That time I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and lived to tell the tale…

I was on top of the world!! (Or at least on The Roof of Africa!)

Despite some (major) breathing struggles due to the high altitude and extremely thin air, I’m really happy to report that I made it all the way to Uhuru Peak! I climbed 19,341 feet on the World’s Highest Freestanding Mountain to The Roof of Africa. From being cold and dirty for seven days and only using wet wipes to bathe, to camping out in sleeping bags in the great outdoors and going to the bathroom behind rocks along the trail, to facing my fears of climbing a real rock wall (with no harness) and hiking up to 7 hours in a day, to even climbing 13 hours in extreme cold and dangerously low temps on summit night, I can honestly say that even though in the moment it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically, I enjoyed every day and the adventure of it all.

My climbing group consisted of 3 other girls and I along with our 3 guides and 13 porters. We saw dads and sons, couples and groups of guys but we were the only group of all girls. Yup, we’re that badass.

We chose to do a 7 day hike on Machame, the route known as “The Whiskey Route” because it is more challenging and scenic than Marangu, the “Coca Cola Route.” The more days you spend climbing, the better your chances are of acclimatizing and successfully making it to the summit. I don’t know if I would have made it if we did a shorter trek. Climbing, much like in life, is a mental game. If you believe it is possible and tell yourself you can do it compared to if you are weak and give up, the choice is yours. You have to honey badger through that shit. The mental aspect of the climb was actually the easiest part for me. Apparently, when I want  something, I am a lot stronger mentally than I ever fully realized.

I used to wonder what it was like to touch a cloud. They look so fun and fluffy, right? Let me tell you right now – they aren’t. They are cold and damp and quite dreary! But even if you are standing in the clouds or above the clouds, when you’re on the mountain looking up at the snow-covered peak, you completely forget that you’re in Africa.

Every morning at 6am the porters woke us up with hot tea and a hot breakfast. We’d get dressed (we pretty much wore the same clothes everyday so this didn’t take too long), pack up our stuff and load our daypack with the stuff that we needed for the day. Having the right gear made the trek a thousand times easier. We had 3 hot meals a day and ate dinner around 6pm by candlelight. It got really cold at night and there wasn’t much to do in the dark except rely on our headlamps and candles to play cards, write in our journals or read so we’d stall best we could and then retire early for the night to rest up for the long day of hiking ahead.

Quick Kilimanjaro Facts:

  • The guides repeatedly tell you “pole pole” (pronounced polé) which means “slowly slowly”. The slower you go, the more likely you are to make it to the summit.
  • It’s the largest freestanding mountain in the world standing at 19,341 ft/ 5895 m.
  • Kilimanjaro supports 5 major eco-zones: rainforest, heath, moorland, alpine desert and arctic tundra. Where else on Earth can you journey through 5 climates from the Equator/Amazon Rainforest to the North Pole in 45 miles? Truly incredible.
  • The biggest challenge and danger is the high altitude. Climbers die from improper acclimatization and altitude sickness rather than falls.
  • Approximately 25,000 people attempt to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro annually. Only about 2/3 are successful. (and I am one of them! Woo!)
  • The structure is composed of 3 volcanoes: Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira. Kibo, where all the hikers are, is the highest and only peak that is dormant and could erupt again. The most recent activity was only 200 years ago! (Yea, so I climbed on a colossal volcano!)

So here is a day by day account of the life-changing climb:

October 14: DAY 1
Machame Gate to Machame Hut Camp
Elevation: 5,997 ft to 9,908 ft

Distance: 10.8 km
 (6.7 miles)
Time: 12N to 5:22PM
. 5 hours 22 minutes
Zone: Rainforest

It rained in the rainforest. Go figure. I saw some monkeys swinging in the trees, so that was entertaining. The air was already thinning and already becoming more difficult to breathe. I tried to focus on the climb rather than what could have been.  That night I stood mesmerized by the breathtaking beauty and astounding mass quantity of stars. Stars in Utah have nothing on this.

day 1 - kilimanjaro
 
October 15 DAY 2
Machame Hut to Shira Camp
Elevation: 12,621 ft

Distance: 5.2 km
 (3.2 miles)

