Mbahe Farm

I woke up suddenly in the darkest part of the night, completely disoriented.  I didn’t know where I was, how many people were in my tent, or which camp we were at on the mountain.  I needed desperately to pee, but that meant excavating myself from my sleeping bag and unzipping the tent door and shoving my freezing cold feet into boots lined with frost.

And then I pushed myself upright in bed and the world snapped back into place, settling itself back into a comfortable familiarity.  I wasn’t on the mountain.  There wasn’t anybody in my tent; there never had been and I wasn’t even in a tent.  I was in my quiet, private room at the farm, warm to the tips of my toes under a pile of duvets, and the bathroom was six steps away.

But my heart was still racing, thumping irregularly in my chest, adrenaline surging as my sleep-addled brain got ready to stagger out into the dry, dusty, icy wind of our Kilimanjaro base camp, more than 15,000ft above sea level, and gasp for air.

~ ~ ~

The next time I woke up it was just after seven on my final morning at the farm, and the thin, pale sunlight of dawn was fighting through the ever-present cloud cover that shadows the foothills of the mountain.  At 6,000ft above sea level, it was cold in my room, but not unpleasantly so; it was as if I were back in the late autumn mornings of my childhood in New England, sticking my nose out from under the bright pink patchwork duvet cover my mother made for me, waiting to hear the deep hum and roar as the furnace pulled oil from the great tanks in the dirt cellar and fought to warm our drafty farmhouse.  Eventually the call to breakfast downstairs would pull us from our warm cocoons, dashing on tiptoe to the dresser to find our thickest socks and heaviest sweaters.

On this morning, though, I only needed to pull on warm leggings and toss my down jacket over my midlayer, grab my book and walk up the path and stairs to the common room, where Romanos had already started a fire in the massive hearth.  The enormous logs, looking as though they were torn like strips of paper from the great cypress trees on the property, burned hot and smoky and the ashes drifted over my legs and settled into my hair.  I would smell like a campfire throughout my long travels home to the United States.

There was always coffee and tea and drinking chocolate and filtered water available.  The coffee was strong and hot and sprang to life with just a little added sugar.  There was hot milk available, direct from the friendly black cows that grazed endlessly on the green hillside just outside the main gate.  When breakfast came – bananas, mango, papaya, orange slices, fresh eggs scrambled with a mild tangy white cheese, warm banana bread, fresh blended juice with passionfruit and mint – Leonard the chef came down from his kitchen as well.  He’d made french toast this morning from the soft, dense wheat bread they serve instead of regular toast, and he wanted to be sure that I was ok with that.  I sent him and Romanos off with a laugh and assurances in English.

I didn’t – and don’t – have the words in Swahili to adequately convey to them that everything about this farm was unimaginable, almost magical, removed entirely from the universe in which I live and work, different from everything familiar to me, half a world away.


~ ~ ~


On our third night on the mountain my group stayed at the Moir Hut campsite at 13,500ft, a quiet, dusty, flat area used only by trekkers on the Lemosho Route.  We were on the verge of crossing out of the alpine desert zone into the elevations where almost nothing grows at all, where none but the most stubborn and woody of plants cling to the underside of boulders, hiding from the wind.

Our group of 15 trekkers – larger than average – arrived with our seven guides long after the sixty-five porters and two cooks had already run ahead, raised our tents, set up the toilet tents, arranged the tables and chairs in the mess tent, and poured boiling water into the three massive mint-green thermoses, straight out of a 1970’s family car camping trip.  We dropped our gear, drank a fast cup of hot black tea, covered ourselves in another warm layer – the wind had started to shriek again – and hiked in a slow, shuffling line up another 500 feet to a ridge.

