the adventure continues:- black coffee, quantum physics, autumn hues and philosophy.

Walking into a cafe in Dublin can truly be either a quite morning of introspection and thinking about what the next adventure will entail, or it can turn into an enthusiastic conversation with a stranger about life the universe and everything.

As I walked to the cafe this morning I was truly taken by the autumn colours that glowed across the Dublin streets. I wandered past my favourite establishment “Farmer Brown’s” and smiled as I walked across the road to see the “Bath Hotel” strewn with spider webs and ready for a big Halloween celebration weekend. I found this really inspiring and smiled in appreciation as I made my way through the bleak weather. Dublin is beautiful even though bleak at this time of year.

Wonderful............
Wonderful…………

Ordering my coffee this morning was a little more familiar as I had now frequented this cafe more than once. I like their coffee, I like the food and I really like the photograph of Bondi beach on the wall. It reminds me of home, so I sit directly in front it to enjoy my fix.

My fav rave........
My fav rave……..

I started chatting to this Polish lady and she was a software developer. We chatted for about ten minutes regarding career and why we were in Dublin. She turned back to her table when he breakfast arrived and I did the same. Breakfast was great! Paleo breakie; bacon, eggs and avocado with a black coffee.

I had just finished when my new friend said “do you mind if I join you for a little while before I go to work”. We sat and continued to chat about many things including why she chose computer science as a major, quantum physics and the influence of Stephen Hawking and Brian Cox on the masses, how mathematics has changed the way we vie the universe and………..we also discussed Carl Sagan and science as the “new philosophy”.

The Bath Hotel.....that is all.
The Bath Hotel…..that is all.

I dont often have these conversations very much anymore as the person I had them with is seemingly part of my history and not part of my present. Thinking back on these wonderful conversations and the late nights of music, bourbon and cigarettes makes me smile as I reflect deeply on the people who have influenced me.

Thanks Natalia for a great chat this morning and for reminding me of the things that I thought I had forgotten. 🙂

Advertisements

the adventure continues:- Its going to take a lot to drag me away from you……..

Breakfast consisted of biscuits and tea, but not just a couple of biscuits. I ate about twenty of them. I need my sustenance to maintain my energy levels and there is only one way to do that, and that is eat huge amounts. I had snacks in my pack for the attempt and I was ready to eat every single one of them. I headed back to the room, checked my water and my snacks again and brushed my teeth. I was ready to tackle this very intimidating task.

The guides had assembled outside and previously we were told to be ready to walk by 11:55pm. Standing in the dark, with a slight breeze blowing in my face I thought this is it, its now or never.

I heard the command “Lets go!” I looked up and we were put in order to begin. This was not a race and the only person i was in competition with was me. Our guides said “take your time and let us know if you are feeling cold, nauseas or light-headed”.

We began walking out of the camp and into the darkness, only the light of the head torches showing the way. The track slowly meandering upward and switching back as we stepped up “pole pole” my breathing was short and my steps were shorter. At 4000 metres you tend to be slowed to a snails pace and this is what will keep you safe. It felt like time was moving very slowly, however this was inconsequential to what was happening in my mind. I was thinking of my family, thinking about Karine and thinking bout how I had longed to climb this mountain.

My head was a feeling light and I every sip of water seemed to wake me up a little and keep me going. I stuck with this approach and continued on. Step after step as the night went on. I was awakened suddenly by my loss of balance and realised there and then that I had in fact fallen asleep on my feet for a split second. I looked up and Sascha and Corrine we still ahead of me and I was ok. I sipped water, the coolness sparked my body into action.

We stopped at 5000 metres to snack and try to recover somewhat; this is not an easy task given your body is starting to fatigue at a vastly increased rate. I ate chocolate and banana snack bars and drank a little more water. I was feeling good but I knew we had a long way to go. This was an incredibly intense moment for me. Nearly 900 vertical metres ahead of us over the next three and a half hours, I got to my feet and said to one of our guides “Rasta, this ain’t over for me yet!”.

