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Oct 2013 TZ Trip Part 3 (Kili : Day 3)

Austin, Texas
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Oct 2013 TZ Trip Part 3 (Kili : Day 3)

...continuing from

tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g293750-i11370-k70…

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Itinerary: 8-Day Lemosho via Western Breach and Crater Camp

Company: Destination Tanzania Safaris (www.detasa.com)

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Tue (Kili Day 3):

This morning's pattern was similar to last morning's. I woke up well rested with no aches or pains from the previous day's up-downs. It was 40 F before the sun came out. We started on our climb around 8:30A, polé polé. There were almost no trees in the landscape now, just mostly shrubs and low vegetation. October is the dry season, so while I appreciated not having to climb through wet weather, the reduced vegetation and loose earth made it very dusty. I found it prudent to use my face mask for the first several hours. The trail today also involved noticeable natural steps but there was not as much "wasted effort" as yesterday where one gave up some of the altitude climbed by frequent descending sections. I noticed how one's height and the length of one's stride changes the perception of a "hurdle". Ari, who was about 6' tall once wanted us to cross a little stream by stepping on certain rocks. His stride was long so he could casually step on those and walk across. For both LV and me who were about a foot shorter (LV probably not quite 5'), those rocks were not good stepping stones as we'd have to leap from one to the next. The height of the natural steps on the trail also presented a different level of challenge to each of us.

Along the way, we crossed a dirt road that is exclusively used by rescue vehicles in case of emergencies on the mountain. Mhina said there was also a place for a rescue helicopter to land somewhere but did not recommend relying on that service. He said the helicopters came from Kenya (Nairobi), so if there was an emergency on the mountain that required fast evacuation, there was no guarantee that a helicopter would be there quickly. It may be able to come in a few hours, or some time today or some time tomorrow, based on several factors. A local 4WD vehicle would be able to drive up and reach the location relatively faster and more reliably. Not that either of us were anywhere close to being in need of physical or other assistance.

As we climbed through the moorland, the shrubbery also vanished slowly and small clumps of grasses, some lobelias and clusters of groundsels was largely what was left of the vegetation. One could see lichen on the rocks and some moss occasionally that would probably be more widespread in wet weather. After about 3 hours of climbing, we stopped for lunch at the Scott Fischer camp. Today's lunch was a picnic/boxed lunch, eaten sitting/standing around on the rocks in this clearing used as a campsite by some. This camp was named after Scott Fischer after his death near the Everest summit on that disastrous day in 1996. In the 80s, he had started Mountain Madness (MM), a climbing company in Seattle, to guide people up high mountains for high prices. He used to guide climbs up Kili and other high summits on other continents. A little plaque on a rock memorializes him here. It was apparently a favourite seat of his on his Kili climbs where he would allegedly do some ganja to relax and prevent altitude sickness (does it now? ganja is no coca). Mhina told us that the route we were taking for our climb and summit to Kilimanjaro used to be a private route pioneered and used by MM/Scott Fischer back in the day when regulations/laws for climbing Kili were different. This route could not be used by the riffraff who climbed Kili only using the other public routes. There are no private routes to climb Kili anymore and non-Tanzanians cannot guide climbs on Kili. If the latter is true (and enforced), I wonder about all the western/foreign companies offering Kili climbs that list experienced westerners as the Kili guides on their websites.

After a lunch break of about an hour, we climbed on for some time and arrived at Muir Camp around 2P. As they did every time we reached camp, our crew (whoever was standing around) high-fived or fist-bumped us and said "good job", even if it was one of the few things they knew how to say in English. It was kind of them to say that but one of my inner children has a suspicious nature. Unless I am myself convinced that the praise is deserved, I am not sure at such times if I am being patronized or the speaker is offering genuine praise from their side because they are clueless and don't know better. Praise (or criticism) from the clueless is easier to ignore as the problem is not yours. In this case, it was highly unlikely that the crew was clueless. They knew exactly what good or bad climbing performance was. So whenever they said "good job" to me, were they actually thinking, "Ah there she is finally, all huffing and puffing, as if this is tough. At least she did not need to be carried! (so, good job)"? But whatever my misgivings and suspicions, I managed to thank them pleasantly.

We had added another 2K' today to our elevation, walked almost 7 miles and had taken less time to do it than the 5 miles of the previous day for a similar altitude gain. Unlike the sunshine and balmy temperature at Shira Camp the previous afternoon, it was overcast and cold here, around 50 degrees. A thermos of hot water for tea/coffee used to be mostly ready in the dining tent by the time we reached camp, or Adam used to bring it soon. I wasn't inspired to walk around or even stand outside the tent when it was overcast like this and preferred to sit quietly with my Sudoku, tea and popcorn, and jot down some notes like I used to during the post-climb tea time. I had put my tea bags with the other tea bags so that I would not have to go back to my tent to fetch one every time I wanted to drink tea. LV and I used to find it so easy to keep eating the unbuttered popcorn (quite a lot for the two of us) and not feel them fill any void in our stomachs. Still thinking of food after polishing off the popcorn, I remembered the packet of apple filled hard caramel candies I had brought. Not that a candy was going to make a dent but it definitely felt good to suck one. I shared the rest with the crew.

LV went off to visit her new buddies G&L in their camp. G&L were LV's countryfolk but now settled in the US. A friendly couple, they were doing a 9-day Lemosho itinerary with another company, also attempting the Western Breach summit route. They were the only ones besides us doing WB amongst all the groups that started with us on Day 1 that we knew of. We had seen them first at the start of our climb where LV, after taking one look at them, had confirmed that they were her homies. We had passed one another off and on a few times on the climb thus far. Our guides seemed to know each other, as did some of the other crew. For many of the crew from various companies who knew each other, these climbs were often when they got to see one another after a gap as everybody had different schedules, assignments and opportunities to work along different Kili routes and on different itineraries. So there used to be visitors in our kitchen and porters' tents and ours going off to socialize and catch up with their buddies in other camps. Once when LV was hanging out in the kitchen tent and testing her memory for the names of the porters sitting there, somebody asked her to name a couple of guys and she found herself totally at a loss, only to be told eventually that they were buddies from another company, just visiting.

Today, we also had visitors of another kind. Porters who did not have enough food to eat. There is much exploitation of labour on the Kili climbs as there is elsewhere in the world wherever people feel able and willing to take advantage of someone else's desperation and lack of choices. There are labour laws on paper but many ways to circumvent them. For the Kili climbs specifically, there are regulations about load limits per porter, their daily wage rate etc. Any porter who was climbing Kili would have to carry stuff for his own needs for the entire duration on the mountain in addition to the stuff needed for the clients and other shared things, in whatever manner the total load is distributed among all porters. Some ways for a climbing company to reduce the costs of the operation is to not pay the porters enough, reduce their head count by making each one carry more load than is legally allowed, not take care of them in other ways, etc.. One may not be able to as easily shortchange the paying client by not providing them enough food and other promised services and perks on the mountain (though that too seems to be done, based on some climbers' experiences I've read) but one could reduce or withhold what was due to the porters, even in basic survival needs. Sweatshops are operated that way all over the world even by so-called respectable businesses and people happy to buy goods produced there with an I-see-no-evil so I-believe-no-evil attitude. So, this is no different. Many companies offer Kili climbs at budget rates that would not be sustainable in terms of keeping a business afloat, given the known fixed costs of a climb and other cost estimates, unless corners were being cut on multiple fronts.

These porters were working for a very successful well-connected local company that seems to have a notoriety about unethical business practices, including its treatment of porters. Though we were told who the porters were working for, we sensed a general reluctance from our crew to say much about the company. But heads were often shaken, a thing said here, another there. I was reminded of the measured comments the Reverend (our nickname for our guide in Tibet) made initially about their occupiers till he felt comfortable with us to open up a bit. Mhina said climbing Kili was a hard job and everyone helped everyone else out, i.e., crew of one company would help out the crew of another if the latter were in distress or needed help. It did not matter that they were rivals in business and all angling for a piece of the same pie. Sounded somewhat like the tradition of helping distressed boaters at sea, regardless of their identity and affiliations. He said if somebody needed water or food, those who had it would share theirs. He also said some companies didn't carry enough food for their workers who must then fend for themselves (carry their own food). To me, that meant only that the company did not purchase enough food to feed the crew so it would also not need to hire as many people to carry that food up in order to ensure that everybody was well taken care of. Mhina also pointed out the size of some groups (clients) and their crew size. Crew size does not exactly go up in direct proportion to the number of clients since there are some fixed requirements like the kitchen tent, porters' tent(s), emergency equipment etc. that gets carried up regardless of the group size (not all companies carry emergency equipment). Also, companies that offer more bells and whistles and comforts to the clients would have more stuff to take up. But I was getting a better understanding of what going up the mountain entailed and my initial discomfort with the size of our crew was waning.