Up there, wandering along between innumerable hoodoos and cairns and volcanic boulders the size of RVs, scattered like marbles, we gazed at the endless view above and below us.  The Shira plateau stretched out, an enormous shallow green basin, verdant with flowers, shrubs, small trees, hidden trickles of water.  The red-black rocks of yet another lava tower, still and sharp-edged, slicing the high ground to the right of us into shards.  The beautiful symmetrical cone of Mt. Meru in the distance, floating above the clouds, the bizarre optics of altitude making her appear far taller than us, despite our being less than 1,000ft below the level of her summit.

Meru in the distance.  ©2019 Wayne Jones

And behind us, massive beyond belief, broad and wide and dotted with patchwork glaciers and ice fields, the craters and triple-summit of Kilimanjaro herself.  We stood already on her flanks, and had been for three days, but still she towered above us, more than 6,000ft higher, much of it straight up.

We stared in silent awe.

Another trekker cleared his throat.  “Looks like a real mountain from here, doesn’t it?”

I gazed around us, the rocks and dust and sunlight that carried no warmth as it dropped lower in the sky, the absence of anything alive, a warning from the earth below our feet that we were far from home, unwelcome strangers in this alien world.

“It’s like we’re hiking on the moon,” I said, and then we turned into the wind, shuffled back down the side of the ridge, and made our way to the mess tent for dinner.

©2019 Wayne Jones

~ ~ ~

Mbahe Farm

I arrived to the farm in the evening and had supper with a group of six Americans getting ready to head up the mountain the following morning.  I was still shocky from my rapid and abrupt transitions – mountain to Moshi to farm all within thirty-six hours – but Leonard’s dinner of vegetable soup, jasmine rice spiced with sultanas and cardamom, and dark, flavorful braised chicken were concrete, sensory items, and I clung to them and started to let my body settle.

My knees were still sore from our rapid descent from the summit two days prior.  My left knee was particularly painful, compensating for a long-standing weakness in my right hip, which also ached in protest.  My left wrist was noticeably swollen, scolding me for the death-grip I kept on my hiking poles as we scrambled down rocky stair-stepped paths.  The big toes on both feet were numb again, the nerves deadened from knocking against the front of my boots for more than twenty-two kilometers, all downhill.

I chatted with the other trekkers, answered as many of their questions as I could, gave small suggestions – cover your mouth and nose once you get into the dust, do whatever it takes to block the wind – and then excused myself in utter exhaustion, wished them sincerely good luck on the mountain, and made my way to my room.

I woke up the next morning in tears, a series of terrifying, technicolor dreams culminating in a well of grief for a friend who had died unexpectedly while I was mid-trek, disconnected from the world, unaware that he was suddenly gone.  It was eight in the morning and I had slept for nearly twelve hours.

When I slowly stepped out into the dawn, the farm was murmuring its morning song, roosters crowing, cows lowing in the field, staff calling to each other, a beautiful woman with her hair wrapped high in a red cloth sweeping the fallen eucalyptus leaves from the path.  The Americans had left in the dark hours ago.

I was the only guest left.  I would have the farm entirely to myself for the next three days.

~ ~ ~


Kilimanjaro is covered in shit.

No matter where you stop to take a break during your trek, no matter which rock you choose in the distance to step behind and shelter you as you pee, you will invariably find dozens of desiccated piles of human feces scattered about.

Not only is there poop, there’s an incredible odor of urine, and endless tufts of toilet tissue and ‘wilderness wipes.’  None of these are packed out.  They are used and dropped on the ground and left there, unable to decompose in the fierce and arid wind, fluttering endlessly amid shrubby evergreen bushes and spiky yellow flowers.

The internet tells me that somewhere between 35,000 and 50,000 people climb Mt. Kilimanjaro every year, and you have to figure that each of these trekkers is there with a minimum of one porter.  Our group had almost five support personnel for each of us.  So let’s say that 50,000 people climb every year, and they’ve got an average of three guides/porters/cooks/what-have-yous with them.  That’s 200,000 humans on Kili every year.  That’s almost 550 people taking a dump on the mountain every day, for anywhere from five to nine consecutive days.

That’s a lot of Charmin’ Blossoms.