On and on we walked slowly up as the stars began to make way for the morning light. It was still  dark but if you turned around and looked back you could see the beginning of that day peering over the false horizon of the clouds below us. Up across the only outcrop of rocks we had to negotiate and a few switchbacks later we were standing at Gilman’s Point. Corrine’s husband Wayne was just behind me and I stopped before the sign and let him pass so that he and Corrine could reach the sign together. They would tell me later they really appreciated me doing that for them.

IMG_5765

We were now on the start of the final ridge line and at 5681 metres. Tears welled in my eyes as I realised I was almost on the roof of Africa. The track eased as we descended a little into the top of the crater to head across the ridge to Stella Point. It was a relief to be walking downhill for a change and it felt easy. I was very tired and feeling every step by now and all I wanted to  do was sit down and rest, but there was work to be done and a mountain to summit. I now felt like this was very much going to happen.

The team had thinned out a bit on the ascent as coldness and altitude sickness claimed a couple of us. This was not an uncommon thing on Kilimanjaro. You may think its a trek, but it is definitely, most definitely a very serious game to play. This is the hardest thing I have ever done physically and I am accustomed to pain and suffering…….I climb rocks for fun!!!

We arrived at Stella Point and rested briefly while our lead guide discussed the last 140 vertical metres with us. The terrain was easy and the track well carved but this is where you need to be aware. At the summit we have a fifteen minute window to take photos and to take in the scenery.

IMG_5779

Looking up at the summit about two kms away, it  seemed so incredibly close and the our guide William said “it will take another forty minutes to an hour.

IMG_5775

We set off and fell into line automatically as we had done over the course of the night. the sun now sharing it warmth with us as we moved upward to the plateau below the summit. The glacier wall to the left of us was the most unbelievable sight with a frozen lake below it and the sun light shining over it. This lunar surface and ice-scape was so surreal it felt like I was in a science fiction film. As we came up over the rise and moved around a slight corner, people started to walk past me on their way back down and they were moving very fast. I thought they must have cruised it.

IMG_5782

As I turned around to look back I realised I was the only one still with William and we were about 300 metres from our goal. Jared was a little ways back and Rowan was further away. Slowly moving towards the summit with my head down I saw a shadow on the ground and and was pleased to see it was Jared. He had pushed on and we were soon joined by Rowan……the shadows were long and they were further away than I thought.

I looked up and William had stopped. We were there………we were there!!!! 8595 metres above the ocean, standing on the roof of Africa and I had summited Mount Kilimanjaro. The highest free standing mountain on earth. I waited for Jared and we shook hand and hugged each other congratulating rowan as he joined us at the top.

IMG_5766

I placed my headphones in my ears and hit  the play button. Looking out and taking some photos of the sunrise and hearing the percussion sounds in my ears was wonderful as the tears again welled in my eyes. I hear the drums echoing tonight, she hears only wishers of some quiet conversation……..these words rang true for me at this time and I was totally overwhelmed with what I had done.

It was the closest to my father I would be for a very longtime and I was feeling this very deeply at this time. As the song says: Its going to take a lot to drag me away from you, theres nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do. I bless the rains down in Africa……….going to take some time to do the things we never had…….oooooooo…….ooooo.

We took photos of each other at the summit sign and congratulated all of the team who made it.

Realising we were only half way there I said to William I was now going to head down and he smiled and joined me on the descent back down to Kibo for a well earned cup of tea. We were moving very fast as were the people I had witnessed on my way up. I was surprised at my energy levels and we hit the scree slope at about 5300 metres and began skiing with our poles down the mountain……it was truly incredible……..we had dropped to 4800 metres in about half an hour……it had taken us 7 hours to ascend the last 1200 metres and we were back at the huts in 2 hours on the descent.

