Saturday, October 30, 2010

Elbrus Race 2010 - What Happened and Why?

Now that I've had a month to recover, rejuvenate, relax, and sort out my thoughts, I'm going to talk about the different things I discovered on this particular phase of my journey. Note that I'm not blaming anyone or anything, just pointing out some simple basic facts that had an impact on my performance or lack thereof, in retrospect.

My acclimatization schedule was pretty good, overall, and instead of spending a few days in Colorado at 10,000' prior (I didn't receive credit for the days I worked from home in CO while acclimatizing or recovering), I would prefer spending more time in the barrels. I did a hike first thing after lunch on my first day, and it probably would have been better to just wander around taking pictures, and have a couple more days to do the hiking. The second day I went up to nearly 1000' above the Qualifying checkpoint, which was probably one day early. I should have had two more days, one to go to 17,000' and one to 18,000'. Then relax for the Qualifier.

As I had experienced in Argentina, I have a tough time working around some random foreign eating schedule that breaks the day up into periods in which I cannot possibly recover or train. I would take a lot more food, especially meal replacements like Shawn Phillips' Full Strength, and arrange to only have Dinner, which really didn't interfere with my training much at all.

I trusted the water that the cook was giving us in my first stay at the barrels. I used my SteriPEN Classic Handheld Water Purifier until I managed to break the tabs off the lid. I'd had it for a few years and used it in several countries, so I didn't feel too bad. I did finally figure out how to hold it so the batteries made contact.

In that gap time, due to the complacency of the first cook, since she wasn't boiling the surface water they were gathering from a pipe near the barrels, I managed to contract a major case of diarrhea (our second cook was great and I managed to get only boiling water from her). While I was sick everything I ate went straight through as water. Yuck. Totally sapped me of strength, and I had to pause in my Qualifier to let some out, after very tightly holding it in all the way up. If you look at their video on Youtube you can see how weirdly I'm walking uphill.

Sleeping in the barrels with the officials sounded cool at first, but in typical Russian fashion they partied late watching movies and stuff, and then twice started up to the checkpoints at 2 AM, which resulted in my not getting a lot of sleep for my second stay at the barrels. That, with the diarrhea (and starving) really impacted my acclimatization.

For one reason or another I don't really want to go into the food issue in the second stay at the barrels. Maybe I'm just being nice ...

Staying on the wrong side of Cheget added about an hour or so to all transportation events. For purposes of normal training and acclimatizing, it would probably be a lot better to stay in Azau. Especially if you're doing the Extreme.

My music issues totally confused me. I managed to have no music because of some mystery with my Nano locking up until I could plug it into a PC. Because of some glitch in the programming of Creative Centrale that allowed my Zen MX to believe that the hard drive had more stuff on it than existing space until I could plug it into a PC and delete the imaginary files. Because I hadn't put any music on my phone. Because I had trained with music and it threw me a bit to have none.

I had some major babysitting problems, which of course I allow myself to get sucked into, and have for a few trips now. Alas, I think I'm going to just skip all group endeavors forever. And skip offering niceness. You hate to flush all the traveling and money and training.

This isn't the Boston Marathon, where you can show up two days early, fly to in less than 5 hours from most of the USA, run around in nice safe prepared park trails to figure out the climate and kick the very small amount of jet lag to the curb, stay in a hotel 5 minutes from the start and finish, eat whatever and whenever you want, and buy anything you want or need within a 10 minute cab drive. Best of all, your boss probably wouldn't even miss you.

Again, not blaming anyone, just pointing out some glitches that for the most part I could have worked around if I'd been more alert and prepared myself. Now I know.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Elbrus Race September 2010 Photos

My photos are up on picasa:

Picasa Web Album

Most are captioned. Enjoy ...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sadness & Joy - Elbrus Race Sept 24 2010

Yesterday, 9-23 there was a storm, and the race was postponed for today, assuming the weather cooperated. As night fell, the clouds parted, the temps dropped, and the wind picked up.

Due in part to my horror story experience on Rainier, the wind freaks me out some. I'm working on it. The wind was pretty tough on qualifier day, 9-21, yet I came in @ 1:41, not a bad time, but my fingers froze and my facemask made me freak & hyperventilate. As well, I'd had two days of frequent diarrhea (including painfully needing to go all the way up requiring great muscle tension), and it was sucking the life out of me.

I spent the 22nd putting together a sleeve/glove/heatpack combo that I figured would do the trick, and cut out the restriction in my facemask. Ready to go for the 23rd, but delayed to the 24th.

One consequence of planning for feeding 10 and somehow 20 start showing up is that everyone gets half rations, so I had pretty much used up all mine and was really hungry and working hard to store energy. And the diarrhea finally cleared mostly up late 23rd.

After the little dinner on Thursday, 9-23 I climbed into bed while the Marshalls and Lodi spent an hour getting ready for their 3 AM departure, a repeat performance of the night before. I kept drifting off being suddenly woken by the sensation of drowning. Sitting up I could breath okay, but lieing it was very difficult.

I started sweating good too; odd since I had no caffiene that day. I tossed and turned fretting until they all got up, and then noticed I was wheezing. Wow. Sounded like HAPE. I messaged Angie and she looked it up and I did match many symptoms.

I tried sleeping sitting up but kept sliding down till I dove up for air. This really sucked. If it were bronchitis (possible I picked it up in Colorado) it could become HAPE if I went up, and if it were HAPE I could die if I went up.

I talked to the race organizer & he got the race doctor (didn't know there was) who checked me out, said I was mild enough to not require evac, and gave me some pills. I am now a firm advocate of Russian Pharmacies now ;)

I faced my wind demon head on, getting smacked down by a simple cold or flu or bug. Working hard on the qualifier while really sick and weak and majorly underfed (my fault at that point since everything I ate turned to a jet of Yoohoo out the rear & not at all enticing) is a textbook example of "how to give yourself AMS".

We're all going down today after the race (heads-up: 1 runner was way out front and looking like a record).

Sadly, I missed it. Joyfully I'm alive and will recover over the next few days of jetlag-inspired rest. I also have plans for next year...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Descent - 9-19

I got 5 good hours sleep and 4 hrs tossing'n'turning last night, so much better overall. Maybe I'm addicted to melatonin?

Breakfast of thin oatmeal so I added some condensed milk & butter. Again dark bread w/butter & cheese. Packed up and rode down to Azau.

Elana, our cook, took us to a cafe where I had chicken shishkabab cooked on a wood-fired grill as we watched. Also cabbage salad. Then our driver took us to Alpindustria, a mountain shop in Cheget. I got a nice midlayer with nice long arms.

We went to the Hotel Elba and started repacking for the days ahead. Lodi took 5 hrs to get to about 14500', where I passed him @ my 1:15. Anna told him it wasn't realistic for him to race, so he might try another option.

Tonight is the "opening ceremony" so I might have more later.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Final check - Elbrus 9-18

Breakfast @ 8 then 2 hr nap. Got gear on. Tricked my Polar FT60  into working 2 days in a row. Put 'Little Hotties' in my socks and shoes fit good. UA long underwear. Kuhl Renegade pants. Put in contacts. Turned on SPOT. (Remind me to add link). Kept heart rate down for 2500' then cut loose. 3500' in 2:19 including 21 minutes of rest or talking. Going down easy in 1:25 inc a talk stop with a female racer training in Millet 8000's.

