Biking Kili for Clean Water, Day #6, Horombo Camp

17 03 2013

Horombo camp.  Like camping in Cloud City

Horombo camp. Like camping in Cloud City

Horombo camp sits at 12,000′.  This was perhaps the most beautiful camp yet.  The campground sits on top of a peninsula of rock, jutting out from the mountain.

Farewell Celebration

Farewell Celebration

In the morning, the porters and guides gathered for a farewell celebration for the climbers, singing songs, including my favorite tune, Akunamata (not the Elton John version).  The event was meaningful and moving, both groups, coming together from a world apart, having much to be thankful for from the other.  We were all choked up, and unable to hide the emotion behind our sunglasses.  These were folks who busted their asses day and night for us.  And now they were honoring us.  They ended with a song that loosely translates as ” You Shine.”

We rode down the Marangu route (known as the Coca Cola route), to the gate.  The route drops about 6,000′ over 12 miles. The terrain was very technical most of the way, with tricky rock gardens, big drop offs and 18′ water bars that traversed the trail all along the way.  The water bars often had a smoother path on the sides, but sometimes did not.  So you either dismounted and carried your bike over, or you committed to hop it.  Given the circumstance, Doug had instructed us to ride our ability, minus one.  But with yahoos like Stuart and Steve riding, it was hard to not try to clean all of it.   Following either of those guys on a line can be hazardous to your health.  Several of us went over the handlebars, but fortunately, we made it to the gate without significant (at least not permanent) injury.
 Mad props to Esther, who had only been on a mountain bike three times before coming on the trip. She went from being a novice trail rider on the first day to riding over drop offs and rock gardens by the last.  Also,  Natalie, who became the first teenager to ever ride Kilimajaro when she joined us or the ride from Kibo to Horombo.
Strava descent from Uhuru Summit to Kibo.

http://app.strava.com/activities/44245132

Lots of great folks on the trip.  It was an honor and a pleasure to make this journey with them all.   We raised almost half a million dollars to help bring clean water to this wonderful country and its beautiful people.

For the bike geeks,who might care, the Bonty specs are as follows:

Bontrager Race Light Frame, circa 1996

Single speed conversion with a Philcentric eccentric bottom bracket

Race face Deus Cranks, 34 tooth chainring

Singleworks cog, 22 Tooth

Rock Shox SID Fork, with progressive spring conversion (air cartridge removed).  1″ steerer (ugh)

Avid 7  rim brakes and levers

Race Face Deus Stem

Easton Carbon Monkey riser bar

Ergon Grips

KORE seatpost, 26.8

WTB Rocket SLT saddle

Vuelta Zero Lite (Misnomer, these things are tanks) wheels.  Flat Attack pre-injected tubes

Garmin 500 bike computer





Biking Kili for Clean Water, Day #6. Summit Day.

12 03 2013

Approach to Kilimajaro Summit at Day Break.

Approach to Kilimajaro Summit at Day Break. This stunning photo courtesy of Mark M.

Kili Death March

Kili Death March

The ascent to the summit started at midnight.  We had our briefing earlier in the evening with Ake.  Keep food and water accessible and near your body to keep from freezing. He also recommended 3 layers on the bottom, and 5 layers on the top.  Plus, layers in your backpack. Sounded a little overboard, but as it turned out later, those layers would be appreciated.