And while the national park service in Tanzania continues to build infrastructure and add regulations to ameliorate the damage to the environment, it’s hard to mitigate the effects of that kind of volume.  The ‘long-drop’ toilets – pit toilets – constructed at every camp site, and at many well-spaced intervals along the way – were consistently over-used and fetid.

They were also filled with trash, not just with waste.  Snack wrappers, empty juice boxes, used hand warmers – garbage was everywhere, dropped into the pit toilets, tucked behind rocks with the body wipes, dropped callously on the trail itself.  On the fifth day of our group’s trek, the lead guide told us that he was sending a porter down the mountain with our first load of trash – the more than eighty kilograms we’d already created.


The decision to book my trek with a group that abided by and supported the work of the Kilimanjaro Porter’s Assistance Project was a no-brainer for me.  The trip felt mildly exploitative in and of itself – why on earth was I tearing up a beautiful mountain for what had to be entirely selfish reasons? – but to know that our porters would fed, sheltered, clothed, and not overburdened lessened my discomfort.

And I also knew that these porters – and their families scattered throughout the foothills of the mountain – depended on the work I was creating for them.  The least I could do was pay them appropriately.

There were – and continue to be – many trekkers on that mountain who elected not to do so.

Thus, when our little camp toilets passed us on the shoulders of porters zipping past us up the mountain every morning, heading up to be reassembled at the next camp, and the porters carrying them were wearing good boots and had had a good breakfast, I practiced gratitude for the fact that I didn’t have to shit behind a rock that day, leaving a biohazard- and toilet-paper-legacy in my wake for the next seventy-five cold and windy years.

And when I ducked behind a rock to pee – and used a pee cloth instead of a wad of Charmin – I pondered selfishness, self-centered-ness, trekking as a manifestation thereof, and the degree to which polluting a landscape, mountain, and country not your own could possibly be adequately, ethically justified in anyone’s soul.

Including my own.

~ ~ ~

Mbahe Farm

Abraham, the host and manager of the farm, sat with me under a covered veranda, just outside the common room.  The wind was cool but a late afternoon sun peeked through the clouds and would occasionally shine on my feet, curled up underneath me on the soft white bench cushions, propped up with fat square pillows in jewel-toned African fabrics.  I was drinking tea with sugar and scribbling phrases in Swahili into my notebook as fast as Abraham could throw them at me.

Unaenda wapi?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

I paused uncertainly, trying to dissect the pronoun.  …unaenda nyumbani?”

He gave me a bland look.  Ninaenda nyumbani.  If I ask you where you are going, you don’t tell me where I am going, do you?”

There was a quick rustle, then a sudden loud bang and crash on the corrugated tin of the veranda roof above me.  I startled and jumped in my seat.  Now Abraham was grinning.

“Watch out for falling avocado bombs,” he said, and I sat back and closed my notebook.


Abraham had suggested an itinerary of morning and afternoon walks throughout the village, but I begged off for the afternoon, wanting nothing more than to sit in the fresh air with my feet up and read and write and think.  Abraham looked at me uneasily for a moment.

“I just would not want you to get bored,” he said.

I assured him that a quiet afternoon would be a joy, not a drudgery.  As a deeply introverted person who had just spent eight solid days with fourteen strangers (and seven guides and two cooks and sixty-five porters), not to mention the hundreds of other trekkers, guides and porters swarming the mountain, I could have spent a week cloistered in silent retreat and been perfectly content.

Still, it was enjoyable to follow Abraham that morning, rambling easily on the nearly-invisible footpaths that wove throughout the village, passing by small homes of wood and brick and the enclosed pens holding families of goats, pigs, cows, and rabbits; and meandering through fields planted using the fundamentals of permaculture, maize, beans, potatoes, bananas, elephant ear, cabbages, all mixed in orderly spaces to ensure a continual harvest and replenishment of the soil.

He once pointed to a fallow field, freshly turned, a cairn of softball-sized volcanic rocks piled neatly in the center.  “The women do this,” he said.  “They work the fields, planting, weeding, harvesting.  And care for their children and the home.”

