POV

Global Odyssey: Kilimanjaro, To the Top of the World and Back in Two Days

Our friend Eric Hill has a mission: “To visit all 194 U.N. recognized countries in world record time and film and document the exciting journey to show that awesome exists in EVERY country, especially with the people.” Eric’s journey will be one of full cultural immersion, while simultaneously raising funds and awareness in partnership with a variety of charity organizations. CBK will be reporting on his progress as he moves along. Check in next time for another tale from a great adventure.

Story and photos by Eric Hill - gowitheric.com
Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Source: Eric Hill www.gowitheric.com

Conquering Kilimanjaro has been near the top of my bucket list since I was a child. In one of the many times spent with my dad spinning our family globe, we pointed out the highest mountains in the world. And the highest mountain in Africa, which in my mind as a child was the most mysterious continent on Earth, seemed more inviting than any of the other peaks. I decided I had to do it some day, but no matter what I read about it, I was still surprised by so many things along the way.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Since my time in Tanzania was limited, Kyle Pettit (my friend and cameraman for this leg) and I chose the route with the shortest allowed time to summit. The Marangu route, nicknamed the “Coca Cola Route” due to (what I consider) posh lodging and facilities at the end of each day’s hike, was the shortest. But at about forty-three miles round trip and a thirteen thousand foot elevation change to the peak at 19,341 feet, I knew it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk… Or was it?

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

After getting geared up by Kilidove Tours with the right snow gear, cooking utensils, food, etc. we headed to the trailhead at the base of the mountain. It was there that I found out we had eight porters to carry all the stuff… For only two of us! I started to doubt if this was going to be the challenge I was dreaming of. Because of rain, we didn’t get going until about four pm. The first section was through rainforest. Besides a stop at a vine swing, we pretty much hiked straight through the lush jungle to the first stop at the Horombo Huts. What was supposed to be a four-hour hike quickly finished in two hours when we reached the first hut. Kyle and I laughed a little about how easy this first day was, and we quickly made a goal to finish it in three days instead of five.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

The porters and guides said they were OK with it, but I could tell they doubted we would do what we planned. Unlike us, they knew what was ahead. So we went to bed early that night and slept ten hours to be ready the next day for two days worth of hiking. We woke up the next morning and got going about eight am. Since all we were allowed to carry was a daypack, we quickly left the porters behind. Then soon our guides. Then eventually, I left Kyle behind, and I was alone on the trail in an incredible landscape. I’d made it out of the jungle and into an area covered in beautiful and strange vegetation. I’d seen pictures of some of this stuff, but seeing all the unique plants along with the clouds thousands of feet below me was a surprisingly cool experience! As I walked on the trail up and down the rolling hills along the ascent, the peak of Kilimanjaro kept peaking over the horizon, keeping me chomping at the bit to get to the top. I wasn’t slowing down yet.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

I got to next stopping point at the Mandara Huts and waited an hour or so for Kyle and the guides to get there. It wasn’t a race, but I was proud to have gotten there so fast… I still had no idea what I was in for. We ate some quick lunch, rededicated ourselves to get to “basecamp” at the Kibo Huts by nightfall and began hiking again. I was quickly alone again enjoying the landscape as the green faded into a rocky, dusty alpine desert. Since I was alone it was easy to imagine I was alone on some other planet. Gradually things I was imagining started to become more and more abstract, like forgetting I was actually on earth for a moment here and there as my daydreams got more and more vivid.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

I stopped and waited for Kyle who was only a little way behind and finally had a chance to catch my breath. That’s when I realized how crazy some of the daydreams were. I was starting to get deprived of oxygen for the first time. I looked at my altimeter. Over fourteen thousand feet! The highest I’d ever been on land! Whether it was the realization of how high I was or just simple physics of thinning oxygen levels in the air, it was from that point on that the struggle began. My pace slowed a bit and by the time I reached the Kibo Huts I was breathing like I was sprinting, but walking like I was strolling at best.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Unfortunately, Kyle and I arrived three hours before the porters that had our warm clothes. To make a long story short, we got so cold before they got there we were violently shakin. I was burning calories trying to warm up; I had no appetite. Then we made a questionable decision. Maybe it was our crazy oxygen deprived brains, maybe it was motivation of the praise we got when we arrived at “basecamp” two days ahead of schedule, but we decided to make the final ascent that same night! I tried to sleep, but since my body was still trying to warm up and my resting heart rate was one hundred beats per minute. I don’t think I slept a minute before my alarm went off at one am. Time to go.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Kyle, our two guides and I walked out with only the stars and our headlamps for light and started up the final six thousand foot ascent to the peak up dry, loose rock all the way. Our guides set the pace (luckily) at the speed of an old man in a walker. I was happy to slow things down, but quickly realized even at this pace I couldn’t breath hard enough. About an hour went by before one of our guides had to turn around because of altitude sickness! Down to three. Things only got harder for me. I would be hiking and suddenly I’d wake up. I kept passing out about every sixty seconds and then waking up halfway fallen over. My brain just couldn’t get enough oxygen. My head throbbed, and I couldn’t make sense of things some times. I even had a moment when I stopped breathing because in my twisted thoughts I believed I had forgotten to pay my pre-paid minutes on my own breath and I didn’t want to get penalized for using too much air… I was going crazy.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Losing a guide, passing out, realizing I was thinking crazy and fighting a pounding headache. So many things started to cloud my desire for the top, but we kept moving. Sometimes it was I pumping up Kyle, sometimes it was Kyle motivating me. It went on like this for five hours, but it felt like an eternity until I finally saw it. I took the last few steps over the final ridge and three hundred feet away was the sign at the Uhuru Peak! The Summit! I hate to admit it, but I literally cried. Not just the watering eyes, but a blubbering sob. Kyle was behind. We had to reach it together. I waited for him and hid the tears as best I could as we put an arm on each other’s shoulders and walked together the last few steps to the top. As if this wasn’t enough, like clockwork after a brotherly hug, we turned toward the brightening horizon and the sun peeked up the moment we turned around. Incredible.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

I really wanted to just lay down and go to sleep forever up there in the icy cold, but our guide rushed us to finish up with pictures and get down for the sake of our oxygen deprived bodies. It went against everything I felt like doing, but I managed to get in a backflip, as planned, before we headed down. Even going down was incredibly slow and I had to rest so often. We made it back to Basecamp. Still no appetite, still a massive headache, no other choice but to keep going to where we could get some more oxygen. From Kibo we went down to Harambo for a quick meal with my newly found appetite. The energy was coming back. We kept going. Mandara, we were already on the final stretch. Before we knew it the gates and Marangu Trail head were in sight. We did it! Forty-three miles, an over thirteen thousand-foot ascent and descent… in fifty hours! We were kings. Thank you, Kilimanjaro. You were the toughest hike of my life. I don’t think I will miss you for a while.

Source: Eric Hill www.gowitheric.com

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