A day after returning from Safari it’s time to depart on the Climb of a Lifetime. Climbing Kilimanjaro was an adventure that had buzzed around my head for around 6 months, after returning from Cycling Xinjiang and looking for a new challenge.
The Chinese New Year holiday 2016 was the next possible time and now it’s here and it’s time to climb that mountain.
I had chosen a 7 day trek on the Machame Route. Our travel group includes 8 participants, mostly US American between 19 and 70 years of age and 46 members of staff including porters, guides and cooks.
Day 1 – The MACHAME GATE to the MACHAME CAMP
9,400’ ~2865m – 6.8 mi – 5-7 hrs – Strava Route
Rain! We manage to depart while it’s sunny but as soon as we start ascending up into the rainforest it starts to rain and won’t stop. We go up and up. Pole, pole (slowly, slowly) as our guides say. Despite the rain, the day is an easy one to acclimatize and get into the steady rhythm of walking up-hill.
In the late afternoon we reach our first campsite. The Machame Camp is located on a busy plateau with hundreds of other people. Thankfully, our team does a great job at setting us up on the outskirts and it’s time to get to know one another better start bonding, as we will spend the next 7 days together.
Dinner is served in the dining tent and we have Spaghetti Bolognese and Broccoli soup.
As night falls the sun breaks through the clouds and the mountain briefly reveals its summit.
Day 2 – MACHAME CAMP to SHIRA CAMP
12500’ ~3810m – 2.8 mi~5 km – 4-6 hours – Strava Route
We are being woken up at 6.30am with a cup of hot tea (or coffee if you like..) – no problem, as anticipation is running high and I’m ready to go. We pack up and eat porridge, eggs and sausage for breakfast.
Another day with lots of steep hills and then finally some flat and downhill towards the end. We finally are above the clouds at around 4.000m of altitude. We seem to be quick hikers and arrive at camp shortly after lunchtime at 12.30pm.
The afternoon consists of food after food – one meal follows another as we start out with first lunch, then tea time and finally dinner. We have rice and beef, as well as leek soup and feta with fried banana with honey for dinner. All in all not bad.
After dinner the sun breaks for a spectacular sight. Mt. Meru shimmers in the distance and the clouds float quickly past some closer lower peaks.
Throughout the day I had to pee around 12 times – I am uncertain whether this is due to the Diamox that I’m taking to prevent altitude sickness or if am taking the order to stay hydrated a bit too serious.
Day 3 – SHIRA CAMP to BARRANCO CAMP
13,000’ ~ 3962m – 5.6 mi~10 km – 6-8 hrs – Strava Route
Our highest point today is at 15.200 feet.
We wake to the sun flooding over the sea of tents. The sky opens up and for a short, beautiful moment the summit is visible. The ultimate goal. The reason we’re here.
It’s going to be a long day and we’re headed steadily upwards. Shortly after leaving camp the all too familiar rain returns and the higher we climb the colder it gets.
For lunch we reach the Lava Tower.
Rain turns into sleet and I get a first taste of what cold is going to feel like. The lava tower is hidden in the clouds and we can’t see it at first, but we are blessed with an unexpected 5 minutes of sunshine, which fog and rain lighten up, so we can get a glimpse of the tower.
Leaving the dining tent to head back out for the afternoon hike takes a bit of extra energy as we decide to try and sit out the shower of sleet.
From the Lava Tower, today’s journey is a downward one. We climb down a waterfall and then into the plains until we reach our camp for the day about an hour later.
Day 4 – BARRANCO to KARANGA CAMP
13100’ ~ 3992m – 2.2 mi~3.2 km – 4-5 hrs – Strava Route
We start the day with Barranco Wall, an apparently infamous part of the climb that my fellow mountaineers are all familiar with, however, I didn’t research so much prior to this trip, so it’s news to me.
Reaching the top of the wall is the reason for extra joy as this was the first true ‘climbing’ of this trip and the sun shining down on us is making this a super fun day.
The day is a tough one, but we are being rewarded with a terrific sunny afternoon, during which we put up our legs and let the sun warm our faces while we take turns gazing at both the summit and Mt. Meru in the distance.
Day 5 – KARANGA CAMP to BARAFU CAMP
15,300’ ~ 4663m – 2.2 mi~3.5 km – 4-5 hrs – Strava Route
We start early and with sunshine onto today’s hike. Once again I am able to wear shorts and in under 4 hours and before lunch time we reach Barafu camp. In general we have been quite a bit faster than indicated in the guidance provided to us and today this is extra exciting, as this is base camp.
The landscape today is “Star Wars meets Mars” and towards the end of today’s climb you can’t miss how the air is getting thinner.
Camp is quiet, the looming summit has everyone in its grip and after a very early dinner we try and catch a few hours of sleep before the alarm will go off at midnight.
Day 6 – Day 6: BARAFU to SUMMIT to MWEKA CAMP
19,340’~5,895m – 13 mi~21 km (5 km ascent/ 12 km descent) – 7-8 hrs ascent~4-6 hrs descent – Strava Route to the Summit and back to Base Camp and then down to Mweka Camp
At midnight on the dot our assistant guide Singer is at my ‘doorstep’ to ensure I get up in time. Now is the time to bundle up and wear all the clothes I brought, have a hot cup of tea and then start the 4 hour hike to Stellar Point and from there to continue another 45 minutes to the summit.
I quickly realize that this summit day is a tough one. Ice cold wind is howling about as soon as we step foot outside the camp and the higher we climb, the more merciless it becomes. Extreme wind chill against which my Chinese heating pads and many layers are powerless make progress harder and harder. Each step takes an extra effort and we slow down to snail speed. Nonetheless we consistently keep passing other groups which leads to us reaching Stellar Point long before sunrise. This is great and not great – no sun means no warmth and at this point I cannot feel toes or fingers and have an extreme cold inside of me. We do stop for the essential group photo, however, quickly press on to keep moving to reach the summit as quickly as possible – only to then be able to descend again as quickly as possible.
The moment we reach the summit, the sun comes up – however, my fingers and toes refuse a comeback.
With my hands being rather immobile I don’t take a single picture and can’t wait to start the descend.
We make it down the mountain in record speed, encountering hundreds of people still trying to make their way up as we skate/run down the lose gravel bits of the mountain.
We reach base camp and pass out for an elongated snooze before lunch.
Shortly after lunch time we start into the second part of the day: the descend. From here on out there is only one way and that’s down. Today all the way to the Mweka Camp, where we arrive at around 5pm. We are back down at only ~3.000m and this is our last night in the tent. I am not sure how to feel..
Day 7 – Day 7: MWEKA CAMP to Exit Mweka Gate
5,400’~1645m) – 6.4 mi ~10.3 km – 3-4 hrs – Strava Route
It’s the last day and anticipation for a shower is starting build. The entire camp seems to be up long before dawn and as I wake up I hear people singing and chatting and a great mood is undeniably in the air. By 4.30am pots are being banged around to the point where ear plugs don’t do a thing and thus I decide to just get up early. As I exit my tent I see a guard carrying an AK47 around – I find this scary and nobody can offer an explanation but between that the transgender hookers that we spied the previous evening its clear that it’s time for the last breakfast in the dining tent and the essential Kilimanjaro song, which the crew sings for us.
Everyone is stoked about eh cold Kilimanjaro beer which will await us at the bottom and we head down extra fast so that we arrive back at the gate before noon.
Within the next 45 minutes the entire crew makes it to the bottom and quickly the first cold Kili is topped up with a second well deserved one and then we need some lunch to balance things out.
Finally each participant receives their summit certificate and more African dance and song follow. Our youngest group member Catriona turned 19 on this trip and the team has prepared cake – I get super emotional and cry a lot and what can I say: Trip of a LIFETIME!!
Magical!! Life changing.
At night we’re back in Arusha and go out all together to celebrate. We hit up a local restaurant and sit outside, drinks liters of beer, eat all kinds of game with our hands and just love the African life. Best trip.
See the full Album on Climbing Kilimanjaro here. Pictures taken by both Tim Fulton and myself.