October 23, 2013
We’ve all heard that there’s nothing more important than a good night’s sleep (unless you count breakfast, or family). But on Kilimanjaro—where each day means physical challenges and adjustment to a new altitude, and your nights are spent in a sleeping bag instead of on a feather bed—getting all the sleep you need in order to reach the summit can be difficult.
Luckily, the Thomson team has learned a few tricks on their treks that will help ensure you have more restful nights:
Tip 1: Use an inflatable pad
You may not be able to haul your mattress up Kili with you, but you can make nights on the ground more comfortable. An inflatable pad not only acts as a cushion; as Michael notes, “it keeps the damp away.”
Tip 2: Pack a soft, comfy hat
One of the biggest barriers to a good night’s sleep on Kili is the colder temperatures further up the mountain. Rachel combats this with “the warmest, softest, most comfortable hat” she can find. Not only does it prevent you from losing heat, it can act as another “pillow” layer!
Tip 3: Just get up and go pee
It’s the middle of the night, the air outside is freezing, and you think, if you just hold it, you’ll be able to fall back asleep.
Think again. As Amy notes, “a full bladder isn’t just uncomfortable, it’s a heat suck.” You’ll feel warmer (and sleep more soundly) if you just get up as soon as you realize you have to go.
Tip 4: Shake up your sleeping bag
Your sleeping bag says it’s good down to -30°…so why are your toes so cold?
Maybe you forgot to shake it out when you unpacked it. Since your bag will be tightly compressed while you trek, the insulation might not be evenly distributed when you pull it out for the night. But Michael found that simply shaking it a little helped even things out, keeping him warm from head to toe!
Tip 5: Change your clothes in the afternoon
After a full day of trekking, cleaning up and putting on fresh clothes will help refresh you.
But there’s an added bonus to changing up your look right when you get to camp; if you sleep in those clothes, like Katie recommends, you won’t have to start your morning with a serious case of the shivers as you try to change for the day.
Not exactly a sleeping tip, but it might buy you a few minutes of sleep—and more than a few degrees of body temperature—in the morning!
Tip 6: Upgrade your tent
Paul had a very simple response to how to get the best night’s sleep on Kili: “upgrade to the fancy tent with a cot and pillow in it!”
He was kidding, but only a little; on the Grand Traverse, hikers spend more nights in the lower elevations where it’s a bit warmer, and they also have the option to upgrade to our solar-lit, walk-in luxury sleeping tents.
So while most people will conk out easily and sleep soundly if they follow the first five tips on this list, if you know yourself to be an especially light sleeper, highly susceptible to cold, or just not a “roughing it” type, consider whether your trek—and most importantly, your chances of summit success—might be greatly improved with with the Grand Traverse and a “fancy” tent!
October 16, 2013
When you’re planning and packing for a trek, it may feel like you’re juggling a lot of moving parts, trying to make sure dozens of “must have” items make it into your bags, and up the mountain with you.
But what you bring as a trekker is just the beginning.
Porters carry not only trekkers’ luggage, they carry the sleeping, dining, and toilet tents; the chairs trekkers rest on in camp; the gear needed to cook up meals, and the food that goes into them.
So how much does all that extra stuff come out to?
Keep in mind, the numbers will vary from trek to trek—a trek with fewer people might have higher “averages” than a large-group trek, for example—but based on a few recent trips up Kili, we can tell our trekkers that for one person to get up the mountain, he or she will need:
6 porters: Porters on the mountain don’t just carry bags, they haul everything required to make a trek happen. On a trek with 10-12 people, that works out to about 6 porters to every trekker.
84 pounds of gear: Camping gear, cooking gear, toilet tents, chairs—on an average trek, the gear required works out to around 84 pounds/person.
81 pounds of food: Don’t worry, you won’t come back from Kili with a new spare tire. The food “required” for one trekker takes into account the guides and porters that stay with the group on the mountain.
5 pounds of sugar: Again, this number reflects the tea, coffee, and cooking needs of a trekker plus all the porters on the mountain helping him or her out. But that’s still a serious sweet tooth!
