Kilimanjaro Half Marathon-2019

This year, the weather was perfect; the rains had poured a little the night before and the morning air brushed gently on our faces. We had descended Mt. Kilimanjaro about 24 hours ago and were super pumped. At first it seemed like a suicide attempt but that morning, my body felt great and lighter. Maybe I had lost some weight in the course of attempting to summit Kibo :-).

Moshi is fairly low, about 800m, and coming from the 5,700’s we were bound to suffer. Sometimes after hikes I feel like I have oxygen overdose…yeah I know that sounds crazy. It’s always a hive of excited runners; some have crossed oceans with friends to be here, others like us have been hiking and decided to take home a medal, others are running the marathon then attempting summits. It’s always a mix of beautiful cultures represented; why we love the outdoors.

The first half of the marathon is uphill and that’s what really drains my energy. I prefer the descents. Her majesty the mighty Kilimanjaro is smiling at us today. She’s not shy as she shows off her snowy peaks and clouds hangs over her like a pearl necklace. The lush vegetation greets you as you make your way along the winding road as the children cheer you on.

During my runs, I always identify a pace-setter from the crowd. This way, I’m able to run at an almost comfortable yet constant pace, slightly above my comfort zone. When the identified target slows down, I quickly identify another and this way I remain focused for the entire duration. Looking back at the photos, there’s this lady who was behind me, for the entire run! I bet several of us use this pace-setter tactic.

If you are interested in the Kilimanjaro premium lager marathon or half marathon for that matter, it’s an annual event, on the first Sunday of March. Ensure to book your hotel months before (early planning always helps) and get one that’s close to the Ushirika stadium (start point) for convenience purposes. Also, carry some money with you during the run. You will need it afterwards.

What satisfaction feels like after a half marathon

Njoki.

Kipipiri

‘We were hit hard by the rain the whole day!!’…this was the first statement I heard in relation to this mountain from my fellow adrenaline seeking friend. What stood out during our conversation was how beautiful the forest was. I knew for a fact that I had to attempt.

Off we set on a beautiful Saturday morning. As a hiker, one is always ready for the rain. Mountain weather is absolute rubbish! One minute you’re sun-bathing, the next you’re soaked. The weekend before this, we could hear the thunder from the other ridge that is home to Rurumueria http://safirinajays.com/rurumueria/. I was geared up for whatever weather the mountain was willing to serve us that day.

The start of the ascent

From the onset, it’s a never-ending gradual ascent, this is never fun, but it sort of allowed me to acclimatize. Slow does it always. At an elevation of about 3,349 meters ASL, it’s important to take it easy. The path leading into the forest is a canopy of trees. The birds were chirping and the fine breeze swept by briskly. It was going to be a beautiful day.

Anyone in shorts that day for sure must have nursed cuts or pricks and danced in the shower that evening. The path narrowed the deeper we went into the forest and we all had to move in linear motion due to the overgrown vegetation.

Someone got hit by altitude barely an hour into the hike and lagged behind with one of the guides. She was determined to keep pushing and having experienced altitude sickness many times before, I absolutely was in her shoes. The forest vegetation (especially the flowers) was such eye candy and I decided to test the iPhone camera prowess…

It always amuses me how cows feed at high altitude. Maybe the air is much fresh up there? No…not much oxygen. I think the grass must be grassier and tastier up there :-). Away the cows lazily munched the grass. Anyway, there were some bones we came across of some animal that must have been preyed on years back, survival of the fittest at its best.

This hike was a breath of fresh air. It had been a while since I thoroughly enjoyed being on high elevation. The sun was out-though for the better part of the hike we were hidden under trees. There’s some rejuvenation that the rays of the sun give especially after enduring the biting cold of the morning-I can’t explain it, you’d have to experience it.

Snacking for energy provision
One of the waterfalls along the way
Yeeeeeey we summitted and lunch was a welcome idea

Lunch in the mountains is always welcome (of course upon summiting), unless you’re altitude sick at which point you can’t stand it’s sight. My expert in making amazing pasta, sausages and pepper was not around but he had done me the honors and I thoroughly enjoyed my meal.

Summit smiles

Strength, endurance and everything else left in me after summiting was required to descend. When I read ‘Into Thin Air’ (a book about the Everest disaster of 1996), I fully understood the reason many people die while descending the Everest-they deplete all their energies when ascending, forgetting that they will need to descend. . Gathering my energies, off we went.

Exiting the forest

It was a lovely hike, the forest was beautiful and the company amazing. This is one hike I’d like to attempt again in the near future. I probably loved it because of the greenery :-).

Njoki.

Rurumueria

Aberdares National Park

The summit awaits. This was after the 3rd false summit.

The very first time I attempted Rurumeria, I couldn’t go beyond the third false summit. That right there is what totally drains your energy…3 false summits. I was tired and the air was getting thinner by the minute. It had rained the night before and so the ascent was not easy. I had to turn back…I always trust my gut feeling.

