Climbing Kili, “The Roof of Africa” in Tanzania… The trip of a Lifetime!

dsc_8740-copy Sunrise next to Kibo, Kilimanjaro (“The Roof of Africa”) from Baranco Camp

It has taken me a while to write this blog post, trying to come up with words that will do this trip I took justice. I still don’t think I can accomplish that, but I’ll give it my best shot…

Let me start out by saying that climbing/hiking/trekking to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa and the highest free standing mountain in the world (that one is particularly cool to say even if this mountain is nothing like other giants such as Everest) was never on my “bucket list” of things to do. The idea had quite frankly never crossed my mind. Despite that, when my Dad asked me if I wanted to go and do it with him and my sister, my immediate answer was yes. That was mostly because I wanted to do something this big and adventurous with them, and I think I needed to prove to myself that I was still capable of adventure. Several years before, the two of them did a trip to Everest Base Camp, and I was invited, but didn’t feel I could leave my (much younger) children for so long at that time. When this idea surfaced, I didn’t want to pass up another opportunity.

This trip surprised me in many ways, and ended up being more meaningful to me than I ever imagined possible.

First of all, these two were GREAT travel companions :). We got along wonderfully the entire time, enjoyed each other’s company, made each other laugh, and never once got on each other’s nerves…well they didn’t get on mine, but I guess I can’t be 100% sure that was mutual :).

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Having this time with them was absolutely priceless to me. I knew I would enjoy being with them on this adventure, but I don’t think I realized how very special it would become.

I thought that leaving my young children would cause complete panic for me. For 8 days of this 14 day trip, we were on a mountain where I had no ability to contact them at all–we were really completely cut off from the outside world (okay, let’s be real, our guides had satellite phones for emergencies if needed, but for practical purposes there was no texting, or phone calls, or checking in on Facebook). Instead of the overwhelming anxiety that I was anticipating, the opposite happened–I couldn’t do anything about it, so I let it go. I didn’t worry, and that’s big for me. It was a huge weight (that I had constantly put on myself) lifted. It allowed me to be very present and truly in the moment during the climb, enjoying the beauty of my surroundings, and the people around me. It was a freeing experience to be able to focus only on myself for that period of time, and I’m sure it made me a better Mom upon my return in many ways.

I had forgotten a huge part of who I was before I had kids. I loved to travel, I loved to camp/hike/backpack, I loved adventure. Having kids made me protective and cautious, and for a long time, honestly afraid to leave my comfort zone, or theirs. For a decade of my life, the adventurous side of me was put away, as my main focus was taking care of children and keeping them safe. I’m excited to rediscover pieces of my past, and hopefully instill a love for adventure and travel in my children as well.

First stop, Amsterdam airport :)…

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Next stop, Tanzania!!

After an two nights in Arusha (including a briefing and gear check with our guides), we began our journey by checking in at the Londorosi Gate (we were forewarned that this would take a while as our guides worked very hard to make sure everything was in order). This is the first trek of this kind I have taken, but I was very impressed with how well regulated everything was at the park. There are weight limits for porters, everyone must check in, and everything the tour groups bring into the park is documented so it can be accounted for again at the end of the journey to help make sure that trash is not left on the mountain.

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I could have sworn that I got a picture of our whole group of hikers together at the beginning (while we were still clean), but apparently only ended up with various groupings…I did get us all together at the end though…

From there, we went on to the Lemosho Gate where we officially started our climb. The first day was a half day hike through beautiful lush forest to Forest Camp, where we slept amongst the monkeys surrounded by trees :)…

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Day 2 of our trek started in the forest, which as far as just hiking goes, was my favorite part…

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Before long the scenery was changing. The trees were shrinking to shrubs, and although I missed the beauty of the forest, we were suddenly awarded amazing views–that just kept getting better as we got higher.

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For the first time, we could see a blanket of clouds below us, and this kind of view from above the clouds never got old to me, it fascinated me every single time.

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Then, around a curve came our first real view of the mountain…an exciting moment for us all, but I think we were all a little concerned with how far away it looked. We had to make our way around to the other side, and then climb it…in just a few short days.