Note on music this trip. None. Some da @ Creative wrote software that allows you to add more music than it will actually hold. Turn it on & warns you to hook to PC to delete the imaginary music. Yeah. I'll do that in a couple weeks.

Took a 2 hr nap then dinner was some bony dark sheep or chicken part w/rice. Going down to Cheget in morning to get some O's & meet group. Then back on Monday.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Barrels - 9-17

Hard staying asleep, drat jetlag. Groggy waking  up @ 6:30. Shower, repack. Breakfast @ 8, met Sasha, another racer. Bus @ 9. Stopped to get food. Then trams up. Little chair off, so we shouldered our bags and boogied up. Mine is a 50+ lb duffle, so i was sore @ the barrels. Ironically the chair started when we arrived. Lunch of meatball soup and 90 min of laying stuff out unpacking. Then a fast hike up to see what I can do on 7 hrs sleep in 2 days.

2000' in 1:03 not bad. It got windy cold & I wasn't dressed for that so I froze and managed only 600' in the next 24 min so I bailed. It was tough going, too, with all the snowcat traffic. Like 3" square ice cubes in a loose pile. Made my knee & ankle very sore. Slow going downhill. Lots of water in track low & socks got wet.

At barrels slid into bag & set stuff to dry in hot sun. Schnitzl & mashed potato for dinner. Filled bottles, now in bag blogging.

Feet warm enough despite wet, fanny pack not big enough for Elbrus cold windy gear, ankle hurts good.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

SVO 9 16

Moscow customs & immigration went smoothly. Checkin for domestic flight to Mineralnye Vody smooth. Went to the train station and finally got my cheesecake! Feeling strong, healthy, though i only got 2 hours sleep on the ATL-SVO flight. Feeling lots of love & support from my FB friends. Awesome!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pre-elbrus days

Spending a couple days at 10,000' in CO mostly just enjoying the family, eating a few carbs and treats and some non-training activities like gym climbing. I've put a lot into this and given up much, and it's almost payoff time.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Rainier Speed Test for Elbrus Race 2010

This is my gallery from the speed and gear check I did on Mount Rainier, Sept 3 and 4. I learned that my normal light boot technique works fine in crampons, and I could do a great 1900'/hour uphill pace. That's good enough for Elbrus Race, and I hope to keep my fitness and health up for the race.

More later ...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Running Quandary - Gear Check

Did a great test on Quandary today. Up in 1:35 and down in 1:10 - 10 minutes faster both up and down than my previous best. It's getting close to the end now, so I'm figuring out my gear and finalizing.

In this test, I managed to maintain 2200'/hr for the whole 90 minutes, which is my goal, and it's the first time my speed didn't lag in the last 1200' or so. Yes, it was slower in the rocks, but I was jogging on the flatter sections, so it averaged out. If I can double my endurance, I have the opportunity to crank out a sub-3 hour race pace on Elbrus.

Based on input from a participant in last years race, I tested the Salomon XA 3D Fastpacker (basically a high-top version of the XA 3D). I like the high-top because I have a tendency to roll my ankles if I'm fatigued, but it's only a little heavier than the trail runner. They've been working great on my machines, and sure enough, were awesome on the trail. Fast and light.

I've been using LEKI Corklite Aergon Speed Lock Trekking Poles, and I totally love them. They have traditional style adjustable straps, so if you know how to use cross country ski poles the "right" way, you'll be able to use these. The clip-locks are great, and way better than the twist-friction-locks. Speaking of cross country skiing, I did great with the poles today, even double-poling, and with the CNS training I've been doing, had a lot less mental fatigue from placement issues.

I'll be getting my crampons worked out in the next week, and I might go to Rainier to do some laps and test everything out in the cold and snow. That's enough time and space for now - more later ;)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Training for Elbrus Race 2010 - August 11 2010

It's official. At this point in time I have been accepted as a contestant in the Elbrus Race, the highest race in Europe, this September. I've been training very hard, as I'm very serious, and aside from the Russian Visa, need to qualify.

It appears as though twice as many are accepted as actually qualify. To qualify you have to run from the Barrels Huts to Pastukhov Rocks, about 3570' of elevation gain over 2.5 mi in less than two hours, then return to the Barrels by a set time (I think 4 PM which is about 5 hours round trip).

I've been training hard for this by running in Colorado on 14'ers and 13,000' ridge lines. I've maintained the requisite 1800'/hr of vertical gain pace over about 3.2 miles, so I feel pretty good about that. As well, I have access to a Stairmaster, an elliptical with a lot of leg raise in the front, and an Incline Treadmill that angles up to 40%, which is pretty steep.

I've been working out about 3 hours a day, and have done 4 hour days. Now as I taper into peaking on Sept. 21 and 23, I need to focus on my rest days to learn how to recover fully in 36 hours.

I'll put up more training, and some pictures, in the next week. Wish me luck...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Elbrus Video Uploaded

I put a video up from Elbrus in May of 2010. This is riding the snowcat from the top of the gondola to the barrels huts at about 12,300', the base camp for Elbrus. Short, but it's all I have on video from that trip. I'll be sure to get more and better on my next trip ;)

This was shot on my Creative VADO HD It's small, light, simple to use, has a tripod threaded base, recharges via USB on my Goal0 Sherpa50 (that I recharged at the barrels with my Nomad13 solar panel folding array). As a Goal0 Elite Team Athlete I got to be one of the first in the field with the newer smaller solar panel system. It worked great in the clear high altitude sunlight.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Catching Up: Elbrus then and now

Angie did most of the blogging on her blog about the trip to Russia and the attempt on Elbrus. Long story short, I made some bad choices on summit day and ended up freezing on the cat ride to P-Rocks. When I got my parka and mittens out at the rocks, I managed to almost lose my parka in the wind, and froze 3 fingers hard enough that I couldn't bend them.

Vladimir was very patient and attentive, and tried hard to thaw them, but at that point I was pretty discouraged and decided to quit and ride the next cat down with Angie. Good thing too, because I had a weird blood sugar reaction at the barrels and needed to curl up and equalize my metabolism some. Can't promise it would have happened if I climbed, since it never has, but it was probably a lot safer this way. Hindsight. Alas...

One of the climbers was dragged kicking and screaming up and down (only mild exaggeration), which made Angie feel good in bailing, since she really only wanted to go to the saddle to do an altitude PR, and they had "promised" she could turn around at any point.

That was Elbrus then, and I might go back and post some stuff, and I'll get my pics together in a Picasa album down the road.

For Elbrus now, I'll do the official announcement next week, but I'm preparing to make another go of it yet this summer.

Stay tuned..

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Wednesday May 11 2010 - Elbrus in Russia

Angie and I get on the plane tomorrow May 12 to head for Russia. It was an interesting adventure to get this far so quickly.

About three weeks ago Angie said "Go do Elbrus this spring" in response to the general funk I'd been feeling since my failure on Aconcagua in March. I looked up the dates, and there were a few events I needed to work around, and I had decided to go with one of a few local (Russian) operators, and since the difference in price is so minimal, decided to get a "full service" package.

