The Day I Thought I Might Die: Flowfold & L.L.Bean Take on Mt. Kilimanjaro
March 21, 2018
I had always intended on blogging about Kilimanjaro. With a 40% fail rate (our route) I thought I might end up writing about dealing with failure and accepting loss. Or maybe I’d touch on the comparisons of adventuring with entrepreneurship and what you learn about yourself along the way. Maybe I’d write about the L.L.Bean X Flowfold co-Lab and what makes it special. Of course, there was the obvious, I could have always written about the packs themselves. Or even why two Maine companies flew halfway around the world to test the prototypes and why Mt. Kilimanjaro was the perfect place to do it. I figured there wasn’t going to be a lack of storylines so I journaled along the way, cataloging my thoughts and my feelings throughout a physically, mentally, and emotionally draining experience, the likes of which I’ve never gone through before. This was the first time I’ve journaled actually, and there was something oddly therapeutic about it. I had trouble going to sleep each night without first putting my thoughts to paper. I’m not entirely sure if I’ll continue to journal or not, but I can tell you for sure that I’m grateful I started while in Africa. There was plenty of time on the 11 hour flight from Kilimanjaro International Airport to Amsterdam for me to narrow my focus and decide on a topic to share with you all. So I sat there, sleep deprived, calves cramping, lips and face windburned and blistered, and just read. Read what I had written on the trail in its rawest form. It soon became very obvious to me. I didn’t need to create a story. I had already written it. Other than removing and cleaning up a few swears (I apparently swear like pirate when fatigued and stressed), this is verbatim from my journal. What you see below is EXACTLY what I was thinking and feeling along the 7 day journey atop the world's highest free standing mountain. I hope you enjoy it.
Sunday 2/25: 9:30 am- Somewhere over Africa
I’m an idiot. I actually thought that I could outsmart TIME. Our first flight was out of Boston was at 7:30 pm and would be about 7 hours long. So in our brains, we’d be landing around 2:30 am or 8:30 am local time. This, I knew, would be a challenging flight. The goal was to sleep as much as possible on this flight while not sleeping at all from Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro. I needed to get my brain on Tanzania time as quickly as possible. So my brilliant a$$ decided to wake up at 4 am on Saturday morning hoping I’d be tired enough to sleep on the first flight. It didn’t work. It’s now 9:30 am on Sunday which basically means I’ve been up for 29 hours. I’m in the air on my way to Tanzania and with just over 2 hours to go, it’s taking everything I have to stay awake. (Post Edit: 23* hours accounting for 6 hours of time change)
Monday 2/26, Day 0: 12:45 am- Aishi Machame Hotel
At this point, I’ve been up for 53 hours. I’m actually not sure that’s right. In fact, it has to be wrong. Either way, I’m in this weird sort of 4th wind, so tired you’re not tired state. So, let's journal. The drive to the hotel tonight was indescribable. It was dark and even though we are 3 degrees south of the equator, the air was cool. With the windows down, and the dry African air giving us a new sense of life and energy, we looked out the windows of the 9 person van and saw the faint outline of Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was nearly a full moon but I still couldn't believe this massive outline could possibly be the mountain I was going to attempt to walk up. We are going on a safari tomorrow and I’m hoping for a clear day so we can see her in the daylight. But for now, I’m going to try to sleep. Last thought; this is actually my first time sleeping in a mosquito net. I’m not really sure how to use it? Do I tuck it in? I’m a little worried I wont be able to get out of it in the middle of the night if I have to pee. (Post Edit: I was surprisingly close. It had been 56 hours (rounded down) but my groggy mind hadn’t factored in the 8 hour time change. 48 hours...I basically went 48 hours without sleep.)
Monday 2/26, Day 0: 7:00 am- Aishi Machame Hotel
I could have slept at least 17 more hours.