The traditional staple dish in TZ is called ugali. It's made with maize flour cooked in water to a thick consistency like halva. Then you ball it up, dip it in a stew/sauce or eat with vegetables, whatever is available and affordable. It is good starch (low glycemic carbs) like most traditional staple grains from which the embrace of "modernity" and convenience (and the oft-associated abandonment of good sense) has not sucked out all goodness. Our crew carried bags and bags of the flour and used to eat the ugali with beef stew. It used to be cooked in a huge pot after our meals were done. I was going to try the ugali one day with my veggies but the plan went the way of my Yak butter tea tasting. Never got past the planning stage. I need to apply myself more diligently to executing all the plans I make and not wear my "thinking" cap so much.

After dinner, our O2 readings were taken as usual and the next day's climb discussed. We both continued to do well. I was not tired after today's longish climb. But I was not particularly happy about it either.

Part 4 to be continued...

Isle of Man, United...
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1. Re: Oct 2013 TZ Trip Part 3 (Kili : Day 3)

Keep them coming. No comments but we are reading.

South Riding VA
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2. Re: Oct 2013 TZ Trip Part 3 (Kili : Day 3)

I'm still enjoying the read. I like all of the details that you are taking the time to provide. Thanks-chris

Ottawa, Canada
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3. Re: Oct 2013 TZ Trip Part 3 (Kili : Day 3)

Butter tea is easily missed. Ugali, is a filler, and a great way to get other tastes to your mouth and stomach. It has little taste of its own, but I liked it more than 'grits' which it is also similar to.

Again, great extra detail. The porters' plight is never ending and I think that the Tanzania sense of community and that they would give the shirt off their back to one even less fortunate may be being exploited here as well.

Is there another inner child that is just a sunny one who will accept the encouragement as just that? Kind encouragement and support? I hope somewhere you have a happy day, as it doesn't seem to have arrived for you yet. Kind of sad when you have made such a planned trek.

Isle of Man, United...
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4. Re: Oct 2013 TZ Trip Part 3 (Kili : Day 3)

Picking up on the "Porter's Plight" you have to be very alert to differentiate fact from fiction. (Like guides sob stories too) The Load weight is a well known scam. They all get their loads weighed at entrance to comply with the rules. 50 yards up the mountain they unload and repack into fewer bags and share out the proceeds so some of them don't even work for their money. Of course packs get lighter the longer you are trekking so others fall out too. Then we have the sob story about clothing and poor footwear. Sandals made from old Tyres. So you give them your boots at the end of the trek. Silly. They end up being sold on Arusha or Moshi market stalls and the Porter keeps his well used Michelin treads!

I am not saying this is general but it is common. These guys are not poverty stricken and they would not do the job if they did not wish to. There is nobody slave driving them up the hill and nobody deserts in the night.

Ottawa, Canada
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5. Re: Oct 2013 TZ Trip Part 3 (Kili : Day 3)

In a country with the extent of unemployment for young men - portering is a job usually available - and may be the difference between working or not working/eating or not eating. It is often a hard job even when packing less. Yes there are scams and yes many folks sell whatever we give them, but take some thought to climbing 2000m in their Michelins, then report.

I've known a few and though not had extensive discussions about Kili specifically, none will deny it being a hard job, and none had any benefit of lying to me.

Sydney
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6. Re: Oct 2013 TZ Trip Part 3 (Kili : Day 3)

Sometimes I observe that some members seem to feel obliged to detract from the original posters comments or simply speak to hear their own voice.

Mfuwe, what makes you such an expert on Mt Kilimanjaro and the plight of the porters. Enough of an expert to hose down the very tangible comments made by Ghumoon. What he is stating is fact based on his experience on the mountain. You comments on whether the crews are poverty stricken or driven up the mountain is misguided.

The only statement that you are correct on is that the porters in a lot of cases, will sell the clothes and shoes that are donated. This is how they survive. But then again, I guess sitting in your cosy home in the UK with your heater, slippers and cup of tea, can truly align yourself with discussions surrounding poverty.

Ghumoon has provided further evidence of how a well know company which has been subject to a lot of negative publicity recently on TA operates on the mountain. Even the porters are scared to speak the name of the company. I wonder why that is?

Isle of Man, United...
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7. Re: Oct 2013 TZ Trip Part 3 (Kili : Day 3)

Roger I have no intention of getting into the usual pi$$ing contest. My observations are based on my personal experiences. You will no doubt note my words in the closing paragraph "I am not saying this is general but it is common."

