Friday
Jan252013

John Wood (1950-2013)

The sport of canoeing lost a giant yesterday. John Wood was an inspirational man for multiple generations of Canadian paddlers, canoe and kayak alike. I don't recall when I first met John, sometime in the fall of 1995 when I first took to the water at the Burloak Canoe Club I suppose. I remember Larry telling me about who he was and that he won a silver medal in the 1976 Olympics. I could tell how inspirational he had been for Larry throughout his early career. Whenever John's Silver "AG 76" license-plated Porsche was parked at the club I'd be excited to see him out on the water. He was the retired Rock Star the canoe club never had, he was so cool, and so fit, and he was older than our dads. He was snowboarding before any of us had ever heard of a Burton or a halfpipe. He'd usually get out for his 10k paddle before my group was on the water.  He'd seemingly sprint the whole thing, I never once saw him with his paddle down on the creek. He'd go for a 10k paddle and take like 65 strokes a minute for the whole thing without a break, still sweating and breathing hard as he wiped the creek water from his wooden canoe.  The man epitomized a lifelong dedication to sport and fitness to me.

I had the honour of lighting John's Torch in the Vancouver Olympic Torch Relay with mine. I remember telling him how it should be the other way around, and that Larry should be between us on the relay... and he just smiled in his no-worries way and said, "ah, this'll be fun".

We emailed occassionally, usually about politics in Canadian sport, his vehement disgust of doping and Burloak business. In flipping through our most recent correspondance I saw his latest email signed off with "Time for lunch?", and I didn't reply. Sorry John... I really wish we had sat down. I'll really miss you.

 

Wednesday
Nov142012

Day 6 - Finale

Day 5 was crazy. We started at 1am and hiked for over 13 hours. After we returned to Barafu camp (4600m asl) from Uhuru (the summit, 5850m asl), we were told that we should take a 1hr nap, wake up and eat and prepare to hike 4 or 5 hours to Mweka camp (3100m asl).  I already did the math, so you don't have to... that's 1250 of ascending and 2750 of descending.  After dinner I barely wrote a blog on my blackberry and emailed it to my mom to post before falling asleep before 9am.  I slept better than I had in days, likely because we were lower than we had been since day 1. We woke up early, ate David Mange-Mange's breakfast of eggs with cucumber (you know when you've got weird stuff in your fridge, and you make recipes up?), hot dogs and "oatmeal".  I used my last via coffee pack, put on my MEC EOS pack and joined the pack for our final descent, Day 6.

Our crew informed us that the terrain would be really simple, since Day 5 into Mweka Camp involved 7km down a dry river bed with a really trecherous rocky decline.  Day 6 was a lot like the first day, a steady groomed muddy trail with few obstacles. It stayed dry for us, and as we descended below 3000m, the flora and fauna returned to jungle-style as the bushes and shrubs turned into ferns, palms and giant camfor trees. We spotted monkeys and birds that we hadn't encountered yet. We saw a big beautiful moth, bigger than your hand with two big eyes elegantly painted on it's wings.

It was about 4 hours down to Mweka gates.  We arrived to our porter and guide team singing and dancing a congratulatory routine in mostly Swahili, but with enough English and now-familiar Kilimanjaro terms (Mambo, Jambo, Poa, Pole Pole, and the names of our camps)... that we got the jist. It was so awesome to be welcomed back by the guys who made our journey possible. They seemed so genuinely thrilled for us, and I feel like we really shared the adventure, despite many of the guides having been up the mountain over 200 times. Kidori and Praygod, who are only 24, have been up to the summit more than 100 times.  Kidori first summitted when he was 14, and his older brother is in the Guinness Book for the quickest roundtrip at 8 hours.  Kidori plans to beat that in the spring.

After our celebration we had a champagne lunch in the garden, bbq chicken and fries with Kilimanjaro Beer (after you climb it, drink it). The champagne got sprayed around so we didn't really drink any.  I've got some video of the dancing, I'll post it soon.  If Mange-Mange's belly dance doesn't make you howl then you are simply dull and boring.