This was one of the greatest experiences of my life and if you have the desire and will to dream you can really achieve anything.

Thanks for reading and dream on 🙂

the adventure continues:- and the mountain knows we are coming………..

Leaving Horombo Hut this morning was a slightly slower process as we all headed up the trail and followed our guides, settling into a pass that was our own. Some of us walked a little faster than others and we were told it was ok to go out ahead if the pass felt uncomfortable or inhibiting. The weather was incredible yet again and the terrain was truly amazing. We have been told that today is the day that the environment becomes like the lunar surface.

IMG_5741
Preparing to leave Camp 2

I used to think this hiking stuff is truly overrated. On my trip so far I have had the opportunity to hike into some of the most picturesque and majestic places one could possibly imagine. I have changed my opinion on hiking a lot but, I would seriously not be doing this if there wasn’t a mountain at the end of it that is nearly 6000 metres in height.

IMG_5742
Merawazi Peak

As I walked I was thinking about how apparently Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti…..Toto surely took some poet license writing Africa. There were no drums echoing in the night, nor were there wild dogs crying out in the night… If I could see the Serengeti if and when I summit the beast I would be stoked as the skies would be incredibly clear and the view overwhelming, but that wont happen as the weather is surrounding us with white puffy pillows of precipitation….however I did definitely associate with the line “I seek to cure whats deep inside, frightened of this thing that I’ve become.” You have plenty of time to be introspective when walking to the foot of a mountain.

IMG_5744
The trail down into the saddle.

As we descended into the slight valley before the crossing of the saddle, we walked for another 40 minutes to where we having lunch and the wind had picked up a lot and it was really pushing into the right hand side of my body as I moved onward. I was out in front at this stage and busting for the loo and some food in my stomach. I pushed forward toward the boulder field ahead of me.

IMG_5745
Standing on top of the boulder the view was awesome……….panorama shots are weird man!

Settling into a wind free environment at 4550 metres when all that is available is rugged rocky out crops. I thought to myself, I wish I had my climbing shoes. The boulders were of a considerably large size and I thought I may be able to steal a few first ascents on my way up. Lunch went down too quickly and I was on my feet taking a few shots of the surrounding area. I scrambled up onto one of the large boulders and snapped away happily for a few minutes.

We could see the Kibo huts from the lunch spot and it feels so so close. Truth was it was another hour or so before we would be taking off our packs and bedding down early for our summit bid that will start at midnight tonight.

IMG_5748
Standing at the foot of the mountain.

the adventure continues:- walking above the clouds and incredible rock towers.

Waking up at 2720 metres was less of an ordeal than I thought it would be. Walking out of the hut, the sky was a little overcast and the chill in the air was refreshing to say the least. I love that cold air on my skin and waking up a little cold sometimes.

Last night I went to sleep with a mild headache and my feet were aching. This was not from my brand new hiking boots either, it was just walking for 5 kms through the rainforest up and down and round. I slept very well and felt great when my eyes opened.

Last of the rainforest........
Last of the rainforest……..

Todays journey would take us through the end of the rainforest and into the moorlands of this great mountain. The path well trodden and the wildlife slowly changing and somewhat disappearing were the perfect indicators of this phenomenon. We went through this strange middle ground that was like the bush in Australia that you see near the sea on the eastern coast of my home state of New South Wales. It was truly remarkable. One of the other Aussies on the journey noticed it to and we smiled and thought of home.

As we moved higher and higher in altitude I noticed a visible change in the way I was moving my body forward. It was going from a long stride to a very much medium stride and I was beginning to breathe a little more frequently. This was my first real experience of altitude as we reached approx. 3300 metres. We stopped for lunch for about 45 minutes and there was a strange mist that would roll in and surround the grasslands and it would threaten to rain, without success. We were being truly blessed with the weather we were having. A little overcast but still dry and cool. Just what you want when hiking…………….

