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Kilimanjaro Safari Sarah Lee 7

Follow the footsteps of Mountain Madness client Sarah on Mount Kilimanjaro

Short­ly after the first time we made it to the sum­mit of Mount Rainier, we knew we had caught the climb­ing bug. All oth­er vaca­tion ideas flew out the win­dow; we con­clud­ed we want­ed to trav­el the world and incor­po­rate climb­ing into each trip. 

Have you ever blessed the rains in Africa? Nev­er in a mil­lion years did I think I would and one Sun­day night, we were on the Moun­tain Mad­ness web­site pour­ing over the numer­ous expe­di­tions and moun­taineer­ing trips they had list­ed. We decid­ed right then and there we had to book Kil­i­man­jaro – the tallest moun­tain on the African con­ti­nent. Just like that, we had the first of our Sev­en sum­mits booked! While Kil­i­man­jaro is by no means a tech­ni­cal climb, it def­i­nite­ly has its own chal­lenges which make the rewards that much sweeter!
We count­ed down the days until we could hop on a plane and fly to Tan­za­nia but in the mean­time, we had to get our bod­ies ready! We made sure to stay in shape and con­stant­ly train for the 19,310’ beast of a moun­tain. It is true that almost any­one can climb Kil­i­man­jaro with the prop­er ded­i­ca­tion, fit­ness lev­el and the moti­va­tion to do so. Our train­ing con­sist­ed of run­ning, Stair­Mas­ter, cir­cuit train­ing, and most impor­tant­ly pack train­ing. Pack train­ing is also known as the dev­il” in our house­hold because while it is so ben­e­fi­cial for climb­ing it is also exhaust­ing! Throw­ing 20, 30, or 40 pounds into a pack and either head­ing up to the local trail­head (or dur­ing the drea­ry win­ter months in Seat­tle, an inclined tread­mill,) can seem daunt­ing but in the end, it will land you on the sum­mit! When we actu­al­ly climbed Kil­i­man­jaro our pack weights dur­ing the dai­ly treks nev­er exceed­ed 15 pounds thanks to the amaz­ing local porters that are with you every step of the way, and hav­ing trained with a 40-pound pack at sea lev­el made all the dif­fer­ence when tak­ing step after step at high altitude! 
Final­ly, the day had come when it was time to head to Africa; it was so hard to believe that we were actu­al­ly going on this amaz­ing jour­ney. Moun­tain Mad­ness had all the logis­tics laid out and the infor­ma­tion pack­et pre-climb had every­thing we need­ed to know from Visa infor­ma­tion down to the best type of undies to wear while climb­ing! Any addi­tion­al ques­tions we came up with dur­ing our prepa­ra­tion for the trip and climb were answered with­in a few hours (on occa­sion with­in a few min­utes) via email or phone calls to the office. I was so stoked to trav­el abroad with a com­pa­ny that is just as Type A per­son­al­i­ty as I am in regard to plan­ning and orga­ni­za­tion. We board­ed our plane at Sea-Tac with peace of mind and zero stress know­ing that once we arrived in Tan­za­nia the Moun­tain Mad­ness team would be there to greet us and take care of us until it was time to return to the States! 
After a very long trav­el day (and night) we caught our last plane from Nairo­bi to Kil­i­man­jaro air­port. The morn­ing was over­cast and all we want­ed to see was a sneak peak of the moun­tain we were about to tack­le. We sipped on some South African wine (yes it was 9:30 am but hey, it was vaca­tion, right!?) and had our eyes glued to the win­dow wait­ing to catch a glimpse of Kili (evi­dent­ly once you climb Kil­i­man­jaro you are allowed to refer to it as Kili). The clouds broke for just a split sec­ond as we came in for our land­ing at the air­port and we could see a huge snow shroud­ed sum­mit in the dis­tance. I can­not describe to you the feel­ing of but­ter­flies and excite­ment that made my stom­ach do som­er­saults once see­ing that! Let’s do this!
We stepped off the plane and were embraced by warm weath­er and gor­geous back­drops of Tan­za­nia. We could not stop smil­ing and still could not believe that we were there. We snagged our lug­gage and stepped out­side and wait­ing for us was my all-time favorite sign with the Moun­tain Mad­ness logo on it and we met two of our guides that would be with us for the next two weeks! We hopped into the sweet­est ride I can imag­ine; a con­vert­ed SUV that was per­fect for the rugged ter­rain in Africa and which would also be our escort post climb when we head­ed off on Safari! 
Our first day in Tan­za­nia, as we head­ed to our lux­u­ry camp, we could not believe our eyes – we imme­di­ate­ly saw baboons run­ning across the road, warthogs and meerkats run­ning around in packs (I lit­er­al­ly could not believe I just stepped onto the set of Lion King), as well as col­or­ful spec­tac­u­lar birds! Dream come true! Once we arrived at our camp we were blown away by the accom­mo­da­tions. I had heard rumors of the lux­u­ry tents that Moun­tain Mad­ness clients stay in before the climb, but I could not believe it until I actu­al­ly saw it. We had our own pri­vate tent that looked like a huge can­vas room from the out­side but once you stepped in you were trans­port­ed to the most incred­i­ble African themed hotel room. Queen size bed, tables and dressers, even our own pri­vate bath, and the loveli­est décor. I could stay in this tent all week!
We unpacked a bit and napped before being called to an ear­ly din­ner where our chef pre­pared more food than we could pos­si­bly eat (but we man­aged to lick our plates clean; I mean nutri­tion for the moun­tains am I right??) We stayed up sip­ping wine and talk­ing with our assis­tant guide for our climb, Tim. Tim has the most amaz­ing back­ground and is a very tal­ent­ed climber, ski­er, and ice climber. Orig­i­nal­ly from Tan­za­nia but speaks 4 or more lan­guages flu­ent­ly and we found out that evening his father had even climbed with Scott Fis­ch­er him­self (swoon). We looked for­ward to spend­ing the next 2 weeks with Tim and could not wait to meet the rest of our group for the climb the next day. We retired to our tent and wel­comed the long night of sleep after our days of trav­el, but lit­tle did we know how many ani­mals would be wan­der­ing around our tent that night! Mon­keys were howl­ing and run­ning right next to our tent in addi­tion to water buf­fa­lo and baboons. It was just magical. 
The next morn­ing, we met the oth­er clients in our group as well as our lead guide, Ben. Ben has been guid­ing on Kil­i­man­jaro for decades and knows the moun­tain inside and out. He was by far the most jovial per­son I have ever met. His smile is infec­tious and the amount he cares for his clients far exceed­ed my expec­ta­tions for the climb. He gave us a his­to­ry les­son about the region, the peo­ple, the tra­di­tions, and the moun­tain. The more he talked the more every­one in our group became excit­ed about the climb that start­ed the next day. We did a day hike around camp to begin our acclima­ti­za­tion and came across gor­geous water­falls and majes­tic trees, I kept hav­ing to pinch myself that I was actu­al­ly out there and able to take all of this in! 
The next day was the begin­ning of the climb. We packed up and drove through the coun­try­side and saw vil­lages you read about in his­to­ry books. We made sev­er­al pit-stops to allow cat­tle and goats to cross the dirt road as we tra­versed clos­er and clos­er to Kil­i­man­jaro. We arrived at the gate of the moun­tain (one of the many entrances and trails that one can use to climb Kil­i­man­jaro) and hopped out of the car and geared up for the climb! 
The porters had lunch wait­ing for us pri­or to our offi­cial depar­ture and we met the head chef of the expe­di­tion, he pre­ferred to be called Doc” or the Doc­tor” which we quick­ly real­ized was because he was a mas­ter of his trade. His high-alti­tude cook­ing skills blew us away at every meal on the moun­tain for the next eight days. Doc was soft spo­ken but had the best gig­gle ever and boy could he cook! 
Right after lunch we met our per­son­al porters. I still keep in con­tact with Muham­mad to this day because he was so great! After climb­ing in the PNW cas­cades where we were respon­si­ble for car­ry­ing our 50 – 60 pound packs, set­ting up our camp­sites and tents, and cook­ing all our own meals it was such a treat to be able to step back and have some help with gear and tents on a week long climb. As much as we insist­ed on car­ry­ing more weight and help­ing with the camps our team of porters flew ahead of us on the trails and had the camp set up long before any of the clients arrived. It was unbe­liev­able to see how much weight the local porters could car­ry at high alti­tude and how much they enjoyed doing it. 