I found the dates May 14 to May 20 to be the most convenient, and arranged it online. I then had to get my airfare set up, which I did with the annoying little inconvenience that no flights into Moscow that I could get for a reasonable rate arrived with the ability to just transfer on to Mineral Vodnye (the nearest airport to Elbrus region). I decided to sleep in Moscow and get the first flight out in the morning, and the tour operator I chose had an affiliation with a hotel at the airport so I arranged that as well.

In the middle of all this, Angie decided to go with, which is awesome, but now I had to redo some things. I contacted the tour operator while she contacted the airlines. I added her to the package, and they sent the "invitation" letters for us to go (a formality in obtaining a Russian visa). She had to go get passport pictures for the visa copy.

We got all our stuff together quickly and Fedex'ed it to the Consulate with the express option, but this is also in the middle of May Day - a national Russian Federation holiday, which slowed it down a bit. We did get it in amazing time thanks partly to a great efficient staff at the Consulate, and I have to really thank the people at work who helped me in the Fedex process, since I'm somewhat helpless in such things.

I had to wire the money to them, which is great and simple and easy. My bank allows me to do this with minimal hassle. Unfortunately that's not true. When the request came in for a transfer to Russia they locked down all my accounts until I could verify that I'm me and that I had a valid reason to transfer money to Russia. Beware if you try this. I appreciate their security, just annoying to be trying to get online to do my bills and get kicked out of my login.

Angie had to go to my favorite DO at IHC in Highland/Cedar Hills, Dr. Slack for her travel medications (I recommend that if you want to replicate all this you find a good friendly doctor who can arrange for your travel medications - the exception would be Yellow Fever, which has specific requirements, and might only be available at a University or Public Health Travel Clinic).

We had to get our gear together, which normally causes me some anxiety as I decide what goes and what doesn't, and since we're going together and can share some stuff, and since it's full-service and there's some stuff we just won't need to take, and trying to hit the airline luggage restriction (1 20 kilo bag and 1 10 kilo carryon) it was very stressful. I'm still stressed wondering if I got the right stuff in - oh well, I have about 18 hours to change my mind.

My Facebook Friend Elbrus Race gave us some weather beta. At the basecamp at the Barrels Hut it should be hovering around 30 degrees F during the day. At the summit it should be around 0 degrees F during the day, maybe dipping to about -10 with a 30 mph wind and very light snow (less than an inch a day).

This caused me to rethink some of my clothes, so I'll let you know how that goes later. I wasn't planning on taking a laptop, and I don't have a smartphone, so I might not be updating this till after. I'll let you know as I go. If you're following me on Facebook, that might be easier if you just can't wait. Sometimes I can send messages to FB from my tinyphone.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tuesday March 2 2010 - Weighty Decisions

Yesterday the Hungarian group went down, and the Spaniards went up, leaving just the Polish in my LANKO area of camp at Plaza de Mulas. In the middle of the night, as well as the storm, as well as the throbbing of my knee, the rest of the Polish team came down and made a lot of noise doing it. They took over the Hungarian bunks in the other hut after about 2 hours of talking with the Polish couple in my tent.

A groggy morning in the snow, with a painful knee, and I wasn't sure what to do. I cranked up the MSR XGK and made oatmeal and hot chocolate for breakfast, since I was off the LANKO leash so to speak. I walked out and cleared the Spanish camp area, which had the best windbreak. On the way, walking over the rocks I decided to test out my knee, and found the dozen or directions not to move it, and the weakest direction, which was down. Youch. So I might make it up if I were careful, but coming down would really suck. I tested in boots and running shoes, and apparently the torque of stepping down with the boot on my shin was doing something really bad to my knee.

I called Angie for advice, and she said she would support me if I bailed. I talked to Jacek, 53, of the Polish team (which was turned back by the trail police at 3 PM because there was no way they would safely make the summit). He talked about knee injuries, having had one not too long ago, and he recommended rest and care. Get off the mountain and come back stronger.

They then went down. It was late (around 11 AM) and I talked to Vanessa, who said I could go down and she'd send my bags down the next day. I quickly packed, making my backpack as light as possible, and managed to get out at 2 PM.

I had to really move to make it out on time. Fortunately, I didn't get lost on the way down, finding each fork quite easily and much more obviously than on the way up. I did a lot of thinking, and decided that the "high boot torque on the knee" might explain why over the years I got progressively softer ski boots and pretty much bailed on skiing altogether. Why I can run on snow descending, but have to hobble on rocks and gravel. Why I grew to prefer my Batura's for most everything I do in boots.

I managed to cross paths and overtake the Polish about a kilometer before I got to Confluencia, just before I had to go on the steepest part of the trail going down to the wire bridge. I ended up hopping down on one foot, and maybe even cried a bit.

I made it to Confluencia just at sunset, and of all the luck, ran into Osvaldo, who was looking for the Polish. I told him at their pace they were most likely an hour out, so he packed me up and took me down to the Hostel. Sure enough the Polish arrived about an hour later, and we ate at the same time, though not together.

Oddly, they lost all sense of being climbers the second they got down, and were drinking a lot and being rude and obnoxious (is this a Euro trait?) about getting a ride into Mendoza so they could find flights to Buenos Aires (which I soon discovered was quite a feat). They had dropped a bag on the mountain in the storm at around 16,000' and had to send a porter up to snag it and bring it down, but it didn't make the mule trip that day, so it would come down the next day with my bag.

I took a long shower, patched my blister (from my fast walk) with chapstick (works good) and hit the sack. My poor knee - my bed was upstairs so I had to hobble up and down, and even crawled a time or two. Thank goodness for pee bottles.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Aconcagua 2010 - Acclimatization, Lightning and Injury

Monday, March 1 2010. Got up to a thin layer of fresh snow from overnight. Had breakfast at 9:45 today. This is my last two meals of pre-arranged room and board, but I managed to get Vanessa to swap out lunch with dinner and let me have another night. That way I could spend the day acclimatizing and get this show on the road.

It snowed again around 11, but by noon it was clear and dripping, but now my sleeping bag was in a safe spot. I packed my own lunch snacks and had a protein shake, then headed up the trail. My goal was 16,000', to make up for missing 15,000' on Sunday.

I dressed fairly lightly, since I was planning on moving quickly, and took off. In less than an hour I was at 15,000' below Conway Rocks.

Looking down on Plaza de Mulas from 15,000' - notice mostly clear sky. Below is Conway Rocks at about 15,700' - notice the stormy look.

I hit 16,000' just shy of Camp Canada in less than 2 hours - averaging 1,100' per hour. Great time. But just then I noticed lightning booming around my in the not too distant peaks to the North and West. What a conflict. I was feeling really really good and wanted badly to go on to see if I could hit 17,000' and keep my pace up. But then I noticed it was heading for whiteout, and snowing and I decided to turn around and not push it.

On the way down I started to hear a weird buzzing rattling noise and realized it was static zipping off the end of my Leki Makalu trekking pole behind my right ear where it was in the side sleeve of my pack. Lightning rod. Awesome.

