Friday, September 30, 2016

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Back in States and getting organized

Just a quick note to let you know alex and i are back and getting organized.  We have about 3500 photos from our climb and safari--some are amazing.  Of course I'll be assembling a summit report from my journal replete with pics and garmin files--expect to see that in early October.  In the meantime--a couple of summit pics:

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Stage Six: The Summit Recap

In case you didn't read the previous blog, the Delaware crew all summited at 7:40am!  The Christofferson boys called us right after summiting, but could only speak a few minutes due to the altitude, the cold, and the challenging descent ahead.  After the summit, they hiked for over 3 more hours to get back to Barafu Camp at 15K, where they spent about 90 minutes packing up the gear they left behind, changing into lighter clothing, and eating a quick lunch.  At that point, they were are exhausted, but had to hold it together for another 4 hours and a 5000 foot vertical descent to get to Mweka Camp at 10,065' where they are spending the night.  Randy and Alex called in from Mweka Camp to share a little more about their journey, almost falling asleep on the phone as they were talking.

I'll start at the beginning of their summit push on Saturday. They climbed up from 13.1K to 15.2K on Saturday morning to get in position for summiting.  At that Barafu Camp, they spent the afternoon prepping for the ascent -- they ate, packed their backpacks, changed into warmer clothing, and tried to rest.  After an early dinner, they all tried to get a few hours sleep before their 10:45pm wake up call.  Alex slept for 3 hours. Randy said he didn't really sleep, but just rested, thinking about the night ahead. After their late night wake up call, they ate breakfast, bundled up, and left for the summit a little after midnight.

Randy said this is his favorite part of the climb, when everyone is finally all geared up for the summit attempt and the guide says, "Ok, let's go". At this point there's no more planning, no more worrying about having the right equipment, or what to bring with you in your pack, or whether you fitness level is up to par. At this point, it is what it is and it's game time.  So off they went, headlamps on to light their way up this monster of a mountain.

The weather was clear and very cold with a 10 - 15mph wind.  Most of the team wore 4 layers of clothing, with at least an hour when it was so frigid some added 2 more layers, basically wearing everything in their backpacks. The night sky was amazing, with millions of stars above and and the twinkling towns of Arusha and Moshi far below. The sun finally rose while they were ascending providing very welcomed warmth and illuminating their path. The climb was really, really tough for everyone. As would be expected on this grueling ascent, many of the team struggled at various times. That is not surprising; what is unbelievable is that they somehow summoned up the strength to keep going. For about 500 of the 4000 feet ascent, Alex's heart rate was spiking, and he was weaving and wobbly.  Randy had Alex stop for a moment and take some breaths, then a guide took his pack so he could keep on climbing.  Alex said he thinks at that point a 15 minute rest might have helped his heart rate settle down, but since they wanted to keep everyone together, he just kept going and appreciated the help from the guide. I haven't spoken to Paula yet, but Randy said she and Dan definitely had their periods when they were struggling too, and the guide helped Paula with her pack for a while also.  But the amazing Barr powerhouses all just kept pushing on with the team. Alex said for a stretch he was trudging up next to Dan and Caroline, all of them huffing and puffing together, putting one foot in front of the other, and no one ever talked about stopping.  They were all going up to the summit no matter what it took.

When they finally reached the summit, after 7 hours and 45 minutes of crushing and brutal effort, they all stepped on the cratered terrain and were overcome.  Randy and Alex hugged and cried, as did Dan, Paula, and Caroline in their own group family hug (although Dan probably won't admit he cried).  But when you consider the intensity of the effort, the enormity of their accomplishment, the appreciation of experiencing this together, and the magnificence of their surroundings, anyone can imagine that this is an emotionally laden moment. The team all hugged and congratulated each other, posed for all the requisite summit photos, and marveled at what has been described as the "otherworldly"landscape of the summit itself, a vast crater with an inner crater rimmed by massive 300 feet ice walls. The panoramic views from the top of Africa sound just breathtaking.

One touching side story for the Christofferson family is that Randy and Alex had dedicated this effort to our very sweet and lovable dog Roxy who we very sadly had to say goodbye to this summer. They brought a picture of Roxy to the summit and some of her ashes, so our little adorable Roxy will forever be honored on this magnificent natural headstone. Alex filmed this on his Go-Pro so I'm sure that will be a special (and emotional) keepsake for our family.

One would think that this is enough of a work out for one day, right?  But these guys had a tortuous road ahead, almost 10,000 feet to go before they slept.  Isn't there a song about that, or is that 10,000 miles?
I'm sure Randy will fill in this later with many pictures and details, but he and Alex both described this long descent as "relentless, exhausting, steep, tricky footing, unstable, stones and rocks all over, slip-sliding terrain, 100 different places you could fall if you didn't carefully watch your footing, treacherous in spots, never ending, the last 3 miles were just miserable."
As Alex summed it up, "We were just so exhausted and so tired and then this steep, rocky trail just kept going on and on and on.  And we'd been going for so many hours and knew we had 1000's more feet to descend and hours more to go, and you'd just think "come on, really?"  

