In Which I Climb Kilimanjaro with Joe

Just after graduating from college in 2010, I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with my good friend Joe Huston. What follows is an unedited copy of the journal I kept while on the mountain. Forgive me.

Day -2 - Morning

Wake up 9am. Shower shave clean everything I can. Will be a mountain man soon.

Need: Iodine tablets 3L of water bottles CASH

Joe needs pants.

Day -1 - Morning

Day 1 sucked basically. Airplane troubles = a day of delays and arguing with delta. Tensions were high at the airport. One woman like “You’re all stupid!” Saw Jackie later. She had a cute busted lip b/c she fell on her face.

Team Kili rocks and is setting us up with a 6 day climb. Hopefully we’ll make it.

At Airport

Ran into Sonu Bedi’s twin brother Monu at DCA. Cool guy — Dartmouth ‘97? It was very random. Joe says of yesterday: “It was an enjoyably bad day”.

He has malaria meds that I don’t have. Considering murder.

About to get on a plane to Boston, then to Amsterdam and finally to Tanzania. Caffeinated. Reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and it’s good so far.

From Hotel in Arusha

Flight to BOS delayed. Had to sprint through Logan and make our flight. KLM is nice. Got food in Amsterdam and ran into our CS/Tanzanian friend from day before.

AHWOSG = good but not amazing. Eggers is too lazy and I just don’t care about him enough I guess? Good poetic language esp at beginning but long narcissistic internal monologue gets boring eventually even if it is honest in a way. Most things in the story seem honest which is probably why some parts don’t make sense.

Now reading “Never let me go” Creepy novel about clones from Joe.

Later

Landed in JRO Tanzania. Miraculously delta got our luggage through (BTW got delayed getting into Amsterdam) and our driver found us instantly. Tanzania visa was $100 which was more than we had planned. Whoops. Hope we have enough cash.

(Joe reminds me to write that I almost lost my boarding pass in Amsterdam. Way to rub it in jerk.)

Driver took us 50km (30 min or so) from airport. Mostly felt safe but driving on the left felt weird on turns. Lots of wild dogs on the road. They’re howling like crazy right now (in the hotel). And people were walking along the road. Driver tells us it’s a major road that goes from Egypt to way down south. One lane each way and not v well maintained.

Not sure if we tip. Probably tipped our bag guy at the hotel too much.

Oh! We passed by the UN court trying Rwandan criminals. Cool. Also the “East African Community” HQ. Didn’t even know that was like a thing.

Hotel = very cute. We buy bottled water to brush our teeth and relax for a while. 6AM wakeup.

Day 1

Our sleep schedule is messed up. We woke up at 5am local time and read. Finished Joe’s creepy book about clones. Good ending. Lots of good questions and a haunting mood.

Mosquito nets are kinda nice actually. Worried about drinking water. Here’s Joe on the subject of Joe this morning: “Joe has hit his head twice on the TV stand. What a fucktard.” In his dream he thought the size limit for our hotel’s safe was “Nothing bigger than an iPad.” Unlikely, dream Joe.

Aside: Joe’s kindle gets internet everywhere. Whispernet is amazing. Joe found a slug in/on his bag and freaked the fuck out. We are not outdoorsy people. What are we doing.

Later

Gear check with guides. It’s like the dentist. Want to seem prepared. They pay us because we come late. Meet our crew, cook etc. Bus has cracked front window. So legit. 11 of us total making the climb.

Later

The route is alive! Streetside vendors and cars. Beautiful foliage. Buildings and roads worn but functional. Speed bumps instead of signs. Efficient at scale?

Tom’s cell is better than mine. He checks his facbook. This is a well-off area though tons of agriculture. Bananas and rice on heads.

I think we may have underestimated how cold it will be on an average day.

Outside of Arusha it’s a bit quiet. Rolling plains with dramatic hills shooting up on occasion. We drive fast.

Later

We stop at shop playing “Sexual Healing” so the crew can pick stuff up. Joe and I don’t buy anything.

Later

Still on the road. 10am in Moshi. Seen/heard lots of Barack Obama love.

Tigo and Vodacom and Coke and Pepsi seem to run shit. It’s started to rain a bit now. Huge knotty trees. Hills mined. Pass by MIT — Moshi Institutue of Technology. Driving pretty high now. Ears popping etc. Pretty beautiful views.