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Our camp for night #2 was Shira 1, on a massive plateau. We had stunning views of the mountain, and started to feel the cold temperatures we were expecting even though our daytime hiking was still plenty warm…

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Sunrise on the morning of Day 3…

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These pictures show how quickly the landscape changed on this journey…the route we did took us through several different ecological zones–forest, moorland, and alpine desert to mention a few (thank you to our guides who were very knowledgable about all of this and shared tons of ecological/flora/fauna information with is along the way!).

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Here’s a little peak into how daily life went on (and around) the mountain…

We were served excellent food (thank you to the cooks on the team!) in a dining tent that was set up not only for dinner in the evening at camp, but also for lunch on the trail somewhere. That tepee like tent in the corner is the kitchen tent, and these guys did amazing things in that tiny space with limited tools!

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The “long drop” toilets are kind of infamous on the trail (holes in the ground that smell very bad), but we were spoiled with a portable toilet carried up the mountain for us and set up at every lunch and camp…

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And our home (my sister is pictured in the tent she and I shared) for the 8 days on the mountain…it was actually very comfortable and I never got sick of it :)!

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On day 3, we came across a very cool semi-cave in the rock that had more greenery than we had seen in a while on the trail…

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And our guides :)…these guys took such amazingly good care of us during the trip! I can’t speak highly enough of them…they always went above and beyond for us throughout the trek. Miss you guys :)!!

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And they weren’t the only ones who took good care of us. There was a whole crew of porters, cooks, and more who traveled up the mountain (much faster than we did), taking care of every detail for us. Here’s a look at (most of) the group of men who helped us get up the mountain (44 in all I believe, including our guides, for the 7 of us hiking in the group). On the right, they are welcoming us (with song and dance) to Moir camp for night #3. It was one of my favorite camps because of how few people were there from other groups…

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More amazing view of the mountain slowly getting closer at Moir Camp…

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And that evening, the sunset in front of us (with two lovebirds from our group making a nice silhouette :))…

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And 180 degrees behind us, the moon rising over Kili…

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The next day, the scenery continues to change, and the cloud blankets below us become more common…

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A very important rule to have that appears to have cleaned up the mountain a lot compared to previous reports I had heard about big problems with litter on the routes…

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Lava tower was our lunch spot today, on the coldest/cloudiest day yet…

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Many might assume that to climb this mountain, you have to go up, up, up. But that is not entirely the case. Our route took us through a great deal of elevation change, and often it meant going pretty far down too. This was really important to get us acclimated before our final ascent to the summit, giving us the best chance possible of making it to the top without feeling (too many) affects of altitude sickness…

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This is a pretty cool side note (thanks again to our guides for their knowledge on all things about this mountain and it’s inhabitants!)…this plant actually makes its own insulation in order to be able to survive at the higher altitudes we were now hiking at. You could actually see and feel it up close–like a downy coating, that I believe was inside it as well!

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Here you can see our camp for the night below as we approached…tons of colorful dots show how many people are camped here. We have now joined up with some of the more populated trails that lead to the summit and experience a lot more people for the rest of the way. This is not hike of solitude for sure, but that didn’t bother me as much as I thought it might…

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Baranco Camp was one of the most beautiful camps on our trip…the views were amazing of both the mountain, the valley, the clouds below, and Baranco Wall that we would climb the next morning…

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Baranco Wall was very crowded, and there was a lot of work by our guides to help us keep our position “in line” on the wall. If it hadn’t been for the crowds though, it would have been my favorite section of the climb. It was one of the most “technical” sections as we did some scrambling and pulling ourselves up on rocks. I don’t have any pictures of our ascent up the wall unfortunately, because I needed both hands to maneuver, but I do have some views from the top…

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My Dad once joked that he took a picture of the scenery he saw most on his trek to Everest Base Camp…his feet and the rocks on the ground. I had to include a similar shot from this trip, but I felt like the “pole, pole” approach (it means “slowly”, and they were serious about it) made it possible to take the time look up and enjoy everything around you. This slow approach was another method of helping to avoid altitude sickness as much as possible.

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The day we did Baranco Wall was one of the most challenging (besides summit night) portions of the trek, and we made it to lunch/camp later in the afternoon. This is where our group split as we had two different itineraries for summiting Kili. It was surprising how sad we were to see them go, but we would meet up again after summiting :)…

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Just an idea of what the porters did as we (and a lot of other hikers) headed out towards Barafu Camp…our last stop before the summit, our base camp…

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One of our last meals before summit night with our head guide Sauly :)…

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We left for the summit right around 11:30pm (we were supposed to sleep before hand, but really couldn’t sleep much, if any, from the excitement and anticipation). Our first landmark was Stella Point, which we reached right around sunrise (a very welcome sight after a long cold night of trekking), and then we hiked another hour plus to the true Summit…Uruhu Peak, 19,340 feet high, arriving at 7:45 in the morning.

I started to really feel the affects of the altitude somewhere on our way to Stella Point, and it increased consistently as we made our way to the summit. I wish I had felt better to enjoy this section more, but grateful for the help that got me to the top, and for Sauly taking my camera to get some pictures that would not have happened without him…and we all know how important pictures are to me :).

Photo credit to these images goes to Sauly (except the one he is in with us at the top, and I honestly have no idea who took that one!)…thank you!

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My favorite picture from the top (well, besides the ones showing us at the summit :))…such a cool shot with the glacier, the moon, and Mt. Meru in the background. Perfect artistic self portrait by Sauly…

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This is Steven (I hope I spelled his name right!), the porter who helped carry my day pack part of the way, and led me quickly down the mountain after summiting since I was feeling symptoms of altitude sickness…so grateful for all of his help!

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Then, far too quickly, summiting was over and we were heading down. We went up about 4,000 feet on summit night, and by the end of the day we would come down over 9,000 feet, having been awake for about 36 hours and hiking more than 15 of those hours. It was mentally and physically probably the hardest thing I’ve done, especially due to the cold (all of our water froze on the way up), and the altitude. And, I would love SO MUCH to do it again :). I can’t say enough, our guides and porters were amazing…they helped us eat when our fingers felt frozen, warmed our gloved hands with their bare ones, and never stopped encouraging us. They truly cared about us, and about us making it to the summit. It was very emotional to share this with them, and to know that we could not have done it without them.

A parting view of Kibo on our way down…

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The trip down was a little fuzzy…we were all tired, and I for one was a bit saddened knowing that each step down brought us closer to the end of the journey. I was excited that I was closer to seeing my family again, but I could not have anticipated how much I was going to miss the mountain and the people we met on it…

Mweka Camp, last night on the mountain…

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In the morning, we had our first of many goodbyes as the whole crew sang and danced for (and with) our whole group (now reunited) to celebrate our summit.

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The trip down brought us back through the lush forest…

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Cate and Skip :)…

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Fortunately none of us needed one of these (used for rescue off the mountain) to get down :)…

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And the end…

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But not before celebrating my sister’s birthday (yes, she voluntarily spent her birthday hiking down a mountain, which I think is pretty cool :)). They even made her a cake…I’m still not sure exactly how, but these guys could do anything. Did I mention they sewed my Dad’s hiking boots back together when the soles started coming off?!???

And, getting our certificates of completion, again to song and dance (but this time the dancing was by my Dad :))…

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Our very dirty group of 7 at the end :)…

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If climbing Kilimanjaro is not on your bucket list, I highly recommend you put it there. This was the most amazing journey of my life, and it has left me with an eagerness to trek more parts of the world, and eventually, to get back to this very special mountain. A HUGE thank you to all who helped make this dream (that I never even knew I had) into a reality and all of those that shared it with me. If you have any questions about planning your own trip to Kili, feel free to contact me! Coming soon…a blog post on our post-hike safari :)…

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The B Family Expecting Again :)… {The Woodlands, TX | Maternity Photographer}

This family is special to me not only because they are super sweet, but their sweet boy share’s my son’s name, and was born on my birthday :). Now their next baby is due, the same month as my son’s birthday…wouldn’t it be crazy if he was born the same day?! I feel like it’s fate that I get to work with this wonderful family, and I can’t wait to meet their newest addition! A few favorites from their maternity session…

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Mr. B’s 1 Year Session… {The Woodlands, TX | Baby and Family Photographer}

I absolutely love this family, and I still remember the first time I met them before baby #1 was even born :). I have loved watching their second child grow up just as much as their first, and it’s always a little bitter sweet when a Baby Program comes to an end. I hope to see these two handsome boys and their parents again as they grow! Oh, and I adore the shirts mom got for their session, so cute! A few favorites from Baby, ahem, Mr. B’s 1 Year Session…

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