I wasn't sure what to do. I'd been nearly hit by lightning in Montana and Colorado, and decided to dump the pack, which is the normal instructions, and as I dropped it noticed that it stopped buzzing.

Being of a somewhat naive scientific nature, I decided to test this interesting phenomenon by holding my other pole up until it started buzzing, to determine at what height it would start or stop buzzing. BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! it zapped me through my gloves and forced my arm to clench and unclench my fist and I dropped it. Holy snot. I started running downhill and stopped by Conway Rocks where others where huddled down. Lightning blasted near my pack then, and I decided to go back and get my stuff.

I gathered it and by this time the snow had covered the trail so I felt a little lost, and soon all the zippers and a few other odd places on my clothes started to buzz and rattle. What the heck? Well, I can't just strip down to my undies and go down, so I hoped for the best and kept moving.

I saw a group of climbers led down by a guide and decided to just follow their tracks down. As I got down to about 15,200' the buzzing stopped, so I felt a lot safer now.

About 2 hours later just a little ways above where the first picture was taken showing new snow and reduced visibility.

They were going an odd way through the little gap in the rocks the switchbacks wove through, and stepping through that I slipped a bit and overextended my knee, thinking nothing of it at the time.

As I got into camp it was still blowing and snowing, but in another hour it stopped, cleared and showed a beautiful sky with colors preparing for sunset.

From Aconcagua Teaser

I cleaned, hung my stuff to dry (when I discovered that cordlocks have metal springs in them - hence the odd buzzing), having gotten damp with all the running, and ate dinner. A great Argentinian Lasagna. I crawled into bed and almost immediately my right knee began throbbing. Swollen and painful, I couldn't find any comfortable position and tossed and turned a lot before finally finding a neutral position and falling asleep while wondering if it was the over-extension in coming through the slippery rocks of the gap, or did I do it in my near-panic run down to Conway? Either way, it should be better by morning if it isn't too bad.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Aconcagua 2010 - Plaza de Mulas Sunday

Sunday, February 28, 2010. Plaza de Mulas at the base of the normal route at the top of the Horcones Approach Trail on Aconcagua. Got up with a light dusting of snow on everything. It was odd to my sense of reality because South of the Equator the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, as you expect, but does it while leaning to the North, not the South as I'm used to as a native of the Northern Hemisphere.

Because of the surrounding terrain the sun didn't hit base camp until around 9:30 or so. It's typical for most people to lay around camp waiting for the sun to hit before moving around much.

The Europeans were up in the dining tent around 8 or so, and for the most part cooking their own food on primus type bottled gas stoves using large Doite canisters. I assumed from this that some place in town or Osvaldo of LANKO sold them. He offered me canisters (his preference) or white gas.

I had chosen white gas and was told two liters was waiting for me at base camp. I had made a little fuss about it, since I had read so many trip reports about spilled gas from 2 liter bottles (the normal way to store white gas in Argentina) ruining bags of stuff on the mules. Anyway, yesterday I received my 1.5 liter Coke bottle, being told it was 2 liters. I wasn't sure if it was ignorance or deception, but wouldn't push it. I assumed I had way over-estimated anyway.

I lit up my MSR XGK to see how it ran, and it smelled odd, but close enough to white gas to work. It's a bit scary, honestly, since the typical thing to do in Mexico is to go to a paint shop where it's sold as paint thinner called gasolina blanca. Here it's called naptha. As you drive by the gas pumps you see two grades of diesel and naptha as the three options. Hmmmm - I would be careful about venting if that's the case.

Lunch was set for around 1 PM. Annoying. I'm not going to do this again. I had decided to go ahead and get two days of full service so I could acclimatize and build camp without stressing over cooking, but now I can pass this advice on - don't. Sure, if you want meat get the dinner. It won't really affect anything, but having to wait around till nine every morning and then again at noonish puts a real damper on the schedule.

Add to that the apparent cycle that everyone there seemed used to. 9:30 sun hits camp. Everything dries out. 11:30 storm hits camp and blows everything away and covers everything in snow. 2 PM sun comes out and melts everything making it all wet. 5 PM storm comes in and covers camp again.

Carlos told me he had stuff to do, places to go and all that, and Vanessa was in charge now and he left. Vanessa had about as much English as I had Spanish, so maybe it would be okay.

I had originally planned to go 1,000' higher every day to test my speed and acclimatization level, but with this crazy schedule, and the sneaky storms that I wasn't prepared for dealing with at this point, I decided to honor the rangers and not go up till my 6 PM checkup.

And lucky thing too. I had thought of going up at the 2 PM clearing, but every window in the quonset hut leaked the melting snow onto the bunk below it. Including my appointed bunk. I was out enjoying the sun and thinking of heading up. Got my boots on. Prepared my water. Noticed drips running on other bunks and looked at my sleeping bag and found about a quart of water inside. I quick flipped it out and dried it with a microfiber towel. Thanks to pertex it was fine, but very annoying. I managed to rearrange my stuff and had to hang some things out to dry between windows.

I spent the afternoon drying out my stuff and moving to another bunk. Then to make things more interesting a couple of Polish climbers, presumably married, came in. I had to again move stuff around to make room for them, and pointed out to Vanessa that the bunks leaked so she moved stuff around too to make room for them. They looked in really bad shape.

I did my checkup, had decent numbers and returned to camp to prepare for dinner. The Polish climbers joined me tonight and she had some English and him almost none. Shortly after bedtime she began puking a lot. Over and over. All night. Oh, joy.

Aconcagua 2010 - Confluencia to Plaza de Mulas

We'd heard vague rumors that the night earthquake was in Chile and massive. And of course for what we felt, being about 80 miles from the epicenter as we'd heard, it had to be.

I prepared to hit the trail again. Breakfast was some stale rolls and a dish of various jams and butter spreads. I remember some kind of granola or oats and milk. Amazing. We were given sack lunches and parted ways.

In the spirit of various "failures" on this trip my REI softshell trail run gaiters tore out the front hook on one. I put it on anyway and hoped for the best. Today was a bit cooler, though I spent lots of time in the desert part of the trail.

I crossed the river on the wire grid bridge and got to a damp area with very soft trails that were very non-obvious. I realized this as the trail disappeared in the soft sandy mud and backtracked to the creek looking for an alternate path. The mules had obscured any footprints and I decided to cross the creek and follow them. I removed my shoes and waded in shin-deep fast water with the rocky bottom and found a rock to sit on to replace my shoes when a mule pack came by led by four horsemen. One was kind enough to stop and tell me my path was across the creek and that I should go back.

Good enough. I went back over and balanced on one foot at a time replacing my shoes. Guess a foot bath wasn't totally unwelcome with the serious red dust I'd accumulated from wearing trail runners. I recommend no one else do this. Wear goretex or leather boots. Really. It's not worth the minor speed difference. At least wear goretex trail runners with gaiters.

Anyway, I went back to the soft muddy wet area and got lost again, so I looked back and saw a trail fork off at the little hill above the creek crossing. Drat. So I went back and this trail ran along the edge of the bluff in a wet and rocky area, and was vague and indistinct as well. But it got me there.

Eventually I got lost again, and again. The trail isn't very obvious and I discovered some areas where landslides had covered the trail in places, that I had to pick my way over carefully lest it slide more and take me with it.

I passed the very obvious landmarks as listed in the various books and guides, and totally dug Ibanez, a large rock where the trail gets steep with skull totems and a warning sign "4 hours to Plaza de Mulas".

Osvaldo had told me there was no camping here, but that's a bit subjective, since there are definitely cleared camping spots for a few tents, but no obvious drinking water. The way up from there to Plaza de Mulas was very rugged and steep, but more obviously trails, so no more getting lost.

Ran across some mules that were either slow or careless or sick. Photo above of one. Near the end I crossed paths a few times with two guys who had camped at Ibanez and had drunk the muddy water. Having camped they had a very large load, compared to my < 20 lb pack (much of which was my -20 degree bag that I really didn't need in Confluencia). I loaned one some of my water, as he was out, and I had about 4 oz. left. Finally, after a good tough 7 hours, I made it into Plaza de Mulas, 14,100' base camp for the normal route on Aconcagua. I checked in the rangers who told me to report back at 6 PM the next night for my health check.

I went over to the Lanko Camp and reported in with Carlos, the camp manager who directed me to my bunk in one of the huts, showing me specifically which bunk was mine. There were several tents up in the tent yard, and a few bunk users in the other hut. He showed me the dining hut, available for cooking, and the outhouse and outhouse key.

The water was from one of two blue barrels, fed by a tube from some junction in the mad spider web of tubing snaking through the camp. It was obvious as the rest of the water everywhere that it was not safe to drink so I kept treating my water (I normally treat all water with a steripen, even if it might be safe).

Vanessa, his wife, was the cook, and dinner would be a fashionably early 7:30. I got my bags and headed to the hut to unpack and organize.

Dinner didn't actually arrive till 8:00 pm, but oh, well. It was good enough. More meat. There was a Hungarian team there, led by two girls who did not ascend, but managed logistics as part of their tour company. Charles on that team had good English. A couple of the Hungarians were up making a summit bid, the rest had bailed for weather and cold.

A Spanish team was there as well, just two guys, and Kiko on that team had good English. He gave me some Spanish lessons while I was there and was fun to talk to. I went to bed in my cot as an evening snow squall passed through.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Aconcagua 2010 - Earthquake

3 AM February 27, 2010. Bed shaking. It increases in intensity and goes on and on. The Canadian starts yelling in Spanish and the other unknown bunkmate responds. In my state of confusion I pick out something like "should we run".

As the top of the bunk sways almost a foot either direction, and the legs feel like they're sliding and hopping, a low rumble, familiar sound. Rock slide. I know in my heart the shaking isn't because of the rock slide. It's an earthquake.

The other two jump out of their bags and run to the door. I realize I'm about to be buried in the bunk under a million tons of rubble, and figure that would really suck about now.

I jump up to run to the door.

Looking out just up from camp is the huge cliff falling down on us. Clouds of dust swirl in the moon and starlight down into camp. Dozens stand in various phases of undress shouting something that sounds a lot like Spanish for "which way do we run".

The dust swirls into camp, covering some outhouses, then stops. We're safe.

So I climb back into bed, where I'm treated to a series of aftershocks, but manage to sleep till morning, when I take this picture of the aftermath.

It was a lot more exciting looking in the dark. Not to mention how it felt. ;)

Aconcagua 2010 - Horcones to Confluencia

Me at the entrance to the Horcones Trail. Aconcagua behind.

Osvaldo of LANKO had me stop here and break out my camera so he could take this ominously meaningful picture. He dropped me off at the ranger station at about 9,000', and I checked in with the rangers and got my first garbage bag. You must either bring the bag back, or have your mule provider sign off for you that they are dealing with your bag, or you will be fined a large amount. I heard something like $200 US, but that's hearsay.

There is dirty running water here and a toilet trailer. I suddenly discovered a slew of little difficulties. I had packed my sunscreen in my mule bag. I only had half of my trail food. My trail running gaiter was missing a cord. My camera was gone. I emptied my bag and finally remembered that it was out for the above ominous picture, so I had the ranger radio down to Osvaldo, who came back with my camera. In the meantime I found a camera strap I wasn't using and rigged it as a gaiter cord. An hour later than I expected, I hit the trail.

Wearing my white UA-style shirt in full sunlight along the Horcones Trail. Aconcagua behind.

It was difficult moving my clothes around to protect me from the sun, but I managed to make great time along the trail to Confluencia, 6 miles away and at about 11,000'. Within minutes of 2 hours. Nice pace 1,000' vertical and 3.0 miles per hour. There is a water hose and picnic table right before the ranger station, and I sat and snacked.

I checked in, receiving a new bag, with instructions to bring it back here (in very bad English). I suppose in some odd ways I was very lucky that none of the rangers I encountered spoke any real English at all. Made for a lot less hassle. I was to stay in the dome to the far left of the above picture, a subcontractor named Carlos that maintained it for a number of other mule services. He was to provide a cot with pads, and three meals. A typical late Argentinian dinner and breakfast, and a bag lunch.

Nice steel dome with nice steel beds and nice thick mattresses. Ominous.

Since it was still early, I decided to do a little more acclimatization, and run up the Plaza Francia trail to 12,000'. This is the trail to the horrible, difficult, test-pieces on the South Face of Aconcagua. The trail was a bit softer and more rugged, and I got off-trail (lost - ominous) a number of times, but did make it to 12,000' in an hour over an estimated 2 miles. Not a great view from here of the South Face, but oh, well. I ran back to camp as the sun went down, and prepared for dinner. Again, the meat, but it was pretty good, not as fatty as the meat yesterday. Eduardo re-ordered for me the previous day, as he had noticed that most Americans (United States) don't like fat.

In my dome was an empty sleeping bag laid out (not sure for who) and a guy from Quebec trekking (not intending to summit), who was fun to talk to during dinner. We went to bed around 10 PM (about the time dinner was done) and shortly after some guy came in and filled the empty bag.

About 3 AM, I woke to the bed quickly but gently swaying, wondering what the heck was going on.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Aconcagua 2010 - Salt Lake City to Penitentes

Got up early on February 24 to go to the airport and fly Southwest to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles I had a few hours to kill, and there was a major order issue with the Satphone that required I pick up a Fedex at a nearby Fedex facility, so I let Southwest keep my bags for me and walked to Fedex about 3 miles away. I rode the B-lot shuttle back, retrieved my bags and wheeled them over to Tom Bradley where I passed them on to LAN.

Tom Bradley still sucks. I made a protein shake and hung out killing time on my DSi (which is one of my new favorite airport/airline time wasters). Finally I got on the plane and flew on to Santiago Chile, where I would have another few hours to kill. Santiago at the time was under construction, and it was hard to find a money change place and food in the international wing. Chile has odd rules, and if you leave that wing you have to pay a fee to enter the country (even if it's just to go to the bathroom). I finally found the money changer and grabbed a vegetarian sub sandwich at Dunkin Donuts.

Santiago Chile Airport

I got on my plane for a very short flight to Mendoza. Customs and immigration was easy. In Mendoza I was met by Jose of LANKO, and his sub-contracted driver Eduardo. They grabbed my bags and loaded them in the Mercedes minibus and we drove to the city center where Eduardo guarded the van and moved it around the parking police, and Jose took me to the tourist office to get the permit invoice, to a money changer to get Argentinian pesos, to a Western Union to get the receipt for the invoice, then take the invoice back to the tourist office to get the permit.

I should point out that my poor Verizon world phone did not work here. It's dual-band GSM and I guess you need quad-band here. Oh, well. There's still the satphone.

Jose took off then to do other busy work involved with running LANKO in Mendoza while Eduardo took me to Walmart to get supplies. He followed me around and helped pick stuff out, which was mildly frustrating, but at least helpful when I couldn't find anything instant like I was used to finding. He explained that they don't do that here. Everyone cooks everything from scratch. That sucks for backpacking. He kept trying to get me to buy tuna and canned veggies, and even loaves of bread and fresh fruit. Um, yeah. 26 miles on the back of a mule. Then I haul it up the mountain on my back.

On the two hour or so drive from Mendoza to Penitentes we stopped at a restaurant where Eduardo eats for free because he's such a good networking driver person. He gave me a business card and invited me to bring all my friends and have a great tour. This was also my introduction to the typical Argentinian diet. Three or more courses. Lots of meat. Dulce de leche (caramel) on all the deserts.

In Penitentes I was dropped off with Osvaldo running interference to keep me from either tipping or talking to Eduardo. Interesting. I was given a bunk in a dorm-style room upstairs and shown a place to sort my bags. I got right into sorting my bags, and managed to get done fast enough that he sent them up with the next day mule trip. Normally your stuff goes up a day after you, but I was fast.

I took a shower and changed, then went outside to make a satphone call. It was annoying, to say the least. Not sure if it's just my destiny, but overall the service sucked. I would hate to have an emergency and need it. Anyway, then on to the typical Argentinian late dinner. 8:30 PM. Meat. Desert. Wow, I'm going to be so sick.

LANKO Penitentes Hostel

Got to bed and woke at 7 AM, and had to wait an hour for the typical late Argentinian breakfast. Very continental. Sliced meat and cheese and rolls. It was now time to make the transfer to the trailhead. Osvaldo loaded me into his old Toyota 4x4 diesel truck and make the half hour trip to the Horcones entrance.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Monday, February 1, 2010

Aconcagua Logistics - Up to Base Camp

Many people going to Aconcagua hire a US-based outfitter or guide service to manage their climb. This is probably easier, and avoids a lot of complications and issues.

Argentinian Spanish is a slight bit different from other Latin American dialects, especially Mexican Spanish. English is not extremely common among local speakers in the Aconcagua region.

As a Latin American country, sometimes the clock is set a little behind. Sometimes by a day or more. Many of the things we have come to expect to happen quickly just won't.

There is quite a bit of going around in circles to accomplish somewhat simple tasks. Sometimes money can fix this, sometimes not.

A guide service connected to a local logistics provider can cut through a lot of this, or hide it behind steak dinners and gear checks.

That being said, let's proceed for those who want to go it alone.

First of all, you have to get to Mendoza Argentina. This can be daunting. Yes, just go online and book American Airlines through Santiago Chile. You'll end up on LAN Chile Airlines, and there've been rumors of odd baggage transfers on this flight combination. Or you could book on Delta through Buenos Aires, but then you end up with an airport transfer and on Aerolinas Airlines for a leg, and it's a bit vague about the 15kg luggage restrictions.

Or you could book from LAX or MIA to MDZ on LAN Chile through Santiago, and just use whatever your favorite US carrier is to get to the starting point, but then you'll have to manually transfer your luggage to LAN. Oh, well.

And to top it off, Chile has odd food import rules and it's a possibility you'll have all your food confiscated (though I've heard rumors about yummy snacks being taken by Argentinian Customs agents as well). Also, if you leave the terminal you might have to pay a reciprocation fee of $150 in Chile, and sometimes you have to leave the terminal for the transfer between airlines.

Some people like to just get off in Santiago and take a bus to Argentina (only a few hours, really, on a road that is truly survivable, from what I hear) but the border crossing again, is risky for your gear and food (not to mention the reciprocity fee at the airport). This bus might not actually go straight on to Mendoza, and you have to go to Mendoza first to pick up a permit in person, even though the bus passes right by the trailhead to Aconcagua. Oh, well again.

Anyway, now, one way or another, you've managed to get to Mendoza. You have to stop by a government office to pick up an invoice for a permit. This office follows government type business hours with a little bit of laxity to allow for it being a tourist industry after all. The taxi drivers know where it is. Take the invoice to a bank down the street and pay. Get a receipt. Take the receipt back to the government office and get your permit. Permit fees are based on dates between November and March for High, Mid and Low season. You can get a trekking permit up the trail to base camp and back, or a climbing permit. Both have expiration dates. It is remotely possible to climb outside that little calendar window, but you will be completely alone, and it's very serious stuff. You've been warned.

While you're in Mendoza you'll need to get your supplies too. Many people recommend taking a taxi to Walmart where you can get just about everything you would normally need. I've heard they have gas cylinders like MSR and Jetboil use, but can't confirm that myself. They also have white gas, though you can get that elsewhere (paint stores oddly enough).

From here you'll need to get yourself and your stuff to Penitentes or Puenta del Incas, both little towns near the trailheads and where the mule companies take off. You'll need to give them your stuff in plenty of time for them to weigh it (your stuff will need to be split into two even loads less than 30 kg ea) and ensure that the mules will be loaded and ready to go in time to beat you to the basecamp (assuming the normal route).

Okay, mules? Yes. I've read stories of some real hardcore go-it-alone people doing it without mules. For many people this is a three week expedition. Carrying that much stuff on your back sucks, and this isn't Alaska, so sleds are out.

The mules can do the normal route in a day. It will take you at least two. They will beat you, so keep that in mind when you drop off your stuff.

Also, be aware that a guided group will normally allow as many as 3 to 4 days for all of this up to the point where you give up your stuff and start up the trail. It would be very difficult to do it all in one day, with a tight schedule worked around flights, government offices, banks, shopping, driving, and who knows what all else. The buses to these little towns have set schedules and sometimes require reservations the day before. If you have an evening arrival you'll have to wait for the next day to get your permit and the next day to get on the bus, then the next day to drop off your gear. Four days right there. If you're having "cultural experiences" and steak and wine dinners, and street markets, you don't really notice all that so obviously. (Mendoza Argentina has some world famous steak restaurants and wineries)

From the trailhead you will encounter a ranger who will verify your permit, that it is correct for your intended adventure, and the correct season. Your time starts now. You will be issued a numbered garbage bag and you will be fined stiffly if you lose it. On the normal route you will spend the day hiking to Confluencia where you will camp. In a few books there are other camps mentioned, but according to a few local sources, you will camp in Confluencia. If you come from sea level, it might be a good idea to hang out here and hike a few surrounding canyons or peaks to acclimatize for a day or two before proceeding to Plaza de Mulas, the base camp for the normal route at over 14,000'. Hiking from the trailhead to base camp can take from two to four days.