I quickly scanned my memories of our walks; he was right, I had never seen a single man working any field or garden in the village.  Mildly indignant, I said, “So what do the men have to do, anything?”

He looked at me for a second.  “They are on the mountain.  They are your porters.”

I was silent for a moment, feeling very small.  “Oh,” I said quietly, and we made our way back to the farm.


He left me to read for most of the afternoon, but surfaced again an hour or so before supper, bearing a plate of hot roasted peanuts, and we sat together as he threw out vocabulary and easy phrases in Swahili.

I looked at him after the avocado bomb had passed.  “Learning Swahili is harder than climbing Kilimanjaro.”

He relaxed against the couch cushions.  “So there is the question, there is the question we always ask all the trekkers.  Why?  Why did you come all the way to Tanzania?  Why did you come to climb the mountain?”

And I had to stop, paused for a long moment, thinking about what to say.  The truth of the matter was, I didn’t know why.  I didn’t know why when I booked the trip, and I didn’t know why when I boarded my first flight in Vancouver almost a month prior, and I didn’t know why on the first day we stepped off the bus and started up the trail in the rainforest.

I’d only found my answer to that question after I’d left the summit far behind.


~ ~ ~


I’d fallen asleep at 7pm wearing all the clothes I planned to wear to the summit.  I had elastic compression supports on both knees, two layers of capilene long underwear, rain pants, and heavy mountaineering pants over them.  I had five layers on top, including a windproof GoreTex shell and a heavy down jacket.  I could barely stuff myself into my sleeping bag, and I pulled my down hood over my fleece hat and fell asleep instantly.

When the porters shook the tent at 11pm, all I had to do was pick up my neck gaiter and heavy mitts, slide into my boots, and head to the mess tent for our final ‘breakfast.’  It was hot tea, porridge, and two ginger cookies.  Nobody wanted anything else.  I was terrified I’d eat too much and throw up, and they’d haul me back down the mountain.

We lined up like the ducklings following their mother, surrounded by our guides and an additional two climbing porters.  Pole-pole!” called the lead guide, the Swahili phrase for “slowly, slowly,” and we began our shuffle up the mountain.

I found myself behind the strongest climber on our team, tall and incredibly fit, experienced at altitude and so quietly self-assured that I was too intimidated to even begin a conversation with him beyond, “Did you sleep ok last night?”  And as he stepped forward and up in front of me, I panicked.  I couldn’t follow him up the mountain.  I couldn’t do it.  I wasn’t ready, I hadn’t trained enough, I hadn’t prepared enough.  I was gasping already, my breathing echoing harsh and loud in my ears beneath my many hoods; I was sure he could hear it and would think I was dying – or worse, he would know my terrible secret:  I was an imposter that didn’t belong on the mountain.

This litany – you can’t, you can’t, you can’t – swirled in my head for a solid twenty minutes, looping around and around, a violent monster of self-doubt and self-consciousness.  I found myself reliving episodes of deep shame and embarrassment from my adolescence and early adulthood, memories I’d buried deeply years before and hadn’t accessed since.  I made a mental note to bring these up with my therapist when I saw her next, and suddenly remembered a funny moment from a session many months prior.

We’d been talking about the Voice, the self-doubting and self-sabotaging whisper in my ear that showed up at the most inopportune moments in my life.  We were trying to understand it, to seek its genesis, to learn why it existed and why it persisted in its relentless drive towards self-destruction.  We were also trying to build defenses, to build counter-attacks, to develop ways to mitigate the damage – and perhaps, someday, to extinguish the fires of the Voice for good.

“I mean, this could be something as simple as – let’s say it shows up.  It starts talking shit.  You acknowledge that it’s there.”  She shrugged.  “And then you could just tell it to fuck off.”

And so, just after midnight on Saturday, August 31st, 2019, at an elevation of somewhere slightly north of 16,000ft, six-and-a-half hours below the summit of the tallest mountain in Africa, I paused for just a second, caught my breath, and said, “I hear you.  And you can fuck off.”

I tore my mitt off my right hand, and reached up and clicked the button on my old, worn, and impossibly dusty EarPods.  I had the right one in my ear, buried under my hat and hoods, and the cord wormed its way under half a dozen layers to my iPhone, tucked into the warmest interior pocket, right against my ribs.  David Goggins’ voice sprang to life in my ear – I’d already listened to his autobiography months ago, and then read the hardcover book a second time – and the malicious Voice in my head disappeared.

Emmanuel, one of our assistant guides, had seen me take my mitt off and stepped up immediately to check on me.  He filled my field of vision, taking my hiking poles for a moment to allow me to shove my heavy mitt back over my gloved hand.  In my open left ear, I heard him ask, “Martha, are you ok?  Is your mitten ok?”

I nodded, took another breath, and smiled.  “I am great.  Vizuri sana.  Let’s climb.”


Just before seven in the morning, I took my mitt off again, clicked the button, and pulled it out of my ear.  The sun rose red and pink and gold and blue above the clouds, illuminating the heavy, stolid glaciers below us, the hard-packed dirt under our feet, a simple, easy grade leading us from Stella Point to the top of Uhuru Peak.

©2019 Josh Dudick

Twenty minutes later, I sat beneath the hand-painted wooden summit sign known around the world, and smiled.

And I heard nothing at all but the cheers of my team, our guides, and the endless, timeless wind.

I was at 19,341ft.  For more than eleven million square miles around me, and for the endless well of emotions within me, there was no place higher I could go.

©2019 Wayne Jones

~ ~ ~

Mbahe Farm

On my last evening at the farm, after serving a superb strawberry-and-rhubarb compote for dessert, Abraham said good-night and left me sitting meditatively in the common room, watching the fire fall to embers on the massive cast-iron grate.  I watched the smoke drift lazily out the front of the fireplace – the chimney drew poorly – and dance around the lightbulbs hanging from the high ceiling before escaping into the night.  I drank my last cup of tea, gathered my things, and slowly made my way to my room.

The gentle orange glow of kerosene lanterns left at regular intervals along the path kept me from tripping over my feet, but the light barely reached the high eaves of the roofline.  I stopped just before my last turn, and looked up to the sky.  The clouds were dense overhead, and there were no stars nor any moonlight visible.  The farm was wrapped in warm grey blanket, sheltering us from the heat below and the icy winds above.

In my room, I stepped into the shower and stood there, the water just a degree from scalding, absorbing as much heat as a could.  I wiggled my toes – they were still numb, and the water made them tingle oddly, almost painfully – and knew that even after every other joint healed and all the bruises faded, their injury would linger, reminding me for months to come of my time on the mountain, and the choices I’d made to get to the top.

I stayed in the shower so long I became lightheaded, then jumped out, braided my hair, and dove under the rough, heavy covers of the bed.  A bird outside the building yelled into the dark of the night, its call wild and maniacal.

As I fell asleep I realized that I felt safe for the first time in a long time, safe and protected and isolated, coddled away from the tearing, ripping needs of that which is required of us every day, just to get by until the next tomorrow.  I knew then why the farm called up memories of a New England childhood for me on quiet, unconscious levels I hadn’t understood.

I held the sensation close to me, sank into it, cherished it for the gift that I knew it was, for however long it would last.

~ ~ ~


Of all the people to whom I could have offered my confession, I chose the intimidating one.

I sat next to him at lunch that afternoon, after all of us were down from the summit, had fallen unconscious with exhaustion in our over-heated tents, baking in the noon-day sun, and then were shaken awake again by the porters.  We needed to eat, and then descend yet another 5,000ft before the day was over.

“I didn’t know if I’d make it to the summit,” I said, and he looked surprised.

“Really?  You seemed very sure.  You had a good pace, and were able to keep it up all week.”

