Monday, December 13, 2010

Dec. 13, 2010

I read an article in our local paper about a group of men who recently summitted Mt. Kilimanjaro. In the article, the men are quoted as saying they didn't have to do much training for the hike and reaching the summit was not that hard. I felt badly at first, thinking back on all the training I did: the many miles and hills my dog and I walked in our neighborhood, the repetitive boring steps on the Stairmaster, the long bicycle rides and the squats. And still, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro was the hardest thing I have ever done (and hope to do)
Then, I read to the bottom of the article and saw a local travel agency prominently mentioned, and realized the hike's leader was from that agency. The "ease" of the hike all made sense. But I'm wondering if those who read the article also saw a more recent one about tennis great Martina Navratilova who was forced to quit her climb at 14,800 feet (the summit is 19,330 ft/ 5892 m)because she developed high-altitude pulmonary edema - a potentially life threatening condition.
Not everyone who attempts to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro succeeds - I am just now discovering how many fail. I feel fortunate to have reached the top. And, I must confess, I was in a group I would categorize as ignorant. I was aware of the risks, but my inspiration was a woman in her sixties who described herself to me as "not much of a hiker" before she attempted Kilimanjaro. I would think "if she can do it, so can I!"
She got close to the summit - she made it to Stella Point. Having climbed there myself, I can appreciate her accomplishment, even more since she hiked in a snow storm while I had clear weather.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Village Visits

Our Mt. Kilimanjaro leader summitted for the seventh time! I was elated to summit once, and have no plans to return to the mountain top. Cindy does the hike over and over again - and will return summer 2011 - because she not only enjoys it, but also wants to share the work Plant With Purpose is doing in Tanzania. Cindy was instrumental in bringing Plant with Purpose to Tanzania, and the non-profit organization has been working with Tanzanian villages for the past four years. The Plant With Purpose website explains in great detail about its mission of work particularly in the area of sustainable agriculture and stopping deforestation.
We spent three days in Marangu at the Babylon Hotel (prior to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro) so we could visit the Plant with Purpose office, and see for ourselves what the organization is up to in Tanzania.
On our first day Edith Banzi, the national director of Plant With Purpose in Tanzania, showed us an eco-toilet. I think she could tell by the look on our faces that we were not impressed. It was our first glimpse of African toilets, and the eco-toilets didn't look like much. "Don't worry," she told us, "you will learn just how nice these are." And she was right! Many African toilets are simple, small rectangular holes in cement, enclosed in a stall or single outhouse-like structure.
The eco-toilets were clean and looked like toilet bowls set flush into the ground. Human waste is separated in the eco-toilet system, treated and used as compost.
One night we had a delicious dinner cooked in a kitchen powered by methane gas - the methane was piped directly from the cow pen nearby!
We were most welcome (Karibu-sana) at two VICOBA (village community bank meetings) where we were served lunch (rice/pasta - almost like a cross between orzo and rice pilaf, meat stew and cooked cabbage salad and sodas in glass bottles). The VICOBAS are completely funded by its members' own savings, and at each meeting, members very publicly add more to the savings or pay back their loans. If someone falls behind on a loan, his or her pressure group will visit and make sure the loan payments are made.
At one village situated at a lower elevation, we walked through cornfields to visit two different stores funded by VICOBA loans. During the meeting, one man shared how he had electricity in his house because he used a VICOBA loan to purchase a solar panel. Many use kerosene to light their homes which is very expensive.
Edith told us Plant With Purpose had made available an inexpensive light about the diameter of a CD powered by a solar battery, and quickly sold out the 1,000 they had; more are on order.
Because many do not have electricity, cooking is done over a fire using three stones which uses a lot of firewood. Plant With Purpose sells an inexpensive "stove" that consolidates the cooking process, requiring less wood. (I'm sorry for my poor explanation, but you just have to see it for yourself to understand.)
We were welcomed into people's homes, and introduced to their families. Everywhere we went it seemed we were greeted with hellos (Jambos), and as we walked single file through the corn, the women sang. There was singing before the VICOBA meetings, and singing and dancing after. I can't imagine a meeting involving money, particularly savings and loans, in the United States being book-ended with singing, dancing and laughter.
Maize (corn) is a major crop in Tanzania and a big staple of the diet. Another big crop is coffee. One of the villages that works with Plant With Purpose grows coffee which you can buy. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the sale of the coffee goes back to Plant with Purpose for the village of Malindi. Visit if you want to buy Tanzanian coffee direct from the source.
This is my last blog about Mt. Kilimanjaro and Tanzania. The journey - starting with the training regime nearly a year ago and peaking at the summit - has been one I will never forget. Thanks for coming along with me. I'm not sure what the next challenge will be, but I'm positive I will not be climbing any mountains higher than Mt. Kilimanjaro's Uhuru Peak - the Roof of Africa.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Day 7 of Climb

The wake up call is early - 6 a.m. - as we want to arrive at the Mweka Gate by lunch and have plenty of time for a shower before we board the airplane at Mt. Kilimanjaro Airport.
Tips are distributed to the porters, and after handshakes and a goodbye song, we head down the trail at 8 a.m. I am happy this morning that we are at a further camp - Mweka Camp instead of Millennium Camp as previously planned - as our hike out is shorter, our lead guide estimates two-three hours to the finish. But based on my performance yesterday, he says it will take me five hours!
The weather continues to be clear. The trail is slippery mud and steep, deep steps, but could be slicker if it were raining. I imagine I am a machine, mechanically working my way down the mountain, my trekking poles an extension of my body. Although I am in the slowest group, even my husband comments on how quickly I am moving. I am determined to reach the gate before lunch, as none in our group can leave before we all sign out at the gate.
Our guide slips and falls on the mud as do two others in our group. By 10:45 a.m., my legs are rubbery again, but we have reached a deeply rutted fire road. Children appear out of the rain forest and ask for chocolate or money. Our guide says the gate is just around the bend.
It's a very long bend, but I finally turn the corner. I can see vans and Land Rovers ahead. Vendors swarm us selling cotton handkerchiefs the colors of the Tanzanian flag, small animals carved from wood, t-shirts and necklaces. One offers to wash our boots.
I find my name in the log book, and sign out. I'm proud the final descent only took me three hours. After a brief ceremony where we each receive official certificates of our accomplishment, we eat lunch, then climb into Land Rovers.
The warm water of the shower feels as good as I imagined. The dirt of a week swirls down the drain. My hair emerges from under the bandana and hat. I lock my Kilimanjaro clothes into a duffle to open later at home.
After a cold beer and dinner, it's off to the airport. It's dark on the tarmac. The surrounding fields smell like hay, and I brace myself to climb the stairs to the airplane, one step at a time - pole pole.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Day 6 of Climb (Part 2)

Half an hour at the summit, and it is time to go. My trekking poles adjusted to shoulder height, I head straight down. Most of the descent is like skiing in deep sand. The trail we climbed is to my right. It looks like a piece of bric brac, each zig about forty paces before a zag is taken. Some porters and hikers are coming up the trail. They plan to camp in the crater at about 18,000 feet.
The descent takes about three hours, and I'm welcomed back to Barafu Camp with a song and a tray of cups filled with juice. My tent already smells like the Chinese herbal rub I brought - a mix of orange, ginger and cinnamon - and I take some time massaging more into my sore quads. After a brief rest, it's lunch then time to pack up and head further downhill (six more miles) to Mweka Hut.
The trail is rough, stony and lots of steps; my legs are rubbery. My attitude is bad. I'm exhausted, and when I trip and fall, the tears flow freely. There's no time for a long break, however, and I can only trust that I trained enough - that my muscles are strong - and continue on hoping to arrive at camp before dark. I am so tired of hiking downhill, I'm actually glad when we arrive at a small uphill, especially when the guide tells me camp is just at the top. The sight of our orange tents under the trees cheers me more than a pile of Christmas presents. It won't be dark for another hour.
I eat dinner quickly, and crawl into my sleeping bag around 7 p.m. - not stirring until the next morning's 6 a.m. wake up call.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Day 6 of Climb (Part 1)

