400lbs man completes marathon

“I’d like to see the Kenyan improve his marathon time by two hours,” he joked.

That’s what Kelly Gneiting said after completing the second marathon of his life in nearly 10 hours of jogging and walking. Normally that would be a terrible time, but considering that the guy is a 400lbs sumo wrestler, I would say that’s pretty good.

I can’t say I’ve ever had a goal of running a marathon, but several of my Kilimanjaro group members were and are active runners, completing various running thing-a-ma-jigs. One of them, Jim Hodgson, even used to be a pretty big guy 10 years ago. Now he completes marathons and Ironman competitions fairly regularly, throwing in the occasional hike up massive boobs. It’s an inspiration, even to a skinny guy. I’m still not going to be in the Boston Marathon anytime soon, but I am going to make it my goal to run at least 10 miles straight by the end of the summer, with an ultimate goal of 15.

If a 400lbs guy can do it, so can I.

What do I need to climb Kilimanjaro?

I admit it. My title is designed to help me show up in search engines.

But it is a good question.

Climbing Kilimanjaro is easier than most people think. It is not technical. It doesn’t involve any mountaineering skills, and in fact, novice hikers can likely handle it. All it takes is moderate fitness, the right preparation, and – excuse the cliche – a will to do it.

Which company?

I’m going to skip over the gear because plenty of sites offer lists of stuff (though I will mention one thing – bring hiking poles). I want to address what I think is the real first step in summiting Kilimanjaro: the tour company. There are a lot out there and it can be quite time-consuming finding the right one. So let me save you some time:

Book with Zara Tours.

One of my chief concerns was finding an American-based company. I wanted to make sure that I was sending my money off to a reputable source. Of course, being American doesn’t make a company trustworthy, but I figured it was better than a foreign company based in a country I had never visited. As it turns out, though, I had sent my money off to a middle man. He was nice enough, if somewhat difficult to contact over the phone, but I didn’t really need him. He just set up my trip through Zara Tours, a company based in Tanzania, naturally charging me more than if I cut him out of the picture.

Which route?

Again, I’m not going to list out detailed descriptions of things that can be found in a million other places, but I will recommend the route I took: Lemosho. I’m sure the others are fine, but it depends on the person. Personally, I didn’t want to sleep in a hut. The reason? A lot of other people do want to sleep in them. That makes for a messier, more crowded campground. Not that any route isn’t going to be crowded during high season, but I prefer a relatively quieter area. Lemosho provided that, especially since it is tent-only.

Here are some campgrounds. This first one is one where I actually stayed:

If I recall, more groups eventually did show up, but it was still pretty quiet. Higher up, however, it gets more crowded because several of the routes converge:

I actually stayed at a site about 30 minutes from here (Shira 2, maybe?), but this is pretty representative. Continue further and it gets more and more crowded. It never got overwhelming, but do expect to see some people up there.

When?

Plenty of sites list out climate information, so I’m not going to knock out a list myself. But for my experience, my trip was from the tail end of August into September, which was dry. In fact, I experienced 15 minutes of drizzle the whole time, and that was only because I was in a cloud. (It also snowed a couple of inches at the final camp before summit, but I’m told it was rather unusual for that time; besides, it happened at night.)

I would recommend to obviously go during the dry season. The mountain is still accessible in the wet season, but scheduling will be more restricted and a successful climb may not be in the cards. Also, many people like to go during a full moon. I personally wanted a new moon so I could see the stars more intensely (plus there would be fewer people). As it turned out, I had a long night filled with amazing stars, later giving way to a yellow quarter moon, capped with the most incredible sunrise I have ever seen. On this one it’s to each his own, but I don’t think disappointment is possible with any choice.

Money?

The Zara link above will list out how much it costs for the climb, which may change at any given time. I personally paid about $1850 with the middle man. That isn’t the rock bottom price, but it is somewhat on the lower end, and the guides and porters were fantastic. What I wish I had have done, given my half-day or so ride from the frickin’ Serengeti, was spring the extra few bucks (okay, a lot bucks) for a safari. Don’t be overly concerned with money. I plan on revisiting Africa at some point, so a safari will happen for me, but my Tanzania trip could just as easily be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It would have been worth it to go all-out.

Also be sure to budget cash for the loose ends. I was short on cash because, duh, Tanzania doesn’t much like debit or credit cards. The visa, which can easily be had immediately after landing, was $100 (cash only). I also had to buy some meals and (of course) beer at the hotel (cash only). They weren’t expensive by any means, but it is a cost. For the tips for the guides and porters (cash only) I had to use an ATM in Moshi. It was a disconcerting experience to put my card in a machine so far from home, to say the least. I believe I only gave them around $200, but the average is probably more like $250. (And given the incredible people I had, I wish I had have withdrawn more.) Don’t worry about how to dole everything out; I know a lot of sites make a big deal out of it, but all the money just goes to the head guide. Clean and simple.

Why?

Because it is there.

I’ve barely scratched the surface for the sort of questions people have, so feel free to ask in the comment section: you will get an answer.

Wendy Pollack will hurt Tanzania

As regular FTSOS readers know, I visited Tanzania last year. It was an amazing experience filled with amazing people, both in my hiking group up Kilimanjaro and in the citizens I met. I can have nothing but goodwill for everyone I was fortunate enough to encounter. That’s why I find a Maine-based homeopathy group so distressing.

Homeopathy for Health in Africa is affiliated with Homeopaths Without Borders. The Mission of Homeopathy for Health in Africa: To relieve the suffering of as many HIV/AIDS patients as possible using classical homeopathy.

The leader of the group is Wendy Pollack, holder of a quacking chiropractic license in Maine. The area she will specifically be visiting is the Kilimanjaro region. I’ve been all through it. It’s composed of rampant poverty. The medical “facilities” consist of small shacks of basic medicine, most of which can be found in the first half of aisle 14 at your local Rite-Aid. I made sure to purchase evacuation insurance before departing because I wasn’t about to find my way into a Tanzanian hospital if anything happened; I never needed it, but seeing that part of the country only confirmed that I had made a good purchase.

All Pollack and her gang of anti-science quacks are going to achieve is the raising of ignorant hopes. It’s deplorable and horribly saddening. A whole bunch of very poor, very needy people are about to get a false helping hand.

I’ve been considering making a post or two describing how best to save money, which company to use, etc, when going to Kilimanjaro. I think I’ll wait until Pollack has left.

Hartlaub’s Turaco

Look at these manly legs.

This comes from Shira Camp 1, the first and least creatively named camp site on my trek up Kilimanjaro (or perhaps Shira Camp 2 wins that title). Since it was practically dark by the time we rolled in that first day, I’m going to hazard this comes from the morning of Day 2. (Actually, the warm water for washing – say it with a Swahili accent – tells me it definitely was morning.) So that means you’re seeing me as I wonder just what all the sounds were from the prior night.

My initial thought was baboon. In fact, several baboons. We had seen some on the way to the head of the Lemosho route.

They aren’t easy to make out, but they are there. And as far as I know, they may have stayed there because they actually weren’t surrounding the camp site that night. Or if they were, they were tucked in their beds snug as could be. What was actually making all the racket was the Hartlaub’s Turaco.

It’s a pretty awesome bird that is native to Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. From what I’ve been reading, it appears to be most numerous in Kenya, at least in small part because of excessive hunting in Tanzania. Fortunately, however, it faces no significant danger to its overall health as a species at this point. (In fact, its conservation status is “LC” or Least Concern, the lowest, and thus best, it can be.)

But I know as great as pretty pictures are, what everyone really wants is some sound. (It will link you out, but do click anyway.)

ARKive video - Hartlaub's turaco - overview

I think the deep throatiness of the baboon is discernible through the Hartlaub’s Turaco’s call. But perhaps it was the quiet of the encompassing night that made it seem all the more phenomenal to me; I couldn’t help but be convinced I was hearing baboons. Without a deeper knowledge, I can only speculate why the bird makes such a sound: perhaps it is imitation, but that doesn’t strike me as the most plausible explanation off-hand.

Thanks to Mike for providing the necessary information, the first photograph, and even the link to the video. I appreciate it.

I refuse to believe it

I just came across an article about Mount Kilimanjaro. It says something I find difficult to believe.

There’s no clear number of how many people attempt to climb Kilimanjaro each year, although it’s at least 20,000. Steinhilber said probably less than half that number make it to the true summit.

When they reach Stella Point — about 800 to 1,000 feet below the actual peak, Uhuru Peak — many figure “good enough,” she said.

Upon reaching Stella Point, I actually thought I was practically there. But then I saw how far the trail continued. It was no longer so steep – it’s a very significant incline to that point – but it was still another 1-2 hours from the summit. And perhaps that was the most excruciating part. It felt like I should be seeing that idyllically simple African sign indicating the summit of the mountain at any moment, but it seemed like it was perpetually ‘just around the next corner’.

But could I have ever just stopped? Could I ever have just called it good because the rest of the way was mentally frustrating?

No.

Summit day is roughly 4,000 feet of elevation gain. Stella Point is a mere 700 or so feet lower than the summit – and that’s over the course of a good distance. It constitutes an insignificant portion of the entire hike, even if it is in some ways the most difficult. Unless the person is physically struggling with the elevation (I was told after the fact that someone in another group died near Stella Point on the same day I was there), I find it impossible to believe anyone could just say ‘good enough’.

(Please excuse Buga for the crooked horizon.)

Update: I am reminded by a member of my hiking group that the peak is actually visible from Stella Point.

More kili

Why? Because it looks pretty.

Today’s horoscope

Today will be a good day to do “business”. But beware, if you forget to bring the newspaper with you, boredom may ensue.

The story of my Kilimanjaro trip

Okay, maybe this isn’t the story of my Kilimanjaro trip, but it is a damn fine story and I was on Kilimanjaro. It’s just told from the point of view of story-teller, group member, bicycle- and font-enthusiast, not-Schwarzenegger look-a-like, writer Jim Hodgson. Take a look.

Not for the first or last time, I reflected on how lucky Mike and I were to get the group of companions that we did.

That refers to a different Michael, but the sentiment is true for me as well.

Thought of the day

Thought of the day