Meet the Parents

Trip Start Nov 02, 2005
Trip End Nov 01, 2006

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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Sunday, February 5, 2006

Arriving in Arusha, we went directly to the Jacaranda hotel where our pre-planned package had us staying. The only problem was that our package wasn't starting until the next day when Dave's parents were arriving, and as it turns out, the hotel was booked full that night. The good news is that we found a camp ground called Masai Camp just outside of town.

Masai Camp is a great place that lets you throw up a tent, get a cold beer and some good grub. It's popular with the overland trucks (groups of 20 or more traveling for great distances across Africa) which makes the place a bit club-like at night. We went to pay for a night's accomodation and ordered two beers while we were at it. The best part about the whole thing was that we got change back from ten bucks!

The next day we checked into Jacaranda, and caught a ride to the airport with the tour company. Dave's parents weren't expecting us at the airport to pick them up, and when they came walking through the gate they first saw the sign reading "Michael Keir x2" and only second saw that Dave was holding it.

It had been 3 months since we had seen Dave's parents and it was a good load of fun jumping around in the airport with hugs all around. We bored them with all sorts of stories all the way back to the hotel and for a few hours after. We're not sure if it was the jet-lag or our stories, but they were pretty tuckered by about 11pm.

The four of us spent the next 2 days relaxing and catching up while mentally preparing ourselves for what was to come. Kilimanjaro is a BIG mountain with the summit at 5896 meters. It was going to take us 5 days to climb it and 2 days to come down.


Day 1

Our first day was a bus ride to the Kilimanjaro National Park Machame Gate. This is where the porters are hired and all of their gear weighed to ensure none of them carry more than 20kg. We excitedly began our ascent not knowing what we were really in for.

Each of us were carrying the water we needed for the day, some snacks, cameras, binoculars, raingear, hats, sunscreen and some additional layers as weather changes rapidly.

The first day's hike was 8 hours through deep green forest and rain forest. Many of the plants in this region are endemic to Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was a fairly easy going day without too much difficulty other than the constant UP. We needed to drink 5 litres of water per day to help with the acclimitisation. A nice side effect of this is that it also helps you with breaks; we probably stopped for a pee-break every 20 minutes or so.

We were already blown away by the porters who literally ran past us on the way up to our campsite.

We were all fairly tired by the time we reached our first campsite, but still had enough energy to take in some of the gorgeous views. Having worked up a terrific appetite we all energetically ate up a great hot meal. The cook did a great job of dishing out some excellent meals to keep us energized. We didn't expect such good food!
We reached an altitude of 2600m the first day.

Day 2

We woke up to a beautiful sunrise that revealed a clear view of the snow capped peak. And looking in the opposite direction you could see Mt. Meru beautifully lit up by the sun! Most of day two was above the forest and now into something called moorland. The trail meandered through big boulders and we quite often found ourselves shrouded in mist. It was a more difficult day, as we started experiencing some effects from the elevated altitude. By lunch time a few of us weren't feeling our best and there were a few headaches among the team. Mom was feeling a bit nautious and had a bit of trouble finishing her lunch. In her defence, they did provide us with a massive box lunch everyday and most of us kept some of it for snacks later on. It was another 8 hour hiking day and we were all bagged by the time we reached the campsite at 3200 meters.

Near the end of the day we had to make much more frequent rest-stops as the altitude was getting to us.

Mom immediately crashed in the tent upon arrival and took her tea there. And yes, we had tea each evening! We told you the chef was spoiling us! Lisa had a bad headache as well and Dave wasn't feeling great either. Dad on the other hand was a machine; tired, but not feeling the effects of the altitude like the rest of us.

Mom ended up taking her dinner in the tent as well as she was nautious if she tried to get up. She started feeling a bit better after dinner and we all went straight to bed.

Day 3

We arose to another beautiful morning and a fantastic view of the summit. We felt we were almost at the same height as neighbouring Mt. Meru (4200m) and the only things in between the two mountains were clouds. It was absolutely stunning. During the day, clouds roll in and block your view of the summit and usually everything else.

It was also close to a full moon at this point and for those that ventured out of the tent in the middle of the night were rewarded with an eerie but picturesque view of the mountain.

As we were enjoying the view, Mom had already decided the nausea and exhaustion at this point was too much to take. She would no longer be enjoying herself as the trek only gets more difficult. This was also the last camp where there was road access for the rangers to take trekkers off the mountain. Mom decided to head down and leave the three of us to tackle the mountain on our own.

This was a very heartbreaking moment for us and although we all knew it was the right thing for her to do, none of us were happy about it. We really admire how brave she is for even attempting something as huge as this. We are so proud of her for the attempt, but even more proud for making the right decision.

