Tanzania 5: Post-mortem


I climbed a mountain with Andrea and Donna. We learned some lessons.

This is a very long blog post, split into five parts. If you aren’t sure how far you’ll get, read parts 3 and 4, then 2, then maybe 1. Part 5 is mostly for me.

1: prep - 2: hike - 3: summit - 4: safari - 5: post-mortem - slide show (upcoming)

I’ve been writing these blog posts as much for others as for myself, but this last one is mostly for me. With all the gear I bought for this trip, I have almost everything I need for self-supported backpacking trips. The experience helps a little too, I’m sure. Mostly, I want to take this opportunity to go through all the gear I brought, and rate it for future use when backpacking. I’ll start with a yes/no decision - should I have brought this or not? Depending on how that goes, I may continue with more fine-grained ratings.

A good shakedown hike is the one thing I should have done while preparing, but didn’t. I even had a three-day camping trip right before the Kili trip, and I brought almost none of my gear. I stayed in Colorado for a few extra days after a work conference, and I didn’t have enough room in my carry-on bags for the conference junk and camping junk. I should have just checked some luggage, but I was paranoid about losing some of that stuff right before the trip. At least I did bring my new Osprey Mira 26L daypack, for a chance to try that out on a long hike.

As for training, I have no regrets. The only way I could have done better was by living closer to more varied terrain. A bunch of miles hiked, and two 14er summits, felt like sufficient preparation. Of course I wasn’t ready for the AMS effects.

Also, my left big toe was numb after the hike. Now, about two months later, it’s just about fully recovered.

I would have loved to have some offline trail maps on my phone. I did some research into different options for this, and found nothing that would work for me, except an Alltrails subscription, which I didn’t want to pay for. On the last night at Stella Maris, I realized that there was one option that would give me the exact functionality I want, but with a lot of up-front work. There’s an app called Avenza that can use any “georeferenced” PDF file as a live map layer. In theory, it should be possible to add georeference data to any image. Like, for example, this high-resolution topo map I found of the mountain. The process is a bit finicky, though, and it took me too long to figure it out. Of course, I figured it out later on, after the trip. The instructions here mostly work on mac, as long as you install with ~brew tap osgeo/osgeo4mac && brew install qgis2~. I’ll try this out before my next trip up a mountain.


My flat-lay may not look as nice as Andrea’s, but it does include everything I brought

Andrea’s prettier, but partial, picture

Regret not bringing

  • Cash - stopping at an ATM adds unnecessary time and risk. I trust myself to carry $500 or so.
  • Iodine - but decided I don’t regret leaving it by night 2.
  • Vacuum bottle - just would have been nice to carry warm tea for a couple of the days.
  • K tape, gauze - needed gauze and tape every day for my stupid foot rash problem.
  • Tip covers for trekking poles - they’re sharp and they rip stuff. Somehow I found two lost tip covers in the dirt while we were on the mountain.
  • Gatorade bottle - for a pee bottle. Never needed it, but blew $20 on another bottle in case I needed it, because there’s no Gatorade in Tanzania.
  • Notebook with larger pages.

Regret bringing

  • Pillow - decided I don’t regret by night 2.
  • Sit pad - decided I don’t regret by night 2.
  • Sleeping pad - never used it.
  • Sneakers - useless for bonus hike, too much trouble to put on for camp. Should have brought flip flops.
  • Too many snacks - It seemed like too many at the beginning of the hike, but I finished almost all the snacks I brought. It’s always good to have some of your own safe calories.
  • I wrote “Non-solar electricity options” in my notes. I didn’t need both a 10Ah battery and the solar panel. Despite having both of those, I was unable to charge my camera battery.

Don’t regret not bringing

  • Sun legs
  • Shampoo bar
  • More random first aid stuff
  • Reusable hand warmers
  • Selfie stick
  • Bike gloves
  • Light windbreaker
  • Camp lights
  • Velcro roll

Stuff I left at home


At first I thought I brought too many… these pictures mostly speak for themselves:

Snacks I left with

Snacks after the hike

Snacks after the safari, including clif bar donation from Tommy

The tabasco was a hit, the lemons were a bust, the ginger wasn’t as good as some that others brought. The almonds were just inconvenient in that big bag. I guess I never had an inclination to eat those sugar cubes called shot bloks. KLM smoked almonds are pretty good.