Attempt number two was a breeze! The weather was perfect, my spirits were racing, and the team was leaner-this helped as we tended to move at an almost similar pace. I knew what lay ahead for the better part of the ascent; at least until the third false summit. I’m always more confident when I’m aware of what awaits-the fear of the unknown makes me a bit nervous.

The hike is generally tough, unforgiving maybe. Not to be attempted by first time hikers. Well, if you want to test your endurance and sanity levels, your body will hurt for days on end and you’ll be cursing for the better part of the day. You may even loath hiking. 

Never trust mountain weather! One minute you are sun bathing, the next you are soaked!

Lying about 3860m ASL, altitude sickness for most people tends to check in just as you approach the third hill/false summit. I had to take it easy at this point, taking deep breaths every often. I felt perfectly fine. Nothing would come between me and the summit. This could possibly pass for summit fever. There was a Chinese gentleman who decided to carry his laptop with him. Let me just mention that he had the most horrible day up that mountain. However, the gods were by his side because it didn’t rain. We could hear thunder from across the ridge and pitied anyone who was attempting Mt. Kipipiri that day. Had it rained, Sunny Boy (as we nicknamed the Chinese with a laptop) would have danced to the mountain music.

Uncle Wong, yes another very interesting man really got me thinking about my life. Would I be as fit and energetic at his age? He was probably in his sixties and pacing like a teenager! For some time I could not keep up with him. There was another lot that would stop for a smoke every often. I always presume smokers are advantaged because their lungs are used to minimal oxygen levels anyway. Oh well, whatever the case, I had a summit to conquer.

We summitted around 1330 hrs. Whenever I am at such high elevations my appetite eludes me but on this particular day, I devoured my pasta (Jay normally makes some delish pasta with sausages and peppers for hikes). The waning sun ensured we got some summit photos before it disappeared and the wind started howling; the weather changed in an instant. Having conquered, I was ready for the descent and looking forward to a hot shower and warm bed. We walked for at least 10 hours.

To the summit…

The kind of happiness that comes with summiting 

Njoki.

My Mt. Kenya

It has been a long time coming since I thought of sharing my Mt. Kenya experience. I know that many of us would rather not read so I’m planning on being as brief as can be.

In another post, I will highlight the prep and what you need to purchase in case you are planning on joining the hiking madness. This is a story about the hike from Old Moses (Camp 1) to Lake Michaelson; Sirimon to Chogoria route.

At the Sirimon gate, I was pumped and ready for the adventure that lay ahead. The 3 peaks were visible and this sort of gave me the jitters-for some reason I knew I was ready but there’s always that fear of the unknown that creeps up on me whenever I’m hiking new heights. I had hydrated the entire way- I would relish bush moments later (or not when it was freezing and I had to go) for the next 5 days.

          

The hike to Old Moses was a slow one to allow us acclimatize-Pole pole, maji mingi as Duncan of Xtrym Adventures & Safaris kept reminding us. By the time we got to camp (3,300m ASL), I was okay or so I thought. What I did not know was that altitude can get you in many ways! The very first time I got altitude sickness (which results from exposure to low oxygen amounts at high elevation) was at Elephant hill-a story for another day. While I was not throwing up, I was nauseous, kept yawning and had a headache. That night, I barely got 2 hours of sleep. The wind was threatening to blow away the iron sheets, I could locate all the snores and I could count the number of people that woke up in the night for bathroom breaks. It has remained one of my longest nights. Did I mention that there was of course no showering and we slept in a dormitory? Well, we just spread our sleeping bags on the beds, used wet wipes to get rid of the sweat (if you have been to the mountains, this is not gross at all 🙂 ), applied lots of Arimis (milking jelly) changed into warm sleeping gear and called it a night. There is no electricity up there so one must have a headlamp.

When we set off for camp 2 (4,250m ASL), I had enjoyed my breakfast and made sure that I mentioned to the leader of the expedition that I had barely slept. Our vitals were checked before we set out and everyone seemed to be in good shape.

I had not before seen such a beautiful expanse; the Geography classes came in handy; mountain vegetation is breathtaking! We fetched water in the rivers and refilled our hydration bags. Too dope an experience. My mind keeps drifting away though and I’m asking myself why it is I hike after promising myself that the previous hike was the last, why I’m out here and not at home in my warm bed, whether the rest of the team are feeling as crappy as I am, and other thoughts. It so happens that hikers have these thoughts all the time so I’m sane guys!

   

The rains started pounding on us just after lunch and barely an hour later, altitude sickness hit me real hard. I had a fever, I was throwing up and I just kept yawning. My system was shutting down literally. Everything that went down my throat, water included come back up real quick. Thing is, I had to keep hydrating which was super annoying because it was just useless as the water barely settled in my tummy before I threw up. Anyway, the leader of our expedition as well as the guides attended to me and the rest of the hikers had to move at my pace-terrible feeling when you slow people down.

 

 

I wasn’t getting any better and so it was decided that the rest of the folks keep moving. I had two guides assigned to me to keep a close eye and my boyfriend was also with me so I was good to go :-). The throwing up kept getting worse as we scaled higher. I literally had nothing in my stomach at some point and so it was really painful when the muscles constricted and there was nothing to throw up. The bile was also out-terrible!!