We started off for another 8 hours of hiking, and due to the lack of trees we could still see Mom walking off in a different direction for a good 20 minutes.

Day 3 was a brutal day. We all felt the altitude that much more and had lulling headaches all day long. Most of the day was rocks and boulders as there was limited vegetation if any at all.

We walked through enormous valleys and along some giant ridges. This gave us some spectacular views when the clouds and mist parted for long enough. We reached a height of 4000 meters on day 3 but camped at 3600. On our way back down to camp we passed some really different looking trees and shrubs that only grow at specific altitudes. Some of these were endemic to Kili as well.

Once we reached the campsite on day 3, the clouds started to clear up and we were given a great view of the barrancu wall. This was a 200 meter cliff that was almost entirely straight up. Being as tired as we were, we nearly fell over when the guide told us that was our trail the next day.

We both crashed in the tent before dinner but did manage to make it into the dining tent. Neither of us were feeling well and were both quite nautious. With coaching from dad, we both ate up a good portion of our dinner and went straight to bed.

For those of you who don't know my dad, let's take a second to profile him. Due to a series of accidents when he was younger, he now requires a leg brace to do anyting more than light walking. He has heard things from his doctors like "you'll never walk again" or "your ankle is virtually destroyed". Last October he also had abdominal surgery and had a portion of his large intestine removed. Dave figured he would be pushing his dad up the hill, but true to dad's "stubborn mule" attitude, he had already decided he was climbing this mountain and it really didn't appear like he was slowing down at all. We were both impressed with Dad; not only with his recovery since October, but also with his good spirits and relentless encouragment to get all of our asses up to the top. Oh yeah, and he's 60. Plain and simple, when dad sets a goal, it's as good as achieved.

Day 4

We woke up feeling nearly good as new. Dad was his usual peppy self in the morning. We had a bit of breakfast and were ready to head up "the wall".

The wall was so big, it actually took us nearly 30 minutes just to reach the bottom of it. This was probably the most fun on the climb as a bit of rock climbing was required as we had to scale up it. At any time we could lose our balance and fall straight back down to the bottom. We passed many other trekkers that were obviously feeling the bad effects of the altitude. It breaks your heart to see them in such a bad way as we know if we were as bad as them, we wouldn't be able to continue. They literally held their head in exhaustion and had already been sick to their stomach. Part of the climb desensitizes you to things like this. You step over the puddle and keep going.

Reaching the top of the wall deserved a short celebration so we took a break and enjoyed the view.

The rest of the day was "mostly flat" (as our guide called it). It was about a 4 hour hike to our next camp where we were given a much appreciated hot lunch. Camp itself was on a big slope. There were very few flat spots for tents. As this camp was at 4200m, we got completely winded just walking back from the toilet. The three of us felt great and took a walk up 100m to help acclimatize.

One great thing about this whole experience were the porters. They were always in a great mood and willing to help you out in whatever way they could. Quite often they would sing as they walked and each night in the camps, while we were barely able to walk to the toilet and back, you could see them all playing a game of soccer. These guys are machines.

We had dinner and went straight to bed. It was in the middle of the night that we awoke to 2 separate rock slides. We could tell they were far away, but knowing we were on a slope just down from the top of the mountain didn't make us feel comfortable at all. It was only in early January that 2 hikers died on Kili due to rock slides. We fell back asleep quickly though as we were so tired from all this hiking.

Day 5

We woke up to an awesome and very up-close view of the summit. The snow seemed so close now. As we knew we would be waking up again at 11pm to do the summit, we were all very, very excited. We felt good and were pumped to get to our summit campsite.

Although it was only 4 hours hike to the summit camp, it was a hard walk. There was no longer any vegetation at all and most of the rocks were smaller than a bread-basket. Where was Lisa to pee? You'll have to ask her about that when we get home. Needless to say, Lisa and dad have a closeness that Dave's not all that comfortable with.

We took it very slowly. If we walked any slower we'd be sitting down, but if we walked any faster we'd be panting for air. We finally reached a hill where we could see tents perched on top! Although it had only been a few hours, we were all exhausted. But even though we could see the camp, it took us FOREVER to actually get there.

We were rewarded with another hot lunch and tea. We were to be given dinner in only another couple of hours as we would need to be in bed by 5 or 6pm in order to get up for 11pm to do the summit.

We took a short walk to take a look around. It was like a lunar landscape with rocks everywhere and no vegetation. The mist made everything look very eerie and it limited our view.

We ate as much dinner as we could and went to bed.


11pm came quickly. We were given sugar biscuits for at least something to eat (most climbers don't eat anything to avoid throwing anything up). We were all hungry but knew this was the way to do it. We relied heavily on our guide's knowledge and experience and took his word on this one.

