Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Climax!

JANUARY 15-School Hut Camp


Looking from inside my tent at Third Cave Camp in the morning, at Staci's tent, with Mount Kilimanjaro, the goal, in the background. 


A few other campers below us at Third Cave Camp. 


Mount Mawenzi views were impressive. 


On the climb, from Three Cave Camp to School Hut Camp, we ran across this African Buffalo carcus. Buffalo apparently come up this high during mating season. He got stuck in the little cave in the background and died. Folks pulled the carcass out so he's easier to see , and probably to get the rack. This happened two years ago. There's still hair on it, and smell associated with it. 


Once we got to School Hut Camp Staci and I went up another 500' to adjust some to altitude and get ready for the big climb. It was my first chance ever to go over 16000'. Up this high it starts looking like a moonscape. 

Camping for the night at School Hut Camp, 15500'.  


JANUARY 16-THIS IS IT!

The plan was to leave at 5:00 a.m., but we were ready early. It was tough to sleep. 

A four thousand foot climb, starting at 15500' sounded daunting. We went slowly. 


A beautiful sunrise over Mawenzi helped spirits. 


The view of Mawezi continued to impress as we climbed. 


As we got higher, we encountered some snow. 


A few impressive glaciers, but apparently much smaller than they were just a decade or two ago. 

Many folks were having a tough time on this hike. 


Our guide and asst guide with Staci and me at the top. 

Staci did twenty push-ups on the summit. She keeps up on her 100 push-ups per day. 

It really was a wonderful feeling to reach the top. Staci's accomplished the incredible feat of hiking every step from the Indian Ocean to the top of Kilimanjaro


JANUARY 17-Slow, Easy Descent

Because we summited one day earlier than planned, our descent was easier. We took two days to get down instead of the originally planned one. 


It started with an easy stroll along a huge saddle between Mawenzi and Kilimanjaro. 


And one more view of Kilimanjaro. 

Camped for the night at 10100'. 

Some lessons learned:

-Suntactics solar charger worked great 
-InReach satellite contact was invaluable
-There was not a need for walkie talkies
-I love dried coconut milk 
-Swahili is a fun language 
-Stay out of villages named Uru
-My daughter, Ashley's, sleeping bag is much warmer than mine. I'm glad I had it
-Being called Old Man (Mzee) is considered a complement. 
-Language barriers are frustrating. Charades is a universal language. 
-I have a love/hate relationship with air mattresses. Right now I hate them.  
-The most challenging part of this trip was logistics and dealing with bureaucracies
-I did not need five pairs of gloves
-I did not need 16 days of food for an 8 day trip on Kilimanjaro. 
-Even though I think I'm slow, many/most people are slower
-I am so impressed with Staci. She is so tough, in all ways. I'm lucky to have been part of her journey. In the end I hiked about 674 km of Staci's 808 km trek with her. 


JANUARY 18-End of This Trail




In five days I'll be back in the US. Staci will head to Uganda for a week of kayaking on the upper reaches of the Nile. This has been quite an adventure. I'm ready to be home. 

Goodbye. Thank you for keeping up on our journey. Ken

Kilimanjaro Begins

JANUARY 11-Londerossi Gate, and Starting the Climb

We returned to Londerossi Gate, where our last steps were, to continue the final leg of the journey. 

Staci carries all her own gear. I'm not a purest, so I hired a porter to assist in carrying my gear. With that in mind, I wasn't very weight conscious when getting ready. The porters can only carry 15 kg, about 33 lbs, plus 5 kg of their own gear. 

I didn't have a scale, so I had no idea how much I was bringing. The bag I had for the porter was quite a bit overweight. All the extra was put in my backpack. My backpack went up to 45 lbs, ~20kg. The weight has the potential of making the trip up Kilimanjaro more challenging. The good news is a lot of the weight is food.  I didn't have lightweight backpacking food. I started eating until I about popped to reduce pack weight. 

At camps along the way they have scales, to ensure nobody puts extra weight on the porters.  This means I may be able to use the scales to check my pack weight along the way.  

Staci's pack weighed in at 55 lbs. If she were a porter she wouldn't be allowed to carry her pack!  

A liter of water spilled out of a container in my pack on the way to Londerossi Gate, getting everything wet. It wasn't a great way to start the trip. 


We road walked to get to Lemosho Gate. At this point we saw quite a gathering of folks, all heading to the same place.

Even with the weight, and the elevation gain, we made good time. Once we got to the camp we were amazed at the hubbub of activity. 


Everyone had to sign in when arriving at camp. 



The pictures don't do justice to the activity at the camp. I counted 75 tents, there could have been more. Staci and I estimated about 200 people, we were told later it may have only been about 150. It had the feel of a little city. 

Like Mount Meru, everyone else is being catered to, and Staci and I are cooking for ourselves, getting our own water, setting up our own tents, etc.  And more significantly, she's carrying all her own stuff, and I'm carrying more than half of mine. All the other porters are more than impressed with what Staci is doing. Our guide related to Staci the porters wanted to "salute her" for what she was doing. 

Cooler temperatures were in the air, which was expected as this camp is at 9182' elevation.  

We have fun practicing our Swahili. 


JANUARY 12-Ahead of the Pack

It rained a bit, and the wind blew, through the night. In the morning it was nice. Perfect timing for a small storm. 

Because we are the only small group, it's easier for us to get going. We left just after 7:30 a.m..  All the other groups were behind us for the day. 


Staci doing her push ups. She's been consistently doing 100 per day. 


We don't know the significance of these rock cairns, but folks put a lot of effort into them. Our Asst. Guide, Kefazi, and me horsing around. 


Shira One camp. The mass of tents are the fancy outfits. We are the three little tents to the bottom left of the Park Service outpost. We got there first, they all avoided us for some reason :). 

Today was simply a hike, headed uphill.  There was nothing technical. The Lemosho Route, which is the one we chose, is longer than all others up Mount  Kilimanjaro. The advantage is there is less chance of altitude sickness. We're only picking up a couple thousand feet of elevation each day.  The trail is well maintained. There aren't as many at this camp as last night's camp. 

