Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 Year in Review

2013 was a year of great personal accomplishments.  As the sun rose on January 1, 2013, I reached the 19,341 ft. summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.  This feat was a mountaineering best for me as I had never previously summited a mountain over 14,500 feet nor had I ever been above 16,500 in elevation.  I felt surprisingly strong and am now eager to take on even greater mountaineering challenges.  Closer to home, I was able to reach the summit of six more Colorado 14ers (Snowmass Mountain, North Maroon Peak, Maroon Peak, Wilson Peak, Mount Wilson and El Diente Peak), leaving only Capitol Peak, Sunlight Peak, Windom Peak, Mount Eolus and North Eolus Peak for me to complete all of the state's 14ers.

I trained through the winter of 2014 for my first ultra distance event, the Greenland (CO) 50K Trail Race on May 4. My goal was to break six hours and I did it (barely!) in a time of 5:51:09.  My next big running challenge was the Bear Chase 50 Mile Trail Race on September 29.  This was by far the greatest distance I had ever attempted and had no idea how my body would respond to the last dozen or so miles.  My goal was pretty much just to finish before the 15 hours cutoff and a I happily finished in a time of 12:47.11, leaving plenty of time before the cutoff.  While I wasn't running for time, I also managed to complete the Colfax and Denver marathons to round out my running year.

My first cycling challenge of 2013 was the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic in Durango, Colorado on May 25th. While not terrible long (50 miles), it does have 8,000 feet of climbing along the way and gives a rider the chance to race an old, steam-powered narrow-gauge train from Durango to Silverton through the San Juan Mountains.  I felt great and the weather was perfect and I was able to complete the event in a time of 3:03:31.9.  The next cycling event I rode was the biggest disappointment of the year for me.  On July 4, I rode the Firecracker 50 mile MTB race in Breckenridge.  The was my first ever mountain bike event and I was unaware when I signed up that this is one of the most challenging MTB events in the state.  Not only did this race include 10,000 feet of climbing, but it is also incredible technical.  I had a wreck, a few mechanicals and missed the 37.5 mile/6 hour cut off by 2 MINUTES!!  I was crushed not to have finished.  Fortunately, I did not have long to dwell on it as I rode the Double Triple Bypass less than 10 days later.  This demanding event goes 240 miles over 3 mountain passes and 20,000 vertical feet from Bergen Park to Avon and then back over two days.  I was not riding for time and simple wanted to complete the two legs of the ride.  My next big ride was the Vuelta a Salida on August 17, a 100 mile ride from Salida to the top of  12,126 foot Cottonwood Pass.  The biggest thrill with this ride was the chance to ride the first 30 miles with the riders from Jely Belly Cycling Team, who were preparing for the upcoming USA Pro Challenge.  My last ride of the year was relatively gentle but always spectacular Tour of the Moon on October 5.  It is a nice change from the usual mountain scenery I get to experience, as this ride winds through the spectacular red sandstone canyons of Colorado National Monument.  Watch the the movie American Fliers to get a taste of the terrain.

My final, and perhaps greatest accomplishment of 2013 was the completion of  my first Ironman event.  On September 8, I competed in Ironman Wisconsin held in Madison.  Again, my primary goal was just to finish in the allotted 17 hours.  I can happily saw that I am now an Ironman.  I completed my first ever Ironman in a time of 13:42:18 (Swim 2.4 miles-1:31:41, Bike 112 miles- 6:17:45, Run 26.2 miles- 5:29:29). I was really tired by the end but still managed to run (not walk) the last several miles to the finish.  It was an amazing experience, but I'm not sure when I'll do another.  It takes a lot of time and commitment in three different disciplines, and I think I'll want to do too many other things.  I'm sure I'll do other triathlons, but this may be it for Ironman triathlons.