His simple assumption that I certainly would make the summit was a brilliant coin that I quickly tucked into an inner pocket in the cloak of my soul.  I still pull it out every once in a while and admire it for just a second or two before hiding it safely away again.

I shook my head.  “I didn’t know how I would react to the altitude – I’ve never been this high before, so I didn’t know if I’d get sick, if I’d be able to handle it.”  I shrugged.  “If I couldn’t make the summit because I was altitude-sick, and needed to descend, then I knew I would be OK.  It wouldn’t be a failure.  I would be proud of myself for making it as high as I did.

“But I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do it mentally.  If I had quit for any other reason – I was tired, I was hungry, I was cold, I just didn’t want to anymore, I didn’t have to anymore – THAT would be a failure.  To listen to the voice in my head telling me I couldn’t do it – then I would have failed.”

I wasn’t sure that I was articulating it very well, but I suddenly knew why I’d come to Kilimanjaro.

It wasn’t about making the summit.  It was never about the actual summit, the altitude, the climb.

To see if the Voice would finally win.

It was to see if I would cause myself to fail.

He nodded, and smiled.  “But you didn’t.”

I smiled back.  “I didn’t.  I had to listen to David Goggins all the way up the mountain, but I didn’t fail.”

He laughed, and dug into his lunch.  “I’ve read his book at least twice.  Have you read ‘The Untethered Soul?’”

~ ~ ~

We finally saw the Southern Cross on our fourth night on the mountain, perched on a little flat space in the overflowing Barranco Camp at 13,044ft.  I’d stayed in the mess tent to listen to my teammates talk and laugh and share stories – there was a particularly excellent re-telling of one teammate’s single-shot kill of an impala, followed by her traditionally and ceremoniously eating the testicles raw – but eventually the cold seeped in and the stories wound down.

I pulled my down hood over my hat, bade everyone good-night, and stepped into the dark.  I glanced up to the sky, expecting to see nothing through the ever-present cloud cover, and instead was greeted by a thousand brilliant points of light, flashlights signaling to us from across the universe.

There above me, resplendent in its glory, was Jupiter, the center of its own clearing in the sky.  Antares nearby, the anchor of Scorpius.  Way to the right, Vega, and Saturn shining far to the left.  And there, laying like a drunken kite low on the horizon, the Southern Cross.

I ducked my head back into the mess tent.  “The Southern Cross is out, if anyone’s interested.”  There was a rapid exodus as the Americans, perpetually trapped under the Northern Hemisphere’s night sky, emerged from the tent to see the most famous constellation of the South.

One of the Australians tilted his head a bit.  “Looks all sideways at this latitude.”

And one of the Americans, tired and cranky, said, “That’s it?  I’m underwhelmed.”

I stayed outside as he grumbled and shuffled off to his tent.  I wasn’t underwhelmed at all.  I was in awe of everything around me, of the mountain, of the wind and the dark and the dirt and ash, of standing two miles up above Tanzania, of the glorious tangle of stars and sky above me and the glowing neon tents on the plateau all around me.  A group of porters in the distance was singing; our own porters were laughing hysterically in their own mess tent, enjoying their dinner with shouted conversations at the top of their lungs.

Only when I began shivering so hard that my teeth began to click did I tear myself away from the wonder of the world around me, crawl into my tent, into my bag, and fall deeply asleep.


The Barranco Wall is arguably one of the most famous features of Mt. Kilimanjaro outside the summit.  It looms over Barranco Camp, impossibly wide, endlessly tall, terrifyingly dark.  It is nearly 850ft of hand-over-hand clambering, sometimes nearly straight up.

Our group started late, deliberately trying to avoid the rush of trekkers on shorter trips than us, those who would rush up the wall early, en route to high camp that night and to start the summit climb at midnight.  We stood outside the mess tent, holding steaming yellow plastic mugs of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, Milo.  We sipped our drinks and stared at the monstrosity above us.


“We’re going to climb that today?”


