With a week’s worth of gear packed in waterproof bags, my husband, Jeff, and I hopped in our safari vehicle to begin our quest to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. After a two-hour ride from Arusha, we arrived at the Machame gate.
Our guide, August, took us to sign in, as our porters weighed the gear and haggled over who would carry what. By the time we set foot on the trail, our porters were long gone.
The trail started as a wide four-wheel drive path that took us through rainforest; with ferns, moss covered trees, and small flowers, lining the path. At our lunch break we pulled out our brown bag soaked in grease August gave us at the gate. As we nibbled on our fried breads, porters, carrying an outrageous amount of gear including full sized plastic tables and stacks of chairs, passed us by. Other porters carried large baskets and bags on their heads, some while only wearing plastic slide sandals and socks instead of hiking boots.
After lunch, we continued the uphill journey over roots and vines in the rainforest until there was a sudden change in vegetation. Spindly, giant heathers appeared and within 15 minutes we were at camp where we signed in as numbers 99 and 100. Our tent was already set up and tea, coffee, hot chocolate, popcorn and biscuits awaited us. We soon learned that of our crew, only August spoke English, making it difficult to learn more about those that would help us reach the summit. The porter who served us dinner, spoke only a few English words to tell us what we were having for each meal and “washy, washy” when he would bring us a bowl of boiled water to wash up after the day of hiking.
Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro – Day 2
The chill of the morning on day two seemed to penetrate our tent making it tough for us to get out of our sleeping bags. The smell of eggs and sausage finally lured us out of the tent. The steep climb on a skinny path at the onset of the hike caused a traffic jam of people making it slow going.
After the steep ascent, the path widened, and groups dispersed. Temperatures reached the 70’s, which were comfortable, but neglecting to put sunblock on my ears was the biggest mistake of the day, causing the worst blistering I have ever had. By one o’clock we were at New Shira Camp unloading our gear into our tent. The fog started rolling in as soon as we arrived at camp, so we could not enjoy the view. This evening we cuddled up with stainless bottles filled with boiled water in our sleeping bags to keep warm.
Again the morning of day three was bitter cold, but the morning started out sunny and it warmed up quickly. As we hiked along the gravel sized lava rock, thick fog rolled in. We enjoyed the leisurely walk up to lava tower, but it was so foggy we could not see anything in the distance. There was no vegetation at this elevation, only gnarled volcanic rock, but there were beautiful waterfalls and streams that would have been breathtaking had it been a clear day. It was a rocky, steep decent all the way to Barranco camp. Shortly after we got to camp it started raining so dinner was served to us in our tent.
When we emerged from our tent on day four, we saw the spectacular views we missed the day before because of the fog. Our tent was plopped in front of the most picturesque scenery with the mountain peak behind us, and the valley in front of us. This morning we kept our hiking poles packed, as we needed our hands free for a near vertical rock climb. After scaling the Barranco Wall, we were literally above the clouds with majestic views all around. The trail descended and ascended, then descended once more until we got to a stream, which was our last water fill up until we descended the mountain. We were having lunch at the Karanga Valley Camp, when the clouds rolled in once again so we could no longer see across the valley.
After lunch we had another steep ascent on scree. In the distance we could hear the rumbling of boulders crashing down, which was alarming since we knew boulders like these have taken the lives of hikers here on Kilimanjaro before. August told us the previous month there was snow at this point, but we would have to wait until we arrived the summit to see snow. When we got to Barafu camp or “Ice Camp” at 15,358 feet, it was sunny and warm with no ice in sight. This evening we tried to get some rest since we would be getting up at midnight to start our summit attempt. We were both so anxious that sleep seemed impossible.
Midnight came quickly and we were on our final stretch to reach the summit. In the dark, all the headlamps of the hikers zigzagging across the mountain marked the path we would follow. We climbed all night under the beautiful star lit sky. Aside from the stars and some city lights from the town below, we could only see what was in the radius of the light steam put out by our headlamps.
It didn’t take long before the boredom set in and each step up the scree slop became more labored, but the music from our iPhones carried us up. After what seemed like forever, we reached Stella’s Point at 18,871 feet and stopped for a break. It was intensely cold at this point and I finally put on my down coat. Eventually we traipsed our way over the sheer rock scree to the summit to arrive about a half hour before sunrise. We were the second group to reach the culmination and get the essential picture with the Uhuru Peak sign at 19,341 feet. This was in incomparable experience, seeing the sunrise over the plains of Africa, nearly three miles below.
We savored every minute of the pastel sky created by the rising sun. Our stay on the summit after the sun rose was brief; however, because our guides, who didn’t have proper gear, were freezing. Sadly we started the fast, sliding descent back to Barafu Camp.
Little did we know the descent would be the most challenging part of the entire journey.
We went down the speedier, much steeper route, which was like a ski-run straight down through loose scree. It was extremely jarring, especially on our joints. We both made it to the summit without an ache or pain, but the descent caused our quads to burn and ankles and knees to ache. We made it back to Barafu Camp for a meal and rest and then continued the rest of the way down to Mweka Camp at 10,138 feet. This was by far the most physically taxing day, but the unrivaled views from the highest vantage point of Africa made it all worthwhile. Our journey ended the following day at the Mweka Gate at 5,384 feet, where we received our hard earned certificates.
Photos courtesy of Yoni Lerner, Nicki & Jeff.
Download DIWYY's free Purpose-Driven Travel workbook. Here's what you'll get:
Find your purpose in travel
Find fulfillment in your passions
Clearly-defined travel goals