Jim's Sept 2012 climb of Mount Kilimanjaro.

A fundraiser and awareness campaign for the MS Society of Canada.  

  MS Climb started with Ralph Cochrane and his crazy idea to raise $1 million for the MS Society. I found out about it while looking up Everest Base Camp treks on Google in 2009.  After my 2010 trek to Everest the next logical thing was to climb Kilimanjaro, one of the other trips promoted by MS Climb.

  I am a travel agent and decided to use my connections to source an inexpensive trip and combine the MS Climb of Kilimanjaro with a longer safari after. I was helped immensely by Intrepid Travel and Shades of Green Safaris for sponsoring my trip.

I went to the top of Kilimanjaro by the Marangu route, shown in green starting at the bottom right of the map above. The day to day details are listed below. 

On Sept 19th I flew from Toronto to Amsterdam with KLM, leaving Toronto at 5:30pm. I transferred and continued to Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania arriving at 8pm on the 21st. I was met at the airport by George from Shades of Green Safaris and we drove to Moshi, population of 190,000, where I stayed at the Parkview hotel for 2 nights.
Sat Sept 22
Got up a 6:45, breakfast at 7:15, omelette, toast and jam, mango juice, coffee, hot dog, watermelon, and 2 small bananas,. Took another malaria pill and started drinking water. I planned to drink 3-4 litres of water each day while climbing Kili to aid in acclimatization. The shuttle from Moshi to the Marangu Hotel cost $50 and I arrived around 10am. The Kilimanjaro climb was booked through Intrepid Travel and they use the Marangu Hotel to run the trip. The hotel is very nice, set on 12 acres, with gardens surrounding the buildings. At 11 we did a gear check and all was ok, although I opted to borrow a heavier sleeping bag than the one I brought. I put my hiking boots on and went for a walk around the grounds, meeting the local workers and Kavita who was also going on the Intrepid Kilimanjaro climb. Altogether there would be 12 hikers and 25 guides, cooks, and porters supporting us. Already I can feel the effects of the diamox I started taking this morning, tingling in the fingers and feet. This would continue on and off for the duration of the climb. Diamox is taken a day before starting to climb and continues while you are ascending. It changes the composition of the blood tricking your body into producing more red blood cells. There are various views on taking diamox but the side effects are very small, and the potential gain is worth the discomfort.
Kilimanjaro has been hiding from view for most of the days, in the morning it is sometimes clear but the clouds soon form around the summit and block the view. I did manage to get a couple of pictures and when I finally saw the actual summit peak it looked really high, and steep..
At 6pm we gathered for a briefing from Desmond that was very thorough and informative. It covered what we will be doing each day, what to take, and the signs and effects of altitude sickness should they occur. There were a few concerned looks when talking about HAPE and HACE, the two most serious forms of sickness that require immediate descent or risk of death. Little did we know a climber from another team would develop HACE 300 meters from the top the day after our summit day and join us on the way to the bottom.
After our briefing we met for supper and introduced ourselves, 2 from the US, 9 from Australia, and myself from Canada. By 10:30 I was ready for bed, with bags all packed for the morning. One suitcase would be left at the hotel to be picked up on our return. Being away for 3 weeks on 3 separate trips proved to be a packing challenge. A week of climbing, a week of tenting, and a final week in nicer lodges at the end.

