Walls, Perseverance and Barry

Day 5 on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Today we conquered the Barranco Wall. It looms large on most Kili hikes as it stands 850 feet above Barranco Camp, and it’s the first thing you do after breakfast and heading out. It’s primarily a scramble, working your way over rocks and boulders via a number of switchbacks. You use hands and feet to pull yourself up at some points and slowly make your way to the top. We go slowly—”Pole! Pole!” in Swahili—and it’s great preparation for the pace to the summit.

Noah, Barry and I at Karanga Camp with the Kili summit in the background. Phil LaBelle, 2017.

While Noah and I had a blast—it reminded us of the Beehive Trail in Acadia—others not so much. Especially Barry.

A Reflection On Africa

A Guest Post from Noah LaBelle

“It’s different cultures that make the world go ’round at the end of the day.” -Samantha Fox

Noah LaBelle, 2017.

When I was about to start the trip to Africa, all I was thinking about was the mountain, not anything else about the trip as a whole. Not the fact that I would get to experience something that I had never experienced before. I had been to 2 different countries outside of the USA before I went to Tanzania, the UK and Canada. Before I flew from the Amsterdam airport to Kilimanjaro International Airport, my American body had never touched down onto second world soil, let alone be among the ones on third world ground. When people ask about the adventure, they only ask about the mountain. They have no idea it was so much more.

Gaining Elevation and Giving It Back

Day 4 on Mt. Kilimanjaro

We hiked up to Lava Tower Camp this morning getting us to over 15,200 of elevation. It’s an acclimatization climb to see how we do at the higher elevation—Lava Tower sits at about the same elevation as our base camp prior to summiting. As the name implies, there’s a huge rock formation made out of lava that looks to be another 800+ feet tall from the camp area. We’re closer to Kibo, the summit of Kilimanjaro, and see the results of that volcanic eruption so many years ago.

Looking toward the summit. Phil LaBelle, 2017.

With the tower of lava came more boulders. Big, dark rocks that we had to maneuver around on the trail. Noah and I had seen similar trails in the White Mountains except they’re littered with granite and other light colored rocks. But getting around boulders at 15,000 feet is another thing entirely. We could really feel the lack of oxygen as we hiked.

The Joy of Trekking

Day 3 on Mt. Kilimanjaro

After dinner last night, I spent a long time looking at the stars. The Milky Way spills out over where we are tenting more than I’ve ever seen before—including the Badlands this summer. None of the constellations looked familiar early in the evening, and I tried to find the Southern Cross. I went to bed filled with anticipation for Day 3 which includes a gentler hike across the Shira Plateau.

Group of 7 near Moir Camp. (c) Julianne Walker, 2007.

Noah woke feeling much, much better. He had a huge smile, and we joked around as we prepared for the day. Trekking clothes on, day packs filled, sleeping bags put away, duffles closed up, and then off to breakfast.

The Hardest Part of the Wilderness

Day 2 on Mt. Kilimanjaro

We had a long warm day. Lots of PUDs — pointless up and downs — on the trail as we came out of the shade of the rain forest and into the short vegetation. Sun very intense. We’d gain 400 feet of elevation and give back half of it.

Noah on the trail. Phil LaBelle, 2017.

Noah got quite ill on the trail. Upset stomach and getting quite overheated from the sun. I had to stop and pour water on him a few times along the way. The rest of our group was fantastic, encouraging him and telling him not to worry about the stops.

Beginnings of a Long Trek

Day 1 on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Excitement. There’s really no other way to describe the first day of our trek to Mt. Kilimanjaro. We had to be out the door of our hotel and ready by 8am, so we spent the night before separating and packing our things—items we needed on the mountain and those we could leave behind at the hotel—weighing our trekking duffle to make sure it wasn’t too heavy for porters, and dreaming what it would all be like.

Getting ready to leave Bristol Cottages in Moshi for our Kilimanjaro Trek. Phil LaBelle, 2017.

After breakfast, we put water in our Nalgene bottles, loaded up our day packs with rain gear, snacks and the like, and finally hopped on small bus that would take us to the gate. Most of that first day was driving. Three hours along the roads to get us to the gate at Mt. Kilimanjaro National Park to check in officially with passport numbers and all our info. All the gear had to be weighed again for the porters—this is a wonderful thing to make sure those carrying gear aren’t being overloaded—and we had a box lunch.

Before the Trek

God moves in mysterious ways. Some might call it serendipity or perhaps coincidence. Others might go so far as to call it divine intervention. I’ll just leave it at the realm of heavenly mystery.

Noah with teammates from Amani. Phil LaBelle, 2017.

Upon our arrival at Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO, for those who want to know), Noah and I dealt with customs, collected our bags and headed out into the night. Our tour company informed us we’d be met by a driver holding up a sign with their logo and our name. I quickly found him and he came to help us with our bags.

Reflecting on Kilimanjaro

We’ve been back in Boston for less than a day. Most of our clothes from the trek have been washed and dried already—the dirt from our trek lingering now only on our boots and hiking poles and under my fingernails (not sure how many times I have to clean them before it all comes out). Both Noah and I fell asleep early last night and woke up while it was still dark thanks to the jet lag.

View of Mt. Kilimanjaro from Millennium Camp. Phil LaBelle,  2017.

For those who watched our route on the Garmin site or who follow me on Instagram know that we summited Africa’s highest peak on Monday, but there’s much more to the story. The summit occupies only one part of the past fourteen days; the experience was made in the journey.

Trying to Prepare for the Unexpected

Unlike my son Noah, I’ve never been a Boy Scout. I’ve got five years as a den leader for Cub Scouts under my belt, and I’ve camped out with Noah’s Scout troop a few times. Even the uninitiated know the Scout motto: Be prepared.

Phil LaBelle, 2017.

I’m pretty fastidious when it comes to planning and thinking through things that I may need along the way, especially as I head out into the wilderness, but even so that doesn’t mean I’ve thought of everything. I try to imagine what could happen and then fill my pack—bringing extra batteries, having something for blisters, carrying an emergency bivy sack. It makes for a heavier bag, of course, but I’m fine with that.

How to Follow Our Kilimanjaro Trek

We leave for Africa in a few days. Eighteen hours of travel time via Amsterdam to get to Kilimanjaro. Our trek begins this Tuesday (8/8) with a summit push on Monday, August 14.

Screen capture of the Garmin tracking site.

I know some of you have expressed an interest in following us. I won’t be blogging for the next couple of weeks—that lack of wifi on the mountain thing—but I do have a satellite gps device from Garmin that sends out tracking information every 10 minutes or so for you to follow along.

To do so, go to: https://share.garmin.com/PhilLaBelle/. A map will show up, and you’ll be able to see the waypoints of our hikes along the way. I used it today on my last training hike—a little under 2 miles at nearby Mt. Wachusett—so you should see that one right now. Tanzania is 7 hours ahead of Eastern Time. Additionally, on most days our hiking will take 4-6 hours. If you check the site by 9am here in East, we’ll likely be done for the day. On our summit push, we’re slated to leave in the darkness at 3am (8pm Eastern) and hike 10-12 hours or so.

I’ll blog once more before I head out, but wanted to get this information out there. Thanks for your support!