Day 4 begins. If I recall, my hair was getting dirty enough that it was eternally tangled. Each morning, my ritual now not only consisted of tending to The Great Blister of ’15, but also fighting with my hair. For the first 3 days I had it in two french braids, a la Pippi Longstocking. I did this in hopes that it would keep it from a)getting totally filthy and b)keep it from getting tangled. Magically, it managed to tie itself in knots WHILE in braids. I think on this particular morning, I wrangled it into some sort of pony tail, frustrated. My journal is funny, I wrote that my hair was the most annoying part of the whole hike.

When I stepped out of the tent, thankfully the fog was gone (or was just lower than we were). What a sight, to see the Barranco Wall towering to our east(ish).

Donnie, Kili, Barranco Wall

I love this picture of Donnie for some reason. Dawn light like this is one of my favorite kinds of light, knowing a new day lies ahead. Donnie is a bit like that, always optimistic for what’s coming down the pipeline. I’m not sure what he’s looking at, as Kili is behind him, but that’s not the point. He was always up first, ready to hold my coffee/gloves/hat/hairbrush/coat/sunglasses while I tied boots/drank/brushed/put on sunscreen, etc. I knew if I needed anything, he would be first in line to help me. If needed, he would have carried me up the mountain. He was energetic, reliable, helpful, and such a comfort to have around. This picture was taken early, right after my battle with my hair. Kili was there, waiting. Felix showed us the Barranco Wall, the dark wall on the right of the picture. That wall was where we were headed. Up the wall.

At Barranco Camp, looking away from Kilimanjaro.

Another morning above the clouds. I couldn’t get over constantly being above a sea of clouds. It was amazing, but I kept wondering to myself if the clouds would ever clear. Would I ever be able to see “out there”? To look out over Africa? The clouds were breathtaking each day, but for a western girl used to large vistas, it felt strange to not see what was there.

Me, Anne, best tentmates!

Anne. Dear Anne, one of the best friends of my life. This picture of Anne and me isn’t the best. We look a bit tired (we were), a bit dirty (we were), but we were happy. For a tentmate, she was amazing. Being tentmates means getting pretty intimate with another person. Let me explain….

**PSA, this might get a bit graphic**
Example 1) Wet wipes. I’m not sure what day it was, but one day after hiking we gave ourselves wet wipe baths in our tent. Now, after 3(ish) days of hiking, wet wipes feel pretty amazing. We started with our face, hand, arms, feet…oh my did that feel good. Thank you Target baby wipes and your Shea Butter scent, oh how I love you. Anne stripped down and well,…you know…got clean. I think she briefly apologized to me, but soon I was following suit. Now, after 3(ish) days of sleeping in pretty much the same clothes you hike in, it feels SO GOOD to just be naked. Yep, I said it. Bare skin, meet fresh air. Then, to make it better, to have wet wipes to clean with!?!? Holy canoli. I think we both laughed about how absurd it was that we were both naked in a tent with piles of clean and dirty wet wipes. But oh so worth it. You know what they say,…”Ain’t no party like a wet wipe party!”

Example 2) Dirty undies. Yep, they happen, even on a volcano. We changed them daily (they were the only thing we changed daily), but still, they’re dirty undies. I had packed some Swiss Army vacuum seal bags just in case something got super wet, but it turns out they were great for dirty clothes. So, each day, we would hold our breath while I opened the bag and we’d both shove in dirty undies, socks etc. It would have been funny to watch, and it’s funny to recall. Yeah, it’s pretty gross, all our dirty clothes sealed up in a bag. For days. We started opening it and setting it outside our tent to let it “air out” if we had some time, but still. Wow.

So, as you can see, things get intimate in those tents pretty quickly. How thankful I was to be in a tent with one of my best friends. In the end, we discussed it. How it was awkward in the beginning, but then, it was freeing, refreshing to be so comfortable with another human. Best tentmate ever. Thanks, AP.

Ok, on we go…

Again, breakfast was warming and spirits were good as we packed up our gear and left snacks for our porters. While we packed up, the sun hit our camp. Deciding on what layers and how many layers was tricky. I didn’t want to be that person who had to stop first for a layer adjustment, but it was always bound to happen. I don’t recall exactly what I wore, but I do remember stopping to shed some leg layers pretty quickly.

