Non-Stop to the Top: Kilimanjaro!


Advertisement
Tanzania's flag
Africa » Tanzania » North » Mount Kilimanjaro
October 20th 2019
Published: January 28th 2020
Edit Blog Post

Thank you so much...Thank you so much...Thank you so much...

...seems pleasant enough, how hard can this be?
So our first "what the h*ll were we thinking?" moment came on our cab ride from Arusha to Moshi, when our driver pointed out the mountain in question...at first I thought he was referring to this gradually sloping hill covered in trees, but was soon corrected as the clouds (yes clouds) parted and the peak revealed itself...Kilimanjaro! The ice-capped, tallest free-standing mountain in the world was now before us, and with the realization that we would be starting to climb this beast the following day some doubts began to creep in...

It was a shame we had to bolt so quickly from the safari gang in Arusha, but with only two hours to spare to get to the kickoff meeting for our climb it was certainly urgent to get to Moshi asap, and fortunately our driver was able to deliver us there with 20 minutes to spare...

Checked into the hotel and made our way to the meeting room where we were to meet our fellow trekkers and lead guide...things were starting to get very real at this point as we went through the hazards, safety precautions, daily treks and finally the summit night expectations...nervous laughter was all around, I'm sure most were kinda thinking the same thing...finished off the evening with dinner and couple of beers before heading back to our rooms to pack and prepare for the morning departure...

There were 12 of us in total for the climb, and after breakfast we were off to run some errands (money for tipping, snack stop etc.) before finally arriving late morning at the entrance gates...we were doing the Machame route, also known as the "Whiskey Route", and it is one of the more popular/scenic trails though one of its most challenging as well due to the shorter itinerary...

The launch point was a beehive of activity, with porters, guides, other groups and mountains of equipment being sorted...we checked in at the main gate and then it seemed like a lot of just waiting around before we finally sat down to some lunch...we were all getting antsy at this point, I guess they must stagger the groups to avoid traffic jams but we were all eager to get going to get this adventure under way...finally our head guide Sam returned with some of the other guides, and after introducing them we got the signal to load up
Top of the World!Top of the World!Top of the World!

Well, Africa at least...Uhuru Peak, we made it! Holy shmokes it still seems a little unreal, a lot of km's and effort went into this...
and get going...*gulp*

First day was to be a fairly short hike (comparatively!) of about 4 hours, mostly through a rainforest that was lush with vegetation and trees as well as a constant mist in the air...we were briefed to go slow, and the lead guide set a pretty slow pace, but most of the gang was amped up and set off at their own speeds so after about thirty minutes or so we had all split up...as there were six guides or so in our crew none of us were out of their site which was great, but I have to admit I struggled with pace and became a bit frustrated/concerned about the whole enterprise...fortunately one of the guides grabbed me about an hour from camp and tuned me up, telling me to get behind him and walk as he walked, which was slower than I had been going...seemed a bit silly but after hiking for an hour straight without stopping the light bulb went on in my head and I realized that this is what they had been preaching: Pole-Pole (slow in Swahili). Not only did this allow me to hike for longer periods of time, it
Shira Camp SunsetShira Camp SunsetShira Camp Sunset

Magnificent.....
was setting the tone for altitude acclimatization that was the key to successfully making it to the top...got it!

Finally made it to our first camp (I was last in, a trend that would continue for the rest of the trip) where we were to meet the rest of the crew supporting us...there had to be around 40 of them: porters, cooks, water-dude (Frog!) and other support staff, it was quite the outfit...we each had what I referred to as a "handler", basically a personal porter that would greet us when we got to camp, take our day pack and make sure we were comfortable when we arrived which was really cool...my guy was Rayzwan (sp?) and it truly made a difference always seeing him first after long days of hiking, always starting with a hug and him taking my pack...most of the time they would hike out to meet us and walk in the last twenty minutes or so singing and dancing, always lifted our spirits!

Dinner and nightly briefing that evening; food was really good even in those rugged conditions, and health checks were done to make sure our blood oxygen levels were doing okay (if the reading dipped below 60 I think they would immediately move you to lower altitudes and off the mountain, your climb suddenly coming to an end...some nervous joking and apprehension would accompany the nightly checks, and fortunately we all passed with flying colours)...we were also read the riot act about our paces, most were going too fast and were instructed to follow the lead guide from now on or the chances of a successful ascent would dwindle...some grumbling but we all agreed to abide...

Woke the next morning to frost on the tent and ground, but also to a beautiful morning with the snow-capped peak looming over us...at the very least it looked a bit closer than it did the previous morning, but far enough away to remind us we still had some miles to cover...after coffee and breakfast we gathered our things, sorted out the days' worth of water and were off again...Day 2 was not going to be very long either, I think 4-5 hours and as we were leaving quite early we were to get to the next camp by early afternoon...challenging day but with the new pace being adhered to by all it was pleasant enough...the landscape was slowly changing, we were long out of the rainforest and the vegetation was slowly starting to shrink and become sparser, certainly getting rockier...nothing major to report, other than the speed at which the weather conditions could and did change...started in beautiful sun, then cloud, then some rain, then more sun, cloud etc., you really had to be on your toes and expect the unexpected at all times...this would prove to be the rule of thumb for the remaining days so a good introduction...

Arrived at camp 2, Shira Camp, early afternoon, and as we had some time to kill before dinner we went on a short walk to check out some caves...this was more of a distraction I think so the crew could finish setting up the camp without tripping over us so all good, and as it turns out a big welcome and introduction were being readied as well! We could see our crew of 30-40 in the distance, and shortly thereafter could hear them singing as we approached the camp, very cool...they all sang a number of songs, being led by the incredible Mr. Moe (he was really funny and entertaining!), before one by one they were coaxed out to the middle of the circle to introduce themselves, what their role was and where they were from, it was truly an amazing experience...once they had gone through their introductions it was now time for us travelers, so one by one we were called out to do our thing...and promptly after each of us had introduced ourselves the crew would sing an improvised song of some sort in Swahili about us, in my case I could see them all at the same time make a gesture about my beard and ball cap, it was really funny...and for the gals they would all sing in a high pitched falsetto, we were all doubled over laughing at this, what a truly awesome time and it really broke the ice between tourists and crew, one of my highlights of the entire climb to be honest...

Usual dinner and briefing that evening and then off to bed...woke to another chilly morning, and had settled into the dining tent to have some coffee and await breakfast when the tent magically lifted itself in the air and was removed by the porters, leaving us basking in the sun with our
The GangThe GangThe Gang

Good group of folks
coffees, brilliant! Lifted everyone's spirits and was certainly a great start to the day...this was going to be a longer one than the first two, with an ascent to Lava Tower at 4600 meters for lunch and some altitude acclimatization, then a hike back down to camp at around 3900 meters to sleep...I didn't relish the thought of giving up all those hard-earned meters but safety first as they say, it was all part of the process...

Again another day of weather being all over the map, and it was starting to get colder the higher we climbed...we were also introduced to our first snow as we approached Lava Tower, certainly a sobering reminder of how high we were getting and a sign of things to come...it was pouring rain when we arrived, but our fantastic crew had of course beaten us there and set up the kitchen and dining tents so we had some shelter to get out of the elements...the wind was really blowing, ducked out to use our portable toilet and I had just emerged from the small bathroom tent when it blew down, needless to say I milked that "near death" experience for all it
Away We GoAway We GoAway We Go

Finally got going, this is the rainforest we trekked through most of Day 1...
was worth over lunch...lol...

Time to start heading towards camp, we would begin our descent on a very steep and slippery slope which conveniently had a stream running down it...slipped and fell a couple of times producing some spectacular bruises (fortunately nothing worse), and we were all kind of bunched up which wasn't making me very happy...it was pretty dangerous, and even after we made it down to the valley the weather was still miserable as was I, making for a long afternoon to Barranco Camp...most people think the ascent is harder than the descent, but after that day and a few more to come I much preferred going up...at any rate I was not in a very good mood by late afternoon, but twenty minutes or so from camp we rounded a bend only to be met by our porters singing and cheering, oh man what a sight for sore eyes (and ears!). Our personal porters had come out to greet us, big hugs all around and then they grabbed our day packs to walk us back to camp while singing all the way...I was really down but this simple gesture put a big smile on my face and completely changed my mood for the better, I still get a bit emotional thinking about it...

Woke to a beautiful morning, this was to be the beginning of two long days and the hardest part of the excursion...we had a solid 7-8 hours of climbing ahead on Day 4, including passing by the Barranco Wall which was supposed to be a bit dangerous...then camp for a few hours and bit of rest, followed by the summit attempt beginning a midnight that night...*gulp*!