Time: 8:30AM to 1PM
 - 4 hours 57 minutes
Vitals: 97 Oxygen level
Zone: Alpine Forest

Today was rough and very steep. We were already above the clouds and climbed over rocks, mud and boulders. At one point, we were on the edge of a cliff with only a 3-inch thick ledge!! (not exaggerating at all)

day 2- kilimanjaro
Thank goodness for walking sticks. No stepping stones are stairs, only boulders.
October 16 – DAY 3
Shira Camp to Barranco Hut (via Lava Tower)

Elevation: Lava Tower 15,092 ft / Barranco Hut 130,70ft

Distance: 
Shira to Lava 7.0 (4.3 miles)
Lava to Barranco 3.7 km (2.3 miles)

Time: 8:30AM to 4PM
 - 6 hours 27 minutes
Vitals: 94 Oxygen level
Zone: Moorland

The first 3 ½ hours were straight uphill and extremely cold.The cold temps only make breathing in the thin air that much more difficult. To help acclimate (climb high, sleep low) we descended after reaching Lava Tower which is the highest point along the route until the summit.

Grace and I at Lava Tower; crazy Tim Burton-esque trees; me standing in front of Kibo
October 17 – DAY 4
Barranco Hut to Karanga Hut

Elevation: 13,255 ft

Barranco Wall (843 ft)
Distance: 5.8 km (3.6 miles)
Time: 8:50AM to 1PM
 4 hours
Vitals: 90 Oxygen level
Zone: Alpine Desert

The air had gotten so thin that it took me 5 minutes to catch my breath. Even going from the tent to the toilet tent and back was an effort. We literally climbed a rock wall known as the High Breach Barranco Wall. We put away our walking poles and used our hands to pull ourselves up and over massive boulders. On our walk, I had an interesting chat with Vincent, my guide, about how Tanzanian’s main news source is the radio because TV’s cost too much, papers are hard to find and people have to go to Internet cafes to get Internet access. When he told me Obama did well in the 2nd debate and bombed the 1st I realized just how disconnected from the world I had become and how at peace I was in the complete and utter silence, the serenity and the calmness of the mountain.

Yoga above the clouds, Niki and I climbing up the Barranco Wall and the four of us eating
October 18- DAY 5
Karanga Hut to Barafu Hut
Elevation: 15,092 ft

Distance: 3.4 km
 (2.1 miles)

Time: 8:45AM to 12PM
 2 hours 44 minutes
Zone: Desert

Upon arrival at the camp, we were told to rest up for our big night. The guides woke us up for dinner and then again at 1130p to begin our summit attempt. This was where it hit me. Time had come to go big or go home; but really just to go big because going home wasn’t going to be an option for me.

day 5 - kilimanjaro

October 18th/ Morning of October 19th – NIGHT of DAY 5/ DAY 6 SUMMIT ATTEMPT!
Distances on Summit Day
Barafu Hut to Stella Point: 3.3 Km (2.05 miles) ~ 6 hours 
(Stop & think about that. Climbing 2 miles straight up a mountain.
That puppy is huge!)
Stella Point to Summit Uhuru Peak: 1.2 km (.75 miles)
Summit to Barafu: 4.5km (2.8 miles)
Elevation: Stella Point 18,871 ft / Uhuru Peak 19,341 ft
Vitals: None taken. Vincent didn’t want to psych us out if we made it
this far?
Time: 12:20AM-1:30PM Summit. 13 hours!
Zone: Arctic Tundra

As soon as we left base, I felt like we were on a death march with what should have had dramatic Star Wars music playing in the background. Saving my iPod battery up until this point just to listen to music as I attempted to summit made all the difference in the world. It helped pass the time so much easier. I was wearing almost every piece of clothing I brought and while I was comfortable, others were vomiting and fighting frostbite. After all, climbing (pre-sunrise) in the cold, dark night at -10C (14 F) for  about 6+ hours was damn near frigid. When it is pitch black out, all you see is the feet of the person in front of you lit up in the light of your headlamp. You can’t see that you are on the edge of a massive cliff and you’re less likely to get psyched out by how far you have left to climb.

