Mapping Music

I'm a huge music nerd.

I've had an image in my head for a while. I sent a note to my friend Alex saying something about how I'd like to walk along a landscape of music wherein:

  • Things that people listen to together are close together
  • Things that get listened to more are higher

There’s an ever growing mountain ridge of top 40. Lower down: Geometric black metal gardens of minimal techno. The twee valley of Rockabilly.

Wander around and find a record label. Find musicians who went to high school together. Find cities, countries, scenes. Grooves of a certain BPM.

OK that's pretty hard to do, so I figured this weekend I'd bite off a much simpler but still pretty neat project in that direction—hack something together on top of the excellent Echonest API that does a graph visualization of relatedness and their notion of "hotttnesss", which tracks popularity. Sorta.

Thankfully, they have a nice python client library and there are some sweet graph visualization tools out there these days.

I decided to use color and size to represent hotttnesss and some reasonable layout algorithm to try and shake out nearness. Roughly.

With a few hours of poking around, I give you a map of bands that sound like Boards of Canada:

I've heard of all the big red circles: Caribou, Tycho, M83, Bonobo (all great!). The fun ones are the small blue discs; bands like SeeFeel or Gescom. You've all got homework!

For good measure, I tried out a slightly less popular band, Holy Other. So here's what I'll claim is the first map of Witch House:

There are a few big reds on the edges, but mostly a morass of low energy balls with weird unicode characters. Huzzah!

Tiny bit of echonest code is here.

Mental Health

I've had a bunch of friends talk to me about their mental health challenges, and though I'm always glad I get to listen and be supportive (I love feelings! And talking about them!), sometimes I wonder if I'm doing the right thing. There aren't great resources for people who have close friends dealing with anxiety, depression, addiction, panic attacks, mania or any number of other mental health issues.

I recently asked my friend Eva who's well on her way to becoming "Dr. Eva" for her thoughts—what would she tell those of us who sometimes wind up being mental health first responders, or what might be helpful to those considering therapy?

Hi Eva, thanks for doing this! Are you in any way qualified to answer these questions, or are you just some internet trickster?

No problem! This is all completely unlicensed medical advice, which I've heard you shouldn't follow. Everything I say stems from what I've learned as a medical student rotating through the psych ward, and mostly reflect the important ideas I've picked up from the fantastic psychiatrists and residents who have taught me during medical school. I've also got 4 years of medical school under my belt, whatever that means to you.

However, I have a long way to go in my training to become a psychiatrist, so please take everything I say with a grain of salt, consult a real healthcare provider when you're truly worried, and please don't sue me.

OK, got it. So: ignoring the specifics, what's the best thing to do when a friend confides in you that they're struggling with some mental health challenge?

As a friend, the best thing you can do is probably:

  1. Be supportive and empathic
  2. Try to make sure that your friend is safe!

Your friend is probably confiding in you because a sympathetic ear in itself is therapeutic, so you listening and being supportive is already being very helpful.

Then, use your own good judgment. Will your friend respond well if you suggest they go to a therapist or doctor? Then encourage them to do so! If they're not going to cozy up to that idea immediately, you could start by encouraging them to talk to a family member or another trusted friend. Being the only one who knows about a friend's mental health challenge is a tremendous burden.

How do I know when a friend needs professional help? How do I tell the difference between a bad day and a more serious problem?

Great question! Various criteria exist to be officially diagnosed with major depression (or likewise with Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, etc) via the DSM-IV (DSM-IV = Psychiatry Bible, sort of).

To simplify matters, the two telltale features of a serious problem are: (1) length of time and (2) impact on normal functioning.

Length of time: Ask yourself, how long has your friend been acting this way? One day? Your friend is hung over. A week? It's hard to tell if this is the beginning of something serious. 6 months now? Probably a serious issue that he/she should address with a professional.

Impact on normal functioning: This is a key concept in Psychiatry, because many disorders in Psych are arguably on a spectrum of normal human variation. For example, alcohol abuse isn't defined by the number of drinks a person has every day, but rather how alcohol is impacting their ability to keep their job, maintain their relationships, etc.

Basically, it's completely normal to feel “blue” once in a while. But ask yourself – is your friend still interested in things they were before (hobbies, friends, lovers, etc?). Have there been other signs of depression and decreased functioning, such as: weight loss/weight gain, change in sleep habits, difficulty concentrating, lack of energy?

Of course, if there is talk of suicide, it is always serious.

