Hey friends! At 6:34 a.m. local time Friday I summited the world's largest free-standing mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro with my buddies Jesse and Paul Yaginuma! I consider it one of my biggest personal achievements and got so much out of the journey. The idea was proposed by Jesse and Paul over a year ago. I initially laughed it off thinking it was an unattainable goal. I'm really, really, really glad I looked further into it. A big thank you to the Yaginumas for being such cool fucking guys with ambition and a strong desire to live their lives to the fullest. This reiterates to me just how essential it is that we all keep an openmind about everything. Opening one's mind isn't a process that happens overnight. It's a matter of being exposed to different people, things and places. I'll take this platform, however small it is, to try to express that through this documentation of my Kilimanjaro experience:
One of my immediate worries before I left was that I had overtrained in the final days leading up to the climb. When we booked this trip Jesse and I were about to head off to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker. The WSOP is the busiest time of my year professionally so getting in tiptop shape was going to be hard work. I managed to get to the nearby 24 Hour Fitness in Vegas a handful of times where I would generally walk 35-45 minutes on the treadmill's maximum incline 15.0 at about 3.2 MPH (5.15 KM/H). I tend to keep myself in pretty decent shape but found this workout intense. In retrospect this was a poor way to train, but I had very limited time to get outside and do hikes in Las Vegas. Looking back, a better way to train would be longer walks at less steep inclines and at a slower pace. I finished my time in Vegas and made it to my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. When I wasn't catching up with family and friends I was at Oak Mountain State Park hiking. I found a hike there that would keep me somewhat sheltered from Alabama's devastating summer heat and humidity. I'd routinely take the Green Trail to White to Yellow/White Connector to Yellow back to my vehicle. Birminghamians should definitely get out to Oak Mountain if you haven't. It is incredible. I kept hiking until about a week up until my Kilimanjaro climb. I did a quick 4 mile run in the Bama heat one day and then memorably ran a community 5k on a full stomach from the eatery Purple Onion the next, nearly puking for the final half kilometer.
I was in a great state of mind when I left Birmingham on July 31. I caught up with all my family and some friends which is always the best. Additionally I stayed on my meditation grind, more on that later. After a nine hour flight from Atlanta I connected through Amsterdam where KLM Airlines took over carrying service. I arrived to Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania after 22 hours of travel through eight different time zones to the nightmare that only my duffel bag had arrived. Additionally I'd packed a huge suitcase that included my day pack and much of the essential gear I needed, perhaps most importantly my broken-in hiking boots. My concern became real while waiting with many others in the lost baggage line in the third world country--watching workers document all of the claims with paper and pen. I filed my claim and was told that my baggage was most likely in Amsterdam and wouldn't arrive in time for my hike which was to begin in just thirteen hours.
I made it to our hotel and Jesse and Paul helped me keep my sanity. I was additionally calmed by the director of the tour company we'd hired, Ultimate Kilimanjaro, and told we could buy everything I needed the next morning. I slept surprisingly well.
We had breakfast at the hotel as we awaited pickup by Ultimate. When the van arrived, the porters loaded all of our gear onto the top of the van and we piled in with the guides, porters and cook. In total, seventeen of us were in the van for around ninety minutes in addition to an hour worth of stops on the way to our starting gate. Before we could even get our backpacks on a monkey that was swinging from an overhead tree fell just feet from us then scattered away into the woods. We admittedly started the climb entirely too fast and broke quite a sweat on the first incline into the rainforest. I remember thinking "What did I get myself into?" Our guide Ewald aka "Professor" had to rush in front of us from below to slow us down.
We got a great taste for the rainforest and quickly made camp on day 1. Guides and hikers are required to sign in each afternoon at camp. Something is cool about the fact that history of Kilimanjaro is documented with paper and pencil. It goes along with the awesomeness behind the idea that you're out there, it's just you and nature and no interference. We arrived to 2 two-man tents that had already been set up by our porters, a mess tent where we would eat dinner each night, and a few chairs which we would generally chill in each afternoon after completion.
A quick note on the porters that carry all the equipment up the mountain: they are superhumans. They scurry up and down the mountain at a pace you won't believe until you see it with your own eyes. They balance or lightly support gear on their head in addition to wearing backpacks, tents, folding tables, and all kinds of other stuff. Even guys that weren't particularly big or were slightly overweight were getting after it. It was in two words, humbling and inspiring. In the next month or so I'm going to put together a short video of some of the footage from the climb and you will see it for yourself.
We ate dinner on night 1 and left only crumbs. Jesse, Paul and I can really put down some food. The porters likely were laughing amongst themselves about fact that there was never a scrape of leftovers from the enormous portions they'd give us. Dinner each night was always a soup with bread, followed by rice or pasta with a meat or mushroom sauce. Or fried fish and potatoes. Or a plate full of carbs like grilled cheeses, muffins?, and other bread. One night at dinner we were brought our first dish. It looked delicious and I said, "Yum, chicken quesadillas". Paul took the first bite and started laughing uncontrollably as it was some sort of banana/nutella mix that we weren't expecting. It was a running joke on our trip. I found all of the food delicious, but another joke amongst my friends and me is that I will eat everything and tell you it's the best I've ever had. There was a chili flavored ketchup made by American Garden that we loved and ate on whatever we could. It was the likely contributor to the tremendously painful heartburn/indigestion that I battled for the entire trip. I should have listened to my Mom when she recommended to me multiple times to take medicine along the mountain with me.
On night 1 I had my first experience with the Kilimanjaro outhouses. The process was to squat to a hole in the ground when as we like to say, you're "changing your diaper". The outhouses aren't exactly clean and don't smell the greatest. It was a workout in and of itself.