Sunday, Sept 23
Up at 6:45, no clouds, took a picture of Kibo, the summit of Kilimanjaro, and got a picture of me holding the banner in front. Breakfast at 7:30, omelette, bacon, sausage, watermelon, pineapple and water. I didn’t have any coffee on the way up, to aid in acclimatization. Our items to be carried up the hill by are porters are packed into a sack bag. This is put into a larger waterproof bag with other items the porter carries. At 9:20 we are waiting outside to go while the porters and guides sort things out, who will carry which load, etc. Once the full range of supplies are sorted out the porters will carry the same things each day. There is a lead guide who is in charge of all others, five guides, 2 cooks, 2 servers and 15 porters. We carry all cooking supplies and food with us, The only item not needed is tents as we will be staying in mountain huts.
We are introduced to our team and my porter is Abdi and he does a great job all through the trip, delivering my bag to me each afternoon and picking it up the next morning. We all pile in the truck and at 11:00 we are at the park gate at an altitude of 6,000’. Already I can feel the difference when climbing stairs. You get out of breath much quicker and recover slower. Everyone is starting to repeat the phrase ‘pole, pole’ - ‘slowly, slowly’ which will be repeated to us countless times as we go up. We sign in with our names and passport numbers and are off. It is sunny and quite hot, I’m in long pants and tshirt, sunglasses (worn all the time) and light hat to keep off the sun. I also have sunscreen on every day as the uv rays are much stronger this high up.
Lunch is on the hill and we arrive at our first camp at 3:45. Todays hike was a steady uphill climb all day, but not too tiring. Everyone is in a good mood and talking lots as we ascend. When we arrive we have tea and popcorn. I opt for hot chocolate and have 2 cups. We do a short hike up the trail to a crater and get views to the north into Kenya. Climb high – sleep low is the rule for acclimatizing. Our accommodation is a large A frame building with lunchroom on the bottom floor, and a steep ladder to the upstairs loft. There is a row of bunks down each side, total of 24 occupants. I opt for a lower bunk, on the floor, and get settled in. Supper is at 6:15, chicken pieces, potatoes, kale, bread, hot water to make drinks and marmalade and ginger on bread.
At 7:30 I’m upstairs sorting clothes for the morning. Plan for 7am tea delivered to us and 7:30 down for breakfast. At 8:20 I’m in bed, it’s 17 degrees C inside.
Later that night we are joined by a noisy group unpacking gear and taking up the remaining bunks. Everything they have seems to be packed in crinkly plastic bags! Because of the diamox and drinking lots of water I am up twice in the night, at 10:30 and 1am for pee breaks. At 4 I wake again but decide to wait.

Monday Sept 24
At 6 we are woken by the sound of clothes being sorted and packed into those plastic bags the other group has. It doesn’t bother me too much but the others are really annoyed. It’s 14 degrees C inside.
We’re up at 6:30 and down for breakfast and hot chocolate. At 8:15 ready to go and on the trail at 8:30. The path is a steady uphill climb with enough room for 2 people to walk side by side. We usually go single file to allow others to pass us and the occasional person to descend. I’m surprised by the lack of people we encounter. At no time would I call the trail ‘busy’. At 10 we stop for a break and I have a piece of food bar. I’m breathing hard but not too bad. Full sun so it’s quite hot again. This morning I put on 30 sunscreen but still feel my arm and face are burning. I start out with a cap but change to a sunhat, hopefully cooler and more sun protection. At 10:15 we are going again. We stop for lunch and a break and arrive at Horombo huts at 3:00.
I hiked in just a tshirt but am cold now so put on my light fleece. Today and yesterday my tshirt has become soaked with perspiration. Change into running shoes and a new shirt. Tea at 4:00, hot chocolate and popcorn. Supper at 6 is 2 hot chocolate, bread, zucchini soup, 2 bowls, an oversize piece of lasagna, and an orange for dessert. I find the oranges are too sour and too much work to eat so I give my lunch oranges to the porters from now on. After last night we ask for different sleeping arrangements and I find myself in a 4 bunk hut with 3 women! At 7:10 it’s 12 degrees inside the hut so there’s little changing of clothes or walking around undressed! I’m with Kavita from Australia and Rita and Sara from the US.
Tues Sept 25
7 degrees inside in the morning, Awake at 6:30, up at 7:10. Breakfast at 7:30 and on the trail at 8:50, a little late. Uphill (!), the high route, from Horombo for 3 hrs past some interesting scenery. Past the Zebra rocks and always with a view of Mawenzie peak above us. Mawenzi is the second highest peak on Kilimanjaro. Once you were able to climb it but it’s now off limits as too many people were being killed with the rock not firm enough to make holds on. It looms high above us and I can’t stop thinking that Kibo is much higher. We can’t see Kibo summit as it’s either hidden from view, or in the clouds.
We reach the saddle between Mawenzie and Kibo peaks, have lunch in an area out of the wind and then descend onto the saddle floor. We’ve been warned that the distance to Kibo huts looks short but it takes a long time to do. We seem to be walking and walking and not getting too far. It’s uphill a bit and we stop for a rest 3 times. Near the end we see dark clouds down the north side off to the right and hear thunder below us 5 or 6 times! It gets steeper as we approach Kibo huts and we have to rest every 50’ or so. It seems to take forever and we finally reach the huts at 3:00. (In contrast at sea level I could have jogged up this section for quite a while before having to slow down to catch my breath)
Signed in again, had hot chocolate and popcorn and laid down for a 1/2 hr. I’m in the upper bunk that takes some skill in getting into. We asked to have supper earlier but it’ not working with the kitchen schedule so it’s 5:00 and we’re eating. Tomato soup, 3 ladles, hot chocolate. My nose is still clear, breathing ok, a bit fast, but any uphill climb gets you out of breath. Even the 10’ climb back from the toilets is a strain.

