Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Stage One: Amazing first day for the team!

The team left Arusha at 8am, drove 2 hours in this heavy duty vehicle to Mt. Kili base, spent 1.5 hours getting registered at the Machame gate, and then began their first ascent of their 7 day expedition. Ultimate goal: standing on top of the behemoth Mt. Kilimanjaro at 19, 341 feet!

This is Randy's fifth of the seven summits so he's very experienced, but this is Alex's first time on a major mountaineering expedition.  Here's a picture of my courageous young son at the Machame gate this morning, ready and trained to go for it.

Randy called by satellite phone when they reached Machame camp (9900 feet) and said everyone did great today, covering 7.4 miles and 3900 vertical feet. That's a big day, especially as the terrain was quite steep at times, and everyone was getting adjusted to what climbing a mountain like Kilimanjaro entails. Embarking on an expedition like this is a major adjustment for everyone. Most of the teammates are in admirable shape, but they are not accustomed to climbing steep terrain for 5 or more straight hours in fairly thin air, hauling 25 pounds on their backs, keeping their gear organized, and dealing with all the dust and dirt. And they have to get up tomorrow and do it again.  And the next day, and the next, and the next......  It's an impressive undertaking.

The weather was just about perfect today; cloudy and cool till 7800 feet, then perfectly clear and beautiful for the rest of the hike.  They hiked in shorts or lightweight pants and T-shirts, stopping every hour or so for drinks, snacks, and a short respite. The views along the route and especially at the camp were spectacular.

Randy said the hiking was equivalent to a big day in Shenandoah with the altitude slowing them all down a bit -- more like a day hiking out West. The trail was well-graded with no exposure at this point (aka places they can fall off the mountain). It started out as a wide trail then narrowed into a single track.  Since they have 4 guides, the team members were able to spread out so everyone could move along at their own comfortable pace.

A great bonus was being able to talk to Paula on Randy's phone.  For those of you that don't know, the Barrs, Paula is one of my very best friends, and she and Danny & Randy and I often hike together in Shenandoah.  In fact, I had considered being her climbing partner on this trip, but I had some nagging injuries which would prevent me from intensively training for this.  So Dan the man stepped up to accompany Paula, and then their daughter Caroline signed on too.  It might be a record to have 5 Delawareans out of 10 climbers on one of these treks!

Below is a picture of the Barr trio in their hiking clothes early this morning before leaving the hotel.

When I spoke to Paula, she was in great spirits, said it was very intense hiking, but given the reasonable pace and rest stops, they were doing well so far!  She compared it to one of the very steep sections of a Shenandoah hike where moving slowly but deliberately and breathing deeply are key. I think the difference at Kili is you keep going and going and going, higher and higher and higher! She appreciated that the guides and fellow climbers are so nice and very supportive of each other. As we spoke, she was watching some Tanzanian porters standing together singing and remarked how amazing it all is. Paula seems truly in awe of this experience and soaking it all in.  I asked her to describe how it all felt, and she (and then of course I) got very choked up,  "I just feel very lucky.  It's all almost overwhelming.  Just to be able to do something like this, to be able to physically do this, to be able to afford to do this, and to be able to have Caroline with us. I'm just so thankful."

I'm so happy for Paula; it has been her dream to attempt something like this and here she is. She's so fit and such a good climber; I can't imagine she'll have any problems summiting, but you never know how altitude will affect anyone, so we'll just have to see.  But my money is on her summiting.  And the rest of the DE crew as well!

I was also able to speak to Alex after dinner. They had all enjoyed a delicious meal -- chicken with peanut sauce, veggies and potatoes -- and Alex was impressed with the high level of service from all the local guides and porters. There are about 300 people in this Machame Camp, at least half are Tanzanians who take exquisite care of the climbers. This is a whole new experience for Alex and he, too, is just taking it all in and glad to be part of it.  He's done quite a bit of hiking, especially while training for this with Randy, but he's never been part of a mountain expedition.  Although he's very strong right now and thought the hiking today was very manageable since the pace was modest, Alex is very aware many long and challenging days are ahead. His biggest adjustment is figuring out the whole system, getting his gear into the tent, organizing, packing up, and setting things up for an early start the next day.  Both Randy and Alex were trying to bring less in their backpacks tomorrow and send more with the porters to the next camp.  Evidently, the camp is quite dusty since it's all dirt and there are so many people walking around kicking up the dust. Alex said they were trying to keep the grime out of their tent, but it was a losing battle! As typical with my easy going young guy, he just said it's all part of the experience and "hakuna Matata" (no worries). Randy had earlier said all these logistical/dirt/gear issues are just "hassle factors" that are an expected part of the program.

It was dark when we spoke and the sky was spectacular, with more stars than Alex had ever seen. While on the phone with me, he turned off his headlamp to fully appreciate the night sky and just kept saying "Wow, this is amazing. Wow..unbelievable."  And according to all, the sunset had been absolutely magnificent as well. Per Randy, this type of sunset is known as an "alpenglow," when the sunlight hits the glaciers and turns them bright orange.  How wonderful they can appreciate the world's stunning beauty together.

Today was logistically challenging for all in that they only had about an hour of sunlight when they arrived at camp.  Tomorrow they start at 7:30am but will be finished by around noon, climbing to almost 13,000 feet.  So they will have the afternoon to rest and get organized with lots of sunlight left.  Wish them well, and we can all look forward to hearing from them tomorrow. Feel free to leave comments on this blog so they can read when they return!


1 comment:

Lori Trainer said...

Hi Team Delaware! So excited for all of you on this amazing adventure! Keep up the great work and reach for the stars! Be safe~love you all! xx Lori