Hangover. 2019

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We barely caught the sunset this year. Our Friday departure schedule doesn’t allow much time for negotiating the dragon and infamous and traditional Lead trail.

I was delighted to make it in record time. Did I mention we shouldered 65 lbs each?

Yeah. We figured the Hang was dry so we toted gallons.  Gallons. After all, we are in training.

No fire bans here. And the warmth was appreciated. I would also like to note that the Lead trail has been recently maintained and is in better shape than I’ve ever seen it. Ever. It is volunteer trail maintenance that keeps these areas so pristine. Many thanks to the local trail volunteers who so diligently attend to this classic ascent.

Now, as we unpacked, and well before this photo the following morning, a realization took hold.

It sunk in as Jon Chambers unpacked his 65. It seems as if he omitted one critical piece of gear. That would be the item collectively known as a sleeping system. They’re usually helpful for warmth and comfort in the backcountry. A major component of which is the sleeping bag itself.

Uh-oh!

We fashioned a work around system with hot hands, a backpack, several down jackets and a sleeping pad. Howard and I retired about 10:30 and Chambers stayed up kicking the fire for several more hours, anticipating the misery of shivery.

Fortunately it didn’t turn as cold as expected and Jon said he was quite comfortable in his tent with our improvised system. But not so much that he was persuaded to take on the second night.

It was Howard’s first time to the Rock and he was impressed. How can you not be, after all it’s Hangover. His time to the top was equally impressive.

 

We had to depart a day early due to the sleeping bag issue and the pending weather. although John was able to stay warm on a dry evening that was not going to be the case for Saturday night.

And rain it did. As I sit here in the drier comfort of home and Knoxville, I’m receiving texts from my friend Carl on Gregory’s bald.

Wind and rain seems to be their issue for the evening.

As you can see in the photographs, Hangover did not disappoint again this year. It’s always good to return to the Rock during the annual fall pilgrimage regardless of the amount of time spent there.

We had the place to ourselves and I got my Fall dose of Heaven. I’ve missed only one year of October Hangovers since the 80s and that was because my brother got married on the traditional weekend. It was interesting to view our campsite from just a few days prior (see the post below this one) in the distance along the Fodderstack. No colors were seen but a few chilly nights saw the basswoods and sourwoods doing their thing. It was amazing.

Into the Wilderness, Crowder Branch Cherokee National Forest

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There is a place, remote and lightly used, deep within the wilderness of Tennessee that is my favorite of all stomping grounds. And on Sunday, not a Friday this time, we were able to enter and not encounter a soul.  Crowder Branch is a finger that drops off the Fodderstack Trail which straddles the spine between Carolina and Tennessee. Fodderstack is the longest trail in the Citico/Slickrock drainage and it takes you from Farr Gap to the Cherohala skyway.

 

We were fortunate to be joined by Kathy in our wilderness experience. She is an intrepid outdoorsperson. She could have outrun us at any point. Route finding is sometimes necessary in the wilderness. Unlike the Smokies, maps are always handy.

We made our ascent with full training packs.

Somewhere, along the way, a large creature stalked Howard. We never ascertained its intentions. I suspect it to be hog.

 

 

 In order to have a nice fire, we had to leave the fire ban area of the Smokies. Kathy did more than her share of camp work. It was nice to have someone so willing to pitch in and not relegate it to “the men”.

As Fall is beginning to permeate the Appalachians, a crisp evening made the fire enjoyable. We retired early and rose to a beautiful morning. Howard and Kathy departed out Farr Gap as I dropped back down Crowder Branch. I had halfway expected to encounter the Sage of Citico, Tipi Walter but saw nothing on my solo descent. It was cathartic and my weekly dose of mountain prozac to be alone in the wilderness with nothing but my thoughts. This has been like the days of old for me, going out every weekend. Thanks to Howard, I have a great backpacking partner. And plenty more is to come. We are very excited about this weekend plan.

Stay tuned.

John

 

 

A spandex maniac was on the loose in the Smokies!

