Kilimanjaro Day 1: When Rain Skirts and Umbrellas Get A Laugh

Tuesday, January 15, 2019
Start: Stella Maris Lodge
Stop: Mti Mkubwa or Forest Camp 2650m (8,700 ft.)
Distance: 4.6km (2.9miles)
Gain: 518m (1,700ft.)

Thankfully I sleep well and awake rested for the big day. I take my last shower for many days. Is it excitement? Is it jitters? There’s a frequency in the air that vibrates Kilimanjaro (or Kibo) and adventures into the unknown. Mt. Kilimanjaro looms as tall and as wide as the question of whether or not I can actually make it to the top. My freshly washed clothes reek of fragrant detergent and I look forward to sweating through the stench.

After a quick breakfast my Kili group begins to gather in the lobby of Stella Maris. There’s Ed from Virginia. He’s in his 70’s and will try to become the first heart transplant patient to summit. There’s Jun Kyu from South Korea and Fred, in his 60’s, from Canada. Katelyn’s from Alaska. Daughter and mother, Kim and Jackie are from Florida. Jackie’s a marathon runner and also in her 60’s. And Jesper is from Sweden. Our departure time of 830am comes and goes. Is this some kind of test? A minibus soon pulls up and we’re greeted by our guide team. We lug our duffels out for one more reweighing before they disappear under the tarp on top of the bus. The duffels, with the majority of our gear, should weigh in the 15kg (33lbs) range because the porters are only allowed to carry a maximum of 20kgs (44lbs). We load up on water, like 4 liters (yes, we’re suppose to drink all of that), stow our packs inside the bus and hit the road.

After a while we turn towards the mountain and begin to climb. The cadence of Ed and Jun Kyu’s voices carry from the back of the bus as we bounce along the road. It’s a free African massage. After maybe a couple hours of driving, we arrive at the Londorosi Gate (2250m) where we must officially register with Kilimanjaro National Park in order to start the hike. As gear and supplies are sorted out with porters and as we eat our lunch, the light drizzle becomes a spirit-draining downpour. Everytime it starts to lighten and my heart fills with hope, it starts to rain hard again. Meanwhile loads of hikers are piling into the covered space, also having their lunch. It’s getting cold and I have to get some layers on. I roll down my shirt sleeves and don my rain jacket. Wouldn’t you know it, I chose shorts and my trail runners for the first day. Old habits die hard. I’m thinking about my waterproof boots but they’re packed away in my duffel. As it seems the rain will not relent I pull out my rain skirt and people are complementing it but also kinda laughing. Ed tells me that it looks like ducktape. I really don’t want to put my rain pants on because the water will just shed straight into my shoes.

Suddenly it’s time to load the bus and we’re zipping down the road again. Ed asks if we’re heading back to Moshi. Part way down the mountain we make a left turn and start to head back up on our way to the Lemosho Gate. I’m sure the bus is loaded to the max so the driver literally has to floor it up and around the tight turns of the now saturated and muddy road. As we approach blind turns, our gutsy driver lays on the horn. We’re coming through and you better get out of our way!! We get to the Lemosho Gate and the rain is falling in sheets. I decide to zip my pant legs onto my shorts and then find one last bathroom stop. Also under this makeshift tent where we’re huddled is the guy weighing each porters gear. He’s armed and super friendly. (If you look closely, you can see his weapon in the picture.) I stow one of my trekking poles, pull out my umbrella and I’m ready just barely in time. Jun Kyu, all in good sport, is laughing a bit at my umbrella.

It’s 2pm on the dot and we’re headed up the muddy path into the rain forest, walking the slowest I’ve ever walked. It feels really hard to walk this excruciatingly slow. I don’t get very far before I’m overheating and have to ditch my rain jacket. I’m happy to see that our guide Future is using an umbrella also as Jun Kyu confesses that the umbrella is looking like the way to go. As the sun pushes out and the rain forest humidity says hello, everyone starts stripping off layers.

We plod along as porter after porter flys by us. Jambo, Jambo, Jambo we call out as each one passes. We’re saying hello of course and step out of their way when needed. The lush rainforest drips with life from the colobus monkeys to the stinging nettle. Just when it seemed we were in the clear it starts to downpour again. Everyone throws their rain gear back on as I roll down my rain skirt (which was pulled up around my waist) and switch out a trekking pole for my umbrella. I’m sweaty and warm so I’m damn grateful for my umbrella. I can hike with my sleeves rolled up and keep myself from overheating. Right at the three hour mark, we roll into camp. It’s cool enough that during the wait time to get signed in (we have to sign in at every camp) I start to get really chilled.

We meander a bit through the forest and find our Peak Planet family. A porter comes to me, takes my backpack and shows me to my tent. They’ve got hot tea and snacks waiting for us in the main mess tent but I’ve got to change first. I dig into my duffel and things are kinda damp. I get into the end pocket where for some reason, I stowed socks and a down jacket. They are wet enough that I know they will never dry in this weather. I’m pretty sure that’s not where I originally packed them but during our gear check yesterday things got all scrambled. I finally find a dry bra and top to put on and I’m the last to arrive at tea and snacks. Watch out for the wet chair if you’ve changed into dry clothes! I run back to the tent to get something to protect my ass from the saturated comfort of a real chair. And then I have to confess to our lead guide Caspar that all my socks and my down jacket are wet and I’m looking like such a rookie. As irony would have it, the driest socks are on my feet. And as if they don’t have enough to do, the cooks will dry them for me.

Next up is our first health check. On a scale of 1-10, I’m a 9 due to the post nasal drip that’s making my throat sore. My body temp is good even though I don’t think the temp was right. 35.8C is only 96.4F and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t that cold. Oxygen Sats 94, Pulse 93, Blood pressure 147/102 is kinda high. No headache, nausea, vomiting, coughing, difficulty breathing. My last pee was clear. I had a bowel movement this morning. No diarrhea. Yes, I’m taking Diamox and yes I’m taking Malarone. My lung check is clear.

There’s a big spread for dinner which starts with a warm soup. There’s real plates and glass mugs for tea and real silverware. This is amazing! There’s all the food we can eat before Caspar makes us come up with three questions. After we struggle a bit through our questions we head back to our tents for the night.