Did you know that the brain does not function very intelligently and often hallucinates at this altitude? One climber-friend said she must have blacked out while continuing to walk because she doesn’t remember parts of the climb near Stella Point. Another said he saw hippos. That’s bad, there are no hippos anywhere on the mountain. Thankfully, I didn’t have any symptoms of AMS. When you reach Stella Point you think you’re done but you’re not.  It’s a big tease. You’ve already climbed about 7 hours and you think you’ve exhausted all your reserved energy and that you can’t go any further but oh wait. You can! There is still (only) 470 ft to go! Even though I was struggling to breathe, I told myself, “Who needs to breathe!? I’ve come 5 days and have just an hour and half left! I can do this!” Admittedly, I cried a few tears when I got to the sign. Standing just feet away from a real ice glacier in Africa was absolutely magical. It  is so sad to think that they are melting and will likely be gone in 10-20 years.

summit

October 19 Day 6:
Barafu Hut to Mweka Camp
Distance: 6.3km  (3.9 miles)
Time: 3 hours
Elevation: Mweka Camp 10,138 ft

Vitals: Oxygen 70. Uh oh.
Zone: Alpine Desert

TOTAL Climbed Summit Day - Total 15.3km  (9.5 miles)

I kept thinking, “What comes up must go down” because for me the scariest part of it all was going down the loose scree. Couldn’t they have a ski chair lift to take me down? 10 hours into climbing and still 3 hours left, I was tired!! I thought once I descended and reached camp, my breathing would return to normal. However, I was wheezing coughing so violently that I almost vomited so the porters put me on a stretcher and carried me 3/4 of the way to Mweka camp to get me to lower altitude as fast as possible. They then gave me oxygen to help stabilize me. As it turns out, I was actually lucky to have been given a ride because really, going down is a lot harder on your knees and body and after 13 straight hours, I don’t think I had the energy to keep going.

complete
Happy and Dirty and in need of a shower, but we did it!
October 20 Day 7:
Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate to the hotel! AKA finally a shower 
with soap & water, a real toilet and a real bed!
Elevation: 5,423 ft

Distance: 8.5 km
 (5.3 miles)
Time: 8:30 to 10:30AM hotel by 12:30PM – 2 hours 47 minutes
Zone: Rainforest

I was lucky, even though I couldn’t breathe, I didn’t suffer from any AMS symptoms. I never had a headache, never saw hippos nor did I vomit. I think taking Advil and Diamox every day helped tremendously. Before we knew it, we were at the finish line receiving our certificates of summit completion! I immediately showered, laid on the bed and called home to wake up my parents to tell them that I was indeed alive and that I had succeeded! That night we all went to celebrate our successful climbs (and newfound access to showers) at Glacier – a bar hangout in Moshi with tables in a treehouse.

TOTAL DISTANCE WALKED: over 45 miles in 7 days.

Cheers'ing to our successful climb and to finally having a shower again
All 7 of us successfully made it to the summit. 100% success rate! Celebrating our successful climb and to finally having a shower again
October 21
Zone: Hotel & Airport

Time for my 22 hour flight home. Funny story – Before Grace contacted me to join her, I had considered joining a group of 6 Australians so I didn’t have to climb alone. When I got in the van to go to the airport, I was chatting with my van-mates who happened to be Australian. I  instantly knew who they were and when I asked if they climbed Rongai, they gave me a look like “WTF, how’d you know?” Turns out it is a very small world after all and they were the ones I almost climbed with! Good thing I went with Grace because it was a group of men all in their 50’s! That sure would have been an awkward 7 days.

A good life lesson learned – just keep your focus on what is directly ahead of you. Don’t look up the mountain and get caught up in how far you have still to go, just take one step at a time. 

It was such an incredible feeling of immense satisfaction and such a sense of accomplishment to know that I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro! I made to the top! I didn’t give up and yes, I did it! It was a very proud moment and in that moment, I felt untouchable, as if I could do anything. I felt on top of the world. While it truly was a once-in-a-life-time experience, it made me realize I am capable of so much more than I ever thought possible and am so much stronger (mentally) than I ever gave myself credit for. I am fierce, brave and independent. I enjoy adventures and camping and nature, too. I don’t need to wait for a man to come along for my life to begin. I  can accomplish dreams on my own. Looking back at pictures and memories, I am still impressed with myself that I was able to accomplish such a challenging feat. I am now apart of an elite club of people who can say that they made it to The Roof of Africa! I’m excited to see what my next adventure will be.

