Where in the World is JIU? Our CAO, Dr. Paulsen, was on top of Mount Kilimanjaro!

Posted on: January 31, 2013

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Where in the World is JIU?

On top of Kilimanjaro!


A travel journal from our CAO, Dr. Marijane Paulsen

Well, I did climb very high – over 19,000 feet – to reach the top of Kilimanjaro in late October of 2012. I had always wanted to do that hike, and when an opportunity presented itself to me in mid-year, I decided that I was game and would do it. I began by increasing the intensity of my daily 10,000 steps (I’ve worn a pedometer for years, and usually get my daily 10K from a combination of treadmill and normal everyday walking.) But to train for Kilimanjaro, I increased the treadmill incline by several degrees, as well as the speed – usually exercising at a brisk 4.5 miles an hour. I also began cycling, after a 50 year absence. And the experts are right – the minute I got back on a bike, I remembered enough to be able to ride it.

I also read everything I could about Kilimanjaro, and about the route I would be taking. I began thinking about how it would feel, and what I would need to pack, and what absolute necessities I would include to carry in my backpack. I’m never without makeup or earrings or silk scarves or hosiery during my working week, but those were all left at home. And you know what, I didn’t really miss them. I also didn’t take a hair dryer (would have been difficult to lug up a 19,000 foot electrical cord) or a makeup mirror. I checked with my primary care physician and with the county health department to find out what vaccines I needed ahead of time and the medication I needed to pack. And as I got closer to the date of departure, I was confident about my ability to successfully climb Kili.

We flew to Tanzania, and landed at Kilimanjaro Airport, located in the city of Arusha. We met the other members of our ten person trekking party (eight individuals from Germany and two of us from the United States) and the 16 guides, cooks, porters and assistants who would be walking with us. We got to know each other quite well during the next week. We journeyed by bus to the entrance to the national park, and were required to provide our names, show our passports, and essentially sign in. We each had paid about $100.00 to hike up Kili, and were told that those of us who were successful would receive a certificate of completion signed by the park warden.

The campsite

We hiked for about 4 hours the first day, and enjoyed a pleasant walk through old maize and banana farms. (The government has recently placed a ban on more farms, but has grandfathered the existing ones.)We were on a gentle ascent, with a 2300 foot altitude gain, and by early evening were in an evergreen biome with abundant ferns and streams. We saw a number of Colobus monkeys and a number of native birds. We were told our first night’s stay would be at “First Cave Campsite” though we didn’t see any caves. We had dinner (red snapper, potatoes and vegetables) prepared by excellent cooks and while we were eating the porters assembled our tents. (The places we camped had names that promised buildings, as in Horombo Huts, Kibo Lodges, etc but there were few if any permanent buildings along the way. And I’d never slept in a tent on the ground before. Interesting experience, and as the tents were very, very small getting in and out was an experience….)

We woke up early (about 6:00 am) the next morning, and enjoyed a good breakfast compliments of the cooks. They also boiled water for us to carry (3 liters a day) in our CamelBaks. We were also to carry everything else we might need during the day – rainproof jackets and pants, layering hiking clothes in case we got cold, plus energy bars/trail mix for lunch and appropriate first aid kits, sunscreen, dark glasses, hats, electrolyte chews, toilet paper, etc. Our tents, bedrolls and extra clothes/shoes were carried by the porters. We were encouraged to assemble and carry our walking poles, as the day’s trek would be more difficult than yesterday’s. Before we left, we enjoyed a good view of Kenya to our east, and Kilimanjaro to our west. Except that you couldn’t see Kili, as it was obscured by clouds. (In fact, we didn’t see all of Kili until our fourth day.)

We walked from about 8:30 am until 7:00 pm this second day, and it was a great deal more difficult than yesterday’s easy climb. There were lots of very large boulders to climb over and steep inclines and descents. And we walked about 6 miles, according to my pedometer (our altitude gain was about 3100 feet. The walk reminded me of the top half of Pikes Peak – trees were getting smaller, and there was less vegetation, and more big rocks…We had rice for dinner with a vegetable stew served over it. And I really enjoyed a fresh carrot soup that had ginger in it. (Ginger is grown in Zanzibar, an island off the east coast that is part of Tanzania.) Our second night was at Kikelewa Camp, and I really enjoyed getting into the tiny tent and closing my eyes.

The next morning it was cold when I woke up. We’re definitely gaining altitude, and Debbie told us we’d be walking to Mawenzi Tarn (lake) Hut to stay both this third and the fourth night. We walked quite a few miles this third day, and it was relatively easy. We are getting close to a plant less zone, and the most abundant items I saw growing were lichens. There were also strange, Joshua Tree-like plants that I think were species of Lebelia. And we saw a great number of crows, especially near our camps. (They were actively searching for dropped food.) Our camps site included the name “lake” in it, but it was a very, very shallow pond with excess algae.

