or as we found out after the fact, "Kill-Yourself Mountain" and we were also told it is the hardest mountain in Tanzania.
23.07.2010 - 24.07.2010 25 °C
Well, as many of you know, I am back in Calgary now (and sick with a bug from Africa - it's only fair I suppose). I wanted to write one last blog though to document, and share, my battle with mother nature on July 23, 2010 which lasted 14 hours. Climbing this mountain was, without a doubt, one of the hardest things I have ever done in my entire life, both mentally and physically. I say this because for a moment, as we neared the summit, death became a sure outcome in my mind. I was trying to reason with it. I have been in situations before where I feared injury, but never once had death crossed my mind as an option. To be honest I didn't even think it was possible to feel what I felt....I can barely remember the feeling now, too, because I took so long to document this. I will attempt to explain the feeling though. My body had been ready to surrender to the mountain back at the 3/4 mark and then all of a sudden, with maybe 20 feet to go, my brain was ready to accept the surrender as well...and I think that was what must have happened for me to rationally consider death. When your brain decides to go along with your bodies desire for death...it's a scary, scary thing. Thankfully the thought did not last long or else I might have not made it to the top (actually, I might have not made it, in general). I am so thankful for Lesmolo, my guide, who, somehow, enabled me to get to the top. Once I reached the summit I was quite shaken up inside and, with just enough time to sit down, I cried tears of joy because I was so thankful to be alive. I should mention to that if that mountain was in Canada, you would be harnessed in - I'm sure it would be mandatory.
If this were an essay or a report, I suppose above might be the abstract, but what's an abstract without the body? So, I will tell you about the whole climb!
Typically, if not always, people climb this mountain at night because it's too hot to try to tackle it in the day (also I think it helps you to succeed because then you don't see what you're up against until the sun comes out and by that point you're at the summit ...or, in our case, still an hour away from the summit but wanting to finish what you started). Also, the idea is that you get to the top for a beautiful sunrise.
We had an early dinner on the Friday and went to our tents around 8pm so we could get some sleep pre-climb. We woke up around 12am, had some coffee, and then drove to the starting point. By the time we got organized, pushed the land cruiser out of the sand, took a few photos, and said our goodbyes it was about 1am. Time to start our climb! The beginning wasn't bad at all, we kept a steady pace and had water breaks every now and again. We were merely walking up to the base of the mountain as I realized later on our way back in the light of day. The terrain started to get a bit more difficult given that the rocks would break off and crumble in your hands (since they are merely hardened ash) but it was still manageable. Also, the first hour or so it was insanely windy so it was a bit chilly but once we got up higher the wind slowed down and, eventually, it stopped.
I am still amazed at how much light the moon gives off (granted it was a full moon, but still!). When we would stop for water breaks and all was silent it was pretty surreal standing up there, feeling so insignificant, on such a large piece of rock created by earth's inner workings. I digress.. we kept on climbing, following our guide, Lesmolo, as he chose the best path for us. All was good until the moon set and we were left in total darkness. None of us had head lamps either, which would have been extremely favourable in this particular situation. Nonetheless, Lesmolo grabbed his torch and we managed to get a good system going; he would climb up a few feet and then shine the torch back down to us so we could follow in his footsteps. This took considerably more time but there was not too many other options considering the rocky, unstable terrain and sub-par lighting conditions.
Not too long after we started being able to see a bit better and we realized the sun was rising but we were nowhere near the top! We decided we needed to pick up the pace but failed to realize that we were too far from the summit to make it in time. See, this mountain, like many, was extremely deceiving - having many parts that appeared to be peaks and yet, once you reached the supposed peak, you would realize you had another half a mountain to climb (even on the climb down, we kept thinking we were at the bottom and then no...it would be another ten minutes, and then another twenty minutes) it was never ending!! Very frustrating, to say the least.
As I stated in the beginning, the last bit of the hike was sheer insanity. I was already so exhausted and malnourished (having only eaten two cliff bars in seven hours) when we got to a part which I figured had to be the peak, it legitimately looked like the peak once you reached it, too, so I thought, for sure, this was it. But no, of course it wasn't, why would it be? Lesmolo looked at me, pointed, and said "up" and I gave him the dirtiest look...pleading with him, asking if he was sure he was not joking. It was that last bit where death crossed my mind and I won't repeat the story since its written above.... but thinking about it now gives me chills.
Once at the top...we waited for the rest of our crew to reach the summit. (Oh yea, I failed to mention that at about 3/4 of the way up we inadvertently split up... I got in the zone of just wanting to reach the top so I could relax for a second and Lesmolo guided me the rest of the way. Jen and Innocent stayed back and went at a more comfortable pace. And, as we were on our way to the top, we passed another group of people who we ended up getting to know quite well at the top). Once the others arrived we ate a bit and tried to enjoy the view but it was hard because the peak was not like your average peak where you can just spread out and relax. There was minimal, to no, space at the top. On one side there was a huge volcano and on the other was the mountain with a steepness rating I can't even fathom (almost horizontal) - what we had just hiked up.