Later

Gate 1. We’re yawning a lot. Our team is getting permits etc. We buy extra pants layer for summit day. Now we go off-roading to gate 2; road still being built.

Gate 2. They give us food. Beautiful view camera can’t capture. Food is veggies, white bread and mango and butter Tasty carrot stew. They have a table and cloth and tea and cocoa. Feeling too coddled. Joe feeling bad about colonialism / lunch. I feel a bit weird but not as bad. Prolly take pride in making things easy.

Later

Camp at end of Day 1. Started off going by these cool sorta weepy pine trees with orange brushstroke accents. We walked slowly and mostly in silence, focusing on our breathing and the feel of our bodies. Breathing heavy compared to how much work I feel like I’m doing. Weepy pine trees alternate with used up corn stalks. Joe says unexpected.

We left before the porters but in not too long they overtake us going much faster and carrying a lot more weight. I fiddle a lot with the straps and ties on my pack, but I feel slightly bad every time I clip because of the noise. I am not a crazy neurotic person!

After a while we hit the end of the forest. Then we see a family of some black and white monkeys. Colobus” acc. to Joe. We say “Jambo” to people who pass like that crazy guy on his motorcycle just rolling down the mountain.

People actually live up here and harvest corn/potatoes. We see a family or two. Crying baby doesn’t seem happy.

Then we transition from forest to jungle. Tall trees block out the sky. Here the path is neater and some plants are labeled on the side. The African Pencil Tree has branches that look like pencils. The Stinkwood tree smells bad. Unimpressed with the creativity of dendrologists.

We see a bunch of baboons too. They’re awesome. Joe says “We’re doing it man. We’re on fucking kilimanjaro.” Indeed. Fistbump. Jungle is mostly nice and well groomed. It goes on for a while. Jacob and Tom chatter behind us, stopping us and making us drink water.

Then the area of tall bushes. Open sky. Cute bridges over small brooks covered in fog. Some strenuous areas make me realize this is going to be challenging. I don’t feel the altitude too much today, but I think I do on occasion. Though to tell. We make it it camp.

First we register (Why? Taxes? Safety?). Ask Jacob. They set up tents. We change into dry clothes and hang our wet ones. A snack followed by candlelit dinner. So Tired.

Day 2

Joe is a bitch this morning. He threatened to stab me for writing that. Low grade headaches because we slept downhill and are dehydrated.

They woke us up with tea. Awesome. Want that every day. Pretty quick wash and breakfast before heading out. Short bushes and grasses. First view of summit. Awesome! Mostly obscured by clouds. Trees getting shroter.

We’re drinking so much water. Both had 3L before we break for a bit before lunch so porters can catch up and take photos. Porters with white bags in the distance like beacons among the trees. There’s a nice peak and an evil one. Now we walk into the clouds hopefully to the nice one.

Later

Taking a break at a ridge. Climb today is more intense and so much fun. Sweat and body working and amazing views.

Saw buffalo tracks before. Now just centipedes. Pass by a cave people used to use for shelter. Not used anymore but still impressive. Climbing is steep and rocky. The sun is hot. We use ball caps backwards to cover our necks & look sweet ‘till we can sunscreen up.

We stop for lunch at 2nd cave. Joe is really into these two snorting ravens that are hanging out. He snorts at them and they leave.

Well above the clouds now. We’ve been going fast which is fun and we beat the porters and could’ve done more. I want to take a nap. Joe and I have been playing “Would you tolerate” about preferences of hypothetical girlfriends. He is fairly intolerant.

Aside about briefs: Do not enjoy. Don’t even think boxers would chafe that much. Peeing feels weird and no fly and bad. Srsly. No briefs.

Swahili words we’ve learned:

Asante
Thanks
Karibu
NP
Jambo
Hi
Mambo Vipi
How’s things
Mambo Supa/Poa
Good/Cool
Tam sana
Delicious
Bam-bam baya
Cool

When Joe stepped on a rock and it rolled out from under him he was fine but he is a bitch about bees.