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Our usual Friday night, post work hit, included a bit of early drama.  We arrived at the trailhead for our ascent into Anthony Creek via Lead Cove.  Greeting us was a cadre of law enforcement Smokies Rangers.

They approached us to determine out intentions, which was not rubbernecking. And it wasn’t to harrass John Quillinger, public enemy number 1.  One of the LEO’s subtly informed us that reports had been made about a maniac on the loose. He had made quite a scene up at Spence Field and two young rangers were dispatched to apprehend the barely clothed individual. We later learned that he was wearing one boot, smoking a pipe and sporting orange spandex with no shirt. Spence Field shelter was quite full, which is a surprise given the paucity of water up there. We opted for Anthony Creek because it afforded a good training climb with full packs.

It was nearly a full two thousand feet ascent and we were feeling good. These are necessary in our quest of South America’s highest peak, Aconcagua, in December. Behind me is Howard, who was not the maniac on the loose  which the rangers were chasing. Although he is wearing a hiking costume.

We soon passed the intrepid rangers who asked us not to disclose anything to the occupants of the shelter. We had to inform them that Anthony Creek was not the same as the shelter and we departed from them as they made a 1.7 mile further climb and we dropped down to the scarce water site, ever mindful of the potential loose lunatic.

Not much in the way of views, Fall is late this year.

We did come across this feller.

I am learning that where water remains, you will find people nowadays. I haven’t seen it this dry in all my years in the outdoors. You can assume that all springs up top are totally non functional. Factor that into your outdoor plans. We met people who dropped down and altered their weekend plans as a result. This is the site of the infamous “Doo Doo Doug” incident of the olden days.

For a second weekend, we “chose not to have a fire”.  Our neighbors did not make that same choice. I am rather enjoying not having a fire for a couple of reasons. One, it is against the law given the fire ban. Two, its hot and unnecessary and three, I don’t have to chase smoke around a ring. Also, there is no wood here at the Anthony Creek site anyway. It is picked clean. We bring a lantern and spin yarns accordingly.

We retired early for a relatively restful evening. There was no sighting of  the lunatic on the loose. However, our neighbors came down to visit as we enjoyed a morning brew. They had encountered the madman along the AT the previous day. Their description of him matched the rangers with an addition. He had a pipe and was non communicative.  Which reinforces my disdain for shelters as idiot magnets. Shoeless lunacy is not so common when toting a tent is required. I have some theories about what was in the “pipe”.

I have an update on the land rape from last weekend. You will recall we encountered a road adjacent to the Rich Mtn loop. My friend, Dana, was able to determine the culprits and I have notified two Blount County commissioners who knew nothing of it. Perhaps we can bring attention to these folks and mitigate the potential upcoming damage. Scroll down to last weeks trip for details. I will keep you posted.

John

 

 

 

Crooked Arm with Grady and Howard and a big surprise

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We made a pretty big climb up out of Rich Mountain. But first we had to stop at the parkway to pick up a sweet present from a friend. Adam Law gave me his external frame Gregory pack after seeing how ragged my old external climbing pack had become. Many thanks to Adam and his wife for taking the time to meet us and hook me up. My climbing rope and gear thanks you.

 When you hit campsite 6 from the backside, it involves some climbing, which is what Howard and I are seeking in anticipation of an attempt on Aconcagua in a few months. We are loading up our packs and climbing mountains because that is the only true way to train for climbing mountains.

As I mentioned last week, the springs up high in the backcountry are dry. All of them. It’s no problem for us, we just toted all our water and made our packs 45 pounds or so. Employing our new backpacking calorie counter, I have estimated that I personally burned about 1600 calories in our ascent and nearly five miles of walking. It is much less for Howard and a bit more for Grady.  My body is beginning to remember these muscles that have been dormant for a little while.

