was doing really well.

As we continued, we encountered some fog. It wasn't cold, but the fog sure made things look eerie. We all likened this part of the hike to being on Mars. Almost no plants, barren, desolate, and now some strange atmospheric aspects.

Everything was shrouded in fog as we headed down. I kept waiting to get out of it, but we never did. We finally found the sign in hut at Barranco and registered.

The fog was moving, constantly, and once in a while we'd get a glimpse of the mountain above us. Or maybe they were glimpses of part of the mountain, we weren't sure. It felt confining and frustrating to not be able to see it.

We had hiked 7.5 miles that day, topping out at 15,000 feet. My body felt great, the hike had been beautiful in a martian way, and I wasn't frustrated at coming down in elevation. I think we were all pretty tired, as after dinner we all headed straight to bed, curious what we would see in the morning.

To read more of Suzanne’s adventures, please visit her blog!