Joe: freaks out
Me: Scared of bees?
Joe: They are the unknown. (I’ve never been stung)
Me: So you’re not scared of bees, just the unknown?
Joe: Nah I’m scared of bees.

He’s obsessed with cocoa and getting it right. He says best cup yet. I say bees probably attracted to cocoa.

Jacob is married w/ two kids. He’s 37, but looks 30. Impressive. Joe getting annoyed with my journaling, but he just doesn’t understand me like you do.

Later

Next hike is up and down, seemingly away from kili. b/c it’s not vertically far we go very fast and beat all of our porters. We’re totally spent by the time we hit camp. It was a really nice leg. Looking out at the clouds. We had another 3L of water. Crazy!

At camp, despite Joe’s warnings, I take a nap. It is glorious. Soon after waking up we have tea and popcorn. It’s getting pretty cold now and I’m adding layers. Long hike in front of us tomorrow and probs a difficult one.

Joe and my conversations have been strange. Long game of “what animal would fuck you up if it was you and it in a closet” earlier. Tonight we were more philosophical until Joe starts talking about poop for ~15 min.

Feels like I’ve been here longer than two days. The moon an stars at night are so bright it’s nuts. Last night I dreamt Kid Cudi was in our climbing group. Jacob keeps telling us to “keep enjoying” our food. “Just keep enjoying; keep enjoying,” he says. Also, they all say “you’re welcome” before someone says “thank you”. Interesting. We passed some interesting flora today. Stuff that only grows at this elevation and on Kilimanjaro.

Day 3

We wake up and Joe says “Team Bravo has gone insane” which makes no sense. We have never called ourselves Team Bravo. I worry for our sanity. Waking up is the worst part. We hurt in various ways and we’re tired. Good breakfast. Both felt a bit nauseated from the tannins in the tea. Joe stole all of my Gas-X.

Very nice sunrise. Beautiful morning hike with lots of vertical distance. We took a shortcut that joins two trails that was not a path at all, just lots of rocks and sand and it was strennnuous.

Had lunch in this kinda crazy rock valley. Def in the “Alpine desert” climate zone now and right next to the evil peak. Joe and I were freezing at lunch. Both had headaches. Possibly altitude, possibly just the cold or possibly the colds we seem to be coming down with or possibly the sunburn we both have. Ugh.

The food is tasty, though slow to come.

Later

The rest of the hike is largely downhill. We walk down basically as far as we went up today. Our moods mostly determined by minor physical discomforts. Joe has become obsessed with his bowel. Intelligent conversation has been difficult. Despite lots of complaints at night, we sleep well and wake up feeling good.

Day 4

Joe snored a lot so I threw increasingly large objects at him (to get him to stop; this usually works). He wakes up when I throw my glove at him and threatens to stab me in my sleep. He then instantly falls back asleep and continues to snore.

We eat breakfast and leave a bit behind schedule. At first the climb is steep but smooth until we turn away from Kibu and towards Barafu. Then the route becomes crazy and rocky. I take an advil to help with headaches. The route culminates in a crazy pair of ridges. Possibly the most strenuous thing I’ve done. The ground we’re on slopes down and then falls off into clouds; feels like the end of the world.

Up here at Barafu the view is amazing. Eat and then sleep now. Summit day starts at midnight tonight. Kili looks intimidating but we’re ready.

Later

After dinner we try to sleep but are largely unsuccessful. Birafu is crazy windy and our tent shakes nearly to the point of breaking. During dinner our tent actually constantly smacked me in the back of the head. Rude.

At 11:30 PM they wake us up with tea.

Summit day!

Wow! We’re nervous and excited and tired. We wear almost everything we packed. I’m wearing up top: 4 shirts, a fleece and a big ski jacket along with a balaclava as a hat and a hood. Below I’ve got long johns, sweatpants and ski pants. It gets pretty cold at the summit.

I have a headache (altitude? dehydration? who knows) and treat it with advil. Uh-oh. We get out a bit before midnight and start heading up to the summit. WOW is it difficult. Joe and I both agree it’s the hardest physical challenge we’ve faced. We’re constantly short of breath and the climb is either super steep gravel/sand that makes you slide back with every step or just plain rock faces. We take breaks often and both have nasty headaches. (def altitude.). I’m feeling pretty dizzy aside from just being exhausted from breathing.

Jacob sets a fast pace for us and hurries us through breaks. Tom is encouraging and tells us to take our time. We like Tom.

Getting towards the top of the first section we have a refueling break. We eat energy bars and drink a red bull each. Soon after this we hit Stella Point — four hours into the climb. It’s only one hour from here and the climb isn’t as steep. Despite feeling awful for most of the last few hours, I’m elated and yell out in celebration.

Many times in the climb up to Stella I wondered if we’d make it. I wondered what I was doing climbing this mountain. Absurd. I sit indoors most of most days on the internet. My big sport is debate. I can’t throw a football and I didn’t do boyscouts because camping sounded awful. Contributing to my sense of the absurdity of what I was doing: my outer layer of pants = way too big on me. So about every 10 steps I had to pull up my pants. On summit day. Geez. Also my middle layer of pants was on backwards.

Joe complained about feeling dizzy. Tom said “dizzyness is no problem by 4am”. Joe asks what happens at 4am. Tom says helpfully “you get used to it.”

At Stella we can see the peak and there’s snow and you know you’re going to make it.

Except around this time something weird is happening to my vision. Anything in bright lights has weird colors. Like anything in my headlamp is transiently green. If that doesn’t make sense then: exactly.

Altitude? Red bull? Diamoxx? Who knows. I tell Joe that he has to carry me there if I pass out this close. He looks at me wide eyed and says “Dude. I’m drunk.” and goes on to explain that he’s got a 610 headache (Aside: last two days any time someone asks us how we’re feeling we respond with a number 1-10 corresponding to how bad our headache is) and feels so dizzy he’s worried about passing out himself.

There’s an incredible view from here. A massive glacier. So far above the clouds. Snow caps twisted with huge desert rock formations.

Despite slipping in the snow a few times eventually the summit is in sight. We’re struggling, but it’s amazing when we finally make it. I spike my headlamp like a football and say by way of explanation to no one in particular “I have a problem with lights right now”.

We take a bunch of photos and other groups start showing up (we were one of the first of the day to make it. NBD) Everyone says congrats to one another.

More photos of the area then we decide it’s time to go. Joe and I need to get to a lower altitude to get comfortable.

Later

We go down the Kibu route. The sun has come up and it’s hot. I still have a problem with lights and the sun is a pretty big light. Jacob gets us to literally run down the mountain sliding along rocks. We’re all tired and sick and exhausted in our own way. Migraine (or altitude?) at Kibu when we get lunch. Physically feel terrible but still feel elated that we actually made it. Lots of fistbumps.

We leave Kibu for Horombo to camp for the night. On the way we have mostly recovered from our summit sicknesses. Tired. Do nothing. Going to bed. One last hike down tomorrow then back to our hotel. We’re done. We want showers. We want beds. We want sit-down toilets and clean clothes.

I think we’ll miss it though. It’s been an amazing experience that I never thought I’d do. It was a challenge

Summit day +1

Last day on the mountain. Feeling lousy. We hike down. It’s easy but long and my legs are hurting. We get lunch in Moshi when we get down from the mountain, tip our group and then say goodbye. Sleep.

Airport day

Joe left at 4pm for his Asia trip. I’m here 5 more hours. Current state as differs from normal:

  • 8 day beard including neard
  • chapped lips
  • beat up nose from mountain cold — “meth-head like”
  • raw skin on face
  • peeling skin from sunburn
  • grimy hair
  • stretched out and semi-clean t-shirt
  • beastly hiking boots.
  • I’m attracting strange looks. Hoping my copy of Infinite Jest makes me look like a writer on a bender in Africa instead of just a crazy homeless meth-head.

Airport restaurant doesn’t take cards. Need to hit ATM. Passport checking guy questions why I need to leave to get cash and asks for a bribe when I return, then laughs and says he’s just joking. Strange to be here. Guard-rails off. At the age where I can just fly to Tanzania and climb Kilimanjaro if I want. Soon moving to SF with my own job making my own money and living in my own (and Jackie’s) apt. Wow. Feels strange.

Probably won’t see Joe for a while. Been nice to have my days filled with activity and I haven’t missed the internet much. Might experiment with detoxing more.