Gear Testing for Kili

We are two weeks away from the start of our trek to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and our family group, which hails from all over the U.S., has been devoting quite a bit of spare time to prepare. Of late, most of the effort has been spent in two areas: logistics and training. The main logistics for the trip are being expertly handled by Ron, our retired Army logistician. He has spent innumerable hours on the phone or emailing with our trekking company (iantaylortrekking.com), the airline, and the travel insurance company to ensure every detail is addressed. He then summarizes the salient points via email updates to everyone in the group to ensure we all on the same page, and end up in the same place at the same time!

Since we are traveling to Africa and will spend a little time passing thru the jungle environment at the base of the mountain, we have all completed appointments with a travel doctor that specializes in evaluating the various immunizations and medications we will need. All of us will begin an anti-Malaria medication regime that will begin before the trip and continue until a week after we return. Each person’s immunization history dictates what, if any shots they had to get… I personally got to enjoy three booster shots: Measles/Mumps/Rubella, Typhoid/Diphtheria, and Tetanus. Additionally, we all have been prescribed medications to lessen the effects of altitude sickness along with a variety of medications to address stomach ailments or other unpleasant symptoms in the event we need them.

While all of that is going on, everyone has been putting in hours and miles on the trails. The obvious benefit of these hikes is fitness. But, just as important, every hike is an opportunity to test our gear. For the most part, each of us has multi-day trekking experience, so we mostly know what to expect and have all of the gear we will need. Since the Kili trek will transit 5 ecological zones, we need to be prepared for temperatures ranging from 80 deg to 0 deg (and maybe less depending on windchill). We’ll even be hiking at night for our push to the summit, so a good headlamp with extra batteries is a must.

The reason it is important to test gear is two-fold. First, it helps each of us to determine what works in a variety of conditions. Versatility is the key. The same t-shirt you wear lower on the mountain can be used as one of many base layers further up on the mountain where the temperatures will be quite cold. Wool is the fabric of choice since it has great insulating properties and is naturally anti-microbial, which is important since we’ll be wearing some of the layers for multiple days. After experiencing cold hands during our Everest Base Camp adventure back in 2018, we have all shifted from gloves to mittens. So far the reports from everybody have been very positive, even during training hikes that have occurred in sub-zero temperatures!

Time for a shameless plug… if you are new to the blog and want to read about the Everest Base Camp trek, simply go to the menu on this site’s main page and select “Everest Base Camp Trek (April 2018)” from the drop down menu.

The second reason it is important to test gear is that it gives us confidence that it works for the purpose intended, and we know what combination to use in various conditions. This has been especially evident for our two testers who hail from Iowa, Alan and Debra, who have been dutifully reporting the results of their layering combinations in some pretty extreme conditions.

Gear Test Field Report from Iowa:

Just got back from our night walk. Real temp was -6.
— Bottom: Base layer of merino wool, trekking pants, and wind pants.
— Top: merino wool tshirt, L/S merino wool shirt, midweight shirt, and coat.
— Head: Buff, hat, and jacket hat.
— Hands: Merino wool 250 inner gloves + mittens. Had one hand with hand warmer and one without. Both were warm, but the one with a hand warmer was more pleasant.
— Our boots do not allow for us to get a warmer inside, but our feet were not cold. We were outside for 2.5 hours.
— Additionally, headlamps had new batteries but were noticeably dimming at the end.

All in all, our confidence level is high and we are excited to get started. I will do my best to provide updates throughout the trek, but cell service is spotty and wifi is non-existent, so readers of this blog should check-in periodically to see if anything has been updated.

Kili Update… T-minus 30 days

In exactly one month, we will be departing for Tanzania for our Kilimanjaro Trek. Our group has grown by one, to a total of 7 trekkers with the addition of John E. who hails from Utah… Welcome to the team John! We have been finalizing logistics and travel plans while everybody has been dutifully training for the challenge ahead. Due to all the complications with COVID-19 and its variants, we have elected to fly directly to Tanzania so we only have one country’s customs/entry to deal with. This way, we avoid additional testing and quarantine protocols that would have been required if we had “officially” entered additional countries while in transit.

It looks like everyone is taking the training seriously, going on weekly hikes regardless of the conditions where they live. Although everyone in our group is related, we hail from all across the U.S., so each of us is experiencing different conditions. Thus far, those from the Pacific, Mountain and Central time zones, have gotten the best cold weather training. For the three of us in the Eastern time zone, the temperatures have been very mild. Ideally, everyone will have an opportunity to test all of their gear in a variety of conditions since we may encounter everything from warm/balmy temps to icy/snowy conditions.

Another thing we have to plan for is the gear we will pack. Since we will be supported by porters who will carry some of our gear, we need to pack smartly. Porters are employed by the trekking company to carry all the equipment and supplies needed to support our group of seven, including tents, sleeping bags, food, cooking equipment and fuel, and personal gear. By Tanzanian law, each porter is only allowed to carry 15kg (33lbs), so even though our group is only seven people, we will be supported by nearly 40 porters. Of course, each of us will also bear some of that load, so we need to only take what we absolutely need for our 8-days on the mountain.

An important, but not pleasant part of trip planning is preparing for the possibility of experiencing any number of potential ailments ranging from a mild headache and Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), to something much more serious like High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) or High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). Other potential health issues, particularly when living with rudimentary sanitation and basic personal hygiene for a week on the mountain, are stomach issues and nausea.

Ok… have I painted a graphic enough picture? Clearly we hope to avoid all, or at least the most serious of these health issues. In the event any of us do encounter an issue, we have all visited with or are scheduled to visit our doctors to get prescribed a range of medications designed to address these issues if encountered.

Looking forward to sharing the rest of this adventure!…

Beginning the End Phase

Over the past six weeks, a lot of progress has occurred and the house is really beginning to take shape… although a casual observer viewing the site from the outside may not have noticed many of the changes. Most of the exterior work has been underground while the changes inside have been a bit more dramatic. So, it really feels as if we are entering the final phases of construction.

This “end phase” began with the delivery of the drywall. Since the panels are large, heavy, and a bit unwieldy, they were pre-positioned inside the house rather than simply delivered into the garage. Due to the configuration of the house, the panels were offloaded from the truck through one of the windows in the sun room, from there they could be easily placed throughout the house for the installers. Over the course of about one week, the panels were installed and the real “feel” of the house began to emerge with the various halls and rooms now defined by real walls. After the ceiling panels were installed, the insulators returned to “blow in” a thick layer of insulation above the ceiling via the attic access.

Meanwhile, some prep work began outside to get ready to pour concrete for the front and back porches, and sidewalk. Once the forms were set and the reinforcing rebar placed, the concrete trucks arrived to pour the porches and walkways.

The power company contractors arrived next to mark the path for the electrical lines. Once marked, a two foot deep trench was dug from the transformer location up to the watt-hour meter at the house. Although the transformer has not been installed due to a national shortage, all the other pieces of the electrical puzzle are in place. Buried in the trench are two insulated 120 volt lines that are 180 degrees out of phase from each other; this configuration allows for both 120 volt and 240 volt service to be delivered to the house. A grounding wire was also placed in the trench.

A couple weeks later, the power company returned to install a new power pole along the roadside and, using a horizontal directional drill, tunneled the 7200 volt distribution line from the roadside pole to the transformer location. The horizontal drilling technique used a high-pressure water drill to tunnel under the road and along the driveway to the location of the transformer. As the water drill is doing it’s work, the distribution line and the ground wire that originates at the power pole are threaded through the underground path to the transformer location. When the transformer arrives, hopefully in about 2 months, it will be connected to the buried lines. Its purpose is to reduce 7200 volts from the distribution line down to the 240 volt service for the house.

Back on the inside, the multi-step drywall finishing process was beginning. Given the high ceilings and the size of the house, this took about two weeks for the two-man team of brothers Pat and Mike to complete. Since there is no electricity to the house, and a heat source is needed to allow the drywall compound to cure properly, kerosene heaters were used to condition the space. In order to create a seamless, uniform surface for paint, there are several steps. The first is to apply joint compound (aka “mud”) between each panel of drywall and over all of the screw heads. Then drywall tape is applied, followed by the first of three coats of mud. Once dry, the first coat is sanded to create a smooth surface for the subsequent wider and thinner 2nd and 3rd coats. Then everything was finish-sanded, resulting in a smooth, uniform surface throughout the house with no visible seams that is ready to be painted.

Soon after Pat and Mike finished their work, all the interior trim materials (base and crown molding, door trim and interior doors) were delivered to the garage, staged for the trim carpenter to begin his work. In the coming weeks all the interior trim will be installed, including: built-in cabinets and bookcases next to the living room fireplace; cubbies and a bench in the mud room; and pantry and closet shelves. We are definitely looking forward to seeing some of the personal touches that will transform the interior space from bare walls to some of the elements that add character to the home.

Looking forward to showing some of the interior changes next time…

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“Juice,” Water, and a Warm Blanket

We are nearing the point where drywall will be installed. Over the past few weeks, it has been interesting to watch how the plumber and electrician have threaded the components of their respective systems between the various wall and floor joists, eventually to be hidden as the drywall is installed. Along with the HVAC system described in my last post, the water supply & waste pipes, and the electrical wiring & outlets form the critical networks needed to deliver conditioned air, fresh water, and accessible power necessary to make the house livable.

The plumbing system is composed of three main sub-systems, the supply, waste, and vent systems. Once the roof had been installed the vent and waste drain pipes, which work together, were added. Most people have a good understanding of the purpose of water supply lines and drains. Something that may not be so apparent is what the vent pipes do for the plumbing system. The waste pipes, of course, are connected to the various drains and toilets. Vent pipes, which protrude thru the roof, work in conjunction with the drain pipes by allowing air into the system. Without this air, both the supply water and the waste water would not be able to flow freely. This concept is the same as if you suck water into a straw, then put your thumb over the top of the straw to create a vacuum that holds the water in place. Only when you remove your thumb and allow air to enter will the water flow back out of the straw.

Once all the pipes were installed, a pressure test was performed to ensure all the supply lines are certified to operate at the 100 psi standard needed for connection to the water utility. Additionally, the drain pipes and bathtubs were filled with water over a period of several days to ensure there were no leaks. Later in the construction, the septic system and drain field will be installed, and the water utility will be connected.

At first the electrical installation looked like a spiderweb of different color and gauges of wire running all over the the place. On top of that, all of the light fixtures, switch plates and wall outlets had to be placed by a combination of what the local building code requires and some personal requests we specifically had. Some examples of the customizations we requested include a 50 amp circuit in the garage (in case we purchase an electrical vehicle sometime down the road); a 30 amp rapid connect outlet that is wired to a separate sub-panel to connect a portable generator (in the event of an extended power outage); some floor outlets in the living room; and wiring to power some speakers on both porches and in the kitchen.

Once all the wires were connected to the outlets and switch boxes, the electrician did a phenomenal job of bundling wires for a neat, professional installation. All of these wires terminated at the dual electrical panels located in the basement. Outside, the main electrical meter box was installed. All that is left to do is the connection to the power utility. Whenever that is done, power to the house will run from the roadside distribution line up to the house site. Since the line will be buried, this entails boring under the roadway, then trenching up the side of the driveway to the meter box.

Now that the interior electrical work is largely complete, the next major milestone is the hanging of the drywall. But, before that can be started, insulation was added to all the exterior walls and sloped ceilings. After the drywall is installed, the rest of the insulation above all the flat ceilings will be “blown in” to the proper R-value based the climate zone chart depicted below.

Overall, we are very pleased with the quality of construction we’ve seen thus far. The builder and all the sub-contractors clearly take pride in their work. Eventually we will be the benefactors of their quality effort when we move in… hopefully sometime in the next 5 months!

Let’s Go Inside…

Progress continues at a steady pace and the “trades” are being sequenced in to lend their respective skills to the effort. Over the past few weeks, the house continues to be transformed before our eyes. It seems that with every day, there is something new. Some days we are seeing big, dramatic changes while other days the change is more nuanced.

The most visible progress, at least from the outside looking in, has been the completion of the framing, laying the roof shingles, addition of the vapor barrier (house wrap), and the installation of all the windows and exterior doors. All in all, the place is really beginning to take shape!

Now that the outside is protected from the weather, the main effort has turned to getting the essential utility systems in place. The first of the big three household utilities is the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning). After a close review of the house plans, the HVAC contractor started by mapping out the various vent openings in the floor, walls, and ceiling, and cutting holes in the subfloor where needed to install the supply and return registers. As the work progressed, the under floor duct trunks and pipes began to fill some of the spaces between the floor joists in the basement. These ducts and pipes serve as the “air flow arteries” to distribute conditioned air throughout the house, and return air back to the air handler to complete the cycle.

Finally, the air handler, which essentially serves as the heart of the system by pumping the warmed or cooled air through the ducting, was installed in the basement. To complete the system, the main air flow trunk duct and the return plenum were connected, and the flue piping was connected to the outside vents. Eventually, the outside heat pump unit will be delivered and connected to complete the HVAC install.

While all of this work is occurring, the plumber is in the initial stages of the layout for the plumbing. I anticipate that the next update will include a detailed overview of the all important fresh water and waste management system.

On the Rise… Going Vertical

For well over a year, the only real representation of our house was the two-dimensional drawings that our draftsman created from the ideas we presented to him way back in April 2020. Now that long wait has been rewarded, and we are seeing some fairly dramatic daily changes as the physical structure of the walls and roof are being erected.

Beginning to look like a house!

It has been interesting to see the various construction phases that I’ve documented in this series of stories, starting with creating access to the property, prepping the homesite, and finally constructing the foundation. These phases were essential, but still not enough to properly visualize how the space would feel by walking through the various framed rooms, and having the three-dimensional perspective to better imagine how the multitude of interior selections we’ve been making over the past several months would actually fit together into the picture we imagine in our minds.

“De-constructed” House

The indications that something big was about to happen began to appear about two weeks ago with a massive delivery of lumber, to include pallets of OSB (Oriented Strand Board), 2×4 and 2×6 framing boards, and pre-fabricated floor joists. Then a few days later, all of the pre-fabricated roof trusses were delivered to the array of materials already pre-positioned at the site. So, now all that was needed was the crew to put our “de-constructed” house together.

The process to assemble started with the framing of structural walls in the basement that would also serve to partially support the floor joists for the main living area. This was followed by installation of the OSB panels for the sub-floor. The work was completed in two days and created the platform for the interior and exterior walls that would be constructed in the next two days. So as the interior layout of the house began to take shape, we were able to “walk-thru” our future front door into the interior “rooms” and “hallways” while imagining the views from the various windows that were framed out.

The final part of this framing process, still in progress but nearing completion, is the placement of the roof trusses and installation of the OSB sheathing to enclose the roof. All in all, the framing phase takes about 7 days total and remarkable progress has occurred in just the 5 days since we began. I suspect that over the next several weeks we will begin to see some more materials arrive on site. I anticipate that the “skin” of the house (which includes asphalt roof shingles and house wrap to create the all important weather-resistant barrier) will be installed next, followed by windows and exterior doors. Stay tuned for the next page in this story….

Taking Shape…

The slow but deliberate building process continues… over the last several weeks, we’ve watched as the different pieces of the house building puzzle get sequenced and fit together. The previous post in this series ended with the completion of the foundation footers. Since then, the forms for the foundation/basement walls were placed and the walls were poured. After that, exterior waterproofing was applied and a French drain system was installed around the exterior base of the wall.

Once the drainage system was installed, soil was backfilled against the walls and the rest of the homesite was graded. Since the soil at our site contains a significant amount of clay, it has a large shrink-swell capacity. This can present problems when the soil is either saturated or dry. When wet, the predominate clay expands with the absorbed water and can cause extra pressure against the underground walls. Conversely, when dry, the soil shrinks. So to avoid the shrink-swell expansion and contraction that can lead to cracks in the concrete, we had to have “non-native” soil trucked in for the fill against the basement walls. This non-native soil creates a buffer that is designed to absorb the natural shrink-swell of the native soil, thereby preventing damage to the foundation.

With the foundation firmly established, it was time to do some work on the interior (the future basement). Before the basement floor could be poured, the plumber installed the “rough-in” plumbing… essentially the components of the water supply and drainage system that exist under the basement floor. There was some delay caused by periodic heavy rainstorms which made our future basement look like a muddy swimming pool, but once things dried out, gravel was spread and a vapor barrier installed across the expanse of the basement. A few days later, the concrete pump truck supported by several concrete mixer trucks arrived onsite to pour the basement floor.

Now that the foundation is complete, the framing should begin in earnest over the next several weeks. Soon, we hope to see the physical structure that we’ve been imagining all these months! Exciting times ahead!…

Rejected at the Border

Today we began a long planned trip to New England, including a visit to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. The trip began uneventfully enough with a short 48 minute flight into Buffalo, New York. After that, though, things became a bit more challenging, beginning at the rental car counter. With our reservation in hand, we thought it would be a quick pickup before we were on our way to cross into Canada. Boy was I wrong! The line was long and there was only one agent. After patiently waiting for over 40 minutes, it was my turn to hand over my driver’s license and credit card for a car I had reserved and paid for many months ago. Much to my surprise, the agent looked at my well-used credit card and said he couldn’t accept it because he was unable to verify the card since some of the account number had worn off. Despite my pleas that I could provide the full account number, he did not have the authority to authorize my card and needed supervisory approval. So, off to the side I waited for another 20 minutes before the supervisor appeared and was able to resolve the problem after some additional “negotiation.”

With transportation finally attained, we were on our way to our designated entry point into Canada. Of course the pandemic makes the routine aggravatingly difficult. Having done our research though, we thought we had everything in order for an easy entry into Canada. Prior to the trip, we had successfully completed self-administered COVID tests with an online proctor to validate the result (…entry into Canada is contingent upon a negative test within 72 hours of arrival). With negative test results and all of our travel information entered into the ArriveCAN app, we were confident that we would fly through customs without a problem… but, alas I was wrong for the second time in what was turning out to be a frustrating start to our trip.

Thinking all of our documents were in order, we confidently pulled up to Canadian Customs with passports, COVID vaccination cards, and ArriveCAN data entered with the results of the negative COVID tests we had all recently completed. All was well until the officer asked to see the negative test results, which we dutifully produced, only to be informed that the tests we had taken were the wrong type of test for entry into Canada! Despite our research that indicated the test we had taken was approved, we were informed that we had taken an antigen test, not a molecular test. So, with no recourse, we were turned around and instructed to leave Canada and return to the U.S. to find a rapid testing site that could perform the proper test and get same-day results.

I made the off the cuff comment that some enterprising entrepreneur could make a lot of money by setting up a rapid test site at the border. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised that when we began to research our options we discovered that this exact scenario had occurred. It turns out that the same company that conducts tests at the airport, had a pop-up testing station in a parking lot a stones throw from the border. Several testing options were available, but if we wanted same-day results it was going to cost us… and boy did it put a dent in our travel budget!

An unexpected cost : (

Since our hotel was on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and there was a no cancellation clause, we didn’t have a lot of options, so we had to pay for the rapid test. Once payment was made, the tests were administered and we waited the requisite 60 minutes to get the results which we were pretty sure would match the tests we had just taken two days earlier. To no one’s surprise, we once again tested negative. So back to the border we went, perhaps a little less confident that we understood the nuances of international travel in the era of COVID. Fortunately, our investment paid off and we were granted access into Canada, only to be told that we had been selected for random COVID testing!

Yep… you read that right. We had just paid a substantial fee to get a rapid test on the U.S. side of the border so we could get into Canada and as soon as entry was granted, we were randomly selected to get the same test! Unbelievable!… for the second time in 2 hours, we were tested, but at least this time it was free, courtesy of the Canadian government.

Testing courtesy of the Canadian government

Although we finally made it to Canada to witness the awesome beauty and power of Niagara Falls, it wasn’t easy. But… at least its a story to share. So, for those who are thinking about international travel, please make sure to do your research to avoid the hard lessons we learned today.

Horseshoe Falls in the morning… Awe inspiring!

Kilimanjaro: Time to Train

In roughly 5 months, the Everest Base Camp crew, along with my son John, will be joining for what we hope will be another indelible experience… a trek to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. This trip has been planned for several years, but due to the pandemic it has been twice scheduled and twice canceled. Hoping that the third time is the charm, its time to get serious about our preparation.

Kilimanjaro is a big mountain, topping out at 19,341 ft (5,895 m). It is also Africa’s entry in “the Seven Summits” (the highest peaks on each of the seven continents). Another interesting fact is that it is tallest free-standing mountain in the world, rising dramatically over 16,700 ft (5,090 m) from the plains surrounding its base. By comparison, Mt Everest rises roughly 11,437 ft (3,486 m) from base camp to summit. Needless to say, our 8-day trek (6 days going up and 2-days going down) will involve a fair bit of climbing and the need to acclimate to the thin air at the upper reaches of the mountain.

Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Since it is not considered to be a technical climb, advanced mountaineering skills and specialized equipment are not needed, but fitness and perseverance are required. To prepare, I plan to continue with my weekly fitness routine, which usually includes work at the gym on either the stair climber or the elliptical trainer, and mountain biking on the local trail network. This regimen helps to maintain a good base fitness level, but it doesn’t prepare the body for hiking with a weighted pack on uneven terrain at high elevations. So, now is the time to add bi-weekly hikes into the routine.

These hikes serve two purposes… first, they work the large muscle groups in the lower body and get them used to the added weight and stresses of trail hiking. Once the initial soreness wears off, the hikes are quite enjoyable and an opportunity to get away from all the noise and distractions of everyday life. Second, especially as the weather gets colder, the hikes become a great test for the various clothing layers that will be required to stay comfortable through the five different ecological zones we will experience during our trek on Kilimanjaro. As summer turns to fall, and ultimately winter, there will be plenty of opportunity to test our gear in temperatures ranging from the high 80’s down into the teens.

Click here to read more about Kilimanjaro’s different ecological zones.

One thing you can’t really prepare for is the thin air at the higher elevations on the mountain. At the summit, the oxygen levels, is approximately 50% of what is available at sea level… so we will literally be “sucking air” as we exert ourselves during the steep push to the summit. The good news is that if you follow a well-planned acclimatization schedule, the body will adjust over time. So, part of the reason it takes 6-days to ascend and only two to descend is that there are two extra days built into the schedule to “hike high, sleep low.” These couple days expose the cardiopulmonary system to lower levels of oxygen when we will climb to nearly 16,000 ft (4,572 m) during day hikes, but descend to camp at approximately 13,000 ft (3,962 m) to sleep and recover. This process aids the body in creating more red blood cells to increase the flow of oxygen in the blood, thereby allowing the body to become more efficient at processing the lower levels of oxygen that are available.

I hope this introduction to the adventure ahead gives you a glimpse of what awaits. Stay tuned for periodic updates as we get closer to this highly anticipated adventure.