Armed with water and snacks, we began our ascent. It was 8 hours to the top. Mountain climbers typically summit the mountain to avoid melting ice conditions in the sun, but in our case it was purely for the view. If you got to the top in the middle of the day, the clouds would completely block everything.

From our camp we had a stunning midnight view of Uhuru peak. Thanks to the full moon, we didn't even use our headlamps on the climb. Being mentally prepared (and mostly physically) we started our walk up.

This is without any kind of doubt the hardest thing we've ever put ourselves through. Every step was painful and slow. We were constantly out of breath and feeling like we just didn't have the energy. Our guide set the pace and we carried on.

An hour or so into the climb, dad needed a break. He felt so tired. Having no food in our bellies was supposedly helping with the nausea, but we felt like we didn't have the energy to go on. Although I too was tired, this was the first time we had seen dad getting beat-up by the mountain. We took a break and carried on.

Every now and then we took a short break and drank a bit of juice and had a small snack. Although we had been guzzling water the whole way up the mountain, we needed to keep our stomachs empty and were told to restrict our water consumption. Dave and Lisa both had camelbacks (a bag of water with a line to your mouth for easy drinking), but Dave's froze up completely after a few hours.

We forced ourselves on. The whole climb was hours and hours through shale (tiny bits of flat rock) on a 60 degree angle. Talking to other climbers, we learned that many chose not to attempt the summit despite making it up to summit camp. Others had attempted but passed us on their way down. We all had headaches and felt so tired, we all wondered to ourselves how long it would be before we had to turn back.

And then the sun started rising. This is one of the most beautiful sights we had ever seen. The entire horizon lit up in crimson. We stopped for a second to admire this, then turned to keep going. We all look back and wished we had the energy to get out a camera and take a picture. It was gorgeous.

After what seemed like days, we finally got our first glimpse of the snow. It seemed like we could almost touch it. There were icicles hanging off the cliffs across from us and it was quite cold at this altitude. Heads down, we continued.

We were getting so close now. We were at a point where we could see the top, but Lisa was done. She could go no further. She announced this and we all took a 5 minute break. Even after the break, her headache was pounding, her calves hurt too much and she felt as though she would throw up. Despite being able to see the top, it was still so far away. We were all aching.

With Dave and Dad's encouragement, she agreed to take two more steps. She was able to, then take a quick break. Like this Lisa managed to get another 10 meters in elevation. By this point, the top was only 20 meters away. She knew deep down that she couldn't stop now and with more encouragement from Dave and Dad, she continued on.

All our heads were pounding and we felt like we were way past dead, but all three of us went step by step and reached the summit together. We dropped our bags in a pile and gave each other hugs. We were all so happy! Not only for accomplishing such a goal, but for knowing we didn't have to go UP anymore!!!

We ate a sandwich and had a nice long break. We managed to regain enough energy to get up and take some pictures of the stunning views.

While Dad was off taking pictures, we had a moment to ourselves. We had been traveling for months now and this was such a huge accomplishment for us. It was an overwhelming experience, both physically and emotionally. It was at this moment that Dave got down on his knee and proposed. It was either the altitude or the complete exhaustion, but Lisa said yes!

So now we are engaged to be married! We're very excited about this and can't wait to get home and plan our next big trek (down the aisle!).

We took a few more pictures and then headed down towards our camp. It was a very long and dusty walk down. It was also very painful to continue walking as all we wanted to do was sleep. It's hard to explain how absolutely tired we were. This is definitely the hardest thing we have EVER done. Those sandboards from Namibia would have come in really handy at this point!

We made it back to camp and went straight to bed. After a 2 hour nap, we ate some lunch and headed off to our last camp of the trek.

It was really interesting to head down through each of the climate zones again. We made it all the way back down to the forest in that next few hours. As this was a camp only a few hours away from the main gate, we were able to imbibe in a celebratory beer. We ate, drank and went to sleep for our last night on Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Our last day was a quick few hours walk out of the park. It was down hill the whole way which kicked the crap out of our knees. We were excited to take a shower (it had been 7 days!) but mostly excited to see Mom. Afterall, we had all sorts of news for her!

The last half hour of hiking was through rain (fitting for a rain forest). We got to the main gate and had a celebratory beer. (we deserved many)

We picked up our certificates and bought a few t-shirts that boast how we climbed the mountain.

The bus ride back to Arusha was quick and mom was waiting for us at Jacaranda. Hugs all around. It was then that we found out she had been staying at the NICE hotel up the road from Jacaranda. While we were slogging up the big hill, she was pool-side with a rum and coke!

We hit the showers and shared all the stories with Mom. But we were also getting excited for our big safari. Next was 5 days in the Serengeti!

It was an amazing experience and we would recommend doing it to others, but if you asked us if we would do it again, we would simply quote Dave's dad and say "been there, got the t-shirt!"
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