Whoosh! Issue 38 - November 1999


IAXS project #739
By Tamara Poirier
Content copyright © 1999 held by author
Edition copyright © 1999 held by Whoosh!
15488 words

Why Kilimanjaro? (01-13)
From Canada To Tanzania: Sunday, 08/22/99 (14-29)
Preparing For The Climb: Wednesday, 08/25/99 (30-37)
The Trek Begins: Thursday, 08/26/99 (38-56)
9300 Feet And Still Ticking: Thursday, 08/26/99 (57-72)
13,800 Feet At Mawenzi Tarn: Saturday, 08/28/99 (73-92)
A Day Of Rest -- Kinda: Sunday, 08/29/99 (93-106)
Crossing The Saddle: Monday, 08/30/99, 6am (107-121)
Uhuru Bound: Monday, 08/30/99, 10:30pm (122-126)
Reaching The Summit: Tuesday, 08/31/99 (127-155)
What Goes Up Must Come Down (156-174)
Debriefing: Wednesday, 09/01/99 (175-178)
Post-Script (179-186)
Notes (187-188)

Alzheimers, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Xena, And Me: A Journal

Fortunately, Tamara talked Xena back from the ledge

Me and Xena atop Mt. Kilimanjaro
To view this .mov you will need Quicktime 4.0. DOWNLOAD IT HERE.

Why Kilimanjaro?

[01] What you are about to read are the contents of my diary from my climb up Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, Africa. Before you get to the good stuff, where I'm gasping for breath and dragging my derriere, I need to fill you in on how I happened to arrive at that point. I still wonder that myself.

Are dandruff flakes embarrassing you?

Mount Kilimanjaro rises majestically from a rolling plain close to the Indian Ocean -- from hot savanna to a barren and frigid 3-1/2 mile high peak. It is the highest mountain in Africa, volcanic in origin, and the tallest free-standing mountain on earth. Its name is derived from "Kilima Njaro", meaning "Mountain of Greatness".
[02] I was an avowed couch potato up until four years ago, when a certain Warrior Princess changed everything for me. Inspired to start working out by Xena, I slowly built up my regime from 20 minutes a day, 3 times a week (always while watching my Xena: Warrior Princess videotapes) to today which, well, is very often.

[03] A year ago, I read the online story of Renee O'Connor's climb of Kilimanjaro and numerous other tales of the trek up one of the most famous mountains in the world. I thought to myself, "Gee, you'd have to be in great shape to do that!" You could almost see the light bulb go on over my head, as "From Couch Potato to Kilmanjaro" became my mantra, the goal I had to focus on while working out.

[04] Then I learned about Ascent for Alzheimer's, a climb of Kilimanjaro to raise money for the Alzheimer Society of British Columbia. A group of ten climbers pay all their own expenses and try to raise $100,000 in pledges to go towards the non-profit Society for research, education, and caregiver support.

[05] I reflected on my personal experience with this vicious illness. My partner Doug and I have spent the last four years taking care of our elderly neighbor, a widow with no family here, who had developed dementia. We tried to help her as she declined in health and memory until finally she was put into a care facility. Witnessing her deterioration from a proud, self-sufficient woman to one being fed through a tube, lying in a fetal position, was an emotional journey. One which left me feeling powerless to help her.

[06] Ascent for Alzheimer's would give me a way to do something in the name of my neighbor. I went to her and told her that I was planning on climbing the highest mountain in Africa. She smiled for the first time in months and said, "If anyone can do it, you can." That was all the encouragement I needed. I promised her that I would bring back photos of myself standing on the summit. I only hoped she would live long enough to see it.

Oxy-10 cleared up all these unsightly blemishes

Mt. Kilimanjaro from outer space. Location: 3.07 S, 37.35 E. Elevation: 19,335.6 ft (5,895m)
[07] The group of 10 of us who signed up for this adventure met in May to begin training together. We were a very diverse group, some of whom had a direct connection to Alzheimer's and some who loved the challenge that the combination of climbing and fundraising presented. Although a few of us worked out regularly, none of us were what you would call an "athlete". I had never been hiking before and, in fact, hated camping. We were told we would be going up the mountain for a week in two man tents, on a little-used route where we would not be seeing another soul, led by two very experienced Canadian guides, Jim Haberl and his wife, Sue Oakey.

[08] In that initial meeting, Jim confidently proclaimed he was sure we would all make it to the top. Both his and Sue's positive attitudes and brilliant smiles were infectious. They made us forget little things like a lack of physical ability and the possibility of altitude sickness.

[09] Tragically, we were stunned when Jim was killed in an avalanche in Alaska just a few days after our meeting. At his memorial service, Sue spoke movingly about her lost partner. She said we all have mountains to climb before us and that we should take his spirit with us and, even if it takes fifteen breaths for every step, we would make it.

