Well guys, we did it! We climbed 5895 m to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. It took us 6 days and a lot of grit and determination, but we got to meet some amazing people, and it was an incredible experience for us (although probably not one we’ll soon repeat 😂).
We flew from London to Kilimanjaro Airport via Nairobi on the 23rd of January, and we arrived at the Stella Maris hotel in Moshi around 11 am on the 24th. We had some lunch, spent some time reading in the sun, and then joined our fellow trekkers for a briefing of the next week and dinner. There were 10 of us who did the climb together, along with 28 porters and 4 Chief Experience Officers (CEOs) (guides). It’s amazing how quickly you become close with your fellow trekkers when you’re all using drop toilets (just a hole in the ground that you stand/squat over) and have no showers for a week. I don’t think I’ve ever drank so much water, gone pee so many times before, nor talked so much about optimum squatting positions. Most of it was “you had to be there” moments, but I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed so much and so quickly with a new group of people before. Although Rich was a big help and motivator to me throughout the whole trip, I honestly don’t think I could have made it to the top without the support and encouragement from the 8 others that were with us. That, and the fact that I was promised to be bought the first 3 rounds when we get to Oz if I made it to the top – Karl I will hold you to that; see you in a few months😉
Day 1 – Machame Gate to Machame Camp – 11 km, about 5-7 hours walking
Our group had breakfast together at the hotel before setting off for Machame Gate, which is where we started from. Once there, we had about a 3 hour wait whilst the porters sorted out our stuff and the CEOs got everyone permits as Kilimonjaro is a national park. We had lunch during this time, and then set off around 1.
It was a fairly steep start, and I think we all thought it was going to be a benchmark for the next 5 days, but we were wrong. Although day 1 was the hardest because we had just started and our bodies were warming up and getting used to the constant movement, it was probably the easiest in terms of the terrain and gradient, we just didn’t know it at the time! It started out very hot and sunny, and rained for about the last 30 minutes before we got into camp. It was about a 4 hour day, through the forests at the base of the mountain. We heard lots of birds and saw a Blue Monkey as well. When we got to camp, the amazing porters had already set up, and our tents and bags were waiting for us on arrival. We were given hot water to wash with in our tents, then had tea/coffee/hot chocolate in the mess tent. After a little while relaxing and chatting about our day, supper was brought in and served.
The food was delicious the whole time; which is amazing considering everything, including the gas stove, is carried up the mountain on the porters backs. We always had soup to start, then a main with either potatoes or rice, and then fresh fruit to finish. After 6 days it did get a little samesy, and although it still tasted good, we were all glad when we got back to the hotel and had some variety.
Even at the Machame Camp, which is 2835 m, it got dark and cold very quickly once the sun started to set. After supper, we got a briefing for the next day, a wake up and breakfast time, and headed to bed pretty quickly.
Day 2 – Machame Camp to Shira Camp – 5 km, about 5-6 hours walking
Every morning had the same pattern, the only difference was the time. On day 2, we got our wake up call at 7, our porters brought us tea and hot water in our tents, and we had breakfast in the mess tent around 7.30. Every day breakfast started with porridge made from Millet, which is grey in colour and super runny. Even the guides and porters had to put a ton of sugar and/or honey into it before eating it, and I have to admit, I really struggled with it because the taste was not pleasant. Rich, nicknamed the human vacuum by our group, had no such issues and went back for seconds every morning. After this we would usually get an omelette, some toast or pancake (very similar to a crepe, just thicker), and fruit. One of our CEOs would join us and remind us of the day, and once finished, we’d don our packs and start our hike.
Our hike on day 2 was a fairly nice one, starting in the forests and and moving into the alpine moorland where it became more rocky with less vegetation. After seeing only forests and trees on day 1 and the first half of day 2, as we got above the treeline, we started to get some incredible views of the surrounding land and realised just how high we had already climbed! At this time of year, which is the “dry season”, it’s fairly common to get clear skies and sunshine in the morning and early afternoon, with clouds and rain moving in during late afternoon and early evening. This was both a blessing and a curse, as it was nice to wake up to sunshine and start our days warm, and we were usually thankful when the clouds moved over as it helped cool us down. However, the last hour or 2 before camp was spent in the cold and rain, which meant that we got to our tents wet and cold, and struggled to dry off and warm up as the temperature dropped so quickly at night.
