1. It’s not the climbing, it’s the altitude. So walk verrry sloooowly.
When someone asks if Kilimanjaro was hard, I don’t know what to say. Because, while walking up a rocky path for hours each day isn’t easy, the routes were not very difficult and the segments not long – until the summit day. My lungs complained much sooner than my legs did. No, the tough part was re-learning my body’s capabilities at altitude.
Normally, when I hike, I move at a good clip. So I was startled, within the first few minutes of the trek, to be told to follow behind the guide at a pace that I wouldn’t use for window-shopping at the mall. But as the days go on and I heard my breathing deepening, I became comfortable with going slowly. By the day of the summit attempt, I was grateful to climb at a speed that could be surpassed by my 85-year-old grandmother pulling a sledge of iron ore.
2. You’re cold.
Many nights on the mountain, I slept in a sleeping bag with liner, and long underwear, pants, fleeces, a jacket, and ski socks. And a stocking cap. And foot warmers. I lost all memory of what it might mean to be warm. On the morning of the summit, the water in our Camelbak tubes froze during the walk, and my toes went bitingly numb. Cameras often freeze up at the top. Afterward, the skin on my hands and windburned face became dry and tough.
3. And dirty.
In this weather, I didn’t mind not bathing for seven days. But I would’ve liked to get the grit out of my teeth. At the end of the dry season, when we climbed, the dust from the trail and campsites creeped into everything. Washing our hands twice a day was a lovely experience – until we grasped the zipper to enter a tent, and they were filthy once again. Applying sunscreen became, at some point, just an exercise in smearing dirt over your face.
4. You have to pee a lot.
To fight altitude sickness, it’s necessary to drink about three liters of water while climbing, in addition to plenty of hot teas and soups at every meal. This means that nearly every hour, like an anxious spaniel, I needed to rush behind a bush or rock to answer nature’s call. I thought a person would only experience this sort of inconvenience in pregnancy, but I was wrong. Continue reading