Mark's Kilimanjaro Trip

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Chapter 2: 
Planning and Preparation

The Massachusetts outfit, Overseas Adventure Travel, sent me an information packet for the climb and the fun began. I needed appropriate clothing for equatorial Africa and also winter conditions (there's a glacier on top of Kili). I needed a Tanzanian visa for my passport (luckily I already had the passport). I needed shots. Lots of shots. Yellow fever, typhoid, cholera, meningitis. I needed pills for malaria and altitude sickness. I needed snacks that I really liked. (Altitude affects your appetite, but you need to eat, so the information packet recommended snacks you really like.)

I also needed equipment, like a sleeping bag, rain gear, boots, sun hat, cold weather gear, and a thousand tiny other little things. I'm normally an over-preparer when it comes to camping anyway, and the thought of being halfway up a mountain in Africa without something essential worried me. It's not like there was going to be a handy 7-11.

So I went to Campmor (a big outdoor equipment store in northern New Jersey) and spent lots of money. I agonized over the sleeping bag purchase on one trip, boots on another, and went overboard both times. I was seriously naive. I bought a sleeping bag good to -15 F because the booklet said to get a winter weight sleeping bag. Now, I'm from northern Indiana and it can get pretty cold there. That was my point of reference. I ended up sweating my head off in that bag. On the other hand, many of the other people on the trip had bags good to +20 F, slept in their long johns, and were still cold, so I guess I could've done worse. I figure a 0 F bag would've been perfect.

The boots were even further off the mark. They're big, honkin' Alpine boots with a full steel shank, crampon attachment points, a single piece leather upper, and a GoreTex lining. Beautiful boots, but heavy as hell. I guess I thought that if I was spending that much money anyway, I'd get a pair that would cover all seasons. Other people on the trip had the newer light hiking boots, and seemed to do OK. Again, medium weight would have worked out the best.

I also used the trip as an excuse to purchase a North Face Mountain Light II jacket, Mountain Pants, both the fleece and the down linings for the jacket, a three-layer glove system, and random other things. Can you say Gearhead?

OK, so I've got my junk and the biggest duffel bag Campmor sells to put all of it in. (OK, most of it. I needed two bags.) I'm over-prepared with equipment, how'm I doing with the physical preparations? Not as well....

I do manage to take a few walks to break the boots in, and start a feeble running program, but the schedule I've set meant I had to cram all my preparations into a relatively short period of time. It took a week to find out I couldn't get my shots at a walkup medical clinic - I had to drive to the dispensary at Newark airport. I had to drive there several times because the shots had to be staged. Going to Campmor blows an evening, and I did that several times because I dedicated a trip each to boots, bag, and outer wear. Also, I was working extra hours to make sure things were OK at work while I was gone. Add to that an ambient level of anxiety about the whole thing and you can begin to see the problem.

Many people, when faced with anxiety, eat to feel better. Anxiety has the opposite effect on me; it interferes with my appetite. This leads to weakness and a lack of desire to exercise, to say the least.

One last thing for preparation, then we're off: sunglasses. Up high the air is thin and doesn't block ultraviolet radiation as well. You sunburn a lot more easily and your eyes can be damaged. So, you need really high-quality sunglasses. I resolved to get glacier glasses. Glacier glasses are sunglasses that are extremely dark, have excellent ultraviolet protection, and have side panels to block light from striking your eyes from the side. The snag was that I wear glasses, so I needed prescription sunglasses. Getting prescription glacier glasses turned out to be harder than I expected. I finally found a place that would do them, but due to some miscommunications the glasses had to be overnighted from the lab at the last minute in order to make my departure date. They arrived that morning, without the leather nosepiece. So, in Africa I had to use athletic tape from my first aid kit to get them to fit correctly. You can see the white tape in the picture of me standing at the rail of one of the huts. Sigh.

Finally, the big day came. I was off.
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