IMG_5798

We had about another hour and a half to go before we reached camp 2 and the clouds were now below us on the left hand side of the trail. It was truly amazing to be walking through the clouds and peering up at some incredible rock towers to the right. The Mawenzi towers on the right were closed to tourists and climbers as the rock is apparently very unstable and there have been many deaths there.

Above the clouds.......
Above the clouds…….

As we approached 3600 metres the landscape began to change a little again and the moorlands began to disappear and the trees shrank down to the equivalent of the Australian  scrub. These weird Jurassic looking trees were spread out across the grasslands. Beautiful wildflowers began popping up and the occasional bottle brush type thing would be right there in front of us. The flowers were tiny and they were stunning. Up and across the little foot bridge and up around the corner and there was camp 2. Horombo Huts we as far as we were going today and we would be sleeping 6 to a hut.

Jurassic Tree.......weird looking thing it was.
Jurassic Tree…….weird looking thing it was.
Oh pretty........they were.
Oh pretty……..they were.
Unknown bottle brush thingy...........
Unknown bottle brush thingy………..
On the way in to camp the sky cleared and WOW!!!!
On the way in to camp the sky cleared and WOW!!!!

We walked in and all registered our arrival. Signing in and registering at each camp is a great way to keep an eye on the number of people that are at camp and that also descend. I wouldn’t think that with the number of people that go on this journey each year that many get left behind, but apparently it has happened in the past. Its time for a nap and then dinner and more sleeping. Oh and a few games of arsehole………great game and so much fun with the group………good people.

IMG_5797

the adventure continues:- dare to dream and follow your heart…………Pole pole.

Today I embark on the most exciting and difficult physical journey of my life. I have just celebrated turning 49 years old; yesterday. I am beginning my journey climbing my first mountain. Today I am climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. This 5895 metre peak has been on my dream list for the last 8 years and I want to listen to Toto’s song “Africa” if I indeed reach the summit. I have no expectations about this as the mountain has humbled more than a few serious trekkers and mountaineers. I am a mountain and altitude virgin.

As I sign my name in the book at the office at the visitors centre at the Kilimanjaro National Park I think to myself……holy shit this is actually happening. I am with 10 other climbers in my group whom I have no idea about and we have a crew of 33 porters, cooks, guides and leaders to get the 11 of us to the summit over the next 72 hours. I have read about the logistics of climbing the biggest of mountains but seeing this becoming a reality is truly amazing.

Once we have completed the sign in process, our group leader James hands us over to our guides Vandalin who will lead the group and William at the back to make sure we maintain a standard pace. We check our gear and verify our day packs have the water and snacks we require for the first days hiking through the Tanzanian rainforest area. It is warm and humid and we have a short 5km hike to complete. It is 11am on 18th October 2015.

As we start to walk I am shocked at the speed at which we set out. I am thinking to myself we are at about 1900 metres and heading to 2720 metres and we are walking so incredibly slowly this 5kms will take us hours. The lead guide is keeping us all at a snails pass and then I realise……….he is training us to be patient and to take our time. We will need this knowledge later on in the trek.

The rainforest is truly stunning and the thickness of the undergrowth is amazing. Beautiful little birds in all shapes, colours and sizes flash past us and we move onward and upward toward our goal; the Mandara Hut. We are staying here for a night and we are at 2720 metres altitude above mean sea level (AMSL). This is a little different to sleeping in the Serengeti where everything can pretty much kill you, but its important to remember that there is one thing that can really get you as you ascend into the 2800 metres and above. Not everyone is affected but its better to be aware then not. There is no room for ego’s on this mountain.

A very happy hiker.
A very happy hiker.

The hike to the Mandara Hut is just an incredible thing. You have so much time to get in your head and to just think through what you are about to do and whats been going on in your life over the last however long. I feel very introspective during this three hours and ask a few questions here and there of the guides. Vandalin and I trade life stories. He is married with four kids and has been doing this job for about 8 years. He has summited over 100 times and has experienced altitude sickness a few times at various heights. He says to group “Pole pole” pronounced “poh lay poh lay”…..this is Swahili for “slowly slowly”.