We slowly made our way out of Kibo camp.  The pace was unfathomably slow.  This was intentional, since we had to climb 3500′, and we were trying to stay together as a group.  Countless switchbacks line the mountainside, and the false summit looks impossibly far.  It’s hard to make that kind of effort and not have some issues.  The altitude was affecting our group early on.   I was doing the climb without Diamox, which can help with altitude acclimatization.  But I was feeling strong despite that, as I had the previous days.  I made rounds up and down the line, making sure people were doing okay.  Even though I encouraged them to let me know about even the slightest ailment, this group was tough, and people rarely spoke up about anything unless I asked them about it.   At 17,000′, Natalie began vomiting and had a raging headache.  I gave her some Zofran and Compazine, hoping that a part of this was a migraine headache.  I went ahead to check on Brian, who was having a rough time himself.  He was dehydrated, shivering and cramping badly.  I asked the line leader to slow the pace down, but Brian wouldn’t have it.  He wanted to keep pushing on.  When I looked back down the line, I could only barely make out the lights from Natalie’s headlamp.  She was way back, and not moving up the trail.  I backtracked down, and found her surrounded by Ake, Joe (her father), and two other guides.  She was still vomiting, and her headache was no better.  Ake felt like it was time to pull the plug, her Acute Mountain Sickness was too severe.  I agreed, and we decided to have her go down with Gabriel, one of the senior guides.  Joe wanted to go back with her, but she was insistant that he continue on.  They had an emotional goodbye before Joe and I headed back up toward the rest of the group, which was well ahead on the mountain. By the time we started back up, the group was about 40 minutes ahead.  We walked in step with the remaining guide, Urubu, and tried to make up the distance.  After about 20 minutes, I looked up and realized we were almost caught up, which was great except for the fact that that meant we had been going faster than I meant to.  I asked Urubu to slow it down.  Joe and I had burned a lot of matches in those 20 minutes.  Hopefully, not too many.
As we got up to around 18,000′, I began to feel sleepy.  We hadn’t slept that night, and it was 4am, so it seemed reasonable that I should want to take a nap. But the sleepiness kept getting worse as we ascended. I remember Ryn having the same problem the time we tried to climb Mount Shasta years ago.   Now I know how she was feeling that day.  At Kibo Camp, which sits at 16,000′, my O2 Saturation was 82%.  My hypoxic brain at 18,000′ was begging to take a break.
Near the Summit

Near the Summit

The slow pace would often grind to a halt if a tricky section came up.  I found myself closing my eyes, and actually sleeping briefly while standing.  Soon, any burst of exertion was accompanied by a wave of nausea.  On top of that, the temperatures dropped and the wind picked up.  By the time we got into Gilman’s Point, many in the group were nearly hypothermic.  It was hard to generate internal heat after the night’s long effort.  Standing around was not an option, so many went ahead to, if nothing else, keep warm.  I gathered myself to push on, but Jenn was worried about Larry, the other doc on the trip.  She said he was having a tough time.  So I went back to Gilman’s to check on him.  Went I got there, I didn’t find Larry, but instead, Brian was there, sitting on a rock.  Ake was with him, and they were both silent when I approached. Brian was dehydrated and very weak.  He was pale and had a blank stare on his face.  He had miraculously made it to 19,000′, but couldn’t go on.  I stood with him for a while, trying to encourage him to at least come to Stella point to “ring that f*cking bell”, but he was done.  He made it 90% of the way, through the hardest part of the climb, but had nothing left for the last push.  I choked up a bit as we all stood there motionless.  We had to arrange to send him down the mountain.  I watched him slowly make his way back down the mountain with two of our guides, then turned, and again found myself well off the back. I hustled to catch up, but I couldn’t move very fast.

Later on, back at Kibo,  Stuart and Steve mimicked my wide-based, stumbling gait at the top.   Above Gilman’s, I was thankful no one had asked me to dress their blisters or do anything that required a brain. At the time, it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other.  Stuart was waiting for me at Stella point, the last meeting point before the Uhuru summit.  He took my frozen water bottle from me, and stuck it in his jacket to try to thaw it.  I was too cold to care about eating, but Stuart made me force down a couple of Clif blocks, which I was too tired to chew.  So I tucked them into my cheek for a few minutes before finally spitting them out near the summit.
Joseph and I at Stella Point