It feels so good to be back close to sea level, but somehow I already miss the adventure.  5 nights in a damp tent, 75km of hiking with a heavy pack, nauseating altitude, bone chillingly cold mornings, and the rain.  As nice as the view was, the challenge was really the only reason to go.  If it was easy, then it probably wouldn't be so rewarding. Another example of my "life-thesis", the inherent value in hardwork, was illustrated in full colour, once again. I made 6 new Canadian life-long friends in Jason/Jansen (ok, he's actually a yank), Mr. James, Jo-Jo, my tent mate Kev, Jamie and Danielle and a bunch of amazing Tanzanian ones too in Alex, Kidori, Praygod, Patrick, Osman, Sarah, Solomon, Mange-Mange and all the fellas that worked so hard breaking down and setting up camp everyday. Thanks for the memories team... this is an adventure that I won't soon forget.

Pictures and video are coming soon... I'm late boarding my flight to Frankfurt from here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  A quick stop in Khartoum, Sudan, another longer one in Frankfurt, and I'll be back on Canadian soil by lunchtime tomorrow. Headed to Vancouver for the last Gold Medal Plates Qualifying event for the Canadian Culinary Championships... I get to emcee and refresh my appetite with the best food Vancity can make. See you soon west coast... bye for now Africa.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Monday
Nov122012

Day 4/5

Day 3 was a challenge. We got so much cold rain, we arrived to a soaking, muddy campsite, and everyone's gear was drenched. It was one of those "character building" days for our team.

We awoke the morning of day 4 at Barranco camp to another clear morning view. Kissing Rock to our left, a lush jungle in front, and the peak of Kilimanjaro behind camp.

We ate breakfast, packed our gear and hit the trails early. I continued to carry all of my gear, towards our destination, Barafu Basecamp. At 4600m it is the same height as Lava tower, where I experienced some altitude related symptoms on Day 3.  Our first obstacle was Kissing Rock, a huge outcropping with a switchback ridge carved into it. It requires the use of both hands to climb, and you ascend high above camp within 30mins, it's a really awesome view. Of the camp and the peak. The only annoying thing is that the trail then takes you away from the Kilimanjaro peak, as our route ascends from the opposite side.

Day 4 was a long hike day. After scaling kissing rock we hiked up and down for a few hours, eventually crossing the "last water" river, named that since the opposite side is arid, and there isn't another water source closer to Barafu basecamp. On the opposite side of the river there were two trails to choose from, according to our guide Praygod, the first was "long and steady", and the second "short and steep". We chose the latter.

We stopped at Karanga camp for lunch. Karanga is a wide open, very exposed area, covered in rock and shrubs. We ate in one of the ranger buildings, and talked to the park cleaners about their work. They walk in, bringing everything they need for a 10day work week, keep the area clean, and walk out once their shift is complete.

After lunch we had a long uphill trek to Barafu camp. The sun was shining bright and it was really warm so we gathered up all of our wet gear from the previous day and set up some drying lines. After dinner I went to check on my clothes, they had sat in the bright sun for hours, but as soon as dusk came they froze solid. Barafu is so high that there's barely any moss on the rocks, and the atmosphere is moon-thin. In the sun it's always scorching, and the shade is always freezing cold.

We had to eat dinner early and go straight to bed, as our summit attempt was to begin the next morning at 1am. The reasoning behind this is unclear. Our lead guide Alex has a way with answering questions. One morning I asked "Alex, are we anticipating any rain today?"... His reply "Adam, it depends on the weather". I asked why we were starting in the middle of the night, was it for the sunrise on the summit, or a temperature thing or what? His reply "we start in the middle of the night because we want us all to summit Kilimanjaro". Alex is awesome.

We hit the sack at 8pm, got a few hours sleep despite a tornado wind storm. I woke up to find that our toilet tent had blown away, leaving the little composting toilet in the middle of a small tent, totally exposed. I had to go, and nobody was awake yet, so I sat on this little potty beneath the most spectacular star display I can imagine. There was no moon, and I'm certain every star in the universe was visible from my throne.

We had a small breakfast, I drank too much coffee, and off we went on our quest to summit the roof of Africa.