Monday 2/26, Day 0: 8:00 am- Aishi Machame Hotel
We just went to the roof of our hotel and saw her. My heart skipped a beat. Kilimanjaro is MASSIVE. We can see her ice caps above the clouds which is strange seeing as it’s going to be 90-100 degrees today. Not to get political (with myself?) but I think I read somewhere that, because of global warming, 80% of the icecap has gone away since 1912 and 55% since the 1960’s. The benefit of writing my own journal is that no one is fact checking me. (Post Edit: “Since 1912 Kilimanjaro has lost 82% of it’s ice cap, and since 1962 it has lost 55% of it’s remaining glaciers- all due to climate change. This pattern of retreat is not anticipated to change and most if not all the ice on top of Mount Kilimanjaro may be gone by 2040.")
Day 0, Monday 2/26 11:24 pm, Aishi Machame Hotel
Well, I just finished packing. Tomorrow is the day. Quick side note, apparently you don’t tuck in your mosquito net? News to me. Everyone had a good laugh today imagining my super tight and pointy mosquito net / bed tent. If you’re wondering if it was hard to get in and out of... well, it was. Anyway, today we did a safari at Arusha National Park. It was a big park with Mt. Meru on one side and Kilimanjaro on the other. It was beautiful but I admittedly need to work on my patience. I have trouble with these sorts of things. They were 1 hour late to pick us up, which didn’t help. But again, we’re in Africa. We are on African time. I’ve traveled enough to know that things often don’t go at the same speed I’m used to or would like. But even as much as I try to control it, I can’t help but get frustrated. It took us over an hour to get there with what appeared to be, several arbitrary check points by local authorities. Once there, I felt like I was in Jurassic Park. You know that scene when the scientists are getting frustrated in the jeeps because they don’t see anything? That was me until after lunch, and I didn’t get the benefit of a sick triceratops. BUT as the sun started to go down and the temps started to drop, the big animals came out to play. Or maybe it was just a coincidence, but either way, all the giraffes, zebras, water buffaloes and monkeys were easier to see and photograph as the tour came to a close. Regardless of the slow start, I ended up having a really good time and took some great photographs. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="none" ids="774028,774029"] We leave tomorrow at 9:30 am and head to the trail to weigh our bags and start our 7 day hike. Tomorrow is one of the longer days and certainly the hottest. We’ll be going through the rainforest starting at 5,900 feet and hiking roughly 5-6 hours before setting up camp at over 10,000 feet. We need to carry 4 liters of water on us. That’s almost 9 lbs of just water. Zack asked me a pretty interest question for the video this morning,
“Are you scared?"
My answer was a bit of a surprise to me but my answer would be the same as I write this now. I’m not scared for me, per se. I’m not scared of getting sick, getting cold, getting blisters, getting hit by a rock slide. I’m not scared of dying and not because the odds are low and certainly not because I welcome death. I’m afraid of failure. Not failing the summit. Who gives a shi*t? 4 days ago I spent an entire day with kids battling terminal illness. They are fighting for their lives, their families by their side. I’m fighting for, all things considered, a fairly meaningless accomplishment. We’ll have about 20 porters carrying our stuff and setting up camps, and a guide to lead the way. This isn’t chemotherapy. It’s not close. No, the failure I’m talking about isn’t in regards to summiting. I’m at ease about that. Once my feet hit the trail tomorrow, I only have two options: up or down. I can’t control AMS, HAPE, or HACE, so I’m not afraid of them. I’m afraid of letting my team down. This team with me and my Flowfold team back home. I’m afraid I pushed the limits of the crew with a 5.5 day ascent. I’m afraid they won’t like the packs. I’m afraid I won't deliver the content my Flowfold team and L.L.Bean team expect or want. I just don’t want to let anyone down. That’s really all I’m worried about. Because that, I can control. (Post Edit: Might be helpful for you to know that Zack Bowen came along to document the whole trip. We are testing prototype hiking packs for Flowfold and L.L.Bean so he’s come along to capture the footage. Also, AMS is Acute Mountain Sickness. Nearly 77% of climbers who come to Kilimanjaro get AMS in some form. It’s pretty much a certainty that climbers will feel the impact of the altitude. HAPE (High-Altitude pulmonary edema) and HACE (High-Altitude Cerebral edema) are less common but much more serious risks of climbing Kilimanjaro.)