The 11 p.m. call comes both sooner and later than I anticipate. I actually fell asleep, but worried I wouldn't get woken up as my husband decided not to make the summit attempt. No one stops at my tent to wake me, but the other tents are so close, I hear others stirring.
We are to meet at the dining tent, and I hurry to put on my clothes. I am the first there, the table is still being set, and I'm told to return in five minutes.
We have a light snack of hot porridge and tea. Our head guide tells us to "empty our minds" to walk "pole pole (po-lay)" slowly slowly and before we know it we will be at the summit.
At 12:30 a.m., we take our assigned places in line - I am fourth behind the lead guide - and head up the mountain. The night is still and pitch black, but if I tilt my head, I can see a line of lights bobbing up the trail - other hikers ahead of us.
We fall into a rhythm of briefly stopping every hour to drink water, snack or go to the bathroom. I'm reminded of a mule train or those horseback rides you take on vacation - each horse plodding nearly on the hooves of the one in front, head down, one slow footstep after another. My world has shrunk to the circle of light cast by my headlamp.
The only sound is our boots crunching on the frozen gravel. I'm feeling good considering the altitude, and I concentrate on taking deep breaths through my nose every so often, filling my lungs and blowing out through my lips.
The temperature drops as we climb, the two smallest fingers on my right hand are beyond numb - probably because I have to take off my outer glove every time we stop in order to eat my snack. I tell myself I can make it one more hour to another brief stop. At 5:30 a.m., I tell myself I can make it another hour to sunrise. It's 14 degrees F when a fellow hiker's temperature gauge quits registering. Stops become painfully cold, and we just want to keep pressing on.
I gave my pack to a porter long ago. It's amazing how much easier it is without that additional seven pounds or so.
My nose drips constantly, and I just let it. It's too hard to find a tissue in my pocket. Continuing on is purely an effort of will.
Suddenly, our guides start singing in Swahili. The switchbacks are tight, many are near us and other guides and porters from other groups join in the harmony. I recognize the tune: they are singing "On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand." I lift my head. I can see the lights ahead steadily moving up the dark mountainside, the beautiful song gaining momentum as well with the addition of more and more voices, and it's a moment I can hardly describe.
The sky lightens, and a thin red line separates the eastern horizon. Mt. Mawenzi is a jagged silhouette, and Kenya is just beyond. I can see someone in a bright red coat at the crater rim. We continue our slow ascent, and finally we are there - Stella Point and the Crater Rim! (7:15 a.m.) The guide book said we would revel at this point, and I am definitely reveling! It feels warm in the shelter of a chunk of lava, and we sit.
But we are not yet at the summit. Our guide tells us the rest of the trail is "gentle steep." It's a tough pull at that altitude, some packed snow. I can see hikers taking pictures at the summit sign, and it appears tantalizingly close.
Hikers descending congratulate us. Others stumble past, being led by their guides.
The summit sign is in front of me, and I can't help myself. I begin to cry. I can only describe my feelings as similar to those after I gave birth - all those many hours of labor and now the baby is here and the hard work is forgotten. It's a mixture of joy, elation, relief and thinking "I can't believe I just did that."
I'm here, at the roof of Africa - Uhuru Peak - 19,340 ft./5800 m. It's about 8:30 a.m.
After pictures at the sign, our guides and porters sing "How Great Thou Art" in Swahili. I can't think of a more fitting conclusion to the morning's accomplishment.
Another hiker and I join in on the chorus. I can't remember the other words, but hey...I'm at 19,000 plus feet. =)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Day 5 of Climb

Early morning wake up today - 6:15 a.m. - so we can get to Barafu Camp (15,200 ft) in time for a hot lunch. I feel a little bit nauseated this morning, but still eat the breakfast of porridge, eggs, toast and watermelons.
The weather is clear, but cool, and this morning I am wearing a synthetic tank, light long underwear (top and pants), hiking pants, wool cap, a fleece, a wind/waterproof jacket and knit gloves. The trail is easy, but rises sharply from the valley. I shed coats and change hats. I feel better on this ascent to 15,000 plus feet than I did when we hiked to Lava Tower.
The porters welcome us with a song when we arrive at Barafu Camp after the three hour trek. They have set up camp in a spot sheltered by lava rocks. White-naped ravens sit on the rocks - they have huge beaks.
The afternoon is chilly, but it's warm inside the tent. I'm still feeling a little sick at lunch - I think I drank too much water, four liters by 1 p.m. The food looks unappetizing, but I eat anyway - two crepe/pancakes, two bowls of soup, three pineapple slices, chicken and two cups of hot water.
We will hike to the summit from here, and although our tents are set up, we will not spend the night. We are resting this afternoon, will have an early dinner tonight and get in our sleeping bags at 7 p.m. But we will only sleep until 11 p.m., when we will put on all of our warm clothes and set off for the summit.
I have set aside my clothes for the summit attempt- two sets of long underwear, hiking pants, waterproof/wind pants, fleece jacket, down jacket, wind/waterproof jacket, a knit hat that also covers my neck and chin, a wool hat, a wool scarf, hand warmers, toe warmers, two pairs of gloves and a headlamp.
I feel hungry at dinner. I haven't had any additional water since lunch.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 4 of Climb

Every morning, the porters send us off with what they call a "warm up" song. We don our day packs, and they break down the camp, catching up with us and passing with all of our stuff piled on them. Tents, chairs, food, duffles, etc.
Today is no exception, we are just starting up the Barranca Wall, and our porters and others are streaming past. It's amazing to watch. Climbing the wall is like bouldering - or at least what I imagine bouldering is as I've never done it. There are hand and footholds, not difficult but it's definitely a scramble.
At one point, our guide tells me I am at the kissing wall, named because hikers must press tightly against it in a giant hug so close lips could easily brush the rock. At an especially sharp slant of rock, I hesitate and am told to "trust your boots."
A brief rest at the top of the wall, then a steady descent. I am getting better at them with all of this practice. The greatest challenge is our last downhill of the day. If there were water, I believe we would have been picking our way down a water fall it's that steep, some parts slippery with algae.
Everlastings, small daisy like flowers dot the slopes in white clumps. We have also seen Lobelia (giant herbs) and Senecios which look like stunted palm trees. Each branch takes 25 years to grow. Our guide estimates one Senecio is 150 years old.
Camp used to be in the valley, but the toilets fouled the stream so it has been moved uphill, and we continue pole pole to Karranga Valley camp (13,100 feet). The camp is on a slope, the toilet open on one side for a sweeping view of the valley below. The weather continues to be spectacular - clear skies.
Hot lunch is soup, french fries and pineapple. Dinner - beef stew, rice and soup.
My quads are sore.
I am imagining my next vacation at a spa hotel with daily massages, hot water that sprays from multiple nozzles in the shower and a huge poufy bed I can lie in and be warm all day.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Day 3 of Climb

Feeling better this morning after drinking at least four liters of water and re-hydrating! Saw the Southern Cross last night - so bright. Glad our tents are reflective orange and stand out from the others, or I would have been lost when I returned from the "western" toilet.
Today's plan: climb to 15,020 feet and have lunch at the Lava Tower before descending to Barranco Camp (13,100 feet). The up and down is to help us acclimatize. I'm wearing a light pair of long underwear beneath my hiking pants, two long sleeved shirts, a windbreaker and light knit gloves. It's a long, slow climb to the tower up a gravel trail. The clouds are cotton poufs to my right. Mt. Meru's pointed cone peaks above the cloud layer.
My nose constantly runs from the wind, my tissue is a wet, twisted mess, and my daughter finally shows me how to blow my nose onto the trail. Gross, but by this time I've just about lost all sense of modesty. I alternately feel good, then bad due to the altitude. Previously, I've only been to the top of Mt. Whitney which is about 14,690 feet.
Lunch at Lava Tower is soup, chicken, potato salad and mangoes. My new favorite beverage is a cup of hot water.
After lunch - the descent starts with steep, rock strewn switchbacks, straightens out for awhile then back to rocky steps. My husband and I are the last to arrive at camp at 5:30 - we left this morning at 8:30 a.m. - and I'm exhausted from the nine mile walk. My porter runs up the trail to greet me and take my pack. Tears prick my eyes. I know he's working for a big tip, and at this point, I'm ready to give him one.
Dinner - spaghetti, soup, pineapple and another cup of hot water. Bed - 8:30 p.m. It's going to be a cold night, frost sparkles on the tent.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Day 2 of Climb