Joseph and I at Stella Point

The bike porters, who left camp after us, had passed us on the trail before Gilman’s and deposited our bikes just before the summit, so we could ride the last bit to Uhuru.  Joseph, along with the other porters, were waiting for us in 20 degree weather, and that doesn’t account for wind chill, which was plenty.  The fortitude of these guys is unbelievable.  They wore suboptimal clothing, and carried our bikes on their backs to the summit, only to freeze their butts off as we struggled to catch up.  Joseph was waiting for me just before the summit with a big, toothy smile on his face.  He had my extra layers for me, which he helped me put on since my cold fingers couldn’t operate the zippers. The absurdity of someone carrying my bike to the top, so that I could ride it down, was eminent at lower altitude, but at 19,000+’, I was thankful to not have had to carry it myself.  Some of the other porters were clearly in rough shape.  They were not prepared for the extreme cold.  One of them was using an old pair of cotton socks as mittens. Matt O. searched through his pack and offered his balaclava, extra gloves and jacket to them.  Big ups to Matt for his generosity and being able to recognize that those guys were in need of help.

Glaciers at the top

Glaciers at the top

The top of Kilimanjaro is breathtaking.  What looks like a dusting of snow from the base, is actually a series of massive glaciers.  I rode the last 300 yards to the summit on the Bonty, which was coated in a layer of frost.  The last bit pitches upward.  I didn’t care how I felt, I wanted to ride to the top.   By the time I stepped off the bike at Uhuru, I was gasping for air and seeing stars.  At the top, I took the requisite photos, and soaked in the views as much as my dizzy, hypoxic brain could consume.  Some of our group, Steve, Esther, Austin, and I, mounted up, and began the historic descent down Mount Kilimanjaro.  We passed a number of other climbers, who looked curiously at our bikes, no doubt wondering if they were really watching people descend Kili on bicycle, or they were just hallucinating.  We left our bikes at Stella and glissaded half way down the mountain to a point where it was rideable again.  Joseph hiked my bike down, and was waiting for me when I arrived.  Did I mention what badasses these guys are?

We descended the loose scree to Kibo, drifting our bikes around the switchbacks. There was a welcoming party at camp, and we toasted the successful summit and the guides and porters who got us there.
Me and Bonty on top of Kilimanjaro

Me and Bonty on top of Kilimanjaro

We napped in our tents at Kibo, then rode down to Horombo camp at 12,000′.  Ema bought a couple of 6 packs of Kilimanjaro Beer, and we celebrated the historic ride on Kilimanjaro.
2013 Kilimanjaro Summit Team.  This was the first ever sanctioned ride on Kili.

2013 Kilimanjaro Summit Team. This was the first ever sanctioned ride on Kili.





Biking kili for Clean Water, Day #5. Kibo Camp.

11 03 2013

The Kili biking crew posing with Kilimanjaro summit in the background.

The Kili biking crew posing with Kilimanjaro summit in the background.  From the left: Me, Steve, Esther, Matt, Jenn, Ema, Doug, Dave, Chris, Stuart, Mark, Austin.

Today, we headed toward Kibo, the last camp before summit. We hiked out as a group, then the bikers mounted their steeds for the approach through the saddle to Kibo, which sits at 16,000”.  The giddiness from being back on our bikes was tempered by the climb out of the saddle, gaining about 1700′.  Ake mandated all of us to dismount and hike the last mile.  It wasn’t a necessary directive, since all of us had burned through more than enough matches already by that point.
Despite the Halo, Kili is no Angel

Despite the Halo, Kili is no pushover.

I hung out with the back of the group for a while on the hike to Kibo.  Then I went ahead to check on Brian, who was suffering from a nasty GI bug.  He persevered through the hike and limped into camp.  But he was drained.  We started him on antibiotics, and Imodium.  But even after 3 liters of fluids, he was still feeling pretty bad and hadn’t yet had the urge to pee.  Fortunately, he took a nap, and started to turn the corner. He was able to eat some solids for dinner, and I’m hopeful he will continue to rally.
Truth is, lots of folks are feeling rough.  After getting into camp, I attended to several folks before finally having a chance to sit down.  At that point, I realized I was feeling pretty tired.  After lunch, I took a much needed nap.  Feeling a good bit better now.  At the evening vitals check, I was surprised to see myself at 82% oxygen saturation. In fact, many of the group is in the 80’s.  I’d be curious to see what we are at the summit, but then again, I may not want to know.
Trail leading out from Kibo Camp

