Jun 19, 2015

The Mountain of Greatness # 2

The Mountain of Greatness – Installment # 2

Recently during a visit to Austin, I had the opportunity to talk to my friend, Jenell, about her upcoming trip to Tanzania where she will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro as part of a Rainer Mountaineering Expeditions group, RMI.  Yes, you read this correctly, Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa.
 “Kili” as it’s known to many is a dominant volcanic mountain in Tanazania. It is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest freestanding mountain (not part of a mountain range) in the world at 19,342 feet above see level. The origin of the name Kilimanjaro is not precisely known, but a number of theories exist. My favorite from all that I read, the name translates in Sawhili language to The Mountain of Greatness.

Since the last Mountain of Greatness update posted on June 8th,  I took the liberty to read all the information provided by Rainer Mountaineering, (RMI) about the upcoming expedition including the daily schedule, the food, the equipment required and the FAQ’s.  RMI does a great job to make sure all possible questions are answered. Never having done something like this before and never intending to attempt this in the future, I have follow up questions for Jenell about logistics, equipment and how she continues to prepare and train as the travel date gets closer.

Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania 

1_The summit at Mt Kilimanjaro is more than twice the height of the Inca Trail /Machu Picchu climb your completed a few years ago. What lessons learned from your Peru trip can you apply to your Mount Kilimanjaro climb in September ?

The biggest lesson I learned from Peru that I will take to Kili is an understanding of my physical limits and how to push beyond them mentally and physically.

I’ve never hiked above 14,000ft, which I accomplished in an 8 hour day-hike up Mt. Bierstadt in Colorado while training for Peru.

The biggest lesson I learned was how much I struggle to breathe at altitude. I was diagnosed with exercise induced asthma while training for Peru. I learned that I struggled significantly to breathe while hiking above 9,000ft. My body didn’t give out, my legs had plenty of strength to keep going but my lungs really seemed to struggle. I could RUN down the mountain with no problem, even at 14,000ft. Going up though, was like walking under water wearing a 100lb pack.

I chewed coca leaves in Peru and carried and used an inhaler when I had to. It seemed to help, I was slower than most hikers in my group but faster than some. I exercised before going to Peru, but realizing how much I struggled I decided to hire a personal trainer to be better prepared for Kilimanjaro.

My trainer is pushing me at the right pace to improve my cardio. No problems so far, no asthma symptoms, but I’m not at altitude. I’m going to Colorado in July to hike to 14,000ft. This is the only way I can truly measure my progress before going. I will visit my pulmonologist again for a test and will take an inhaler. I have to provide the expedition company with a release from my Dr that I’m ok to climb.

2_ The boots, the boots !  You will be walking, hiking, trekking, climbing a distance of 30 miles with an average of 2000 steps per mile. How do you know your boots are appropriately worn in ?  And what kind of socks do you wear ?

Great question, I’m more worried about my boots than any other piece of gear! I’m planning to wear the boots I climbed Machu Picchu in. Our first day on the mountain in Peru, one of our hikers in our group had the sole fall off his boot. With no back up plan, we duck taped it on, but it kept falling off. Our guide ended up giving him his boots, and wore his camp tennis shoes the rest of the hike. Not recommended!

I tested my old boots before going to Peru, and on my first training hike in Texas, both soles fell off. They had been in storage for a couple years and I guess the glue dried and failed. I was so glad I tested my gear before leaving!

I wear my current boots now on all my training hikes. This helps me to know where they rub, where I might develop blisters or if they will fail before I go. I plan to take them to a Shoe Hospital to check them out in case they are too worn. I’d rather buy a new pair now and break them in before going.

Socks are super important. I will be taking a pair of moisture wicking wool liner socks, a light pair of hiking socks (all are moisture wicking wool) and a medium pair of hiking socks. The liners can be worn inside the light or medium pair for extra warmth. Two pairs of each, allow you to have a dry pair every day in case they get wet. My boots are waterproof, unless of course we go through water that is over the top of the boot. If that happens we carry a back up pair of light shoes to wear while the boots dry. The lighter pair of shoes are also worn in camp at night.

3_Are these the boots you hiked the Inca Trail with ?  What brand are they ?

Yep, they are the same. I did a lot of research to find the right boot. They are:

Women's Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX®

My camp shoes will be:

Women's Salomon Speedcross 3

4 The RMI website states that you have to provide your own daily snacks during the climb. What do you pack for snacks and why?

I plan to take Snap Kitchen pre-made snacks and Kind bars because they are gluten free, highly portable and provide post hike recovery and energy during the hike. They contain:

Almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pecans, dried blueberries, maple syrup, honey and more Honey, maple syrup, coconut oil, walnuts, dried cranberries, flax, sunflower seeds, apricots, whey protein isolate, cocoa chips and dates.

Dawn on Kili's Southern Breach Wall above Barranco

5_ Your sleeping bag, my assumption this is a very important piece of equipment. How is it sleeping in a tent at the altitudes that the group will camp at?  Do you really get a good nights sleep ?

Yes, my sleeping bag is my #2 most important piece of equipment! I’m taking a down North Face bag rated to 5’ F. I don’t like being cold when I sleep but from everything I’ve read this is almost unavoidable. I was quite comfortable in Peru, I love to backpack/tent camp so I’m used to it. I’ve never slept in a tent above 10,000ft, so Kili will be a new experience.

My friend that I shared a tent with in Peru snored, so you’re definitely subject to how well your tent mate sleeps! I will be sharing a tent with a different friend on this trip, hoping she doesn’t snore too!

We also have to pack our own sleeping pad. I have a self-inflating Thermarest pad for comfort but might also bring a foam pad as back up in case the inflating pad fails. These are not mattresses, these are for backpacking so they are very small, thin and light (8oz) to carry.

6_ The Mount Kilimanjaro, Machame Route will take your group through 5 different zones, all with distinct terrain, temperatures and weather conditions. They are Bushland, Rain Forest, Semi-Alpine, Alpine Desert and the summit is an Artic Zone.  RMI refers to layering recommendations for your body, hands, feet, head - how cold will it be at the summit ?

Layering clothes to walk through every micro climate known to man is a challenge! We will wear five layers on our upper body and four layers on our lower body. This allows us to remove or add as the temp changes from hot to cold. 

 August and September when we hike is the driest season.

We will begin at around 70 to 80 degrees F and from there the temps decrease through each zone. At the summit the night time temp ranges between 20 and -20 degrees F. I read the following at 


“Due to Mount Kilimanjaro's height, the mountain creates its own weather. It is extremely variable and impossible to predict. Therefore, regardless of when you climb, you should always be prepared for wet days and cold nights.”

7_ What are the group dynamics like as you climb ? Is there an abundance of silence, each person making their way ? How often does the guide check in with each climber ?

Great question, I was a little frustrated with this experience in Peru. The group dynamic can change depending on how strenuous the climb is. We had a sub-group from Spain in our trek on the Inca Trail that were in their early 30’s, knew each other very well and talked a lot, to the point of annoyance. The trail can be very crowded with other groups, at one point I walked behind a girl who had speakers on the outside of her pack playing Lady Gaga for all to hear….on the Inca Trail….in Peru….I felt like I was in 5 o’clock traffic back home! There were a few hours though with solitude when I walked alone with no one else in sight.

We typically walk with a guide at the front and one at the back of the group to ensure that everyone in between stays safe and is accounted for. On Kili the experience will be different, we are supposed to have 3 porters per individual hiker, two guides overall for the group and will be walking amongst other groups from other expedition companies so I don’t expect much solitude. I’m sure in more strenuous terrain we will become separate depending on strength and speed, so maybe a few hours of solitude will be had.

There will be waypoints along each daily hike when we will come together as an entire group to rest, eat and account for everyone. Not sure how often, I’m sure it will depend on the conditions of the day.

8_ On the day your group is scheduled to reach the summit, you actually start your climb in the dark, around 12am.  I imagine the group, in the night of night, everyone with their headlamps, one foot in front of the other, anticipating the sunrise and the summit.  As you prepare and train do you think of this specific section of the climb?  

I have to keep referring back to Peru because it’s my only experience. At the end of the trek we left camp at 3am in the dark, in the rain, wearing our gear and a headlamp. However, we only hiked for 20 minutes and then sat at a government checkpoint for hours while the sun rose, before proceeding to hike several hours into Machu Picchu. Although we hiked to almost 13,000 ft during the overall trek, Macchi Picchu where we ended is only at 8,000ft.

Kili will be very different. I’m told we wake up and start hiking at midnight, continuously for 8-10 hours until we summit. This is where most people fail and turn back before reaching Uhuru point. It will be the most difficult thing I’ll probably ever do. I can’t really imagine what it will be like. Fighting for air, literally using all of your energy and focus to just put one foot in front of the other.

I have learned at the most difficult points in previous hikes that the entire experience can come down to that point. When you feel you can’t continue, your body and mind are screaming no but your spirit drives you forward. I just hope I can do it.

9_ Are you on track with your training, how is it going ? When do you go to Colorado ?  At what altitude will be you training in Colorado ?

I’m at the half way point of my four month training program. Frequency and intensity have increased and I’m doing great. No injuries or set backs so far (knocking on wood!). The hardest part is the stretching and foam rolling of super tight hamstrings, quads and everything else, ha! Training for Kili at 43 isn’t easy. 

We planned to hike Colorado in June but winter weather at altitude has delayed us to late July. We want to test our winter gear, but we also don’t want to be snowed out of hiking to 14,000ft. The altitude experience is what we’re after. We plan on hiking either Pike’s Peak or Mt. Bierstadt . We plan to arrive on a Thursday and will allow ourselves that night to acclimatize a bit. Then we will hike to 10,000-11,000ft Friday and after a good carb loading dinner, we’ll hike to 14,000ft on Saturday.

 10_ Based on RMI guide “blog updates” on their website, it looks like the guides post information about the climb as each group is making its way up to the summit. Can you confirm if we can check for posts on the RMI website while your group is climbing the mountain ?

 YES, and it appears that you can post comments on the blog entries by our guides. I didn’t know this was a feature until you called it out, might be cool to hear some encouraging words from back home during our trek. We will not have Internet access ourselves, so I’m sure the guides use a satellite connection to post. Looks like they share some photos along the way too.

Post copied from the RMI site blog post by location: Kilimanjaro:


Posted by: Seth Waterfall | January 29, 2015

Elevation: 13,000'
Hi from 13,000’ on Kilimanjaro!

Today was a long day on the trail for the team but we did great. It was a little chilly when we woke up at Shira Camp with ice on the ground and some frost. After the sun came up we started to warm up and after the first hour of hiking everyone was in one or two layers of clothing only. We spent about 4 hours getting to our high point at 15,000’ and by the time we reached it the skies has clouded over. No rain or anything for us but it was a bit chilly. It’s warmer down here at camp but the clouds are still in and out. Everyone is feeling just fine and we are all looking forward to heading out again in the morning.

RMI Guide Seth Waterfall & Team