Tuesday 2/27, Day 1: 9:24pm, Machame Camp, 9911 feet
Today was a long day. As I write this, I’m in my tent under my headlamp trying not to wake up Zack. Dinner was great and our porters and guides are awesome. Especially our head guide Jerald (Seen above). He has such a passion for the mountain and is super friendly. I also write this with a wool hat and down jacket on inside my sleeping bag. I’m surprised by how cold it already is on only day 1. It was very warm today and will be even hotter tomorrow when we get out from under the thick rainforest canopy. Tomorrow we’ll be a new climate zone but today was the lushest jungle I’ve seen since Bali. It’s incredible that we start and end this hike in a rainforest but on summit day we will be walking on glaciers in 0 degree weather.
Today was hard for me, not physically, but mentally. Jerald told us all:
“pole, pole or you’ll do poorly poorly.”
"Pole, Pole" means slowly slowly in swahili. The purpose of this isn’t lost on me. The slower we go, the more gradually we acclimatize, reducing the risks of AMS. I know it’s in my best interest to go slowly, but this is the slowest I’ve ever hiked. This is going to be a real mental challenge. Anyway, tomorrow is another day. We’ll start to feel symptoms of high altitude as we make our way up to nearly 12,900 feet. But tonight we go to sleep under a moonlit night sky so bright that if I were to walk outside right now, I’d see my shadow.
Wednesday 2/28, Day 2: 7:07 am, Machame Camp, 9911 feet
I slept like sh*t. My sleeping pad was like a goddamn bouncy house.
Wednesday 2/28, Day 2: 4:15 pm, Shira Hut Camp, 12,621 feet
I wish I could nap. We reached camp 2 around 1:30pm after starting around 8:30 am so it was a relatively short day. We only trekked around 3 miles and just shy of 3,000 feet of elevation gain. At our highest point we were 12,850 feet according to my watch. Tomorrow we’ll get as high as 4,600 meters, which at this point, I don’t have the brain capacity to convert to feet. I think around 15,000? As it is, this is the highest I’ve ever been and certainly the highest I’ve ever hiked. There hasn’t been much physical tole yet. I actually feel really good. No signs of AMS, no headaches or nausea. I’m really not even experiencing shortness of breath. The difficulties for me so far have been speed and sleep. Everyone is napping now but I’ve never been a napper. I envy nappers. Matt brown, who I’m immensely proud of, can sleep within minutes… ANYWHERE. He fell asleep during the safari while banging his head against the jeep so hard I thought it was going to break his sunglasses. It's his superpower. I wish I had a superpower. Today while hiking, we got passed by this group from France and it really bothered me. I looked behind me and Adam and Chris were laughing. They know me. They knew it killed me to get passed by another group. And there’s literally no reason for that to bother me. I really don’t think I’m an impatient person, but I certainly have impatient characteristics. I tried to hang out by the back of our group today and lasted maybe 20 minutes. I need to be in the front and I don’t know why. Probably for the same reason I just assume drive when I’m in a car, or rather take stairs than an elevator. I’m not a control freak but I like being in control… if that makes sense? Quick side note: I fell in love with a girl from New Zealand today. Her name was Jenny and I don’t know if it was the altitude or her accent, but I got light headed when she talked. We are for sure going to get married. (Post Edit: I was close. 4,600 meters is exactly 15,091.86 feet. I also still wish I had a superpower. Lastly, sadly it is very unlikely I marry Jenny. )
Thursday 3/01 Day 3: 5:30 pm, Barranco Camp, 13,159 feet
Today was a dynamic day. I think that’s the best way to describe it. I woke up for a sunrise which was one of the more beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. Mt. Meru was crystal clear to one side and Mt. Kilimanjaro showed herself completely on the other. The sky was pink and I was finally above the clouds. I’ve been waiting to be above the clouds since we booked this trip nearly a year ago. As we started, it was clear the we had transitioned climate zones. The trees were shorter and there was a bit less life in general. It was gorgeous in its own right, the alpine desert, but I think the stark contrast to the other two days is what really captured me. But what really made today dynamic was the weather. I always knew that the biggest challenge of Kilimanjaro, besides AMS, was going to be the the weather. The three things any climber has to absolutely ensure are
When it comes to the later, Kilimanjaro is a fickle mistress. Up to this point, it hasn’t rained on us, but on our way from 13,100 feet at camp to 15,500 feet for lunch, it rained or hailed on us for at least 3 hours. Rain, although annoying and uncomfortable, is actually pretty easy to manage with the right gear. I had both shells on and my waterproof boots so rain itself was not the challenge. The challenge was that it was in the mid 30’s or low 40’s in the rain and then high 70’s in the sun. Layers continued to come on and off. The enemy is dampness and that can come from rain or sweat so it was a constant battle of layers. From a pack perspective, I was extremely nervous. I’m not here to ruin this trip for my friends, and a wet bag is probably the fastest way to do that. These bags are extremely well made. I watched with my own eyes as Charley and Maxine put them together, stitch by stitch. The material and zippers are waterproof and the roll top itself creates a very waterproof design. But we don’t tape the seams and to makes matters worse, the rain wasn’t coming from above. This rain was near horizontal with the left side of our bodies and bags getting constantly hammered. The packs ended up doing very well, even without a pack cover, the insides were completely dry. Today was a big day for the packs. I’m happy about that. As for me? Well at this point, I’m a little confused. Everything I’ve read and every documentary I’ve watched, has shown people at this stage with at least moderate symptoms of AMS. Some of the Flowfold team has admittedly lost their appetite or battled headaches and I walked by vomit a few times, but overall, we are all doing well. It’s just odd how well I feel. My only issue is tingling fingers and toes. I’m a little worried about my hands. I think I may have signs of raynaud's. I don’t think I have great circulation so I’m feeling that now. Oh, and I’m doing better with pole pole. I started listening to an audiobook today and I was much more at ease. I liked talking to everyone but the team is starting to dial in their focus as the climb becomes harder, so I decided to try an audiobook recommendation from my friend Chaya Harris. It gave me something else to focus on other than how slow we were going. I can tell that the lack of sleep is catching up to me though. I get emotional when I’m tired and there was a really sad part of the audiobook that made me straight up cry. I think Andrea might have heard me sobbing but she never called me out on it. I’m glad I’m more comfortable letting emotions out (wish more men did) but that doesn’t change the fact that it was a little weird that I was crying at 14,000 feet. (Post Edit: Tingling sensations while on Diamox are common side effects of the high altitude medication. Oh and the book that made me cry was Red Rising. VERY good and highly recommend)
Thursday 3/01 Day 3: 8:30 pm, Barranco Camp, 13,159 feet
I think I might be the first person in the history of Kilimanjaro that gains weight. They call this the “luxury” summit of the 7 summits and for all the obvious challenges I’ve mentioned, “luxury” isn’t that far off. This is tough, and will likely be the toughest physical challenge I’ve ever had to overcome, but you’re legally obligated to hire a guide service. There’s Jerald, our head guide, who is slowly becoming my best friend and 3 assistant guides (Prosper, Naftael, and Godson). After that, there’s about 20 porters carrying up to 30lbs of our gear plus our tents and even a portable bathroom. But more importantly, they carry the food. LOT’S of it. And since I’m not sick and averaging over 23,000 steps per day, I’m eating everything in sight. Our head cook, Vensin, knows his way around a camp kitchen, let’s just say that. We are all in our tents for the night at this point. There is a thunderstorm outside and my tent just completely lit up from lightning. If I was hoping to catch up on sleep, I don't think it’ll be tonight.
Friday 3/02, Day 4: 2:28 pm, Karranga Camp: 13,104 feet
This morning I woke up to the sound of Matt puking. It appears that altitude is a thing after all. Fortunately for Matt, it was one quick pull and he was good. Sort of like a high altitude boot and rally. I didn’t sleep much again last night. From about 10 pm - 2 am was the single worst thunderstorm I’ve ever slept through. Granted, I’ve only camped out a couple times in my life. Now that I think about it, I’ve never even done a multi-day hike before. I guess starting with the world's highest free standing mountain was a good place to start? Either way, it appears sleeping in tents is a skill I don’t yet possess. But back to the storm. There were moments that the tent would completely light up from lightning and then within seconds there would be a deafening crack of thunder. The storm was RIGHT above us. The light and sounds were tough to sleep through, but it was the fear that kept me up. These were terrifying conditions and I knew that the next two campsites were going to be much colder. I was up all night nervous about my sleeping bag and gear getting wet. To make matters worse, the rain wasn’t stopping. It kept raining, all damn night. I knew the next day we’d be scrambling up the near vertical Barranco Wall to an altitude of nearly 14,000 feet. I did NOT want to do that in the rain. This was an additional day for acclimatization. We started at and ended at roughly 13,100 feet with the high point of the day coming atop Barranco Wall. It reminded me of Knifes Edge a little. We zig-zagged up the steep face of the wall, at times needing both hands to climb up the rock face. I was glad I had rock climbing experience for this. It was actually a really fun climb. Many of the team said it was their favorite day as well. It eventually stopped raining and gave us stunning new views of the mountain. She’s HUGE now. What was rain for us last night was snow higher up, so we hiked today with a new snow covered view of her. It’s 2:44 pm and we’re done for the day. Some other groups went straight to the next camp. I wish we had. I know pole pole is my best chance to summit, but the hiking so far has been easy for me. The camping has sucked. I’m not sleeping well and I’m either way too hot or way too cold. The temperature on this mountain is temperamental as hell. I haven’t mentioned the team yet. Ladies first. There are three amazingly strong and resilient young women (Amanda, Andrea, and Amy) on the Flowfold team. They are, without a question, more organized, more patient, and able to maintain focus for longer than us guys. I have the feeling that we are driving them nuts to be honest. Especially since Adam, Mark, Chris, Zack and I are all either videoing or taking photos the entire time. I’m grateful for them though. They are all wearing the Flowfold hiking packs around the camp sights and rockin their Flowfold shirts and hats every day. They are letting us take tons of photos and video. They are amazing. Meanwhile, we’re a bunch of smelly goons eating more than our fair share of food. But, at the end of the day, we can pee standing up. When camping, that means something. We’ll chalk that one up as a win for the guys. (Post Edit: For those not familiar, Knife's edge is from Mt. Katahdin in Maine. It’s one of Maine’s most famous hikes and our highest point at 5,267 feet. Hard to believe we were OVER 3.5X higher than that at Uhuru Peak.)
Saturday, 3/03, Day 5: 5:51 am, Karranga Camp: 13,104 feet
This sucks. This officially f*cking sucks. It’s 5:51 am and I’ve been up for three hours. The wind is howling and it’s raining again outside. The inside of the tent is wet and at this point, so am I. It’s cold and with every gust of wind, I imagine this tent being blown off the mountain, leaving me here in my sleeping bag like a cold, helpless pig in a blanket. THIS is exactly why I just assumed go to straight to high camp. It’s now 6 am and wake up call is in 30 minutes. I’m starting to get the feeling that this is going to be a really miserable hike to high camp.
Saturday, 3/03, Day 5: 2:55 pm, Barafu camp: 15,328 feet
Well, I’m 30 years old and still haven’t figured out how to drink out of a nalgene bottle without spilling on myself. And my nose is burnt AF. But other than that, today was a relatively straight forward day. Until that is, I started seeing the porters taking pictures of the snow covered trail. This is when I knew we were F*cked. I was told that rainy season wouldn’t start while my team was on the mountain.
“Maybe showers day 1 in the rainforest, but nothing otherwise"
I was also assured that there’d be no snow on our route and told several times that we would not need microspikes or crampons for walking on snow/ice.