We finished the day's hike before noon. It was nice to cook an afternoon meal. I'm still eating a lot trying to reduce food weight. There is no way I can eat all I carried.

I asked the Park Service employee at the sign in building if he would like some food, he said yes. When I showed up with my assortment, and quantity, he was obviously thrilled. Giving him some extra food was a clear win-win situation. I got a huge hug. 

Clouds around the mountain obscured any great views. 

Camped for the night at Shira One Camp, 11,492'. 


JANUARY 13-Splitting From The Pack


Sunrise and Mount Kilimanjaro greeted us. Our route is to the left of the peak in this picture, roughly following the horizon. A long, slow, approach. We will veer off the most common route to the north of the mountain. We took the West Route, and then the North Route. We eventually will spiral around the mountain, always getting higher, from where we first entered Tanzania. 

Ice covered the tents as we got moving. Even so, we again got out of camp at nearly 7:30. The rest of the camp wasn't as quick. It was the last we saw of the masses.

We went further than the original plan. Everyone was feeling good. It will help make some future days easier. 


It was a long, gentle gain of a couple thousand feet elevation. At the highest point of the day we were at 14,300'. 

We camped for the night at 13,400. Theoretically we're supposed to hike high and camp low. It worked out perfectly for us. 

Staci and I both started with headaches. They got better as the day went on. The approach we're taking actually has us dropping a little elevation. This will help with our getting adjusted.

We started the hike three days ago with hoards of hikers. This night we just had the three tents, and the six of us. This is much more to our liking. We aren't taking the common route, so it's much more sane...but a little longer. 

We were in our sleeping bags by 5:30 p.m., mostly because it's the only warm place. 

JANUARY 14-Short, Easy, Sunny Day


Staci's tent with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background. There was no need for an early start. Ice had to melt from the tents so we wouldn't have to dry things out in the middle of the day. Started hiking around 9::00 a.m..


Staci with another peak, Mawenzi, in the background. It's another major peak south and east of Mount Kilimanjaro. 


A short day hiking. We got pretty good distance because we didn't gain any elevation. Actually lost elevation, but we got around the mountain to Third Cave Camp on the Rongai Route.  We have pictures of the mountain from all sides! 

Because we've tied in with the Rongai Route there are other people at the camp for the night. 

Getting water was a challenge. It was quite a walk downhill. 

My new sleeping pad is like an old thermarest, and is supposed to be self inflating. It doesn't work. The valve is faulty. The pad itself provided adequate insulation for warmth, but no comfort. Staci's air mattress has a slow leak. Air mattresses and sleeping pads are a weak link. 

Camped for the night at about 12,980'. 



Saturday, January 10, 2015

Preparing to Climb Mount Kilimanjaro

JANUARY 8-Piki Piki Ride-Getting from Momella Lodge to Arusha

At the beginning of this trip I would not have felt confident taking convoluted public transportation to get around. Confidence changes with experience. 

Momella Lodge is isolated. We needed to get from Momella Lodge back to our home base in Arusha. The quandary we faced was the most direct route from Momella Lodge passed through Arusha National Park. Tanzania residents don't have to pay, or pay very little, to go through the park. Staci and I would have to pay the full fee, $45 USD apiece, to go through the park, plus taxi or bus fares. 

The taxi driver we previously hired quoted us a $70 USD price to retrieve us from Momella Lodge. It would have cost us more than $160 USD to get from Momella Lodge to our hotel in Arusha. This is about 40 km as the crow flies.  After conversations with quite a few folks, we finally came up with an alternative. 

The clerk at the desk at Momella Lodge didn't understand much English, but she understood we were frugal. Our day's journey started with piki piki (motorcyle) rides of about ten kilometers to the nearest village of Ngare Nanyuki. 


While we waited for the piki pikis to show up, we were entertained by this giraffe frolicking. Mount Kilimanjaro is in the background. 


While first in Tanzania we noticed many folks on piki pikis used helmets, it doesn't happen in rural areas. We hired two piki pikis. Nobody local would have done this. They would have put two passengers and two backpacks on a single piki piki without thinking twice about it. 

You may notice Staci's driver is wearing a Denver Bronco ball cap. American logos and clothes are present everywhere we have travelled. A young girl in town, who has probably never seen a mzungu before, is seen wearing a Hannah Montana top and it seems normal. A guy wears a Gators Lady Softball t-shirt and undoubtably doesn't know what softball is, or that the Gators are from Florida, or that Florida even exists. One of my favorite shirts was a political advertisement for Coroner for Cherokee County, Oklahoma. 

The clerk at the desk was a saint. She caught on that Staci and I were very nervous about the piki piki ride. She must have threatened them. They drove safer than any piki piki drivers we have seen. She also told them of our plan to catch the bus in Ngare Nanyuki that went to Arusha via King'ore. 

They stayed with us until the right bus showed up. My driver met with one of the bus employees who gave us the thumbs up, he knew what our plan was. Staci and I aren't always huge tippers, unless folks deserve it.  These drivers deserved their tips. 

The bus ride was about three hours. We went through beautiful, rural areas. We would stop at villages and pick up, and drop off, passengers. 


It's a little difficult to tell from this picture, but this woman is bringing a live chicken onto the bus. This is normal. 

We sat in the far back of the bus, on purpose. One time Staci and I were put in the very front of the bus, and we were both terrified. It's most fun watching the reactions of children when they see a mzungu on the bus. They are fascinated, and so cute. Mzungu is not a derogatory term, it's a matter of fact term. They say "jambo mzungu," or "shikamoo mzungu" and they're being respectful and polite. 

As the bus stopped in Arusha the regular herd of taxis were lined up. The first driver headed straight for us. About a week ago we took a nearly identical taxi ride and were charged 3000 Tsh (~$2 USD). We expected to pay about the same. The driver quoted us 60,000 Tsh. I laughed and started walking away. Staci, assuming he made a mistake, offered to pay (in Swahili!) elfu tatu, 3000 Tsh. He responded with elfu nne (4000 Tsh). She accepted.  

Instead of paying $160 USD to get from Momella Lodge to our hotel, we spent 18,000 Tsh, less than $12 USD. 

We had been told it's better to negotiate in Swahili, it appears to be true. 

We had to direct him through town to our hotel, it was easy once we found the clock tower in the middle of town.  The clock tower in the middle of Arusha has significance. It's the halfway point between Capetown, South Africa and Cairo, Egypt. 

Humorously, we were asked a few days before, at the Momella Gate, if we were Tanzanian residents!  Our Swahili must be getting better. I don't think it has anything to do with our tans. 

It feels so good to be back at our home base. 


JANUARY 9-Shopping and Preparing-and Being Lazy

We had our lists, and now we have the lay of the land in Arusha. With our game plan in hand Staci confidently named our low price for the taxi (accepted immediately), and we were off. We have become efficient shoppers. 

I got new reading glasses, my duct taped glasses were driving me crazy. We went to the drug store and got Tums for me and anti-histamines for Staci's hives. We decided against the crazy expense of insect repellent. They must figure only tourists use insect repellent, so they jack up the prices accordingly. We have noted that sunscreen is also very expensive. We both came with plenty of sunscreen however. Then we hit the outdoor store and the grocery store. 

At the outdoor store Staci pointed out the sleeping pads. My ill-fated, unreliable, obnoxious, slow leaking air mattress really was not okay for the cold, high reaches of the mountain. I spent 50,000 Tsh in the hopes of being able to sleep better at night in the cold. Heck, I'd spent 50,000 Tsh just to try to get a mob to shut up so I could sleep. 

The grocery store is something like Costco. One time they have just what you want, the next time it's sold out and you're out of luck. 

They only had two Knorr Pasta Sides left. My food variety on Mount Kilimanjaro will be limited. Thank goodness for the great version of a Top Ramen type meal they sell here. Combining that with dried coconut milk, and a few other concoctions, will sustain me. Also, I found Snickers bars. I learned from my friends Princess and Mr. Sandals on the PCT that a person can survive, and thrive, on a Snickers based diet.  

With food and other necessities in hand, we packed. We rested. I still ached from the Mount Meru hike, so extra days to recover were needed. 

Staci and I read and read.  We both finished our latest books. I've read a few books on the trip. It's been an unexpected benefit of the zero days we've had. 

At the local bookstore I picked up a high school world history text written by a man from Moshi, Tanzania, very near Arusha. I wanted to learn about the local slant on world history. It has been fascinating reading. Tanzania has a conflicted history when it comes to slavery, for instance. Tanzania is the combined areas of Tanganyika and Zanzibar.  Tanganyika is the inland area where we have spent our entire hike. It's mostly Christian, primarily Catholic. Zanzibar is the coastal portion of Tanzania and mostly Muslim. 

Zanzibar had slavery for nearly 400 years, and was one of the latter areas to do away with slavery. I was shocked to read that Ethiopia didn't agree to end slavery until 1926. Much of Africa suffered greatly from the loss of the 15-35 year old strongest cohort of their population being taken away for generations. Depopulation had an incredible long term impact on the economy and social structure. It's a fascinating read. 

We watched events with terrorists in Paris unfolding on the TV in the lobby of the hotel, and worried about Martin and our other new French friends from Mount Meru, and what they were heading home to. 


JANUARY 10-Meeting with Guide  

Relaxed and finished preparations for the climb. Met with guide in the evening, and all is set to head to Londerossi Gate in the morning to begin the eight day ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro!!



Thursday, January 8, 2015

Dec 28-Dad's Version

The following write up is out of sequence. I needed some time, and Staci's input, before sending this out. The events of December 28 and 29 will not soon be forgotten.


I was an absolute turtle on December 28th. The previous couple of days had been primarily road walks, both along a paved road, and then on typical dirt, two track, mountain roads. I didn't have any serious problem keeping up with Emmanuel (our guide for the first six days in Tanzania) and Staci those first two days. The 28th was different. Staci and I had wanted to get off the roads, even the minor roads, and get on to trails. 

Emmanuel finally got the idea. He started asking for shortcut trails to get us from one village to the next. It really was fascinating. Homes were built along these trails. Farms are tilled and tended along these trails. Lives are lived along these trails. 

The trails are not designed, or built, up to standards recognized by the U.S. Forest Service :). They were quite steep. They were simply working paths from point A to point B, down to a creek or river, then up to a ridge.  This scenario led to some pretty views in lush areas along the east slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. 

It also led to wearing me out. The heat and humidity of this area contributed to my exhaustion. Much of the last month and a half had been in desert/hot conditions. This was different. There was incredibly high humidity, it was still hot, but now with the stifling moist conditions, it drained me. I was drenched with sweat from about 8:00 a.m. and through the entire day. 

In hindsight, another contributing factor in my weakness could have been not eating enough food. 

The result of my being so slow was we were not able to hike as far as desired for the 28th. I was way slower than Staci and Emmanuel. 

One oddity happened to Emmanuel as we hiked. A child, from a home on the hillside near Uru, threw a rock at him. The rock hit him in the back of the neck. It obviously hurt. This was not a good omen. 

In late afternoon Staci and Emmanuel mercifully decided to stop when they found a little village, Uru, at the top of a ridge. What we first saw on the edge of the trail were a few shacks cobbled together in a village version of a very small strip mall. Any activity appeared to have wound down for the day.

Emmanuel found one younger (~20 yrs) worker, Helmut, and asked if we could camp there. He said yes, but he had to check with his father.  He cell phoned his father, and he agreed. We started setting up camp. Then his father showed up wearing a blue shirt. I'll call him "Blue Shirt."  Blue Shirt informed Emmanuel we had to hire his son, Helmut, to be our Security for the night, to keep us safe. 

He asked for 30,000 Tanzanian shillings (Tsh), $18 USD. I agreed without attempting to negotiate him down. This may have been a mistake. Everything is negotiable here. He was asking quite a bit for his son's services.  My willingness to pay so much, without questioning, probably made it seem to him we had lots of money. 

At some point in this amiable exchange Emmanuel took off his shoes and put on Helmut's or Blue Shirt's sandals to refresh his sore feet. Blue Shirt got hold of Emmanuel's shoes. 

Cell phones are everywhere in Kenya and Tanzania. Many small cell towers dot ridges in seemingly uninhabited areas. There are multiple providers, so the Tanzanian Vodaphone I have works sometimes, and sometimes standing next to a tower, it doesn't work. It must be another provider's tower. 

I had zero service in the Uru vicinity. Locals had the right provider and had service. 

We ate, finished setting up camp, and went to bed early, about 6:30 p.m.. I was tired. It was getting dark. 

Not much after 7:00 p.m. the first bit of discontent started. A guy showed up and was agitated. Staci and I stayed in our tents, which were side by side, with Emmanuel's bigger tent about 20-25 feet away. 

Helmut and Emmanuel worked to calm the guy down. Then there was another. In time three or four came and went with yelling and arguing. We couldn't really understand what all was going on, but we were pretty certain it was about us. 

The snickering, bickering, and whining, all in Swahili and Chaga, went on for the better part of two hours. My general feeling was annoyance. I was so tired, all I wanted to do was sleep, but these jerks were keeping me awake. 

Around 9:00 p.m. The mood changed dramatically. 

We had armed guards virtually all the way through the Kenya portion of Staci's thru hike, but Tanzania was, and still is, a safer environment. We didn't have armed guards in Tanzania. It would have, however, been a good night to have had real security with us this night.  

What we surmise happened was Blue Shirt went to the bar, started gloating, and possibly buying drinks for folks in the community with our security fee. They decided to get more money out of us. 

They showed up with a vengeance, obviously very intoxicated. The crowd started at about 20, then grew as things got crazier to maybe 30. 

Now the situation was out of hand. The screaming, clapping, and cacophony of Swahili, and we learned later another local language, Chaga, charged the air. 

We heard some words we understood, most that we didn't. I had grabbed my pocket knife for protection, and found out later so had Staci. At one point just having it in my hand wasn't enough, I flipped the blade out. 

Around this time Staci tried to dial 911, to no avail. Her intent was to just leave the phone on so the operator could hear. Emmanuel said talk was about, among other things, fire...burning us out. Maybe the operator would have heard that. An issue is there really isn't any law in the villages. Who knows if, how many, or  from how far, it would have taken to get police help even if Staci's call would have gone through. 

Violence is not in my nature. I have been in one fight in my life. In seventh grade Kerry McDonald hit my Mennonite friend Kim Brunk, and Kim wouldn't fight back. I stepped in. To say the least I'm inexperienced at the MMA type skills. Staci and I had both decided, without the other knowing, that if we went down, we were going to go down fighting. 

Emmanuel came to the tent a few times to report in, and pass messages. 

First, we heard they wanted $1000 USD, because we were camping in their village without permission. We suspected this as we had heard some in English, and know our numbers in Swahili now. We heard elfu moja (one thousand) and mia moja (one hundred) often from a big, loud mouthed guy. 

We didn't have near the amount they wanted, as we told Emmanuel. The craziness and screaming and clapping continued. Staci was in her tent right next to me and most of the night we couldn't hear each other. 

Emmanuel was doing the negotiating through me. Staci was listening and responding. She adamantly didn't want to pay. 

At some point the 'village chief' arrived. After a bit Emmanuel came over and said the chief was asking for 50,000 Tsh (about $30 USD). 

The screaming included things like mzee (old man), that was me, mia moja (one hundred, as in dollars), elfu moja (one thousand, as in dollars), Al-Qaida and Al-Shabaab (we think just thrown in to scare us). Helmut and Emmanuel tried to calm folks down, and it kept amazingly getting louder and more anger filled. 

Staci didn't want to pay because she didn't think it would do anything.  At one point I relayed to her my quandary. I really didn't know what to do. This situation wasn't in any manual I had ever read. 

I decided to concede, and gave 50,000 Tsh (~$30 USD) to Emmanuel to give to the Chief. My logic was that I wasn't in a position of power in this negotiation, and the amounts originally being talked about had come from totally out of the realm of possibility, to the point I could live with. Realizing it was extortion made it frustrating, but I wanted this to end so I could sleep. 

Staci was right, it didn't work. The crowd was dominating the chief. In particular one taller, loud mouthed, imbecile would not shut up. He was a ringleader the entire night. He was constantly screaming, clapping maniacally, and just being a total ass. 

Also in the crowd was Blue Shirt. He was now apparently asking for more money because of the problems we caused him! I didn't realize this until later, and this made me even more bewildered and angry. How dare he, of all people, demand more money from us. 

Emmanuel came and relayed the mob wanted our passports. We had been told only to carry our passports when crossing the borders. Our passports were in the safe in a hotel in Arusha. Thank goodness. 

There was no reason for them to have our passports anyway. If they had them, they could demand money for them in return. 

We just didn't have the big money they wanted. We didn't carry a lot of money, and we didn't have our passports. Maybe we weren't a great target. 

Chaga is a local language of this area. Swahili is the more universal language of Eastern Africa. Often children first speak their local language, and learn Swahili when they go to school. And then, when/if they go to high school, they may learn English. 

Emmanuel had grown up further down the mountain, but still in this same general area. His first language was Chaga too, the local language, but he didn't let them know it. They assumed he just spoke Swahili. He later relayed it was helpful he was able to understand the internal talk they thought was out of his grasp. 

The crowd thought we were from Europe, Emmanuel didn't correct them.  Generally Americans are despised more than Europeans, so that was a good thing. One guy said they spend more than $1000 just getting here, that's why more was deserved and should be demanded. 

There was something different in the crowd. A female voice or two. And a couple of children's voices. Even an infant crying. 

The words being spoken I will never know. The tone was clear. The tone was reason. Two women went and stood directly in front of Staci's tent!  This was the turning point. I still held my knife, but I folded the blade back out of harm's way. The younger one, standing guard, started using her cell phone. Was she calling friends?  Maybe these guy's wives?  We'll never know. 

The noise was nearly as loud. The chants were the same. But everything had changed. Everything was going to be all right. 

I could hear nothing that happened at Staci's tent, she related it to me later. 

A woman near my age, and her daughter Mary, maybe mid-twenties, were the ones at Staci's tent. Mary couldn't speak much English, and had probably practiced what to say to Staci. In order to hear each other they had to get nearly face to face, inches apart, with just the mosquito netting of the tent between them. Her first words to Staci were that everything was going to be all right. Then she said they were all just drunk and on drugs. Staci obviously knew that part....that's what scared her!

The raucousness continued. It was sometime around 11:00 or 11:30 with no signs of letting up. This was insane. But at least we had Mary and her mother as Staci's protectors, so there was some improvement. It seemed this nightmare would never end. 

Then instantly it ended!  The crowd went from hours of constant roar, to nothing, in what seemed like a second or two. We didn't know why until the next day at noon. 

Emmanuel gambled. He went to his tent, started unzipping it, and told them he was going in to get his gun. He had no gun!  They were drunk enough to believe him. 

Instantly only Emmanuel, Mary, her mother, Staci, and I were all that was left. Staci quickly unzipped her tent to come out.  Mary and her mother almost tackled her to stay inside. They didn't realize why Staci wanted out. She had to pee. She'd had to pee for hours. Staci was going to blast through those two tacklers like she was Frank Gore. 

Once important functions were taken care of, all agreed we had to break camp and leave. 

Hiking the PCT this summer I became quite fast at taking down my tent and getting on the trail. Staci and Emmanuel were both faster than me!  And I was the fastest I had ever been. There was no finesse.  Everything was jammed in packs and we were moving in record time. 

Mary and her mother led the way down a trail in the dark. We went behind a small house into a tiny shed, with no windows and a dirt floor. 

I whispered something about Emmanuel's shoes and Mary's mother communicated in a very understandable way, even though she was speaking either Chaga or Swahili. The gist of her communication was "shut up, don't make a single sound, we're all at risk here!"  There were probably some Chaga adjectives in there too. Charades is an international language. 

Mary and her mother left with Blue Shirt/Helmut's sandals to get Emmanuel's shoes. They returned with neither.  We never figured out what happened on that foray. 

It was time to sleep. The three of us lined up, side by side, like sardines in a shed after an insane day, and night. We didn't speak. All we heard was the raucous revelry and music! There wasn't much sleep to be garnered. 

We believe they all went down to the bar. They now had our 80,000 Tsh, and it was time to party. 

We had noticed, and been told, that it's basically a party from Christmas until New Years in Tanzania.  The 28th of December fit right into the middle of the previously scheduled party calendar. The party went on until at least 2:30 a.m..  

As I was laying there, unable to sleep even though physically exhausted, I was thrilled they were partying. The longer they partied through the night, the greater the chances were for us to escape unscathed in the morning. It turned out Staci was thinking similar thoughts throughout the night. 

I worried about Emmanuel's shoe problem. He had nothing to hike in. We would need to do some serious hiking in the morning. I had flip flops. Not a great solution. Staci's solution, as her mind was racing through the night, was to have Emmanuel wear her shoes (if they fit) and she would wear her sandals like she had earlier in the hike when the hyena stole her hiking shoes in Tsavo West National Park. It was a conundrum, no solution was good. 

Nobody got more than two, or two and a half, hour's sleep. I woke up at just after four wondering about our immediate route out of town, and Emmanuel's footwear. It got light enough to start hiking at about 6:00 a.m..  I wanted to be on the trail no later than 6:01 a.m..

I just layed still until 5:00 a.m., when I saw Emmanuel stirring. Immediately Staci woke up and we packed up and were ready to go quickly, with one exception, shoes. 

Mary and her mother showed up at the door of the shed. They took Emmanuel.  Staci and I sat on a bench in the shed and whispered for the first time about events. She talked about feeling like Anne Frank. I talked about feeling like this was the Underground Railroad. The irony. These two African women hiding and protecting two white Americans in their shed in Tanzania from angry locals. 

It all seemed surreal. 

Mary was beautiful and strong. Part of me wished the big, loud mouthed drunk would have come a little closer to Mary. Staci was ready to go after him. He wouldn't have had a prayer against the two of them. The problem was what would Emmanuel and I have done with the rest, armed only with a pocket knife, an imaginary gun, and the experience gained from a fight forty-five years ago. Our significant advantage...sobriety. 

We'll never know all the details about how Emmanuel got his shoes back from Blue Shirt. Mary had taken Emmanuel to Blue Shirt's house, Blue Shirt's wife got involved. The details are hazy. 

When Emmanuel returned he had his shoes. Blue Shirt was there. We'll always be confused as to why that #%*! was there. 

Mary then whisked us down a trail. Our take off time was about 6:15 a.m.. About ten minutes later she had us on a dirt road. She started to head back on a trail  to her home in Uru. I couldn't say "asante sana," thank you very much, enough. As I hugged her goodbye I have to admit I may have failed to keep my eyes dry. 

We hadn't eaten, we didn't care. Adrenaline does great things. We went about four hours at a strong pace without a break. We weren't holding anybody back the 29th!

Certainly in my life there have been some frightening times. This was different in a few significant ways. First, the feelings of helplessness caused by the language barrier. Discussions about us were taking place, and we couldn't participate. Who knows if we could have talked the insanity down, but the total language barrier prevented any attempt.  Emmanuel's grasp of English was tenuous at best, and he was all we had (until Mary).  Second, there was no backup. Our only backup plan was running. It wasn't feasible. Third, the fear wasn't a flash. It didn't happen, and in a second, a minute, or five minutes, go away. It continued for more than half a day. It seemed like longer than that. 

The world needs more Marys. 





Dec 28-Dad's Version

The following write up is out of sequence. I needed some time, and Staci's input, before sending this out. The events of December 28 and 29 will not soon be forgotten.


I was an absolute turtle on December 28th. The previous couple of days had been primarily road walks, both along a paved road, and then on typical dirt, two track, mountain roads. I didn't have any serious problem keeping up with Emmanuel (our guide for the first six days in Tanzania) and Staci those first two days. The 28th was different. Staci and I had wanted to get off the roads, even the minor roads, and get on to trails. 

Emmanuel finally got the idea. He started asking for shortcut trails to get us from one village to the next. It really was fascinating. Homes were built along these trails. Farms are tilled and tended along these trails. Lives are lived along these trails. 

The trails are not designed, or built, up to standards recognized by the U.S. Forest Service :). They were quite steep. They were simply working paths from point A to point B, down to a creek or river, then up to a ridge.  This scenario led to some pretty views in lush areas along the east slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. 

It also led to wearing me out. The heat and humidity of this area contributed to my exhaustion. Much of the last month and a half had been in desert/hot conditions. This was different. There was incredibly high humidity, it was still hot, but now with the stifling moist conditions, it drained me. I was drenched with sweat from about 8:00 a.m. and through the entire day. 

In hindsight, another contributing factor in my weakness could have been not eating enough food. 

The result of my being so slow was we were not able to hike as far as desired for the 28th. I was way slower than Staci and Emmanuel. 

One oddity happened to Emmanuel as we hiked. A child, from a home on the hillside near Uru, threw a rock at him. The rock hit him in the back of the neck. It obviously hurt. This was not a good omen. 

In late afternoon Staci and Emmanuel mercifully decided to stop when they found a little village, Uru, at the top of a ridge. What we first saw on the edge of the trail were a few shacks cobbled together in a village version of a very small strip mall. Any activity appeared to have wound down for the day.

Emmanuel found one younger (~20 yrs) worker, Helmut, and asked if we could camp there. He said yes, but he had to check with his father.  He cell phoned his father, and he agreed. We started setting up camp. Then his father showed up wearing a blue shirt. I'll call him "Blue Shirt."  Blue Shirt informed Emmanuel we had to hire his son, Helmut, to be our Security for the night, to keep us safe. 

He asked for 30,000 Tanzanian shillings (Tsh), $18 USD. I agreed without attempting to negotiate him down. This may have been a mistake. Everything is negotiable here. He was asking quite a bit for his son's services.  My willingness to pay so much, without questioning, probably made it seem to him we had lots of money. 

At some point in this amiable exchange Emmanuel took off his shoes and put on Helmut's or Blue Shirt's sandals to refresh his sore feet. Blue Shirt got hold of Emmanuel's shoes. 

Cell phones are everywhere in Kenya and Tanzania. Many small cell towers dot ridges in seemingly uninhabited areas. There are multiple providers, so the Tanzanian Vodaphone I have works sometimes, and sometimes standing next to a tower, it doesn't work. It must be another provider's tower. 

I had zero service in the Uru vicinity. Locals had the right provider and had service. 

We ate, finished setting up camp, and went to bed early, about 6:30 p.m.. I was tired. It was getting dark. 

Not much after 7:00 p.m. the first bit of discontent started. A guy showed up and was agitated. Staci and I stayed in our tents, which were side by side, with Emmanuel's bigger tent about 20-25 feet away. 

Helmut and Emmanuel worked to calm the guy down. Then there was another. In time three or four came and went with yelling and arguing. We couldn't really understand what all was going on, but we were pretty certain it was about us. 

The snickering, bickering, and whining, all in Swahili and Chaga, went on for the better part of two hours. My general feeling was annoyance. I was so tired, all I wanted to do was sleep, but these jerks were keeping me awake. 

Around 9:00 p.m. The mood changed dramatically. 

We had armed guards virtually all the way through the Kenya portion of Staci's thru hike, but Tanzania was, and still is, a safer environment. We didn't have armed guards in Tanzania. It would have, however, been a good night to have had real security with us this night.  

What we surmise happened was Blue Shirt went to the bar, started gloating, and possibly buying drinks for folks in the community with our security fee. They decided to get more money out of us. 

They showed up with a vengeance, obviously very intoxicated. The crowd started at about 20, then grew as things got crazier to maybe 30. 

Now the situation was out of hand. The screaming, clapping, and cacophony of Swahili, and we learned later another local language, Chaga, charged the air. 

We heard some words we understood, most that we didn't. I had grabbed my pocket knife for protection, and found out later so had Staci. At one point just having it in my hand wasn't enough, I flipped the blade out. 

Around this time Staci tried to dial 911, to no avail. Her intent was to just leave the phone on so the operator could hear. Emmanuel said talk was about, among other things, fire...burning us out. Maybe the operator would have heard that. An issue is there really isn't any law in the villages. Who knows if, how many, or  from how far, it would have taken to get police help even if Staci's call would have gone through. 

Violence is not in my nature. I have been in one fight in my life. In seventh grade Kerry McDonald hit my Mennonite friend Kim Brunk, and Kim wouldn't fight back. I stepped in. To say the least I'm inexperienced at the MMA type skills. Staci and I had both decided, without the other knowing, that if we went down, we were going to go down fighting. 

Emmanuel came to the tent a few times to report in, and pass messages. 

First, we heard they wanted $1000 USD, because we were camping in their village without permission. We suspected this as we had heard some in English, and know our numbers in Swahili now. We heard elfu moja (one thousand) and mia moja (one hundred) often from a big, loud mouthed guy. 

We didn't have near the amount they wanted, as we told Emmanuel. The craziness and screaming and clapping continued. Staci was in her tent right next to me and most of the night we couldn't hear each other. 

Emmanuel was doing the negotiating through me. Staci was listening and responding. She adamantly didn't want to pay. 

At some point the 'village chief' arrived. After a bit Emmanuel came over and said the chief was asking for 50,000 Tsh (about $30 USD). 

The screaming included things like mzee (old man), that was me, mia moja (one hundred, as in dollars), elfu moja (one thousand, as in dollars), Al-Qaida and Al-Shabaab (we think just thrown in to scare us). Helmut and Emmanuel tried to calm folks down, and it kept amazingly getting louder and more anger filled. 

Staci didn't want to pay because she didn't think it would do anything.  At one point I relayed to her my quandary. I really didn't know what to do. This situation wasn't in any manual I had ever read. 

I decided to concede, and gave 50,000 Tsh (~$30 USD) to Emmanuel to give to the Chief. My logic was that I wasn't in a position of power in this negotiation, and the amounts originally being talked about had come from totally out of the realm of possibility, to the point I could live with. Realizing it was extortion made it frustrating, but I wanted this to end so I could sleep. 

Staci was right, it didn't work. The crowd was dominating the chief. In particular one taller, loud mouthed, imbecile would not shut up. He was a ringleader the entire night. He was constantly screaming, clapping maniacally, and just being a total ass. 

Also in the crowd was Blue Shirt. He was now apparently asking for more money because of the problems we caused him! I didn't realize this until later, and this made me even more bewildered and angry. How dare he, of all people, demand more money from us. 

Emmanuel came and relayed the mob wanted our passports. We had been told only to carry our passports when crossing the borders. Our passports were in the safe in a hotel in Arusha. Thank goodness. 

There was no reason for them to have our passports anyway. If they had them, they could demand money for them in return. 

We just didn't have the big money they wanted. We didn't carry a lot of money, and we didn't have our passports. Maybe we weren't a great target. 

Chaga is a local language of this area. Swahili is the more universal language of Eastern Africa. Often children first speak their local language, and learn Swahili when they go to school. And then, when/if they go to high school, they may learn English. 

Emmanuel had grown up further down the mountain, but still in this same general area. His first language was Chaga too, the local language, but he didn't let them know it. They assumed he just spoke Swahili. He later relayed it was helpful he was able to understand the internal talk they thought was out of his grasp. 

The crowd thought we were from Europe, Emmanuel didn't correct them.  Generally Americans are despised more than Europeans, so that was a good thing. One guy said they spend more than $1000 just getting here, that's why more was deserved and should be demanded. 

There was something different in the crowd. A female voice or two. And a couple of children's voices. Even an infant crying. 

The words being spoken I will never know. The tone was clear. The tone was reason. Two women went and stood directly in front of Staci's tent!  This was the turning point. I still held my knife, but I folded the blade back out of harm's way. The younger one, standing guard, started using her cell phone. Was she calling friends?  Maybe these guy's wives?  We'll never know. 

The noise was nearly as loud. The chants were the same. But everything had changed. Everything was going to be all right. 

I could hear nothing that happened at Staci's tent, she related it to me later. 

A woman near my age, and her daughter Mary, maybe mid-twenties, were the ones at Staci's tent. Mary couldn't speak much English, and had probably practiced what to say to Staci. In order to hear each other they had to get nearly face to face, inches apart, with just the mosquito netting of the tent between them. Her first words to Staci were that everything was going to be all right. Then she said they were all just drunk and on drugs. Staci obviously knew that part....that's what scared her!

The raucousness continued. It was sometime around 11:00 or 11:30 with no signs of letting up. This was insane. But at least we had Mary and her mother as Staci's protectors, so there was some improvement. It seemed this nightmare would never end. 

Then instantly it ended!  The crowd went from hours of constant roar, to nothing, in what seemed like a second or two. We didn't know why until the next day at noon. 

Emmanuel gambled. He went to his tent, started unzipping it, and told them he was going in to get his gun. He had no gun!  They were drunk enough to believe him. 

Instantly only Emmanuel, Mary, her mother, Staci, and I were all that was left. Staci quickly unzipped her tent to come out.  Mary and her mother almost tackled her to stay inside. They didn't realize why Staci wanted out. She had to pee. She'd had to pee for hours. Staci was going to blast through those two tacklers like she was Frank Gore. 

Once important functions were taken care of, all agreed we had to break camp and leave. 

Hiking the PCT this summer I became quite fast at taking down my tent and getting on the trail. Staci and Emmanuel were both faster than me!  And I was the fastest I had ever been. There was no finesse.  Everything was jammed in packs and we were moving in record time. 

Mary and her mother led the way down a trail in the dark. We went behind a small house into a tiny shed, with no windows and a dirt floor. 

I whispered something about Emmanuel's shoes and Mary's mother communicated in a very understandable way, even though she was speaking either Chaga or Swahili. The gist of her communication was "shut up, don't make a single sound, we're all at risk here!"  There were probably some Chaga adjectives in there too. Charades is an international language. 

Mary and her mother left with Blue Shirt/Helmut's sandals to get Emmanuel's shoes. They returned with neither.  We never figured out what happened on that foray. 

It was time to sleep. The three of us lined up, side by side, like sardines in a shed after an insane day, and night. We didn't speak. All we heard was the raucous revelry and music! There wasn't much sleep to be garnered. 

We believe they all went down to the bar. They now had our 80,000 Tsh, and it was time to party. 

We had noticed, and been told, that it's basically a party from Christmas until New Years in Tanzania.  The 28th of December fit right into the middle of the previously scheduled party calendar. The party went on until at least 2:30 a.m..  

As I was laying there, unable to sleep even though physically exhausted, I was thrilled they were partying. The longer they partied through the night, the greater the chances were for us to escape unscathed in the morning. It turned out Staci was thinking similar thoughts throughout the night. 

I worried about Emmanuel's shoe problem. He had nothing to hike in. We would need to do some serious hiking in the morning. I had flip flops. Not a great solution. Staci's solution, as her mind was racing through the night, was to have Emmanuel wear her shoes (if they fit) and she would wear her sandals like she had earlier in the hike when the hyena stole her hiking shoes in Tsavo West National Park. It was a conundrum, no solution was good. 

Nobody got more than two, or two and a half, hour's sleep. I woke up at just after four wondering about our immediate route out of town, and Emmanuel's footwear. It got light enough to start hiking at about 6:00 a.m..  I wanted to be on the trail no later than 6:01 a.m..

I just layed still until 5:00 a.m., when I saw Emmanuel stirring. Immediately Staci woke up and we packed up and were ready to go quickly, with one exception, shoes. 

Mary and her mother showed up at the door of the shed. They took Emmanuel.  Staci and I sat on a bench in the shed and whispered for the first time about events. She talked about feeling like Anne Frank. I talked about feeling like this was the Underground Railroad. The irony. These two African women hiding and protecting two white Americans in their shed in Tanzania from angry locals. 

It all seemed surreal. 

Mary was beautiful and strong. Part of me wished the big, loud mouthed drunk would have come a little closer to Mary. Staci was ready to go after him. He wouldn't have had a prayer against the two of them. The problem was what would Emmanuel and I have done with the rest, armed only with a pocket knife, an imaginary gun, and the experience gained from a fight forty-five years ago. Our significant advantage...sobriety. 

We'll never know all the details about how Emmanuel got his shoes back from Blue Shirt. Mary had taken Emmanuel to Blue Shirt's house, Blue Shirt's wife got involved. The details are hazy. 

When Emmanuel returned he had his shoes. Blue Shirt was there. We'll always be confused as to why that #%*! was there. 

Mary then whisked us down a trail. Our take off time was about 6:15 a.m.. About ten minutes later she had us on a dirt road. She started to head back on a trail  to her home in Uru. I couldn't say "asante sana," thank you very much, enough. As I hugged her goodbye I have to admit I may have failed to keep my eyes dry. 

We hadn't eaten, we didn't care. Adrenaline does great things. We went about four hours at a strong pace without a break. We weren't holding anybody back the 29th!

Certainly in my life there have been some frightening times. This was different in a few significant ways. First, the feelings of helplessness caused by the language barrier. Discussions about us were taking place, and we couldn't participate. Who knows if we could have talked the insanity down, but the total language barrier prevented any attempt.  Emmanuel's grasp of English was tenuous at best, and he was all we had (until Mary).  Second, there was no backup. Our only backup plan was running. It wasn't feasible. Third, the fear wasn't a flash. It didn't happen, and in a second, a minute, or five minutes, go away. It continued for more than half a day. It seemed like longer than that. 

The world needs more Marys. 





Climbing Mt Meru


JANUARY 5-Leaving Momella Gate

"Africa Time" is real. We were ready to start our ascent of Mt. Meru at 10:00 a.m.  as we were told the day before. We actually started at 12:30 p.m..  Anyone who knows Staci, knows how punctual she is. This didn't sit well. 

We had a short walk (4km) from the lodge the Arusha NP gate. We saw five giraffes along the way. 

The hikes are organized so one Ranger accompanies up to 15 climbers.  Our group of 15 includes six Germans, who stick together, six French, five of who stick together, one guy from Switzerland (Andy-F-18 pilot with Air Force) who sticks with the two goofy Americans in the misfit group. The one extra Frenchman (Martin-musician) joined in with the three of us. 


It's quite a hodgepodge group attempting to hike up Mt. Meru.  All the other 13 have porters carrying most, if not all, their gear. Even so, Staci is in the lead and constantly having to stop, and be reminded to slow down. 

The hike up. Mt Meru is good preparation for the Kilimanjaro climb ahead.  It's over a 10,000 elevation gain in less than 48 hours. The actual climb is more than that because the trail goes downhill in places and then climbs again.  Today's afternoon gain was about 3500 feet. 


These fig trees provide the Africa version of the drive-through tree.  


Moia Falls along the trail. 


The porters and guides were fascinated with the Ranger's rifle. We are the only two without a guide, just the Ranger, who's there for the entire group. 

It is more expensive to camp than to stay in the predetermined huts. We changed plans and went with the huts. Camping would have been foolish. 

The huts were way more than expected. Beds, solar powered lights, running water, and toilets. We joked that all that was missing was WiFi. 

Everyone else had fancy place settings on their tablecloth. Fancy meals were served in courses, on nice plates. Different courses were served. 

Staci and I cooked our Knorr Pasta Sides on our backpack stove along with the workers or in our room. 

We carried our food into the dining hall, with the privledged class, and ate our typical hiking meal. We didn't have a tablecloth. I joined Andy after a bit, and Martin joined in. Staci went to bed early. They gave me their extra food.  

We knew we were oddballs when everyone else had their lunches brought to them at a break along the trail. They had fried chicken, fruit, and all kinds of goodies. You might say Staci and I did not eat so well. 

Staci and I have not been around so many wazungu since our adventure began. Andy and Martin speak the best English, and they are fascinating. This was such a different experience than the rest of the adventure. 

JANUARY 6-Elevation Gain


We hiked with our Ranger, Joseph, and picked up quite a bit of elevation. 


When we arrived at Saddle Hut we were again stunned at the different place settings, and the different fancy meals everyone else was getting. Of the twenty-eight climbers of the mountain, twenty-six (all Europeans) had guided trips, with meals etc.  Staci and I were the only ones without porters, a guide, a cook, waiters, and the treatment. It was funny. The waiters would allow me to have coffee with the others who were with the tour groups. 

Our friend, Andy, realized that just for him, he had quite the entourage. He had three porters, a cook, a waiter, and then the same Ranger/guide (Joseph) that Staci and I had. He was waited on so much he felt odd. 

Each company has it's own set of folks. Martin went through a different company than the rest of the French folks. He had a separate table set up, and an entourage too. Martin and Andy tried sitting at the same table, and weren't allowed. The companies differentiate each other by tablecloths. 


When Staci and I didn't eat in our room, this was where we belonged. :)


We made it to Saddle Hut in plenty of time to hike up Little Meru. That's big Meru in the background. This little hike was just to get us a little more used to the elevation for the next day's climb. 


St. John's wort growing along the trail up to Little Meru. 


The view down on the Saddle Hut facilities from the Little Meru Trail.  It's quite the set up. 

We saw some new animals along the way. One looked like a dik-dik, only bigger. Imagine a deer the size of a small German Shepherd. Another was called something like a red forest antelope. Finally, there were plenty of colobus monkeys. We saw these at Diani Beach at the beginning of the hike, but have just started seeing them again. 

JANUARY 7-Summit Day-Mt. Meru


We started hiking at 1:45 a.m., and arrived at the summit just before 6:00 a.m. in time to watch the sunrise. The early start was also necessary because we would need the entire day to descend. 


There were clouds obscuring views, but we were able to see the sun rising by Mt. Kilimanjaro. 


This is the gang for the Mt Meru portion of the trip, Martin, Andy, Joseph, me, and Staci. 


The trail back down. We didn't get to see anything on the way up. 


A herd of African buffalo at the end of the day. 

The descent was tough, especially on my feet. We finished around 5:00 p.m., then had to walk four more kilometers to the Momella Lodge. Sleep deprivation day.