Not too long after, we were all ready to go back down but it seemed as if there was no clear route down and it would be impossible to go down without sliding all the way since there was nothing to use a leverage. We sat at the top for two hours while our guide along with the two other guides from the other group "axed" (aka jammed with a broken walking stick and a rock) out holes in the mountain so we could stick our feet in and sort of crab-walk down. Those two hours of waiting were quite painful.... everyone at the top was terrified so that didn't help matters, I had to pee really bad (we all did, actually, and we ended up going on the edge of the mountain...ha ha), my sweat was starting to freeze, and I was insanely tired. Oh! I forgot to mention one of the better parts....maybe 45 minutes before we reached the top I got a huge rip in my pants from right knee all the way up and past the zipper...it was awkward to say the least. On this peaceful mountain all of a sudden I hear this huge "rrrrrrrrriiip" sound and I look down and see what has just transpired. I shrug it off and keep hiking but Lesmolo looks back at me with a puzzled look on his face so I show him what happened and in showing him I realize it ripped a lot father up than I had thought (I figured it had just ripped to my thigh or something)...nope, definitely gave Lesmolo a bit of a show that he did not need to see haha and he's like "umm you don't have other pair of pants" and I'm like..noo... and then he tells me he has a shirt I can use but then I remember, so do I, and I tie my long-sleeved shirt around my front add hike the rest of the way up. Luckily Inno had a pair of trekking pants over his pants so he let me use those for the way down!
Sitting up there watching them make those holes in the mountain, wondering how we were actually going to get down, it felt like such a nasty nightmare...except that this time, we actually could not wake up - no matter how hard we pinched ourselves (all I wanted to do was kiss the earth that was next to the car...however many km's below us). Finally after waiting in agony at the top (having gone through all other possibilities of getting down from there without having to actually climb it, times three) we started our decent as one big group - our initial group of four plus three other tourists (a very nice swiss family - husband and wife with their son), and their two guides. We made a sort of choo-choo train behind our respective guides (although my guide was helping the Swiss woman down so I was left to my own defenses and joined in behind Jen, who was behind Inno...and then behind me was the Swiss son and behind him was a guide) It kind of felt like we were tobogganing except replace snow with sharp rocks and ash and remove the toboggan - so basically tear all the fun parts away from tobogganing. (If only we had been tobogganing...what fun that would have been and how fast we would have reached the bottom!).
For those of you who are keeping time, our decent began around 9am and we reached the bottom at 3ish pm...what a gong show! It was so hot on the way down and we started peeling off the layers we had frantically thrown on at the top when the sweat started rapidly evaporating off our bodies. We also had to stop and apply sunscreen which turned into a disgusting dusty paste on our faces because we were covered in dust from walking through ash/sand/etc. The hike down seemed never-ending but it was also great because I knew with each step down we were getting closer, and closer to safety and I was happy to have passed the hardest part of the mountain.
My stomach was in rough shape, too, for most of that hike (talk about the icing on the cake...or the lava in a volcano?) I think had it not been, I would have been in a lot better condition to tackle said Lengei. Also, we borrowed hiking shoes because we didn't bring any with us so I think having had my own would have helped tenfold. But, you do what you can...and despite everything, we managed to hike what we were told was the hardest mountain in Tanzania, if not Africa. I couldn't believe it! "Harder than Killimanjaro?" I asked.... Apparently Killimanjaro, on the last day, is equivalent to Lengei...except you get no relief on Lengei, it's all insane. We were told the mountain conditions on Lengei are always changing (I suppose this makes sense given it's an active volcano)...so no-one really knew how crazy of a climb it would be (hence why we did not get warned). I had a friend who did it last year and she said it was relatively straight forward because the lava had paved the way for a decent channel where you could walk up, in the channel, and it was deep enough that you could use the sides as support...our hike did not resemble that description in the least (though I guess the top was still super steep and pretty crazy!)
I am glad I'm alive, and I'm glad I have a story to tell people...but if you asked me to do it again I'd surely say no. I think, too, had there been magnificent foliage (actually any would have been nice!) surrounding us whilst hiking, or if we got to see red hot lava I would be more stoked on doing it again...but because the mountain was so barren ...it doesn't leave much for the eye whilst climbing (that and half of the climb is in the dark anyways).
I should mention - one of the Maasai guides (the one with the Swiss family) hiked the mountain in his sandals!! I told him he was crazy and he just laughed at me... I guess it's what you're used to, right? I spoke to a few Maasai who said they were terrified of swimming and of water in general...so there you go.