Ashley and I finally put in a 40 hr week on this trip. Instead of our normal lazing about seeing different old buildings or sandy beaches, we had to hike for 40 hrs over 7 days to get to the the top of Kilimanjaro. To say the least, it left us battered, bloodied, and a quite a bit dirty. ( Ashley won't let me go into more details).
We ended up doing the Machame route up the mountain, in seven days to make sure acclimating wouldn't be a problem. We weren't alone on this hike, we had our hiking companions, Chauncey and Biao, and a team of porters and our guides Theday and August. (15 staff personnel for the four of us).
Day 1: 4 hrs of hiking thru the tropical rain forest from 1800 m to 3000 m of altitude. Overnight at Machame camp. When you think of Kilimanjaro you think of its snowy peak and forget it's only a few degrees from the equator. The base of the mountain is rain forest as the moist tropical air from the Indian Ocean unleashes a hellacious amount of rain when the clouds reach the mountain.
Once we reached the first camp, we got to see our home for the next week, that green little tent, and our dining room consisting of four camping chairs, a folding table and a candle. At least we didn't have to carry the gear.
Day 2: 8 hrs of hiking thru the moors and heather lands from 3000 m to 3840 m of altitude. Overnight at Shira Camp. A tough full day of hiking, particularly due to not being able to escape the rain during the second half of the hike it made slippery on some of the rocks. Also Ashley had her first hit of altitude sickness on this leg. Ashley putting on a brave face.
Scenic Shira camp with the summit looming overhead.
Day 3: 8 hrs of hiking thru the moors and heather lands with a bit of Alpine Desert from 3480 m to 3950 m with an ascent to 4600 m at the Lava Tower. Overnight at Barranco Camp. Yes, you read that right, on this tough day of hiking we got up to 4600 m, that's higher than any peak in the continental US. Not only was the altitude challenging, we kept getting that pesky precipitation. I use the technical term, because at different times it rained, hailed, and snowed on us as we were ascending to Lava Tower. Trying to figure out how to stop long enough to eat, but not get hypothermic from the cold and wet was not fun.
Beautiful Barranco Camp. So named because of the Barranco Wall in the background. We slept well that night knowing while we had to scale over the wall, we were in for a short hiking day.
Day 4: Only 4 hrs of hiking but it started with a scramble but the Barranco Wall. Altitude change from 3950 m to 4000 m. Overnight at Karanga Camp. It's not a good start to the morning when the guides take your hiking poles and tell you "They'll only get in the way" on the first part of the hike. They were right of course, as we had to scramble, often climbing with both hands and feet up the rock wall. In this picture you can see the people climbing up the wall,they're the multicolored line heading up the rock.
But once over, it was an easy short hike to Karanga. Since we hadn't worked up our appetites yet, the guides had us doing small hikes from camp to work on acclimatising. All of us get hit with some altitude sickness ( headaches, loss of appetite).
You can see the peak looming in the background, we are working our way from west to east around the peak to reach the summit route.
Day 5: Again only 4 hrs of hiking, but they know they can't wear us out. We start summitting at midnight on the end of the 5th day. Altitude change from 4000 m to 4600 m. Set up camp at Barafu. The whole landscape is this alpine desert. Few plants can grow because of the lack of rainfall and low air pressure, we mostly see some lichens and some cacti.
Once at camp, they feed us early, and make us take a nap, kinda like I'm back in kindergarten.
At this altitude you can see the other peak of Kilimanjaro with the clouds enveloping the lower peak.
Then dinner at 5 pm and back to bed. We need to be geared up and ready to start the final ascent by midnight.
Day 6: The final ascent, total of 16 hrs of hiking on the day. From 4600 m to 5895 m then eventually down to Mweka camp at 3100 m. . Yes, that ascent is just shy of 20,000 ft. And technically we started on Day 5, as we woke up at 11 pm got dressed and took in the final briefing. It was weird that they didn't feed us too much, prior to going up, but we soon found out why. We start the ascent just after midnight with the couple of hundred other trekkers, forming a human conga line illuminated by all of our head lamps. The first thing I notice is that my toes start to get tingly. I keep making fists with my toes to generate a little heat and keep frostbite at bay. As we keep climbing, we see the occasional person coming down, looking dejected. The altitude got em. Then we see the vomit, and realize that's why they didn't feed us after we woke up. The altitude just keeps making you nauseous. But our legs keep plodding along, "Pole-Pole" slowly-slowly in Swahili. The only thing keeping our spirits up is the portable, Bluetooth speaker we've got in the backpack, cranking out the tunes. It takes our minds off this slow death march. But even it has a point where it runs out of energy. Then as we are cold and as miserable as we have ever been, we realize the sun is rising. Hope and warmth are on their way.
And then the summit. We made it!
Relief and adrenaline start coursing through my veins. I finally start to take in the beauty of the summit. It seems like you can see to the end of the earth from here.
Sadly, these are the glaciers that are losing their battle against climate change. I am honored that I got the chance to see them.
Then we still have to descend. If you climb up 1300 m of elevation change, you gotta go down it as well. We get back to camp exhausted and hungry and can't figure out whether to sleep or eat. Sleep wins out. Then you find out, it's another 4 hrs to tonight's camp. I eat just enough to have the energy to go down
Day 7: 3 hr descent from 3100 m to 1800 m through some forest. Easy last day other than the sore muscles. Then crammed back into the van and civilization.
We've done it. Back to civilization. We get our certificates
And first showers in a week ( picture not available).
We are happy with what we accomplished and what we learned about ourselves in the process. That being said, we don't plan (or want) to head up, that mountain again.