We arrive at the huts at about 3pm and settle in tour shared accommodation and start to chat with our bunk buddies. The reasons we are here, where we are from and what we all do in the real world. Dinner is at 6pm and right now we settle in for some tea and popcorn…….I know weirdest thing ever right? Its just what you need and it goes down a treat. We then hike up another few hundred metres of altitude to have a look at one of the smaller craters at the base of the mountain and come back down to rest before dinner.

The nameless crater at about 3000 metres. I can't remember the name of it.
The nameless crater at about 3000 metres. I can’t remember the name of it.

We have a great meal that is filling and truly tasty. Zucchini soup was the thing I remember the most. It was one of the best meals of the trip. After dinner we head back to our huts and sleep as we have another solid day tomorrow.

the adventure continues:- every great journey begins with a single step………

Today I arrived at the Kibo Hotel. I was expecting a little more than what I got. But beggars cant be chooser’s. This is the starting point for all things to do with Mount Kilimanjaro and its history. Ironically it has not been renovated since the day it was opened. It is in the town of Manunga, which is a little sleepy town that has very primitive amenities and a population of about 12000 people.

My room at the Kibo
My room at the Kibo

The hotel is famous not only for it’s Kili history, but also because former American President Jimmy Carter stayed there when he climbed the mountain in 1988. I couldn’t help myself with my American counterparts on this trip. They said “did you know Jimmy Carter stayed at this hotel?” I replied “Who’s Jimmy Carter?”. The other Aussies on the trip knew exactly what I was doing.

I asked them if they knew who the Australian Prime Minister was. There was silence…….oh well. 🙂

The bar in the Kibo is awesome. there is not much to say other than it reminded me of a 1950’s African movie scene. Big open fire in a hearth, lots of space, a beautiful wooden floor and deep lounge chairs. this place is made for those cold winter nights that we have back home in the mountains. I really do miss the mountains at home sometimes, but this week I have a bigger mountain to climb.

This bar is the classic iconic African movie bar....truly inspired.
This bar is the classic iconic African movie bar….truly inspired.

I am really excited about the adventure I am about to embark on. This has been a plan in my head for about 10 years and I am finally standing here. Kilimanjaro is the worlds biggest free-standing mountain and at 5895 metres (not putting in feet, learn to convert!) it is no give-away. It is is called a trekking peak, however at altitude there are always factors that will test even the fittest of climbers.

the view was fabulous to say the least.
The view was fabulous to say the least.

We have now met our group leader James. He is a robust Tanzanian man who takes his job very seriously and wants us to be very clear on what we are about to take on. There are 33 people involved in the logistics of getting the 11 people in our group to the summit and back down safely. This is something that I had not taken into consideration and am now very much aware of what these people do to help us meet our summit goals.

The weather was a little bit dubious I must say.
The weather was a little bit dubious I must say.

It is a 76km round trip to the summit and back down to the gate (as it is known). Tomorrow is a relatively easy push of three and a half hours of hiking to the Mandara Hut at 2720 metres above sea level, the following day is five hours (11kms) to 3720 metres to Horombo. Day three is 5 hours (9kms) up to Kibo Hut at 4720 metres. Then that night we begin our summit bid at 12:00am; 6kms and 1200 vertical metres. It will take us approx. 6.5-7 hours.

I am totally psyched about this as I have wanted to do it for many years now and have talked about it long enough. To make the experience complete and align with my absolute passion for music I want to listen to Toto’s song Africa if I reach the summit.

the adventure continues:- collapsed volcano creates haven for wildlife………welcome to Ngorongoro Crater

Leaving the Serengeti National Park heading south west to the entrance to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania the road gets a lot more aggressive and the truck bounces viciously up and down. My teeth are beginning to rattle with the movement and the rest of the group are feeling it. This is just what you have to deal with as part of the “real life” adventures that Intrepid Travel offers in Africa. AND……….Its Africa!!!!! Its not a majorly developed nation with sealed roads throughout and all the modern amenities that we “consumers” have grow to know and love.

