Rasa's latest climbing excursion had all the makings of a great adventure.
Not only did the trip consist of climbing a mountain that she'd never been
on but also traveling to a place where she and most people we know have
never been. The climb was Mount Kilimanjaro
in Tanzania, Africa.
Kilimanjaro stands 19,340 feet above sea level. It is the highest point on
the African continent, the highest free standing mountain in the world
(meaning the mountain itself is not part of any mountain range), and one of
the highest volcanoes in the world.
The trip was organized by
International Mountain Guides
who specialize in climbing and trekking adventures to some of the world's
most remote areas. Originally scheduled to be guided by Phil Ershler, an
injury forced a guide change shortly before the trip and Phil was replaced
by long time mountain guide Craig Van Hoy. The clients on this trip consisted
of Rasa and climbing partner Tom Demerly, Stu and Kathy Froehling, and Jeff
and Connie Levine.
Rasa and Tom left Detroit on Sunday, September 19th and arrived in London
early on the 20th. They had an entire day to roam London before returning
to the airport in the evening and meeting up with the rest of their team.
From London, the team traveled together to Nairobi where they boarded
a mini bus, drove through Arusha, and on to Moshi in Tanzania. On Monday
evening, they stayed at the Keys Hotel. They Keys is frequented by
trekkers and climbers of Kilimanjaro. They had an overnight stay in hotel
rooms that were basically huts complete with mosquito netting over the beds.
Just prior to the trip, Tom had managed to score himself a Motorola Iridium
satellite phone. A customer of his (who is also a Motorola employee) was
singing the praises of this phone and Tom had told him that, in his
experience, these phones generally didn't work. So, to stand behind his
product, the guy tossed Tom the phone and said "call me from the top".
This turned out to be a stroke of luck on a couple of occasions during
the trip. First, Rasa and I had made arrangements for a couple of phone
calls she would make to our house just so I knew they were on schedule.
The first call was never made due to time constraints. The second
call was to be made from the airport in Nairobi upon their arrival. When
that call didn't come in, I was getting a little anxious. To top that off,
one of our dogs was taking ill so now I had two crises going on. On Tuesday,
I had just dropped the dog off at the vet and returned to work when Rasa
called on the satellite phone from the Keys Hotel in Tanzania. Turns out
that calling the U.S. from Nairobi is just about impossible and that's why
the second call never came. They were, however, right on schedule and getting
ready to rest up for the start of the climb the next morning. What happened
next was completely my fault. We were just about to hang up when Rasa asked
how the dogs were. I told her. The conversations on the satellite phone were
very choppy and frequently cut off so I couldn't really give her any details.
The result being that I left her frantic in the middle of Africa and worried
sick about our dog. Later in the afternoon, she called back and I told her
that everything was fine. Thank you Motorola and thank you Tom.
On Wednesday, the team woke and headed for the trailhead at about 8:00am.
Along with Craig and the six clients, there were also fourteen porters
that carried food and equipment up the mountain. On the way to the trail,
they stopped at the market place where huge slabs of beef hung outside
attracting tons of flies. This would, apparently, be dinner on the mountain.
The trip to the trailhead was Rasa's first experience with Tanzanian roads.
What they were on was a road in the academic sense, and it turned
out that driving next to the road was actually a bit smoother. Bumping
and jolting for several hours, they finally reached the trailhead. The
route they would take up was the Machame route. This route was quite a
bit more challenging than the standard route and a bit less traveled.