We also, in the words of the park service, “chose not to have a fire”. Mainly because there is a fire ban but also because it is hot as blazes and with no water up there, it just didn’t seem prudent. We did have a candle lantern and great laughter and no smoke with which to contend. Grady and I regaled Howard with tales of yore. More than he could handle, I’m certain. We retired for a dry storm evening. The wind gusted mightily through the night and I feared widow-making branches that, fortunately, did not rain down upon any of us. Needless to say, it was a sleepless evening.

When we hit the trail the following morning, I was thinking of the last time I had been this way. It was apparently back in 2011. I was backpacking in, solo, to meet a Highlander crew at this campsite. Along the way, I ran into a guy that I had met at my house one year, who met Beth on the trail while she was solo hiking. Anyway, this guy, Patrick, made it to the party at my house.  I was thinking about running into him on our ascent because, certain places stimulate association memory.  Would you believe that I ran into him at almost the same spot coming out? His name is Patrick Morales and he is quite the outdoor advocate. Here is a link to his version of the time we met on the trail in 2011 on his blogspot. http://wemaybeback.blogspot.com/2011/02/hiking-outlaws.html

I still have an I love Mountains sticker on my old car.

Which brings me to this final, and most sobering occurrence this particular weekend. I believe that a picture is worth a thousand words, so here goes.

At nearly 2.5 miles and 1700 feet up in elevation, this is what we encounter. Take a look at how closely they put this road to the trail on the boundary!  Now, perhaps this is private land. Someone spent a significant amount of money to grade a road up there. Why would they do this?  I don’t think it is for a single unit home, do you? I contacted two Blount County commissioners, Jeff Jopling and Brad Bowers. Neither of them knew anything about it and are looking into it.  Spread the word here because I’ll bet someone is trying to get something big  up there and perhaps we can stop it.

It was great to have the g dog back on the trail.

Let’s all work together and see if we can’t keep this view without some real estate blocking it!

Thanks

John

 

Miry Ridge and Dripping Spring

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This is from the Ben Parton overlook on the Miry Ridge. It is no secret that this is one of my favorite interior views of Rocky top and Thunderhead in the distance. We burned out of Maryville at 3.45 pm on Friday and blasted 5.7 miles and 2400 feet up to my beloved camping spot. Here are some stats from Strava. 

Yes, Howard and I are in training for what will be number 5 of the 7 summits for me. Over Christmas, we will depart for deep South America. Aconcagua is our objective and it requires some load hauling. We shouldered full packs for our last two hikes and my body remembers this activity. On a side note, Strava does not calculate accurate calorie burn when carrying a backpack. But I found a formula that does and you may wish to use it for yourself. In summary, I estimated that I burned over 1600 calories ascending Jake’s Creek and Miry Ridge on Friday afternoon. Here is a link if you wish to use this for your backpacking calculus. https://www.outsideonline.com/2315751/ultimate-backpacking-calorie-estimator

 I needed a PB&J break here, as a result. 45 lb packs.

It appears as if Nick is doubting our mileage estimates into camp from Blanket Mountain intersection. And rightfully so. However, when you reach this gap, there is still quite a bit of trail left.  This trail holds so many memories for me and one in particular when we postholed in deep snow many years ago.   Pay attention to the video which was taken not far from this very spot. This was 2010.

We certainly had no snow with which to contend this particular day as summer appears to keep a solid grip on the mountains as we round the corner into October.

Having arrived at dusk, we found the good old Dripping Springs site quite full. We made some space next to a couple of guys that looked familiar. It didn’t take long to realize that I knew them as we had camped together many years ago over on Caldwell Fork.

This is Greg and Ark. And here is where we had crossed trails with them several years ago. I believe it was this trip but am not certain.

http://southernhighlanders.com/Caldwell_fork13.html

Anyway, Myers made what in Highlander lore has come to be known as a hiking cameo. He appeared in the dark at 10.30 pm having completed his journey totally after sunset.

Kudos to Myers for his bravery. Because, unbeknownst to us, there were prowlers in the dark.

Sometime in the middle of the night, after we all had retired for the evening, Greg,  who was camped out in the open sans tent, was awakened by a strange sensation.  Roaming about and smelling his open cot setup was a bobcat that had entered our camp. How about that?