The day starts with a wake up call at 7:15 a.m., and a cup of sweetened steaming coffee in the tent. Breakfast is hot porridge, fried eggs, mangoes and white bread. The weather is cooler, and I'm wearing two long sleeved shirts. At 8:30 a.m., we start a very steep climb of 3.8 miles up to 12,740 feet before dropping into Shira Camp at 12,500 feet. (a altitude gain of 2,750 feet)
Porters constantly pass on the ascent, other hikers are from Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and India. In our group are three women in their sixties, two men and three women in their forties and fifties, and two women and one man aged 18-22.
I am fighting a cold, so took a decongestant last night, which I am now discovering was a big mistake as I am dehydrated. Also didn't want to use the toilets during the night, so didn't drink enough water.
Fingers of mist linger along the trail. Portions of the boulder lined path require rock scrambling, and I make sure not to look to my left where the mountain sheers off at an alarming angle.
I reach Shira camp about 1:30 p.m, and collapse in my tent. I downed 3.5 liters of water on the hike. After drinking more water and eating some glucose biscuits, I muster up the energy for tea and lunch.
Lunch is soup, garlic macaroni and cheese, vegetable salad and sambosas (pastry triangles filled with vegetables). Dinner is soup, chicken, rice, white bread, salad and crepe-like pancakes (yum).
I'm feeling significantly better. The buzz of the camp is the western style toilet - an outhouse with a seat.
Our guide estimates four hundred people are in camp tonight.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Day 1 of Climb

The flight to Mt. Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania from Amsterdam is full. It's obvious who is planning to climb the mountain, as they already have waterproof gators dangling around their ankles and trekking poles lashed to their day packs.
It's about a nine hour flight, and it's dark when we arrive and descend a flight of stairs to the tarmac. The land surrounding the airport smells like hay. After a week of safari and village visits, it's finally the first day of our own journey up the mountain.
We arrive at the Machame Gate, elevation 5,525 feet, at 10:30 a.m. The parking lot is packed with jeeps, small buses and vans and men hoping to be hired as porters. We must wait our turn to sign in with the ranger. The weather is overcast, just the right temperature. We eat some snacks, use the flush toilet (a rarity in Africa) and finally sign the log book. The Machame trail, also known as the Whiskey Route, and other trails are dedicated solely to the ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We will take another route on our descent.
We start hiking at 12:30 p.m. - I have butterflies in my stomach like I always do on the first day of a SCUBA dive trip...just before I take a giant stride off the boat into the unknown depths of the ocean. I'm carrying two liters of water in my backpack, snacks, toilet paper and hand sanitizer. I drank one liter of water while we waited to start.
We have brought our rain gear, but the weather holds and I only need a short sleeve shirt as we head through the rain forest. Once we get off the fire road and onto the trail, the forest is thick with trees, bushes and vines and moss draped like giant swooping curtains. Steps have been built and shored up with sticks.
The trail is slick with mud, and I'm glad for my trekking poles. It's a steady six-mile climb to our first camp at Machame Hut, and we move pole pole (po-lay po-lay) - Swahili words for slowly slowly. The box lunch is huge and more food than I normally eat, but I save some bars for later - I know I will need it.
The porters have gone ahead, and when we arrive they greet us with a welcome song and warm water for washing. Our first camp is at 9,890 feet. We can see the mountain.
"Tea" is served in a green dining tent - popcorn, ginger cookies and hot drinks. The table is covered with a red and black plaid cloth and we have chairs and candles.
I'm feeling well (taking Diamox for the altitude) except for a runny nose. Dinner is vegetables in a curry sauce, white bread, tilapia and mangoes. My sleeping bag is too warm, a fact which makes me happy as I know the temperatures will drop as the altitude increases.

Friday, June 25, 2010

June 25, 2010

The dog is sore - he has a stiff-legged gait - and he's skinny. I've increased his daily helping of kibble. My work out motivation is dwindling, but I am planning one last hike tomorrow at Torrey Pines State Park.

Our hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro begins soon. We will be taking the Machame Trail.

Trail Facts: Elevation in feet/ Elevation Gain/Loss /Miles /Hiking Hours
Day 1 5900-9850 +3950 6.2 7
Day 2 9850-12600 +2750 3.8 7
Day 3 12600/15000/1950 +2400 -2050 9 7
Day 4 12950-13100 +150 2.5 3.5
Day 5 13100-15200 +2100 2.5 4
Day 6 Summit 15200-19340 +4140 3.2 8
Summit to Crater 19340-18500 -840 1 2
Crater to Millennium Camp 18500-12000 -6500 6 5
Day 7 12000-6000 -6000 7.5 6

For a total of 41.7 miles. The up and down on day three helps with altitude adjustment.

My packing list:

Hiking boots; comfortable shoes for camp
All clothing wool or synthetic material
Lower body layers - two pair long underwear;hiking pants, rain gear
Upper body layers - two pair long underwear; fleece jacket; down jacket; rain gear
Hats - one for sun, one for warmth
Socks - at least two pair heavy hiking socks
Gloves - two pair for layering
Day pack
Duffle bag with lock
Sleeping bag rated 10 degrees or lower
Sleeping pad
Trekking poles
Headlamp/extra batteries and bulb
Water bottles - Hydration bag + 1 bottle or three 1-liter bottles
Toiletries and roll of toilet paper
Hand towel
First aid kit with bandages and moleskin, also an Ace bandage
Meds - antibiotics, malaria, Diamox (for altitude), Pepto Bismol, ibuprofen
Sunglasses, sunscreen, lip block.
Pocket knife/watch
Journal, book, playing cards
Favorite snacks - no more than one 1lb
Tips for guides and porters
And last but not least - a great attitude backed by tons of will power and thoughts like the little engine that could "I think I can, I think I can." =)

My next blog will be from the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro!

Monday, June 14, 2010

June 14, 2010

Why am I attempting to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro?
I’m not sure I could give a definitive answer. I first thought about climbing it when I learned people I knew were headed up the mountain. I asked them about their trip, and was invited to come along. For several years, the possibility of hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro would arise, but the timing was never right.
Maybe it’s the exotic location of Mt. Kilimanjaro just south of the equator. I’ve never been to Africa, and I am looking forward to experiencing a different environment and culture. We will pass through four different vegetation zones and accompanying microclimates ranging from tropical to freezing temperatures.
Maybe it’s the legendary nature of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and how Ernest Hemingway wrote about it in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” -although I have read the mummified leopard is no longer on the mountain. Maybe it’s simply because it’s there, and it’s a mountain I can hike without any technical climbing skills. All that’s needed is aerobic training, appropriate clothing and sheer determination.
Why have I climbed Half Dome, hiked up and down Mt. Whitney in a day, and run three-half marathons, yet I have no interest in running a full marathon, or bicycling fifty miles on a regular basis as my husband does each Saturday? I did participate in a fifty mile Rosarito to Ensenada bicycle ride once, but only to say I did it and check it off my list.
My daughters like to remind me that I vowed to never volunteer to do anything hard again after a taxing backpacking trip in the Sierras Nevadas.
I remember when Astronaut Neil Armstrong took his giant stride for mankind onto the moon. I always thought space travel would be fun. When NASA announced it would bring civilians along as space shuttle passengers in the early 1980s, I was excited to submit my application to be the first journalist in space.
But hand me a pair of ice skates or downhill skis, and I will turn away with a shudder. I have no idea why anybody would want to scale Mt. Everest or sail around the world alone.
I doubt the entire hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro will be fun. Our leader has warned us we will reach a point where willpower will be the sole force driving our feet forward one painful, breath- laboring step at a time.
Why am I attempting to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro?
I suppose it comes down to a mix of things – personality and environment and that ONE BIG SNOW COVERED ITEM that somehow bubbled to the top of my list of things I want to do.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

June 5, 2010

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I am always amazed at the poverty and lack of basic services not that far south of where I live very comfortably in my tract home. I can turn a faucet and clean water gushes out, flip a switch and have electric lighting, and push a lever and flush my toilet. I back out of my driveway in my car and traverse paved and landscaped roads that are regulated by functional traffic signals. I anticipate encountering a similar situation in Tanzania as the one we recently experienced in Mexico when we work in some of the villages at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The video "Miniature Earth," which can be viewed on YouTube, states that the majority of the world's population lacks basic sanitation and struggles to live on $2 U.S. or less a day. Because I have a refrigerator to put my food in, a closet for my clothes, a bed and a roof over my head, I am among the wealthiest in the world.
But poverty isn't solely a lack of material goods according to interviews of 60,000 poor worldwide who were asked the question "what is poverty?" by the authors of "When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor." The poor defined poverty as powerlessness, isolation and invisibility. One said he is considered the same as unwanted garbage.
We have all seen the devastation of Haiti after the earthquake which plunged an already impoverished country into an even more desperate situation. Sometimes just thinking about the overwhelming need in the world can be staggering.
When I go to Mexico on Memorial Day weekend to build a house, it's easy to look around at the neighborhood of deeply rutted, dusty roads, the homes built out of discarded garage doors and tar paper, the dangling wires ferrying stolen electricity and wonder - will one house even make a difference?
But I have to start somewhere. I reminded of the story about the starfish stranded on a beach. I can't save all of them, but I can return one at a time to the ocean. I can also be grateful each day for the many privileges I have.

Friday, May 28, 2010

May 28, 2010

We will soon be on our way to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. My husband plotted a hike profile showing our elevation gain each day. Afterwards he said he knew why the mountain is called "kill a man," he says he is trying to figure out what the jaro stands for. Hope he still has his sense of humor on summit day.
I have bicycled at least once a week for the past year, but when I started seriously training to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, I made more of an effort to push myself especially when riding up hills. When my quads start protesting, I just think of climbing the mountain and pedal through the burn.
Today, I bicycled about 30 miles round trip to a farmer's market east of where we live. The route was hillier than the one we normally take up the coast. I was surprised when I was able to make it up the hills fairly quickly (at least for me) and the burn didn't kick in until near the top. Guess all those stairmaster workouts and squats are paying off! I stopped at the top of the longest hill on the way home, and I think I disappointed the man who rode by shortly after on his bicycle. I'm sure he was trying to pass me on the hill, and I took away the thrill for him by simply pulling over. ha ha
Tomorrow we are headed to Mexico to build a house during the Memorial Day weekend with Amor Ministries ( This will be our fourth time. I'm usually pretty sore by the end of the first day of construction. Working out like I normally do does not equal a full day of hammering and sawing. We will return on Monday afternoon, and a family will have a completed, sturdier house than the one they currently inhabit. It's a pretty amazing process, and always so surprising to witness sure dire poverty less than an hour south of north San Diego.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

May 20, 2010

Last Saturday, some in our Mt. Kilimanjaro hiking group drove to Mt. San Jacinto for a training hike. Mt. San Jacinto, 10,824 ft. at it's peak, is within the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument as well as in San Jacinto State Park.
The peak is accessible from several different points; we took the aerial tram from Palm Springs which carries visitors from 2,648 ft. up the side of a rocky cliff and deposits them at an elevation of 8,516 ft. The glass walled tram rotates, and I would not recommend it to anyone who is afraid of heights. I have been up the tram many times, and the temperature and terrain variation from the bottom to the top never fails to amaze me. We arrived at the tram at 8:15 a.m.: the desert temperature was already in the upper 70s. When we stepped outside at the top, I needed my sweatshirt. Pine trees, large boulders and snow dotted the landscape.
In fact, a very minor portion of our hike was on a dirt trail. We spent most of the day ascending and descending on a snow pack.
From the minute we balanced on a log, crossed a full stream and stepped onto the snow, I knew the hike would be a challenge for me. Daytime temperatures had gotten warm enough to melt the top few inches of the snow, but nighttime temperatures froze the liquid mush. We were on the trail early enough that ice patches still remained in the shadows of the trees.
I couldn't describe in detail the landscape surrounding me for the earliest portion of the hike, as I was intently focused on the "trail" - bootprints left on a narrow ledge by those who went before me. I figured if I didn't acknowledge the slippery slope that ended in the stream, it wouldn't exist. (On the way down, my daughter referred to this portion as the icy balance beam - she slid across it in running shoes.)
Once we left the stream behind, I felt better and enjoyed the climb.
After lunch, our leader decided to continue for a little while longer and we began traversing a snow slide, another of my more challenging moments. When I did look up, the views were spectacular - a pristine blanket of white underfoot and angling down into the pines several hundred yards below and the brown desert in the distance.
We got close to 10,000 ft. elevation, but were unable to reach the peak due to the snow. Our leader also wanted to make sure we descended before the temperature dropped and the snow which had melted during our climb froze again.
I have admitted in previous blogs that I do not like steep downhills - add slippery snow to the mix and...I'll just say I added a whole new dimension to the phrase "inched her way along." At some points, it was easier to sit and slide. My nylon hiking pants held up well I'm happy to report!
When I finally wobbled back across the log again and stepped onto dirt, I felt like the kissing it. I never knew dirt could look so good.
Back at the bottom of the tram, the temperature was nearly 90. Our family went into Palm Springs. I had a huge burger, onion rings and the most delicious cold beer. I figured I deserved it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

May 14, 2010

The glaciers on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro have been receding since they were first recorded in the late 1800s and more so in the last decade. I have read several articles about the struggle to keep the mountain clean of litter from the numerous hikers that traverse its trails. The base of the mountain suffers from deforestation.
We often talk about the environment and our impact on it, but how often do we recognize the connection between the environment and poverty?
Many in the majority world or third world are rural poor and eke out an existence by living off the land. Often, this involves deforestation, cutting trees and selling or using the lumber for cooking or heat, as farmers continually seek good soil for their crops.
We are traveling to Tanzania under the auspices of Plant With Purpose, a non-profit organization based in San Diego. For three days before climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, we will volunteer in a few of the villages where Plant With Purpose works with the community.
Founded in 1984, Plant With Purpose - - has been in Tanzania for four years. It's mission is to "help the poor restore productivity to their land to create economic opportunity out of environmental restoration." Twenty two communities in regions surrounding Mt. Kilimanjaro participate in community driven projects such as village community banks, tree planting - more than 350,000 for farming and reforestation planted so far- and family vegetable gardens. According to the Plant With Purpose website, members of these self-governing groups or village community banks raise and distribute their own funds, and have generated $120,000 of loan capital to improve their farms, send their children to school, and begin small businesses.
Plant With Purpose has worked with more than 100,000 people around the world in Tanzania, Thailand, Haiti, Mexico and the Dominican Republic since recognizing the connection between the environment and poverty.
I'm excited about seeing what has been done in Tanzania.

Friday, May 7, 2010

May 7, 2010

When I first started training to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, I vowed to pick up the pace in May. The month snuck up on me quicker than I thought, probably because May 1 was on a Saturday and who wants to work out harder on the weekend? Plus, we were out celebrating my youngest daughter's 18th birthday the night before. I was under the mistaken impression that the Hawaiian martini I ordered would be mixed with pineapple juice rather than just having a piece of alcohol soaked fruit jauntily dangling on the rim.
But enough with the excuses! The climb is rapidly approaching and there is no time to waste.
Sunday, I bicycled 25 miles along the coast. Monday, I walked.
Tuesday, I pushed myself on the elliptical at the gym, increasing the slant to target quads and gluts. Then, I lifted weights and did squats.
I put in my usual three mile walk on Wednesday morning, followed by another killer four plus miles that afternoon - jog walking behind a long legged friend on rock strewn Torrey Pines State Beach, up the Broken Hill trial with its zig-zags and stairs and back down through the reserve. Balancing on the cobbled beach, jumping onto the larger rocks to avoid the incoming tide - all very important I've been told to build up those crucial trail muscles.
On Thursday morning, I spent an hour and a half trailing after another friend all over the hills and valleys of Solana Beach - looping through the San Elijo lagoon headed east, under the I-5 freeway, climbing steep streets, back under the freeway and west to her house. After, I went to the gym for another workout.
From now until our departure, the trick for me will be figuring out the right balance of physical preparation. Typically, I err on the side of over-working: my anxieties that I have not done enough overcoming common sense.
The year we climbed Mt. Whitney in late August, I started intensifying my workouts in April, culminating the training with an 11-mile "death run" through the Rancho Penasquitos Canyon Preserve on a hot summer morning.
It's probably a good thing there will be two weeks of a forced exercise haitus before we head up Mt. Kilimanjaro. Otherwise, my muscles would be fatigued from the start and I wouldn't have even stepped boot on the trail.
I took today off from exercising (does throwing the ball at dog park count as exercise?), but I will be back at it tomorrow with another long walk, and a bicycle ride up the coast on Sunday morning.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

April 29, 2010

Although I booked air travel for the four of us last fall, I wasn't able to choose our seats at that time. We are flying with KLM from Amsterdam to Tanzania, and the airline doesn't allow seat selection until ninety days before the flight. Of course, the seat selection became available during the Icelandic volcanic eruption so the KLM website was slammed.
On one flight, I was able to reserve four seats together in the middle section of the plane. Not the best location, but at least we will know our neighbors for that twelve hour leg. On another flight, however, the seats only came in groups of three. What to do??? I finally booked three together and one across the aisle in the same row.
Seat selection is a big deal in our competitive family, and deciding who gets the window, who has the aisle, who is stuck in the middle and who is sitting next to whom can be complicated. On a recent trip, our youngest daughter's seat assignment was a few rows back and separate from the rest of us because of the credit card miles I cobbled together for the flight. She survived - she is the youngest and used to being left out (oh the angst of it all =O)- but the flight was not that long.
Twelve hours is a good length of time on a plane especially in seats with very little leg room. We will head to the hotel where our suitcases are stored for a quick shower and change after we finish climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, then it's off to the airport for our flight. I'm already anticipating the need to do a few laps around the plane to stretch my muscles. I wonder if that will be allowed? I can always disguise the laps as necessary bathroom trips. I am a woman in my middle years after all.

Monday, April 26, 2010

April 26, 2010

I doubt I will ever be one of those light packers - a traveler who journeys to Europe or Africa with just a carry on bag. Traveler's guidebooks assure me I should be able to get by with a few interchangeable tops and bottoms. The black camisole with the khaki skirt or jeans and a pair of flats, the white long-sleeve blouse with the khaki shorts and sandals, the black camisole layered under the white long-sleeve blouse worn with simple black pants and the flats, the black jersey dress that can go to the fanciest dinner and the cathedral with the thin cotton sweater that would also look great with the jeans, the khaki shorts or the simple black pants. Oh yes, I mustn't forget the one splash of color scarf or piece of fun jewelry that will pull everything together.
Here is my method of packing - pile everything I might possibly want to wear on my bed. I do practice some selectivity at this point only choosing clothes based on the season I will be traveling to. This is also the time when I dig in my closet searching for those treasures I purchased months or weeks ago specifically for the trip.
Then, I tackle the pile - my own personal Mt. Kilimanjaro, the dizziness without the altitude. I can be ruthless, limiting myself to two skirts instead of five, one dress instead of three, four sleeveless tops instead of ten, three swimsuits instead of six (yes...I do have that many swimsuits, I have a hard time getting rid of them but that's another subject).
When I am finally done, my suitcase is packed and THERE IS STILL ROOM, I pat myself on the back and tackle other pre-departure chores.
BUT, the packing sadly does not end there. The white sweater, or blue swimsuit, or adorable cover up is calling my name, insisting on NOT BEING LEFT BEHIND, and I lose all reason and add it to my suitcase.
We are allowed 35 pounds of stuff for our Mt. Kilimanjaro climb, including our sleeping bags, sleeping pads, clothes and favorite snacks. I don't believe I will have a problem staying within that limit as the clothing options for the climb are quite specific - four layers of non-cotton material.
Where I will get into trouble is packing for the safari and the village visits where the clothing guidelines are more general, and I already imagine that totally impractical jacket calling my name, begging to be allowed on the trip of a lifetime.

Friday, April 16, 2010

April 16, 2010

Mt. Kilimanjaro is called "the roof of Africa" and is one of the largest volcanoes in the world. The mountain has three cones or vents - Shira, Mawenzi and Kibo - and was formed more than 750,000 years ago. Although now dormant, Kibo is the most recently formed cone and is thought to have been active as recently as a few hundred years ago. It is located, along with other large volcanoes in the Rift Valley - famous for the discovery of the remains of hominid ancestors including Lucy.
Movies and books about the prehistoric earth have fueled my imagination, and it's easy to picture volcanoes spewing lava and gases and the earth shifting in cataclysmic movements sparking fear in ancient beings.
Then, the earth moved under my feet on April 4, shaking the ocean front bluff where I was hiking, making me feel as if I were balancing on a tilting skateboard. A couple dashed past on the trail - they looked scared - but I'm not sure where they were planning on running to safety. The undulating stopped, and I learned later I had experienced a 7.2 earthquake centered in Calexico, Mexico, about 100 miles southeast of San Diego.
The other day, a volcano erupted in Iceland beneath the Eyjafjallajokull glacier. (I listened to a report on the eruption - hoping to learn how to pronounce the glacier's name, but the on-site reporter did everything he could to avoid saying it!) The volcanic ash cloud was so large it could be seen from space, and as it drifted over Northern Europe, air travel screeched to a halt stranding many. Volcanic ash apparently does not mix well with airplane engines or windshields. The television news report said the last time this particular volcano erupted - in 1821 - the eruption lasted for a year.
We no longer walk barefoot on the dirt every day or drive a cart on a rutted path or ride horses as our usual modes of transportation. We live in air conditioned/heated houses, drive in cars with anti-freeze and defrosters, sheltered from the most inclement weather. Many of us get our fresh fruit from pyramids carefully constructed at the local supermarket by produce workers. When I was a teen, I tried to milk a cow on my great-grandmother's South Dakota farm, and failed miserably. The thin, warm white liquid tasted funny to me.
And yet, the earth shifts and slips, a tidal wave surges, a volcano erupts and thousands are killed or injured or forced to stay put. We are reminded how fragile we still are despite our modern advances, how easily the rhythms of this active planet can disrupt and frighten us. How puny we really are.

Friday, April 9, 2010

April 9, 2010

Raising children is perhaps one of the most challenging undertakings. Nine months of gestation hardly seems enough time to prepare. After more than twenty five years of parenting, we are about to become empty nesters as our youngest heads off to college in the fall.
Those with multiple children know that each child is different, and not always ready to take on responsibility at the same age as the others did. As parents, we tire of diaper duty, and we wonder "is he or she ready to be toilet trained?"
Our child wants to walk to his or her friend's house to play, and we debate "is he or she equal to the challenge of navigating those blocks alone?" We warn them not to talk to strangers along the way and order them to call us the minute they arrive.
Some parents don't believe their child is ready to drive at 16. I know I will never forget the three times I slid into the passenger seat, buckled my seat belt and braced myself for each of my daughter's first whirl around the high school parking lot.
We are also called upon to gauge whether our offspring are equipped for first sleepovers, week-long camps and dating.
But what about more dangerous, uncommon challenges?
I recently read an Associated Press article about a thirteen year old who hopes to become the youngest climber to gain the 29,035 foot summit of Mt. Everest. According to the article, the teen hopes to eventually tackle the seven summits - the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. He was the youngest American at age ten to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, and has successfully summitted three other mountains including Mt. McKinley.
My first, cynical reaction was "well, he will get into any college he wants," but then I wondered about the wisdom of his parents. Obviously, they know their child better than I do. But how much can a thirteen year old understand the risks of climbing a mountain that has killed many?
There is a reason the legal system defines those eighteen and older as adults, requiring hearings to determine whether younger teens should stand trial as adults. Recent studies have postulated that our brains are not fully developed until twenty five, and, as parents, we have been warned our children won't grow out of adolescence until their mid-to-late twenties.
Although I would never allow my children to climb Mt. Everest at such a young age, parents might be appalled to discover my youngest was SCUBA certified as a PADI diver when she was eleven. PADI will certify divers as young as ten.
SCUBA diving can be an extremely dangerous sport. Did my youngest always follow the rules? No. Did she understand the dangers of SCUBA diving? Probably not.
On our first dive trip, we got separated on a shallow night dive. Other young divers bounced off the sandy bottom and shot to the surface. A rapid ascent from a deep dive can be fatal.
I guess we all need to make the judgment call for our own children, and teach them to be responsible risk takers if there is such a thing. I know I don't want my daughters to be scared of life.
I hope the young climber survives Mt. Everest.

Friday, April 2, 2010

April 2, 2010

Trekking poles and a Tanzanian visa. Alliteration might be overused and a cliche, but I still like it!
So, I sent off for our Tanzanian visas last week. Many countries require a travel visa besides just a passport, and Tanzania is one of them. This process turned out to be a little more complicated than I expected.
First, passports valid for six months after travel are required and my husband needed to renew his passport which was set to expire in the middle of our trip. We also need our passports for a Memorial Day house building trip to Mexico, so I am biting my nails on this one.
We sent off the application, old passport, payment, required photos at the end of February. Finally, the new passport arrived in late March. Hooray!
Next, more passport size photos - two per person - were needed for the visas. This involved "encouraging" four busy people to get their pictures taken in a timely fashion.
Another complication: our youngest is 17 and a minor who requires a notarized letter from both parents to travel internationally. It doesn't matter that she will be 18 when we go to Tanzania.
At the post office, I was so happy to have all the required documents - four passports, eight photos, notarized letter, four applications, a check and a self-addressed stamped envelope. In my euphoria, however, I filled out the wrong box on the sending envelope and had to start over. BUT, the deed is done, and now my fingers are crossed (at least the ones I am not biting the nails on) that all will be returned soon with our official visas authorizing our Tanzanian travel.
Which brings me to our trekking poles.
Our Mt. Kilimanjaro hiking leader says we all must bring trekking poles. The first days of the climb will take us through a rain forest and the trail will be slippery with mud. Our final day might involve crossing snow slick gravel.
I used to never hike with trekking poles, but that was before I discovered how wonderful they are. Many with trekking poles passed us on the Mt. Whitney descent and I couldn't figure out why until I tried them myself on a backpacking trip.
I joke with my family that I would most likely still be on the top of Sawtooth pass in the Sequoia National Park mountains if I had not had trekking poles.
I've already shared one of my fears: steep downhills. The west side of Sawtooth Mountain is basically a gravel slide with no discernible trail. I was so happy to have my trusty trekking poles to help steady me as I slipped and slid down the loose rocks. They were certainly cheaper than the helicopter that would have been needed to airlift me from the mountain pass.
Trekking poles are also great for crossing streams. I don't like to rock hop. On Mt. Whitney, my daughter very lovingly guided me with her firm grip from wobbly rock to wobbly rock. Now, with my trekking poles, I can ford the streams on my own.
My husband and I checked out various trekking poles at a local store, and ended up ordering poles for ourselves online. They arrived last week.
Maybe I should uncross my fingers long enough to give them a try - or maybe our Tanzanian visas will show up soon.

Friday, March 26, 2010

March 26, 2010

What compels us in our striving to be the first at something? What if attaining the goal of first requires persistence through physical and mental obstacles?
The first recorded person to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro was Yohani Kinyala Lauwo or Kinyala Johnnes Lauwo, a member of the Lauwo clan of the Chagga tribe. He was selected (forced really) by the Chagga chief to lead Hans Meyer and Austrian climber Ludwig Purtscheller to the top of the mountain. Meyer, a German geology professor, is credited as the first European to reach the summit in 1889 after two failed attempts.
Not much is written about Kinyala – besides the fact that he only had a few blankets to keep warm in the high altitude. Journals and dairies, however, report how Meyer and other Europeans before him suffered from hypothermia, altitude sickness, deteriorating morale and dwindling food supplies. A wall of ice ultimately blocked Meyer’s first attempt at summitting: he was forced to retreat because he didn’t have the proper equipment to scale the ice.
On his second try, Meyer and a traveling companion were captured and held prisoner by Chief Busuri. The two were released after a ransom was paid, but the chief kept all of their equipment and supplies. Another Chagga chieftain, Mandara, bragged of having met every European explorer in the region and extracting “gifts” from them in exchange for safe passage.
Records kept by European explorers cast doubt on the possibility that East African tribesmen could reach the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro because they did not have the proper equipment. Sounds like they had plenty to me!
Meyer figured close to fifty other Europeans had taken a shot at climbing the mountain, and, if he wanted to be the first, he had better try again soon. He spent some time interviewing an American naturalist who had come the closest to gaining the summit. Meyer learned a lack of proper food supplies was the biggest obstacle, so he established a series of camps along the climbing route he would take, stocking the camps with food. He and Purtscheller were too exhausted to summit on their first attempt. But after a day of recuperating at a lower altitude, the two returned and crested the crater rim of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Last Saturday night, we attended the Cirque Du Soleil-Kooza while it was in San Diego. Most of the performers did amazing things I had never seen before. A unicyclist twirled a woman above his head, tightrope walkers jumped over each other while thirty feet off the ground, two guys jumped rope on the outside of a large spinning metal contraption (who thinks up this stuff?). But the contortionists were the most incredible. I wonder, when they planned their act, did they say “let’s be the first to have one of us bend like a pretzel while the other does a one-armed handstand on the pretzel woman’s abs?” I know this is a tenuous connection to the drive to be first, but I still can’t get one of the contortionist’s poses out of my head. I didn’t close my eyes fast enough, and it lingers in my mind like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Maybe the drive to be first is intertwined (did you think of the pretzel woman? I did.) with the desire to make a mark on history. Kinyala got a new house built by the German government. Meyer has a bronze plaque on Mt. Kilimanjaro.
What do you think?

Information gathered from internet and “Kilimanjaro: A Complete Traveler’s Guide”

Friday, March 19, 2010

March 19, 2010

“Kilimanjaro is a snow covered mountain 19,110 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai ‘Ngqje Ngai/The House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.” So begins Ernest Hemingway’s short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro.
A friend gave me a book about Mt. Kilimanjaro called “The Complete Trekker’s Guide.” It is full of useful information, but I must admit, I found the section on 19th –century European fascination with the mountain quite funny.
According to the book, and other sources, English armchair geographer William Desborough Cooley was considered an African expert because he had written major essays on the region’s geography although he had never been to East Africa. He was convinced Mt. Kilimanjaro was not high enough to sustain a perennial snowfield so near the equator.
When Swiss-German missionary Johannes Rebmann actually traveled to the region and saw the mountain in late 1848, he reported that he observed “something remarkably white on the top.” He said he first believed the white to be a cloud, but closer inspection confirmed it was snow.
Cooley and others ridiculed Rebmann’s findings, gaining support from a number of powerful public figures. I can just picture Cooley, his backside girded by his leather armchair, head hemmed by pipe smoke. “Snow on Mt. Kilimanjaro,” he would scoff. “Ridiculous. Figment of Mr. Rebmann’s imagination.”
David Livingston reported on other mountains in Africa topped by “glittering whiteness” which turned out to be “masses of white rock, somewhat like quartz.” Livingston’s reports further debunked Rebmann’s observations.
Another missionary confirmed Rebmann’s sightings of snow. Cooley insisted the second missionary was hallucinating.
Later explorers, some with scientific backgrounds, attempted to summit the mountain. One reached 14,000 feet only to be turned back by a snowstorm. Cooley dismissed the experience as a “traveler’s tale” about an “opportune fall of snow” all fabricated to support the two missionaries. Eventually, others lost faith in Cooley, and the Royal Geographic Society withdrew its support. But Cooley refused to recant, and went to his deathbed declaring snow an impossibility on Mt. Kilimanjaro.
This argument between “armchair academics” and scientists sounds strangely familiar…
As for the leopard mentioned by Hemingway, its corpse was discovered on the crater rim and photographed in 1926. The mummified animal disappeared from the mountain in the early 1930s. Its presence has yet to be explained.

Friday, March 12, 2010

March 12, 2010

Summitting Mt. Kilimanjaro will require not only good aerobic condition, but also a certain mind set. We have been told that on some days we will merely be putting one foot in front of the other and our determination to move forward will need to come to the forefront. Our desire to summit must be as strong as our bodies.
Running long distance requires the same effort, physical preparation as well as mental fortitude. When I ran half marathons, I knew how important thought persistence was, as the minute I would think "walking sounds great," my steps would slow.
But, today I am tired, and I'm wondering how to balance my desire to succeed with the wisdom of moderation.
My workout schedule last week: Saturday - hike in the snow at high altitude; Monday - a long walk; Tuesday - stairmaster, squats and weight lifting; Wednesday - a longer walk; Thursday - two long walks; Friday (today) - another long walk and weight lifting. Last Sunday I would normally have bicycled but I was out of town.
When my daughter and I went for our travel vaccinations, the doctor cautioned about the need to listen to our bodies when we hike Mt. Kilimanjaro. "The climb will be easier for you," he told my daughter, "because you are young. I'm counting on you to tell your mother to stop when it looks like she needs to." My daughter and I laughed.
But climbing at high altitude is serious, and could have deadly consequences. I need to commit not only to the notion of summitting, but also the belief that I did not fail if I physically cannot reach the top. A woman I know came within 400 feet of summitting Mt. Kilimanjaro and literally could not move another step. The guides gently turned her around and led her back to base camp.
When a friend and I walk together, we always have to touch something at our end point so we can turn around - a bench, a rock, a light post. I might not be able to touch the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Now would be a good time for me to start listening to that voice of moderation, as my turning point on the hike might be sooner than I imagine.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

March 4, 2010

Travelers will not be let into Tanzania unless they can show proof of having received a vaccination against Yellow Fever. Other shots we must be current on are: Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Tetanus, Diptheria, Measles and Polio.
Vaccinations (or anything that involves a needle going into my skin) top the list of my least favorite things to do. I always have to turn my head when my blood is drawn. I could never watch when my daughters got their vaccinations. In fact, when my first two were born, I opted for a natural birth just because I couldn't stomach the idea of an IV in the crook of my arm.
I wonder if my aversion to needles dates to my continued bouts with strep throat and tonsillitis when I was eight, and all those HUGE shots I had to get in my butt. Once I kicked the shot tray out of the nurse's hand. Penicillin sprayed everywhere. My mom was so embarrassed and I didn't get the toy she promised for good behavior.
Yesterday, my youngest daughter and I went to the local travel clinic for our shots. When I started SCUBA diving, I got the Hepatitis A series as we planned to travel to countries where the food and water were not always safe. So I was thankfully already set with that one. I opted for the oral Typhoid vaccine (love the option!). And, as with most my age, I suffered through the measles so no need to get vaccinated. I still had to get a Yellow Fever vaccination and an updated Tetanus. At least the Tetanus was in the same shot as the Diptheria vaccination.
We met the nurse in her office where we discussed our travel plans. I tried not to watch as she built the shots, shaking the miniature glass bottles of medicine, filling the needles, setting them carefully on her desk so they wouldn't roll off.
But I couldn't help myself.
It was like passing a freeway accident.
Then we had to wait for the doctor to sign for the shots. By the time he did so, the shots were looming, both metaphorically and physically.
Next, we walked to the examining room, the shots laid out on the all too familiar little plastic tray on top of a paper doily almost as if they were skewered shrimp.
I never believe the nurse when she says "You'll feel a little pinch now." But she was right about the first one - the DPT was a minor sting in my left arm. The Yellow Fever shot, however, burned. My daughter watched the needle go into my arm. Later, she said she wished she hadn't. She had never seen a needle that long before, and when she got her Yellow Fever shot, she was sure the needle nearly pierced all the way through her arm.
Now that I am all updated with my shots, I feel like I should work in a lot of traveling before they expire.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Feb. 25, 2010

A woman who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro several years ago was kind enough to show me pictures of her hike. Near the front of her album is a picture of the Mt. Kilimanjaro summit above a layer of clouds. She said she took it from the window of an airplane. =O
Yes, I know the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro is approximately 19,000 feet. But knowing that and actually visualizing it are two different things for me.
When one of my daughters was about to turn 17, I suggested we climb Half Dome for her birthday which was on August 17. Since the hike is about 17 miles round trip it sounded like a fun thing to do. All those seventeens. Who could resist?
I have been to Yosemite more times than I can count beginning when I was a child. I was familiar with Half Dome. I had gazed up at it often enough from the Yosemite Valley floor. It had been a long time since I viewed it from Glacier Point, however. My daughter's friend came with us on the hike. She had never been to Yosemite before. We set up camp near Glacier Point, then wound our way down to the viewpoint to give the friend an opportunity to see what we were proposing to climb.
When we pointed out Half Dome, sticking out like a hitchhiker's thumb, she was amazed that we actually hoped to get to the top of it.
I must admit - seeing the 8,800- foot dome from that angle took me aback as well. Maybe there was an easier side that we just couldn't see.
The next day when we got to the base of the dome, after passing the top of Nevada Falls and continuing through Little Yosemite Valley, I realized there wasn't an easier side. Hikers were pulling on leather work gloves and starting up the final 425 foot climb to the top. Without the steel cables to grab on either side of the three-foot wide "trail", it would be impossible to tackle the nearly 45 degree angle unless climbing equipment was used.
If I hadn't already hiked eight and a half miles to get to that point, I probably would not have continued. It was a scary experience - a lot more frightening to me than crossing the windows on the Mt. Whitney trail - and one that I don't plan on repeating.
As for Mt. Kilimanjaro, I might just close my eyes if the pilot of our airplane points out the famous summit before we land at the Tanzanian airport. Maybe I will be lucky enough to be on the side of the plane that doesn't have the view at all. =)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Feb. 20, 2010

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro will not be like any other wilderness experience I have had. On most backpacking trips, the desire is to get as far away from civilization as possible, to be "alone" in the untouched wilderness. I still laugh about the time I backpacked in the Desolation Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We had been hiking for a few days, and after the first day had not seen others on the trail. One day, we set up camp, and then decided to climb a nearby mountain. When we reached the top, South Lake Tahoe and it's many casinos were spread out just below us! I thought of all the dehydrated food, trail mix and stream caught trout we had been eating, our dirty, sweat soaked clothes, my balled up sweatshirt pillow and it was just too funny to see "civilization" right there on the other side of the mountain.
The lower section of the trail to Half Dome in Yosemite is well-traveled, populated with unprepared tourists wearing flip-flops and toting one water bottle for five. Stretches of the trail above Nevada Falls, however, are fairly hiker free, and the wilderness experience is possible.
Mt. Whitney is another popular trail, and hikers abound, but there are times when no others can be seen, the gurgling of clear water tumbling over stones can be heard, deer wander into a meadow.
Pictures I have seen of the Mt. Kilimanjaro trail show stunning scenery and varying micro climates: lush jungle foliage to scrub brush to rocks and glacier ice. We will be hiking the Machame Trail which I have been told is not as well-traversed as others. Still, our group of 13 hikers will have up to 37 support "staff." There will be three porters for each of us as well as guides for the group.
The woman organizing our trip (this will be her seventh Mt. Kilimanjaro climb) said she once passed a group of 50 hikers with a support staff in the hundreds. It is hard for me to imagine what that will look like on the trail.
A bonus in all the hikers: Mt. Kilimanjaro is a destination for international travelers. I'm excited about encountering people from other countries and hearing their stories, giving wilderness exploration a whole new meaning.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Feb. 11, 2010

Public speaking is not a favorite of mine (kudos to all those who make a living at it). My heart always races in anticipation of standing up in front of an audience,knowing that a sea of faces will be watching me, that I will be bearing the pressure of their focus. Okay, well, if I'm honest, I could get into the idea of people thinking what I have to say is interesting. =) I wonder if that is a backlash of being a mother when you wonder if anybody is listening! But, I digress.
I went to the Ruby Room in Hillcrest with some writing friends last Friday to participate in an open mic reading sponsored by Dime Stories ( My heart was thumping like mad, and I wondered...does this count as aerobic training for Mt. Kilimanjaro? I posed the question to one of my writing friends and he said it would, if I got up to speak at least four times.(Each reading is limited to three minutes).
Since that wasn't going to happen, I figured the edge of my seat nervousness of waiting for the slip of paper with my name on it to be pulled from the bucket, the walking to the microphone, the actual reading and the breathing in my chair afterwards would have to do. I can feel the increased beating of my heart even now as I relive those moments.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Feb. 5, 2010

I've been clonking around my neighborhood, striding along concrete in my new hiking boots. They are actually pretty comfortable if I manage to get the laces tightened correctly. The last two pairs of boots I had didn't cover my ankles. They felt more like shoes which actually turned out to be a problem for me. After I rolled my ankle on Mt. Whitney and stretched the ligaments across the top of my foot like a rubber band, the doctor told me I must either wrap my foot every time I hiked or get a pair of boots that supported my ankles. Which brings me to a discussion of mountain fashion.
I couldn't get any old pair of serviceable boots. I needed ones that were a good color and that didn't make my feet look huge. My neighbor didn't notice the boots paired with my sweat pants the other day - so mission accomplished.
I've written before about the four layers of clothing required for climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. My base layer is lavender, my next layer is black. My pants are olive green, my fleece and waterproof jackets are brown with black accents, my waterproof pants are black. I still need to select a hat and knit cap. The only hat I've ever looked halfway decent in is the straw hat I wear at the beach after I've been in the water and my hair is a tangled mess. Of course, I've always maintained that any woman can look good in a hat as long as she has a great pair of sunglasses and some nice lipstick. I wonder what color will compliment my outfit?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

January 28, 2010

Breathing - not something I think about on a daily basis but a serious consideration whether hiking in high alititude or SCUBA diving.
The idea of breathing under water seems more foreign to me, and it's ridiculousness, weirdness, freakiness more immediately apparent. One giant stride off the back of a boat into the water and you are plunged into a choice of survival - hold your breath or jump in equipped with an oxygen tank and breathing apparutus.
I remember our first SCUBA instructor. Breathing under water, he said, was as easy as sitting on your couch watching television. You just do it.
I didn't believe him.
My first time breathing under water, I sat in the shallow end of the pool, my left hand gripping the metal railing just above the spot where it was bolted to the bottom step. The top of my head was probably two inches below the surface. I counted to seventeen and stood. Breathing under water was neither natural nor easy!
The conundrum is that I love to SCUBA dive. Life forms under the ocean are unbelievably incredible and diverse, and weightless hovering - even though I'm still working on mastering it - is indescribable.
After 100 plus dives and lots of practice pacing my inhale and exhale - I can now take that giant stride without my heart racing in panic. I can breathe under water in a way that is natural for me, and usually not even think about it.
Breathing at high altitude usually takes me my surprise. Why is it suddenly so difficult to carry my backpack? Oh yeah, I am hiking above 10,000 feet. I was amazed that it took me an hour to traverse one mile once I had passed the 13,000 foot mark on Mt. Whitney.
The thinning of the air is so gradual, I often blame my slower steps, the heaviness of my legs, the feeling of walking in deep sand on my age or the difficulty of the terrain.
I read on one website that the breathable oxygen at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,000 plus feet) is less than half the amount commonly found at sea level.
I am building my aerobic fitness (bicycling, long walks, stairmaster) and hope that my breathing or lack of breath won't be a factor next July.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

January 21, 2010

Is it possible to prepare for the worst? Someone once told me that we worry because we think our worries will get us ready in case the worst happens. That has never worked for me, and I have come to realize that worrying is taking away time from what I should be doing.
The San Diego Chargers lost their playoff game on Sunday. I know their loss isn’t the worst thing that could happen. However, it got me thinking about their game day preparations and all the talk about how penalty free and professional they played during most of the regular season. Some of the players behaved poorly during the stress of the playoff game, and the team was penalized. Did the pressure cooker of a single elimination game reveal their true characters?
I wish I could say only my best character traits rise to the surface when I am in a stressful or worst case situation. But isn’t that what the regular season is for? To give me the time and opportunity to develop good foundational character qualities that will emerge when I am rubbed raw?
When we hiked Mt. Whitney, I injured my right foot on the way down. We were hurrying to get to the burger shack before it closed and I rolled my ankle twice. The first time stung, the second time, I couldn’t get up, and I collapsed in tears. I was exhausted – we had already traversed 20 miles since 5 a.m., it was getting close to dark and we had two more miles to go. I am not proud of what I said.
My daughter very calmly wrapped my ankle and foot with the bandage we had brought for just such an occasion, and helped me hobble the rest of the trail.
LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers running back, was booed by the fans on Sunday. He is a star player, has broken many records and is on his way to the hall of fame. Most important, he is a man of good character. He has said he is more interested in making a difference off the field than on the field. After Sunday’s game, LT was quoted as saying he didn’t take the fans’ boos personally. He knew they were frustrated with the team’s performance, and he just happened to experience their anger.
Now that’s a response even a disappointed Charger fan like me can celebrate and hope to emulate in my own worst- case scenarios.

Friday, January 15, 2010

January 15, 2010

I haven’t gardened much in the past two months. Although San Diego has only a pseudo winter, plant growth does slow, and I’ve found in December and January, I don’t have to beat back my neighbor’s vines on a near daily basis so they don’t engulf my palm trees. When I finally pulled on my gardening gloves the other day, I was surprised to discover weeds flourishing around my fruit trees. Last summer, I spent many sweaty days uprooting and conquering (I think) the crab grass in the same area. This weed is of a different variety and, being a newbie gardener, almost looks like ground cover. I have been fooled by other weeds before; especially ones that look like daffodils or iris’s in their newly sprouted state: tiny lime green spears poking through the dirt. The worst are the weeds camouflaged in the leaves of thriving bushes – sometimes I don’t catch those until they push their greedy heads out of hiding.
Those sneaky weeds and my lackadaisical gardening made me think of exercise. When I have a goal, a 5K, a half-marathon, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, I can be disciplined in exercising because I know if I don’t, I will pay the price. But it is all too easy to skip a walk or – even easier – a trip to the gym especially if it involves the stair master when the goal is simply general like staying in shape. And staying in shape falls away so quickly. I haven’t run since August. I could run 13.1 miles then. There is no way I could now. Work your butt off at the gym for a year, take off a few months, and it seems to all be gone when you return.
So it looks like I will need to stay more on top of those pesky weeds, even in the “colder” winter months. Maybe I should have the goal of a garden party to keep me motivated. =)

Friday, January 8, 2010

January 8, 2010

Pikes Peak was the first 14,000- plus- foot peak I climbed: the one that taught me the necessity of quad and glute workouts to succesfully traverse a trail that mostly goes up. The mountain towers over Colorado's front range. I don't think you can go anywhere in Colorado Springs (or Monument where we lived at the time) and not see the peak. My husband and I had driven up the mountain many times, before I decided I wanted to hike it. A friend and I picked a Saturday in August: a Saturday because our husbands could watch our children; August because afternoon thunderstorms were not as frequent then. At the last minute, my friend couldn't go so I invited my husband and we got a babysitter. We got to the trail head early in the morning. Our plan was to hike to the top, have hot chocolate and donuts at the snack shop/visitor's center and take the cog train down. Piece of cake. I knew someone who regularly hiked up and down the peak for a easy day's workout - of course, he spent a few months hiking the entire John Muir trail. Someonw else I knew trained and participated in the Pikes Peak Marathon - running up and down the trail - go figure. She did pop a lot of aspirin.
We knew we needed to be at the summit by late afternoon to make sure we could get on one of the trains going down. At the time, it wasn't possible to purchase one way tickets on the cog railway. We would have to buy them at the summit store, and hope there was room on a train.
The trail is beautiful, lots of aspen and pines. We got passed several times by runners training for the upcoming marathon!
We were close to the timberline when my muscles started cramping - I didn't want to turn back, the summit was closer than the trailhead. Stretching helped a little and we plodded on. The higher we got, the more we had to stop, the longer each mile took. The trail was easy, a path over tundra. A misty cloud engulfed the summit, and it started to rain. Luckily, no thunderbolts. By this time we were wearing all the clothes we had brought underneath our rain ponchos - I have heard that the day we summit Mt. Kilimanjaro I will be wearing all of the clothes I packed. Finally...we reached the summit. It was so nice to be greeted by amazed toursits. Somehow, I don't think that will happen on Mt. Kilimanjaro =)
I climbed Pikes Peak again the next weekend with my parents who were in their 50s then. They seemed to have no problem,and the second time around was easier for me.
This morning I worked out on the stairmaster and did squats, building up those quads and gluts!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

January 2, 2010

This is the year we climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, and I must confess, I am getting a little nervous about the whole adventure. Some have questioned our desire or should I say our sanity in planning to summit the famous mountain. Most who do don't know that the climb does not entail serious mountaineering with ropes, pick axes, etc. Still, I am somewhat nervous about the cold as I tend to get cold pretty easily. When we go SCUBA diving, I am the one in the 3/2 mm full wetsuit with a hood while others are wearing swim trunks and t-shirts in the 80 degree plus water.
Just before Christmas, I ran into a woman I know who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro a few years ago. She told me they made it to the summit in a freak blizzard. What does this say to me? Layers, layers, layers and more layers. =O
We climbed the local Iron Mountain the day after Christmas. It is a very popular trail in San Diego County about 25 miles east of us. The ascent was more than 2,000 feet in just under three miles. I felt pretty good going up. Coming down was another matter. As I think I have shared, steep downhills - especially those laden with loose gravel over bare rock - scare me. My 17-year-old was very kind, however, and held my hand so I wouldn't fall. Having two labs excitedly racing around us, bumping our legs, added to my anxiety (I mean fun).

A final view of Mt. Kilimanjaro

A final view of Mt. Kilimanjaro

It's Official

It's Official

At the Roof of Africa

At the Roof of Africa





Barafu Camp

Barafu Camp

Looking back at Karanga Valley Camp

Looking back at Karanga Valley Camp

Morning Send Off

Morning Send Off

Barranca Wall

Barranca Wall

Top of Barranca Wall

Top of Barranca Wall

The Dining Tent

The Dining Tent

Trail to Lava Tower

Trail to Lava Tower

Shira Camp

Shira Camp

Machame Trail

Machame Trail

Machame Gate

Machame Gate

Half Dome cables

Half Dome cables

Towering Tree

Towering Tree
this is a former house plant that I tired of, I didn't want to throw it out, so I dug a hole for it in the dog yard. It's thriving despite me.