I really enjoyed this day of hiking, we had all settled in to a manageable pace for a couple of days now which kept us moving up steep trails and down into beautiful valleys, the weather held for the most part as far as I remember, and we all made it safely to Barafu Camp, our last stop before striking out for the summit...the infamous Barranco Wall was not that bad, you had to basically hug the wall for about a ten foot stretch as the path narrowed and it was a long way down behind you but it was over quickly...my hands however were absolutely freezing by the time we arrived at camp, forgot
Last One InLast One InLast One In

...to our first camp Machame...
my gloves in the pack the porters had, so signing in was a bit of an adventure...we were also now on what felt like the moon, nary a shrub or plant as far as the eye could see, and man was it windy! We were told to grab a nap before dinner, slept a bit but kept thinking the tent was going to blow away, prepared myself to wake up in Kansas as well...

Haven't really mentioned much about the altitude and its effect on folks: K and I were fortunately not affected at all, though most of the rest felt it in one form or another...witnessed dizziness, nausea, vomiting to name a few, but fortunately nothing too severe to force anyone to abandon the climb (and again all blood/oxygen levels passed each evening). The joking and lightheartedness around the dinner table had begun to lessen after the second night I would say, with loss of appetite and headaches beginning to affect some of the folks...

So dinner, final pep talk for the ascent that night and then told to grab some more sleep while we could...wake-up time was to be 11pm, some quick coffee and snacks and
Morning View from Machame CampMorning View from Machame CampMorning View from Machame Camp

...not too shabby...
then a midnight sharp departure, things were getting very real at this point to say the least...sorted out all the layers we were going to wear and stuffed them into our sleeping bags to warm them up and then we waited...yeah, none of us slept I'm sure...the magical hour then arrived, started slipping on all of our layers and slowly stumbled over to the dining tent...some last minute instructions, sorted out the water and at the stroke of midnight we began...

A clear night with very few clouds, a crescent moon rising on the horizon as we made our way by the light of our headlamps through the camp and eventually to the base of the slope...the wind was really howling though, and when we reached the first bits of ice/snow it seemed to be grabbing handfuls of the stuff and throwing it in our faces...this would last for hours, until around sun-up I would say...slowly we went in single file, zig-zagging our way up the mountain, catching glimpses of the ever-rising moon when we turned to our right, and the glimmering lights of Moshi in the valley below when we turned left...it's funny, the lights of Moshi always
Machame CampMachame CampMachame Camp

...ah our tents, with big green dining tent on the right, and wee toilet tent in the background...
gave my morale a bit of a boost, thinking of all the folks tucked into bed in much warmer temperatures...a couple of the others said it made them feel lonely seeing the lights, everyone was in their own little headspace...

Plugged away for a while when our guides signaled for a break, I made a point of not looking at my watch when we were moving but saw then that we had been going for about two hours at that point...a good dent in the climb but still a ways to go, four hours in fact just to sunrise...it was slow going on the ice covered path and slippery at times so you really had to have your wits about you...the crew was very good about checking on us to make sure we had what we needed, and would grab day packs if someone was struggling...Mr. Moe and another porter or two had been included in the ascent for more support, and it was pretty awesome hearing them singing, cheering us on as we stumbled along in the dark, really kept our spirits up...put us to shame though as we gasped for air most of the way...haha...

The moon continued to rise, and Moshi slowly began to disappear as we started rounding the mountain for the push to Stella Point, launch point for the summit...we were five hours into the climb now when traces of daylight started to appear in the East, and we were told that we would all feel like brand new babies when the sun came up...was certainly looking forward to that, especially since all we had been looking at were headlamps in the distance and the boots in front of us...another stop to get some water, by now our water-bladders had frozen so had to use the backup bottles we were carrying...I was pumping sugar in at the rest stops via mini Mars bars, and generally feeling pretty good about the climb at that point...

The sun finally showed itself, well not really as it was behind some clouds but the light was very welcome, and it had a noticeable difference on the mood as everyone seemed to perk up bit...I think we should have been at Stella Point for sunrise, so we were behind schedule but progress was still being made...we were tired though, our group had stretched out a bit so
Our GuidesOur GuidesOur Guides

...taking a breather...
we weren't all together, and we were now coming to the final steep push to get up to Stella Point...frankly at one point I wasn't sure I was going to make it during this part of the ascent, exhaustion had set in and the self-negotiations had started: Just get to Stella Point, that will be good enough? Right? Maybe? It was a struggle, the hardest part of the climb, but after what seemed like an eternity (an hour?) I could see a plateau, with people milling around, holy shmokes Stella Point!