Are there times when I should not be validating my friends feelings or thoughts?

My basic rule would be: OK to validate the difficulty of being in their situation (“that seems really hard, to feel sad like that”; “that seems really tough, to feel hopeless like that”), but not OK to validate other maladaptive thoughts/low-self esteem thoughts that might be contributing to their depression or mental health issues. For example, don't validate, “yeah, it is true that when you get mopey you are hard to be around.” And never validate thoughts of self-harm or suicide, obviously.

Are there different kinds of psychiatrists? Who's right for, say, addiction vs. depression?

There are many different types of psychiatrists. Most people should see a general psychiatrist, who (after four years of residency) is well trained to handle all mental illnesses, including depression/anxiety/etc. There are professionals out there who are sub-specialists – who specifically treat children/adolescents, substance abuse, the elderly, etc.

Psychoanalysts (those guys who draw on a notepad while their patients sprawl across a couch, stare at the ceiling and recount their childhood dreams) are a different breed – often they have a background in psychiatry, along with 5-7 additional years of “Psychodynamic Psychotherapy” training, which qualifies them to be a psychoanalyst. I don't know much about these guys, because they work in fancy offices, not hospitals.

What's cognitive behavioral therapy anyway? What other branches exist?

Psychiatric treatment can be thought of as falling under two umbrellas: (1) medications and (2) via psychotherapy (aka talk-therapy).

Most psychiatrists would use both modes to treat one patient. For example, someone with depression could start an anti-depressant medication and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as well. CBT involves routine visits with a therapist, in which the patient and therapist work together to identify and target negative and inaccurate methods of thinking, so that the patient can develop an awareness of challenging situations and his/her own reactions in these situations (for example, a depressed person might encounter a disappointing social interaction, and immediately say, “it's my fault. I suck”.

CBT teaches them to step back, identify their immediate reaction (self-blame) and rationally replace the negative thought with something more adaptive). Mayo clinic says it best. There are a multitude of other branches including DBT (Dialetical Behavior Therapy) used to treat Borderline Personality Disorder, and Exposure Therapy, used to treat phobias.

What if someone is talking, even sorta abstractly, about suicide?

Your judgment call here. If the talk is not at all abstract and suicide seems like a possibility (i.e. your friend has admitted to truly considering the possibility, he/she has even developed a plan, he/she has a history of suicide attempts): do not leave them alone, and bring them to an emergency room for a medical and psychiatric evaluation.

What if a friend hasn't told me they're struggling, but I suspect they are? How can I ask them in a safe or comfortable way—or should I?

Ah yes, this one is tough. Since you can't and don't want to force someone to talk about something so personal and sensitive, the best you can do is probably be very understanding and discreet, and make sure your friend knows that you are available and very happy to talk if they ever want/need to. Take the pressure off (“We don't have to talk about it right now, but if you ever feel like it...”).

OK, playing devil's advocate: Aren't you just going to drug someone up with SSRIs that ruin their personality? Shouldn't people just try and manage it by themselves?

It's a tough question, and certainly, medications aren't perfect. SSRI's come with tons of side effects (they generally don't ruin your personality – those are antipsychotics!) such as GI symptoms and sexual side effects that I've heard patients don't like.

In medicine, it's always a matter of cost v. benefit. Some patients tolerate the medications really well, rarely experience any side effects, and respond beautifully (improved mood, back to normal functioning) on SSRIs. Others experience the full gamut of side effects and doctors usually discontinue that medication.

Still others experience a side effect (such as increased appetite) which might be exactly what we want (for example, Mirtazapine is an anti-depressant that causes increased appetite and weight gain – which is perfect for a depressed cancer patient who is very thin and could benefit medically from gaining weight.)

Main points:

  • All medications have side effects
  • It's difficult to know who will experience what effects, or what drug will work for someone, so medical professionals will always start a medication and (almost) immediately follow up to see how the medication is going, then titrate doses or swap meds, until we find an “ideal fit”
  • Often, an episode of depression will go away spontaneously (though it generally goes away much faster with treatment)

Another one I hear: But I've been to a therapist before and I didn't like it.

Another toughie! I mean, not everyone is made to enjoy talking about sensitive personal issues, so maybe your friend will never “like” going to a therapist. More likely, though, is that the therapist wasn't the right fit for your friend.

Therapists come in all flavors, just like other doctors, and who hasn't had the experience of having a wonderfully empathic doctor that they loved, vs. someone who seemed cold, impatient, and less-than-stellar? My guess is that your friend might have liked a different therapist.

Could it get better on its own?

Yup! Different numbers from various sources exist online, but often, an episode of depression will remit spontaneously within or after one year.

However, treatment will induce remission earlier, and decrease the severity of symptoms (thus reduce the patient's suffering) which is why we still recommend treatment. More severe cases of depression might not improve spontaneously, (in fact it may get worse and result in suicidal thoughts) which is why seeking help is recommended / safer.

What would the first session be like?

An initial visit to a psychiatrist will be somewhat similar to your first visit with your family doctor. He/she will want to know about your past medical (and psychiatric) history, your family history (of psychiatric and medical illnesses), if you're taking any medications, and generally about your life – drugs/alcohol, where you live, what you do, etc.

After all the background stuff is out of the way, you'd spend some time talking about your recent symptoms. He/she might then recommend starting medication and/or psychotherapy, depending on what you are okay with.

They might order lab tests, imaging, etc, just to make sure there isn't some underlying medical condition that might be causing these psychiatric symptoms. In psychiatry we always rule out medical conditions first – drugs, dementia, strokes, endocrine disorders and nutritional deficiencies often make people seem like they're crazy or sad. Because some of these causes are easily treated (unlike schizophrenia, for example), we want to make sure to catch these cases.

How do I get a good referral?

A good place to start is with your primary care (i.e. family) doctor, if you have one – they likely know some psychiatrists that they like and trust and tend to refer to. If you want to go straight to a therapist, it's tougher to navigate the range of providers who accept different insurances. One suggestion is to call your insurance company and see who they recommend. Sorry, boring stuff.

How do I know when it's over, or when I'm done?

The timeline of treatment usually goes something like:

Whats happening Appointments
Initial visits You've started medication, dose is titrated up each visit, monitoring response Frequent
Later visits Meds are working, you're feeling better Less
Eventually Meds worked, you're feeling good, start to taper meds Less
Super eventually Off meds, feeling swell, doc says you don't need him/her anymore (but if you start experiencing symptoms again to alert someone right away) Goodbye!

What evidence is there that this works? What odds do I have of "getting better"?

Thousands (okay, maybe hundreds?) of articles and research studies say that psychotherapy and psychopharmacology are effective, and are significantly better than placebo. It's hard to direct you to one source, since there are tons of medications and types of therapy all with different evidence and varying degrees of efficacy.

A particularly famous trial in the psych world is the STAR*D trial, which was the nation's largest study of treatment-resistant depression and resulted in guidelines for psychiatric practice: how to start meds, how often to monitor for improvement in symptoms, and when to consider changing medications.

In any case, like all medical specialties, there is new literature every day that guides the practice of psychiatry – findings that some therapies are more efficacious, or that particular groups (such as ethnic, gender, or age groups) respond differently to varying therapies.

Overall, your chances of “getting better” depend on what you have – the prognosis for major depression is good with treatment, as long as you are not part of the unfortunate group that has very severe, treatment-refractory depression. However, it is important to understand that depression (and many other mental illness) are episodic diseases that might come in and out of your life. So, even if one has fully recovered from one episode of depression, it's possible that another episode will come along later in life.

Pixel Sorting

A while back, I wanted to experiment with the Go programming language, and I had been looking at Kim Asendorf's awesome pixelsorting art. Kim released his implementation of his algorithm, and so I decided to port it to Go with some minor modifications.

You can find the code I wound up with here, though don't take it as in any way refined or idiomatic Go—this was just a quick hack for me to play with the technique.

Roughly, the idea is to scan through the image column by column or row by row and look for contiguous runs of pixels above some brightness threshold. Upon finding a run, the pixels are sorted by brightness. Playing with different versions of brightness and different thresholds can produce some interesting results.

I wound up writing a short convenience wrapper to pixelsort a whole directory of images at once at a variety of brightness thresholds. You can see some of my favorites here or here.

Invisible Cities

I've been reading Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities for the last few weeks, and I'm absolutely charmed.

The frame is Marco Polo telling Kublai Khan about cities he's encountered in his travels. The story is a series of vignettes of imagined places, each with a twist or a thought to share. Some examples.

Eutropia is a city made of a hundred cities, only one of which is occupied at any given time. People live their lives until they're consumed by ennui, at which point everybody moves to another city and swaps lives—jobs, spouses and relatives, interests and the city goes on as before just with new people playing the roles.

Marco Polo's concluding thought is that though Eutropia is a city that changes constantly, strangely it remains the same. Though the people change, the roles don't because nobody sticks with them through the frustration long enough to make them in to something new.

The city of Maurilia is a modern, developed metropolis, but has a nostalgia for its past. But it's more complex than that: if you had seen it in the past, you wouldn't see it as beautiful and provincial, merely as dirty and unpleasant—it's only from the vantage point of modernity that the past seems to glow.

He goes on to say:

Sometimes different cities follow one another on the same site and under the same name, born and dying without knowing one another ... the old post cards do not depict Maurilla as it was, but a different city which, by chance, was called Maurilla

The book meditates on change, life, and death in a way that pokes rather than argues. I find myself coming back to re-read an individual city and connecting it in some new way with the world I inhabit. I'd suggest reading a few cities at a time, and let them mull for a day or two.

Along similar lines: Sum by David Eagleman, and the BLDGBLOG book.

In Which I Climb Kilimanjaro with Joe

Just after graduating from college in 2010, I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with my good friend Joe Huston. What follows is an unedited copy of the journal I kept while on the mountain. Forgive me.

Day -2 - Morning

Wake up 9am. Shower shave clean everything I can. Will be a mountain man soon.

Need: Iodine tablets 3L of water bottles CASH

Joe needs pants.

Day -1 - Morning

Day 1 sucked basically. Airplane troubles = a day of delays and arguing with delta. Tensions were high at the airport. One woman like “You’re all stupid!” Saw Jackie later. She had a cute busted lip b/c she fell on her face.

Team Kili rocks and is setting us up with a 6 day climb. Hopefully we’ll make it.

At Airport

Ran into Sonu Bedi’s twin brother Monu at DCA. Cool guy — Dartmouth ‘97? It was very random. Joe says of yesterday: “It was an enjoyably bad day”.

He has malaria meds that I don’t have. Considering murder.

About to get on a plane to Boston, then to Amsterdam and finally to Tanzania. Caffeinated. Reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and it’s good so far.

From Hotel in Arusha

Flight to BOS delayed. Had to sprint through Logan and make our flight. KLM is nice. Got food in Amsterdam and ran into our CS/Tanzanian friend from day before.

AHWOSG = good but not amazing. Eggers is too lazy and I just don’t care about him enough I guess? Good poetic language esp at beginning but long narcissistic internal monologue gets boring eventually even if it is honest in a way. Most things in the story seem honest which is probably why some parts don’t make sense.

Now reading “Never let me go” Creepy novel about clones from Joe.


Landed in JRO Tanzania. Miraculously delta got our luggage through (BTW got delayed getting into Amsterdam) and our driver found us instantly. Tanzania visa was $100 which was more than we had planned. Whoops. Hope we have enough cash.

(Joe reminds me to write that I almost lost my boarding pass in Amsterdam. Way to rub it in jerk.)

Driver took us 50km (30 min or so) from airport. Mostly felt safe but driving on the left felt weird on turns. Lots of wild dogs on the road. They’re howling like crazy right now (in the hotel). And people were walking along the road. Driver tells us it’s a major road that goes from Egypt to way down south. One lane each way and not v well maintained.

Not sure if we tip. Probably tipped our bag guy at the hotel too much.

Oh! We passed by the UN court trying Rwandan criminals. Cool. Also the “East African Community” HQ. Didn’t even know that was like a thing.

Hotel = very cute. We buy bottled water to brush our teeth and relax for a while. 6AM wakeup.

Day 1

Our sleep schedule is messed up. We woke up at 5am local time and read. Finished Joe’s creepy book about clones. Good ending. Lots of good questions and a haunting mood.

Mosquito nets are kinda nice actually. Worried about drinking water. Here’s Joe on the subject of Joe this morning: “Joe has hit his head twice on the TV stand. What a fucktard.” In his dream he thought the size limit for our hotel’s safe was “Nothing bigger than an iPad.” Unlikely, dream Joe.

Aside: Joe’s kindle gets internet everywhere. Whispernet is amazing. Joe found a slug in/on his bag and freaked the fuck out. We are not outdoorsy people. What are we doing.


Gear check with guides. It’s like the dentist. Want to seem prepared. They pay us because we come late. Meet our crew, cook etc. Bus has cracked front window. So legit. 11 of us total making the climb.