When we arrived at our final camp before summit, the porters were still busy digging out the snow for our tents. I looked at Jerald and he, seeing the concern and confusion on my face, said
“This is not normal”
The altitude hadn’t made me feel sick yet, but THIS did. Jerald has summited this mountain over 250 times so to have him say this weather is “not normal” made be feel very uneasy. It only got worse from here. This camp is where climbers start and end their summit push. They leave early (midnight), reach the summit around sunrise and then come back down for lunch. That’s how it’s supposed to go anyway. We didn’t start seeing people come down until closer to 1pm and these were the groups who failed. Some being physically helped down with a porter on either arm. One group told us they made it to 18,000 feet, just 1,341 feet shy of the summit. They failed and had been on the mountain for over 12 hours! I know people say it’s not about the view, but f*ck, I want a view. If I just wanted to kick the sh*t out of myself for 7 days to test my will, I’m sure there are cheaper and easier ways to do that closer to home. Obviously I want to summit and say I did it, and I’ll crawl hands and f*cking knees, inch by inch, if I have to. But man, I really hope it’s not another blizzard for our summit attempt. Anyway, Jerald would be upset with me. I’m supposed to be sleeping right now. It’s just after 3 pm. I have barely slept all week, so it’s laughable to think I’ll sleep now. Dinner is at 5:30 pm and I’ll be shocked if I sleep a wink now or after dinner. 11 pm is when our “day” starts and I’m fully prepared to be operating 100% on adrenaline and pure will.
Sunday, 3/04, Day 6: 7:04 pm, High camp, 12,539 feet
I thought I might die today... But I’ll get to that. Let’s start here: I summited. 19341 feet. CHECK. In fact, 8 out of 9 of us reach Uhuru Peak (the highest point on Mt. Kilimanjaro and on the continent of Africa). As predicted, I couldn’t sleep. At 10:30 pm I took all my summit clothes that I had packed a few hours before and put them in my sleeping bag. I spooned them for about 15 minutes to get them to warmed up. I got changed, packed up, met the team for some tea, and started our summit push around midnight. It was a full moon but cloudy so we took slow step by slow step under headlamps until around 6:30 am. By that time we were meaningfully higher than we’ve ever been (I’d assume near 18,000 feet) but still hours away from the summit. It was right around then that I started to get emotional. It had been a cold and dreadfully slow 6.5 hours but the conditions were tough and the mountain demanded that. My toe warmers felt frozen at this point and may have been working against me. I was cold, very cold. But as light started to hit the horizon, I turned behind me to see our porters supporting members of the Flowfold team by carrying their bags (on top of their own mind you). They were holding the struggling climbers by the arms encouraging them and even singing to them. I was blown away by the showcase of human spirit. Although I had no signs of AMS, several on the team were pushing themselves beyond the limits any of us thought possible. It was was gut wrenching and heart warming at the same time. My heart broke for a member of our team who had to turn back. She fought so hard. Harder than anything I’ve ever seen in my life. I am amazed by her as I write this. But the mountain was not worth her life. It was the right decision for her to turn back. It was a brave decision. Without the guides, I think 2 other climbers would have likely turned back with her. I’m not a spiritual person, but the guides were angels for us that day. Myself included, as I would later find out. We continued to climb on well into the morning until we reached Stella Point (18,885 feet). Although not the summit, this is effectively when the push is over. At least that is what we thought. We had been told that it was just a short trek to Uhuru (19,341 feet) and that Stella Point was the real challenge and even had the better views. The views didn’t matter much. We were summiting in a white out and could basically only see the person’s heels in front of us. We all completely broke down in tears at this point. Zack was trying to interview me but I was sobbing too hard to actually say anything. All I was able to get out was “I’m just so proud of the team”. Then I saw Matt crest the summit. Porters by his side. Jerald singing to him. I walked over to him and embraced him with Chris and Adam. We stood there, holding Matt, all crying as he just kept on saying “This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done”. I will never, in my life, forget this moment. I really hope Zack got it all on camera.
