Daring To Toe The Thin Line Between Fishing and Just Standing On The Shore Like A Cloud Gawking Idiot

Djúpivogur, the tiny fishing village and childhood home of our Ring Road tour guide Biggi.  For this shot, he drove the fan up onto an overlook hill and we stared out at a quintessential Icelandic fishing village, pointing out the colorful buildings
the black one has bathrooms” and “there’s an antique shop where you can find stuff my grandma makes”. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to meet the local legend “Yan the Blacksmith” as his place was under construction, though we could see the sculptures outside his place.  And we saw the row of rock bird egg sculptures on the harbor – top notch work.  Must be interesting for Biggi to live in West Iceland and yet his work takes him repeatedly to the opposite side of the island to say hello to his Mom and family and friends he grew up with every few weeks  Anyhow,  jeez, lookit those insane clouds, will ya? Iceland, people. Get here.

Chewing Up Icelandic Scenery Is Tough If You’ve Got Bad Dentistry

The mighty Vatnajökull glacier is, in fact, SO mighty that it has a number of outlet glaciers that are themselves quite epic…miles across, in some cases.   This white beast is the greatest glacier in all of Europe by volume and spans 9% of Iceland.  Our minibus stopped in the middle of a gigantic glacial floodplain that had dropped miles of lava rock and ash and had mangled a nearby metal bridge into a twisted ruin.   Light played on the far mountain tops and the epic landscape and broad colors of fall that dotted the floodplain enhanced the feeling of being a small dot on a vast planet which itself is a pale blue dot in a seemingly infinite universe.   Thinking large as I chewed on dried fish jerky was admittedly not my most original moment.  Get to Iceland, people.  It’s purty.

Icelandic Glaciers, Hairless Cats, Pumpkin Spice Oreos; The World Is Full of Pressing Subjects No One Consults Me About

We strapped on the crampons, swung the ice axes, ambled up Falljokull, the lava dirt outlet glacier of the mighty Vatnajökull glacier and looked deep into the valley of the mountain’s throat, its tiny meadow-like green patch that would make for difficult golf, the slopes in the far background that seemed almost Shangri-la, with a kind of mist that hung over them in the on an off sprinkle of rain.  It was a contrast in earthtones, so I snapped it.   Think I’m happy.   “The glacier melts are always cycling forward and back,” said our UK glacier guide, “but in the past 5 years since I’ve been leading these hikes, they’re receding much much faster than any of us have ever seen before.” He paused, nimbly avoiding the hot stone topic of why.  “It’s kind of sad, really.”   You have to be here, in Iceland, in the Himalayas, in Tanzania–anywhere outside–and be surrounded on all sides by this kind of landscape to feel dread at the possibility that it might slip away in ours or our children’s lifetime.

When The Mountain Claims Your Limbs, Only Then Will You Begin To Dance

More of the magical Isle of Skye, Scotland and the weather drops in a little bit of drama. The Black Cuillins are incredibly dramatic igneous mountains, and the stretch of empty road surrounded on both sides by fields of purple heather gives a nice perspective.   The truth is, there isn’t a single image that can capture how magnificent the landscape on the Isle of Skye is, and what dynamic views it offers.  Magical. Am I gushing too much? Probably.

 

 

With Monuments As With Men, Position Is Everything

First day of our Scotland tour, you may recall from an earlier photoblog post we climbed up to the Wallace Monument, then climbed up its ever skinnier turret steps to reach the top spire. Last day of Scotland, here we are at Stirling Castle, looking across at the very same monument, and really see how well it was positioned when it first opened in the mid 1800’s.  The houses in the village below looks like little toys, the green mountains behind the perfect backdrop.  So then, I say again, Scotland is lovely and polite and has wrangled its tragic history into a stunning and diverse geographic landscape.  4 weeks wouldn’t be enough to take it all in, so I got the Cliff Notes version. Better than nothing.