We arrived at Mawenzi Tarn in the early afternoon, and were told to rest as we’d go hiking up the volcano on our left (Mawenzi Peak) later in the day. Our trek leader/guide, Debbie, also took some “vitals” from us, including pulse rate and oxygen levels (pulse ox). We were all judged good to go, and were told that we were approaching the difficult part of the trek. We were at this time about 12,000 feet, when one does begin to feel the effect of altitude. And we had another 7000 feet in altitude before we would summit Kili (which was on our right).

Our mid-afternoon hike was almost straight up Mawenzi Peak, which progressed from large boulders to scree (the small grains on the sides of many Colorado mountains). Going up scree is tough, and coming down is fascinating. You can just “scree ski” with no skies on your feet. Some folks could get a good speed going, but for me the speed was scary. Having said that, going up the steep slope was also tough – I fell face forward at one point, and simply slid down. Scree and steep will do that to you, eh? Debbie wanted us to do that hike to get used to conditions we’d see at the top of Kili, and also to help us with altitude acclimation. “Hike high and sleep low” she kept saying as we walked up Mawenzi Peak. We got back in time for dinner, and then bed.

On the trail

The fourth day we trekked up the other side of Mawenzi Peak and experienced large boulders but a little less scree. We also began to hear Debbie talk to us about the symptoms of altitude sickness and what we should do if we developed it in the next two days.

We had considerable wind during our two night stay in Mawenzi Tarn, and there were beautiful clouds blowing in (and out) along with a very cold, moist mist. It reminded me of the geography of the Scottish moors. Our altitude was also making us sleep longer – the fourth night, I slept for 12 hours.

The fifth day we walked the saddle between the Mawenzi Peak and Kilimanjaro. This was probably my favorite day, as there were few boulders to climb over and the elevation gain was slow but steady. And we began to hear a Swahili phrase that would become a very important part of the Kili climb – “pole, pole” (pronounced Pole E, Pole E) which means “slowly, slowly.” We got to our camp, Kibo Huts, early in the afternoon, and took, as we had done at Mawenzi Tarn, an acclimation walk up the first 500 feet on the Kili cone. Kibo is at 16,000 feet, and the top of Kili is over 19,000. So we got a good taste of what the hike later that day would involve.

After our acclimation hike, we had dinner, and went to sleep about 7:30 pm. We were woken at 11:00 pm, and were given warm soup. Our CamelBak water bags were filled with hot water, and we turned our head lamps on and started walking as we had done earlier. But this time we knew it was for the remaining 3000 feet, and it was estimated to take about 6 hours. Should also tell you were warmly dressed, but had additional warm (and waterproof) clothes in our back packs. We had layers of clothes on, along with hats and balaclava in our backpacks to put on during the next six hours.

Walking up over boulders in the black of night was a challenge. We did have a full moon, and a beautiful starry night to aid us in this effort. And, fortunately, there was no wind. We’d been told to prepare for wind, sleet and snow, and we were fortunate to not have any of the three. It was, however, cold, and the higher we got the colder it became. I was just behind a native guide, and his steadfast and slow (“pole, pole” he kept saying) pace gave me great confidence. Twice during these six hours, two of our fellow trekkers appeared to be in trouble, and we thought they would need to walk down to Kibo Huts. But they both were able to keep going. My only challenge was that the batteries in my head lamp went out, and changing batteries with three pair of gloves on was impossible. So I got help. And I continued to climb.


Because it was so dark, you didn’t know how close you were to the summit. One of the guides said to me “It’s just a few more minutes” and he was right. All of a sudden I took a last step, and was at the top at Gilman’s Point. It was such a neat feeling, even though it was still pitch black. I took off my backpack and got the Jones Pennant out and had a fellow trekker take my picture. After a few minutes of celebration, we began to walk around the rim of the crater to Stella’s Point. It’s a few hundred steps higher, but worth the walk. As we were on the rim, the sun began to rise, and it was the most beautiful pink to red that I’ve ever seen. We were on the top of Africa’s roof, and the sun shown as brightly on the clouds below us. Spectacular, eh?

After about an hour on the rim of Kilimanjaro, we began our descent back to Kibo, and had a couple hours rest before continuing our hike down. We got about halfway down the mountain – Horombo Huts – and spent the night. And by the middle of the afternoon the next day, we were at the exit to the park. We had to officially check out, and our guide recorded our ascent time and location. We’d receive our certificate from the park ranger a few days later. We celebrated our success with a Kilimanjaro beer. I think it may have been the best beer I ever consumed – a great toast to a great week. Five and a half days up, one and a half days down, and a total of 119650 steps… I always wear a pedometer, remember?

On the trail

There was a remarkable difference in temperature between our summit and descent a day and a half later. Trekking up and down Kili was a great experience, and I am so glad I had the opportunity to do it. Thanks for letting me share my story with you.

-Marijane Axtell Paulsen