The route is alive! Streetside vendors and cars. Beautiful foliage. Buildings and roads worn but functional. Speed bumps instead of signs. Efficient at scale?

Tom’s cell is better than mine. He checks his facbook. This is a well-off area though tons of agriculture. Bananas and rice on heads.

I think we may have underestimated how cold it will be on an average day.

Outside of Arusha it’s a bit quiet. Rolling plains with dramatic hills shooting up on occasion. We drive fast.


We stop at shop playing “Sexual Healing” so the crew can pick stuff up. Joe and I don’t buy anything.


Still on the road. 10am in Moshi. Seen/heard lots of Barack Obama love.

Tigo and Vodacom and Coke and Pepsi seem to run shit. It’s started to rain a bit now. Huge knotty trees. Hills mined. Pass by MIT — Moshi Institutue of Technology. Driving pretty high now. Ears popping etc. Pretty beautiful views.


Gate 1. We’re yawning a lot. Our team is getting permits etc. We buy extra pants layer for summit day. Now we go off-roading to gate 2; road still being built.

Gate 2. They give us food. Beautiful view camera can’t capture. Food is veggies, white bread and mango and butter Tasty carrot stew. They have a table and cloth and tea and cocoa. Feeling too coddled. Joe feeling bad about colonialism / lunch. I feel a bit weird but not as bad. Prolly take pride in making things easy.


Camp at end of Day 1. Started off going by these cool sorta weepy pine trees with orange brushstroke accents. We walked slowly and mostly in silence, focusing on our breathing and the feel of our bodies. Breathing heavy compared to how much work I feel like I’m doing. Weepy pine trees alternate with used up corn stalks. Joe says unexpected.

We left before the porters but in not too long they overtake us going much faster and carrying a lot more weight. I fiddle a lot with the straps and ties on my pack, but I feel slightly bad every time I clip because of the noise. I am not a crazy neurotic person!

After a while we hit the end of the forest. Then we see a family of some black and white monkeys. Colobus” acc. to Joe. We say “Jambo” to people who pass like that crazy guy on his motorcycle just rolling down the mountain.

People actually live up here and harvest corn/potatoes. We see a family or two. Crying baby doesn’t seem happy.

Then we transition from forest to jungle. Tall trees block out the sky. Here the path is neater and some plants are labeled on the side. The African Pencil Tree has branches that look like pencils. The Stinkwood tree smells bad. Unimpressed with the creativity of dendrologists.

We see a bunch of baboons too. They’re awesome. Joe says “We’re doing it man. We’re on fucking kilimanjaro.” Indeed. Fistbump. Jungle is mostly nice and well groomed. It goes on for a while. Jacob and Tom chatter behind us, stopping us and making us drink water.

Then the area of tall bushes. Open sky. Cute bridges over small brooks covered in fog. Some strenuous areas make me realize this is going to be challenging. I don’t feel the altitude too much today, but I think I do on occasion. Though to tell. We make it it camp.

First we register (Why? Taxes? Safety?). Ask Jacob. They set up tents. We change into dry clothes and hang our wet ones. A snack followed by candlelit dinner. So Tired.

Day 2

Joe is a bitch this morning. He threatened to stab me for writing that. Low grade headaches because we slept downhill and are dehydrated.

They woke us up with tea. Awesome. Want that every day. Pretty quick wash and breakfast before heading out. Short bushes and grasses. First view of summit. Awesome! Mostly obscured by clouds. Trees getting shroter.

We’re drinking so much water. Both had 3L before we break for a bit before lunch so porters can catch up and take photos. Porters with white bags in the distance like beacons among the trees. There’s a nice peak and an evil one. Now we walk into the clouds hopefully to the nice one.


Taking a break at a ridge. Climb today is more intense and so much fun. Sweat and body working and amazing views.

Saw buffalo tracks before. Now just centipedes. Pass by a cave people used to use for shelter. Not used anymore but still impressive. Climbing is steep and rocky. The sun is hot. We use ball caps backwards to cover our necks & look sweet ‘till we can sunscreen up.

We stop for lunch at 2nd cave. Joe is really into these two snorting ravens that are hanging out. He snorts at them and they leave.

Well above the clouds now. We’ve been going fast which is fun and we beat the porters and could’ve done more. I want to take a nap. Joe and I have been playing “Would you tolerate” about preferences of hypothetical girlfriends. He is fairly intolerant.

