Climbing Kilimanjaro Part I: Getting Ready (…To Die!?)

 I don’t know if it was reading Hemingway’s book as a kid, but for as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

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And a couple of years ago, I decided to finally do it.

It was during my final shopping trip to REI that I started to have doubts.  I was at the checkout counter with everything from waterproof mittens, a down jacket and hiking socks to antibacterial wet wipes, an in-rucksack platypus water carrier with insulated tubing that won’t freeze, and a headlamp with spare batteries…

“Where are you off to?” asks the woman ringing me up.

“Africa.  I’m going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in a few weeks,” I answer.  I get a jolt of excitement, and nerves, every time I say that out loud.

“Oh, wow!  I did it in September.”

“And?  How was it?”

“Awesome.  Truly.  You’ll love it.  I have two pieces of advice.  First, buy a bunch of pens and bring them to give to the kids.  There are kids who have come to expect foreigners to give them candy or money.  Giving pens just felt better to me than handing out a bunch of bubble gum.”

“OK.  That’s a great tip.  What else?”

“Take the Diamox.  Do you have a prescription for it?”

“Yep.  I went to the doc last week, and I already picked it up.”

“OK.  Good.  Don’t mess around.  Take it.  Two people died when I was summiting.  Not in my group, but the same day I summited.  From altitude sickness.  It means you’ll have to pee all the time, but…I think that’s a small price to pay for, well, living.”

Holy. Shit!  I just stood there and looked at her.  I had thought the biggest risk was the embarrassment of having to admit I didn’t summit.  My sister’s friend had been carried down the mountain in a wheelbarrow when she got altitude sickness and couldn’t go on.  The thought of being rolled down a mountain was mortifying, but a risk I was willing to take.  Two people died?

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I left REI with shopping bags full of supplies, and a healthy new respect for all the potential (maybe probable?) risks in my upcoming adventure.

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