[10] Unbelievably, Sue found the will to continue on as our guide and a second guide, Matt, joined us. Our group was complete, our training was underway, and the fundraising had begun in earnest. Since I work at a television station, Global Vancouver, I volunteered to shoot the African portion of the climb for a documentary on Alzheimer's they would produce and broadcast. The station also agreed to do live phone call interviews with us from the mountain to raise awareness of the climb and the illness.

[11] Our training climbs gave us the chance to bond as a team and to learn more about each other. We found out both Matt and Sue lost their grandfathers to Alzheimer's. Just last year, Sandy's mother succumbed to it. We had more than enough reasons as to why this climb was necessary.

[12] Then, before we knew it, it was time to leave.

Say 'Oxygen!'

A group shot at Mawenzi, 14,000 feet
[13] But before we get there, here is a quick rundown of the team:

53, my tentmate. Avid hiker and traveler. As a volunteer with the Alzheimer Society, she will be our media spokesperson.

Mid-40's, thoughtful, competitive guy. Very fit.

Mid-40's, fun and easy going, ex-cop.

Lisbet & Iain
Mid-50's, relaxed couple who like a challenge

The Campbells
Prominent political family. Gord and Nancy, 50-ish and their two sons, Nicholas, 19 and Jeff, 23. Gord and Nancy competed in a triathalon years ago, but Gord claims he's been stuck behind a desk for years. Their sons are fit young guys. They all say their wanted to share this experience as a family. Due to Gord's celebrity, they will be under intense media scrutiny.

Early 40's, calm, careful, capable guide. Very experienced climber (Everest) and eloquent speaker.

33, our leader. Unbelievable courage and strength of character.

38, tenacious ex-couch potato.

Climbers in the Mist

All the women on the climb in one picture!

From Canada To Tanzania: Sunday, 08/22/99

[14] Packing to leave, I'm actually organized. A surprise. I decide to pack my boots, along with the two video cameras I'm taking to shoot the documentary with, in my backpack that I'm carrying on the plane -- all the important stuff together, so if they lose my bags, I'll be okay. I have a main camera with a wide-angle lens, wireless microphones and tripod, and a little backup camera for emergencies.

[15] I manage to fit everything into 2 duffel bags. My backpack is huge and heavy. I have the solar panel and my special package clipped on it.

[16] At the airport, it's quite a scene. Media and cameras. Many people. KLM won't let me check the solar panel. They say security will never let it go through. I must send it in my luggage. I am worried about this. If the panel doesn't show up, I won't be able to charge the batteries for the cameras! KLM sounds confident that it will show up.

[17] Our team gathers and pictures are taken, our first as a group. Doug walks me to the departure gate. He tells me to look at the moon at 6 am the morning we're climbing and he'll look at 8 pm and we'll share the moment. I promise to do that.

Mountain climbing team and varsity glee club

Our first picture together as a group, at the airport in Vancouver
[18] I pass through the customs X-Ray and go to the gate. Almost everyone is there. Peggy immediately says that I can't wear jeans on the plane because they will be too constricting and uncomfortable. She gives me her sweatpants to wear.She'll travel in her shorts.

[19] I start to rummage around my sack to see if there's room to fit my jeans and see, to my horror, that I've forgotten my special package at the X-Ray machine. I RUN back and retrieve it, trying to imagine how devastated I would have been to forget it.

[20] I come to the realization on the plane that I had checked my bags through to Kilimanjaro and only had the backpack, which contains the technical gear and my toothbrush. No deodorant, clean underwear, or socks for the overnight in Amsterdam! The others in the group make fun of me, but Peggy once again comes to the rescue and offers me personal hygiene products. I am going to be on my own for the underwear, however.

[21] Our plane to Africa was leaving at 10:30 am the next day, so we wanted to check to make sure my equipment bags (the tripod and audio case) had made it through. Sue (our guide) and I asked KLM where they were and the woman said she could find one piece but not the other. Great! But she did say two bags with handwritten tags were checked through, so we figured they were ours.

[22] I hopped the plane to Kilimanjaro. It was an amazing sight to see the blue ocean give way to the coast of Africa. Everyone was excited to see it. Unfortunately, the camera was in the overhead bin and, by the time I got it down, we were over endless, featureless desert.

[23] Landing in Kilimanjaro, I took shots of us disembarking. This put us at the end of a long, slow immigration line. Once I finally got through, I found the equipment had made it safe and sound! Yahoo! But the thrill was short-lived, as I discovered one of my duffel bags was missing, the one containing my warm clothes, clean underwear, and sleeping bag. This did not make me happy. The KLM woman was none too speedy (she worked on African time) and was busy dealing with a nun and a hunter, both of whom had lost their bags too. The hunter, in particular, was annoyed because he had lost his guns.

