Four months ago, we posted a story about four friends heading to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. September 13, 2013, they departed to Tanzania to do just that. We caught up with Misty, one of the members of the group, to talk about her experience.
Flipside Fresh: Welcome home Misty. How does it feel to be back?
Misty: Thanks! Honestly, it feels weird not waking up to hike all day. We got so use to the regimen so quickly, now I don’t know what to do with myself.
FF: How was the experience overall?
Misty: Indescribable. It really is so hard to put into words. This was a life-changing trip. I’m still processing what just happened. We really did hike one of the tallest mountains in the world. We beat the odds and made it all the way to the top. We hiked between 6-8 hours every day for six days. It was one of the most difficult adventures I’ve done thus far. During that time we made an incredible connection with our guides and some of our porters. They made more of an impact in those six days than most people have made in our whole lives. They truly treated us like family, I will never forget them!
FF: What is the success rate for reaching summit?
Misty: With the route we took, the Machame Route, it was only a 40% chance we would make it. And that is calculated from people who made it in both 6 and 7 days, not just six. The percentage is much lower for six days.
FF:Wow that’s pretty tough odds. How was the trekking company you chose?
Misty: It was awesome. Gladys Adventure and Safari is the trekking company we went with. Their guides and porters were amazing. We had 19 guides and porters in total. They really took care of us, and most importantly they got us to the top of Mt. Kili and back down safely. The trekking company is based out of Moshi Tanzania, which was really important to us when we made our final choice. If anyone is planning on going use Gladys Adventure, ask for Caspar as your lead guide. He assembled a great team of porters and other guides for us and he has made it to summit 178 times. Only three of his clients failed to make it to Uhuru Peak.
FF: How was the food?
Misty: Actually, the food was pretty good. Faustine, our cook, made some magic happen on that mountain. The food was tasty and hardy. Breakfast included eggs, toast, and porridge. Lunch and Dinner included soup, pasta, chicken, fish, beef and sandwiches. Faustine checked on us every day to make sure the food was up to par. Unfortunately, my appetite was not the best, so I couldn’t eat as much as I would have liked, but what I did eat was very good.
FF: Did you all have altitude sickness?
Misty: I would say yes, some worse than others. Everybody had at minimal a headache and extreme fatigue. I had the whole shebang--rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, nausea, and vomiting. Fun times…
FF: Ouch, sorry to hear that, were there any surprises on the trip?
Misty: Yes, there were a few. The crazy climate changes--it went from summer to winter all in one day! It’s hard to believe, but very true. There were female porters from other groups smaller than me carrying huge packs up the mountain. I don’t know how they did it, but they were flying right past us. We thought there would be more rest between the end of our daily hike and the ascent to summit. That really took us by surprise. And we didn’t realize how fatigued the altitude would make us. I didn’t think the altitude sickness would kick my butt as hard as it did. Lastly, the most surprising thing about the mountain was the glacier at the top. A glacier in Africa sounds so crazy, but it’s there, or I should say, what’s left. It is estimated by 2042, the glacier will no longer exsist. I am happy we got a chance to see it. It was my first one.
FF: Describe to me what happened the day you all made it to Uhuru Peak.
Misty: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Let’s see, where to begin… After hiking for 8 hours on the fourth day, we made it to Barafu Hut Base Camp at 4:30pm. We had dinner at 6pm along with a briefing of what to expect later that night. We were to start our ascent up to Uhuru Peak at 11pm. After dinner we all went to sleep, or I guess you can say we all took a nap. We were drinking so much water, that we had to continuously keep getting up to use the bathroom. At 11pm Joseph, one of our porters, came to wake us up. We got changed into our warmest layers: 2 tops, our snowboarding jackets, two base layer pants, and our snowboarding pants. We also had our mittens, gaiters, windbreakers, balaclavas, headlamps, and snowboarding goggles on standby.
I had a pretty rough day already. I was quite fatigued from the earlier 8-hour hike, and I was having severe symptoms of altitude sickness. My resting heart rate on a daily basis was 120-130. When we started the hike that night, I felt like I was on a never ending run even though we were walking as slow as molasses. Caspar felt it was best to give everybody a fair shot at getting to the top, and the only way to do that was by splitting up. Donzel and Carl went ahead with Gabriel, one of our summit guides, and Kiesha and I stayed together. After a while, I lost track of the guy’s headlamps as they moved off into the dark. I was so tired and I started to feel waves of nausea with every few steps. Eventually, Caspar took Kiesha ahead, and I stayed with Julius, the assistant guide. It wasn’t looking too promising for me at this point. I felt like I could do it, but my body needed more rest. Soon after, my nausea turned into me vomiting on the trail, Exorcist style. I just knew at this point Julius was going to tell me we had to go back to camp. He gave me a one-armed hug and said, “Good, now you’ll have more energy!” I smiled--I really thought my dreams were about to be shattered. He told me, “Don’t worry Misty. You’ll make it to the top.” I replied, “Yeah?” And he said, “Why not?”
After that, my fear went away. It was quite obvious that we picked the right trekking company to get us to the top. Julius was extremely patient the whole time. We sat on the side of the mountain to watch the sun rise. It was the most beautiful sunrise I had ever seen. Every time I’d get really tired, Julius would sit me down, and he would sit behind me guiding me to breathe through the fatigue, like a lamaze coach. Once the sun rose, I felt like I had an extra boost of energy. I could see Kiesha and Caspar, and I kept waving to them to let them know I was still on my way. The one thing about hiking that mountain is that it’s deceiving. Everything seemed close, but when I’d ask Julius he would say it was further than I thought. I dry heaved a couple more times hiking up the mountain. After sunrise, people that already made it to the top were starting to come back down. Some of the guides would stop to talk to Julius and give him updates on how the rest of the group was doing. We were the only Black Americans in Mt. Kilimanjaro that week. So word spread like wildfire, and they were all rooting for “Team Obama” to finish. One guide came to talk to me and tried to help me up the mountain, leaving his client behind. I had to sit down after about 20 steps. He said to me, “Don’t give up, you’ll make it.” I responded, “Don’t worry, I won’t.” When I got to Stella Point, it was probably around 10am. I was so exhausted; I decided to lie down for about 10 minutes. Stella Point is the second highest point on the mountain. I decided that second-best would not do; we had to go for the gold, Uhuru Peak. I felt as long as Julius was still willing to guide me up, then I would go for it. So we started our way towards Uhuru Peak. Julius estimated us getting to the top in about 45 minutes. On the way, I ran into Donzel and Carl. I found out from one of the guides earlier that Donzel was also having a rough time with the altitude. He was vomiting on the trail, too. When I saw them, they looked like I felt. I could see the fatigue in their eyes. I asked if they were up to waiting so that we could all take a picture, but the altitude was giving them both extreme headaches. A few minutes later, I ran into Kiesha. We took a few pictures together, and she headed down the mountain too. When I made it over to Uhuru Peak, I was so relieved. All of the hard work had paid off. I took a few pictures and we started to head down the hill. When we got to Stella Point, I took a few more pictures, and it started to snow heavily. Julius informed me at that point that it would take 2 hours to get down to base camp. I didn’t think I had any strength to walk five minutes, yet alone two hours. Two of the rescue porters came up to help me down. The dirt under the snow was pretty loose, so we slipped and slid down the mountain for almost two hours. When we got back to base camp, Caspar informed me that we could rest for two hours, then we would have to head down to the Millennium Camp site, which was two hours away. I heard Kiesha, Donzel, and Carl in unison say, “Noooo!” It was quite clear from their reaction that everybody was extremely exhausted; there was no way we were going to make it down. It didn’t matter what Caspar tried to tell us; we just couldn’t go any further. I had been up since 11pm and it was now 2:30pm the following day. I was completely wiped out. All I wanted to do was sleep, but couldn’t because I was too excited that we made it to the top, and my heart rate was pumping really fast -- around 120 beats per minute!
FF: That’s amazing! It seemed like there were a lot of “not- so-much-fun” parts of the trek, but what was fun about the trek?
Misty: Day 4, climbing Barranco Wall. We were climbing up the side of this steep wall like Spiderman. I felt like a little kid rock climbing. But, I guess I should have been more worried, since one false step would have sent me falling to my death. Also, getting to know our porters and guides-- they typically don’t see Black Americans climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. We were only the third Black group from America that used our trekking company. All the guides and porters from other groups seemed to take a liking to us, and they nicknamed us “Team Obama.” It was great to interact with them and have them root us on to the top. Our assistant/waiter, Joseph, likes Rick Ross, so we played it for him during our dinnertime. Rick Ross…who would have thought?!
FF: Would you do it again?
Misty: I think I can safely say no. I think it was a once in a lifetime experience, not to be repeated!
FF: In the last interview, you said you guys would either be best of friends or worst enemies after this hike. So what’s the verdict?
Misty: We will definitely be best of friends. Going through such a major life changing event, we will always have a deep connection. Hiking quickly became a team sport during those six days. We all looked out for each other. We literally had each other’s backs, ensuring no one fell of the mountain. I’m really happy I had this experience with the people that came on this trip. It was definitely a great crew to be a part of.
FF: Is there anything you would have done differently?
Misty: I would have been on a Stairmaster with a 20-pound weight vest for at least an hour, three to four times a week up until the trek. Also, I would have collected tons of men’s winter gear, to give to all the porters. These guys go up this mountain two to three times a month, so they are always in need of more gear. Because of this we are going to coordinate a gear and money drive this winter. As soon as we have all the information, we will post how you can get involved.
FF: What is your advice for other’s interested in doing the hike?
Misty: Portable toilet! I am so thankful we got that toilet. Outhouses were scarce and extremely dirty. It was a luxury to have our very own port-a-potty. Do the seven, eight, or nine-day route only. That will give you better chances of making it to the top, because of the extra days to acclimate. Take in your surroundings, and take plenty of pictures. You get so focused on getting to the end that you forget to enjoy the natural beauty around you. Also, support local Tanzanian businesses. There are a lot of trekking companies out there, but only a few that are owned and operated by Tanzanians. Gladys Mushi is the owner of the trekking company we used, Gladys Adventure and Safari. She is a single mother of two children, and started the business from the ground up. It was pretty awesome to hear her story. And lastly, support the Mt. Kilimanjaro porters. They risk their lives every time they go up that mountain to ensure you get to the top and back safely. They are always in need of more gear, so bring extra if you have...both male and female. And remember to tip them well. They only get paid at most 10 shillings a day, which is approximately only $6.25.
FF: So what’s next for “Team Obama”?
Misty: Although the group is banning any type of hiking activities, there have been talks of triathlons, ultra marathons, kayaking, river rafting, and of course snowboarding season is around the corner. But, there is one more adventure trip on my list that I hope I make happen soon. It includes a place called Tibet and a little mountain called Everest.
FF: You want to climb Mt. Everest?
Misty: Oh no, I will leave that one to the experts. I don’t think my heart and lungs could take that beating. But, I would like to climb up to Everest Base Camp, which is 17,000 feet.
Congratulations “Team Obama” on beating the odds and making it to the top! We look forward to seeing the next adventure you guys have in store!
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