For your further enlightenment it is perhaps worth mentioning that Ghumoon is female and I am not sitting cosily in the UK with the heater turned up and a cup of tea. And I do feel I am well qualified to discuss personal poverty from many years work involved with such matters.

Don't be so bloody rude!

Austin, Texas
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8. Re: Oct 2013 TZ Trip Part 3 (Kili : Day 3)

:-) QM.

I have a family of diverse inner children who manage to co-exist peacefully. In our family, we don't do outward sunniness and frown upon irrational exuberance. So a playdate between my kids and the inner kids of the person on TA who was super excited to get YF shots may not go too well. Some of my children are very happy and truly appreciative of "meaningful" positive reinforcements. However, even the pranksters must maintain a serene demeanor (the required code of conduct) at all times.

Seriously though, the point of writing and sharing all this stuff for me is to have a true account of my experiences as I lived them and not romanticise, whitewash, paint or recall a picture that is wishful or in line with somebody else's idea of what the experience should have been like (for me). The self-doubts and disappointments on some days are as much an inherent part of the challenge that one has to deal with as the triumphs (if any) and the lack of pain, discomfort, fear, etc. on other days, which one may not necessarily think of gloating over. It is not sad (big picture wise) even when one is sad at times if there is something to learn from it. Really. I hope the lack of joy is not stressing anyone. My mother expressed being worried after reading some parts even though I'd given her the highlights on the phone after coming back and she knew I would be alive at the end. I should've just sent her the "unbelievable" climb description that I posted here that had nothing but easy super-woman achievements. :) :)

Regarding exploitation, it happens on farms and in meat processing plants in the US. And Walmart, if I may add (setting out bins to collect donations for employees who can't afford a Thanksgiving dinner, not wondering why their employees would be in such a state!). The specifics and scale may be different, the attitudes underlying it not so much.

I don't know if you were referring to any butter tea in TZ (is there any?). Mine was a reference to a previous trip. Some of the email recipients of this write-up were on that trip and others knew about it. Those of my companions who did try the butter tea had liked it then.

Ottawa, Canada
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9. Re: Oct 2013 TZ Trip Part 3 (Kili : Day 3)

Glad to know you have a few inner children. One needs a little variety in their demeanor. I can appreciate the need to vet some overly exuberant from the play date circles. Too much is often too much of a good thing.

Butter tea - not from Tanzania, and most likely not yak, but Tibetan? Nepalese? restaurant in Toronto :-) Perhaps not the best recommendation....

Austin, Texas
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10. Re: Oct 2013 TZ Trip Part 3 (Kili : Day 3)

Mfuwe, I agree with you about not falling for sob stories. There are pan-handlers at almost every traffic signal in Austin (and many places in the US) these days, most of them claiming to be hungry (war veterans) and many using the cash people hand them to buy cigarettes and beer. There are "respectable" charities and non-profits that scam people all the time by tugging at people's heartstrings (remember the "Three Cups of Tea" scandal?). One can never be too vigilant.

However, I'd rather be scammed into paying for extra porters pretending to be poor who actually take the trouble to undergo the rigours of climbing Kili so that everybody gets to carry a little less load than the legal max that fewer of them could've been forced to carry than be scammed by shiny brochures or by people who sit all day on their butt with their hands outstretched or making up stories about serving the poor.

Yes, loads reduce as one goes up the mountain, so does the oxygen.

As to porters selling donated clothing and gear (I had heard of it), is it really the donor's concern? You give because you want to give and not because you want to dictate its usage. If cash is the best use for the receiver, let them sell the item. Somebody who actually has use for the item will buy it for a price mutually acceptable to them. Win-win. The environment up the mountain is harsh. More fool the receivers if, after experiencing the conditions, they choose to climb with tattered clothing and ill-fitting boots and sell good items that they receive so that they can blow off the cash (irresponsibly). Is it any different, though, from me blowing off my salary raise in getting breast implants, or going to TZ, rather than paying down my mortgage? Should I stop getting raises if my boss doesn't approve of how I spend them? It is not uncommon for people to pass on gifts they receive to others, sell them on ebay or donate them to charity and claim tax deduction. IMO, it's not for the giver to insist on how the receiver use them. I say that anyone who needs to micro-manage the trajectory of their givings or has strings attached (which they're entitled to have) would be better off not giving.

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