Up until this point, my climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro has been, comparatively and relatively, easy. But I did not escape her without my own hardship. Ironically, everything went bad for me AFTER I sumitted. We took pictures at the summit but started heading down as quickly as we could. Conditions were worsening and the normal 6-7 hour summit push had taken us over 10 hours. It was late to be on the summit and we needed to get down, quickly. I didn’t have goggles (again, NO ONE was expecting conditions like this) and had to wear sunglasses to protect my eyes from the blinding snow. But because of that, I couldn’t wear my balaclava to protect my face. My sunglasses would fog up, leaving me blind. So I had to decide, do I protect my eyes or my face. “Luckily” for me, I sort of prepared for this. I purchased a specific type of sunscreen designed for high altitude mountaineering. It was supposed to shield my face from the sun and wind. The wind was sending snow directly into our faces at this point. It was unrelenting. So I lathered my face and lips with the sunscreen. A thick coat. In a twisted case of irony, I had saved this sunscreen for this very moment. I hadn’t tested it before. This could have cost me my life. As I started walking back down towards Stella point, I made it about 200 feet before my lips and face started to burn. And then my eyes started to water. And then my face started to swell up. I didn’t know what was happening, but when both of my index fingers (the fingers used to put the sunscreen on my face) become red and burned like my mittens were an oven, I knew I was in trouble. I knew I was having reaction to the sunscreen. I’m on top of a mountain this point. I’m 19-f*cking-thousand feet up and when my lips started to swell up, I thought I might actually die. In my mind, I just assumed my throat was next or my eyes would swell up and I wouldn’t get off the mountain. Remember when I said there was something spiritual about Jerald? I don’t really understand this next part, but here goes. Jerald was never around me during this hike. He was always helping other people. I was in good shape for the whole hike so he didn’t need to pay attention to me. But as soon as I realized I was in trouble, I got myself off the trail. I took off my hat and my gloves and I used the rest of the water to wash my face. I used my hat to wipe off as much sunscreen as I could, but I didn’t have a towel or any wipes or anything and it all still burned. My lips were still swollen and I was still terrified. Then, out of nowhere, Jerald appears with a JAR of Vaseline. A whole f*cking thing of it. What was he doing with that on summit day? I lathered it all over my face and the burning and swelling started to go down. My heart rate relaxed and I continued on to Stella Point. But I wasn’t out of hot water yet. Not even close. It’s hard to describe Kilimanjaro. She was… mean. She was equal parts stunning and wicked. Beautiful and conniving. It was freezing cold, windy, and snowing on the way up to the summit. But here I am, 19,000 feet up, having an allergic reaction to sunscreen, and the weather turns. From Stella Point on, from about 11 am - 3 pm, it was the hottest I’ve ever felt in my life. I can not describe just how uncomfortable it was. All of us took every layer off. Long johns, fleeces, hats, gloves, it all came off. It was this strange haziness everywhere. You couldn’t see without your glasses on. Although I couldn’t see the sun, It was the brightest day I’ve ever seen. It was blinding and we were completely exposed. We were prepared for bone chilling cold. We didn’t have bandanas or flat brimmed hats on us. We were on the trail roasting, for over 3 hours with no shade anywhere. We were 18,000 feet up. Trees don’t live up there. To make matters worse, my face was covered in vaseline. As I write this, my lips are swollen and I’m in a tremendous amount of pain. I’ve been told I don’t look good. I don’t know what I’ll look like in the morning or whether or not I’ll need medical attention. I’m in rough shape and I'm scared.
Monday, 3/05, Day 7: 6:04 pm, Aishi Machame Hotel
I don’t think I need medical attention. My lips feel like they have a mix of chemical burn and sunburn on them and are extremely painful. But I was able to shower and wash my face off. At this point, the swelling has gone down and I’m no longer dealing with the allergic reaction. I simply have to deal with the burn. I have the feeling It’s going to be an uncomfortable few days flying home. I’ve had a little time to reflect at this point and the overwhelming feeling I have now is gratitude. I’m about to go have our last dinner with the team and I’m so grateful for them. I’m so proud of them. They all fought so hard. I’m likely done documenting at this point and plan to soak up any time I have left with the team. Bottom line, we survived, the packs survived, and this has been the single greatest accomplishment of my life. Time to go home. [gallery link="file" size="medium" ids="774274,774275,774276,774277,774278,774279,774280,774281,774282"] [divider width="full"] Want more? Check out Flowfold Ambassador Chris Bennett's Instagram Takeover from the Kilimanjaro Trip: