Hello my friends. Right now I am sitting in Dar es Salaam recuperating from the past two weeks of constant hiking and traveling. As promised, here are some photos and a summary of my kili expedition. A very good friend of mine recommended a local guide, Wilfred Moshi (owner of Kili-treks), to lead the climb. I did a lot of research and found that not only did Wilfred have the best price, but he was also very professional and accommodating. After numerous emails, Wilfred and I managed to put the whole trip together, which included a four-day safari after the climb, in less than a month. I couldn’t have asked for better service or a better person to work with.
I decided to climb Mt Kilimanjaro only a couple of months ago. I had heard that it was not a technical climb and could be easily done by anyone in good shape. However, the more I read about it the more I started to get worried about the altitude. The highest peak I have ever climbed was 14500ft. Uhuru, the highest summit of Mt. Kili is 19,346ft! Not only is it the highest mountain in Africa but it also one of the highest volcanoes in the world. I read everything I could, including fellow blogger, Megans’ (View from Dar), post about climbing kili. I started to realize that maybe I should have given myself more than a week after my Ethiopia trip to prepare for the climb!
I decided that some new gear was definitely in order if I had any chance of surviving the freezing temperatures and high winds near the summit. I get cold easily so I wanted to make sure that I was nice and cozy both at night and during the days. Many people recommended getting a big down coat for the summit. However, down coats are very expensive and I knew I would probably never wear it again. In the end I decided that layering was the best possible option, so I decided to buy a gortex shell and an insulated wind stopper. For summit day I planned on wearing two long sleeved merino wool shirts, an 800 down filled jacket (which I wrote about here), the windstopper and gortex shell. For the bottoms I bought fleece leggings and gortex wind-stopper pants and gortex gaiters. Although I have never used trekking poles before, I decided that I would get some just in case. If you are reading this and planning on climbing Kili, I have assembled a gear list and will post it in my next post. Of course, this is all based on personal preferences, but hopefully the list will give you a basis from which to start from.
I arrived in Kilimanjaro on Sunday night and met with my guide Calvin from Kili-treks (Wilfred was on the mtn. with another group and would meet us later in the week). He went over the entire 7-day itinerary and did a gear check to make sure I had everything. We were going to be hiking the Machame Route and I was allowed to bring one duffel bag weighing no more than 20 kgs.
Calvin and the crew arrived early Monday. The crew included 9 people in all: Guide, assistant guide, cook, camp manager, waiter, and four porters. I had no idea that so many people were needed for two hikers. Apparently, treks to Mt. Kili employ about ~20,000 porters at any given time! When we got to the Gate, there were crowds of porters all assembling and weighing their gear (there are weight restriction rules). This was definitely a bigger production than I had ever imagined.
We began the hike after registering with the National Park. One of the most interesting things about climbing Mt. Kili is the different ecosystems one passes through as they ascend. The Machame Route Gate was located at 6,012ft and located in the rainforest zone. The first day we hiked for about 6 hours and reached Machame Camp (9,930ft) around 3pm. It was a great hike because it was very quiet and we barely saw any other hikers.
When we arrived at camp our tents had already been set up for us and the campsite was very quiet. The waiter, Joshua, brought hot water to wash and I changed into more comfortable clothes. When I exited my tent 30 mins later I was completely surrounded by other tents. The campsite had literally turned into a massive tent city. Again, I had no idea so many people were going to be hiking the same route. At 5pm, the cook prepared tea and had a platter of popcorn and cookies waiting in the cooking tent. Dinner commenced at 6pm and I feasted on delicious soup followed by rice, vegetables, and meat sauce. It was hearty and delicious. It was a huge difference from the ramen noodles I was used to eating when camping! The weather remained cool and I slept very comfortably that night.
Day two we woke up around 6:30am and breakfast was served at 7:00am. The cook made delicious porridge, potato pancakes, scrambled eggs and toast. With my belly full we began the hike towards Shira Camp (12,620ft). We had passed through the rainforest section the day before and were now hiking through the heather section, characterized by mist and fog near the forest.
There were a lot more hikers on the trail and it was fun speaking Swahili with all the passing porters. I was happy that my Swahili lessons came in handy and I was learning new phrases every day. The most common one you will hear is “pole pole,” meaning, “slowly.” The best way to climb Kili is just that, slowly- one step at a time. I did not feel the hike was at all labor intensive and I was still waiting for the ‘hard’ part. The night was cool again and I slept well, eagerly anticipating the next day.
The third day I woke up in a frost covered tent. It was very chilly and the last thing I wanted to do was crawl out of my sleeping bag and put on cold clothing. I had always made it a habit to put my clothes in the bottom of my sleeping bag to avoid this very situation, but unfortunately, this time it did not help. I headed to the cooking tent to avoid the cold and received a warm reprieve from the hot cup of tea waiting for me. Fortunately, it was going to be a short hike to Barranco Camp (13,110ft).
That day I happily sang Swahili songs as we climbed closer and closer towards the Uhuru Summit, always looming in the background- majestic and seemingly out of reach. We had the option to trek an extra two hours to get to Lava Tower, but the weather was not cooperating. So we decided to admire it from afar and instead get to camp a little early and enjoy some down time.
The next day was going to be a long one and we were scheduled to climb the ‘breakfast wall’ first thing in the morning. Stay tuned to hear all about it!
Until then, travel well and travel often!