#11 Complete – Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro!!

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As badly as we’ve wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, we have to admit that we never thought we’d actually do it.  At least, not anytime soon, that’s for sure.  When we made our While We’re Alive list a couple of years ago, it was really just a fun way to write down some of our travel goals in life.  It wasn’t until we stepped foot on Kilimanjaro though that we realized the power our list has had on us.  Looking back at all of the things we’ve done over the past 2 years, this list has given us the drive to do things we would still just be talking about.

Our goal for this one was pretty simple; reach the summit to watch the sunrise on the first day of a New Year (01-01-2015).  We were going to give it everything we had to reach the top, but swore to one another that we wouldn’t risk our lives over it.  We heard countless stories of people climbing for lost loved ones, to overcome personal challenges (read Spencer West’s story), or to raise money for charity.  Their stories were all so inspirational, and made our attempt at this feel insignificant compared to theirs.  Those feelings vanished though as soon as we started the hike, when we quickly realized that we were about to be pushed like we never could’ve imagined, both mentally and physically.


We were as prepared as could be for the hike.  We loaded up on winter gear during our recent visit back to Canada, and borrowed a wealth of supplies from family and friends who made the same and similar climbs.  Making it to the summit was our goal, and we were not in it to break any records (Watch Kilian’s Quest).  Some people choose to rush the climb, and then fail to reach the top because of altitude sickness.  We decided to do the lengthy 7-day Machame route to give our bodies time to acclimatize, and we also opted to take Diamox to help with this.  What we didn’t know at the time was that the doctor who prescribed us the Diamox knew less than we did about the drug…

Day 1 and 2 went off without a hitch.  We were as spry as billy goats and had no problem making it to our second camp (Shira) at 3766 meters.  We took it pole pole (slowly slowly) as our guides said, drank our 3 litres of water, and ate a decent amount of the food they put in front of us.  Day 3, however, was a completely different story.

We knew something wasn’t right on the third day when Katherine’s heart rate was 120+ bpm, and she had trouble peeing without experiencing pure exhaustion.  Every step was a challenge, and we were definitely starting to get a bit worried.  Our guides, John and Marcel, were called “the best” for a reason though, and they quickly figured out that we were likely overdosing on Diamox.  The doctor we saw back in Canada definitely knew nothing about the drug for altitude sickness prevention, and prescribed us 1000mg/day, which is more than 4x the recommended dosage!  We cut our intake immediately, and hoped it wasn’t too late for Katherine to recover.

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Twice a day our guides checked our oxygen levels and heart rate, and each and everyday we continued to surpass the norm.  Our oxygen levels were consistently in the 95% range, but our heart rates were also ridiculously high.  A high heart rate is to be expected at higher altitudes, but with Katherine’s normal resting rate at 50 bpm, the 120+ bpm she was experiencing was likely a huge contributor to her exhaustion.  Sticking to our promise though, we were both still healthy, so we continued to push forward pole pole.

On New Year’s Eve, we made it to Barafu base camp and were set to leave for our summit attempt at midnight that evening.  Our waiter, Rachit, brought us the ritualistic ginger tea at 11:45, and at 12:00 we stepped out of our tent to the celebratory sounds of a new year and a majestic starry night that can only be experienced at 4645 m above sea level.  Katherine was feeling better, though still not herself, and Thomas was prepared for a long night of pole pole walking to get Katherine to the top.  This was the moment we had come so far for.  Here we were just 6 hours and 1250 m away from the top of Africa!

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We were an hour into the summit attempt when we were honest with ourselves and admitted that one of us wasn’t going to make it to Uhuru Peak.  Katherine’s steps were few and far between, and she was simultaneously sweating buckets yet freezing cold.  By the time we had learned of our Diamox overdose, it was simply too late for Katherine to fully recover and gain her energy back.  We agreed before we began that if we got this far and one of us had to turn back, that the other would push forward and reach the summit for the both of us.  At 5000 m, we made the incredibly difficult decision to send Katherine back down to base camp.  The combination of the cold and time it would take to reach the top would have put Katherine in a pretty dangerous situation.  Even if she managed to reach the summit, getting down would have been a whole other story.

So, I (Thomas) pushed forward, determined to reach the summit and get back to Katherine at camp as soon as possible.  I made it to the top in what must be record time; emotional, exhausted, and in utter awe of watching the sun rise from the top of the world’s largest free standing mountain.  Numb fingers, chapped lips, a frozen camera, and harsh winds, the top of Kilimanjaro was everything we had imagined it would be, minus the frozen camera.  As stunning as the view was, and as much as I wanted to stay, it was difficult to spend long up there.  I lasted the 20 minute max before heading back to base camp to meet up with Katherine.  As expected, she was toasty warm in the tent, thankful to have gone back down, and so proud of me for finishing what we had come so far to do.  Mission accomplished!

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Mount Kilimanjaro

  • 5895 meters above sea level (19 341 feet)
  • Africa’s highest point
  • World’s highest free standing mountain
  • One of the world’s largest volcano
  • UNESCO World Heritage Site

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Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Awesome, Tanzania, While We're Alive

Author:Thomas & Katherine

A love for travel, adventure, and photography. We just can't help but write about it!

8 Comments on “#11 Complete – Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro!!”

  1. Lynn Muise
    February 12, 2015 at 7:05 am #

    Awesome pictures guys!!! What an incredible experience!

    You continue to be an inspiration – to LIVE YOUR DREAMS!

    Pretty amazing!

    Thanks for sharing!

    L & K

    Like

    • February 22, 2015 at 10:15 pm #

      Thanks Lynn!!! Honestly, it would still just be an idea if we hadn’t written it down as a goal… :)

      Like

  2. Anu
    February 16, 2015 at 5:22 pm #

    Dasha recommended your bit about Kilimanjaro. Very informative! My husband and I planned the climb for this year without realizing it takes a bit of training/acclimatizing ;-P I think we will postpone this for 2016 now!!

    Like

    • February 22, 2015 at 10:18 pm #

      Hi Anu!
      Kilimanjaro is a difficult one to prepare for, especially with the altitude. We didn’t do much extra aside from our regular workout routine. Perhaps the lack of altitude training took its toll on Katherine. Either way, we’re so glad we did it, summit or not!
      Can’t wait to see your pics in 2016!!

      Like

  3. Anu
    February 16, 2015 at 5:24 pm #

    Congratulations on scaling the summit by the way! really well done!

    Like

  4. Anjna Rawat Pratap
    February 16, 2015 at 6:32 pm #

    Beautiful story! Great pictures ! Sorry that Catherine couldn’t make it to the top this time. There will another time I am sure, especially for special people who make lists :-) Hope the journey of togetherness for both of you is filled with many many more wonderful discoveries! Keep writing!

    Like

    • February 22, 2015 at 10:19 pm #

      Thanks Anjna!
      Yeah, it was definitely an unfortunate circumstance, but we’re still both so proud of each of our accomplishments! And you’re right, there will definitely be another time. Perhaps we put this one back on “the list”. :)

      Like

  5. Joanne Hall
    March 2, 2015 at 12:50 pm #

    Wow! What a wonderful story. Sorry Katherine had to turn back, but what a journey for you both! Congratulations to you both on following your dreams, and with such courage and determination. The photos are simply lovely. What a privilege to see them.

    Like

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