Trail leading out from Kibo Camp

The entire saddle sits under the massiveness of Kilimanjaro.  The exposed terrain allowed for a superb view of the summit.  The hardest leg is next.  We head out from camp at midnight tonight.  We have around 3550′ of climbing ahead of us. The plan is to stick together until around 4am, at which point we will likely be at the bottom of the switchbacks to the false summit of Gilman’s.  Some of the stronger hikers and climbers will be given the green light to go ahead at that point. We hope to scatter the staff and guides among the group.  Ake and I discussed logistics, and we will try to have a doc in each group if we get separated.  He prefers that I stay behind with the slower group, since I will likely be strong enough to make a push for a quick summit if the turnaround time is near.  Truth is, even the best laid plans don’t hold up to the unknown that lies ahead.

Go time in 4 hours.  Time to rest.
Bikes ready for Kili

Bikes ready for Kili

Kili bikers taking a break

Kili bikers taking a break

High Fives and feelin' good. Mawenzi in the background

High Fives and feelin’ good. Mawenzi in the background

Camping below Kili

Camping below Kili

Thanks to Matt, Austin, and Dr. Larry for some of these photos

 

 





Biking kili for Clean Water, Day #4, Mawenzi Camp Acclimatization

10 03 2013

Mawenzi Camp.

Mawenzi Camp.

Today was an acclimatization day.  We slept at Mawenzi camp, at 14,100′, and went out for a morning hike, which was virtually straight up the mountain.  In previous days, we did a lot of starting and stopping, but today, the idea was to keep a slow, steady march up the mountain.  This was practice for the final summit push.  If we did a lot of stopping, we would get too cold.  So if you had to potty or get something from your pack, or whatever, you step off trail and let the rest of the group by.  We climbed over 1000′ feet in less than a mile.

There was an optional hike beyond that, taking us to around 16,000′.  The group

Hike to Mawenzi

Hike to Mawenzi

was about evenly split on who went, and who went back to camp.

 For the folks who went on, Ake took us to a keyhole that was only accessible via a trailess scree field.  The final approach was loose and steep.  Everyone but Ake chickened out.  The descent was entertaining as a we made a controlled glissade (reckless semi-freefall) straight down the scree field.
Ake pointing out the Keyhole.  He was the only member of the party brave enough to make the technical climb to the keyhole.  It was sketchier than it looks.  Steve kept his pack on "in case [he] pinwheeled down the mountain.

Ake pointing out the Keyhole. He was the only member of the party brave enough to make the technical climb to the keyhole. It was sketchier than it looks. Steve kept his pack on “in case [he] pinwheeled down the mountain.”

Today, the cumulative exertion and altitude appears to be catching up to a couple of the climbers.  But overall, the group is doing well.  I’ve been busy treating the various ailments you would come to expect with an adventure like this.  Headache, cough, & diarrhea are the big three.  If you have one or more of those, you are in good company.  At this point in the game, it is par for the course.
The evening hike was a dress rehearsal for summit day.  We were all given instructions from Ake on clothing and gear.  Three layers on bottom, 5 on top, extra warm layers, easily accessible water and food.  Most of the climbers are using a hydration bladder.  You need to use an insulating sleeve on the hose, or it will freeze.  I am using water bottles, so have to keep them near my body to keep them from freezing.
Today was the first day we had nasty weather.  Thick sleet came pouring down on our tents, which needed to be shaken off, otherwise, they would break from the weight.  Our evening dry run turned out be a wet one, but a nice test of our gear.
In the morning, we head for Kibo, which sits at 16,000′.  Last camp before our summit push.  Here’s video of my favorite Camp song, Jambo Bwana (Hakuna Matata):
Tomorrow, we ride.
Mawenzi Camp Cairn

Mawenzi Camp Cairn





Biking kili for Clean Water, Day #3, Mawenzi Camp

9 03 2013

Mawenzi in the distance.  Camp 3 was at the base of this peak.