I had made it, I was exhausted and now a big decision was looming: was this good enough? Fortunately I didn't have to wait long to have it answered with our lead guide Sam shouting: GO! GO! GO! So without any time to really think about it I fell in behind Eli, one of our guides, wove my way among some rocks and was on the plateau leading to the summit! Absolutely stunning, we only had about 100 meters left of elevation over a distance of about a kilometer so the trail was not steep, and with few clouds and the sun shining on the ice it
Above the CloudsAbove the CloudsAbove the Clouds

...it was around here we realized how high we had hiked so far, very cool...
was breathtaking...lost in thought while admiring the views when Eli pointed to something in the distance, the Uhuru sign and the top! Couldn't believe it, we just had to round a corner and that would be it...a wave of emotions overcame me, thinking back on all the km's hiked, the conditions, sleeping bags and tents, rain/sun/snow/winds, the awesome crew, the high and low points, everything just came flooding back in those final steps...and there in the distance was the Lovely K waving from Uhuru! (K and I had gotten separated at some point, we were both okay with that as we wanted each of us to go at their own comfortable pace), Big celebratory hugs as I finally got there, just an incredibly overwhelming feeling to realize we had both made it! Snapped the obligatory proof-of-summit pics in front of the sign before we were told to get moving to begin the descent...

All in all it was about 7.5-8 hours to reach the top, longer than I think everyone anticipated and now we still had a few more to go to get back to camp...we saw some of our group at the top, and on the way down we came across one of our guides basically dragging one of the gals up the final stretch, only to see them go flying by us on the way down after summiting to get to lower altitudes ...it was crazy, apparently one of the other gals was whisked to the top and back down as well, both struggling with altitude so it seemed a bit extreme but they can say we all made it to the top, and fortunately down in one piece...

Down, ah yes, mentioned above that I found that more difficult, so here we went again...was doing alright, but at this time fatigue had more than set in which made the descent that much more challenging...we took a different route down, and after getting below the snow pack it was a lot of loose shale...the guides were used to it, with more from other groups dragging climbers down at top speed to lower altitudes, but it was slow going for some of us...did a spectacular slow-motion somersault at one point when I slipped and couldn't hold it, landed gently on my back and just broke out laughing, much to the relief of one of our guides who
Hiking in the RainHiking in the RainHiking in the Rain

...weather would change quickly...
came racing up to check on me...

It was a long way down, and using muscles in my legs that weren't used on the way up, so now everything was sore and getting worse...then about an hour outside of camp we could see a cluster of people in the valley, only to get there and realize it was our porters again that had come to meet us! What a sight for sore eyes, they had some fruit juice for us, and after a short break they each grabbed our day packs and walked with us for the final stretch, magical...

Arrived back at camp around 11:30am I think, so almost 12 hours up and down, man was I tired...told to go have a nap, which may have been the best one of my life, before being wakened a couple of hours later for lunch...we actually were not camping there that night, we had to continue hiking to the next camp! At lunch we were given the option as to which camp to hike to, either the high camp at around 2 hours or the lower one at 4 or so, which would impact the amount of hiking we
Our G WarriorsOur G WarriorsOur G Warriors

Introduction songs and dancing at Shira Camp on Day 2...
had to do the following day to get to the end of the trail...needless to say it didn't take long to come to a unanimous choice of the high camp, everyone was spent and just looking to get this day over with...

Uneventful couple of hours but pleasant enough...greenery was starting to reappear so we knew we were heading in the right direction, and before long we arrived at camp...it was a weird/misty evening, everyone was exhausted but also in great spirits for having made it to the top and down again safely...a nice surprise when the chef brought out a cake for us to celebrate the climb, complete with altitude and congrats on it, truly special...sliced off some pieces for us and sent a good chunk back for the porters, started sorting out the tips and then a race to see who could get into their sleeping bag first...

Another glorious morning, and after breakfast the whole crew congregated and sang us a farewell and thank you song, we would be parting company at this point with the exception of the guides...again emotional, we presented the tips to the various people and then it was just hugs
The GangThe GangThe Gang

Lots of folks to support us, fantastic crew...
all around, we really enjoyed these guys (and one gal!), they worked really hard for us and truly made this an adventure to remember...

A loooonnnnggg final day, at least for me at any rate...the first hour or so was pretty steep and you really had to be paying attention, another reason why we were all glad to tackle it after a night's rest and not the previous day...after a while it got into a more gentle descent, but about two hours in to the hike my legs just had it, turned to rubber and basically said "yep, were done"...oh man it was a struggle, didn't take long for the rest of the gang to disappear in front of me, and all that was left were some guides laughing and joking amongst themselves as I hobbled down the final stretch...I honestly at a few points didn't think I was going to make it my legs were so sore, and about three hours later we rounded a bend to finally see the exit gate and civilization again, I couldn't believe I had made it! And there in the distance, the Lovely K holding aloft two Kilimanjaro beers, with two of
Lovely K and Mr. MoeLovely K and Mr. MoeLovely K and Mr. Moe

Her personal porter...
the Aussies from the group following behind and clapping, what a fantastic reception to finish up to! Big hugs all around (I'm guessing you sense a theme by now?) and then basically inhaled the beer, likely will never have another that will taste that good...