Yes, really, they did accomplish all that!
The Stats:
Over 15 hours of climbing and descending, with one 90 minute break at High Camp to pack & eat
4118 miles up to the summit (19,341 feet)
4118 miles back to High Camp(15,223 feet)
over 5000 more miles down to their rest stop for tonight Mweka Camp (10, 065 feet)
They started (their time) at midnight and ended up stopping finally close to 5pm

At Mweka Camp they are "tired but good". The Christofferson boys last called about 8pm their time, both lying in their tent about to pass out. Randy is definitely sore, but very happy and thrilled his body and his knee held up so well.  He never had a real issue on this climb, said he felt better than on any other mountain expedition, so was very thankful for that. He said it was a novel experience not feeling completely depleted on the summit. He was most grateful to be with Alex and very, very proud of Alex's accomplishment.  They loved sharing this experience with the Barrs, who all said this is the hardest thing they had ever done but truly were outstanding. The whole Delaware team rocked the rocks! I can't wait to hear all the perspectives and highlights from Dan, Paula and Caroline, and I'm hopeful to talk to Paula tomorrow when they're back at the hotel.

They all have a million stories to share, hundreds of photos, and will soon fill in the details.  I'm sure Randy will be correcting some things I may have heard incorrectly since we typically had a sketchy connection and frequently were cut off mid-conversation.

Tomorrow they have an "easy" 4700 foot descent down to Mweka Gate, and a bus will meet them for the 2.5 hour drive back to the hotel where warm showers are top on all their lists! Maybe Randy will even have Internet tomorrow afternoon and take back blogging from me.

Thanks for all the support and cheers for our amazing team!

Stage Six: The Delaware 5 Summit!

From 10pm on, many friends and family members all over the country were on the edge of our seats, anxiously waiting for news from our Delaware crew.  The call finally came at 1AM our time, 8AM Africa time, with outstanding news.  All of the Delaware crew, Randy and Alex, and the Barr team (Dan, Paula, and Caroline) had just summited the enormous and challenging 19, 341 foot high Kilimanjaro and were starting their LONG descent down.  We just spoke very briefly to Randy and then Alex as they were freezing and drained and needed to conserve all energy and focus on heading down the hill. We weren't able to speak to Paula since everyone was working hard and so cold, but we know they are safe and made it to the top, and I hope to talk to her in a few hours before they all crawl into their tents for many hours.

Here's a quick recap; I'll post the details later when I talk to them from Lower Camp. Remarkably, they are still making their way back down to the Mweka Camp at 10,000', I'm sure almost asleep on their feet.  We learned that 7 of the 10 teammates had made it to the top, our Delaware 5 plus Russell (26 year old from Virginia) and Thomas (32 from San Fransisco).  What an amazing accomplishment!  And kudos to the other 3 for making it as far as they did.

We will hear much more when they aren't gasping for breath and freezing, but here's a bit of what they said:

Randy: We did it! We were just on the summit and we're heading down now. All the Delaware 5 made it. It was tough, very tough, but we pulled through and did it. It's very cold. It took us 7 hours and 45 minutes. We have a long road ahead of us getting back down so we need to hang up and focus. Tell everyone we love them and we'll call from camp.

From Alex: It was amazing but so tough. About 5 hours into it I was really hurting; I just couldn't get my heart rate down; it was so hard.  The team took my pack and helped me through it, and I pushed through. The team was unbelievable. The Delaware team kicked butt!

I just wanted to pass on this amazing news.  I'm sure later we'll have more to share and hopefully even summit pictures from their head guide.  From the summit, they had to descent back to Barafu Camp at 15,000 feet.  There they would pack up their gear, change into lighter clothing, have a quick lunch, and hit the trail to head down to Mweka Camp at 10,065 feet. That's 6300 feet of ascent and 9300 feet of descent in last 36 hours. Impressive performance from the First State and the rest of the team!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Stage Five: Team Up in High Camp, In Position for Summit Attempt Tonight!

The team rose early and left Karanga Camp (13,100') at 8:30 am, hiked about 2000 feet up to their new Barafu High Camp at 15,200 feet-- holding position for tonight's summit push. I spoke to Randy and Alex who were snug in their tents in their new place, resting in the Barafu Camp. It was 1:30 pm Kili time and they planned to rest till dinner. As you can see from the picture of Barafu Camp from the mountaineering company's website, they are really in the middle of nowhere!
High Camp - Barafu Camp at 15,200
 Randy said everyone on the team made it safely to this High Camp.  He and Alex felt "phenomenal"; they thought today's 3 hour hike was fairly easy compared to other days and were trying to save energy for the big effort tonight. They were not dealing with any altitude issues, although they said you never know what's ahead since they still have to climb up to 19,000 feet.  But so far, so good.  Maybe Alex's stomach was his obstacle and he'll be spared the altitude problems! Randy has definitely had altitude symptoms during other climbs (this will be his 5th of the 7 highest summits if successful), but he's feeling better than ever. I think the team's conservative pace has helped his acclimatization, not to mention he climbed Elbrus, the tallest mountain in Europe, with Anders earlier this summer.