  • Should have gotten USB Canon charger
  • Should get smaller integrated solar+battery like KJ
  • Solar GPS watch, if I’m doing any actual backcountry hiking
  • Phone works fine for GPS, ebooks, and clock - really don’t need watch, Kindle or Garmin, as long as power is reliable and the time zone is consistent. I’m glad I got tracks on two devices though. A fitbit would have been nice, with the mileage display.
  • Good to have GPS and headlamp with AA or AAA batteries, since replacing them just before the summit is the best way to get full life during the freezing climb.

Things I left behind for porters:

  • Nalgene
  • Bottle sling
  • $20 pee bottle
  • 2 pair cheap wool socks
  • old new balance sneakers

Other stuff

Microfiber towel and bandanas: Always carry a towel. I mostly use these things for wiping sweat. In Texas summer heat, it’s pointless to even try; on Kili, I didn’t even need it. I never took out the microfiber towel, and I only used a couple bandanas as hand towels and, more often, face masks. I also brought a couple of old washcloths, which ended up being useful after using the hot water hand wash bowls.

Hydration bladder: I bought this to replace my two unreliable second-hand Camelbak bladders. The new one has a quick-release valve in the middle of the hose, and a top opening instead of a twist cap. This seems like a better design in general. Negatives: the bite valve lock is awkward to use, and has no cover. Porters move your bags around sometimes, and one of those times, my daypack ended up sitting on top of the bite valve, holding it open while it leaked half a liter of water out, soaking the back of my pack. Not a big deal, but if that had happened on summit night, or if I hadn’t noticed it so quickly, it would have sucked. I may replace the whole bite valve with a Camelbak valve that has a full cover.

Overall, the only core piece of gear I’m not really satisfied with is my day pack. When we started doing training hikes, I was using a tiny, modular hydration daypack that zips onto an old REI-brand full-frame backpack I got at a yard sale. This thing is perfect for short day hikes with my dog, or for biking - just big enough for a 3L bladder, some food, and a bunch of small pockets for whatever else. Later on, I bought that Mira, which is a much nicer pack, but just doesn’t fit me right - it has a metal frame that curves to fit a smaller torso, and it just pokes into my side after a few hours. Fortunately I found the Mutant at Wilderness Exchange just after that hike.

I have mixed feelings about the Mutant. It’s an older design, not as polished as more recent Osprey models. The main compartment is huge, which was ultimately the most important thing, but that made it difficult to use. There are two more small compartments on the “lid”, which are awkward. It has lots of what the salesguy called “technical loops” on the hip belt and shoulder straps. My best guess is these are for real carabiners, but I used them to clip miscellaneous gear onto the outside of the pack, to make up for not being able to find anything in the main compartment. I’ve read advice from experienced backpackers saying hanging stuff from your pack is a beginner mistake, but it worked well for me, so ultimately I was happy with it. The bigger problem was that a pack this size with no rigid frame doesn’t hold its shape well, unless it’s stuffed full of something. Most of the hike that was fine, since I was carrying so much anyway. When I no longer needed to - on the last day when it was warm, I was wearing my rain gear already, and I had eaten all my snacks - the pack would crumple up on my back. If I can find a good workaround for this, I will likely keep the pack.

Photography gear

  • T6i DSLR
  • Tamron 10-24 (UV filter)
  • Canon 50 f/1.8 (UV filter, CP filter, IR filter)
  • Canon 70-300 IS (UV filter)
  • Peak Design Capture clip
  • Kit neck strap
  • IR remote shutter
  • big lens bag (10-24 or 70-300)
  • small lens bag (50)
  • Gorillapod
  • 16GB SD card x3
  • Canon battery and wall charger
  • OAproda battery
  • phone tripod mount

Of all this, the only things I didn’t use were the spare battery and the phone mount. I also took off the neck strap and mostly used the capture clip. I was uncertain about the gorillapod, it’s pretty bulky considering how much I expected to use it. It was perfect for the handful of night shots I did get.

I bought a set of cheap spare camera batteries as an emergency backup in case my one Canon battery didn’t last through the summit. I didn’t end up using it at all, and I returned it after the trip. I conserved battery as much as possible, and also kept the Canon battery in my sleeping bag at night, and in my pants pocket during cold days. The spare batteries came with a USB charger, which I could have used to charge my Canon battery during the hike, if I had brought it.