Packing up at Barranco Camp in the sun.

We left camp and I was excited. This was to be a short day in terms of mileage, about 4 hours of hiking. Barranco Wall was to be the “most technical” climbing we would do and I was ready for it. No gear was required, but this would be a bit more than just walking like we had done the previous 3 days. Anne was excited, Donnie was bouncing, but others weren’t as thrilled. For people not comfortable with heights, I can understand why the Wall might be a bit daunting. Felix reassured everyone, reminding us that the porters do it with massive loads and things on their heads. Well, as we already observed, the porters were amazing. So Felix’s comment perhaps didn’t do as much good as he was hoping. We teamed up, and helped make our teammates feel as good as we could. We’d get up that wall, all of us.

Headed straight toward Barranco Wall

Getting a good perspective in pictures is so hard, especially of tall, steep things. The wall was steep, but not flat, so that was good. The rocks were bumpy and gnarly and “sticky”. Sticky rocks, rocks that your boots grip onto, where you step and feel confident that your foot will stick. So in terms of climbing up a wall, this was a good wall to climb up.

Up Barranco Wall

We paused a few times, of course for tire pressure, as well as layer adjustments. As we did this, porters just flowed past us. Even as we hiked, they’d pass us. I was amazed at how confident and nimble they were, like mountain goats. While we carefully clung to the wall, placing hands and feet just as Felix instructed, the porters would hop over cracks, jump between rocks, as if there were nothing but down pillows below. And of course, they did this with massive loads.

Porters headed up Barranco Wall.

Anne and I were loving it. I remember vividly her saying how she wished “we had a few days to play around on this wall”. How we wished our friend Jenn was with us, as she would have loved this part of the climb in particular. The climbing was invigorating. I felt great. The weight on my back (which included 5 liters of water, snacks, spare clothes, camera) didn’t bother me. It was part of me now, an extension of me.

We all made it up. Those who had been hesitant made it with no problems, and we were rewarded with a view of Mount Meru, another volcano in Tanzania. Meru is categorized as active, with events as recently as 8000 years ago, and tops out just below 15,000 feet.

Atop Barranco Wall, Mt. Meru in distance.

We hiked a bit more, and soon our guides told us to take a break, and it was obvious why. We were at a high point, and were headed down for a bit after this. We all took our packs off, released tire pressure in more mine fields of used toilet paper, and I dug out a pack of Starburst I had been hauling around. I wasn’t sure how to distribute, but just started giving each person one. I gave them to everyone, hikers and guides, and amazingly had exactly enough for everyone. Then, we enjoyed the amazing view.

Team, Kilimanjaro!

The picture above is one of my favorites. I know the sun is glaring, and it’s hard to see the people, but it’s still at the top of my list. I love the bright snow on the peak. I love seeing the rocks we had been climbing on, and our colorful packs strewn about below us. The sense of joy and teamwork at this moment filled my heart. This picture includes all four of our guides and everyone was celebrating. More pictures were taken, then more. Hugs and high fives were shared. Life couldn’t get much better at this point.

Anne, me.

As we left our break spot, Felix told us there wasn’t much left, just “across, down, then up”. So we fell in line and got going. We went down through a bit of fog (surprised?) and again felt like we were on another planet.

Hiking down, somewhere between Barranco and Karanga.

The across part was nice. It was mostly flat and the sun was out again.

Headed into the “across” part.

We were to hike across, then where those low clouds are on the right in the above picture, we had some down, then some up. Doesn’t sound too bad, right?

Chris, Kili

I snapped the above picture of Chris very nonchalantly. It isn’t posed, I’m not sure he even knew I was going to take it, but it turned out well. Many times on this trip, I was thankful Chris was with us. Chris is always in good spirits and never fails to amaze me with the things he is capable of. Maybe I like it so much because when I took it, that mountain did look huge, and we had no idea what summiting would be like. But now, after our trip has ended, I know what summiting was like, and I know that Chris was key in my success. So in this picture, I see a friend who is not only adventurous and fun, but so very strong.