 I am keeping busy this winter after having joined the Loveland Ski Patrol.  This was also quite a challenge as I had to pass both a ski test and EMT-equivalent certification in outdoor emergency care. It will be tough top 2013 but I will certainly try in 2014.  Not entirely sure what I'll do, but I'll find out soon.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Summer event season warming up

With the Greenland 50K in the rearview mirror, several more events are now on the horizon. The summer event season is now getting into full gear. I will be running the Colfax Marathon this Sunday, will ride the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic next Saturday, and the Longmont Sprint Triathlon the weekend after that.  The events will get progressively more difficult as the summer rolls along. I am excited about the Colfax Marathon. I will be running in a relay with my family but will actually the the whole thing so that I can pace with (I was graciously granted permission from the organizers).  It is a very pleasant event and take you into different parts of Denver than the Denver Marathon in the fall. I really enjoyed this course when I ran it in 2011. I've also run the half marathon twice, but they seem to change that course fairly regularly. We will be embracing our Scottish heritage this year and the would family will be running in Clan Fraser shirts and kilts. Should be sweet.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

First ultra completed

Greenland 50k
Larkspur, CO

My first ultra marathon is now in the books. It actually was not as difficult as I had expected.  The weather could not have been better.  It started out sunny and in the upper 30's and quickly warmed into the mid-50's.  Despite several inches of snow earlier in the week, the trail was dry and in excellent condition.  

The race started promptly at 7am and headed south on a wide dirt path.  I don't now why, but I had trouble regulating my breathing and had a tight chest for the first mile.  I don't usually get nervous at the start of events, but it sure felt that way this time.  By Mile 2, we reached the point where our looping course would eventually intersect with the path we were on.  I was
feeling good by now and had finally gotten into a rhythm.  Our first aid station (one of only two) was at around Mile 3.  It was also at this point that the course began its 400 climb east to the top of the route's main hill.  From the top, the course turns north and rolls along the ridge line until dropping down a gentle northeast slope.  The trail briefly climbed a smaller hill before skirting along the west side end then dropping down into the wide flat expanse near the turn around.  When I reached the turn around, I was about 8 miles in and felt pretty good.  I now have three more circuits of the course to go. The trail leading south to intersect with the original trail paralleled the original trail before climbing up a small hill which the original trail had skirted to the west.  I now knew that I had a small, medium and large hill to climb as I made my loops and I wanted to be sure I had gas in the tank when I started the last lap.  The next two loops were pretty uneventful.  I continued to feel
strong and never had to stop and walk.  The biggest excitement was a large coyote the crossed
my path about 20 feet ahead of me.  As I started my fourth and final loop of the course, I was starting to feel a bit tired.  Just prior to reaching the aid station at the base of the large hill, I noted that I'd just past the 26.2 mile point (marathon distance) and was now, with each step, was runner further than I had ever run before.  I finally had to walk most of the big hill on this final ascent.  Fortunately, once I began the descent, I was able to runner rather swiftly down the trail, maintaining the pace almost all the way to the finish.  It was a great feeling to cross the finish line.  A personal best in distance and I was able to complete the
50K(31 miles) in less than 6 hours.  You can see my data here.

My next runner event will be the Colfax Marathon.  At this, it should seem like a piece of cake.  The next big challenge will be in September when I attempt my first 50 mile trail run.  Can't wait!

In Sex
In Div
James S. 
Denver CO
30 to 39

Friday, May 3, 2013

50K Eve

I'm now on the eve of my first "ultra".  Admittedly a 50K in not much of an ultra, but it is an ultra nonetheless.  I'm not too worried.  I trained well and the weather looks like it is going to be nice.  The Greenland 50K in Larkspur, CO is supposed to be one of the easier, faster 50K races in Colorado.  Ultrarunning Magazine’s annual “Year in Review” has revealed the Greenland 50K as one of the fastest ultras in the nation in 2012.  Hopefully this bodes well for me. The toughest part is that I'll be running four loops and I'm sure that I'm not going to be thrilled at the start of the 4th loop.  Overall, I'm sure it will be fun.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Snow Climb of Mount Elbert

Peak: Mt. Elbert - 14,433 feet
Date Climbed:03/30/2013
Elbert- East ridge
I hadn't done a climb in a while and had an itch to go up Elbert as a "winter" climb. Elbert was the first 14er I ever did back in 1996 and I hadn't been up it since. I enjoy snow climbs on mountains I've done in summer as it feels very different and is like climbing the mountain for the first time. I also got it in my head that I wanted to try some snow camping, something I've never done before. I headed out of Denver after work on Friday and made it to the 4WD road at the South Elbert Trailhead around 6:30pm. Unfortunately, my Subaru Forester got stuck in some deep slush on a steep portion of the road about 1.5 miles up, which cost me time and made me leary of trying to go any further (most folks seemed to make it almost all the way to the 4WD trailhead without any problem). I backed down the road and parked about 1.25 mile up and then started to hike until I found a spot to pitch my tent before it got dark.


It was a surprisingly comfortable and in fact I got going much later than I had planned as I enjoyed sleeping in a bit. I left my campsite just before 7am and snowshoed the 0.3 miles to the 4WD trailhead. There was a well-worn hard packed trail through the snow but I still found the snowshoes helpful, particularly on the steeper stretches.
Snowshoeing through the aspens

I was surprised how warm it was that early in the morning and soon had to remove several layer before continuing on. The weather was perfect and the views of the surrounding mountains were beautiful as a got my first glimpse near the top of the aspen forest.
Apart from a few spots that had melted down to the dirt and rocks, I was able to keep my snowshoes on well past treeline. The summit and East Ridge soon came into view as I got a little higher into the evergreen forest.
First view of the ridge and summit

I was lucky that the snow had frozen over as I approached treeline for there were several areas that were quite deep. I could see that some folks without snowshoes had postholed pretty deep.
Deep snow near treeline

My wife wasn't overly pleased that I had chosen to climb alone and I was glad to see several tents near treeline, so I clearly was not alone on the mountain. I reached treeline at about 8:30 and had to start battling a bit of a headwind as I climbed higher up the ridge. The ridge was easy climbing for the most part. The route could clearly be seen and snow was hardpacked and smooth. It wasn't until I was about 2/3 of the way up the ridge that it became bare enough for me to cache my snowshoes. About a quarter mile later, the route became snow covered again and I wished I still had my shoes.
East ridge and Summit
Upper slopes

I had to wind my way up through the areas where I could still see rock poking though and thus figured I could get reasonable traction. It really wasn't too bad and I only broke through the crust a handful of times. The last 250 vertical feet to the summit were clear of snow and soon I was at the top. I made it to the summit at 10:40am. It was nice to have the summit to myself. The last time I had climbed Elbert was a 4th of July weekend and I got to share to summit with 30 or so other climbers. This time it was all mine. I had great visibility in every direction and the views were stunning!
View of Massive from summit
Chilly on top

I would have spent more time at the top, but the cold wind finally forced me to retreat down the mountain. My hands got so cold that I couldn't feel my finger and had zip up my jacket by sight. Even worse was the agonizing pain as the feeling returned to my fingers on the way down. While I'd had the summit to myself, I certainly didn't have the mountain to myself. I passed at least 10-15 people also on their way up the mountain. Coming down was fast but the snow was starting to soften making the footing a bit trickly in spots. The weather held the entire way down and I was able to continue enjoying the beatiful scenery.
Returning down the ridge

I made it back to my campsite at 1pm and was back to my car soon after that. As I drove past the mountain on the highway to Leadville at around 2pm, I could see that weather was rolling in and I could no longer see the summit. It had been a great climb. Just what I needed. It was actually a lot easier that I was expecting. A December climb of La Plata a year back felt twice as hard. Trip Report

Friday, March 15, 2013

Big benefits and buzz kill

Not all sponsorships are created equal. I have been a sponsored member of Team Refuel for a little more than a year and had benefited tremendously.  I've been give cash to support my athletic pursuits, free gear, and free entries into marathons and IRONMAN events.  This has been a fantastic sponsorship and I've been happy to spread the word on chocolate milk, a great recovery drink at a fraction of the cost of most others.  I have just recently received sponsorship from Honey Stinger's The Hive but have yet to realize much benefit.  I get a product discount but would have to order huge quantities to get a deal that is significantly better than what I can get elsewhere on line for their product, once shipping is figured in. But that's it.  I wanted to compete in the trail running and mountain bike event that they hold in Steamboat in August but they provided no benefit at all for its sponsored members.  I would have thought that they could throw in a free t-shirt or perhaps a 10% event discount.  I love their products too but I'm not so impressed with The Hive.

Garmin needs to step it up

I wish I could say that I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive experience with Garmin products, but this has not been the case.  I have an eTrex H which works well but which has a weak anchor for the wrist strap (it broke off when I pulled it out of my pocket and had to climb down into a ravine to retrieve it).  I have a Forerunner 405 which worked well when it worked but had to be replaced 3 times in just over a year.  Since the third replacement was going to cost me a lot of money, I purchased a Forerunner 305 hoping it would be more reliable.  It seemed to be ok but unfortunately the Quick Release wrist strap is a piece of crap and decide to quickly release the watch two weeks after I bought it after I gently brushed snow off of it while on a chairlift. It is gone.  I’ve spent a lot of money on Garmin products and so far one works but is broken, another doesn’t work, and the third is gone because of a poor mounting design.  My wife has a Timex Global Trainer which she got for less but which has longer battery life and is solid as a rock (I’ve had 4 Garmin devices over the same period of time).  I am mad as hell to be out another watch in such a short period of time.  Garmin needs to seriously step up its quality control before I’ll ever purchase another one of their products.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Not pleased.  My Garmin Forerunner 405 has been replaced by Garmin twice in the last year (I've only had it for a little more than a year) and now it has crapped out again.  It no longer picks up a GPS signal.  Not impressed with the durability of this model.  When it works, it is fine, but how long can one expect it to work.  If I send it back to Garmin, they'll send me another refurbished model for $79 plus shipping.  I think not.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Success on Mount Kilimanjaro

Machame Route
Distance: ~39 miles in 7 days.
Total Elevation Gain: 16,044 ft

Day 1:
The start of the Machame Route

Start: Machame Gate  6,000 ft
End: Machame Hut 9,900 ft
Elevation gain: 3,900 ft.
Time: 6 hours on average
Distance: ~ 6 miles

One of many beautiful flowers seen on the climb
Machame Hut
Sunset from Machame Cam
While driving up to the Machame Gate, it was pouring.  The rain abated for a short time after we arrived at the gate.  Ten or twenty other groups of climbers were also at the gate, signing the mandatory register and readying themselves for the upcoming climb.  Our group was comprised of just me and my mother.  Despite our small group size, we still had two guides, a cook and six porters.  Our biggest anxiety was not the climb ahead but was instead the fact that our bags and all our gear (which had been lost by the airline) had still not arrived.  We were assured that the bags would be found and that a porter would bring them up to the first camp.  We had come all this way and were determined to press on and hope the bags would arrive. The first mile or so is on a wide, dirt service road.  After that, a narrower but still well maintained trained continued up through the jungle.  The flowers and plants along the route were amazing but there was almost no animal life that could be seen.  A brief glimpse of a monkey high above was pretty much all a saw all day. While the trail was often rather steep, the hiking never felt particularly difficult.  I was particular impressed with the porters who shouldered mammoth loads and yet still move faster up the mountain that any of the climbers. About halfway up the trail to Macheme Camp, the sky darkened again and the shrieking of monkeys rang through the forest.  Moments later, the sky opened up and a torrential downpour came down.  Apparently, the monkeys are no more fond of this kind of weather than I am.  I spend the next  hour getting drenched despite my rain gear and rolled into Machame Camp feeling cold and wet.  The first order of business was to find the ranger hut and sign in.  This would be a ritual that would have to be repeated at all of our future stops.  Our campsite was soon set up and we were delighted to find that our bags had indeed showed up.  We were amazed by just how many people were in camp.  It felt like a small town.  This was clearly not going to be any experience of solitude in the wilderness.  This was okay as we came to enjoy social atmosphere and meeting folks from all over the world.     

Day 2:
First view of the mountain
 Start: Machame Hut  9,900 ft
End: Shira Hut  12,500 ft
Elevation gain: 2,600 ft.
Distance: ~ 5 miles