The trekkers already on their way were nothing but tiny dots of fluorescent color, disappearing into the crevices of the wall as they scrambled and pulled their way up.

“That’s a big fucking wall.”



The guides arranged themselves ahead, behind, and beside us at critical intervals.  “Place your hand here, then your left foot here, then pull up here, and don’t hit your head here!”  We were climbing one of the world’s most entertaining jungle gyms, complete with games of leapfrog with other climbing teams, and duck-and-cover as porters swarmed up the cliff around us, laden with 60- or 70-liter backpacks plus their load for the day balanced on their head, or across the back of their necks.

Where there were tall gaps or steps to climb, the guides grabbed our wrists and hauled us up.  Where there were narrow ledges to shimmy across, hugging the rock in front of us as the void loomed behind us, the guides were on either side, handing us off to each other like buckets on a water brigade.  We would be pulled up this mountain, if by nothing else then by sheer force of their will combined with ours.

©2019 Josh Dudick

A woman from a Canadian team in front of us sat dizzily on a rock, just off the trail, holding the hand of her guide in a white-knuckled death grip.  She was climbing with her eyes closed, horribly sick from the altitude, trusting her guide to get her to the top alive.  He knelt beside her, her day pack on his back, and held out a cup of water, concerned etched across his face.  “Please, drink this.  You must keep drinking.”  Ghastly pale, she nodded, drinking with her eyes still closed.

In truth, she had to go up.  We all did.

There was literally nowhere else to go.

We had been climbing and clambering and scrambling and hauling ourselves upwards for about two hours, and we paused in a little clear area off the side of the trail to rest and drink and eat and take pictures.  Another of my group pointed at a dark rock formation above us, hidden and revealed and hidden again by the ever-shifting mists.

“Is that the top?” she asked, unable to disguise an exhausted hope imbued into the question.

The lead guide squinted at it, and nodded.  “That is the halfway point.”

Her jaw dropped, and she spun around to face us.  “Did you hear that?  That’s only halfway, and it’s still above us!”

I glanced up at it, and then back to her.  “How about a re-frame?  ‘Hey, look how far we’ve come, we can see the halfway point just above us!’”

She coughed on her surprise, and started to laugh.  And then I laughed.  And then we high-fived, and the other group members smiled.

And another of our group pulled a bag of Twizzlers out of his backpack, and began handing them out to the exhausted, sweaty porters as they raced past us, their job an endless cycle of ascend, assemble, disassemble, descend, again and again and again throughout the days and weeks and months and years of this tiny sliver of Kilimanjaro’s titanic life.

And I looked around me, at the wall looming above, the glacial river below us now nothing but a silver thread in a dark brown blanket, the endless clouds racing across the angles and corners of this incredible mountain, now in an infinitesimally lethargic period of disintegration.

The Australians laughed with their new American friends, the South African woman and I talked about books, the couple from San Francisco shared celebratory Oreos packed all the way from the States.  The guides taught us phrases in Swahili, and played pop music from the 90’s on a portable stereo.

The white-necked ravens of the mountain circled overhead, and the tiny shrub bushes of Everlasting Flowers bloomed in the crevices between the rocks, heedless of the little bits of toilet paper dotting the ground around them.

And as I took it all in, I heard my mother’s voice in my head, a mild disbelief always wrapped inexorably in resigned amusement.  “Martha Emily, what on earth have you gotten yourself into this time?”

The guides yelled, “Packs on!  Twende!  Let’s go!

And I laughed, and threw my pack on, and climbed.

~ ~ ~


~ ~ ~

With gratitude to:

Abraham, Leonard, Romanos, Simon, and all the staff at The Mbahe Farm Cottages.

Abraham, Baracka, Emmanuel, and all the guides, cooks, porters and staff at Ultimate Kilimanjaro.  All fifteen members of my group summited and descended safely and successfully.

Anastasia and Mare and everyone at Kula Cloth, for creating an incredible product and delivering incredible customer service.