At the Plaza de Mulas base camp you may encounter another ranger for a permit check. I've heard of medical checks as well. Most people would need to hang out here at 14,000' and just get used to the altitude slowly, the recommended protocol to prevent AMS (acute mountain sickness).

That's it for now, the basics of how to get there. I will correct any of these that are wrong, though for each of them I've read several trip reports and blog entries that I feel support my suppositions.

Note: this is written as I prepare for the trip. I am at home as I write this. I am not on Aconcagua. Hope that helps.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Kilimanjaro 2010 Final

On January 1 2010 at 6:45 AM I hit the summit of Africa, Kilimanjaro. I was with a small group of clients of Zara Tours. Zara subcontracts with other tour operators, some with offices in the United States and Europe. They are a local company and are affiliated through ownership of other tour and safari companies and hotels, including the Springlands Hotel in Moshi, Tanzania, the base from which our tour was launched.

If you were reading my previous posts, you might have gotten a few positive and negative impressions. First off, I doubt that any of the negative impressions are directly the result of having used Zara.

1) allergy. I'm not so allergic to peanut products that I'm at risk of dying but it can be miserable for myself and everyone around me if I do react. Because of the tip situation (see below) the cook will most likely not speak English, might not even be selected until the trailhead, and there will be no reasonable way to convey allergy or special dietary requirements to them, or even to anyone involved. From what I saw of other groups, I have no reason to believe this would be any different on a group with a US-based operator like Mountain Madness or any of the others. I might be wrong and if they want to post and correct me, I'm fine with that.

2) water treatment. Most of the water sources come from the peak, down a path that doesn't have any real animal or human contact, other than the porter's hands. Most of the groups I saw hauled water in some form of recycled containers and it's not obvious that any of these containers are ever washed. I did not see any other group on the mountain boiling gallons and gallons of water, and I can imagine the fuel needed to do that would be very burdensome to haul. Since the porters would be filling your bottles in secret to hide that fact, and there's a lot of risk of contact with unsanitary surfaces, I highly recommend that you take along a steripen or whatever you feel safe with. Even if you are with a US-based group (remember, the Tanzania Park rules require them to use local porters and cooks and guides in addition to the US staff).

3) tips. Wow. You'll read articles about how you should dole out your tips to each member of the staff to ensure that the guide isn't running off with all the money. In our case, our own porters (those actually touching our individual gear) were hidden from us, our cook was hidden from us, and we were never even sure how many porters we had - though when we got our group picture, 15 porters appeared from the surrounding area to pose with us. I may sound cynical, but the annoyance of having them manhandling my stuff and mixing up my system of packing just to confirm that I'm a helpless dweeb and should give them more money soured me a bit. So too the "celebration dinner" scam. But be that as it may, there are several different tip systems you can look up based on how many days long your trip is. Then you all get together and hand it to the head guide, who may or may not distribute it to the porters.

4) cast-off gear. Yes, plan your trip to take all your cast-offs, no longer fits, no longer needed, busted zipper and torn. This is not a "die from a busted zipper" kind of trip. You can do it in ratty old ski clothes. Then give it all away at the end. You'll feel good about yourself. Close your eyes though to the Pawn-like shops selling cast-off gear. Assume the porters who need cash will sell their stuff to buy "porter diamox" (we were told cigarettes were porter diamox).

5) food. Most of us United States natives will not be totally thrilled at the local diet. Without the corn subsidies, and with the abundance of local sugar cane, you'll get real sugar in stuff, not high fructose corn syrup. Meat will be stringy and tough. Eggs will be thin and white. A local outfitter will most likely lean toward local food. A US outfitter may or may not. I have a DVD from one that shows a huge buffet laid out at one of the camps. It might just be advertising hype, or they might hire a dozen more porters to haul it all (and hence the almost 5x expense of the trip).

So the bottom line?

Some of the minor shortcomings of the trip you just have to live with and get past to make this work. It is what it is, and while you theoretically can arrange a completely self-supported trip, and have the requisite minimum porter/guide/cook count hang out and just follow you up to meet your legal obligations, I don't recommend this unless you absolutely could not possibly deal with the problems I mentioned above.

Otherwise, for most people who have traveled internationally before, and have eaten local food, especially in Asia, and have used local toilets, again, in Asia, I think a local operator would work out fine.

If you have to have American food, and have to communicate with someone in charge who is a native English speaker, and need a slightly higher level of coddling, then maybe you could investigate a US-based outfitter that does not subcontract with Zara or one of the other half-dozen Tanzania companies that will give a Tanzania local experience. Usually the lower the price the more likely it's going to be a "local" experience.

For myself, if it were just me, and I were to do it over, I'd be happy enough with Zara to do it again. YMMV.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Kilimanjaro 2010 Day Six and Seven

[Note: gaps are from pictures that somehow became missing from my Picasa Gallery - will replace when I get a few minutes]

We had rested and eaten, so began our descent into the mist and clouds. At High Camp, along the Mweka Trail, we stopped to rest on the benches there for a short bit. Maybe longer than we planned. It had been raining off and on for some time. High Camp is for those who are running late in coming down from the summit.

At times the trail down into the rain forest seemed like a dry river bed, but when it began to rain pretty good the trail became a wet and sloppy mess. Standing and running water was the norm, and made footing pretty rough going.

We made it to the Mweka Camp, registered in pouring rain, finding shelter in the ranger hut, much nicer than most of the others along the trail. We got to our tents and crashed. We ate then retired in the midst of dripping wetness.

Day Seven Morning - Jan 2 2010.

We rose, had breakfast and hung stuff to dry. We headed down the trail and sometimes ran, sometimes walked down a wide well maintained trail that eventually became a very wet yucky road that we could barely stand up in. At least I know I had a lot of trouble.

We got to see people being carried by porters, or held up between porters, people whining and griping about pain, but also people singing their joy at having gone to the summit.

My favorite though was the monkeys. Got to see the monkey family, including a baby.

At the bottom we registered at the ranger station and got in the van to go. There was a hold-up though and we sat for a bit. Turns out the porter carrying my bag had a crash and broke his knee. They sent someone up for my bag and after a lot of stress on their part, we went down to the hotel in Moshi and the bag would catch up to us later.

At the hotel we hung around for a bit. Zakariah said he was going to go check in the group equipment and manage the porters and would meet up with us later. We checked in and after a bit the assistant guide brought my bag to my room and insisted on staying while I checked it. I did, it was fine, but he didn't seem happy.

We went to hang out then and wait for Zakariah, who would be bringing certificates and collect the tip for the porters. In the meantime, the Zara rep came and asked us if we were abused by the porters or guides in any way. I ignored the whole "overhelpfullness" issue, as well as the "allergy ignorance" issue, figuring there's nothing to be done for either.

Only minutes after the Zara rep left Zakariah returned with his assistant Augustino. We had been warned about the Zara rep, that the porters and guides livelihood depended on good reviews and things.

We had collected a tip, gave it to them, then we had some stuff to give them (miscellaneous old clothing etc.), and they gave us the certificates.

They ran to pay the porters their tips, while we hung out and ate and stuff, arranging to meet them later in the day. One of us had mentioned inviting them to dinner. This became an interesting shake-down attempt, as they stated later that it would be around $40 or more each to take them to dinner (as Simina looked on her Blackberry and showed us it was $10 ea) and they'd much rather use that money to give a great party to the village. So we tossed in $5 each (amounting to $25) and told them to have a great party and buy a few barrels of banana beer for the village.