All the notes up to this point have been taken from my diary which I tried to keep up to date. From this point on I made no diary entries, it was either night time, I did not have my diary on me, or I was just too exhausted to bother. I had already decided that I was never coming back to do this again!

So from memory 2 weeks later on Oct 11th I make the following observations.
After supper tuesday night Sept 25 we prepared for our summit climb, packed our daypack and removed anything unnecessary. I took 3 litres of water, 1 litre in my bladder and drinking tube which was a mistake as it froze almost as soon as we started. I’m wearing hiking boots, 2 layers of socks, long thermal underwear, hiking pants, polycotton tshirt, light fleece, heavy fleece, gortex jacket, toque, mitts and headlamp. I also have my MS banner, a bandana, sunscreen, sunglasses and extra pair of gloves in my pack. I have my small camera on my belt and iPhone in my pocket. We go to bed around 6 or 7pm with the plan to be woken up at 11pm for a quick snack and start our climb at midnight. Of course we get little if any sleep. There are 12 of us in the room with others passing by outside, it’s cold and we’re in our sleeping bags with most of our clothes on. I’m wondering if I have everything ready, enough water for the trip up and back, and a million other worries. Pat, the 66 year old mum of the Australians, has already decided not to attempt the summit. A wise choice and I am amazed she has made it this far.
11pm we hear the guides come in to wake us, we head to the kitchen for a hot drink and food. I have a 1/2 cup of hot chocolate and some soup I think. I’m really not hungry, feel well but know how hard the following hours will be.
Midnight and we’re off, ‘pole, pole’ – ‘slowly, slowly’. It’s dark and we see a couple of groups have already left before us, and more getting ready. Last night we heard there were 68 people in camp attempting the summit today.
Immediately the trail gets steeper and immediately I am at my limit of strength. Most of the time the trail is smooth so you don’t have to pick up your feet, just shuffle forward. I look down and see I’m going forward the length of one of my feet with each step. Even at this slow pace we catch up the group in front of us and to our astonishment our guide gets us to pass them. The trail is only wide enough for one person so we have to go off to the side to do this. They are shuffling ahead slower than us and most stop to let us by. It’s pitch black except for the few feet in front that your headlight illuminates. I mostly follow someone in front of me wearing light colored pants and try to match her steps, I think it’s Rita. We go slower and word passes down the line to go 4 steps up and rest, 4 steps and rest. The rest is a couple of seconds but long enough for me to stand up, lock my knees, and lean forward on my hiking poles to try and catch my breath. It mostly doesn’t work.

Looking back at my briefing notes the climb should go: 1.5-2 hrs to the cave, ok trail. 4 hrs of scree (loose gravel), hard. 1/2 hr picking through rock to reach the top of the crater rim at Gilmans Point. 1.5-2 hrs to Uhuru point, the highest point on Kilimanjaro. Starting at 15,000’ and climbing to 19,341’.