Aside about briefs: Do not enjoy. Don’t even think boxers would chafe that much. Peeing feels weird and no fly and bad. Srsly. No briefs.

Swahili words we’ve learned:

Mambo Vipi
How’s things
Mambo Supa/Poa
Tam sana
Bam-bam baya

When Joe stepped on a rock and it rolled out from under him he was fine but he is a bitch about bees.

Joe: freaks out
Me: Scared of bees?
Joe: They are the unknown. (I’ve never been stung)
Me: So you’re not scared of bees, just the unknown?
Joe: Nah I’m scared of bees.

He’s obsessed with cocoa and getting it right. He says best cup yet. I say bees probably attracted to cocoa.

Jacob is married w/ two kids. He’s 37, but looks 30. Impressive. Joe getting annoyed with my journaling, but he just doesn’t understand me like you do.


Next hike is up and down, seemingly away from kili. b/c it’s not vertically far we go very fast and beat all of our porters. We’re totally spent by the time we hit camp. It was a really nice leg. Looking out at the clouds. We had another 3L of water. Crazy!

At camp, despite Joe’s warnings, I take a nap. It is glorious. Soon after waking up we have tea and popcorn. It’s getting pretty cold now and I’m adding layers. Long hike in front of us tomorrow and probs a difficult one.

Joe and my conversations have been strange. Long game of “what animal would fuck you up if it was you and it in a closet” earlier. Tonight we were more philosophical until Joe starts talking about poop for ~15 min.

Feels like I’ve been here longer than two days. The moon an stars at night are so bright it’s nuts. Last night I dreamt Kid Cudi was in our climbing group. Jacob keeps telling us to “keep enjoying” our food. “Just keep enjoying; keep enjoying,” he says. Also, they all say “you’re welcome” before someone says “thank you”. Interesting. We passed some interesting flora today. Stuff that only grows at this elevation and on Kilimanjaro.

Day 3

We wake up and Joe says “Team Bravo has gone insane” which makes no sense. We have never called ourselves Team Bravo. I worry for our sanity. Waking up is the worst part. We hurt in various ways and we’re tired. Good breakfast. Both felt a bit nauseated from the tannins in the tea. Joe stole all of my Gas-X.

Very nice sunrise. Beautiful morning hike with lots of vertical distance. We took a shortcut that joins two trails that was not a path at all, just lots of rocks and sand and it was strennnuous.

Had lunch in this kinda crazy rock valley. Def in the “Alpine desert” climate zone now and right next to the evil peak. Joe and I were freezing at lunch. Both had headaches. Possibly altitude, possibly just the cold or possibly the colds we seem to be coming down with or possibly the sunburn we both have. Ugh.

The food is tasty, though slow to come.


The rest of the hike is largely downhill. We walk down basically as far as we went up today. Our moods mostly determined by minor physical discomforts. Joe has become obsessed with his bowel. Intelligent conversation has been difficult. Despite lots of complaints at night, we sleep well and wake up feeling good.

Day 4

Joe snored a lot so I threw increasingly large objects at him (to get him to stop; this usually works). He wakes up when I throw my glove at him and threatens to stab me in my sleep. He then instantly falls back asleep and continues to snore.

We eat breakfast and leave a bit behind schedule. At first the climb is steep but smooth until we turn away from Kibu and towards Barafu. Then the route becomes crazy and rocky. I take an advil to help with headaches. The route culminates in a crazy pair of ridges. Possibly the most strenuous thing I’ve done. The ground we’re on slopes down and then falls off into clouds; feels like the end of the world.

Up here at Barafu the view is amazing. Eat and then sleep now. Summit day starts at midnight tonight. Kili looks intimidating but we’re ready.


After dinner we try to sleep but are largely unsuccessful. Birafu is crazy windy and our tent shakes nearly to the point of breaking. During dinner our tent actually constantly smacked me in the back of the head. Rude.

At 11:30 PM they wake us up with tea.

Summit day!

Wow! We’re nervous and excited and tired. We wear almost everything we packed. I’m wearing up top: 4 shirts, a fleece and a big ski jacket along with a balaclava as a hat and a hood. Below I’ve got long johns, sweatpants and ski pants. It gets pretty cold at the summit.

