In May of 2012 Nick Carter decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, pretty much on a whim. He’d never climbed a mountain before or been to Africa, but has traveled quite a bit around the world (Caribbean, Europe, Asia). The mountain is 19,340 feet high. I asked him about preparations for the trip, the climb itself, and other things I was curious about. Here is what he had to say.
How did it come about that you got the opportunity to take this trip?
I was at the bar, Croxley’s, with friends and Alex had been planning to go on this trip with his brother & cousin but his brother couldn’t make it. We got into a conversation, he asked me, and I decided to go.
Had you ever gone on a vigorous trip like this before? Why did you decide to do it?
No, I had never done any climbing before. Why did I decide to go? It sounded like fun. I don’t like beach trips much, I like to see things. I thought it’d be something new to see. It wasn’t like Why?, it was more like Why not.
Did you take into consideration how hard it would be?
How did you train for the climb?
I spent a lot of time on the treadmill with a high incline, running and walking – less running on high incline. Just cardio, a bit on the elliptical but mostly treadmill 4-5 times a week. I started training 2 months before. I had already been in reasonable shape before training so wasn’t worried about it.
Did you feel that you trained enough?
No, because coming back down was very difficult for me. I used most of my strength and willpower getting to the top. I really should have gotten on the stair machine to train (not the Stairmaster but machine that looks like a flight of stairs).
How was the trip planned?
I didn’t plan any of it, since I came into it later. Alex and his cousin planned it. They brought up the idea to me so they had already been planning it. They booked a tour company that included a safari in Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. We flew into Nairobi, Kenya then took a shuttle bus into Tanzania that took almost half a day. The flight time is about 18 hours. We flew from JFK to Istanbul then Istanbul to Nairobi.
Did you need vaccinations?
Yes. We took pills for Malaria and got vaccinations for Hepatitis A, Tetanus, Yellow Fever and Typhoid.
What did you bring?
We had to travel light. I brought a winter coat that was tested for a certain temperature of cold (Eastern Mountain Sports) Under Armour, good hiking boots, head lamp, gloves, sleeping bag, backpack, Clif bars, candy bars (we bought candy bars and soda in Kenya), camera, books, and a lot of Pepto Bismol chewable tablets because at higher altitudes your digestion starts to shut down. You get a lot of indigestion and stomach aches. On the last day at the highest altitude, my candy bar felt like it was stuck in my throat for the entire day because it just would not digest.
When did you first see the mountain and were you scared when you saw how big it was?
We were driving and we saw it above the clouds in the background so we pulled over to the side of the road and took a picture. It was intimidating, but at the same time, I didn’t think about that. It didn’t bother me too much.
What was the climate like?
The trip was in May. The climate varied quite a bit. From ultimatekilomanjaro.com:
…temperatures on Mount Kilimanjaro range from hot to bitter cold. The journey from the gate to the peak is like traveling from the equator to Antarctica in a matter of days. This is because the routes to the Uhuru peak cross different ecological zones. Mount Kilimanjaro has five major ecological zones, each approximately 3,280 feet (1,000 m) in altitude. Each zone is subject to a corresponding decrease in rainfall, temperature and life as the altitude increases.
What did the sherpas do?
They’re not sherpas – they’re porters. There were 10 porters for the 3 of us. They would carry all of our equipment such as tents, food, bathroom – all of the stuff you need to get up the mountain. They would set up a food tent for us, the dinner tent. They would set up a bathroom tent. There were also 2 guides. They led the way, kept me motivated. They gave advice on how fast you should be going or how slow, when you needed to eat, when you should drink water. They’d wake you up in the morning. They would keep things upbeat, sing songs now and then.
What did you eat?
In the morning breakfast would usually be eggs with sausage, but the sausage were hot dogs really, not breakfast sausage like we’re used to. Also porridge – not oatmeal or Cream of Wheat, but plain porridge. There was tea an hot chocolate. Lunch sometimes was more hot dogs, sometimes french fries, or samosas, which are almost like a dumpling or empanada filled with some kind of meat. Some days we’d have beef, which tasted different, not like American beef, or soup. Dinner was some combination of those things. Snacks would be the candy bars we brought, Clif bars, coffee, soda.
The first day we were walking for hours and the porters went ahead of us and set up a picnic table so when we were at the point when we would take our break, it was already set up. The other days our dining table was set up in a tent. It was only outside for one day. They set the table with a tablecloth, which was a nice touch in the wilderness.
You mentioned a bathroom tent?
The bathroom was a bucket with a toilet seat on it, in a tent.
Were you the only group of people there?
No, there were lots of other people at each camp. You have to stop every day – it’s a 7 day trip. There are established camps and the guide gets you to the next camp every day. You pass other people along the way and sometimes you stop for a break and have a chat with someone, but we were absolutely exhausted and stayed with our own group at the end of the day.
Did you have to acclimatize?
Yes. I don’t remember what the process was. We didn’t climb up and down and up and down, like Everest. But maybe we took a certain route to acclimatize. We also took medication for altitude sickness. We didn’t need oxygen like Everest.
What was the hardest part of the trip and how did you pull the inspiration to continue?
Summit day. I didn’t stop because there’s no where else to go. It’s not really an option to go back down. You just have to continue.
Was it dark at night and what did you do?
It usually was dark. We ate and slept, maybe did a little reading. There was no singing songs around the campfire. There was no campfire. We were tired, just wanted to lay down.
What was the climb like?
When you start you’re walking on paths at a low incline, it’s very nice and you’re thinking this is great. It’s fun. The weather resembles a rainforest, it’s hot and a little humid. The 2nd day got harder, felt more like climbing than hiking in certain spots and was raining all day. The next few days the terrain became very rocky. After that first day, when you’re doing it, it’s not easy and all you’re thinking about is when can I stop doing this. You’re looking at the ground a lot, putting one foot in front of the other, so your sense of time is not accurate. Also, this climb was 2 years ago so it’s a little hard to remember. I think we walked between 7 and 10 hours every day. Towards the bottom you could see monkeys in the trees. The higher up you go the less vegetation and wild life there is.
What was summit day like?
They woke us up at about 11:30 pm with a plan to reach the summit by about 6 am. We reached the summit after 7. We put our winter coats on before we left camp. It was a slightly shorter amount of time getting down after the summit. There were parts where you climb over large boulders. It’s a very sharp incline. You’re not using picks but at times you are using your hands to climb. It was incredibly windy and cold. The guide blew hot air into my gloves to warm my hands up. We didn’t stop for a meal, just short breaks. You’re on a schedule. You want to get back down by a certain time. That was the first time we encountered snow. For the majority of the day, there was quite a bit of snow.
There’s a place called Stella Point that’s below the peak, about an hour away from the peak. It’s where a lot of people turn around. So when I got there, the ground flattens out so it’s incredibly windy and I went to sit down on a rock and just kind of fell over. The guide was asking me if i wanted to go back down. I asked him how far the peak was and he said, “Only an hour away.” So I thought, “I can’t go back, that’s stupid. Why would I go back?” So I just kept going. I stared at the ground the entire time because you don’t want to see how much further you have to go.
What did you do at the top?
Take a breath. Look around. Take some pictures. You don’t have a whole lot of time to stay up there. We were up there maybe 20 minutes. There’s a sign that says Congratulations you are now at Uhuru Peak.
How was the way down?
This is where I needed a little help. It got really hot out once we had been going a couple of hours. I’m in this big winter coat, the sun is blazing, I’ve used all my energy getting to the top, so I was very slow going down. They were a little concerned about me. At one point the guides decided that they were going to hold my arms but this is because they wanted us down at a certain time – I kept telling them to let me go at my own pace. They wanted me to go faster, so they tried to help me go faster until they finally gave up because I’m huge (6’4″) and I didn’t want to go as fast as they were going. Eventually they left me alone and let me go at the pace I could handle. We got back to the camp and they let us sleep for a couple of hours and then you have to go another 3 or 4 hours down the mountain. I don’t recall how many days to go down but it was much shorter than going up.
Nick hasn’t done any climbing since Kilimanjaro, but he did take a flying lesson last year. He’d like to continue with the lessons.