{Interested in climbing? Have questions about my experience or want to know more details on how climbing works, ask away in the comment section!}

** If you want to see more pictures check out my album.**

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Happy 2nd Birthday, Blog!

Today my blog turned 2.

My very first post ever on A Day In The Life was titled “New Year New Adventures.” Little did I know just how much that title would ring true for every subsequent year. Year 1 was new adventures in blogging, attending BiSC for the first time, getting engaged, taking risks and stepping outside of my comfort zone, traveling, new friendships and a new job. Year 2 was new adventures in living on my own, starting my own organization, making dreams come true, volunteering in Africa and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and tons of self-discovery related adventures. Now, as year 3 begins, I am once again starting it off right and living by the “New Year New Adventures” motto that I set back on Day 1. Over the past two years, this blog has given me the confidence to have faith in myself, to follow my dreams, and continually challenge myself. Simply because I started this blog, new and wonderful relationship have blossomed and have enriched my life. I am so grateful for those friendships. I can say with 100% certainty that I would not be starting off this new year by embarking on my newest adventure of moving to DC this Friday (!) if it weren’t for this blog. I likely wouldn’t have had the courage or confidence to do any of what I accomplished in the Year of Caryn.

Blog – thank you for bringing wonderful people into my life, for inspiring me to be the most authentic version of myself, and for helping me grow into the strong, confident and positive woman I am today.

Happy Birthday, Blog! I look forward to seeing what we accomplish together in our 3rd year.

7 ways to decompress and de-stress

Let’s face it. We live in a busy world and stress seems to be like that annoying friend that wants to tag along for just about every ride. It is so easy to become overwhelmed and let it get the best of you. While these past 12 months have been one for the record book, I have learned ways to help me cope. From relationships and friendships ending, to family drama and getting laid off, to applying for jobs and starting my own business, to seeing 20 apartments in a week in a city far from home and then uprooting my life and everything I know, you could say it hasn’t been a smooth joy ride. Being spontaneous is fun and exciting and I am looking forward to new adventures but leaving myself only 13 days to sell ALL the things, sublet and pack, makes things a little more rushed. And now saying goodbye to family, friends and Chicago isn’t easy either. Oh, and just today my parking garage accused me of not paying this month despite depositing my check on Jan 2. So yea, these past few months have been challenging and finding ways to unwind, cope and de-stress was crucial.

Everyone handles stress differently so here are my top 6 ways I decompress.

1) FIND ME TIME: Go for a walk. Disconnect from technology. Get a mani/pedi. Take a yoga class. Write. Work out. Plan my next adventure. Sing in the shower. Rock out to music in my apartment and sing and dance around in my underwear. (You cannot not smile! You know you’ve done it too.) Light candles. Have a glass of red wine. Browse and pin on Pinterest. Meditate. (Still learning) and I’ve tried the bubble bath thing and it is nice for maybe 4 minutes. Then I get bored. But maybe that will work for you. Anyhoo, it is important to find time for yourself to be alone, reconnect with your self, to reflect and recharge. I try to focus inwardly on me and escape from the outside chatter.

2) WATCH TV. Sometimes it is nice to sit on the couch, not talk to anyone, let your body fall deep into the cushins and just relax and escape into someone else’s life for a bit. Escape into another world.

3) 90’s MUSIC. Apparently this is a thing for me. Just the other day, I was so angry, I might as well have had smoke coming from ears. Since I was in the car, there was nothing I could do so I cranked up the volume and let myself get lost in the music. Chicago has an awesome new radio station 101.1 (they play pretty much only 90’s music, check it out!) and I could feel my blood pressure returning to normal. Besides 60’s and 90’s being my favorite decades, I think the nostalgia helps too. By time I reached my destination, I was calm.

4) BAKE. Lately, especially since I got my Kitchen Aid, I like to bake when I get stressed. It takes my mind off said issue and makes me focus on the ingredients and helps me redirect my attention towards something that I can give to others to make them happy, thus making me happy. What?? I’m Jewish. We like to feed people!

