Tinker Tailor Writer Editor Catch Upper

I can feel that I’m putting off writing about the trip. Just a little bit. I will write about it. You know those first moments of a relationship – when you’re not telling people – and it’s private and special and just the two of you? That’s a little how it feels. That and I’ve only been back 10ish days, but it feels like forever and 5 minutes ago, teeth jostling loose on Ngorogoro Crater dirt roads in the Land Cruiser and waking up in my frost-coated orange tent halfway up the mountain.

I’m working on it – telling you about this jaw-dropping adventure – the highs, lows, critters, and the unforgettable men who kept me safe, made me laugh to the point of tears and saw through my brave front. I’ve edited down from ~3300 photos (2700 DSLR, 600 iPhone XR) to ~650 that represent the experiences and feelings, the smells and sounds, the dusty, wonderful moments in Tanzania.

Serengeti vistas

Life is also reminding me of all the things I set to the side while training (and doing) this journey.

  • Work – Still in a record-breaking hiring season for the vertical I support, and getting back up to speed on projects we’d already set in motion.
  • Comedy – I was cast into the ensemble of Laugh out Loud Theater in Schaumburg in late July, and I’m ramping up in new cast member rehearsals and attending shows to acclimate to their process. RIFF, the music improv show I’ve been a part of, is also getting a run at the Annoyance Theater this fall/winter!
  • Personal – Between the ‘Panini,’ busy summers and me training/working out every day but Mondays, I haven’t seen many people in the last year and a half. Those 6-hour Sunday walks didn’t leave much time! So I’ve been doing a looooooot of catching up! I went out FIVE TIMES this week – pre-panorama me scoffs – but it’s a big step up from pre-trip me. I may have overdone it a little but it’s a such a good thing to be reconnecting with so many folks. Have I done trip laundry no I have not buzz off to the next bullet, y’all *pushes down laundry hamper, sits on it*
  • Fitness – Um, noooooope. And it feels weird. This was such a massive chunk of each day/week. I don’t know what my next fitness step is. Do I rejoin my gym regularly? Do I just see Brian weekly? Do I go back to at-home workouts? What’s the new goal; I’m not great at consistency in this realm without a little fear-of-something in me like my Krav instructor cert date or climbing Kili.
  • Things I’ve been wanting to do: Take Photo II at Chicago Photography Classes, a dance class at Old Town School of Music in my neighborhood, some domestic travel to see friends, some LinkedIn Learnings on new topics, attend weddings, etc.!

Thank you thank you thank you to all of you have reached out by text, Instagram (or blog) comment/DM, Facebook post, via-a-family-member or friend – I am very excited to start knitting this story/pictures together and I’ll have the first post by the end of this month or I will not touch a Diet Coke for all of November.

THOSE ARE HIGH STAKES. Here’s an absolutely unbridled, child-like joy selfie as a reward from Day 1 in the Ngorogoro Crater! Look at her face! I remember thinking ‘there’s so many of them’ in total wonder. And then we saw hundreds more over the next 4 days; zebra babies and zebra bellies and zebra(s) crossing the road at. their. own. pace.

The Departure Has Arrived

We’re here. The day has crept closer and closer and today she’s ready.

From announcing in my 2019 life review that I was going to climb Kilimanjaro in October 2020 (ah, EOY 2019, you calm before the storm) to fleshing out the reasons I was doing it (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) to getting the heart crushing news that it was delayed the day after I was told ‘it’s on!’ in January 2021 and dealing with the emotional fallout and re-training.

From the trip-specific gear gathering dust now safely tucked into my bags to the hometown mountain I was scared of but conquered in July, it has been a long season. And now…we do this.

In February I wrote:

It is 210 days until September 19th, 2021.

209 sunrises to go. 

209 beats of rest in whatever time signature this song is in. 

209 blank pages until book 3.”

Heart siren – it’s time to see the clouds beneath us and sing this song.

Capable, strong body – you’re ready, you’re prepared right, you can, you can you can.

Soul who told herself ‘no’ too often – you are more than enough, it’s time to ‘yes.’

Welcome to Book 3.

Radio Silence

“Wifi? Where we’re going we won’t need wifi.” – Doc Brown, 2021 (probably)

Since I’ll be AWOL on the internet for pretty much this whole trip I thought I’d give a rundown of where you could find me (why? for what reason? LET ME BE) on my Kilimanjaro sojourn and which day you can raise a glass to my likely summit! A lot of this was lifted from the Mountain Madness (my guide company) itinerary and is heckin’ useful.

Day 0 – Friday, 9/10

Depart home late afternoon and fly Chicago > Amsterdam (sadly, not leaving the airport; I’ll be back to explore another time, I promise), +7 hour on US Central and +9 on US Pacific Time.

Day 1 – Saturday, 9/11

Fly from Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro (JRO) Airport, landing around 9pm. I’ll have a rapid COVID test and get my Tanzanian visa; a Mountain Madness rep will meet us and drive to their private compound. I’ll be +8/+10 hours ahead of CT/PT, respectively.

Day 2 – Sunday, 9/12

This is a bonus day – most people fly in/land this night – but it was $2100 cheaper to fly in a day early! So fingers crossed we do something fun local like visit a coffee farm, shop in Arusha or walk around a bit.

Day 3 – Monday, 9/13 – Ele­va­tion: 6,500 ft / 1981 m

Trans­fer to a pri­vate camp in Arusha Nation­al Park. Here, at about 6,500 feet / 1981 meters, we’ll begin to accli­mate; Chicago is about 597 feet above sea level. With only our climb­ing team (guides, porters, fellow climbers) here, we’ll ease into our adven­ture, enjoy some game view­ing, try to relax from trav­eling, and pre­pare for the climb.

Today our guide(s) will host a trip brief­ing and review our equip­ment. There may be time for a walk or game dri­ve, which will be tak­en out into the grass­lands for views of African game and Mount Kil­i­man­jaro, as giraffe, buf­fa­lo and ante­lope usu­al­ly seen in the area.

Day 4 – Tuesday, 9/14 – Ele­va­tion: 9,000 ft / 2743 m 

MON­TANE FOR­EST — LOMOSHO APPROACH – Hik­ing Time: 3 – 6 hours (3.2 miles / 5.2 km)

After a short dri­ve through the grass­lands and scat­tered Maa­sai vil­lages we’ll arrive at the for­est edge of Kilimanjaro Nation­al Park. From here we’ll walk a few hours through the undis­turbed lush jun­gle to our camp for the night. Our Tan­zan­ian guides will share their knowl­edge of the local ecol­o­gy as we walk through the fan­tas­tic plants and trees, hear birds, and see oth­er exot­ic wildlife. Y’all know I’mma be asking tons of questions here. With luck we’ll be able to see Colobus mon­keys and signs of ele­phants on the walk to camp. If I see an elephant I will attempt to hold in an excited squeal. ATTEMPT. Upon arriv­ing at camp, we’ll find our tents set up as well as hot tea and snacks wait­ing for us in the din­ing tent.

Day 5 – Wednesday, 9/15 – Ele­va­tion: 11,400 ft / 3474 m

SHI­RA PLATEAU — WEST SIDE – Hik­ing Time: 6 – 8 hours (4.8 miles / 7.7 km)

Our Tan­zan­ian guides will greet us at our tents with tea and hot water to wash with before enjoy­ing break­fast as I try to rouse my carcass and tame my inevitable hair tangles. We’ll take our time walk­ing through the for­est, which enables us to accli­ma­tize com­fort­ably and spot the plen­ti­ful game and bird life while enjoy­ing the views down canyon through breaks in the jun­gle. Today’s hike will take us through the Mon­tane For­est and the Hage­nia Zone. We will point out the unique envi­ron­men­tal dif­fer­ences that char­ac­ter­ize these sep­a­rate equa­to­r­i­al zones. Harlan Kredit would be proud (I think). I shall endeavor to ask as many kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species as possible and reward myself with a Jolly Rancher.

Day 6 – Thursday, 9/16 – Ele­va­tion: 13,500 ft / 4115 m

MOIR CAMP – Hik­ing Time: 3 – 6 hours (4 miles / 6.4 km)

It will take us rough­ly three hours to hike across the Shi­ra Plateau and then one hour up the west­ern slope of the Kibo Mas­sif. Our Camp will be in the upper Heath Zone. We pass the Fis­ch­er Camp, which has a plaque ded­i­cat­ed to Scott Fis­ch­er, friend and founder of Moun­tain Mad­ness. In the 1980’s, Wes Krause and Scott Fis­ch­er pio­neered the Shi­ra Plateau route on Kil­i­man­jaro, which we trav­el. The views of the moun­tain at sun­set and sun­rise are tru­ly spectacular – I’m attempting to make the instructors at Chicago Photography Classes proud (or at least not embarrassed!).

Day 7 – Friday, 9/17 – Ele­va­tion: 15,000 ft / 4572 m

LAVA TOW­ER – Hik­ing Time: 5 – 7 hours (3.6 miles / 5.8 km)

After break­fast, we’ll slow­ly hike to 14,850 feet / 4526 meters, just under the ​“Lava Tow­er.” This will be our first intro­duc­tion to the Alpine Zone where the only plant life is the hardi­est of grass­es and lichens. We will have a spec­tac­u­lar view of the final route of ascent up the West­ern Breach. There is an excit­ing option­al rock scram­ble (non-tech­ni­cal) to the top of this unusu­al lava tow­er – its gotta be easier than the Roman Headwall, right? The views from the lava tow­er sum­mit of Mt. Kil­i­man­jaro, Mt. Meru and the sur­round­ing val­leys are quite impressive – fingers crossed I capture them in their glory.

Day 8 – Saturday, 9/18 – Ele­va­tion: 16,000 ft / 4877 m

ARROW GLAC­I­ER – Hik­ing Time: 2 – 3 hours (1 mile / 1.6 km)

The West­ern Breach ascent route is now in full view. We spend a few hours climb­ing to the base of the route and make camp near the Arrow Glac­i­er at 16,000 feet / 4877 meters. To fur­ther our acclima­ti­za­tion, we take an after­noon hike up a spec­tac­u­lar ridge fur­ther up the route before relax­ing in camp. This camp is famous for the absolute­ly mag­nif­i­cent sun­sets, which illu­mi­nate the African sky.

Day 9 – Sunday, 9/19 – Ele­va­tion: 18,700 ft / 5700 m

SUM­MIT CRATER CAMP – Hik­ing Time: 7 – 10 hours (1.6 miles / 2.6 km)

A looooooong day but should make the next day easier. Today we climb up the West­ern Breach for about sev­en hours to the top of the crater rim. There will be time to explore the inner crater before mov­ing to our high camp on the crater floor. It is com­mon to find snow along this sec­tion of the route. Our high camp will be next to a spec­tac­u­lar glac­i­er and the sum­mit mere­ly a short hike away! The rest of the day will be spent drink­ing lots of liq­uids and enjoy­ing anoth­er fab­u­lous sun­set dinner (plz yes).

Around 8-9pmish for you Central folks and about 6-7pm for the Pacific ones – this is when I should be summiting (the next morning for me) – raise a glass at your dinner (or from your couch) and I betcha I feel it.

Day 10 – Monday, 9/20 – Ele­va­tion: 19,341 ft / 5895 m

SUMMIT DAY, Y’ALL – Hik­ing Time: 1 – 2 hours to summit

This is one of the big reasons I chose MM; I loved the idea of camping in the crater, close enough to touch the stars at 18,700 feet, and making the very hard summit day/night a little easier. After break­fast, we’ll leave camp and hike to the top of the crater rim. From there it is just a ten-minute hike to Uhu­ru Sum­mit, the high­est point in Africa at 19,341 feet / 5895 meters! We arrive at the sum­mit and are reward­ed with clear views before the mid-morn­ing clouds roll in. We will bask in the glo­ry of our accom­plish­ment, grab a bite to eat, enjoy the views and take lots of photographs. PLZ BATTERIES DO NOT FAIL ME NOW. I SURVIVED CHICAGO SNOWPOCALYPSE WITH AN iPHONE I GOT THIS.

Now we go down, down, down 9,000 feet and descend to Mwe­ka Camp – Ele­va­tion: 10,500 ft / 3200 m

Hik­ing Time: 8 – 10 hours to camp (6.8 miles / 11 km)

After sum­mit cel­e­bra­tions we will begin our descent past Bara­fu Hut and down to our camp near Mwe­ka Hut, where our porters will have pre­pared a spe­cial cel­e­bra­to­ry feast! We will have descend­ed almost 9,000 feet / 2743 meters today and will feel intox­i­cat­ed by the oxy­gen rich air. AIR DRUNK AIR GUITAR, GO GO GO. Will sleep a deeeeep sleep.

Summit day is ~10-12 hours and that’s a ‘shorter’ one compared to other companies. Although Baker took 16 hours so honestly, bring it, Kili.

Day 11 – Tuesday, 9/21 – to 4500 feet / 1372m, then drive

Hik­ing Time: 4 – 7 hours (5.2 miles / 8.4 km)

Hik­ing time will vary depend­ing on the trail con­di­tions while trav­el­ing through the lush veg­e­ta­tion at this ele­va­tion. Rain can occur any time of year at this loca­tion and can make the trail mud­dy requir­ing a slow­er pace. Once we have descend­ed the 4,500 feet / 1372 meters to the road head we will have our lunch and say good­bye to our moun­tain staff before head­ing off to safari with our same guide team. We’ll night at Ikitoni Private Camp (where we started) before transferring to safari the next day.

Day 12 – Wednesday, 9/22

LAKE MAN­YARA NATION­AL PARK AND NGORON­GORO PRI­VATE CAMP

Safaaaari szn, bbs! We con­tin­ue on our jour­ney with a vis­it to Lake Man­yara Nation­al Park, a park Ernest Hem­ming­way described as ​“the loveli­est I had ever seen.” Found amid the vari­ety of ani­mals is an abun­dance of bird life, includ­ing the pink flamin­gos that enjoy the water-based micro­cosm of the lake and its envi­rons, all of which add to the eco­log­i­cal diver­si­ty of your safari. After our vis­it we dri­ve to the high­lands of Ngoron­goro Crater Con­ser­va­tion Area. We stay for two nights at MM’s deluxe pri­vate camp at Ngoron­goro, near Olé Dorop’s, our Maa­sai friend and walk­ing safari guide.

Days 13-16 – Thursday, 9/23 – Sunday, 9/26

Continue exploring Ngorongoro and Serengeti, seeing animals, visiting villages and taking all the photos my heart can stand! Return to Arusha for our final night.

Day 17 – Monday, 9/27

Another ‘bonus’ day that saved me another $2100 on the flight – shop, connect, savor – and fly out at 9pm from JRO > Amsterdam.

Day 18 – Tuesday, 9/28

Fly Amsterdam to Minneapolis (there were no directs to Chicago, so odd); then MSP to Chicago, landing around 3pm local time. Customs, bags, Lyft, home. Greet my plants, eat whatever dry goods I’ve squirreled away in the cupboards and likely crash/sleep because my body will still be +8, soul stuck in Tanzania time.

So that’s the plan…