Reader Warning:  Parts of these blog posts may become pretty graphic, in terms of bodily functions.  Becoming very familiar with our teammates’ “habits” rapidly became part of this trip, and it’s not something I am going to gloss over because it’s part of what made this climb so real, so raw, so meaningful.

There, my PSA is done, read at your own risk.  Time to continue.

And pee we had to.  I managed to hold off until about 5am, and was willing to hold it longer, but Anne got up to go and as soon as she set foot outside, she said, in a loud whisper, “Suz, you gotta see this!”  The urgency in her voice was clear, so I threw on one layer (yup, I’d nearly been sleeping naked because my sleeping bag ROCKS) and clumsily banged out of our tent.  There was Kilimanjaro.  The first time I’d seen it.  We could just see the peak in the bit of dawn that was breaking, along with a million clear stars.  It was breathtaking, and I think we hugged and squealed and smiled and got excited….then we went pee.

The morning was clear, a welcome change from the previous day’s rain and fog.  I got to see a panoramic sunrise above the clouds, something usually only seen from the small window of an airplane. People slowly emerged from tents, smiles on their faces, ready to go.   Now, when we were all waking, some of the kitchen staff delivered hot tea and coffee to our tents.  Goddy (a guide) also had stopped by our tents and distributed pee cups for us.  We were to take a sample so we could give them a color.  One of the tents housed Chris and Donnie, two fun, easy going, cheerful blokes, who both like to joke and play pranks.  They decided it’d be fun to put water in a cup, show it to Goddy, then drink it.  I only wish I had seen Goddy’s reaction!  Needless to say, we didn’t have to pee in cups many more days (thanks, guys!).

A warm breakfast was welcome, vitals taken again, then it was time to pack up and head out.  Now, prior to my departure for this trip, many of my friends and family had asked about the bathroom situation.  I had known that our guides were bringing toilets for our campsite, but I had no idea just what that meant.  Could have been a 5 gallon bucket for all I knew.  So I rapidly took a few pictures of one of our toilets.  Excuse the quality of the first one.  The seat isn’t broken, it just liked to come apart…..afterall, the toilets come apart an are toted up the mountain to the next camp, so they are in pieces.  And that’s just mud on the floor.

Now, these were actually pretty luxurious.  We had two for the 9 of us.  They were set up at each camp site, clean toilet, clean floor, toilet paper replenished, empty trash can.  It was essentially a bag with a seat, and I never quite got around to asking what happened to the full bags….  There was little privacy with these other than a thin nylon wall, but it sure was nice to have private, clean toilets right at our camp site.

We set off.  Roughly 3.5 miles, but Felix said it would take about 5 hours.  Yep, that’s how “pole pole  “,pronounced pole-ay pole-ay,  “slowly slowly” we went.  It was 3.5 miles of steady uphill, not many flat spots at all.  But, the sun was out and the sky was blue and all was well.

As we climbed “pole pole”, porters continued to pass us.  Our porters, and porters from other camps.  We were astounded time and time again at the loads these men carried.  Many of them had their gear in a pack, then a large duffel across the back/their shoulders, then something else on top, or even on their head.  They zoomed by us, smiling and saying “jambo”, a walk in the park it seemed.  These men are so strong and work so hard, we all felt guilty only carrying a day pack.

The vegetation was visibly changing.  Some spanish moss and juniper-like trees.  No more rain forest.  It almost felt a bit like parts of Utah to me.

Like I said, it was 3.5 miles of UP.  Pretty relentless.  Godson was leading pole pole, but this was the first time that our group naturally separated into two.  Some of us were faster, some of us were slower, and that’s ok.  We had enough guides that we could split, which was smart.  Everyone made it to camp, and it makes no difference how long it took.  Part way up, we stopped to have a bathroom break. Ok, we stopped a BUNCH of times, but one in particular stands out, because I felt like I had to inspect my blister.  I had put a blister pad on it, then moleskin on that, but I could feel the whole contraption moving.  This isn’t good.  I was hesitant to let the guides see it, as I didn’t want them to worry, or baby me, or treat me any differently.  But, I had to inspect.  Goddy came over and saw it and shook his head.  He helped me tape it up a bit, and off we went.  It never hurt, it was just a source of concern.  Goddy said I’d be the last one up.  I have no idea if he was joking or not, but I looked him in the eye and assured him I would NOT be last.

We continued on up the trail, and Goddy began telling me the names of all the plants.  The amount of knowledge in his brain was amazing.  Each plant, he’d tell me the name and all about it.  It was a good distraction and I enjoyed hearing him talk about something he clearly enjoyed.  Up, and up, and up we went.  Clif bars were handed out, water was consumed, and lots of “SHORT CALL!!!” stops were made.  It went quickly while at the same time, there were moments when I wondered if we’d ever get to camp.  The plants continued to change, and soon most of them were short shrub-like things with a few rather sad looking trees scattered around.

Chris and I started looking at rocks, wondering if we’d see obsidian.  Neither of us are volcanologists, so honestly we had no idea.  All of a sudden, obsidian was everywhere!!  We picked up small pieces and oohed and aahed a bit.  Soon, Goddy was on the hunt and found some pretty fantastic pieces.  I feel like he got a kick out of it, like maybe we were the first ones who were interested in the rocks.  Maybe he was just appeasing us.  He was hard for me to read.

And with that, all of a sudden, we were there at Shira camp, roughly 12,500 feet.  I was pleased, and ready for a little rest.

We were met with lunch of zucchini soup, bread, fresh fruit and fresh veggies.  We ate then had some down time.  I rested, wrote in my journal, then went away from camp to…ahem…clip my toenails.  I had heard horror stories of people losing their toenails from hiking down, and the next day we would be hiking up to 15,000′ then down to 13,000′, and by golly I was NOT going to lose my toenails! Like I said, this is graphic.

Later, we got to finally meet our crew.  Our crew, who carries our mobile city so cheerfully, who greets us as we walk into camp with songs, or they meet us to carry our backpacks for us.  Our crew, with names like Innocent, Gabriel, Godliving, Omichelle, Amadeus, Johannus.  Who carried our spare clothes, who set up our tents, who carried and cleaned our toilets, who cooked meals for us, who served us tea and coffee in our tents, and who were there to do the best job of getting us up that mountain.

There were 36 of them.  36 crew for 9 climbers.  That’s 4 crew per climber.  It was taking 4 men a week to get me up a mountain.  They each introduced themselves with name and job, and all with pride.  Guides, assistant guides, chef, assistant chef, camp men (who set up and tore down our tents), toilet cleaners, porters…one by one, and we clapped for each one.  What a group, what an operation.  We then introduced ourselves, and met our personal porters.  Mine is named Gabriel, and happened to be the shortest man on the crew.

I asked to see the kitchen tent, curious, of course, how such quantities of amazing food were made.  I found a mound of fresh produce.  Fresh eggs were carried up either in crates strapped to a porter’s back, or in plastic jugs resting in nests of dried grass.  I’d hate to be the porter with the eggs, what if I tripped!?!?!

We were to have tilapia that night, which surprised me.  Fish?  On the second night?  I tried to ask how they got it up there safely, but all I could get out of the that it was from Lake Victoria.  The fish was great, and nobody got sick from it.  These guys have this cooking thing figured out!

Part way through our 7 day journey, more porters would meet up with our group to deliver a fresh batch of food.

This night, at Shira Camp, we had Lake Victoria tilapia, fruit, rice, squash and hot banana fritters for dessert.  As the sun set, Donnie and I sat on some rocks and talked.

We reflected on the trip so far, the trip ahead, and of course enjoyed the view….