Since Dripping Spring wasn’t even dripping, we had to do some serious divining for water up there. It is dry, super dry. I predict a fire ban in the park soon and super dry conditions for all questionable sources in the Smokies and elsewhere, yes, I mean Hangover too.

We dropped down after a leisurely and highly caffeinated morning. I stopped at Jake’s to replenish our H20.

Great training, great weather and great friends. Who can ask for more in a Smokies weekend?

 

Hatcher Mountain and Rabbit Creek

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As you can see the weather was perfect. we embarked immediately after work on Friday afternoon and made the great climb up pine mountain down into the rabbit Creek campsite.

Nick joined us. We needed a fire bug.

We had the run of the campsite and rabbit Creek is a beautiful peaceful spot. A couple of things were learned. Those expensive Nemo tents that you read about are no good. We spend some time trying to set one of those things up. And it was returned to REI the next day by Howard.

Next morning we decided to do an alternate loop down one of my favorite trails, Hatcher mountain, into the Abrams Creek drainage.

  • by the time we’d gotten two miles down to the Abram Creek crossing I was ready for a bath. Myers would have joined us had he been there.
  • So Nick had to pull his slack.
  • Great outing
  • Great chemistry.
  • It’s going to be a traditional fall with lots of these coming like the old days.

Hazel Creek weekend.

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Myers called a good one and I am very pleased that he did. He met me, along with Howard after work on Friday. We took the Steenhatchie canoe over the dragon on a warm, summer afternoon.

 It’s a long story as to how the canoe got her name. This canoe is one of the old Grummann boy scout types from the 70s and Brian Moran was with me when three of us paddled it over to Eagle Creek on one of the maiden voyages. Brian often fished down in Steenhatchie and we turned Steenhatchie into a verb that equates to FUBAR.

We met Mark Jones, NIck and Allen for the first night at Proctor. We enjoyed a nice fire made so by Nick and rose early the next morning for some hiking around the old logging camp. It was a beautiful day so Howard and I decided to go on a trail run whilst Mark hiked over to Eagle Creek for some new miles.

A refreshing swim was in order where Hazel turned into Fontana. The temperature was just right, very chilly in contrast to the hot lake. After a big trail run and wood gathering, this was the medicine we needed.

(these two pics above are courtesy of Howard)

AJ joined us around lunch time Saturday and Allen departed.

 Myers is responsible for all but two of these photos. He is getting the hang of it, I would say.

Around this fire we had a lively political debate.  And I mean lively!

Overall, it was a men’s weekend and we all needed the outdoor therapy. Time in nature is like time in church. You need both to commune with our creator. It was a good crew of folks who appreciate what they have. Two of our men, AJ and Myers just saw their daughters off to college within the past week. These are rites of passage not only for the girls but these men as well. Congratulations to them for that is, to me, a great success. Raising children who have entered the world of higher learning prepared for life is the purpose of parenting and I know that Myers and AJ have done a fine job. Mark has too, but his son is quite a bit further down that road.

The weather was fine. It had to be in the 90s but the water felt as if it were in the fifties and none of us complained. Probably one of the best swims I have ever had in the backcountry. The yellow jackets are out, be warned. I predict a nice fall season with more time in the woods this year. I hope everyone here is able to get out.

-John

 

 

The Safari

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When we got off the big Uhuru summit of Kilimanjaro we took a shower at the hotel in Moshi. I was now in full blown respiratory distress and spent the afternoon/ night in a fever. Imagine being in a hotel in Africa and freezing to death then burning up. Yes, the idea of a safari, or anything else, for that matter was not enticing. But, then again, neither was being laid up sick.  So, we made arrangements, again through Evans, to leave early the next day and drive to Arusha, several hours away and eventually toward Tarangiri National Park.

Tarangiri was warm but the dusty roads weren’t helping my condition. Still, we pushed on and saw our first animals, ones that would signify the abundance of Africa, the Thompson Gazelles.

Soon we were knee deep in zebra and wildebeest.

  Then we saw our first elephants.

 Thompson gazelle are like the buffet items for predators.

Much like you see in Discovery, animals congregate at the watering hole.

Not that they weren’t plentiful elsewhere.

After several hours cruising Tarangiri, we drove for a bit to our first lodging which was exquisite. For some reason I didn’t take any photographs here but we had individual bungalos and incredible food. We would depart early the next morning for Serengeti.

All smiles for a minute as we paid our fees and entered this marvel of nature. It spans 12,000 square miles and extends well into Kenya. The Maasai people used to inhabit this area and are abundant throughout. You recognize them by their colorful dress.

 Howard captured this moment with the Maasai. Then we zoomed in to see how they really felt about being photographed.

Elephants on the move in Serengeti.

We couldn’t get out of the Land Cruiser much. There were dangerous animals around.

  (the ubiquitous gazelle)

 Three jaguar.  But wait until you see what happens here.

Howard captured this Hemingway moment with his phone.  It was amazing. We would see many more amazing things later on.

 Yes, it was Africa hot in the Serengeti. And since we were in cold temps on Kilimanjaro, this was refreshing. But the monkeys needed shade.

The hippos had the right idea.

It had been a long and eventful day. We rode to our lodging for the night, smack dab in the middle of the bush.

We were treated to a tent resort in the middle of the Serengeti. And it was the nicest tent lodging I will likely ever experience.

It even had a satellite internet connection. There are rules about camping in the middle of lion country though. You are escorted to your tent and you don’t leave your tent until sunrise. But the tents were luxurious.

We even had a campfire at dusk.

Our private bungaloo in the Serengeti.

and a hyena slipped lightly along the edge of it.

After an interesting night in a tent with full size beds, bathrooms and a shower, we were off for another morning in the Serengeti.

(I’m quite proud of this one and may frame it)

The Serengeti is breathtaking.  But we had miles to go and reach the infamous Ngorngoro Crater.

We exited Serengeti and had a bit of a time getting out due to paperwork issues.

Ngorngoro is an interesting place both geographically and taxonomically.

And it was here that we were enveloped in a moment that I will never forget. You can experience it with us here through the miracle of video technology.

Simply incredible to be a part of this experience. It was a somber thing and affirming thing to witness.

From the top of the Ngorongoro Crater. We dropped way down into this feature.

 

We completed our safari with a stop at another park, Lake Manyara.  It’s 125 square miles near Arusha. This smaller park is home to thriving elephant, water buffalo and waterfowl populations not seen in other parks. We finished our journey back at the Oasis we stayed in the first night. This dream had seen us all profoundly moved by the wildness of Africa. I strongly encourage everyone to consider a safari. Our land cost was less than $1400 per person for four days, all inclusive. Our guide, Adidas, was simply unbelievable. His eye for wildlife, combined with his no nonsense and crowd avoidant style made him a perfect fit for the three of us. Again, it was Evans with Baraka Trails that arranged this for our team and we are ever so appreciative. Let me know if you are interested in doing this and I will be glad to make the appropriate introductions for you and your family. I know I sound like a paid endorser, but that is not the case. To have someone greet you at the airport and return you there with every detail patiently attended in between is without a price.  And we are grateful for it.

 

 

Mt. Kilimanjaro

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Kilimanjaro July 3-18 2019.

Long on our bucket list, Kili loomed like a storm cloud over my climbing resume. Everyone had finished it at some point. Brian Moran told me it was his favorite of them all. Many thwarted attempts to secure plane tickets had been derailed by exorbitant prices. But, late in the spring of this year,  ticket prices dropped and so did our credit cards. Before we knew it, Laurel and I had pulled the trigger. A short time later, we mentioned it to Howard who was gung ho following his successful trek to Everest Base camp.

I reached out to my friend from Everest, Sibusiso Vilane. We spent a good deal of down time in Namche last spring waiting for rope fixing on the mountain. I learned that he was quite an expert on Kilimanjaro, having led multiple trips there. He is also quite well know in Africa as being the first black man to summit Everest and has completed what we call the Explorers Grand Slam. That includes all the highest peaks on each continent plus the two poles. He has summited Everest twice and was going for a no oxygen attempt in 2018 which was unsuccessful.

Sibu, aka “Simba” suggested that I contact Evans with Baraka Trails. After a string of correspondence and logistics we agreed upon the 7 day Lemosho Route. That is what Laurel and I had researched as having the best chance for summit success given the acclimatization built into that path. Next we had to determine if a safari would be an appropriate way to conclude our sojourn. Our triumvirate collectively agreed that we would wait until the conclusion of the climb to pull that trigger. Evans had us lined up in that eventuality.

Evans put us up in a great hotel in Moshi and agreed to deliver a copy of my book to Sibusiso at his request. I now have a copy of Sibu’s book about his journey from nothing to the top of Everest. It is incredibly inspirational.

It takes a full day to get to Tanzania. We began in Knoxville, then Atlanta, then Amsterdam then Kilimanjaro International.  Very jet-weary, we de-planed and Evans was waiting patiently as we navigated our first objective hazard, Tanzania customs. Our gracious host had been waiting patiently outside for two hours. Nevertheless, he drove us over one and a half hours to Moshi where we would disembark for the mountain. I trusted him immediately, not just because of his recommendation from Sibu, but his genuine honesty and kind face.  We were all immediately at ease with our African host and his driver. We  were in good hands.

Evans put us up in a great hotel in Moshi and agreed to deliver a copy of my book to Sibusiso at his request. I now have a copy of Sibu’s book about his journey from nothing to the top of Everest. It is incredibly inspirational.

After at day in Moshi and making final preparations, we were picked up early on July 6 where we headed to the National Park for weighing of supplies and permits. Our three -person team was supported by 13 support staff. This included two guides, a cook, waiter and personal toilet tent.  These are luxuries I have never experienced on any expedition. Our first day saw us begin in the rain forest as we followed varying monkeys for several hours on a short day to the Big Tree Camp. Here we found what would come to characterize our subsequent journey to the roof of Africa. Food was gourmet, service was unequaled and smiles abundant. Our lead guide was Florian and the number 2 was Mustafa. They never left our side. We had a restful night in the first camp from an elevation of 6900 to 8695 feet at Mkubwa (Big Tree) Camp.

Laurel, Howard, myself and Mustafa, who had to make an unfortunate departure from our expedition later in the trip.

The next day was dramatic. Many, many teams were sharing this campsite low in the jungle. It was quite the party scene amongst the low stung canopy we would soon lose. As we packed up in the morning, monkeys took over for scraps of food as we chased the rising sun up into a different alpine zone. Kilimanjaro is unique in the variety of scenery experienced on the respective climbs. This day would find us ascending something called the Elephant Ridge which reminded me of the Appalachains. It was like somewhere between Bob’s Bald and the Hangover, perhaps even going up Slickrock Creek.  The geographic relief was dramatic and we gained a bit of elevation. Some struggled with the increased altitude. Instead of setting up at the next campsite, Shira 1, we pushed on through to Shira 2. However, our team halted at Shira 1 and prepared a full, hot lunch for us. Can you believe our entire expedition stopped to perform this task and set up not just a dining and cook area but the toilet tent as well. It was the best spaghetti I ever had. We would need the carbs for the second portion of our day. This was a full eight hour hike and we found our elevation gain now to be 12,600 feet. Quite significant jump and we were all feeling some effect of the new increase. Shira 2 was above the clouds and afforded dramatic vistas into the jungle below. Some headaches were experienced by Laurel and Howard. Overall, though, the Diamox was doing its job for them and our porters were carrying the heavy loads. I had about 15 pounds on my back just in the form of junk, aka, usual trail detritus. I don’t think it is possible for me to go light on any ascent. We did 12 miles this day and I was feeling them.

The next morning we would climb over the hills and into dust. I was not feeling well at all due to a severe sore throat and sinus issues. It was uncomfortable given the climb we faced. Howard had been struggling with a chest cold he acquired on the airplane and I caught it full bore. Unfortunately, we had some miles to do and elevation to gain.

The Lemosho route gains this Lava Tower for acclimatization purposes. Our porters bypassed this and proceeded directly to the next campsite. The Lava Tower is 15,200 feet but we would lose much of that dropping back down to our next campsite. This is strictly for acclimatization purposes and it is well served for a summit on Kilimanjaro. Climb high and sleep low. That is important.

You can see that the zones are more interesting as we climb.

This is Baranca camp. We would rise early the next morning to make our big ascent of the infamous Baranca wall.

 Despite looking great here, I wasn’t doing well. Awaking with the worst sore throat I can remember which turned into a full blown chest infection and eventually, pneumonia on summit day.

 

Of course, Howard was thriving. He suffered with a cold but it didn’t migrate into pneumonia. I’m proud of how well he handled some challenging terrain.

Our fourth morning we tackled the infamous Baranca Wall, which was over a thousand feet of climbing, some of it required three points of contact.  It was cold and we warmed up negotiating the volcanic terrain.

Now I look more like how I was feeling.  Usual Buff expedition luck.

It really was quite steep in this section.

We never lost sight of our objective through our travails. I loved the walking, doing all of it in tennis shoes save for summit night.

 Laurel contracted a day long nose bleed. I’ll let her tell you how that happened.  But it did bleed for most of the day. This was at our high camp from which we were to make our summit bid. (That is Mustafa tending to her on the right.) Unfortunately, Musatafa had to make an unplanned departure from our expedition. His brother had died as a result of self inflicted wounds and we were very sad for our new friend and his family.  It was a bittersweet goodbye.

We departed at midnight and I was in full blown fever as we left our warm tents for temperatures that hovered in the low teens. Laurel and Howard learned what it means to make a true “alpine start” as we headed off into the unknown with two replacement porters. Rest stepping and pressure breathing we climbed from 15,000 feet to the volcano crater at 19,000 feet. It took us a full 7.5 hours. Pole’ Pole’ the Swahili language reminds us.  Go slow, go slow.

People asked about the snow up there. Now you see what remains. Very little of the white stuff but a whole lot to remind us of the effects of global warming, which is a real phenomena. Glaciers are retreating across the globe and our mountains are losing their snow.

I was not feeling well but a summit raised my spirits considerably.  This was my fourth of the seven and minus health issues, thoroughly enjoyed.

I was proud of Laurel and Howard.  Another interesting aside is that we lost one of our porters on the summit push to altitude sickness. Yeah, it happens even to the locals.  We climbed four thousand feet. After taking some time on the summit, we began our descent and my friends learned one of the cheater ways to get down off a mountain quick; plunge stepping through scree. It is the stand up version of glissading and we dropped elevation fast.

 We had a LOOOOONG day ahead. To our surprise, however, our porters and support staff greeted us an hour up from base camp with cold drinks. I can’t say enough about the kindness of our Kili family and Daddy Evans of Baraka Trails.

After a brief respite in our high camp, it was time to descend back to 10,000 feet. Yes, it turned into a Bataan Death march. Although the air got thicker, so did the soles of my feet and blackening toenail.  We had been up since 11 pm and it was now well past 2 pm with many more miles to descend lower into the jungle floor.

We arrived at our final camp worn out but chewing on the thick air. After a delicious and celebratory dinner, we retired and slept like the dead.  I was coughing and hacking up parts of the dusty mountain in addition to my lungs and spine.

This map gives some perspective of our route.

You can see by the elevation profiles that we did some serious altitude and mileage that final day.  But it was worth it.  Totally.

I hope you get the chance to visit Tanzania.  In my next installment, I will focus on the Safari, which is an entirely different experience and one not to be missed.