I honestly don't remember much about the first 5 or 6 hours of our journey. I remember being cold, peeing like 10 times because of the 1. Coffee, 2. Altitude, 3. Cold and 4. Nerves. I remember having no appetite and feeling like I was going to vomit with just about every stride. I recall looking up at the trail 1000m above where we were climbing in the pitch black, seeing the headlamps of climbers who had left earlier, and seeing stars just a few inches above them, trying to identify where mountain ended and sky began. I remember as the sun came up, I looked over at our shadows and noticed how amazingly slow our sillouettes appeared to be moving along, realizing that we were literally crawling along the trail. It felt a lot like driving through the night. I put my ipod on shuffle and just stared at the boots in front of mine. For 5 hours.

At 5000m the nausea really started to set in. The monotony of hiking in the dark didn't help, I felt like I was being hypnotized

Then the sun came up and we could see our progress, and what was left. Kevin and I both lamented not taking a photo of the sunrise, then we both checked our cameras and found 4 or 5 each. I have no recollection of that, and neither did he. The elevation really messes with you, it's like being half-drunk all the time.
The next hour was the most difficult. The Tanzanian time warp made it tough to know how much was left. I fantasized that it was an hour or so, but got the impression that it was more like three from Alex.

We could see climbers at Stella point, the last stop before the summit. They seemed so close, we could practically yell to them. But with the stunted pace due to the extreme altitude, it was to take us 90mins to reach where they stood.

The last 200m of ascending up to Stella was totally consuming. I had to concentrate so hard on keeping my oxygen demand as low as possible. As soon as I did anything beyond take slow short steps; reach for my water bottle, bend down to pick up a dropped hiking pole, turn around to answer a question, chew a cookie... My heart rate would race north of 150 and I'd start to hyperventilate.

Before long we reached Stella and the peak was in sight. We took a long rest, I removed some layers, had a good drink, and lay prone in the sun for a few minutes.

The final push to the peak was actually really enjoyable. I went my own pace, stopped to take a few glacier pictures, and arrived at the big green sign at the top of the continent with some energy in reserve. We took photos and walked around a little, had a snack, and started the long walk back to Barafu.

Ok I'm totally exhausted and I can't write anymore. I made it back to Barafu in under 2hours, anxious to eat, breathe slightly less thin air and lie down.

After a short rest and a bowl of soup (still no appetite) we hiked another 4hours down to Mweka camp at 3100m, for a total of 13hours of hiking today. I feel back to normal at this elevation, even though it's higher than I ever visit back home. I think that's close to Lake Louise altitude...

I'll wrap this trip up and add a bunch of photos soon with a final entry. Thanks for reading!

La la Salama.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Saturday
Nov102012

Kilimanjaro, Day 3

We awoke on a clear Saturday morning to a full view of the peak of Kilimanjaro, with a bright glowing Venus halfway between it and an incandescent crescent moon. It was a remarkable and ephemeral sight, as the sun rose the moon and neighbour planet faded away, and the warmer temperatures brought a rush of fog up the mountainside, pulling a grey curtain across our objective.

After the usual breakfast, our chef David "Mange-Mange" led the whole group of climbers, guides, porters and cooks in an inspiring song and dance (wearing his orange "you had me at Mambo t-shirt, and plaid pyjama pants hiked over his chef-belly").  We clapped along and sang the words as best we could; the words I could make out include "Kilimanjaro, Mambo (how are you), Jambo (what's up), Nguvu (power), hakuna matata (if I have to tell you, rent the Lion King and thank me later) and Boma (the name of the guide company).

We were all sufficiently winded after the clap and dance along, but within minutes my pack was on (still full of everything I brought to Africa with me, 3L of water (which seems heavier at this elevation), and telescoping poles that I still haven't bothered with), and we left Shira camp in our wake.

As we climbed higher the shrubbery and small trees got smaller, until the only plant-life was moss and grass. The terrain reminded me a lot of Haleakala on Maui, if you've ever visited the 10,000ft peak in Hawaii. There was plenty of rain overnight, and it began to trickle again within an hour of our departure. For the first time I put on my MEC nylon rain pants; we hiked for over 6hours in the rain, incredibly my legs stayed totally dry.

So the trail that we use to go up the mountain also happens to be the trail that the water uses to go down. As the rain continued our wet trail graduated from stream to creek to river, with some sections of whitewater and plenty of water falls. We stuck to the shore where we could, but often we were hopping from rock to rock through a shallow river. I need to brag about the Asics lahars again, even when they are immersed in water... No soaker. Props Asics, these are great kicks.

Whenever the fog rolls out we catch a glipse of the snowy peak which awaits us, but we had yet to encounter snow, until today. Our lunch spot today was Lava Tower (google it for a photo, it's bonkers). At 4600metres about sealevel it's just past the snow line, so the rain switched to freezing rain and again to hail - a welcomed change as hail tends to bounce off of you rather than accumulate as slush on your shoulders, pack, hat... any surface. Lava tower has many natural caves and rock outcroppings, so we all scattered to find a good lunch shelter. I was pretty disgusted to see the state of many of the mini-dwellings. Hikers have left their garbage in piles throughout, and while I can excuse eggshells and banana peels, using the only shelter as a toilet is inconceivably ignorant. Shame on those loserpoopers! Shame!!

I found an un-crappy outcropping and quickly devoured my meal and layered up.

Lava Tower was our peak for the day, and is the same height as the basecamp which we will reach early afternoon tomorrow. The effects of the altitude were, not surprisingly, more extreme at Lava Tower than at any other point so far. I had a headache and some minor nausea. Nothing that made me feel like quitting or anything, just a part of the adventure. We started down straight after lunch. Team morale was low after a consistent 3hours of cold rain, but we soldiered on. The initial descent was down a cascading creek, with stepping stones and a narrow bank. It was really steep and fairly slippery, thankfully nobody slipped. As we continued down my nausea diminished and headache all but disappeared. The shrubs came back, and soon there were broad-leafed plants and flowers and some short trees. I picked a low hanging leaf to use as an umbrella (despite the fact I was already totally soaked), and Alex and Praygod scolded me for impacting the environment. I apologized and put my umbrella leaf on the ground. It didn't work anyway.

The Tanzanian Time Warp was in full effect this afternoon. Alex and Praygod insisted that Lava Tower was between an hour and ninety minutes from Barranco, tonight's camp. After 2 hours we were all getting a little anxious, and for the next hour it was always "about 25 or 30minutes left". We arrived after 3hours 15minutes from Lava Lunch tower, for a total of 7hours and almost 30minutes of hiking. It was only about 13km; I'd run that on trails at sealevel (without a 30kg pack) in under 80mins... So suffice to say our pace was pole, pole.

Barranco camp is incredibly scenic, when the rain and fog relented for a few minutes we could see the stiff peak and kissing rock - or first challenge tomorrow, the most technical section of our 6 day climb.

We finished dinner relatively quickly, pumpkin soup with tasty little pekoras, spaghetti bolognese and some fruit. I've been pretty cold since we made camp, so I'm happily bundled up, out of the rain in my super comfy Aquila sleeping bag.

Tomorrow we hike about 6hours to Barafu basecamp, eat and rest for just a few hours, and begin our summit ascent in the middle of the night, hoping to arrive at the roof of Africa before the sun rises over this great continent.

Wish me luck, and lots of simba nguvu.

La la salama...

Saturday
Nov102012

Kilimanjaro, Day 2

As I fell asleep last night, I thought that a 6am wake up might be pushing it, given the jetlag, my previous evening's 4am bedtime preceded by 26hrs of travel, not to mention the 10km hike at this altitude. As it turned out, I had no reason to be worried. I was asleep by 9pm and wide awake by 4am. I stayed in my very comfortable MEC Aquila -12C bag until first light, and emerged from my tent with my thermos in search of hot water and a good photo op.

I found both, made some coffee and saw, for the first time on this trip, the beautiful snow capped peak of this great mountain. I found a decent view of where we hiked in from, and marvelled at the reality of waking up above the clouds.

As I sipped my coffee I chatted with Alex our lead guide about his family and life as a climbing and safari guide. Like most of the Africans I've met, his stories are astonishing. He has 4 kids of his own, and he supported 4 street kids from Moshi, the small town where he calls home. He has seen two of the adoptees through university and a third completed a mechanic aprentiship not so long ago. His perspective is so valuable to me. His experiences and wisdom are so unique, the chance to share a conversation with people like Alex adds so much to these journeys.

We gathered for a quick breakfast of porridge, eggs, sausage (hotdog), toast papaya and citrus, packed our camp and were off up the mountain before 8:30am.

I packed out all of my gear again today, feeling confident that my pack was so perfectly distributed that it would hardly add to my physical exertion. I packed along our packaged lunch (same as yesterday) two hiking poles, and the obligatory 3L of water.

The two little fanny packs on the sturdy waist strap of the MEC EOS bag allow really easy access to things like my camera, lip moisturizer (it's a very macho-manly variety), snacks and hand sanitizer. The waist strap is fixed in the middle of the bag, but pivots with your hips allowing for natural movement. At the end of our day today, I was amazed at how great my back and shoulders felt. If I didn't know better I'd say that the pack actually makes me hike more efficiently.

Our climb started right at the sign-out hut, with a staircase-like pitch for 3 or 4 kms. Every third or fourth step was a high lunge up the equivalent of 2 or 3 regular stair-sized steps. The rock was slippery and wet, and as we switched back and forth I remarked at how similar it was to choosing your line when snowboarding or whitewater kayaking (I'd assume).

As we continued higher the vegetation continually changed. Our guide Praygod was generous with the names of plants and flowers, and constantly provided encouraging words in Swahili, "Pole, Pole sassa" for "slowly now", "sawa sawa hakuna matata" for "it's ok, no worries" and my favourite "Nguvu kama simba" for "have the power of a lion".

I reached into the left side pocket of my waist pack and found a sharpie, and asking Praygod to tell me all the sayings again I wrote them on my left hand and arm. For good measure I wrote the words for 1-10 next to the corresponding fingers as well, "moja, mbili, tatu, nne, tano, sita, saba, nabe, tisa, kumi". Thank you is "Asante", you're welcome is "karibu", and cheers is "hungea"... There, now we know Swahili!

We stopped for our packed lunch and the bird showed up, harassing us for our snacks. Everyone was hungry, and we didn't think Patrick, Alex or Praygod would be particularly pleased if we fed the giant avian mooch. Clearly it's accustomed to some charity from climbers.

As we marched on it began to trickle rain. Then the thunder struck, and the sky opened up and literally drained a lake onto us and the trail. Just before it really started hammering I ducked into a cave with Kevin to dig out my harcore MEC gaiters and put them on, in an attempt to keep the insides of my otherwise very waterproof Asics Lahar hikers dry. It proved to be good timing, and as we emerged from the cave the skies added hail to the rain, despite the fairly warm temperature. I hiked in shorts and knee high compression socks again today, and was never cold at all.

The climb became fairly technical as we made our way around some small passes with hand holds. I still haven't used the climbing poles, but I'm certain they'll be essential when the air is thinner (the air gets even thinner than this! WAY thinner, and I'm sleeping at 3850metres tonight...)

The last km of our trek was the first and only downhill section we've experienced since we departed from the Machame gate. It was a welcome change, and after over 6hours of hiking today, (one of those hours being extra soggy) our enthusiasm reappeared and we trotted into camp bright eyed and bushy tailed (author's licensed token exaggeration).

With a few hours before dinner I chatted with some Aussie hikers, explored a little, unpacked, ate popcorn, drank cocoa and had a little nap.

The fog cleared for the first time today and a full view of the town of Moshi ahead, and our destination; a now very clear picture of the stiff snowy peak, was visible.

When the fog cleared there appeared to be some cell reception as our guides and porters all had their nokias out chatting and texting. I've had less luck finding bars, but if you're reading this I got the email off somehow...

I'll wander around now with my left hand-clutching-phone extended into the air, while my right brushes my teeth, in hopes that the millions or billions or trillions of 1's and 0's that these words translate into in computerlanguage can zip down the 3000meters to a tower somewhere in Moshi or wherever. Wild stuff.

I doubt if there will be service as we ascend higher, so this may be my last real-time blog entry (thanks to my mommy for posting it). Rest assured that I'm feeling great, but I'm really respecting this mountain, the terrain, weather and most of all, the altitude and all that comes with it. I'll push hard as far as my sealevel legs and lungs will take me!

La la salama, and nguvu kama simba...