5) BE POSITIVE AND GRATEFUL. Focus on the positive silver lining of said situation. Find something positive or something that you are grateful for and think about that. Stop and think, is this really worth getting upset over?

6) CLEAN AND ORGANIZE. I’m not your narcotic clean freak but I do like to keep everything in its place and tidy. There are times when I admit, I let pile of mail build or that something isn’t put away. My place is never messy but occasionally not as clean as I prefer. But it works out because sometimes when I need to unwind, I find cleaning to be strangely satisfying. I’ll vacuum, reorganize my closet, clean the kitchen, do the laundry or put away anything that isn’t already in its place. There is something about calming about the smell of lavender or lemon and getting lost in thought. I’ve never found doing laundry a headache, rather, its always been a way to reset and refocus.

7) PLAY GAMES. It doesn’t matter if it is a card game, a board game or a video game. I like games. Always have. So when I want to decompress, gaming is a great distraction. It’s a quick and easy way to escape into the virtual world where you can die 20x but keep coming back without it flashing Game Over. Whether it is an old school Nintendo game, a racing game, a dancing game or even an adult-focused killing video game like #FarCry3, video games are a great way to escape and de-stress for a bit. The graphics on this Far Cry 3 game are incredibly real. What Caryn plays those violent killing games? Yes, killing games aren’t just for boys. I like the competitive nature, the escape, and the challenge it provides. I like being able to keep up with the guys. Don’t get me wrong. I DO NOT condone violence in the real world but sometimes in these games, it is one quick and harmless way to release tension. *

{How do you decompress to eliminate stress?}

Far Cry 3

*It is important for people to make the distinction between games and real life.

Thank you to Ubisoft for sponsoring this post. Please visit Amazon.com to get your own copy of Far Cry 3. I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective. All opinions are my own.

How to Pack for Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro: Tips, Gear and Advice

When I started to prepare for my adventure to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, I was overwhelmed with thoughts and fears of what would happen if I didn’t have the right gear. It’s not like you can go to a store if you forgot something once you’re on the mountain or even in Tanzania for that matter. I spent a lot of time preparing myself and making sure I had ALL of the right gear, making sure I had every possible situation covered. So if you are asking yourself, “How do you even pack for a trip like this?” I’m here to help. I wish I had this list (with photos, too!) when I was packing so I hope this answers your questions and helps make packing easier.

mountains

The Porters are limited to carrying a maximum of 15 kg (35 lbs) of luggage for you. They are life savers and I really don’t know how they do it. Be sure to thank them and show your gratitude.

INSIDER TIPS AND ADVICE

  • Pack light but for all seasons/conditions. You go through 5 temperate climates in just a few days. Be prepared for that.
  • LAYERS LAYERS LAYERS – Lots of layers and things you can re-wear.
  • NO COTTON – it is said that it doesn’t dry at high altitude and you don’t want to chafe. Stick with breathable and moisture wicking fabrics.
  • Pack one complete hiking outfit on the plane, including a long sleeve shirt, hiking pants, underwear, socks, and hiking boots. You can rent nearly everything but you don’t want to risk blisters ruining your whole climb.
  • Be selective in what you take with you. The less you have to carry the easier your hike it and the porters are limited to what they can carry for you.
  • Be prepared to not shower for a week, to take wet wipe baths and to squat behind rocks. Don’t worry. All the cool kids are doing it.
  • It gets cold on the first night.
  • Be prepared to wear the same thing day in and out. The air is thin and cold so you don’t (or probably won’t) sweat or stink like you normally would after a week without a shower.
  • Get a camera that is small and fits in your hip pockets of the backpack. You want easy access and don’t want to carry it or have to take off the daypack to take pictures.
  • The easiest way to keep going is to not look too far ahead. Do take in scenery but focus on one step at a time. It can be mentally exhausting to see the camp site ahead but know it is still 4 hours away. Be like the elephants and watch the feet of the person in front of you. Before you know it, you’ll reach your destination.
  • Pay for the package that has hot meals included instead of box lunches. Trust me.
  • Get a toilet tent. It is worth every penny – especially if you are a woman. Again, trust me.
  • Save your iPod battery for summit night. Music makes it SO much easier.
  • Do you wear contacts? I was worried about this but had no problem with the clean water they provided.
  • Ladies- I found putting my hair in pig-tail braids helped keep it cleaner and easier to maintain for 7 days sans shower.
  • Before you leave home make sure you can layer and wear all your clothes on top of each other: Don’t buy all small sizes and then get to the mountain and realize you can’t layer them. Big Uh Oh.
  • Don’t carry any water on the outside during summit night. It will freeze. Protect it somehow. (Insulation or clothing.)