The border of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Areas.
The border of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Areas.

All of a sudden Phil bounces out of his seat and says stop the truck! Our driver Vinnie stops at the request of our tour leader Julius and reverses up to a left turn with a nice little brick sign that says “Olduvai Gorge” Museum 5kms. This is in the middle of nowhere and if you travel 5kms down this road you will get to the place where it all started. Homo habilis, probably the first early human species, occupied Olduvai Gorge approximately 1.9 million years ago. This people is “The  Cradle of Life.” This unexpected stop just to photograph a sign was wonderful. It should be included on the tour that we are doing. We could have spent an hour or two in the museum and it would have been a highlight for sure.

This is the road to where it all started.
This is the road to where it all started.

Now in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area traditional Masai housing starts to become the norm and tribesmen are herding their famous cattle across the plains. The traditional dress is wonderful to see and I find it amazing that these tough, robust people still choose to live a simple life on the land and share it with some the best predators on earth. I am sure they have a healthy respect for the animals, however the animals surely think differently about that.

As we start to ascend out of the plains we come across a larger Masai settlement where a multitude of people are sitting on the side of the road we are on. They are simply sitting and chatting away from the village and then Julius explains they are waiting for tourists to come past to peddle their traditional wares for a buck.

The locals chilling' on the hill next to the village.
The locals chilling’ on the hill next to the village.

At the top of the rise we turn left into a car park (its a dust bowl) and jump out of the truck. we are now standing on the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater an it is truly an incredible sight. This massive hole in the ground is an absolute playground for the wildlife that live at the bottom of it. It is 260 kilometres square and is an inactive volcanic caldera. Tomorrow we will descend into the crater for a game drive to see if we can spot the extremely rare and almost extinct Black Rhino. Tonight we camp on the rim of the volcano along with about two hundred other safari crazy tourists who have turned out for exactly the same reason we have.

Ngorongoro Crater from the rim.
Ngorongoro Crater from the rim.

As the morning sun peaks over the rim we are already awake and having breakfast, packing tents, making lunches and generally preparing for the game drive. Three 4×4’s with safari turrets turn up ready to accommodate our group and we head off to the crater. Slowly submerging into the crater the wildlife begins t appear with Hyena, a Jackal or two and a few Warthogs. Has anyone ever noticed that Warthogs look like the singers from most 1980’s heavy metal bands? Just sayin’!

An 80's heavy rock singer in fancy dress.
An 80’s heavy rock singer in fancy dress.

IMG_5678

Approaching the first waterhole there is a small herd of buffalo present and just knee deep in the water. They ignore any intrusion that we attempt as I am sure we are just an annoyance in their playground. We approach the flatlands and begin to drive through the main part of the crater. This is a truly magical experience and standing up looking out of the turret is how this should be done. Off in the distance I spot a very large bull elephant; about 1.5 kms away from us. this big fella is enormous.

One of the many waterholes in the crater, abundant wildlife surround it.
One of the many waterholes in the crater, abundant wildlife surround it.
River Horses - Kibato - Hippos.
River Horses – Kibato – Hippos.

I could write about this place for hours and still not completely describe how amazing it really is. This for me was the highlight of the first week. Spectacular is only one of the words that I choose to describe this place. I just one waterhole there were thirty species of animals and about twenty five bird species including pink pelicans. Just wonderful……….what an experience.

Exiting the Crater.
Exiting the Crater.

And……..it wouldn’t be complete without the “Silhouette Giraffe Sunset” photograph…….

Enough said!
Enough said!