The first day consisted of a moderate hike through the rainforest and
they spent the entire time clad in t-shirts and shorts. The porters were
amazing. They carried 50-60 pound loads on their heads and cruised up
the mountain ahead of all the clients. The first day's hike went on for
a little over six hours until they finally reached camp one at the Machame
Hut (elevation 9,842 feet). The porters cooked up a wonderful meal of
potato stew with beef, pasta, and bread. Everybody chowed on a well
deserved meal, talked around a fire afterward, and went to bed at around
Early Thursday morning, Rasa started to feel the first pangs of altitude
waking up at about 2:00AM with a pretty intense headache. After taking
a couple of Motrin and sleeping a bit more, she was in better shape and
ready to start the next day's climb. This would be their first morning
on the mountain and it was here that they discovered one of the many
joys of having porters. There was a knock at the tent and they were
greeted with fresh tea and coffee. Good way to start the day! Everyone
packed up and went out to have breakfast. After a good meal, it was off
to the Shira Plateau (elevation 12,700 feet) where they would set up their
next camp. Thursday's hike was quite a bit steeper than the hike on
Wednesday, required some basic bouldering, and provided some pretty scary
drop offs. The weather started off quite nice (like the day before) but the
clouds started rolling in as the day went on. By the time they reached their
next camp, it was pouring and cold. The tents had rivers running through
them and everyone got a little taste of the discomfort that mountaineering
can provide. When the weather started to clear up, they could see Mount
Meriu clearly and the summit of Kilimanjaro. The rest of the evening, again,
consisted of a good meal, some talk around the fire, and then bed.
On Friday, Rasa woke again with an altitude headache and some nausea (classic
altitude ailments). She pulled herself together for the new day's climb and
had her spirits lightened when she caught her first glimpse of Barney the
Dinosaur. Tom had this purple sleeping bag with openings for his arms and
feet so he could walk around without getting out of his bag. I think this was
a serious attempt at outdoor functionality but seemed to provide much more
outdoor humour than anything else, getting lots of laughs from both the
climbers and the porters. Friday's hike was to take the team as high as
14,450 feet and then down to the next camp at 12,800 feet. Rasa's altitude
problems were not going away as easily as they had the day before and the
headache actually seemed to get worse as they day wore on. They hiked for
about six and a half hours and reached their next camp at the Barranco Hut.
Saturday didn't start off very well and would turn out to be antoher day
where the Iridium phone comes into play. Rasa woke sometime during the
night with a small toothache but didn't think too much of it. On Saturday
morning, the toothache was quite a bit worse and she began to worry that
one of her teeth might be infected. On top of that, the altitude was still
playing havoc on her. Saturday's climb would take the team over the 400 foot
Barranco Wall, which would turn out to be the most challenging day so far.
Most of the day was spent rock scrambling and there was one ledge traverse
that, as Rasa put it, dropped off to the United States. The next camp was in
the Karanga Valley at 13,800 feet. Once they got to camp, Rasa was still in
the throws of headache and nausea brought on by altitude and more convinced
that her tooth was infected since her face started to swell up. That evening,
Rasa woke Craig up from his nap to see what kind of medication he might have
to take care of the tooth and he produced a veritable pharmacy. There were a
couple of meds in his bag that looked like they might do the trick but nobody
really knew for sure. So Rasa raised me on the satellite phone and gave me
the list of medications they had with them. I called up Rasa's dentist and
good friend, Geoff Reeves, and read the list to him. Geoff was quick in his
response. "Tell her to take two augmentin now and then one a day for the rest
of the week". Rasa called back about ten minutes later, I gave her the
instructions, and the augmentin apparently did the trick.
On Sunday, Rasa was in much better shape than on previous days mostly due
to the various meds she was now sporting. The summit of Kilimanjaro was
coming into view much closer than before and the next camp was a record
altitude for Rasa at 15,000 feet at the Barafu Hut. The views were
outstanding. Bedtime on Sunday was about 6:00 PM so that the team could get a
good rest before they got up at 11:00 PM for the summit push. Unfortunately,
at that altitude, it is difficult to fall asleep.