I have a headache (altitude? dehydration? who knows) and treat it with advil. Uh-oh. We get out a bit before midnight and start heading up to the summit. WOW is it difficult. Joe and I both agree it’s the hardest physical challenge we’ve faced. We’re constantly short of breath and the climb is either super steep gravel/sand that makes you slide back with every step or just plain rock faces. We take breaks often and both have nasty headaches. (def altitude.). I’m feeling pretty dizzy aside from just being exhausted from breathing.

Jacob sets a fast pace for us and hurries us through breaks. Tom is encouraging and tells us to take our time. We like Tom.

Getting towards the top of the first section we have a refueling break. We eat energy bars and drink a red bull each. Soon after this we hit Stella Point — four hours into the climb. It’s only one hour from here and the climb isn’t as steep. Despite feeling awful for most of the last few hours, I’m elated and yell out in celebration.

Many times in the climb up to Stella I wondered if we’d make it. I wondered what I was doing climbing this mountain. Absurd. I sit indoors most of most days on the internet. My big sport is debate. I can’t throw a football and I didn’t do boyscouts because camping sounded awful. Contributing to my sense of the absurdity of what I was doing: my outer layer of pants = way too big on me. So about every 10 steps I had to pull up my pants. On summit day. Geez. Also my middle layer of pants was on backwards.

Joe complained about feeling dizzy. Tom said “dizzyness is no problem by 4am”. Joe asks what happens at 4am. Tom says helpfully “you get used to it.”

At Stella we can see the peak and there’s snow and you know you’re going to make it.

Except around this time something weird is happening to my vision. Anything in bright lights has weird colors. Like anything in my headlamp is transiently green. If that doesn’t make sense then: exactly.

Altitude? Red bull? Diamoxx? Who knows. I tell Joe that he has to carry me there if I pass out this close. He looks at me wide eyed and says “Dude. I’m drunk.” and goes on to explain that he’s got a 6/10 headache (Aside: last two days any time someone asks us how we’re feeling we respond with a number 1-10 corresponding to how bad our headache is) and feels so dizzy he’s worried about passing out himself.

There’s an incredible view from here. A massive glacier. So far above the clouds. Snow caps twisted with huge desert rock formations.

Despite slipping in the snow a few times eventually the summit is in sight. We’re struggling, but it’s amazing when we finally make it. I spike my headlamp like a football and say by way of explanation to no one in particular “I have a problem with lights right now”.

We take a bunch of photos and other groups start showing up (we were one of the first of the day to make it. NBD) Everyone says congrats to one another.

More photos of the area then we decide it’s time to go. Joe and I need to get to a lower altitude to get comfortable.


We go down the Kibu route. The sun has come up and it’s hot. I still have a problem with lights and the sun is a pretty big light. Jacob gets us to literally run down the mountain sliding along rocks. We’re all tired and sick and exhausted in our own way. Migraine (or altitude?) at Kibu when we get lunch. Physically feel terrible but still feel elated that we actually made it. Lots of fistbumps.

We leave Kibu for Horombo to camp for the night. On the way we have mostly recovered from our summit sicknesses. Tired. Do nothing. Going to bed. One last hike down tomorrow then back to our hotel. We’re done. We want showers. We want beds. We want sit-down toilets and clean clothes.

I think we’ll miss it though. It’s been an amazing experience that I never thought I’d do. It was a challenge

Summit day +1

Last day on the mountain. Feeling lousy. We hike down. It’s easy but long and my legs are hurting. We get lunch in Moshi when we get down from the mountain, tip our group and then say goodbye. Sleep.

Airport day

Joe left at 4pm for his Asia trip. I’m here 5 more hours. Current state as differs from normal:

  • 8 day beard including neard
  • chapped lips
  • beat up nose from mountain cold — “meth-head like”
  • raw skin on face
  • peeling skin from sunburn
  • grimy hair
  • stretched out and semi-clean t-shirt
  • beastly hiking boots.
  • I’m attracting strange looks. Hoping my copy of Infinite Jest makes me look like a writer on a bender in Africa instead of just a crazy homeless meth-head.

Airport restaurant doesn’t take cards. Need to hit ATM. Passport checking guy questions why I need to leave to get cash and asks for a bribe when I return, then laughs and says he’s just joking. Strange to be here. Guard-rails off. At the age where I can just fly to Tanzania and climb Kilimanjaro if I want. Soon moving to SF with my own job making my own money and living in my own (and Jackie’s) apt. Wow. Feels strange.

Probably won’t see Joe for a while. Been nice to have my days filled with activity and I haven’t missed the internet much. Might experiment with detoxing more.