Ok, enough mushy stuff. Back to hiking. Soon we got to the “down” part, and down it was.

Headed down into the valley, trail in background headed up.

The down was pretty intense. The picture above is the only picture I took until we reached camp. If you look on the horizon, you can see little blips along the ridge. Those are tents, that’s camp. So hey, we could see it! But we had to go waaaaay down then waaaay up. I took up the last position in line. It feels safer to me, so if someone slips they don’t land on me. It was dry and dusty and steep, and there was a lot of slipping going on. Tree trunks were worn smooth from hand after hand gripping them. Down and down, it seemed so long, I was getting a bit annoyed. For each step down, another up would have to be taken. Going down here was one of the few times I got frustrated. I turned my attention to Goddy and Felix, who were behind me. They were talking in Swahili, and I let their language distract me from my own head.

At the bottom, we paused. There was a clear stream running down the valley. Felix informed us that this was the last water source until after summiting. Wait, what? We were headed to Karanga Camp, then we had to hike to Barafu Camp, which was where we would summit from. That meant that all the water needed for the next 2 days (including 6 meals, 2 nights and summiting) would have to be hauled from the little stream in the bottom of this valley. UP to Karanga Camp (seen in the pic above), then UP to Barafu Camp. We were surprised, but not surprised when Felix politely asked us to fill any empty water bottles from the stream, to help lessen the burden of the porters. We all filled our Nalgenes, and the water would be properly filtered once at camp. Beyond the necessity of the stream, it was gorgeous. It was coming straight from the snow and glaciers on Kili, which made me feel a wee bit closer to its summit.

Fully loaded once again (me with 5 liters), we headed up. I knew camp was at the top of the hill, which kept me going. Donnie flew ahead, volunteering to come back down with a bucket to haul water up. Pole pole we went, and by the time we got up to camp, Donnie had washed, put on fresh clothes (shorts and a tshirt it was so warm), unpacked, etc.

Karanga Camp, roughly 13,100 feet.

Camp at Karanga, on a hill.

The relief of “rolling into camp” each day wasn’t diminishing. We had hiked for about 4 hours, and were to have the afternoon off, free to do with as we pleased. The prospect of having 5 hours free was wonderful. We were supplied with bowls of hot water to wash with. It was really lovely out, and Chris and Donnie took sponge baths outside. Our trusty toilets were set up, which were always popular.

Our toilet, permanent toilet, Kili.

Now, Donnie owed me from a previous bet. I had won, so he owed me a foot rub. At this camp, he paid up. He washed my feet in hot water. I wrote in my journal, “I feel human again, even though the rest of me is filthy.” I truly felt like a different person after that. I felt like I could continue on up that beast of a mountain. He ended up doing the same for Tawnya as well, and she was equally as grateful.

Heavenly foot wash

Lunch was leek soup, veggie pies (think big handheld veggie samosas) and fruit, one of my favorite meals. After lunch, some people napped. Some of us played games and had a rollicking good time. My mom had sent Farkle along with me, which ended up being a HUGE hit. We played and laughed and ate popcorn and made up rules pretty much until dinner time. The afternoon was a much needed respite from four days of hiking.

Playing Farkle in the dining tent

Dinner was tomato ginger soup, pasta with tomato and veggie sauce, butternut squash and broccoli, fruit salad for dessert. After dinner, we had our water bottles filled with hot water to put in our sleeping bags with us.

I think this is when my favorite moment of the trip happened. We had hot water bottles, and left the dining tent. A few of us stepped away from the tent to look at the stars. The stars, it’s hard to describe them. Take all the stars you’ve seen and quadruple their number and pull them closer. They were everywhere, and they felt like we could touch them. The milky way was as if someone had taken a paintbrush of white paint and pulled it across the night sky. We found a rock to lean on, hugged our water bottles to our chests, and stood side by side together in silence. By now, all noisy thoughts from life at home had settled out, tucked away safely for when I needed them later. My mind felt clear, quiet, content to simply see the stars as I’d never seen them before. I felt the warmth of the people near me, the cool of the rock I was leaning on, the heat of the water bottle, the clear night air flowing in and out of my lungs. This is what being alive is.

Blog post by: The Heskin Family