[24] KLM said either my bag was still in Amsterdam, or had gone onto Dar es Salaam. Either way, it wouldn't arrive for days. Obviously a problem, since we are starting to climb Thursday and half my gear is missing. Matt, our other guide, says that he will arrange to have a porter chase us up the mountain with it when it arrives. In the meantime, we make plans to get gear donated from everyone else in the team. Now I'm looking like a genius for carrying my boots on!

[25] The Jeeps from the hotel have not arrived. There is some kind of mix-up. We are all exhausted, it's 9 pm and we just want to sleep. Sue calls the hotel and we are told it will be another 2 hours before someone comes for us.

[26] I venture to the bathroom, my favorite way to judge a country (that and how good their Caesar salad is). There are 4 stalls, only one of which looks like it might work. There is a puddle of water all around the toilet and the seat is soaked. I squat, avoiding any contact. I find out why it's in the state it is when I go to flush it. There is no top on the tank and water gushes forth like a fountain, spraying everywhere. I run for cover.

[27] The rides finally arrive. All our gear is jammed into one and the other carries all of us. We set off for the hotel. Our first impression of Africa: it's dark. We pass people walking down pitch-black roads in the middle of nowhere. We pass three guys herding cows, using flashlights to direct oncoming cars. Don and I strain to catch a glimpse of the mountain. It's a crisp, clear night and we imagine every bump in the landscape might be Kilimanjaro.

[28] When we got to the hotel the staff had tea and muffins waiting for us. We all gulped some down and went to bed. I was extremely grateful to finally be able to shed that pair of underwear. Of course, I only had a sports bra and long underwear to wear, but it would do.

[29] Tomorrow, we start to get ready.

Preparing For The Climb: Wednesday, 08/25/99

[30] I woke up very early and was stunned by how quiet it was. My ears were ringing with the silence. I strained to hear anything, especially the sound of a wild animal. Then I heard it. Something in the distance. What was it? A dog barking. How exotic! I lay there for a while longer and suddenly one bird started chirping. Within 5 minutes it was joined by thousands of others, of all different types, until I just wanted to yell "shut up!!!"

[31] No word on my bag. KLM hasn't even started tracking it. Not looking good. Sue went around and checked everyone's equipment, which I shot. Matt said I should plan on not having my stuff. Great. I'm missing my sleeping bag, all my medicines, my hat, gloves, warm clothes, my safari clothes, and, worst of all, my Tilley hat (a world famous safari hat, perfect for keeping the sun off your head)! Everyone from the team donates something to me. They all come by and drop something off (not unlike the prisoners in THE DEBT who clothe Xena!).

Got any autographed pictures we can sell on eBay?

Two little boys we met in the village.
[32] We go in for a tour of a nearby village. They're all wise to the tourists and some want money to be photographed, except at this wonderful school where the kids put on a show for us spontaneously. I get some great pictures in the village of a small boy scrubbing sandals in a bucket of water in front of his mud hut, some little boys crying as their mothers coax them to come and see us, kids in the schoolyard playing. Everywhere, you see people walking with jugs to carry water home in. It hits me how we take it for granted that we have water available out of the tap.

Teacher, can we be excused? Xena's on in ten minutes.

The children of the village school
[33] After lunch, Seamus, the hotel owner, walks us through what to expect on the climb, which is very informative. He mentions that he went through the formality of the film permit for us, which is simply a matter of paying $100 per day. However, in the afternoon, he returns with bad news. He is stunned to report that we have been turned down and doesn't know why, even though we are fully prepared to pay the fee. He and I quickly whip up a letter for him to take to the High Commissioner in Arusha tomorrow morning. After hauling this freaking camera half way around the world, I might not be able to take it to shoot with! Argh!

Xena and Gabrielle's next adventure site

Kilimanjaro is located near Arusha and Moshi near the north eastern Kenyan border.
[34] We learn from other hikers that it's been -25 at the summit.

[35] The moon is almost full tonight. I'm going to get a shot of it in case I don't get another chance. Oh oh! The new battery I put in dies after 5 minutes. That means I've gone through 3 batteries in one day of shooting. I only have 10 in total. And guess what? We spent part of the afternoon chasing the sun with the solar panel to charge the batteries but it was cloudy and they didn't charge much at all. Hmmm, things are not starting out great, but at least I have my boots.

[36] I just took my first Pepto Bismol. We are being very careful and only drinking bottled water, yet my stomach is very upset, from lunch I'm guessing, since I haven't eaten dinner yet. Is this going to turn into the trip from hell? Stay tuned!

[37] Next, we start the climb!

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