The next 7 days were noth­ing short of incred­i­ble. The acclima­ti­za­tion sched­ule that Moun­tain Mad­ness uti­lizes pret­ty much guar­an­tees a suc­cess­ful sum­mit, even for indi­vid­u­als that come in from sea lev­el. Not once did we have any ill­ness or dis­com­fort while climb­ing up in ele­va­tion. The fact that Doc kept our bel­lies full and we had more than enough water to stay hydrat­ed and to stave off any alti­tude issues was most cer­tain­ly ben­e­fi­cial. The hikes each day were bro­ken up and very man­age­able, even for the 70-year old gen­tle­man who was a client in our group!
Each day we would wake up, have a fan­tas­tic break­fast, pack our day packs and then head on up through the var­i­ous cli­mate zones. Some­thing that I did not real­ize before climb­ing this route was that Moun­tain Mad­ness clients are per­mit­ted to climb where oth­er peo­ple tak­ing the more tra­di­tion­al routes can­not climb. Aside from 2 days on our jour­ney, our crew was com­plete­ly alone and the only ones on the trail. It hon­est­ly felt as though we had the entire moun­tain to our­selves. This was tru­ly made appar­ent the night before our sum­mit attempt when we lit­er­al­ly camped in the sum­mit crater of Kil­i­man­jaro. We were sleep­ing right next to glac­i­ers – the only peo­ple sleep­ing that high up on the entire con­ti­nent of Africa; to this day, this site is my favorite camp that I have yet to encounter. 
Sleep­ing in the sum­mit crater is not only breath­tak­ing and a chance of a life­time, but also means that on sum­mit day you are only about 45 – 60 min­utes away from step­ping onto the roof of the African Con­ti­nent: Uhu­ru Peak. We were the first to sum­mit that day and the sec­ond you see that all too famil­iar sum­mit sign in the dis­tance I guar­an­tee the tears will start to flow. Being the only ones on the sum­mit of a pop­u­lar peak is a rare occa­sion but thanks to Moun­tain Mad­ness they real­ly did Make it Hap­pen”. We had time to rel­ish our accom­plish­ment, cel­e­brate with our team, and take as many damn pic­tures as we want­ed!! Sum­mit days are the best days! 
Final­ly, it was time to head back down the moun­tain, it is amaz­ing how fast you can descend 9000 feet in one day! The descent was very enjoy­able because it was dif­fer­ent from the way we came up, so all the ter­rain was new, and the sights were dif­fer­ent. We had one more sleep on the moun­tain and Doc cooked us a hell of a cel­e­bra­to­ry din­ner. We crawled into our tents one last night and rel­ished all that we had accom­plished that day. 
Our final morn­ing on the moun­tain was the most mem­o­rable for me, there was a cel­e­bra­tion with the team that is hard to put into words, you have to expe­ri­ence it for your­self. After that, we trekked out to the exit at the base of Kil­i­man­jaro. Just as when we had arrived at the moun­tain, the crew had a fan­tas­tic lunch (and sur­prise cham­pagne) wait­ing for us pri­or to hop­ping into the car to head­ing to a show­er! in addi­tion to the cham­pagne the shop at the gate also sells the infa­mous Kil­i­man­jaro beer (which we thought would be bad luck to drink pri­or to a sum­mit, but now it was time to drink up!). 
We said bye to the team that had tak­en care of us for the last 8 days on the moun­tain and head­ed to the hotel for some well-deserved show­ers!!! Every­one was still on cloud nine after the adven­ture we had just been on. We had one final cel­e­bra­tion with Tim and Ben, and I did not want to say good­bye to every­one! Jere­my and I were head­ed on safari the next morn­ing, but our two bud­dies we climbed with were head­ed out on flights that night and Tim and Ben were head­ing back home to their families. 
Trip of a life­time is an under­state­ment. I will cher­ish every moment. I would write about the safari por­tion after the climb but that might take up 100 more pages … I will let you know that going on safari is a must. It is the per­fect way to relax after climb­ing up that moun­tain! Jere­my and I felt as though we were in an adult play­ground for the next three days. 
It is safe to say that we blessed the rains in Africa (will that song be for­ev­er stuck in my head? I have no prob­lem with it if it is!). Imme­di­ate­ly after this incred­i­ble jour­ney we were quick to book our next trip with Moun­tain Mad­ness – Rus­sia any­one?? What’s next!!??
- Sarah Lee