Lunch then back to our starting hotel, a quick wash and then final get together with the guides...a nice little ceremony where we were each presented with a Kilimanjaro bracelet and formal certificate of our climb, as well as a final chance to say thank you and goodbye to all the guides, big hugs and then they were on their way back to their own lives...

It's really hard to sum up the experience other than to say it was absolutely amazing, yet also likely the hardest thing I have ever done...we were fortunate to have a good group of travelers that got on well enough, no complainers, just laughs...I can't say enough about our guides and crew, they kept us safe, laughing, fed and motivated to go the distance, they were indispensable to the success of the whole endeavour...the range of emotions felt over the course of the week was all over
Mr. Pole Pole and RayzwanMr. Pole Pole and RayzwanMr. Pole Pole and Rayzwan

Jokingly started calling myself that as I was the slowest (Pole Pole is "slow" in Swahili), along with my new compadre Rayzwan who took care of me at camp...
the map and intense, an adventure I am still digesting and will leave a lasting impression on me for a long time to come...if you have gotten this far thank you for following along on my Kili excursion, again something I will never forget...


Additional photos below
Photos: 56, Displayed: 39


Advertisement

Ice Cap at SundownIce Cap at Sundown
Ice Cap at Sundown

We were getting closer..
Sunset above the clouds...Sunset above the clouds...
Sunset above the clouds...

...think that's Mt. Meru in the background...
Sunrise at ShiraSunrise at Shira
Sunrise at Shira

...always liked seeing the sun in the morning...
Breakfast al fresco...Breakfast al fresco...
Breakfast al fresco...

...this was a nice way to start the day...
Setting off Day 3...Setting off Day 3...
Setting off Day 3...

...vegetation starting to dwindle...
Lava Tower CampLava Tower Camp
Lava Tower Camp

4600 meters, first encounter with snow, had lunch and headed back down to Barranco Camp
Death TrapDeath Trap
Death Trap

Toilet tent just after I escaped...
Made it!Made it!
Made it!

Being greeted with singing and dancing by our porters 20 minutes or so from Barranco camp, a very welcome sight!
Morning Views from BarrancoMorning Views from Barranco
Morning Views from Barranco

...again not a bad way to start the day...
Views along the trail...Views along the trail...
Views along the trail...

...Day 4 heading to Barafu Camp...
Well it was clear...Well it was clear...
Well it was clear...

...moments before the pic was snapped...
Premature Celebration?Premature Celebration?
Premature Celebration?

At least the clouds parted and could see the peak...
Rest stop...Rest stop...
Rest stop...

...pulling off the rain gear...


28th January 2020

wow!!
What an achievement and incredible adventure!
29th January 2020

Thanks Jackie...
...it was an incredible experience, really glad I did it...
30th January 2020
Top of the World!

The Climb
Congratulations!
30th January 2020
Top of the World!

Thanks guys!
It was certainly the biggest physical challenge I have ever undertaken, but worth every minute of it...
30th January 2020
Sunset above the clouds...

Majestic Mountains
Kilimanjaro is on everyone's Wish List. Well done it embraced yours. I have posted this pic of Mt Meru in TB'S "Majestic Mountains" thread in the Photography Forum. Check 'em out.
31st January 2020
Sunset above the clouds...

Thanks Dave!
Very cool, didn't even know the forum existed, thanks for posting these there...
30th January 2020
Stella Point

5756...18,885
Congrats from every point. Kilimanjaro conquered...what's next?
31st January 2020
Stella Point

Ah thank you...
As for what's next not sure, the only climbing/trekking I think we will entertain is maybe the Annapurna area in Nepal and perhaps some hiking in the Patagonia region of Chile...maybe Toubkal if we ever get back to Morocco? How about yourself?
14th February 2020

Way to go Mr Pole Pole! Sounds like you had a pretty great adventure and lots of memories of Kili. I hope to return one day and summit myself. Your blog just motivated me to make it sooner.!
14th February 2020

Thank you thank you...
Fantastic experience, glad to hear my blog has reignited the desire to return and conquer!

Tot: 2.895s; Tpl: 0.083s; cc: 35; qc: 132; dbt: 0.1021s; 2; m:saturn w:www (104.131.125.221); sld: 1; ; mem: 1.8mb