Kilimanjaro Day 8-9: Summit Time Is Glacier Time, Earth Curvature, Journey’s End

The Earth is Curved..6:30am Crater Rim Sunrise With Mawenzi and Clouds Below Us
The Earth is Curved..6:30am Crater Rim Sunrise With Mawenzi and Clouds Below Us

THE ADVENTURE ENDS – DAY 8-9 HIGHLIGHTS

    • We woke up at 11pm, mist overhead obscuring the sky, but the temperature wasn’t bad at all as we put on our many layers. I actually opted out of a rain jacket layer, as I knew fleece would have me sweating hard with a big down jacket on the outside, particularly as we were about to make a 3000 foot vertical ascent straight up to the crater rim. We got our water filled, filled warm water bottles in case our Camelbak hoses froze (they did),  grabbed snacks of chocolate bars and ginger cookies, and said relatively little as we sat in the mess tent, eating our oatmeal porridge and drinking black tea and coffee. I was lucky, as I’d managed to get a solid 4 hrs of uninterrupted sleep since dinner, and I felt pretty good. At last, JT lined up the guides in front of and behind us, with instructions for us not to work too hard – just pole pole up the mountain. We flipped on oiur headlamps and started up through the boulders slowly trudging along in the loose scree…so it began.

 

    • There were waypoints here and there, and the crowd headed for the summit was a zigzag twinkly of fireflies as high as we could see. We mainly listened to the sounds of the guides as they sang and called to each other in Swahili – figuring out if one team should pass another — this was, after all, more or less a single track path upwards.  When we stopped for rest, Said, Viviano, Halid or JT, would open our packs for us and pull out snacks…allowing us to expend as little effort as possible as the air grew thinner.  At length the group split up, with Rhys, Kitt, and Cort going ahead with Said, while the remainder of us moved a little slower.

 

  • The final 200 yards was a vertical boulder scramble that seemed like it took forever, with the crater rim in sight, the sounds of excited voices above. Since it was a slog with a train of people, we finally turned and saw the great orangle globe emerging from the clouds, Mawenzi far below us — looking almost small, and the horizon with a slight curve to it..the earth really is round!
Sunrise Behind Mawenzi, From Gilman's Point
Sunrise Behind Mawenzi, From Gilman’s Point
  • CRATER RIM REACHED! We crawled out of the rocks into the middle of a crowd of jubilant summiteers, all gathered round at Gilman’s Point. My body was exhausted, but had no altitude issues at all – it felt like i was breathing normal. Alex, Caryl, and Paul were in great shape, while Irina was having a tough time getting air. We snapped pictures quickly and then started around the crater rim towards Stella’s Point.
Crater Rim Morning At Gilman's Point, 18, 650 ft
Crater Rim Morning At Gilman’s Point, 18, 650 ft
Boulder Scrambling Up The Final 200 Yards Through Lava Rocks
Busting Up The Final 200 Yards To The Crater RIm Through Lava Rocks
Crater Rim Hike To Stella Point
Crater Rim Hike To Stella Point
Team At Stella Point, Elevation  18, 800 feet.
Team At Stella Point, Elevation 18, 800 feet.
  • We got To Stella’s Point and Irina descended with Viviano to get her oxygen back. She’d made it to the crater rim – no mean feat. I was exhausted, but after talking to JT, he said if all I felt was tired, then we’d go Pole Pole to the summit (Uhuru Peak)…which we did. The crater rim was simply stunning, with cubic glaciers on the outside above the infinite clouds, and the giant bowl on the inside.
On A Clear Summit Day, We Could See Forever
On A Clear Summit Day, We Could See Forever
Kibo Crater and Rim
Kibo Crater and Rim
Cubic Glacier On Kili Summit
Cubic Glacier On Kili Summit
Uhuru Peak Summit - The Roof Of Africa. L to R, Alex, JT, me, Caryl, Paul. Rhys, Cort, and Kitt had summited an hour a head of us.
Uhuru Peak Summit – The Roof Of Africa. L to R, Alex, JT, me, Caryl, Paul. Rhys, Cort, and Kitt had summited an hour a head of us.
  • Once we got to the Uhuru Peak summit (19,341 ft) and grasped what we’d done, I muttered a quick refrain from Toto’s “Africa”, we took our pictures, then I busted it down with Said, so tired I was stumbling, and they watched me closely. We got back to Stella’s point in record time and immediately started down, with Alex, Caryl, Paul not far behind with JT. The descent to Barafu was kind of a blur, as I was pretty out of it, but I managed to make it unscathed, had lunch, then we descended further all the way down to Millenium Camp at 12,500. The 5 hr descent after 8 hr of altitude hiking wasn’t welcome, but not as if we had a choice. Alex and I both jammed our toes, and even as of this writing, my right toenail is black and probably leaving this mortal coil. Fortunately, Millenium Camp was gorgeous. I crawled into my tent and crashed hard after 12 hours of hiking. At dinner later, Rhys, Cort, and Kitt indicated they’d only gotten into camp a half hour ahead of us.
Descending Down To Barafu After Summit
Descending Down To Barafu After Summit
Down From Summit, But Only Halfway Mist Over Crowded Barafu Camp
Down From Summit, But Only Halfway Mist Over Crowded Barafu Camp
Millenium Camp Nestled Below Kili - Elevation 12,590 ft
Millenium Camp Nestled Below Kili – Elevation 12,590 ft
  • We overnighted at Millenium; the next morning was tipping ceremony with our whole summit team, where they sang and danced a Swahili celebration dance for our Kili summit. Afterwards, we headed down through the moorlands and back into the rainforest, where we saw Mt Meru in the distance, Kili framed above us, and more beautiful flowers.
Millenium Camp Sunrise
Millenium Camp Sunrise
Mt Meru On Descent From Millenium Camp
Mt Meru On Descent From Millenium Camp
A Final Glimpse Of Kili From The Rainforest
A Final Glimpse Of Kili From The Rainforest
Impatiens kilmanjari
Impatiens kilmanjari
Impatiens Pseudoviola
Impatiens Pseudoviola
  • At long last, we reached the final gate…did our last team picture together, signed out to get our certificate for climbing the mountain, ate lunch, and sat quietly in the bus on our way back to Arusha. What a grand adventure – a sense of accomplishment that’s hard to describe and relishing our fortune in having an excellent guiding company and a team where we all got along in our many days on the mountain. I felt truly blessed and exhilarated.
Team Celebration At Mweka Gate Finish
Team Celebration At Mweka Gate Finish
Signing Out, Certificate
SIgning Out For Our Summit Certificate

 

Said, JT, Viviano - Final Briefing
Said, JT, Viviano – Final Briefing

Mweka Gate Finish - ByeBye Kili

FAQ:
How did you book this epic journey?
Through Peak Planet, the best reviewed agency we found. Researching the Kili guiding is an exercise is due diligence – but something to consider is the treatment of porters and guides helping you up the mountain. The cheaper operators have a reputation for porters and guides with tattered clothing, substandard shoes, and not getting paid for the many days away from their families. From all testimonials and references, Peak Planet is the opposite of that, working with the African Walking Company to ensure good treatment while keeping the prices reasonable. I have zero stake in Peak Planet, but the blog should speak for itself – the guides and porters were excellent, friendly, helpful, courteous, etc. all you could ask for on such a comprehensive undertaking.What camera did you use?
The Fuji XT-1 mirrorless APS-C with an 18-135mm lens. All of it heavily weather resistant, unstopped by rain, freezing cold, sleet, or altitude. I did bring 4 extra batteries, kept warm in a wool sock…which proved to be good for the whole 9 day mountain journey.

Kilimanjaro Day 7: Upward Bound – The Final Ascent Begins With School Hut

Kilimanjaro Dwarfs Tiny Third Cave Camp
Kilimanjaro Dwarfs Tiny Third Cave Camp

DAY 5 HIGHLIGHTS

    • Our night at Third Cave Camp was pristine, with nary a patter of precipitation or wind. There were rock strata about a 50 yards from the camp, and I popped out of the tent at 5ish, switched on my headlamp and meandered through the shrub to climb the formations, tripod and camera in hand, then snapped away as the sun rose over our near perfect view of the Southeastern side of Kilimanjaro, as the camp slowly woke up over the next couple hours.
Cooking And Mess Tents At Sunrise - Third Cave. You can see the rock formations I climbed for the early AM photos of Kili.
Cooking And Mess Tents At Sunrise – Third Cave. You can see the rock formations I climbed for the early AM photos of Kili.
Sunrise Bands On Kilimanjaro Above Our Sleeping Tents
Sunrise Bands On Kilimanjaro Above Our Sleeping Tents
CLICK TO EXPAND - Pano of Kili and Third Cave Ravine and Camp
CLICK TO EXPAND – Sunrise Pano of Kili and Third Cave Ravine and Camp
    • Third Cave amounted to base camp – our last full night of sleep before we summited the mountain, and the beginning of a LONG period of hiking. In the morning after breakfast, we would ascend from 13,000 feet to Outward Bound School Hut 15,500 feet, have lunch, nap, have dinner, then at 11pm, make the summit attempt. We marched out of camp at 8:27am and into the Kibo saddle that separated multipoint Mawenzi Peak on our left, and Kili Kibo Crater (the summit) on our right. The land quickly transitioned into the surface of the moon, strewn with rocks and virtually no flora to be seen.
To School Hut
To School Hut
The Ascent To School Hut Begins
The Ascent To School Hut Begins
    • After about 1200 feet ascent, we were a little shocked to see the remains of a cape buffalo, eyes wide open staring at the sky. JT explained that around 2012, the buffalo had come up to the high elevation (around 14,200 feet) to lick the sodium ash and gotten its horns stuck in the crag; the folks at nearby Kibo Hut had heard it, but there were no attempts to free it, as the cape buffalo is universally noted as one of the meanest animals in Africa, not afraid to charge vehicles, toss big cats…and people around with its horns. It died after a few days…the corpse had no horns and had obviously been pulled out of where it had died and propped up on the rock. Kinda surreal.
Cape Buffalo Remains On The Ascent To School Hut
Cape Buffalo Remains On The Ascent To School Hut
    • At some point, we crossed 14,500 feet, higher than Mt Whitney, the highest point on the continental US, and officially marking the highest any of us had ever climbed. Everyone was doing great, including Caryl, now fully recovered from her headaches, albeit still fighting her sinuses.
Alex and Irina At Mt Whitney Elevation 14,500 feet
Alex and Irina At Mt Whitney Elevation 14,500 feet
Mawenzi Shrouded In Clouds On Our Way To School Hut
Mawenzi Shrouded In Clouds On Our Way To School Hut
    • We were now climbing loose scree, a sign of what we’d be climbing on our ascent. Again, pole pole pace to the rescue prevented the steps from sapping our energy the way loose gravel can, and at length we spotted School Hut camp above, nestled in the rocks…our base camp for the summit attempt. We came into camp around 11:30am, signed in, had lunch and listened to JT’s briefing. “Get your naps in between lunch and dinner, and after dinner – we’ll be starting the summit climb at 11pm” Though it alternated between sun superheating our tents and drifting snow and mist, we hit the hay and did our best. All the days on the mountain were finally coming to fruition!
Criscrossing Scree To Schoolk Hut In The Distance
Criscrossing Scree To School Hut In The Distance
School Hut Above Us at 15,500 feet
School Hut Above Us at 15,500 feet. It’s Like Moon Up Here!.
Socks Dry Out At School Hut (15,500 feet). It's Almost Summit Time!
Socks Dry Out At School Hut (15,500 feet). It’s Almost Summit Time!

FAQ:
How did you book this epic journey?
Through Peak Planet, the best reviewed agency we found. Researching the Kili guiding is an exercise is due diligence – but something to consider is the treatment of porters and guides helping you up the mountain. The cheaper operators have a reputation for porters and guides with tattered clothing, substandard shoes, and not getting paid for the many days away from their families. From all testimonials and references, Peak Planet is the opposite of that, working with the African Walking Company to ensure good treatment while keeping the prices reasonable. I have zero stake in Peak Planet, but the blog should speak for itself – the guides and porters were excellent, friendly, helpful, courteous, etc. all you could ask for on such a comprehensive undertaking.

What camera did you use?
The Fuji XT-1 mirrorless APS-C with an 18-135mm lens. All of it heavily weather resistant, unstopped by rain, freezing cold, sleet, or altitude. I did bring 4 extra batteries, kept warm in a wool sock…which proved to be good for the whole 9 day mountain journey.