Monday was summit day. The team set out in the dark and moved at a good
pace. The temperature outside was falling pretty steady and they were
adding layers at the various rest stops they took. After one of the rest
stops, Kathy Froehling was having trouble breathing and showed signs
of HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema). This came on rather sudden and
both Craig and Michael (the chief porter) knew immediately what was going
on. Kathy had to be sent back down the mountain immediately and her
husband Stu went down with her. At this point, Rasa and Connie were both
short of breath and Craig had lightened their backpacks giving some of
their stuff to the porters. As the sun was rising, the remaining team
members made it to the crater rim which is technically considered to be
a successful summit. Tom immediately got on the phone to call his girlfriend
Susan and Craig began to head back down to check on Kathy. At this point,
Connie turned around to go back down also. Rasa, Tom, and Jeff, along with
Michael continued on to the Uhuru peak which is the highest point on the
crater rim. At 7:51AM, they reached the peak (elevation 19,340 feet) at
which point Rasa called me on the satellite phone. For me, it was still
late Sunday evening. I had gone to bed expecting to be woken up by the
phone but I couldn't sleep. Somewhere around 1:15AM (eastern time) the
phone rang and it was Rasa. She sounded out of breath but she had made
it to the top. Today, Rasa says she really doesn't remember making the
call. I remember being even less capable of sleeping after the call and
stayed up sending emails to friends and updating our web site. After snapping
a few pictures, they began to head down. Tom and Jeff set out ahead and Rasa
came down with Michael. Back at the Barafu hut, they took a short rest break.
Rasa was still feeling nauseous and as Craig, Tom and Jeff stood there
watching a porter give Rasa a congratulations handshake, she got a whiff of
food cooking and proceeded to hurl in front of everyone. She now felt a
little better. They hiked all the way back down to 10,000 feet that day
where they set up their next tent. Tom was feeling his energy racing back
and ran down the mountain with the porters. He mentioned how good it felt
to be able to run again. By about 8:30 that night, everyone was asleep.
Tuesday would be the last morning on the mountain. After a leisurely
breakfast, they continued down to the bottom and got back on the "road".
After an hour drive (15 miles), they got back to the hotel, tipped the
porters and gave them a bunch of T-shirts they had packed, and took the
long awaited "shower after". Afterward, Craig called everyone down where
the porters sang a farewell song to the climbers in Swahili. That was
very cool! Suddenly this fairly rustic hotel seemed like luxury
accommodations. Rasa sat by the pool for a bit, drinking a cold beer and
then everyone got together in the dining room for dinner where each
climber got an IMG T-shirt. After devouring dinner, everyone went to
Wednesday would be the first trip into the Ngorongoro Crater. After
breakfast, the group drove to Arusha to exchange money and catch the
safari bus. Arusha turned out to be a real first hand look at poverty
for most of the participants. There were shelters built from sticks and
the main river flowing through town was completely filled with trash.
This was also the same river where towns people were washing clothes and
getting drinking water. A long way from Novi to say the least. The bus
ride to the Ngorongoro Crater took about seven and a half hours. The
area around the crater was amazing. Lush forests, mountainous terrain,
and sweet sweet smells. As the bus rounded a corner to go up the crater
rim, they saw a huge cape buffalo standing by the side of the road. This
was a sign of things to come. The hotel they would stay the night at was
the Serena Safari Lodge. This place was amazing. It was huge and built
into the side of the crater rim. The rooms were enormous with huge bathrooms
and a large doorwall that opened out to a balcony overlooking the crater.
The rest of the night was basically dinner and bed. Rasa did finally get
to sip on a good glass of champagne and watch a Masaai ritual dance, which
was a bonus.
On Thursday, wakeup time was about 6:30 AM and there was a sea of fog
outside. Things started to clear up a bit, however, as the group ate
breakfast. After breakfast, it was onto the bus and into the crater.
The first beast they came across just happened to be right at the top
of Rasa's hit list. A lone lioness lounging in a meadow. The lioness was
a fair distance from the bus but they got a couple of good photos with
Tom's amazing telephoto lens. In the morning alone, they saw cape buffalo,
wildebeest, zebras, elephants, gazelles, hippos, spotted hyena, jackal,
rhino, flamingos, ostriches, baboons, warthogs, and hartebeest. It's hard
to imagine a place where you can see all that in one morning in the wild,
but here they were. The group stopped for lunch and were warned not to eat
any food out in the open because of the kite hawks. These things would dive
right out of the sky and take anything. At one point, Craig started to get
out of his jeep and almost took a shot in the head from one of these things.
After lunch, the group discussed the itinerary for the next day. The original
plan was to make a seven hour drive to Tarangire Park. The team, having
decided that they had had enough of cars, mutinied. So, much discussion arose
about possibly changing the itinerary. Everybody seemed pretty happy with the
area they were at and were perfectly content to stay put. Unfortunately, they
hadn't booked rooms for that night and that turned out to be a non-option.
After much discussion, they got word that they could all stay at Lake
Manyara and the drive was only two and a half hours. Everybody was for it
so off they went. The Serena Lake Manyara Hotel sat on a cliff overlooking
the lake and the rooms were in hut shaped buildings. The rooms and the view
were amazing. While Rasa was waiting for Tom to get out of the shower, she
stepped out onto the balcony and, sitting on the balcony railing of the
hut next to theirs, was a huge baboon. Rasa rousted Tom to come see this
thing and managed to snap a couple of photos before it wandered off. The
rest of the night was pretty leisurely. Rasa soaked in the cliffside pool
for a while and then everyone met up for dinner. After that, it was time
Friday saw the group up at about 6:00AM and on the road to the Manyara
National Park at 7:00AM. Right off the bat, they saw baboons, monkeys,
giraffes, gazelles, warthogs, and some beautiful birds. The park was
lush, green, and absolutely wonderful. The morning was somewhat short
and by 9:30AM, they were on the road to Nairobi. The drive was, again,
very long and they didn't arrive in Nairobi until about 6:30PM. This
time, the accommodations were not stellar at all but it was only one night.
Saturday would be a day in the city. Everyone set out for some good old
fashioned shopping. Rasa and Tom grew tired of that scene pretty quickly
a grabbed a cab over to the giraffe center. The giraffe center was really
cool. These giraffes were incredibly tame and would eat out of your hand.
They even got a little pushy when the tourists were slow with the protocol.
Tom found that out when he didn't get his next handful of food out fast
enough and got knocked in the head by a giraffe head. They retreated back to
the hotel at about 5:00PM and started packing up. At 6:00PM, everyone met up
for dinner at Carnivore restaurant. The meats served were lamb, ribs,
chicken, beef sausage, zebra, hartebeest, ostrich, and beef. After dinner,
everyone set out for the airport. Stu and Kathy were planning on staying in
Nairobi for two more days so they said their goodbyes there. The rest of the
group boarded the plane and settled in for an eight hour flight to London.
The long plane ride gave Rasa time to reflect on the whole trip. The people
that she met and spent two weeks with added some new friendships in her life.
Craig turned out to be an amazing guide, mesmerizing her with stories of his
Himilayan climbs. He had the uncanny ability to adapt to any situation and
solve any problem with patience and a sense of humor. Connie and Jeff
could always put a smile on anyones face with a joke or their great story
telling abilities. Stu and Kathy were so kind to everyone and very down
to Earth. They always had something nice to say which Rasa will always
remember. Tom was a true friend and wonderful traveling companion. He
always knew just the right thing to say to make everything better. They
constantly giggled like 10 year olds and he truly made the trip for Rasa
a better experience. He is someone that will always be at the top of her
list for a climbing partner and friend. Thanks again Tom!
On Sunday, Rasa and Tom had a few hours to kill in London but, unfortunately,
most businesses were closed. They did manage to get over to Harrods and see
a few other sites before returning to the airport. Back on the plane, it
would just be a few more hours until they were back at Metro. I was pretty
much dying to get Rasa back home so I made sure I left myself plenty of
time to get stuck in construction zones and still be at the airport on
time. This basically meant that there was no traffic and I sat at the
airport for an hour before their plane even crossed Lake Huron. Quite
all right though. The plane landed on time and we had our greetings just
outside of customs. We drove Tom back to his house and then made the long
trek home (long for me, after the bumpy road rides in Tanzania, Rasa most
likely felt like she was on the bullet train). Once home, we cracked open
the champagne, grabbed a comfy seat out back in our sunroom, and I got the
story from start to end. I guess that's a tradition that started after
Rasa's climb up Mount Rainier and it's a damned good one.