The Barr trio is also safe up at High Camp.  Randy said they were still doing awesome, just dealing with some very normal altitude issues, nothing of major concern. Dan and Caroline each had a headache, and Caroline also has a bad blister and a bit of sunburn.  But, according to Randy, those are all part of the deal at this point, and they were all still on target for a summit attempt.  As preparation for this trip, all the hikers have to get various shots and pack a boatload of medicines for potential concerns. Thankfully, they had the much needed Cipro for Alex. And they all also have a prescription called Diamox.  So if any of the team are bothered by some of the very typical symptoms of altitude sickness, such as nausea, headache, shortness of breath, or dizziness, they have the option to take Diamox to alleviate them.  In fact, some high altitude mountaineers take Diamox from the outset as a prophylactic to prevent these problems, but the general consensus seems to be to wait till those issues pop up and then use it.  So at this point, I imagine some of the team are discussing whether to take what can be quite the "miracle drug" for some.  By the way, rockstar Paula still has no headache and is going strong.  But even our Wonder Woman is facing a very, very challenging night and day ahead, so no one can predict what will happen. I'm optimistic though for the Delaware crew!

One important thing to note, even if the climbers control their altitude sickness issues (i.e. headaches and nausea), they will all certainly feel the altitude impact as they have to ascend 4000 feet into thinner and thinner air.  The summit push on Kilimanjaro will be grueling for all of them, and they will have to move slowly and use the breathing techniques and rest stop gait they've been practicing. Plus it's just such a long night and day for them.

They will get their wake up call at 10:45pm tonight, eat a little "breakfast", and don their high altitude, warmest clothes.  They were getting all those clothes ready today during their break time. Randy and Alex already were lounging in their long underwear and their clean summit socks. Anders, our oldest son who has already climbed 5 of the 7 summits, including Kilimanjaro, advised them to reserve a clean pair of socks for summit day.  So they did. Maybe when you are completely dirty and disgusting but you put on a clean pair of socks, you somehow feel stronger.

In any case, they will leave camp around midnight, and hope to be on the summit around 7AM.  It could be earlier, it could be later, and unexpected weather, extreme fatigue, or altitude issues could turn any of them around.  They will hike straight uphill, 4000 feet up, with their headlamps to guide the way.  If they make it to this glacial volcanic crater on the top of Africa, they will likely spend a little time up there high-fiving and taking photos, then descend back to their Barafu Camp at 15K, get some food, pack up their stuff, take off some of their heavier clothing, and, even though they will all be exhausted, descend another 5000 feet down to camp at 10,000.  Phew, it's exhausting even to write all that!  We are talking about anywhere from 11 to 14 hours or even more of effort in hard to breath conditions. They are all rockstars no matter what happens from here.

As a reminder, they are 7 hours ahead of us, so as I post this, at noon Eastern time, it is already 7pm for our intrepid climbers. That means they've already had their dinner and are hopefully trying to grab some sleep before their 10:45pm wake up.   Game time!!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Stage Four: Great News from On High

A huge sigh of relief early this morning when Randy called to tell me Alex had slept 11 hours and woke up a new person. In Alex's words, he did a "full 180". I am not a huge worrier by nature, but I know any mothers out there can understand that at least at some point I did consider the possibility he'd be so dehydrated he'd need to be airlifted for medical attention somewhere.  And God knows where that "somewhere" would be. So crisis averted.

After a light dinner last night, Alex said he was going to read in the tent around 7:15pm.  Two minutes later he was sound asleep and didn't budge for 11 hours. Cheers to the amazing ability of the young to sleep so soundly for so long! In this case, the restorative rest (and Cipro) did the trick.  He even slept through the porters bringing their nightly hot water bottles for their sleeping bags.  This expedition really IS cushy as Randy says, isn' it?  Randy decided not to wake Alex up, which was a good thing in that Alex slept just fine without feet warmers, and Randy, not one to waste a hot water bottle, had extra toasty toes!

The team had planned a leisurely start today to allow hundreds of porters and some other teams to negotiate the narrow ledges of the Barranco wall ahead of them. Previous days they'd been rising at a brisk 6:30am for a 7am breakfast.  So they appreciated the sun already shining for their 8:30am wake up call, and they enjoyed their breakfast in it's warm glow. They then headed up to face the infamous 900 foot lava wall which takes about two hours to ascend. All the teammates nailed it!

I don't have any of the actual teams' pictures yet, but I found many pictures online of the Barranco Wall to give us a sense of what they were dealing with.   The first two are picture of the Barranco Camp where they slept last night, in the shadow of the Barranco Wall.

These next pictures are of prior teams scrambling up the wall.  Two things are clear as I look at these pictures.  One, I see why they wanted to wait till others went up first and cleared out of the way.  Two, there are some areas that would certainly catch one's attention.

I spoke at length with Randy, Alex, and Paula after their wall climb today, and I'll summarize their descriptions:

You are climbing up this wall with a big backpack, hanging on with two hands to these knobby volcanic rocks.  You just can't look down or you can psych yourself out. The guides took our poles so we could use our hands to hold on.  Some parts were straightforward and there were a lot of good handholds. Then there were definitely a couple tricky places where you had to do it right; you just didn't want to fall in those areas, lots of exposure. Definitely scary in those couple spots, but then the guides would be right there telling you exactly where to put your hands and your feet so you just followed and did exactly what they told you. The crazy thing is that sometimes porters would run by us balancing big loads on their heads and pass up by stepping around on the sketchiest parts.  

Alex's summary:  Sometimes a little outside your comfort zone, but it was a blast!
Randy's:  Well you didn't want to fall, but it was awesome. You would have loved it! (seriously?)
Paula's:  It was a little scary - I just kept looking ahead and not down!

Our Delaware contingent did so well, as did the rest of the team.  After scaling the wall, and I'm sure catching their breath, they hiked down into the Karanga Valley and then up the other side.  This very steep descent and ascent was also demanding as they negotiated the hairpin switchbacks to arrive at their home for tonight: Karanga Camp at 13,100 ft.

Stats for today: (courtesy of Randy the stat man)
3.66 miles
4 hours 42 minutes
Vertical Ascent: 1394'
Vertical Descent: 1151'
Average grade at final ascent:  30%

Other news from today:

  • The weather continues to bless them; it's been spectacular, the whole time between 50 and 70 degrees while climbing. Today there is not a cloud in the sky. Even the usual cloud layer below them at 10,000 is gone so they can see as far as the eye can see in every direction -- all the mountains and volcanos around them, the enormous bulk of the summit above them, and even some of the remote towns far in the distance.  Alex says they never stop gazing and marveling at the view, day and night. The night sky sounds magnificent with shooting stars, thousands of constellations, the Milky Way, and the Northern lights. And of course the glacier-capped Kibo is sparkling above them.
  • Dan Barr is totally unplugged for the first time in many years. Anyone that knows Dan and how much he cares about his business and clients knows that even on vacation, on Block Island, even hiking in remote areas on the Appalachian Trail with sketchy service, he always at least tries to check email and texts. And of course, he is always checking to see if any messages from his kids, especially having had his eldest Patrick off on his Navy Seal deployments. But now he can't check; he's unplugged - there's no internet at 13,000 feet. So what's the one thing he asks me when I was talking to Paula and he knew I was by my computer?  Yup, the Met's wild card berth.  Some things never change. (By the way, they are in second.)
  • Speaking of doing your business (bad joke), I know everyone is interested in the bathroom issue.  I got the full scoop today, or should I say the poop? Another bad joke. Anyway, I know at least Paula was wondering about this whole thing beforehand and she reports that the port-o-johns are great! Believe it or not, a couple of porters carry a private toilet and a toilet tent just for their crew, and keep it clean and sanitary. Those porters must have drawn the short straw, but it is certainly well appreciated. Their other option is the "long-drop" public toilet at each campsite (pictured below). This is just a very deep hole in the ground lined with concrete with a wooden shack above it.  As Alex says, it doesn't matter how deep those holes are, those things stink. 

Option B: The Long Drop Kilimanjaro Toilet

  • The hardest part, according to Paula, is the grime of the camping, not the climbing. She's so shocked that she is doing as well as she is on the hiking and still so excited to be there. But she said they are filthy dirty, and it's impossible to get clean. There's dirt all on all their clothes and packs, all over them, even under her nails which she broke climbing the Barranco Wall.  She said it's gross and she can't wait to take a shower, but she just sticks on her baseball cap and deals with it. I don't think we are going to see the beautiful glamour shots that we saw from Lisa Sylvester from her hike in Grand Canyon! Speaking of beautiful, Caroline is doing great as well and Paula and Dan love having her there.  Caroline sometimes listens to books on tape as she hikes along, very calm, very strong and steady.  Alex calls her a "stud" hiker!  Besides some headaches, none of them are experiencing significant altitude issues. Those three Barrs are pretty impressive; they sound dirty and gross, but they are still impressive!
  • Randy's knee is amazing all of us.  Alex said Randy's knee is competing with his own miraculous stomach recovery to be the MVP of the trip. Randy is strong and tough and always climbs well, but sometimes descends slowly because of his bad knee.  But on this trip, he's descending well also, moving at a good pace, keeping up with the young bucks, and feeling better than ever. Neither Randy nor Alex have experienced any altitude problems, not even a headache so let's hope that continues as they push for the summit. Somehow facing this debilitating stomach issue has deepened Alex's appreciation of what he's experiencing. Not that he would have wished for that, but he says he is so grateful that he is able to continue since he did not expect to, is incredibly thankful to Randy for his critical assistance, and just very happy to still be part of the team aiming for the summit. 

At lunch today, head guide Mark told them "tomorrow is the start of the summit push". Tonight will be their last sleep at what will seem to be a relatively civilized 13,000 feet, and tomorrow they get up early and start heading straight up into the land of meager air.  They will stop around noon at the Barafu Hut at 15,223 feet, eat lunch, and basically try to rest as much as possible.  They'll get their backpacks ready for the BIG summit push, eat a little dinner and try to grab an hour or two of sleep.  They will bundle up in all the warm clothes they have, leave camp around 10:30pm tomorrow night (Saturday), hike the whole way up in the dark with headlamps, and hope to be on the summit for the sunrise Sunday by 5:30 to 6:30AM. What an amazing experience and a fitting way to commemorate the 15th Anniversary of 9/11!
This means that if all goes as planned, with the 7 hour time difference, they could be summiting at 10:30 to 11:30pm Eastern time tomorrow (Saturday).  Then they'll hike all the way down to 10,000 feet, about another 4 - 6 hours.

To Paula's three great boys, Patrick, Austin, and Brian: Paula says she loves you and she can't wait to see you guys and share her stories and pictures with you.

To those following the blog and sending me texts and emails: I've been sharing your encouragements with them, and Randy, Alex, Dan, Paula, and Caroline all appreciate your support.

Now let's all send our very best to them to stay safe and strong, and mostly to get their butts up to that summit (pictured below) so they can come back and we can celebrate. What they've accomplished so far is extraordinary; summiting would be icing on the cake, and it even looks like icing on the cake! Leave comments for the team and I'll pass them on, just click on the comments button below and it should be straightforward.    Cheers! Judy

Their goal: the highest point in Africa, 19,341 feet!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Stage Three: Some Ups and Downs as the team climbed Up and Down

Where to start? What a day. I was able to speak to Randy, Paula and Alex at separate times.  Lots to report, some ups and downs, and I guess I will start with some very encouraging news.

The Barrs:  They are doing awesome! As Paula said, "I thought we'd all feel horrible and gross by now, but I'm feeling surprisingly good." And today was a very, very big day because they climbed all the way up to 15,000 and back down to sleep at 13,000 at the Barranco Camp.  The purpose of today was acclimatizing, get up high and sleep lower.  Dan and Caroline each had a little headache today, which is to be expected as their bodies adjust to skinny air, but of course our rock star Paula did not have a headache. She said she definitely feels the altitude as she's climbing and trying to keep her breath, but she really feels strong. And even some of her injuries she'd been concerned about are not bothering her at all like her knee and her plantar fasciitis.  She again said the whole thing is just "amazing" and she's "so happy to be here".  Paula is always one to notice natural beauty all around her.  When we hike and even when we walk around Delaware, she is always the one first one to point out a flower or a pretty tree.  She definitely takes time to "stop and smell the roses".  One day Randy went hiking in Shenandoah with Paula, Lori and me and couldn't believe the three of us never stopped talking all day, looking at all the flowers, the bushes, the beautiful settings by the stream, most of them pointed out by Paula. We wonder why we never see a bear and it's because we never stop talking; we scare them all away! So not surprisingly, Paula is continually marveling at the diverse landscape, the glacial waterfall, and the crazy vegetation.  She said as they ascend it's like being in a sci-fi movie, or on the moon, or in a Dr. Seuss book.  Everything is so dramatic and so some things so unusually HUGE! Below is a picture their guide posted of the team on the RMI website.  You can see what Paula means about the startling landscape.

I asked her how Danny felt about it all because early on he wasn't as gung-ho as Paula about the expedition. He signed on because Paula was so excited to try it. But Paula said he is totally into it and doing great. Today he said he wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Very cool! Even the Best Western in Luray, Danny??  And Caroline is also doing so well and staying strong. In Randy's opinion, the three of them are doing "awesome" and "certainly on the path to summit, although of course no one can predict what happens in next few days." They still have a very tough road ahead, which I'll recap at the end. Summit day is not until Sunday -- the 15th anniversary of 9/11!

Now, one of the challenges of the day:  Alex

I had reported that Alex's stomach was starting to act up yesterday.  He ate a light dinner last night, as bland as possible. Then he and Randy tried to go to sleep early around 9pm. At 11pm Alex woke Randy because he was so terribly sick. I apologize if this is TMI, but he threw up and had diarrhea all night. Randy got him water, rubbed his back, helped him as much as he could, and the two of them basically stayed up all night. Randy evaluated Alex's symptoms and assessed that this was an intestinal issue and not altitude sickness, so gave Alex some Cipro, more Imodium, and later Pepto Bismol. Alex was curled up in his sleeping bag in their little tent, feeling just horrible, sort of moaning, trying to stay positive, and wondering what this meant for the rest of their trip. Thank God Randy was with him. He told Alex not to worry, let's just get you healthy and  we'll figure it out out in the morning.

Alex described it as "the worst night of my life". Not to mention they were in a sparse, dusty camp, 12,000 feet up into the sky, in the middle of nowhere. He was not in his private clean bathroom at home, or even (and this shockingly seems more appealing), his hygienically-challenged dorm bathroom at Boston College. Need I say more?

At 6AM they spoke with the head guide, Mark, who was not too worried.  He'd seen this many times before, thought Cipro would really help soon. The problem was Alex was completely depleted because of the difficult night. And they also really didn't know if his stomach was better or if he'd start having problems today on the steep ascent. Randy told Alex there was zero pressure to continue, but it's possible he'd feel better as the day went on. So believe it or not, Alex decided to go for it.  Randy packed all of Alex's stuff up, packed his backpack, took Alex's water in his own pack to lighten Alex's load, and off they went, straight uphill.

Alex said Randy helped so much, that there's no way he could have kept going if Randy wasn't there with him. It was a struggle to climb, especially at first, but he just tried to put one foot in front of the other and hope the medicine would do the trick. At one point, Mike had one of the porters take Alex's backpack so Alex could just focus on getting himself up the mountain. That helped quite a bit. Alex drank lots of water, ate only had a handful of pretzels and some gummy bears the whole entire way, but he hung in there. Randy said Alex really was a superstar to push through this day. They ended up hiking for 7 hours and 47 minutes, 6.5 miles, climbed up 2224 feet then descended 1584 to camp.

Paula thought Alex was "a trooper; one tough cookie" and she couldn't believe his strong will to keep going. She'd checked in with him to see if he was OK and he would say, "Well, I'm still walking!" Besides how relieved I am to have Randy there with Alex, and thankful Randy is feeling so strong and healthy and can focus on Alex, it is reassuring that the Barr family, especially Paula, is there too -- nice to have a Mom around!

I spoke with Alex right before his dinner tonight and he thought his stomach was settling down and the Cipro was working, so he was planning to go eat a very bland meal and sleep as soon as possible. I haven't heard from them since so hopefully that means they hit the hay after dinner.

So who knows?  Hopefully this was just a short term intestinal infection he picked up from the water or the food, and Cipro will do the trick. It always amazes me that Randy, with his very compromised arthritic knee, is so strong and tough. Ironman endurance. Evidently all those injections from Dr. Galinat  did the trick. Randy said he feels better than ever, very strong, and definitely within his capability to keep going. He's just concerned about Alex and assured me whatever happens, they'll stay together. We had both told Alex that if Randy for some reason can't summit, Alex should just stay with the team and keep going if he feels good.  But I don't think Randy would leave Alex.

This is the kind of stuff that makes MY stomach hurt even though I'm at about 11 feet altitude and safe at home. What is comforting is that I have so much faith in Randy and Alex to make the right decision about continuing.  And I have faith in their guide Mark who has extremely impressive experience.

Positive thoughts and prayers for my little guy. Yes, I know he's 23, strong and fit, but he's the youngest of our four kids with such a kind and warm personality, so he is still my "little guy".  Most importantly, I want him to be safe and feel good, but for his sake, I'd love for him to be able to keep going.  He's worked hard for this. And please send positive thoughts to Randy and the Barr family and the rest of the team to stay healthy, safe, and keep on keeping on. Everyone did commendably well on a tough day.

Here's a couple of pictures their guide posted from the Barranco Camp at 13,000 ft.

Tomorrow they climb the 300 meter imposing and notorious Barranco Wall and end up sleeping again at 13,000+.  Next day they climb another 2000 feet up and sleep at 15,000.  And then they get up in the very wee hours on Sunday (the 15th anniversary of 9/11) and hike 7 or 8 hours up to 19,341 feet, then turn around and go 4 - 6 hours back to 10,000 feet.  In one day -- just a walk in the park!

Can't wait to hear from them tomorrow, hopefully with good news about Alex's health and everyone's safe and successful day!

Comments:  Several have asked re leaving comments. I fixed it so all you have to do is click on "no comments" or "1 comment, etc" below each post and fill in the text box.  I can pass on your encouragement if you 'd like to comment.

Till tomorrow, Judy

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Stage Two: Scrambling up to Shira Camp

Since Randy and Alex keep raving about the stunning views of the various peaks, I thought a little geography might help orient us.

Kilimanjaro is composed of three volcanic cones; Kibo (the highest at 19, 341) flanked by Mawenzi (16.8K) and Shira (13K).  So as the team is working through the rainforest and lava fields en route to the highest point, they are treated to amazing vistas of all three cones, as well as Mt. Meru, a 16K volcano in the distance.  They've been heading towards Shira and tomorrow will start winding towards their ultimate goal, the glacier-capped summit of Kibo, known as the roof of Africa.

As the climbers are now above the sea of clouds at 9,000 feet, and the weather has been crystal clear, they've been treated to astounding views of these gigantic peaks jutting up from this vast cloud layer.  Alex said Kibo is so enormous and overwhelming it's hard to describe. In his words, "It's gorgeous, impressive, spectacular, and intimidating!"  I'm sure he's voicing the feelings of all the teammates when he says it's hard to imagine they are actually going to climb to the top of that imposing giant. This is truly a difficult challenge, not to be underestimated.

I spoke with both Randy and Alex after their climb today.  Once again Mother Nature was kind to them, and the weather was a beautifully sunny, clear, warm 60 degrees.  They climbed in shorts again and were glad as today's 6 hour, 3.8 miles and 2700 vertical feet endeavor did work up a sweat. Their day started out fairly easy, looping through trees and scrub with many clearings offering phenomenal views of Kibo and Meru.  At one point, the trail arrived at the foot of a fairly imposing lava wall, known as the Shira Wall, which had surprisingly not been anticipated by the hikers. There is always a lot of talk about the imposing Barranco Wall on Day 4 which I'm sure we will hear about, but this little obstacle was, per Randy, sort of a "Holy Sh#*!" surprise. Maybe the mountaineering companies keep some of this to themselves so they don't scare everyone off!  Randy said the whole team, after getting their bearings, did great as they carefully negotiated their way up the rocks, aided by their fearless guides. There were some tricky parts of this ascent where the climbers had to basically hug the rock wall as they moved along because of the steep fall offs. At these precarious points, the guides made what Randy and Alex called a "human wall", basically standing on the very edge of these drop-offs actings almost as a guardrail for any anxious hikers. Alex said these guys were balancing "on the very edge, even over the edge on a rock's edge, in the worst position anyone would ever want to be!" Wow. Randy compared parts of the Shira Wall to Old Rag, a well-known rock scramble in Shenandoah that Randy, Alex,  Dan, Paula and I have all done.  Randy is so funny.  He tells me how challenging it was, how tricky in places, then ends with, "You would love it."  You gotta love Randy's enthusiasm! Paula and Randy climbed next to each other. Randy said Paula was a little nervous at first, like everyone else, but did great and was really excited and energized after.  Yay Paula, cheers for the oldest woman in the group! In the end, everyone actually loved the scramble and felt vigorous after conquering it.

The Christofferson boys slept well last night, are hydrating well, and are looking out for each other, helping each other with their backpacks and anything else they need. Randy said Alex is always upbeat, cracking jokes, and getting along well with the teammates, playing cards this afternoon with some of the younger crew. They both are a bit in awe at the high level of service from the outstanding local support staff. The locals do so much to make things comfortable for them -- bring hot water to their tents so they can wash their very dirty feet, provide glass plates and silverware at their dinners, they even have their own eating tent and own port-o-potty (thank God Paula) for the 11 of them. Randy says it's "cushy" compared to other expeditions he's been on, but he's certainly enjoying all this support. Shira camp (pictured below from previous expeditions on the RMI website) is still sparse and dirty, but a bit more spread out than their previous Machame camp so not quite as dusty. There were once again about 300 people there; it's quite the operation.

I did not get to speak to Paula today since the reception was so poor, but Randy said the three Barrs were all really getting into the expedition, very focused, doing great with the physical challenges, and really enjoying those indescribable views. As we spoke, he said Dan and Paula were heading off for a walk from camp, I'm sure to check out the beauty God has created.  What a fabulous way to celebrate their 30th anniversary!

A few things of note from today and a couple concerns as they move on:
  • Eric, the oldest of the group at a remarkable 72 years of age, had a bit of a rough day.  It sounds like the combination of his eye getting quite irritated and perhaps a bit of the higher altitude caused him to fall behind. So at one point Mark, the head guide, had the rest of the team wait for a about half an hour so he could go back and assist Eric. Of course Mark picked an amazingly gorgeous place for the team to rest, so they all just chilled out, sending full support and encouragement to Eric. Randy in particular, knows what it's like to be a little slower than the rest of the pack. "I can relate; I've been there."  I'm sure he is very helpful to Eric in keeping him motivated and encouraged. Eric is planning to give it a go tomorrow and see what the day brings.
  • Alex, although feeling very strong climbing-wise, loving the views, and having fun with the other climbers, had a few stomach issues today. He's always had a sensitive digestive system and, as his older brother Anders warned him, Kili is notorious for people getting sick stomachs. So unfortunately we thought this might be an issue. He's popping some Immodium and eating as bland a diet as possible, so we're very hopeful he feels better in the morning and can endure their challenging day. He's got a great attitude about it. As he says, "I never expected 10 out of 10 things to go perfectly.  So my stomach is my issue, and I'll just hope the medicine does the trick."  I know it's a bummer for him to feel nauseous and have an upset stomach, so I really hope this gets under control and won't feel compromised heading to those higher altitudes.
  • Tonight will be a test as they sleep with 1/3 less oxygen than last night.  Some of them were feeling a few affects of altitude. I know Dan had a bit of a headache, which is quite normal.  I'm sure many of them won't sleep as soundly at this level and there will be other headaches, but that's why they move at a conservative pace and allow everyone to acclimate. Hopefully an afternoon and night of rest, some good food, and just the simple passage of time will help ease the transition for all.
  • Tomorrow is a tough day, a real "test" as Randy calls it, as they head up to a challenging 15,200 then back down some steep terrain to sleep at 13,000.  This is the "climb high, sleep low" protocol that greatly aids in the acclimatization process. If they are blessed with a clear day, the views are reputed to be staggering. Let's hope all stomach, eye, headache, etc issues are under control, and the team has a successful hike tomorrow. I imagine 15,200 is higher than many of this team have ever been, so this will be an altitude record for quite a few of them.
Below is a picture that their guide posted on the RMI website.  Cheers till tomorrow team!  Prayers for all of you! 

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!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Randy's luggage found - all ready to go!

This is Judy  -- aka Randy's wife, mission control back at home in the good old USA, and surrogate blogger while they are in Africa.  All is well in Arusha; just a quick update that Randy finally received his very much needed gear bag by about 10pm Africa time!  Phew. The other team members had spent time during the day organizing for their kick-off climb tomorrow.  They've been sorting their gear, checking in with their head guide Mike, shifting things between their back pack, duffel, and leave-behind bags to get down to 33 pounds or less.  Now, while the rest of the teammates were likely trying to sleep, Randy was about to spend an hour going through his VERY carefully planned and packed gear bag to do the same.  He was cool though; this is not his first rodeo!  

Here's a picture of the boys leaving our Delaware home the other day all packed and raring to go.

It was almost ironic that of all the people to have their bag delayed, it was Randy.  He is the ultimate in terms of planning, rethinking, making lists, double-checking, researching newer and higher performance gear, and packing and unpacking his duffel bag. I'm always amazed by how much thought and planning goes into all this. I honestly could not count how many UPS boxes arrived at our house over the past couple months. Let's just say they are very well prepared, and if one of their teammates needs some duct tape or something, they are in luck! Anders (our oldest son and Randy's usual climbing partner) has of course been through this preparation process many times both with Randy and on his own adventures. Now Alex, our youngest, has been inducted into the world of gear planning with Randy.

Here's a little glimpse of what our house looks like in the days before they depart.  Yes, it's a little scary for someone (me) who has been trying to get rid of stuff for the past few years, but I am happy they are well-prepared!

Also for this adventure, our very dear friends, Dan and Paula Barr, and their awesome daughter Caroline, are part of the Kili team and have been going through their own gear planning and organizing in the past months and weeks.

Here's a picture of the Barr crew at the airport:

They look pretty chill, but probably weren't quite as relaxed when their floor looked like this a few days ago.  Now that Paula and Dan have downsized into their ultra cool modern digs, one might wonder where all this stuff is going when they return!