20 eggs and 2/3 lb. of breakfast sausage: Gotta start the day on Kili with a hearty breakfast, after all!
1 whole chicken and 1 pound chicken breast and thighs: You also have to finish the day with a hearty meal.
½ pound of cashews: After all, if there’s ever a trail you’re gonna need trail mix on, it’s this one.
All in all, it works out to about 200 pounds/person of luggage, gear, and food going up the mountain with each trekker.
One might say numbers like these lend a certain weight to your achievement in climbing Kili, no?
October 9, 2013
The legend of elephant graveyards is widespread, and goes back a long way. According to stories, elephants know when they are nearing the end of their lives. When they sense that their time has come, they journey off alone to the elephant graveyard, where they die amongst the bones of all their ancestors (and are later visited by their descendants).
Part of the appeal of the story is romantic, of course, but an equally compelling reason behind the legend’s persistence (and one that leaves a bit of a bad taste in your mouth) is that the “elephant graveyard” is a little like an El Dorado to the listeners. Finding such a place would mean finding huge amounts of ivory…and therefore, huge amounts of money.
The enduring appeal of the “elephant graveyard” myth is partly due to the desire to find a huge treasure trove of ivory.
The Chagga people, who have always lived on Kili’s slopes, have their own special twist on the tale. According to their myths, there is an elephant graveyard high upon the slopes of Kili, beyond the snow line. When elephants in the region realize their time is near, they climb the mountain and fling themselves into a pit, where hundreds of their forebears have gone before.
Why such a dramatic end for Kili elephants? Because, according to the legend, these creatures want to foil the hunters and poachers that hounded them in life. By flinging themselves into this unreachable pit, they not only die among their ancestors, they get to give one last “screw you” to would-be poachers. Some versions of the legend even claim that no one who finds the graveyard can take away the tusks and live; the place isn’t just remote and forbidding, it’s cursed.
The idea of elephants flinging themselves off mountainsides might seem like fodder for a giant, wrinkly-grey soap opera, but it may not be far from the truth. Elephants have lived on Kili for thousands of years, and though populations on the mountain have dwindled, there is still evidence of herds in the forests.
Moreover, there’s some evidence for the icy-cold graveyard theory. In his introduction to the book Kilimanjaro: To The Roof Of Africa, famed photographer and filmmaker David Breashears tells of the time he heard stories of elephant bones high on Kilimanjaro… and eventually found a skeleton 15,000 feet up the mountain.
Was it cursed? Nobody knows; Breashears didn’t try to take it down with him.
October 2, 2013
After climbing Kili, most of our trekkers realize how integral the porters are to the experience. They carry everything from luggage to dinner tables to tents up the mountain, and they always seem to keep a smile on their faces.
But recent Thomson Safaris trekker Karen Capaldi started connecting with the porters and their dedication even before she arrived in Tanzania. During her research about her upcoming trek, she started to realize just how hard these individuals work, and she wanted to help.
And boy did she ever help.
Partnering with SmartWool, Karen managed to gather 1,200 pairs of socks to donate to the Kilimanjaro Porter’s Assistance Project. We got in touch with Karen post-Kili to learn more about what led to this incredibly generous gesture.
First and foremost, what led you to Kilimanjaro?
I’ve wanted to climb Kili since I was in college in Colorado (where I still live). I studied geology and climate change, and professors used Kilimanjaro as an example of climate change in action. Even then, the topic, and the mountain, fascinated me.
Since college, I’ve stayed active, teaching outdoor education, working as a ski instructor, and working for the forest service. I also participate in an annual event, “the epic relay,” in which 12 women run 200 miles in 32 hours. Two of those women, the Scott sisters, asked me in 2012 if I wanted to join them on their Kilimanjaro trek. I immediately said “YES!”
What made you want to help porters? And why socks?
I started researching the climb a year before our trek [in August, 2013], and I was moved by the porters’ situation. When I got there, our connection was organic, immediate, and simple; they were doing everything they could to help us get up the mountain, and I deeply appreciated their hard work.
I didn’t have loads of money to donate traditionally, but the more I researched, the more I realized that I might be able to help in another way. I dug a little deeper, and learned that socks were something the porters absolutely need on the mountain.
Karen at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
How did you connect with SmartWool?
I know some people who work there, and started up a dialogue with them a little less than a year ago. It took a little while to work out all the details, but by March, I had started picking up socks. By the time I left for Kilimanjaro, I’d collected 1,200 pairs. Before I left, I reached out to Thomson, who suggested bringing the socks along, and offered to transport me (and all the socks) to the KPAP offices the day we descended the mountain.
Have you heard back about your donation?
I have! Karen Valenti [director of KPAP] sent me a photo of the first recipient of the socks, which was heartwarming. I’m so glad to know that my donation is already doing some good.
The first porter to receive a pair of socks from Karen.
September 26, 2013
We spend a lot of time making sure travelers have everything they’ll need on a safari or a trek, but what about the things they won’t need? If you’re really looking to get the most out of your experience in Africa, feel free to leave behind the…
Perhaps unsurprisingly, countries like Tanzania just don’t have the kind of internet infrastructure westerners are used to. Where there is internet access, it’s often slow, unreliable, and intermittent.
And then there’s those vast swaths of wilderness where there just isn’t internet access.
Beyond the question of whether or not you’ll be able to get your Facebook to refresh, there’s the issue of keeping your laptop safe, charged up (our charging stations are equipped for smaller devices like cameras), and free from the safari dust blowing around the plains.
We recommend that travelers always carry expensive electronics with them for safety; consider whether you want to be saddled with a (mostly non-functional) computer when your guide finally spots that elusive animal you’ve been waiting to see.
Our Recommendation: Unless you absolutely have to be in contact for work, leave the laptop at home (and welcome the opportunity to let an out-of-office autoreply answer emails for you).
Instead, Bring Your: Kindle. The long battery life means that charging won’t be an issue, and the single-functionality will help you focus on the beauties all around you during your trip, while still having a fun way to spend your down time.
There is cellular service in Tanzania.
Just not EVERYWHERE in Tanzania.
For a western traveler, the charges for using your phone while on safari will be high, your calls may be dropped, and if you thought your internet connection was slow, wait until you see it on a cellphone…
Satellite phones are available for travelers who have to stay in constant contact, but the average safari-goer won’t need to use his or her cell phone during the trip. And don’t worry: if anything were ever to go wrong while you’re out on a drive, your guides, drivers, or camp staff will be able to place a call for you.
Our Recommendation: Due to the high expense and unreliability of service, it’s probably better to turn your phone off during your trip.
Instead, Bring Your: Camera. It’s amazing how much more you’ll take in when you’re looking for a great shot, and not looking to see if anyone has played you in Words With Friends!
There are some things you’ll want to think about seriously before hauling them halfway across the world, but one thing you shouldn’t even consider packing is your hair dryer.
Not because you shouldn’t look your best on safari (although most people will probably be more interested in the wildlife than your wild locks): because it won’t work.
On a Thomson safari (as on most tented camp or camping safaris), electrical outlets in your room just aren’t an option. Solar-power will light your room and the dining tent, but it won’t be enough to run your hair dryer (or charge a laptop or cell phone, in case you were wondering). In our signature Nyumba tented camps, you won’t even see an outlet!
Our Recommendation: Save space and weight in your luggage and don’t haul around an ultimately useless appliance.
Instead, Bring Your: Safari hat and a bandanna. You’ll need the former to keep the sun off your face, neck, and shoulders, anyway (which might undo all your hair drying magic, anyway), and the latter can act as a dust-guard during wildlife drives…or a rustic hair tie! And don’t worry – that slightly unkempt look is integral to safari chic, anyway.
Kiera Knightley shows off some serious bedhead with her safari look.
Photo: Lattelisa (Lisa Hjalt)
September 25, 2013
We’ll admit it, we’re fans of Toto’s anthem “Africa,” too…which is why we wanted to help them get their facts straight: