Wednesday, March 26, 2008

To the top and back

Unfortunately I haven’t even had a chance to thank you all for being so supportive and wishing us well. As you could tell from Lee’s post, WE MADE IT TO THE TOP OF KILIMANJARO!!! What an amazing experience. I can go on and on….but before all that I want say- Thank you! … for goading me on (I could have died, you freaks!!!).

Thank you also for all those who donated to my cause. I raised $3,500 from this fundraiser! It will all go towards constructing a fish farm in Mali. I am exhilirated!

It has been a month since I am back, but I can’t stop thinking about Tanzania. Someone take me back….just one more time. So unfortunately for some, I will attempt at recreating all the good times (as and when time permits). The bad times will be exaggerated so that some of you don’t jump up and say, ’Hmmm. I could have done that too!’ Even Edmund Hillary didn't climb Kilimanjaro.

Read about our journey to the top

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Just did it!

For all of you waiting with bated breath... WE MADE IT!

All four of us reached the 'roof of Africa' on Saturday, 17 Feb at 8.45 a.m.

We're all in different stages of recovery right now... Updates when we reach home.

P.S. thanks for all your wishes, prayers, helpful tips and crossed fingers...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Bah! It takes all kinds!

Yesterday, Leela’s gear arrived at my neighborhood REI and I took my 16 wheeler to pick it up. 23 new sparkly items were all there waiting to be stolen by me and replaced with my used ones.

Conversation with REI lady at checkout counter-

Lady: Wow, that’s a lot of stuff. Where are you guys off to?

Me: We are off to climb Kilimanjaro. (pause for the gasp…finding none, continue..)Oh all this is for a friend in Dubai. Dubai sucks when it comes to outdoor gear.

Lady: Wow!

Me (waiting to hear the usual adulations about out attempt to climb Kilimanjaro): Yes Yes. I’m so excited.

Lady (almost chocking): Wow! Dubai must be so fantastic! I would love to go to Dubai some day. It should be so beautiful.

Almost There!

Five months of planning finally comes to an end! We embark on a journey of a lifetime day after tomorrow and I guess we have most of the items checked. We will get the yellow fever vaccination today. Two futile attempts at the Allegheny medical center doesn’t seem to have deterred our grit. Pi and I work in tandem and eventually get everything done. Things that matter to him don’t seem to bother me. I didn’t think this vaccination is all that important (especially after the first attempt) as it is recommended and not mandatory. But we are getting it nevertheless because he feels that of all the things that can go wrong, there will definitely be a sudden outbreak of yellow fever.

Take this Kenya situation for example. It's just horrible and for the sake of the country, I just wish the violence stops! Africa doesn't need this, not now, not ever. As adventurous as I am, getting torched by a crazed people was not in my wish list. Lee and I were freaking out, while Pi remained quite calm, unlike his normal cautious self. He felt it would be nice to hang out in a bus when fresh blood is flowing in the streets as we speak.

All week long, the situation in Kenya got worse and the pictures we saw in the news were harrowing. Our expectations that the clashes would subside was very wishful and things were getting more volatile. Even Nairobi seemed to be getting targeted and shops were closed. Travel advisory warnings shot up in every website and tourism in Kenya declined drastically. We were to fly into Nairobi, spend a night in a hotel and then take a bus out to Kilimanjaro.
For the past two days, we looked for alternatives. We got last minute flight tickets from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro, thanks to Leela’s high connections. She worked hard on the Kenyan officials, the airline industry, spoke to Kofi Annan and got some Sheiks from Dubai to promise us an armored vehicle if it came to that. Dubai Red Bull sponsored 40 cans for the team. The cans of Red Bull don’t really compliment the plot, but it’s a fact nevertheless.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Gear Fear

I can see my mecca from my front door. Being at a spits throw away from REI, I have problems of the other kind. Leela’s gear problems are not half as bad as mine. The second REI announces sale, I am there in my pajamas and take a day off from work. Most times they don’t even have to have a sale. It’s an expensive pastime and involves a very agitated spouse. If they had frequent visitor points, I could have been part owner of REI by now. I buy remote controlled booties which are on sale for 30 bucks. The fact that this useless piece of gear will never make it to the mountain doesn’t seem to deter me. It’s better to be prepared than perish. This motto has seen me buying the third layer of gloves and some waterproof gloves that can talk underwater and for the money I spent on that, it better sing too.

Today I went to return the pair of gloves I bought yesterday. The fact that REI takes returns even after a year of use makes them highly attractive. I normally don’t return things that have encountered my nose drip, but today was an exception. After spending 3 agonizing hours in the store astutely calculating whether Seirus gloves (with a three layer weatherproof protection) is better than the Mountain Hardwear (windstopper glove) or the cheaper REI version (which claims all of the above for three dollars less), I bought the Seirus glove thinking that all my cold finger problems are solved. The fact that I even considered the Northface and OR brands has been omitted for reader sanity. I paid an arm for this and hence should have asked for a 50% discount. I decided to test this pair the next day. I went on a run outside dressed in layers (that I purchased for the climb) and my new Seirus gloves. It was cold, probably 30F. I was very comfortable in every region of my vast body except the darned fingers! I ran for thirty minutes going from feeling numb to extreme pain. When I was ready to see both my hands detach and fall to the ground, I decided to remove the gloves so Pi could return them without the blood stains. The phenomenon that followed was quite disturbing. My hands instantly came back to life and even felt warmer than before! ‘Hmmmm’, I say to myself. First I must return this and second I mustn’t tell Pi. He would ask me to return everything else and walk up the mountain naked. For his own good, I better not tell him.

So you see my predicament. I waste too much time, money and energy at REI. Today at the returns counter a new blonde employee asked, 'Anything wrong with these gloves ma'am?' I went on this tirade of explaining how these gloves act more of a cold trap and that the waterproof layer on top makes it exceedingly hard to be dexterous with a camera. I had become an unsolicited gear tester for REI. I went on to tell her that the Mountain Hardwear that I bought last week, though not as warm provided better warmth for its price. Her eyes quickly light up and she goes, 'Oh, you are the one who moved apartments to be near REI.’ Word spreads!

Gear and now

Mountain of caravans, mountain of greatness, shining mountain - no one quite agrees on the real interpretation of 'Kilimanjaro'. But among the multiple meanings ascribed to it, my personal favourite is 'little white hill'.

Little, indeed.

But Kilimanjaro may well turn out to be a molehill as compared to the bigger problem I'm facing now - gear shopping. There are hardly any outdoor outfitters in Dubai, and the only two I've found - Columbia and Timberland - seem woefully inadequate.

Sample conversation:

Me: Do you have fleece jackets?

Salesman: Yes, ma'am. Right here... (points to a row of sleeveless jackets)

Me: Don't you have jackets with sleeves??

Salesman: Ok, look in the children's section. You might get your size.

If he didn't get advanced hypothermia from the look I gave him, I would be very surprised.

It doesn't get easier when it comes to shopping for the right pair of boots. "Walk down a ramp to check that your toes don't get crushed," suggested Alpha.

Not only were there no ramps in the store I went to, but even options were hard to come by. One pair of tenacious leather boots which would've shredded any toe that fell under it, and one pair of boots with Gore-tex fabric, which didn't inspire much confidence.

All's not lost though. It turns out there's a store right down my street which stocks ski gear at almost throwaway prices. I've never understood their business model, but I'm not complaining right now. I've managed to get a few pairs of gloves and socks, and a fleece jacket or two.

My final resort is to order gear from Alpha's friendly neighbourhood REI and get/request /implore/beseech Alpha to lug it to Nairobi.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Preparing for Kili !!

About a month to go for the climb and I am brimming with excitement. Alpha and I watched the IMAX movie Kilimanjaro – To the roof of Africa last night. The movie has breathtaking sights of the mountain. Thought it could have had more substance on the actual challenges of climbing the mountain. They could have also said more about the locals and what Kilimanjaro means to them.

The biggest thing in our mind now is preparing physically for the grueling climb. We have been running and weight training but never sure how much is good enough. It is quite intimidating reading everything that is said about what it takes to make it to the top. We have scoured the online world for trip reports of all sorts. We found a few good ones, one of the nicest being this one by Malini Kaushik. She has a fantastic report on everything you want to know about climbing Kili. She actually helped settle the Diamox debate for us. Diamox is medication you can take to accelerate acclimatization but it comes with its side effects. You have to start taking it a few days before the climb for best results. There are numerous conflicting opinions but have decided to tolerate the multiple pee breaks that go with it and take Diamox. That seems to be the only way for us to survive the high altitudes.

In terms of logistics, I think we are fully prepared. We have certainly invested all we can for the gear stocking up on thermals, light-weight and mid-weight fleeces, day packs, etc. Finished all the travel and accommodation arrangements. We got the Tanzanian visa this week and now waiting for our Kenyan visa. But somebody, give a reliable prediction on how the situation is going to be. While planning the trip, we decided to fly into Nairobi and drive to Kilimanjaro. Now, we are faced with the political uncertainty in Kenya. Oh well !!!!!