I remember reaching the cave where we rested, actually finding a stone to sit on for 5 minutes. I’ve mostly kept to the back of our row of 11 climbers and 6 guides. I’m thinking I’m one of the slower ones so the back is best, and I prefer it there anyway. There are a couple other slow ones and I imagine we’ll split off the group and get up late. When we leave after each of our rest stops our order gets mixed up and I end up near the lead of the group. My new plan is that I can now slowly let the others pass and catch some rest time doing this. We’re on the steeper section of scree now, doing switchbacks and some nerve wracking crosses across the slope, which looks to be about 45 degrees. The moon has come up and you can see across the saddle to the outline of Mawenzie. It’s still above the horizon so we have a long way to go. I keep glancing at it to see when we get higher but eventually stop. I also glance down at where we’ve come from and it looks steep. I don’t want to fall down there and it’s a constant threat especially on the traverses. Looking up to where we’re going is of no use. There are lights above of climbers who left earlier than us, but there’s no way of seeing how much higher we have to go, only that we have to go higher than Mawenzie peak which I am pleased to note is now below us. We are silent while we climb. The chatter of the group stopped on the second day when all your breath was needed for climbing. When we stop for a rest which seems to be every 5 minutes, I look to see if everyone is still here but lose track of them. Some had headaches before and I wonder if anyone will turn back, I expect it from a couple. I think seriously that if 3 or 4 turn back I probably will too. It will be too easy to quit and after what seems like hours this is turning out to be much more difficult than I expected. We get to an even steeper part which is nearer the summit. I stop looking up, I don’t want to see how much further we have to go. It doesn’t really matter as each foot we climb is the only important thing, the next foot. I’m now shuffling on about 3/4 of a footlength with each step, never having to step up too often, although there are some rock sections that require stepping up. I’m not tired, my muscles don’t particularly hurt, my breathing is ok but not effective. I’m just totally drained of every bit of energy, more than I have ever been before.
Eventually we’re at the top and on the crater rim! In a matter of 30 seconds I go from trudging slowly upwards to actually being on flat ground and seeing the sign of Gilmans Point, which counts as successfully climbing Kilimanjaro. It’s probably been 6 hrs since we left Kibo huts and is now 6am. The sun is not up yet but there is a glow on the horizon. We are all standing, sitting, drinking water, taking pictures, resting for a bit. I hear, in error, that Kavita had to turn back and am upset that I was not with her to help. It actually turns out that she didn’t turn back but the guides were very concerned for her. I take out my iPhone, turn it on and try to log my summit on one of my apps. No luck getting the thing to work so I put it back in my coat pocket.

Now the guides and us are deciding who’s going to continue on to Uhuru, the highest point on the mountain, and who will return down now. I immediately decide to continue on to the top, which was always my intention, and seemed like a pretty sure thing at this point. The books call it a 1.5 hr walk along the crater rim. It actually starts with a downhill drop of 20 or 30 feet which we dread, knowing we have to come back up. The sun is now coming up and all around us the scenery is amazing. We’re walking on the crater rim with miles of space around us to the left, across the saddle to Mawenzie, now below us with the sun coming up above it. To the right is the crater itself with a steep drop to the floor, hundreds of feet below. I make note that I don’t want to fall that way as I won’t be able to climb back out. There are the remains of the glaciers all around us. As they slowly shrink back from the summit they have created walls of ice. They aren’t actually melting, they are sublimating directly from ice to water vapor as a result of the strong sunlight up here.
Back to the climb, which is turning out to be a quite shallow gradient but uphill all the way. We are spread out a bit with guides with us watching for signs of altitude sickness and encouraging us on. If you are not sick the guides will push you to the top, carrying your pack, which Steven takes from me immediately, taking you by the hand and leading you on which a number do for the women. When I stop for a breath and to rest I bend forward over my hiking poles. My guide Frank says ‘don’t sleep’ but I’m not sleeping, just trying to regain some strength to go on. He asks if I want him to push me from behind. I say no I’m ok. I see Steven in front of me hand in hand with a climber leading her up the path, it seems so unreal and peaceful to look at. What started as a walk along the crater rim is turning out to be as taxing as climbing. I have never been so tired, weak, out of breath, drained, than I was then. I know I’m not in the best shape but that didn’t really seem to matter. Guys in better shape than me had already turned back. I’m sure that I would not make it with my pack on.
We pass Stella Point and I don’t bother to take a picture. If I stop I probably won’t start again. Steven is coming behind me helping another climber and I don’t want to lose sight of him, he has the MS banner in my pack.
At one point I stop and make a video. It was all I could do to speak clearly and at this point I still wasn’t sure I’d make it any further. I also try not to think about the trip back down. We are told that if you can make it to the top, the guides will get you down ok. (In the back of my mind I also think about the Everest climbers who expend all their energy climbing and have no strength to descend)
Eventually Frank points out the sign for Uhuru point, just a few hundred feet away. But it’s still uphill, probably 30’ higher than us and still an eternity away. Without sounding overly dramatic the only thing keeping me going is the thought of those with MS who I am doing this for, and of those people who sponsored me and donated to the MS Society. I still hold on to the thought that this exertion and discomfort will be over for me in a few days, but not so for someone with MS.

OK, so eventually I get to the top. To the highest point in all of Africa, higher than anywhere in the US or Canada except for Denali and Mt Logan, to one of the Seven Summits, 19,341’ above sea level, more than 13,000’ higher than when we started our hike 3 days ago. It felt great, it felt exhausting, more than I can ever explain, or imagine, or want to ever do again.
I got the banner from my pack and Steven pushed me to get in and get a picture quick in front of the summit sign. I looked at the camera and the picture looked good, but blurry. It’s also a bit windy but it will have to do. I don’t care at this point.
I see Kavita in the crowd and am happy that she made it up, and didn’t have to turn back as reported. I take a few more pictures and short video and we’re on our way down. Steven still has my pack and carries it all the way back for me. Each of the guides is carrying packs for us.
We stop at Gilman’s point and rest for a bit and I try my iPhone again. No luck with the climbing app but I receive a text from Cheryl that was sent earlier in the day!
On our way down it’s steep, tricky, and tiring. We start on the same path we came up on, then move over to the scree slope where we slide, step, and try not to fall down. Again it goes on for hours and eventually we can see Kibo huts. They are downhill but it still takes too long to get there. When I get to the bottom it occurs to me I haven’t had a drink in hours, Steven still has my pack with all my water. I stop to clean my sunglasses but realize it’s my contact lenses, not my glasses, that are blurry (and the summit picture is actually in focus)
We are back at Kibo huts in the early afternoon, 12 hours after the start of our climb. The one in our group that turned around at Gilmans point is already on his way down. Another one of our group is coughing up a bit of blood now but is otherwise ok. I take out my contacts and climb into my bunk with my clothes and boots on. We only get to rest for an hour then continue down to Horombo huts, arriving in the late afternoon at a safe altitude to recover from any altitude sickness we may have. I had none that I noticed. I lay in the grass below the huts with the others and am too tired to climb up a small bank to get water. Eventually one of our porters comes by and brings me some.
We watch climbers on their way up the trail and they ask us how it was, did we make it, etc. We make the usual replies but after they move on we look at each other and shake our heads. Like us a couple of days ago, they have no idea of what they’re in for!
The next day we hiked to the gate and after a short ride we’re back in our hotel, showered by the afternoon and enjoying a Kilimanjaro beer in the lounge. Later in the day we met with the group of porters, cooks and guides and thanked them for their help in making this dream come true for us. Those who reached the summit were presented with the official certificate of achievement.

My journey continued for the next two weeks taking safaris in Tanzania and Kenya. After seeing a fantastic assortment of animals and meeting many wonderful people I got to see Kilimanjaro again from the Arusha Game Reserve. I arrived home on Oct 11 vowing I would never climb Kilimanjaro again.

March 2015 and the saga continues……..
They say time heals all things, and I guess that along with a loss of memory as to how difficult the climb actually was leads me to consider another adventure to Africa.

For those who are so inclined I would love to lead an expedition back to the roof of Africa. This time to take a slower route to the top of Kilimanjaro and to camp inside the crater next to the glaciers. Follow this with an exciting safari to see some of the last great herds of wild animals and the trip is sure to be a once in a lifetime adventure. Please contact me for details.

Jim Marsh



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