Stuff I left at the hotel

Packing review


Here, I’ll rate every item I brought, in two ways.

1: Am I glad I had it on the Kilimanjaro hike?

2: Do I think I would want to carry it myself on a future backpacking trip?

item kili backpacking notes
basic gear - - -
90L duffel yes no
38L pack yes ? might want to replace this
drawstring daybag no no ultralight daypack would be better
water bladder yes yes
trekking poles yes ? depends on terrain
sleeping pad no yes crappy sleeping pad provided
sit pad yes yes sit pad under hip works well
pillow yes yes not amazing, but packs light
sleeping bag liner no no never used
repair kit yes yes maybe smaller for backpacking
med kit yes yes maybe smaller for backpacking
variety of stuff sacks yes yes many colors = good for organizing
victorinox pouch yes yes wallet, knife, light, battery, SD card
apparel - - -
main sunglasses yes yes
spare sunglasses yes no
prescription glasses+shades yes yes
longhorn cap no no can’t carabiner fitted cap
matix hoodie yes yes
linen long sleeve shirt yes yes
hiking pants yes yes one pair fine
pajama pants yes no
smartwool top yes ? depends on temperature
smartwool bottom yes ? depends on termperature
smartwool boxers yes yes
synthetic underwear yes yes
cotton underwear yes no
light smartwool socks 3x yes yes
heavy darn tough socks 2x yes
misc extra heavy socks no mostly used wool because of rash
heavy mittens yes ? depends on temperature
liner gloves yes ? depends on temperature
2 wool tshirts yes yes
capilene top yes ? just smartwool fine for <4 days
heattech top no no never used
gaiters no no never used
hiking boots yes yes
sneakers no no don’t want laced shoes at camp
flip flops yes yes
braided belt yes yes
wool buff yes yes
synthetic buff yes no only need two for serious cold
knit cap no no never used
bandanas x3 yes yes
microfiber towel no no never needed, bulkier than bandanas
sunsleeves yes yes
rain jacket yes ? depends on weather
rain pants yes ? depends on weather
down jacket yes ? depends on temperature
down hood yes ? depends on temperature
4x tshirts yes no for non-hike days
photography - - -
t6i yes ? depends on target weight
70-300 lens yes ? depends on target weight
10-24 lens yes ? depends on target weight
50mm lens yes yes
CP, IR filter no no never used
canon neck strap no no barely used
canon wrist strap no no never used
capture clip yes yes
canon wall charger no no
canon usb charger yes yes didn’t have for kili
gorillapod yes ? for night photography
remote shutter yes yes for night photography
spare battery yes ? didn’t actually use
phone tripod mount no no never used
gadgets - - -
phone yes yes
USB drive yes yes
garmin gps yes yes
headlamp yes yes not two though
solar panel yes ? on duration
battery pack yes yes
usb cables x3 yes yes
corded headphones yes yes FM antenna on moto G phone
cordless headphones yes ? didn’t bring on hike, used while traveling
watch no yes didn’t need to pay attention to time myself
kindle+case yes yes read 2 books on it
misc - - -
nalgene yes no
bottle sling yes no didn’t actually need it
multitool yes yes pliers are good to have
nail clippers yes yes
notebook yes yes
normal pen/pencil no no barely used
zebra pencil yes yes
stickers no no too cold to take photos on summit
eraser no no never needed
small knife yes yes easier than multitool for fine work
small flashlight yes yes can’t have too many flashlights
sleep mask yes ?
ear plugs no no never used
compression socks no no didn’t fit
iphone usb adapters yes
outlet expander yes
outlet converter yes
altoids kit yes yes
carabiners x10 yes yes always useful
ace bandage yes yes didn’t use
various ziploc bags yes yes
passport/trip docs yes yes
credit card no ? should’ve brought cash, left cards
debit card no ?
cash yes yes
consumables - - -
disposable poncho yes yes never used
trashbags yes yes
hand warmers no no didn’t work or didn’t help
napkins yes yes
TP no yes
kleenex yes yes so much dust in my nose
q-tips yes yes for clearing shit out of my nose
wet wipes yes yes
hand sanitizer yes yes used more than soap
camp soap no yes didn’t clean dishes myself
gold bond no no never used
deodorant no no
collapsible toothbrush yes yes
travel toothpaste yes yes
travel mouthwash yes yes
floss sticks yes yes
diamox yes no no idea if it helped
malaria meds yes ?
cipro yes no probably wouldn’t have used
ibuprofen yes yes
pepto bismol yes yes took preemptively
immodium yes yes
fiber capsules yes yes
hydrocortisone yes yes
athletes foot cream yes yes
sunscreen yes yes
bug spray yes yes
lip balm yes yes
cold compress no no never used
dust mask no no never used
batteries yes yes
tabasco yes smaller bottle maybe
nuun yes yes
almonds no yes
ginger no no
lemon slices no no
snack bars yes yes variety is good
jerky bars yes yes epic is best
candy yes yes

