Day 1: Time to Climb!

Londrossi Gate (7,546′) to Mti Mkubwa (Big Tree) Camp (9,186′); 3.6 mi.

After two years of delays encountered due to COVID-19, surviving the roulette-wheel of COVID-testing that began back in the U.S. 4-days prior to our departure, and passing additional tests and protocols upon landing in Tanzania, we are finally beginning our long-anticipated adventure to the “Roof of Africa.” Our day began early, relishing the last hot shower we will experience until we exit the mountain 7 days from now. After a hearty breakfast and one last check of our gear, we boarded the van for the three-hour drive to Kilimanjaro National Park. Along the way, we marveled at the sheer size and scope of this massive mountain that loomed in front of us. Over the course of the next week, I expect we will become intimately familiar with its’ rugged and beautiful contours.

Since Kilimanjaro is located 205 miles south of the equator, the seasons aren’t really defined by summer and winter. Rather, the predominate determination of the conditions is the wet season or the dry season. We are climbing during the December through March dry seasons (the other occurs from June through September), so we hope to not encounter too much rain. The other advantage of being here during the dry season is that it coincides with an increase of animals migrating across the savannah (more on this topic when we go on the post-trek safari!) Another fun fact being this close to the equator… generally speaking, day and night are evenly split.

Upon arrival at Londorossi Gate, a flurry of activity begins. This is where we offload the vehicles and transition for horsepower to human power. While we enjoy a nice lunch, freshly prepared by our 2 chefs (Idi and Saidi), our head guide, Athumani (who just happens to be the reigning “Kilimanjaro Guide of the Year”) is busily coordinating his team of porters to distribute and weigh the gear and supplies we will be using over the next week.

The Dream Team

Our group of 7 trekkers is supported by full team of 38 staff members comprised of 4 guides (Athumani, Maximilian, Sedenga, and Shabani), 32 porters, and 2 chefs. Although this may sound like a lot of people to support a small group, it is important to remember that eco-tourism is a major economic driver in this region and the team that is supporting us relies on these coveted positions to earn a living. Additionally, the better trekking companies like the one we are using (iantaylortrekking.com) have developmental programs that invest in both their employees and the local community. Those with drive and ambition to advance from runner/porter to the top guide positions have opportunities to grow with the company.

While Athumani procures our permits, the porters are weighed with the gear they will carry. Our group has affectionately been dubbed “The Dream Team” due to their experience and high degree of professionalism. They will be carrying everything we need for the week including, tents, a full kitchen, fresh food (with one major resupply on day 5) and even two chemical toilets with their own privacy enclosure. Each porter is strictly limited to carrying 15kg (33 lbs). Because of the weight limits, we have tried to avoid carrying extraneous gear, only including what we will use during the climb.

There are 7 main climbing routes to the top of Kilimanjaro, ranging from 5 to 10 days. The 8-day Lemosho route that we are using is one of the longest, but it also has one of the highest success rates due to the extra time built into the schedule to acclimatize to very high elevations. Because it is longer, there is less traffic. After lunch, we are finally on our way under the watchful gaze of Shamani, Sedenga and Maximilian as they lead us through the rainforest and remind us to “sippy sippy” to stay hydrated on the steady climb to camp. Occasionally we stop to learn about some of the plants along the trail. We even get to see some of the many Blue Monkeys that live in the forest around camp. Overall, today was a good test of our fitness as we climbed the narrow path to Big Tree Camp for our first night on the mountain.

Blue Monkey

Finally, after 3 hours of hiking, our long day which began in Arusha ends as we enter the forest clearing at Mti Mkubwa Camp to see that our campsite has already been erected by our professional staff. Tomorrow will bring new adventures as we transition to the open terrain of the Moorland Zone.

Arrival at Big Tree Camp

Arusha Arrival… Final Preps

After a very long, nearly direct flight to Tanzania from the U.S., our group of seven intrepid adventurers is ready to embark on our ascent to the “Roof of Africa.” Our two flights plus a 3-hour layover in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, totaled nearly 19 hours of travel, so we spent our first full day in Tanzania recovering from the flights, adjusting to the +8 hour time zone difference, exploring the town of Arusha, and prepping our gear for the 8-day trek that will culminate on the 19,341 ft summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Over the course of these eight days, we will traverse across the face of the highest free-standing mountain in the world, through 5 different ecological zones, and over 48 miles. There are several routes to the summit, but we will be taking the Lemosho route which is one of the longest, but gives us the best chance for success due to the built-in acclimatization days that allow for more time to adapt to elevations where there is only 50% of the oxygen compared to sea level. We’ll take 6 1/2 days to ascend the nearly 12,000 ft from the Londrossi Gate starting point to the summit, followed by a very short and likely uncomfortable 13,800 ft descent over 1 1/2 days to the Mweka Gate.

The Lemosho Route
Elevation Profile of the Route

Our full itinerary is listed below:

  • 6 Feb: Londrossi Gate (7,546′) to Mti Mkubwa (Big Tree) Camp (9,186′); 3.6 mi.
  • 7 Feb: Big Tree Camp to Shira 1 Camp (11,482′); 4.9 mi.
  • 8 Feb: Shria 1 Camp to Shira 2 Camp (12,795′); 6.2 mi.
  • 9 Feb (Acclimatization Day 1); Shira 2 Camp to Lava Tower (15’223′) to Barranco Camp (12,992′); 6.7 mi.
  • 10 Feb (Acclimatization Day 2): Barranco Camp to Heim Glacier (13’779′) to Karanga Camp (13,156′); 3.5 mi.
  • 11 Feb: Karanga Camp to Kosovo Base Camp (16,010′); 2.2 mi.
  • 12 Feb (Summit Day): Kosovo Base Camp to Stella Point (18,885′) to Uhuru Peak (19,341′), then descend to Mweka Camp (10,171′); 11.2 mi.
  • 13 Feb: Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate (5’577′); 11.2 mi.

I am hoping to share some posts from the mountain, but that will be entirely dependent on the availability of cell coverage. Looking forward to sharing the experience with you!…

Adding Character

When we envisioned this house, there was a bit of imagination required to transform what was in our minds into reality. At the beginning of the process, we simply went online to look at images of homes that were similar to what we thought we wanted… single story, large porch, high ceilings, garage, etc. Once we settled on the style of house, we focused on an interior layout that contained most of the features we wanted to incorporate… open kitchen, pantry, mud room, sunroom, screened porch, guest bedrooms with full bathrooms, etc. Once those decisions were made, we met with our draftsman, Mike, to modify some plans that we had downloaded from the internet. After a few changes, we settled on our final drawings, and Mike produced the engineering drawings to submit to the builder and the county inspector.

Although this process resulted in a detailed set of plans with exterior design elements shown, it was up to us to choose the various materials, textures and colors that would ultimately reveal the true character of the house. This is not an insignificant task! If you’ve never built a house, be forewarned, there are hundreds of decisions to make both inside and out. The problem is that in most cases you are deciding on individual selections based on a small sample or online picture; so, you really don’t know with certainty how things will ultimately come together until near the end of the building process.

In the past month, some of the accents that truly define the look of the house have begun to be added. Fortunately, even though some of our choices were made over a year ago, it looks like these design elements are complementary and the house is beginning to look like what we envisioned at the very beginning of the project.

Last month we were concerned about the delay in getting our transformer installed due to a national shortage. Since the remaining interior work required a conditioned space, we were concerned that we might experience delays. Much to surprise, near the end of December, we were pleasantly surprised when we went to the site and noticed the transformer had been fully installed and connected to the supply and distribution lines. Shortly after that, the large exterior heat pump was delivered and connected. Then, on New Year’s Eve day, the electrician returned and made the final electrical connections to the fuse box and the hour-wattage meter began to count the kilowatt hours!

With the heat pump operating, the interior finish work could begin in earnest. Our flooring installers, Jared and Jason layed the tile floor in the sunroom while our trim carpenters, Ray and Tom, completed all the interior trim. Trimming was a major effort over a two-week period that included hanging all the interior doors, and installing doorway trim, window trim, base and crown molding, and several built-in features. While they were working on the inside, the garage door was delivered and installed, and the exterior stone was delivered and started. Meanwhile, back on the inside, the painters made quick work of priming and painting everything in just under 3 days! The house is rapidly transforming before our eyes.

Over the course of the next several weeks, while I will be in Tanzania attempting to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro several big projects are scheduled. Outside, the siding and stone will be added, while inside the hardwood flooring and cabinetry are planned. I hope to be pleasantly surprised upon my return from Africa and am looking forward to sharing all the exciting events of the next month…

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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….