Preparing to leave camp
Shira Peak
We were awakened on the second by the sounds of dozens, if not hundreds, of songbirds.  It was unlike anything I'd ever heard.  The morning gave us our first clear view of the mountain.  Even though we were still  far below, it really didn't seem all that far away.  The camp was soon humming with activity as climbers prepared for the days hike and ate breakfast while the porters packed up the tents and loaded their bundles.  Shortly after 8am, we were on the trail heading up to Shira Camp.  The trail was still rather muddy from the previous day's rain and was rather steep.  As we cleared the forest, we were rewarded with some beautiful views of the mountain and surround areas.  To our left, we could see the relatively modest summit of Shira Peak.  To our right, we could see the impressive slopes of Uhuru Peak rising above us.  Behind us, we had a spectacular view of the 14,977 foot summit of Mount Meru.  Soon we were climbing along the spine of a ridge and got our first glimpses of the giant lobelia and senecio plants for which Kilimanjaro is famous. At about 9:30-10am, the clouds began climb up the mountain and with them came the rain once again.  The last hour or so of the climb was very cold and soggy.  This stretch was also the most challenging and scenic but I really didn't have much of a chance to enjoy it in the rain.  We soon crested a gentle ridge and began a short descent into Shira Camp.  Camp was very wet when we arrived so most of the climbers waited on the nice porch of the camps ranger hut.  The sky briefly cleared and provided some sun with which to dry our packs and jackets.  When the sun disappeared behind the clouds, I signed the register and headed down to the campsite which had been prepared for us.  After a very filling lunch, I climbed into my sleeping bag to warm up and ended up sleeping for about three hours.  Shira Camp has many interesting caves and rock formations and I passed most of the time before dinner exploring around the camp.  The rain began to pick up again after dinner so we retreated to the tent and spent the remainder of the evening hunkered down.  Before going to sleep, our guide, Babaluu, stop by to go over the plan for the next day.  He suggested that we try getting up even earlier for the next day's climb in order to stay ahead of the rain.  He told us that Day 3 would be an important acclimatization day as we would be climbing up above 15,000 feet before descending down to around 13,000 feet  to Barranco Camp. We feel asleep quite early as slept soundly for the next 9 hours.
Climbing the ridge to Shira Camp

On a side note, I was very impressed with our porters today.  One of our six porters slipped, fell and injured his ribs today and have to be taken down the mountain.  Our remaining porters elected to shoulder the extra load rather than having a new porter sent up so that the injured porter would get his salary.  Very moved.
A very wet Shira Camp

Day 3:
Sunrise at Shira Camp

Start: Shira Hut 12,500 ft
End: Barranco Hut 12,900 ft
Elevation gain: 2,830ft
Distance: ~6 miles

Mount Meru from Shira Camp
The climb above Shira Camp
Looking down from the Lava Tower
Barranco Camp
The morning of Day 3 was rather cloudy but the views that we did have of Shira Peak and Mount Meru were unbelievably beautiful.  As planned, we got going earlier than the previous day and hoped that today would be drier than the previous days.  That hope was short lived as the rain rolled in again, only even earlier than before.  The terrain through which we climbed was quite different from what we'd experienced so far.  It was rocky and desolate and had a distinctly volcanic feel.  About an hour and a half after leaving Shira Camp, we join the Shira Route and the trail turned sharply right, our next destination would be the Lava Tower at about 15,100  feet.  It took about 45 minutes from the right turn to reach the Lava Tower, and when we did, the rain turned to sleet.  I waited at the Lava Tower for my mother and our guides and decided that I would pass the time by climbing to the top of the Lava Tower.  Though most sides of the tower are a formidable climb, I was able to find a fairly easy route up through the rocks.  Had the weather be clear, I would have been greeted with excellent views of the mountain and the area below, but I really couldn't see much more than the tents at the base of the tower.  After descending, I found the rest of my group and enjoyed a quick lunch with hot soup.  From here, we descend to Barranco Camp and this would prove to be the toughest part of our entire climb.  While we had become accustomed to the rain, we had always been climbing and this had always kept us warm.  Now we faced an hour and a half descent in the rain and had no way of keeping up the body temperature.  The valley that we descended was incredible but it was difficult to enjoy while being cold and wet.  The senecios and giant lobelia were everywhere and there were many streams and waterfalls coming down through the rocks.  By the time we reached Barranco Camp, I was just about as cold as I've ever been.  Dozens of climbers huddled up on the small porch of the Barranco Camp ranger hut and shivered as we waiting for our campsites and tents to be ready.  The rangers to pity on us and let us get out of the rain and warm inside the huts bunk rooms. After about 30 minutes our guide came to get us and brought us to our tent.  We were very grateful that hot tea, dry clothes and a warm sleeping bag  were waiting for us.  The rain had been so relentless for the past three days that some folks in our group decided to give up the s ummit and head down rather than endure additional days in the cold rain.  We were also very cold and wet and sick of the rain but fully intended to stick it out.
Giant Lobelia

Day 4 :
Karanga Camp

Start: Barranco Hut 12,900 ft
End: Karanga Valley  13,300 ft
Elevation gain: 400ft
Distance: ~ 3 miles

We were not encouraged when we poked our head out of our tent and found that visibility was less than 50 yards.  We started the hike to Karanga Camp at 7:30am in order to get ahead if the crowds going up the Barranco Wall.  The Barranco Wall begins right at the edge if camp and steeply rises 1,500 up.  It is not particularly difficult but will test someone with acrophobia. Visibility was minimal the entire way up.  After reaching the top if the ridge in about 45 minutes, I waited another 20 minutes for one of the guides to arrive. As I waited, the fog turned to rain and I realized that I would once again show up to our next camp cold and wet.  The remaining trail to Karanga Camp was a continuous series of ups and downs as we traversed from one valley to the next.  After one last steep climb, we finally arrived at Karanga Camp.  I once again arrived ahead of the tents and ended up hiding under the lip of a large boulder with 4 or 5 porters who were also trying to get out of the rain. Fortunately, the rain began to abate around noon.  There wasn't a whole lot to see and do around the camp but it was nice to be able to walk around without getting rained upon.  By sunset, the clouds had mostly receded down the mountain.  The sunset was quite lovely and offered hope of better weather ahead.  Give then the next day would be our easiest hike, we would be able to sleep a little later.  We were grateful.

Day 5:
Our Tent at Karanga Camp with Uhuru Peak in background

Start: Karanga Valley 13,300 ft
End: Barafu Camp 15,331 ft
Elevation gain: 2,300 ft.
Time: 5 hours
Distance: ~3 miles

View across high desert to Barafu Camp
The hike from Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp was steady but gentle incline The trail enters a high desert plateau that is littered with volcanic boulders.  The hike only takes between 90 minutes and two hours to complete.  There is a short, steep climb up to the flat but somewhat narrow ride upon which Barafu Camp is perched.  Because of this, the campsites are strung out over a space of almost 500 yards.  At just about the point where the ridge steepens  was the Barafu ranger hut.  We camped about 100 yards below the hut near some toilets precariously perched on the edge of a cliff.  For the most part, the weather held today. We had a few short showers pass over us but nothing more. When the sky was clear, we got our first views of the third of the three peaks making up Mount Kilimanjaro, Mowenzi Peak, a steep and dramatic tower to the south.  I was very pleased that I seemed to be having little trouble with the altitude, even here at over 15,000 feet.  I'd been a little worried the last couple days beacuse of a growing headache at the back of my head.  However, it turned out to be just pain from a knot in my neck from sleeping in a tent for several days.  After rubbing it out, I felt golden.  Now that we had reached our final camp before the summit, my excitement was starting to build. The plan was that we would go to sleep right after dinner and awaken around midnight.  I was hoping that I wouldn't be too excited to sleep and I knew I would need my strength the next day.  After dinner, the porters brought us hot water to fill our bottles for the climb to the summit.  I was very grateful to have brought a 40oz Hydro Flask insulated bottle as the hot tea during the hikes had been a very nice treat.  Out guides stopped by and did a final review of our plan.  My mother would leave with Babaluu at 11:30pm and I would leave with Simon, our other guide, at 1:30am.  I feel quickly asleep and stirred only briefly when my mom woke before 11:30pm.  However, I was startled awake shortly afterwards when the entire camp erupted with loud shouts.  I'd forgotten that it was now New Year's Day.  Happy 2103!

Day 6
At the Summit!

Start: Barafu Camp 15,331 ft
Summit: Uhuru Peak 19,341 ft
End: Mweka Camp 10,200 ft
Elevation gain: 4,010 ft.
Distance: ~12 miles
Sunrise from summit
Summit glaciers
View of Uhuru Peak summit
Looking down of Barafu Camp
SUMMIT DAY!! Just before 1:30am, I woke, dressed, readied my pack and set off up the mountain with my guide Simon.  As I looked up the ridge toward the summit, I could see a long line of headlamps snaking through the darkness.  It actually wasn't that dark for the moonlight was quite bright.  In fact, I was able to climb the entire way without having to turn my headlamp on.  It was quite cold when I started out but I made sure not to over layer as I new that I'd be warm in about ten minutes.  Simon and I made steady progress up the ridge. To be honest, he set a pretty blistering pace.  He wanted to make sure that we'd meet Babaluu and my mother, who had started two hours earlier, at Stella Point at the same time they arrive there.  I was surprised by how much easier the climb was than I had expected, even with the brisk pace.  We caught Babaluu and my mother about 400 feet below Stella Point.  They were slower but still making steady progress and we reached Stella Point at 5am. By now. my fingers and toes were a little cold be otherwise I felt fine.  The toughest climbing was behind us and an easy walk up the ridge to Uhuru Peak was all that remained.  Thirty minutes later, we were standing on the roof of Africa at 19, 341 feet. This was the highest that I'd ever climbed.  It was an amazing feeling to have reached the top.  We took pictures in front of the summit sign, drank some hot tea, and then paced back and forth on the summit ridge to stay warm so that we could see the sunrise. By about 6am, the sun was beginning to rise and the summit was starting to get crowded.  Before heading down to Stella Point, I first walked down to the edge of one of the glaciers.  It was pretty cool. The hike back down to Barafu was very quick and became increasingly warm as the sun rose higher above the horizon.  I made it back the the tents at 7:30am.  I wanted to take advantage of the beautiful weather and spread several days worth of wet clothes on the rocks around camp so that they could finally dry. After my mom made it back to camp, the cook prepared a nice brunch so that we could refuel after our big climb.  By around 10am, we packed up and started the long descent to Mweka Camp.  We did not descend the same route we had come up, but instead went down the more direct Mweka Route.  It was a long hike down and the trail was very slippery after we passed High Camp.  Our total descent for the day was over 9000 vertical feet and many miles.  I was relieved when we finally made it into Mweka Camp as I really wanted to get out of my hiking boots.  Given that folks had either achieved or given up on their goal by this point and were on their way down, there was a decidedly laid back feel in camp.  We were too tired to really do much other than sit around and read.  After dinner, we went to sleep rather early, very tired and still basking in the warm glow of our success.

Day 7:
Our amazing crew

Start: Mweka Camp 10,200 ft
End: Mweka Gate 5,580 ft
Elevation loss:  5,900ft.
Distance: ~4 miles

Mweka Camp
Our last day on the mountain.  After packing up, we profusely thanked our crew for all that they had done for us and presented them their tips.  They had all really earned it.  The trail down to the Mweka Gate wound through dense jungle similar to the first day.  It was an easy, pleasant walk down the mountain, taking just under 2 hours to get down.  Today offered our best wildlife viewing as I saw at least a dozen blue monkeys swinging in the canopy above.  After reaching the Mweka Gate, I signed us out of the park and sat on a bench to enjoy a well-deserved beer.  After my mom made it down, we all piled into the van that would take us back to Arusha.  Babaluu presented us with our certificates for having reached the summit on the drive back to Arusha and the whole crew sang to us the songs of Kilimanjaro. 

Trail through jungle down to Mweka Gate
Kilimanjaro, Kilimanjaro,
Kilimanjaro, mlima mrefu sana.
Na Mawenzi, na Mawenzi,
Na Mawenzi, mlima mrefu sana.
Ewe nyoka, ewe nyoka,
Ewe nyoka, mbona waninzungukaa.

It means:
Kilimanjaro, Kilimanjaro,
Kilimanjaro, long mountain journey.
And Mawenzi, and Mawenzi,
And Mawenzi, long mountain journey.
As a snake, as a snake,
As a snake, it winds all around.”

Jambo, Jambo Bwana
Habari gani
Mzuri sana 
Wageni, mwakaribishwa
Kilimanjaro yetu
Hakuna Matata

It means:
Hello, Hello Sir
How are you?
Very fine
Foreigners, you’re welcome
To Kilimanjaro
There is no problem