The repair kit and first aid kit are full of other stuff, but I think I’ll keep them assembled.

Repair kit

Med kit


Even after returning home and unpacking, I wasn’t done with the trip - I had to write all these blog posts, and that’s not all. I’m generally a bit obsessive about collecting personal data, and that includes GPS tracks, particularly while traveling. For years, I’ve recorded these and stockpiled them on my computer, thinking about how to use them. I also take lots of photos, and record notes or journal entries while traveling. Ideally, I could combine all of these into a single electronic presentation for each trip, both for posterity, and for sharing with others.

If there was ever a time for me to get started on actually putting this together, it’s now. I returned home October 1, and I still had another month of part-time volunteer work to do for the 2018 midterm elections, so I did all the most important work - writing down my memories - as quickly as possible, and then left the technical work for the following month. Now it’s early December, and I’ve finally gotten some of this stuff to a presentable state. Well, I spent five months preparing for the trip, so what’s another two months of postparation?

Despite being a hobbyist photographer, I’m not super experienced at photo and video editing. I prefer to take a lot of photos, select the best few, and present them as-is. I had to refresh my memory on a number of editing tasks here, so I learned a bit. There were some related subprojects as well.

From my years in Linux, I’m used to scattershot video editing, some combination of ~ffmpeg~ , and avidemux, and maybe some python. There’s probably a better solution on a mac, but I don’t know what it is. I ended up using quicktime for cutting (edit->trim) and resizing (file->export to 720), and a decent website for converting to webm, which seems to be the best option for any sort of in-browser animation these days. Cody told me about Relive, a service that renders flyovers from Strava tracks, so I made a few of those.

I wanted something similar for the crater drive, but not quite what Relive would create. Turns out Google Earth 7 can do this pretty well:

  • Import the track as kml to get a line on the map
  • Record a flyover tour (add->tour), using keyboard shortcuts for smooth navigation
  • Export the tour as video (tools->movie maker), direct to webm

I also maxed out the terrain exaggeration factor, so the geology of the crater was more visible. Apparently you can get a bit more fancy with the tour trajectory by using a “3d space navigator”, but I’m not quite sure how that works.

For images, I haven’t bothered with any photography-level editing, I mostly just made a few montages with imagemagick. Nothing fancy, just ~convert~ and ~montage~ .

I also discovered an annoying rotation problem in hugo and/or golang, which I think is due to what I’d call a bug, and had to hack together a solution. The issue is that hugo can’t read jpeg exif data, so it doesn’t know how to rotate images based on that. This was only an issue for my vertical DSLR photos, not my phone. I assume the high-performance DSLR image processor chips are designed to write out the image in only one way, whereas my garbage phone camera can be as slow as it wants. Funny how the higher quality hardware is partly responsible for the problem. Rotating the image didn’t solve it, nor did changing the exif data. The first thing I found that worked was to just remove all exif data, then rotate the contents. Here’s my bash script to do it:

# usage:
#   fix-rotation original.JPG 270
# output:
#   original-270.JPG

ANGLE=$2  # 0, 90, 180, 270. 270 is standard vertical DSLR position


# remove all exif info
cp "$FILE" "$TMP"
exiftool -all= "$TMP"

echo "convert \"$TMP\" -rotate $ANGLE \"$BASE-$ANGLE.JPG\""

convert "$TMP" -rotate $ANGLE "$BASE-$ANGLE.JPG"

rm "$TMP"

Tanzania 4: Safari

Hanging cables