 

One of the reasons that I selected Climbing Kilimanjaro as my guide company is because I was able to rent gear through them. Instead of forking over tons of money for new gear, most of which I would likely not use again or often enough to justify the cost, I opted to rent some stuff. Most guide groups offer you the option of renting gear for a small price. Added benefit – I didn’t have to pack and schlep as much (or the heavy bulky things) in my suitcases. I was worried about using someone else’s sleeping bag. I got over that real fast when it was warm.

RENTED

  • Insulated Down Parka
  • Walking Poles (These were my BFF. Seriously, I don’t know how people climbed without them.)
  • Sleeping Bag: Warm, four-season sleeping bag. -15° C/ 0° F
  • Warm thick winter Gloves
  • Gaiters (apparently NOT one-size-fits all. Try these on first. Mine were too small…)
  • Balaclava
  • Toilet Tent (DO THIS. IT IS WORTH YOUR MONEY!)
  • Sleeping pad
  • Duffel bag

SLEEPING AND CARRYING EQUIPMENT

  • Medium sized daypack (25-30 Liters)  *To carry only the things you need during the day like clothes, water, raincoat, warm clothing, camera and food.
  • Daypack rain shield cover-  to protect from soaking your belongings. My daypack came with one.
  • Sleeping bag liner – brought but never used.
  • Dry Sacks or plastic bags to protect equipment from rain. I had a 4 L, 8L, 16L and 32 L Sea to Summit bags to stay organized.

DRINKING

  • Camelbak 32 oz water bottle
  • Platypus Water Bag – Perfect and ideal so you don’t have to stop to drink.
  • Water filtering iodine chemical tablets.

BASE LAYERS

  • NO COTTON. Wear fabric this is breathable, synthetic and moisture wicking.
  • Moisture wicking long sleeve tee-shirts (2)
  • Moisture wicking tee-shirts (2)
  • Moisture wicking sports bra tank (1)
  • Moisture wicking sports bra (1)
  • Long underwear pants (1)
  • Underwear

MIDDLE LAYERS

OUTER LAYERS

  • Waterproof hard shell jacket with hood – breathable and water-resistant.
  • Fleece pants (1) – I only wore these summit night over long underwear and under my waterproof pants
  • Hiking pants (with zippers to turn into shorts) (1)
  • Waterproof pants (1)
  • Gloves or mittens – warm, waterproof recommended
  • Medium gloves. Something warmer than glove liners but not as heavy as summit gloves for daily hiking.
  • Glove liners – thin and synthetic, to be worn under gloves for added warm and protection from frostbite
  • Knit hat
  • Balaclava
  • Sun hat with brim or Bandana ( I used bandana)

FOOTWEAR

  • Ankle high supportive hiking boots (broken in)
  • Shoes for lounging around camp. You’ll want to give your feet a break. I used Keens because they were easy to slip on over socks. (Also – bring a bag to keep your dirty camp shoes in)
  • Hiking socks 3 pairs (Smartwool suggested)
  • Sock liners- 2 pairs Thin, synthetic and one size smaller. They stretch and then cause blisters.

MISC. & PERSONAL 

  • Toiletries -(soap, tooth brush, toilet articles, tooth paste etc.)
  • Sun screen – didn’t use. Oops.
  • Bug spray- deet 25-50%
  • Toilet paper (you can buy travel rolls from Target or take the cardboard out of a roll and put in plastic zip lock bag)
  • Headlamp and batteries
  • Sunglasses – UV protection
  • Camera
  • Extra memory card
  • Extra batteries for camera & headlamp (leave extra batteries in a pair of socks to keep warm.)Batteries don’t do well in the cold and high altitude. Also, check the camera specs before you go to be prepared. You don’t want to have a surprise when you get to the top as you probably won’t want to climb to the summit again just to get that snapshot.
  • High energy snacks – trail mix, cliff bars, chocolate bars or m&m’s
  • Vagina wipes
  • Wet wipes for hygiene and cleaning –  more than you think you need. then add more. You don’t need expensive camping brand. $1.99 Wet Ones from Target will work.
  • Cotton Q-tips
  • Anti-itch cream for bug bites. FYI the mosquitoes are enormous!
  • iPod- but save your battery for summit night.
  • Small unbreakable travel mirror
  • Face Wash – I found it easiest to use Neutragena Face Wipes
  • Quick Dry Towel (optional)
  • Plastic bag for trash – You cannot leave anything on the mountain but the porters can collect the trash for you
  • Sun screen and lip protection, SPF 30+
  • Ziploc bags, to protect camera, binoculars, etc. from dust
  • Contact solution & case
  • Journal and pen *It goes by in a blur and you’ll be grateful you wrote it down
  • Cards, book, etc. something to entertain yourself around the campsite
  • Money to tip porters & guides
  • Dry shampoo
  • Nalgene bottle to pee in – I cut myself off at 6pm so I didn’t have to go because at night the last thing you want to do is leave the warmness of your tent for the frigid air to pee.
  • Go Girl – pee funnel to pee into bottle.
  • No need to bring makeup.
  • Deodorant
  • Baby powder to help keep feet dry (optional)
  • Sterile needles (Optional – in case you need an injection and don’t trust the hygiene conditions)
  • Panty liners to keep underwear cleaner longer (suggested)
  • Did you get all your shots needed to enter the country? Visit CDC website
  • I brought Just In Case Meds: Ciprofloxacin (travelers diarrhea & bladder infection) and Azithromycin (aka Z-pack)

PERSONAL FIRST AID KIT

  • Advil – Heard this helps with AMS too. Took 2 every morning and never ached or got sick.
  • First-aid kit that includes bandages, tape, blister kit, antibacterial cream, antibiotics for travelers’ diarrhea, antimalarials, antihistamines, cold and flu medications, throat lozenges, and altitude medications.
  • Blister kit – with tape, Neosporin and Band-Aids (both regular and blister Band-Aids) I used this even as preventative measures.
  • Pepto Bismol
  • Immodium for anti-diarrhea
  • Malaria tablets – I took generic Malarone
  • Diamox (Acetazolamide)-Used to prevent/combat altitude sickness. I took generic brand and had no symptoms of AMS. There were 4 of us that climbed together, 3 took meds 1 didn’t. The one girl was fine until summit night. She was the only one who got sick. Down fall to it – it is a diarrhetic so it makes you pee more. I cut myself off from drinking water at 6pm so I didn’t have to leave my tent in the bitter cold to pee and it worked like a charm.

PAPERWORK  (I Used 4L water proof Sea to Summit bag to protect passport, money and valueables)

  • Airline ticket
  • Passport
  • Visa
  • Prescriptions
  • Yellow fever certificate (if required)
  • Proof of travel insurance
  • Medical insurance
  • Medical Evacuation insurance

Lastly, the most important thing to bring with you is a positive mental attitude. As cheesy as that sounds, this really can be what makes it or breaks it for you to make it to the summit sign. After 5 days, I came to the top with an hour and a half left and wanted to give up but it was that belief that, “Yes I Can Do It!” that made it possible. You Can Do It!  Good luck and have fun on your journey!

If you have any questions on what to pack or what it is like, please feel free to shoot me an email. I’m excited for you to embark on this amazing life changing journey.

Did you climb? What did you bring with you that you found helpful or necessary that I didn’t list here? Please leave a note in the comment section to pass on your wisdom to other potential climbers. 

Photos are either mine or Grace Gan

Climbing a mountain and what could have been

Confession: When I first added Mount Kilimanjaro to my Life List, I actually had absolutely no intention or desire to climb. I was content just seeing it from the base. In fact, I even noted that.

Standing at the Machame gate waiting to start the climb
Standing at the Machame gate waiting to start the climb. How/why am I standing at such an angle?