In any case, since they are 7 hours ahead of us on the East coast, I'm sure they are all at least trying to sleep, excited and a bit nervous about their impending adventure.  In the morning, they'll be driven a couple hours north and enter Kilimanjaro at the Machame Gate, then hike 7 miles and 4000 vertical feet to Machame Camp at about 10,000 ft elevation.  For those of you interested, here's a map of Tanzania showing the locations of Arusha and the imposing Mt. Kilimanjaro.
More tomorrow; positive thoughts and prayers for a fun, safe, and successful climb. Let the games begin and may the odds be ever in their favor!

First Pics from Africa!

Here is our team (without me)-from Left:  Alex, Thomas, Paula, Caroline, Danny, Mark, Mike, Eric, Russell and Brooke:

The C Boys.2.0 on the ground on their first big mountain!

Ale and I climbed this 20 meter tower today to look around--I won't lie--the height made me a bit nervous!

On the ground in Arusha

Greetings from Tanzania!  We had a generally uneventful, albeit long set of flights Saturday and Sunday, ultimately arriving at Kilimanjaro International about 7:40pm local last night.  The process to secure a visa and pass through immigration was tedious and we finally emerged around 9:30.

The Barrs and Alex and I went to collect our bags which was generally good news as we had 9 of the 10.  The 10th unfortunately contains the vast majority of my mountaineering equipment.  After about a 45 minute drive to the hotel I hopped on the phone with Judy and she took over as our team went to dinner.  Judy, with a lot of gumption was able to track my bag down, which apparently had decided to spend the night in Amsterdam.  This is encouraging and a real lift for me personally to know it's whereabouts was--thanks Judy!!!!!  With any luck my bag will arrive tonight, which would give me plenty of time to organize and prepare for tomorrow's morning departure to the mountain--keep you fingers crossed!

We've met our team, whom all seem great.  In addition to Alex and Dan, Paula and Caroline Barr (the DE contingent) we have Eric and Mike, a father and son team from Cleveland--Mike is 35 and his dad Eric is 72!, although he looks much younger.  Thomas is about 32 and Brooke about 28.  Thomas works in the tech industry in San Fran, having graduated from MIT.  Brooke works at Bridgewater--the famous hedge fund--she live in Conn.  Russell is a 26 YO who lives in Virginia and works in the Hotel Industry.

Our head guide is Mark Tucker, who is probably my age, born just a month before me.  He is an immensely talented and experienced mountaineer.  This will be his 39th Kili expedition.  He has also been to Everest 15 times and indeed was part of the famous Peace Climb of Everest back in 2000--when he climbed with a "junior" guide named Ed Viesturs.  Also, he taught a couple of junior guides named Hamill and Vernovage the ropes back when he was at IMG.

In addition to Mark, three local guides, headed by Freddy will be leading us.  That and a full contingent of 50 porters, cooks and camp help will be part of our small city as we head up the mountain.  Pretty impressive manpower!

Today, besides waiting for my bag, entails hanging around and making sure we are well prepared for tomorrow.  Tomorrow we climb some 6 linear miles and 3,990 net vertical to 10,000 feet--can't wait to get it going!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Kilimanjaro--here we go!

Alex and I are waiting in the airport in Amsterdam for our next flight to Kilimanjaro--which leaves in about 90 minutes.  We left DE around 12:45 and flew up to JFK where we boarded a red-eye KLM flight.  We arrived in Holland about 6:30 this morning--uneventful including no sleep for the C boys.  But all is good and we are looking forward to this next flight and getting to Tanzania around 7:45pm local tonight--hopefully with our luggage!

Not much happening tonight although I'm sure we'll meet up with our climbing team.  Tomorrow morning we have our team meeting and then will spend the day organizing and getting ready for our first day of climbing on Tuesday morning.  Looks like we may have some rain but as Anders always says--there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad attitudes....

I'll try to post from Tanzania in the hotel if the internet is available.  Then I'm sure Judy will take over from there...

Almost game time!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Two Days to Kili--here's the scoop!

Ok campers, just two days before Alex and I leave for Kili and I have a bunch of stuff to update you all on.

First last week's and August training volumes:

Last Week

Bike: 190 miles
Run/Hike/Climb: 18 miles
Weights/stretch: 2 Hours
Time: 19:45


Swim: 3000 yards
Bike: 832 miles
Run/Hike/Climb: 148 miles
Weights/Stretch: 7:15
Time: 98:21

Alex and I just returned from Shenandoah National where we did two very strenuous days hiking/climbing in 88-90 degree heat as our final training block.  We did the White Oak/Hawksbill/Cedar Run loop and the Mathews Arm/Heiskell/Overall Run loop.  Summary data:

White Oak

Time: 7:32
Distance: 11.84 miles
Vertical Ascent: 3,952 feet

Overall Run

Time: 6:25
Distance: 11.75 miles
Vertical Ascent: 3,438 feet

Here are the two profiles (White Oak first)

Pictures from the climbs (including some of our bear friends):

Today was spent getting everything in order.  One of things I had to deal with was a visit to Dr. G. where he removed 48 CC (!!!!!!) of fluid from my knee and then shot some cortisone in there to try to calm things down.  In case you're wondering what 48 CCs looks like, here you go:

And yes--it's tough to do this with this kinda stuff going on.....

Finally, here is an overview of our climbing profile for Kili with 9/11 as our target summit date:

Almost time to go!

As always, Judy will assume command central for the blog (yes I know all of you approve!)