I mostly was asleep by 8 or 8:30 each night, occasionally rolling around in the tent for a little while when the conditions became colder. And let me tell you it was cold. On the final night it was to a point where we wrapped up in everything that we had in order to stay warm. As it got colder we all three slept in just one two-man tent for warmth. In my other downtime I read best selling Freakonomics on the mountain and found it interesting. We spent 20+ hours on the mountain playing a card game called "Presidents" that the guys introduced to me. I got pummeled all trip long.
I awoke around 3-5:30 a.m. each day, content with my night's sleep. The sun came up at 6:30 each day and we were able to catch some beautiful sunrises. I managed to meditate four to five days on the trip which was instrumental in me making summit. Breakfast each morning was a big bowl of pourage which we mixed with chocolate nutella, peanut butter or honey. Afterwards we were brought a platter with three eggs, six pieces of toast, and three medium pieces of sausage. I'd fold the sausage and egg in the bread and coat it with the chili ketchup.
We'd eventually get underway with our hikes from 8:30 to 9 a.m. The hikes were obviously spectacular and I stayed in the moment as best I could. We spent lots of time talking and joking, and I feel like I learned so much from my hiking mates. Occasionally toward the end of hikes we would stream music as motivation. I played Eric Prydz "Liberate" countless times.
We eventually emerged from the rainforest and things really started to open up. It wasn't until late day 2 that we actually got a view of the peak that we'd attempt to conquer. It was a cool feeling not thinking but knowing that the guys and I were going to summit. I don't really have words to describe the views we saw along the way, so I'll let the footage speak for itself when I put it together. I used a GoPro that I wore on a headband. I would have liked to get more footage but was often in the moment and would forget to start rolling. I think we got some great stuff between the three of us.
The summit day at Kilimanjaro is the experience that most needs to be written about. We reached base camp around 2 p.m. on Day 6. For the first six days we averaged around 4 hours of hiking per day including occasional stops for rest or water. We had just a ten hour break before our summit climb was set to begin at midnight, starting day 7. The guys and I managed to get very little sleep in the meantime.
We awoke to an alarm at 11:15 p.m. and finished putting on all of our gear before consuming some tea and crackers. We got underway around 12:30 a.m. We began the steep ascent of the mountain in the dark night lit up only by an unforgettable view of the full moon and stars and by all of us hikers' headlamps in a line. The view was literally something from another world. It is one of the reasons you should book your Kilimanjaro trip as soon as possible. We trekked and trekked and trekked for over four hours and I can speak for all of us when I say that we were physically and mentally exhausted. Still, there was no chance of us coming up short. The conditions were well below freezing, and we couldn't feel our fingers and toes for the majority of the trip. It was around this point that I experienced the best high of my life. It was the type feeling you hear super long distance runners and other extreme athletes talk about when they're pushed to the absolute brink. It was amazing. I occasionally smoke weed and have used MDMA a handful of times. It should be said these substances have played a vital role in my growth as an individual and are both excellent if used responsibly. They cannot compare to the feeling I had on the mountain however.
Around 5 a.m. we were informed by our tour guides Ewald and Amadeus that we were ninety minutes from summit. This is the point that I found my true second wind and became overwhelmed by emotion. I drew so much strength from the yoga and meditation practices that I've incorporated into my life. I just kept breathing, staring at the shoes in front of me, and taking one step at a time. We were going to accomplish this feat. Around 45 minutes from summit we reached Stella Point which stands 18885 feet above sea level.
Things flattened out and we all pushed on toward summit. Our dream came true at 6:34 a.m. Paul surprised Jesse and me with a flag from our hometown states of Maryland and Alabama, respectively. Regrettably it was so windy that my flag is barely visible in the pictures. We hugged and high-fived then took some quick pictures in the freezing and windy conditions as dozens of others hurriedly took pictures as well. We were at summit for maybe fifteen minutes. At summit we bumped into two dudes from Dallas that we saw and chatted with each day along the way. We also became friendly with a group of girls from Canada and the US. I know we all served as motivation for each other.
The real struggle of the trip for me was coming down the mountain. Having never really experienced altitude, I really got hit at the summit and had some difficulty skating down the initial 2.5 hours of the mountain. My headache was pounding and I was completely exhausted. Thanks to Jesse and Paul's motivation I eventually made it. Once back down the mountain to base camp around 10 a.m., we debated whether to walk the three hours to the intended final night's camp or to truck on for six hours to reach the starting gate of the mountain. It was a no-brainer, and we chose the latter to avoid spending another cold night on the mountain. We also wanted a shower so ridiculously bad. Sixteen hours of hiking later, the porters loaded up all the gear and the seventeen of us piled into the van.
Jesse, Paul and I arrived at the hotel at long last. Showers were so important to us that we flipped coins to determine which lucky guy amongst us got to go first. I got third. We headed downstairs for an appropriately named African lager called 'Kilimanjaro'. We were just about to walk upstairs and get sleep when our guides and newfound friends Ewald and Amadeus pulled up in a vehicle outside the hotel. We all piled in a car and headed out to the nearby Moshi, Tanzania bars/nightclubs. We took over the dance floor with our favorite porter, Peter. I finally slept after 2 a.m. in what amounted to the craziest 24 hours of my life.
The next day we relaxed around the hotel playing countless games of Presidents and eating countless plates of beef curry before eventually departing. I recently flew up to Barcelona, Spain. I'm chilling for a few days and then competing in the Pokerstars European Poker Tour series starting this weekend. I hope this entry is enough to convince you guys to book your trip. Nothing is unattainable.