However, something changed after I signed up for CCS. One day it just hit me as if a ball bopped me on the head and I realized there was no way I could go to Tanzania and NOT climb. It just wasn’t an option to leave with that regret. I didn’t know exactly why I wanted to do it, I had never done any serious mountain hiking, never even been to Colorado before (to know how I reacted to altitude), nor had I trained in the slightest bit to prepare for climbing, but none of that fazed me. Something in my gut said DO THIS! Perhaps it was me wanting to start a clean slate and put the past behind me, maybe I just wanted to say I climbed Kili, or maybe because it was The Year of Caryn and what better way to honor that than climbing a freakin’ mountain to The Roof of Africa? Maybe it was to have that personal victory of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Or maybe it was to show the ex that I wasn’t being held back anymore. Perhaps it was to prove to myself that I could do it, or to show the world that I could camp out and climb a mountain with the best of them and prove that I wasn’t just another prissy jewish girl. Maybe it was another way to distinguish myself from my peers or from being compared to my sister. Maybe it was to make my parents proud of me. Maybe it was all or none of that. The why didn’t matter to me, what mattered was that I wasn’t going to leave the country without reaching the summit. It was gonna happen, dammit! After deciding, I was more caught up in the act of making sure I had all the right clothes and gear than I was about going to volunteer in a foreign 3rd world country. It took nearly all my energy and research and money. But I was prepared! I meticulously rearranged my trip so that I could still do everything I wanted to do while in-country.

The three other girls in my group and I had arranged to climb with Climbing Kilimanjaro Tours. There were definitely pros and cons but overall they were great. After stopping in town to pick up rental gear, we were off! On the way to the Machame route gate, I felt as if I was being driven to my death with a slow march of music playing in the background and silence all around. I didn’t actually think I’d die but it felt like a movie being played on mute as I watched myself drive closer to the gate. There was no turning back and I was teetering on how I felt about the climb. I was nervous but knew I had to stay positive and put the “can do” attitude to the test that I had worked on creating this year and preached about on my blog. I was most concerned about altitude sickness, hallucinating at the top and the loose rocks.

October 14, 2012. Not only was this the day that I anxiously waited for as the day I’d start my 7 day trek up the World’s Tallest Freestanding Mountain, this was also the day I had been waiting for since I got engaged. This was the very day I was supposed to walk down the aisle and become a Mrs.

Talk about irony and symbolism. I was going to “begin my climb on the mountain of marriage” but instead I wound up quite literally climbing a mountain. I knew when we booked that date it would be significant and about new beginnings and adventures but I didn’t know it would be a date I’d forever remember for an entirely different adventure.

It was a total coincidence, completely unplanned to have both events on the same day. Just how the Universe had it work out because of external factors: When the boss approved me to go to Africa (after rejecting April & August), and having to change volunteering from 4 weeks to 3 instead of extending because my sister planned her wedding 3 weeks after I was to return.

This was a date that always seemed down the road, off in the future, but it caused me much anxiety as it loomed over me and slowly approached. Focusing on preparing for the climb helped me to not think about the wedding (or as much, as I would have otherwise). It helped divert my thoughts and energy away from missing him. But just like that there was no more waiting for October 14th to arrive. The thing is, time never stops and no matter how hard you wish it away, that day always comes eventually. And it always passes. I was glad I had the climb to preoccupy my mind but that day took the cake as the winner of ALL THE EMOTIONS. The usual Holy crap, I am about to climb a mountain thoughts on top of the Oh look what time it is now?! Right now I would have been getting my makeup done, putting my dress on, walking down the aisle, saying I Do, having our first dance… The weight of the day was enormous. I spent most of it inside my head. To look at my watch and clearly envision the alternate universe as it would have been happening at that very moment was a very complex out-of-body experience. It was extremely depressing and disturbing yet justifying. Justifying because here I was embarking on an amazing adventure of climbing to The Roof of Africa thinking about what could have been, how much I had accomplished and the dreams I conquered. I was truly disconnecting from the world for a week to do nothing but get lost in thoughts of self discovery and to successfully achieve that personal victory.

In my travel journal that day I wrote, “To new challenges, to new beginnings and going over the hill to leave the past behind.”

A week later, after my climb finished, I found out that it was one of the worst days of Chicago weather all year with tornado warnings and torrential rain. It would have been a nightmare to have a wedding that day. Funny how things work out, isn’t it?

Day one in the Rainforest
The girls and I ready to start our adventure