Countdown to Kili: Just Give Me a Mountain

Tatu, Mbili, Moja…. Hakuna Matata!

I have been awfully remiss in writing any Countdown to Kili posts, so I thought the least I could do is give you a countdown in Swahili. Seven months seemed such a long time when I started, and I had visions of giving you a monthly update, with cool facts about Kilimanjaro sprinkled in, to get you – and, more to the point, me – excited.

Well. I don’t know about you, but after putting the date on my calendar, I pretty much forgot about it.

Photo courtesy of Jacky du Plessis

I realized that our Kili trip is inching uncomfortably close. Three weeks from now, to be precise. I realized this because I was standing with a few friends, and one of them, having heard that I was planning a Kili climb, proceeded to quiz me on every detail.”When are you going?”

Gulp. “Errr – first week of September,” I volunteer.

“Wow, that’s awesome, how impressive, that’s coming up soon!” she chirps.

She has a point. I do a quick calculation in my head and remember that I am supposed to make a doctor’s appointment for altitude sickness and malaria medication, apply for Tanzanian visas, buy a couple of duffel bags and check my list for anything else that’s still missing in the next four weeks, two of which we will spend travelling through Namibia. Not to mention all the daily walking in my hiking boots I am supposed to have done.

I make a mental note to write a Kili to-do list as soon as I get home. I always feel better after writing a long list.

But my friend clearly isn’t done. “Which airport are you flying into?”

At this I open my mouth, then close it again. I have no idea what airport we’re flying into. I consult my brain to see if I even know any cities in Tanzania.

I don’t.

“You know, where all the people who are climbing Kili fly into,” I pronounce with all the confidence I can muster. All I know is that someone booked plane tickets for us. I don’t even know who that is, if I’m completely honest.

“Oh, I’m so excited for you,” she goes on. “So what route will you be climbing?”

Wait… I used to know this. There was definitely mention of a route. Of which we are taking the longer one, I do remember that. To better acclimatize. They all have complicated names which I can’t remember, although some of them have nicknames, which I do remember, like the Coca-Cola Route and the Whiskey Route.

I’ve personally been hoping they’ll open up a Chardonnay one, myself.

This interrogation reminds me of another conversation I’ve recently had, where someone wanted to know, of all the possible things one might want to know, whether we were climbing Kili during a full moon. I was so speechless I didn’t know what to say. I don’t know when there is a full moon at the best of times, until I happen to notice it right there in the sky, and it usually makes me happy to see it, but that’s it. I certainly don’t think I’ve ever planned a vacation according to the moon cycle. I mean, think of all the considerations – when are the kids out of school, when can I get a babysitter, when is the weather even suited to climb up 6000 meters – because, frankly, full moon or not, I would rather not die of hypothermia in a seasonal snowstorm, etc etc.

Forgive me, but the moon is rather far down on my priority list.

In any case, my friend S, who is standing with us and is also one of the climbers, cuts off any further questions with an authorative “Don’t ask us all these technical questions. We’ll just show up where they tell us and start walking. Just give us a mountain.”

And it’s true. Those are exactly my sentiments. In fact, I’m secretly looking forward to the Kili trip, even though publicly pretending to be in awe of the magnitude of it, and the effort. In reality it has all the trappings of a dream vacation.

Beyond lacing up my boots in the morning, I won’t have to plan my day.

I won’t have to do any shopping.

I won’t have to cook any meals.

I won’t have to plan any meals.

I won’t have to urge anybody along, other than myself.

I won’t have to answer any questions. Beyond “Are you going to have the tea or the coffee” upon dragging myself into camp each afternoon.

I won’t really  have to think about anything. Other than what might be the best spot for my you-know-what, and whether it really was necessary to schlepp along that garden trowel from my packing list. I will have hours just to contemplate that single point.

Some people are such planners. I’m sure they would have read that Guide to Kilimanjaro cover to cover, fretted over the benefits and drawbacks of all the different routes. In fact I’m sure I will be paired with one of those people on  my first day, who will then proceed to tell me, in detail, all the things that can possibly go wrong.

Of course there is also the other kind of people, the ones where you DO wish THEY had read the memo, because just as you are about to start walking, they have a million questions. Like “What if we can’t go on” and “How will we know we can’t go on” and “Will somebody climb back down the mountain with us if we can’t go on.” When we toured Vic Falls we had a couple like that in our canoeing group, and when we were just about to step into the Mighty Zambezi – can you imagine the glorious moment? – it went like this for about an hour: Our guide would show how to paddle on the left if you want to turn right, and the woman would say “wait a minute, let me see if I got this right – if you want to turn to the right, you paddle on the left like this?” and she would demonstrate. Then she asked things like what if we get attacked by a hippo, what if we get attacked by a crocodile, is there anything else we might be attacked by, when will we be picked up again, where precisely will we be picked up again, where will we be brought from there, how long will it take before we have the first break, where can we put our camera, do you have a water proof bag, do we EACH get a water proof bag…  The fact that they were dressed up in matching His- and Her safari gear (or what someone shopping on 5th Avenue in New York might consider to be proper safari gear) didn’t help. By the time we finally got going, Noisette and I were frankly hoping we would, indeed, be attacked by something that might have an appetite for New Yorkers asking too many questions.

I find “What if?” the most tiresome question there is. I have a child who can spend hours quizzing me on what-if scenarios. The one time she couldn’t decide an entire weekend-long whether she would want to sleep out in the open with the other kids on our final night, or back at the lodge with the adults. She drove me absolutely insane with her indecision on the issue, trying to weigh every what-if angle there was and somehow always involving me in the deliberations, and in the end we accidentally set the bush on fire and the sleeping-out night didn’t happen because now we had a REAL problem to tackle. All that fretting over nothing. So whenever she now comes to me with similar worries, I just say: “Let’s wait till the time comes. Remember that fire.”

I am not much of a planner, lengthy lists notwithstanding. Really. Although my kids will swear that I plan every minute of their life, I really do not enjoy planning. Or making decisions. Or taking charge. I HATE packing, Noisette will attest to that, because I will mention it at every turn. I’m like a sheep following the crowd. Which is why it was such a brilliant plan to find a group to join for this Kili hike. A group that includes the Energizer Bunny in human form, someone who is walking around with bricks in his backpack to prepare for the climb.

I have not been walking around with bricks in my backpack. I have not been walking around much even without bricks, come to think of it. And I have not been observing the phases of the moon.

But I am confident that once we get there it will be fairly obvious what I must do.

Just give me a mountain.

This is not Mount Kilimanjaro by any stretch of the imagination, but I refuse to use somebody else’s picture until I can take my own. Even if it’s just from half-way up.

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