Kilimanjaro Climb - Overcoming Fear and Reaching Uhuru Peak

Photo By: Sam Hawley

Photo By: Sam Hawley

Written By: Kruti Patel

I'm realizing it has been over 3 years since I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. As tired as I would be on most days...I'm so glad I scribbled down some notes of how I felt, what had happened and what was next. When I reached Zanzibar, I took some time to collect those notes/thoughts and wrote a personal note to my family/friends. They were all eager to know how it had gone and quite frankly I was just dying to let them know how much their support had meant to (because to this day...climbing Kilimanjaro has probably been one of the most physically demanding things I've ever done....and it's changed me forever!). Hope you enjoy the note!

Hello Friends & Family,

Don’t worry! This is not another email asking you for money! I just wanted to let you know that I'm home safe & provide a re-cap on what all went down during the “Kruti Climbs Kili” adventure.

First off, a few of you have been asking “what made you want to do this?” Well it all started when I was talking to my good friend/mentor, Horace Tiggs, about my upcoming vacation to Africa. I mentioned there was an option to climb Kilimanjaro on this trip, but I had declined. Naturally, Horace asked “why?” So I provided him with lame excuses until finally I admitted that yes, it sounded like an amazing journey, but I didn’t want to set a goal that had such a high probability of failure. I explained that I had never climbed a mountain before, that most people train for 6 months and I’d have less than 6 weeks, plus I didn't think I had it in me to deal with 6 whole nights of camping! So Horace kindly reminded me the definition of a goal. He then said to me “It won’t matter if you don’t make it to Uhuru Peak, what will matter is that you tried, what will matter even more is that you tried in spite of everything you just listed, and no one KP will think less of you for that” As I was walking out the door, Horace asked one last time “KP are you committing to the climb?” and although my heart was racing…after a pause…I committed. So to answer the question, "what made you want to do this?"...I'll quote John Reader and say that it was "fear and wonder"

This climb then became a perfect opportunity to raise money for the drought victims in the Horn of Africa. After discussion with my friend Jon Lee, who was working in Nairobi at the time and would be organizing the trek, we both agreed to work with Save The Children for our fundraising efforts. By this time I only had 4 weeks left before the climb so I set yet another ambitious goal and that was to raise $4,000 in 4 weeks for the children in this region. The page was launched and the reminder emails were sent out. At the same time I began my “Kili training”, which was designed by me and now sounds like a joke, but consisted of working out 3 times a week. A few friends advised climbing Mt. Shasta or Mt. Whitney…but I had no time and so climbing 32 floors 5 times in a row at the Westin St. Francis would have to suffice! Those last few weeks were busy and before I knew it, I was at the airport boarding a 6am flight from PHX >> EWR >> ZRH >> NBO. It was 24 years later that I was returning to Africa and it would take 24 hours to get there!

For those of you interested in the details of the climb, below is a summary – but if not feel free to skip to the end!

Day 1:  Nickel, our guide, met us at the crappy “Buffalo Hotel” in Moshi and I was just happy that I didn’t have to spend another night there. The first day of the trek was beautiful since the entire walk was in a forest that reminded me of Disney’s FernGully. It wasn’t a steep climb, but definitely an incline and I asked Jon, the now ridiculous question, "is it an incline the whole way?" to which Jon responded “well you are climbing a mountain that has a peak of 19,341 ft KP, so what do you think?” I remember it rained during the last hour or so of the climb, and although I was originally pissed off that I had to buy an overpriced poncho at Machame Gate…it now was the best spent $15. We climbed 3,969 ft reaching an altitude of 9,911 ft over the course of roughly 6  hours. When we reached the campsite the porters were busy putting up the tents. Eventually the rain cleared and Uhuru Peak came into view. It seemed so far and I could not understand how it was physically possible to reach that point with just 4 days left.  I think the hardest part about day 1 was my first use of the bathroom – I sprayed my small sample of Dior J’dore near my nose, went to the extreme of putting on a surgical mask, a snowboarding face mask and zipped up my jacket over my nose….but the stench of that stall was still so offensive! My head was beginning to hurt, but at least it was bedtime.

Day 2: The climb was not long, but super steep. What made the hike more difficult was the constant rain…so much for keeping my hair straight! Within 2 hours of the climb…the headache that had disappeared, welcomed itself back into my head. It was slightly worse than Day 1, so I needed a strategy – which I decided would be to watch Nickel’s feet and take every step he took. There were def a few moments where panic set in as I attempted to cross over drenched boulders and Nickel was too far ahead to help me. Then as I strategized on where to place my foot next, I’d see a porter carrying 20 lbs on his head pass me and  panic turned into embarrassment. It was a long climb north, but after about another 2 hours we reached the campsite. I quickly found some dry clothes and took the best nap of my life. Dinner was becoming tasteless, but I did the best that I could to eat. It had been a long 4 hours and we were now at 12,595 ft!

Day 3: Ah good ‘ol Day 3. In fact it was just 2 weeks ago, that I was on the Day 3 climb and taking the words “pole pole” to a whole new level. The biggest obstacle on Day 3 was not the incline, but the altitude. We would be climbing to 15,180 ft and then descending down to 13,077 ft. If I thought Day 2 was bad, the headache of Day 3 was a complete nightmare. So it was time to pull out the big guns: DIAMOX, my new best friend for the rest of the climb. It didn’t alleviate the headache, but it definitely helped with the feeling of nausea. I nibbled on a hardboiled egg and drank mango juice for lunch as I fought the “what if” syndrome in my head…”what if I don’t make it?” and “what if I start throwing up?” and “what if…” Somehow we made it to Lava Tower and then we began our decentI remember at one point the buckle on my gator broke  and as I bent over to fix it, I felt like my brain was shaking inside my skull….yes it was that bad! Because of my obsessions with Pole Pole”… we were the last ones to arrive at the campsite that day, but it was a huge achievement. After 8 hours of walking… I drank green tea and nibbled on a pancake, then I was off to bed, waking up around 5am relieved that the headache was gone.

Day 4:  The morning of Day 4 was beautiful, again we were above the clouds and the view was unreal. The first part of today’s hike was a 2 hour vertical climb over The Great Barranco Wall. With no headache, I felt reborn and had all the energy in the world. It was again going to be a long day and by this point I was drinking stream water with a micropur pill in it…it tasted like someone had grabbed it from the YMCA pool. After reaching the top of the wall, we walked and we walked and we walked and we just kept walking…eventually reaching our lunch spot. It was after lunch that the headache came on and it came on strong. At one point it was time to take Diamox again and I remember dropping to my knees searching for it, but with my visioning blurring, I grabbed Cipro (medication for food poisoning) instead. Thank god I read the bottle a second time! Since I couldn’t let my thoughts spiral out of control in negativity, I focused on my breathing with each step. Then in the far off distance I could see a trail of trekkers climbing north to the campsite and here is where it gets strange because I honestly feel that there was something beyond my mind that convinced me to keep going. We eventually made it to the campsite, we had hiked 8 hours reaching an altitude of 15,295 ft. I had no appetite whatsoever, but Nickel said I had to eat, so I mashed around my food like a 5 year old to make it look like I ate. We had 4 hours of rest and would be woken up at 11pm to get ready for the “assault on the summit”

Day 5:  Around 12am we started in pitch darkness, each wearing a headlamp. My gloves didn’t fit properly over my liners so I could barley grip my trekking poles…details details.  Around 2am Nickel said we could take a break and I remember sitting down, resting my back against a rock. My eyelids began to droop, but then my body began to shiver from the cold. Basically I was too tired to sit up awake, yet I was too cold to sleep…so the only option was to keep going. The next 4 hours seem like a dream now, but around 6am the horizon started to glow and the last part of the vertical hike to Stella Point came into view. I only have curse words to describe this last section. So I’ll use Henry Stedman’s description, because he nailed it: “ this is the hardest part of the climb…the situation seems desperate at this hour, but there is nothing you can do except keep going…the gradient up to now has been steep, but this last scree slope takes the biscuit, in fact, it take the entire tin”  I think I had to pause after every step to scan my body in search of energy for the next step, but at around 7am we finally reached Stella Point (18,848 ft). The real kicker was that Uhuru Peak was still 45 min away. At this point …it had been 7 hours, we had hiked all thru the night, and with no food in my stomach, a headache that was back with a vengeance and the all too familiar feeling of nausea, if someone had described this situation beforehand I would have said it was physically impossible to keep going. However the most important thing I learned that day is that mind over matter is a very real thing, even with such a “high probability of failure” if you really want to achieve something and you find the power within to not let your mind falter – you can. The assistant guide grabbed my hand during this last part of the trek. We walked the path of hills and valleys and then in the distance I saw that famous sign with the yellow painted letters. After what felt like an eternity (8 hours)….I had finally reached the highest point in the whole continent. Nickel said we had to be quick because it wasn’t safe to chill out at 19,340 ft. So we snapped our pics, admired the glaciers in silence and then began our decent. It took roughly 3 hours to reach our camp, where we rested for 2 hours, and then continued the decent hike for 5 more hours to another campsite. So 16 hours later and in the comfort zone of 10,190 ft – I think everyone will agree when I say: it had been A VERY LONG DAY.

Looking back now, I know both my goals were more than a stretch, to say they were ambitious seems like an understatement. But I guess I cheated a little. See when I set the goals, both the climb and the fundraiser, I may have been nervous, but I also already knew in the back of my head that I would be backed by an amazing network of family/friends in the US and around the world. And sure enough when I asked you for your help, you saw me thru each step of the way. In the end we didn’t reach 100% of my fundraising target, we reached 112%. Mount Kilimanjaro did end up being the first mountain I would climb – but you never doubted the outcome and with your words of encouragement I reached Uhuru Peak. So I would like to say thank you for helping me help people in a dire situation and thank you for helping me reach the highest point in all of Africa. You’ve afforded me the opportunity to realize the strength I never knew I had. As Jean Baptiste said, “gratitude is the memory of the heart” and I want each of you to know that I will always remember your support with the utmost appreciation.

Last I’d like to give a special thanks to: Horace Tiggs for believing in me at a time when I didn’t, Jon Lee for being a great friend and dealing with my daily claims of possible death caused by a massive headache while on the climb, and of course Rob Sexton for always providing sound advice: “the best way to train is to keep drinking your red wine, you need to get used to the feeling of being hung-over and having a headache” 

Below is a link to the fundraising page...just in case anyone would still like to donate!

Until my next crazy adventure (and until the next time I ask you for $$…just kidding!) this is KP signing off!