They weren't happy. Anyway, that was it. The trip was done. I had a couple days to kill and had some fun, but that has nothing to do with Kili so I'll talk about that elsewhere.

Next time I'll give my assessment, especially Tanzania VS. US outfitters/guides, talk some about the shakedown/tip mentality, and offer some last minute tips and ideas.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Kilimanjaro 2010 Day Six

This day began at 11:30 PM on December 31, 2009.

We got up and out of our tents. I was ready, had my platypus filled (2 liter) and a 1 liter nalgene as backup. To keep it from freezing I put a packet of EmergenC Electrolyte mix in, then be sure to blow back on the tube. It worked in Ecuador, so I figured it should work here as well.

The literature said "summit day midnight snack of tea and biscuits" but we forgot the Euro heritage and syntax here. Biscuit = cookie. Many of us had gotten used to the Milo hot drink - it's made by Nestle and it seems to be just chocolate milk powder. Hot it's good enough.

The porters were all going nuts cheering in the new year as we went up the trail. The pace was quite slow enough, and I don't remember being out of breath at all at any point this night. The moon was very bright due to being full, at altitude, and near the equator in a relatively non-industrial nation. I didn't use my headlamp very much except to glance at my Polar FT60 or for a brief time about 4:30 AM when the moon passed behind a ridge.

As we hit Stella Point, only a few hundred meters from the summit, the sun was a strip of glowing orange and red on the horizon. Along the ridge walk to the summit we were on snow a little, and got to see the edge of the glacier lit up with yellow beautiful sunrise.

As we passed leaning to the right, I could see the summit in the distance, maybe a half mile away. I began to cry a little realizing one of my lifelong dreams, since reading Dick Bass's book.

We made it to the top at 6:45 AM on January 1st 2010. Happy New Year! Climbers said it to each other passing along the ridge. We got in line, helped the climbers ahead to get their pictures, then got in for ours. I had Kitty on a lanyard on my neck, and realizing she wouldn't get her own pic today, I pulled her out to sit on my chest.

We hung out for maybe 20 minutes. I still broke out in quiet sobs thinking about it. How joyous and wonderful all at the same time. The views of the crater and glacier walls awesome to behold. Poetry in my mind. Lovely.

We made it down to camp in a few hours and took a small rest and lunch. We broke camp and prepared for the trip down to Mweka Camp nearly 5,000' below.

TIPS: The platypus worked fine and 2 liters was plenty. The temperature probably got down as low as 5 F around 3-5 AM. My feet were a bit cold in my Scarpa Charmoz, but I wiggled my toes a lot and that helped. Thinking of other cold-toed friends, I think maybe at an extreme electric insoles might do it. Or you could do the entire trek in goretex trail runners and keep a very warm pair for summit day. Pocket snacks were beneficial. I keep a handful of goo packets in a pocket to stay warm and handy.

Kilimanjaro 2010 Day Five

December 31 2010 - last day before the summit.

Beautiful morning. Fruit, toast, cheese (cheese very dry and white with little fat seems to be the norm here), and "porridge" (cream of wheat). Short day again on way to Barafu Camp.

We went up and over a rugged hill into a more dry part of the mountain. From here the porters make trips with yellow vegetable oil containers full of water from the spring at Karanga, so they're going to be even more frugal with water. But maybe not, since they won't want to carry it all downhill or dump it.

At each of the camps except Karanga we had to fill out a form with the rangers to check in. Here at Barafu we entered the hut and filled it out and they tried to sell us souvenirs and beer. Ahead of us was a "rugby player" as it listed on his profession on the form, who was arguing to continue to the top despite this being his second day on the mountain. Don't know anything about this one, but a typical cause of AMS is given as a young athletic person attacking the mountain and going too fast. That could explain the ranger's concern.

We rested in the hot sunlit tents for a bit, then had lunch. A little rest again, then an acclimatization hike up the first 200 meters of the route to get a feel for it before dark.

We returned for a meal of pasta to load up for the night, then early to bed for 11 PM wakeup. Tonight is the full moon and New Years. Awesome.

The route to Stella Point along the crater rim is along the buttress to right of center.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Kilimanjaro 2010 Day Four

Sortof crawled out of the frozen tent at 6 AM after the fun night, and left the bottles out for the porters to fill, minus the platypus, which I filled myself after establishing the opening was too complicated for them to deal with, and by some odd chance, they managed to pick up my half filled pee bottle and topped it off for me. Thanks. I dumped it quietly and stuffed it in my duffel.

We got moving up the trail leading over the Baranco Wall, which was a lot of fun with some interesting rocky moves and the best was watching the porters carry stuff singing and chanting to one another along the trail.

Short day, only going to Karanga Camp, a midway camp before the final camp at Barafu, and the last with easy water. The day switched back and forth between dry and misty a few times, but it allowed us to dry out on our last full night before the summit attempt.

We got into Karanga Camp for a late lunch, and got our stuff spread out to dry.

Matt wasn't too keen on eating, but the rest of us were loving the food here tonight including "chips" or fries as we say here in the States.

We settled in for bed intent on catching up our strength for the next day, also a short one as we go only to Barafu Camp for another late lunch.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Kilimanjaro 2010 Day Three

Got up, had breakfast, packed up and headed out for Baranco Camp after our high point over 15,000' at Lava Tower.

It was misty to start with, and increased to good rain. For lunch we stopped just below Lava Tower in the shelter of overhanging rocks. I didn't have peanuts today, yippee, after giving mine to Zakariah yesterday, which surprised him a bit.

TIP: If you have a food allergy, you're probably wasting time to talk to them about it. The desk people don't talk to the guide people at all, because of the tip situation, the cook and waiter are somewhat insulated from the clients and hotel/tour staff, and with the language barrier (the cook didn't speak even one word of English) it's overall pointless. If you have a food allergy that could result in death, and you're not able to manage it in the wild, you might want to consider some other hobby.

After leaving lunch we got to the top pretty quick, Lava Tower, 15,190'.

The terrain had changed quite a bit over the day, becoming more desert and arid. As we descended the rougher terrain to Baranco Camp, below the Baranco Wall, we passed the unique Joshua tree looking plants that we had to stop and take pictures under.

We got to camp, and I was pretty tired from the descent with my boots too loose. Managed to avoid blisters, but still sore. We sat down to a hot snack of popcorn and roasted peanuts. Since I had my doubts that any form of separation was maintained I avoided the popcorn tonight. Matt chowed down pretty good and ate at least my share of both ;)

That night, Matt puked a few times, and gagged a few more, and I was peeing pretty heartily (maybe due to the filling of my platypus by the kitchen staff with brownish looking water that eventually turned clear over the course of the day - maybe iodine?). Tonight I managed to get some "fresh" water from them, and it wasn't boiling hot. Hmmmmm. Used my Steripen on all full bottles tonight and the rest of the trip (except for my "stolen" water, which I knew to be good).

So between us I think Matt and I had about 6 hours of sleep in 45 minute chunks.