By the time we got to Shipton which lies at 4200m ASL, it was about 7pm. The rest of the crew were ready for dinner. The lovely porters in charge of the kitchen had already prepared a concoction for me which I gladly downed after getting rid of the dump boots and into fresh thermals. It so happens that ginger helps ease the altitude sickness. However, I couldn’t stand the sight of food-it made me want to throw up. So, for dinner I had about 5 spoonfuls of plain rice and I was ready to call it a night. My body was fatigued, and I really needed to get some sleep in readiness for summit night.

The cold was biting that night. The trick is to sleep in thermals and everything else you need for the summit night needs to go beneath the sleeping bag to ensure total warmth when you wake up at 2 am the next day ready for summit. I at least got 2/3 hours of sleep that evening. My stomach was rumbling but the thought of getting food into my mouth gave me the jitters.

SUMMIT NIGHT

2 am and people need to start moving as we needed to have summited by at least 6:30 am! I’m macho, fatigued, ready to get over and done with and get home. I stayed away from breakfast-I couldn’t stomach throwing up. The air was much warmer outside and we could clearly see the outline of the mountain due to the snow-filled slopes glistering in the moonlight. The summit was to be tackled strategically and so the weakest led the pack. I was behind the lead guide alongside two other ladies that had also been hit by the altitude in the night; the strongest were at the tail of the queue.

Barely an hour into the ascent, three of us got really sick and we had to be detached from the rest as we were slowing the rest down. We had two guides and my boyfriend also stayed behind; I was covered. By 4 am, I was ready to be evacuated!! I was done hiking, I was never going to hike again, altitude is a %*&$ and I had had enough. Thing is, at that time, it was still dark and we were at some steep elevation-all I wanted was a helicopter; after all, I had an evacuation cover!

Folks, evacuation did not happen and we had to keep moving. Five steps, sit, throw up, repeat. There’s some calmness that altitude sickness gives in such heights and you just want to close your eyes and shut out the world. The guides had to keep a close eye as one is likely to walk off the cliffs in instances of sleep walking.

The sun rays gave me some life. At least I had lived to see another day. I was starving. I needed to eat something. I got out a cookie and barely ate half of it before I was crouching on the snow. It was out before it touched base. I knew I was done with food until I lost some altitude. We had to keep moving to avoid snow-blindness.At least Jay (boyfriend then fiancé now) was there to keep me moving; he maintained my sanity.

 

Eventually we got to Lake Harris which lies about 4700m ASL and it was such a beauty to behold. I knew there was no way I was going to push myself to summit. I had zero summit fever! I was ready to get off the mountain. The other two ladies are much better and willing to tackle the last bit. I just want a photo and I’m out of there. My boyfriend is 100% and he’s been lagging behind because I’m unwell. I’m sad he had to endure my gruesome experience but happy he’s with me. I let him know he can go ahead and summit as I have a guide who’d ensure I got to camp. He declines the offer. I know I will be better soon as I loose altitude.

I’m sitting on a rock thinking about my bed. Our new found friend Daisy is ready to freeze the moment with her phone camera. I crack a smile. My boyfriend starts talking about how he’s applying for a full time job and I’m wondering if this is the best location he would have chosen to tell me about a new job. I look at him with mixed feelings; could it be that I’m getting worse or is this man really talking about a job here…in the snow, when I don’t want stories (I may have rolled my eyes lol). What I did not realize was that he was asking me to be his wife!!! Yoh! No I did not cry. The altitude sickness may have eluded me for a minute. I was beyond happy, flabbergasted maybe. We met on a mountain and he was sealing it on a mountain. Good job Jay!!

  

  

As the two ladies attempted the summit, one of the guides who had been my number one support descended with my fiancé and I. It felt amazing walking down the snowy slopes. I was engaged and it felt amazing. We were bound for Lake Michaelson. The most spectacular lake I’ve ever seen. We took about 3 hours to the lake and boy was I looking forward to a good meal!

 

The chef and the rest of the porters had already gotten to camp and tents pitched. They set a beautiful picnic breakfast for us and I thoroughly enjoyed my meal. I cleaned up and before I knew it sleep was calling. I was woken up later that afternoon by the rain drops. I felt perfectly okay and soon as I helped the mister get some stuff into the tent, I was set for round 2 of sleep. I couldn’t imagine being out in the rain. The rest of the crew got super drenched but their joy of summiting couldn’t be dumped. They had conquered.

We got some amazing photos taken by the lake by one Bem /sixtyonekenya the following morning before we left for the Bandas where we would get our first shower in 4 days! You surely never miss the waters till the well runs dry. I had sworn that I’m never hiking again but as I write this, I’m already doing my prep hikes to attempt Mt. Kilimanjaro in February 2019. I’ll be sure to let you all know how that goes 🙂 .

  

My fingers were pretty swollen 🙂

Njoki.