Mawenzi in the distance. Camp 3 was at the base of this peak.

Not unexpectedly, The night was certainly colder than previous nights.  At one point, I woke up and thought it was daylight.  I stepped outside only to realize that the nearly full moon was high in the sky, and casting enough light down to make my way around camp without my headlamp.  I slept about 7 hard hours.  At this altitude, I’ll take it.

Today was a relatively short day.  We climbed from Kikelewa to Mawenzi, gaining approximately 2000′.  Our camp is at 14,100′.  We climbed very slowly, and took frequent breaks.  It was an easier day than yesterday.  Like yesterday, we were greeted by song and dance.  The porters and guides have amazing spirits.  They treat us like royalty.

The porters prefer to carry heavy loads on their heads. Amazingly, able to balance the load with no hands!

The porters prefer to carry heavy loads on their heads. Amazingly, able to balance the load with no hands!

After settling in, I brought out the mini football that I’ve been schlepping up the mountain this whole time.  We invited the porters to join in the toss and throw.  Soon, there were quite a number of porters and climbers chucking the ball all over the campsite.  The thin air made for some serious distance throws.
We rested in the afternoon, but sleep was not allowed since it would inhibit acclimatization.  We went on a short hike up to about 14,700′ in the evening.  It was odd being higher than any mountain in Colorado, and still feeling good.  I am not taking Diamox to help acclimate.  How very Boulder, going au naturale. Turns out I’m the only climber not taking it this trip.

Another foggy approach into Camp.  We are walking in clouds at this altitude

Another foggy approach into Camp. We are walking in clouds at this altitude

Matt O., came up with a rap dedicated to me. Pretty hilarious.
An excerpt:
“If you think you gotta poo, and you don’t know what to do, DR. WU!
If your poo is kinda runny, and your tummy’s feelin’ funny, DR. WU!”
You get the point.  Headache, cough, and yes, diarrhea are the ailments du jour.
Acclimatization day tomorrow, so we stay in Mawenzi Camp for another day. More to come.

Another welcome celebration at Camp

Another welcome celebration at Camp

A little vanity with Bonty at 14,000'

A little vanity with Bonty at 14,000′





Biking Kili for Clean Water, Day #2, Kikilewa Camp.

8 03 2013

Kili Summit in the distance

Kili Summit in the distance

Aaah! sleep!  I finally got a proper night’s sleep last night. Almost 8 hours. It was a Christmas miracle.  A synthetic sleeping bag and musty tent somehow procured a better night’s rest than white linens and climate controlled A/C.

We had foot clinic this morning, and got everyone patched up.  Folks were in good spirits again.  Except for stepping out of my tent funny, and tweaking my back, I felt strong and energetic.
Day 2 hike. Kili in the backgroundDay 2 is quite rocky and challenging terrain.  Ake made the decision to have everyone stay off the bikes, instead of trying to ride any of it. We all stayed together as a group, hiking through the loose and narrow goat paths up to Kikelewa Camp. The trail was up and down (mostly up).  It would have been a tough bike, and I think it would have beaten up a lot of the riders, so hiking was definitely a good decision. Most of the first half of the hike was warm and sunny. But today, we finally started to see and feel the type of weather you would expect at altitude. the last few hours of the hike was shrouded in fog and a surreal mist blew across the mountainside.  The mist was both beautiful, and eerie.
About midway through, I could see signs of fatigue in some people’s faces and in their gait. The pace was quite slow, but being on our feet for 6-7 hours was taxing.  Many of the group had never done anything like this before, and most of them live at altitudes not far above sea level.  Steve and I have been suffering from a monstrous case of HAFE.  High Altitude Flatulence Expulsion.  And when I say suffering, I mean, I’ve been suffering from his, and he’s been suffering from mine. We alternate who walks behind, but sometimes the wind blows the wrong way . . . .
Kikilewa Camp shrouded in fog

Kikilewa Camp shrouded in fog

Kikelewa Camp is at 12,100′.  As we made our final approach toward the camp, we could here singing.  The porters and camp workers had all gathered together to sing traditional African songs.  They serenaded us as we straggled into camp, and lifted our spirits.  These were folks who humped all our gear up the mountain, including bikes, several hours ahead of us.  They had camp all set up, and a hot meal on the stove before we were even within eyesight of camp.  And then they had the energy to sing for us and cheer us on into our last push into camp.  The camp was shrouded in fog, and a cool breeze blew through.  Collectively,  it  was beautiful and inspirational.

Our welcoming party at Camp 2. Singing traditional songs

Our welcoming party at Camp 2. Singing traditional songs. The little guy in the white jacket (named Tall), led the singing and celebration.

The group is starting to get a few more ailments. Coughs, colds, headaches.  Nothing unexpected, but the exertion and altitude are beginning to take their toll.  everyone’s oxygen saturation is still 90 or above, and it seems that everyone is still eating and drinking.  it only gets harder from here, so I’m trying to be vigilant about checking on everyone’s health. Some are doing great, some less so.  Still, not a single complainer among them.  This is a good crew on all counts.  Feeling really glad to be a part of it all.
Tomorrow, we climb to over 14,000′, and stay there for an extra day to acclimatize.
More to come.

Stuart guarding the bikes. Bonty at the front.

Stuart bonding with the bikes. Bonty at the front.





Biking Kili for Clean Water, Day #1

7 03 2013

rongai gateWe left Arusha this morning excited to get on the mountain.  We traveled to the north side of Kili to a route known as Rongai.  It is an additional 90 minutes of driving, but the ruote is mostly used by locals, and not many of them.  Given the nature of our trip, it was felt that we would be better off avoiding Mangaru, known as the Coca Cola Route, since it is the most popular and crowded route.  The group ate a light lunch at the gate, which site at 6000′.  I spent that time organizing my supplies, and making rounds with Boniface (Boni) to check everyone’s baseline pulse ox , heart rate, and liters of water consumed for the day.  Each biking climber is assigned two porters, one to carry your large duffel, and one assigned to your bike. James is my duffel porter.  He can’t weigh more than 130 pounds, but he’s strong like bull.  Joseph is assigned to my bike.  He is also slight of build, but he is considered one of the top porters, getting the nod to shoulder the bike, which is a special, and to this point unheard of, privilege. He would be instrumental in the days ahead, but for today, he didn’t have much to carry.

Drew told me that when he led cycling trips across Italy with Davis Phinney and Connie Caprenter, the guides’ instructions were to never allow a client to win.  Seems odd, but the reasoning was that the guides were expected to be elite riders,which makes sense.  Otherwise, why would you pay someone to guide you when they can’t keep up?  The range of riding ability in the clientele was wide.  From Esther, who had ridden a mountain bike three times before this trip, to Matt

rongai gate, bikers ready to roll

rongai gate, bikers ready to roll

O, who is signed up for the BC Bike Race this summer. The initial path from the trailhead was steep, loose, and technical.  For the sake of conserving energy, all the clients hiked this section.  As for Jenn, Stu, Steve, and I, well, we were there as guides.  So we rode out from the gate, and cleaned that section, despite the warnings and admonition from Ake that we needed to keep things in check.  Gotta show em a little magic, you know?

After the initial rough section, the trail smoothed out a bit, though it did consistently climb for the duration, and there were still quite a number of technical bits.  The trail snaked through dense forest, and the warm, humid air was a stark contrast to the thin atmosphere to come. Many of the riders wisely chose to walk sections, which we encouraged.  Ake was already concerned that some folks were burying themselves too early.  Rongai camp #1 sits at 8000′.  Ake grimaced as many of the group exerted themselves well beyond the threshold he had planned for the day.  But we all made it to Rongai Camp intact, though a little sweaty.

The group is in good spirits, and we are all excited for the days to come.  The only treatments I needed to administer so far were moleskin for blisters and bandages for Steve, who sliced open his toe on a lava rock at a potty stop on the bus ride over.  Evening rounds confirmed everyone’s good health, and we all hit the sack early.








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