Day 2 was no exception to this, and about 2 hours before camp the clouds rolled in very quickly and the skies opened up. Unfortunately for us, we were just starting the transition from a dirt sloped path to a rocky cliff face, and the rain made this very slippery so it was slow going. I think this was the first point during the trip that it hit me that what we were attempting was not going to be the easy climb I had hoped for. This was also the first time we really got to see our guides in their element, as they quickly pulled together with encouragements and helping hands over the rough terrain.
Our trek was organised by G-Adventures and our CEOs: Barraka, Makori, Francis, and Dennis, were amazing the whole time. Whenever you thought you’d had enough, one of them was there to show you that you weren’t done yet and that you could do it. Throughout the entire trip, we were able to get to know these men and a little bit about them and their stories. It was humbling to hear them talk about their hardships and struggles, which was always done with a smile on their faces, even during the worst of times. Hakuna Matata in Swahili does, quite literally, mean “No worries”, and it is a phrase that we heard our guides say often and about everything. Going slow? Hakuna Matata. Need more water? Hakuna Matata. Feel like you need to stop? Hakuna Matata. Given how hard they work, they are the most laid back people I have ever met, and that, in turn, put us at ease and gave us a lot of trust in them, as well as our own abilities. There is no way we could have it to the top without the CEOs continually going beyond the call of duty.
Luckily for us, the rain stopped and the sun came out about 25 minutes before we got into camp, and we were given one of the best sunsets of the trip that evening over Kibo Peak. After making it to camp, drying off, and having a hot drink and snacks, our group was invited outside to be introduced to our 28 porters who made up our team. These 28 men were a range of ages and they all came from various different tribes around Tanzania (there are over 120 different tribes), however; they were as close as brothers and it was easy to tell that they chose to make their very difficult jobs fun. We spent around an hour with them as they sang us some traditional Tanzanian songs and danced some traditional dances for us. This music and dancing would become the soundtrack for the next 4 days, and they had this knack for knowing when we needed our spirits raised and they would burst into these songs, which never failed to put a smile on our faces. Where they get their energy from, I’ll never know, but we were glad of it as it went along way in helping us get through! After watching and participating in the singing and dancing, we watched the sunset over Tanzania before heading to the mess tent for dinner and our evening briefing and then bed.
Day 3 – Shira Camp to Barranco Camp via Lava Tower – 7 km, about 3-4 hours walking to get to Lava Tower. 3 km, about 2-3 hours walking to get to Barranco camp
Starting again around 7, we got up and had breakfast before heading off in the sunshine. Once again the hike started steep over rocky terrain, and this was when some people started to notice headaches and breathlessness. In Swahili they say ‘Pole Pole’, which rhymes with slowly and means slowly, slowly. They use this to encourage you to slow down, as the slower you go, the more time you have to adapt to the altitude. On our way to Lava Tower where we had lunch, which is 4600m, the guides explained that it is a good indication for people about how they will cope with the altitude. We had a couple people in our group who were hit hard by altitude sickness by this point, but fortunately for both Rich and me, neither on of us felt anything. When we got to Lava Tower, our porters had our mess tent up and lunch was in front of us within 10 minutes. Given that the porters left after us each day as they have to clean up camp, it was amazing how they were able to get to camp before us and have everything ready as well!
After lunch we had the 3 km hike down hill to get to Barranco Camp, which sits at 3950 m. They do this to help you acclimate, saying ‘climb high, sleep low.’ As much as I thought going up was hard, coming down was murder on my knees, especially coming down so steeply and so quickly. It did, however, give our breathing a rest, and there was definitely a lot more singing and talking in the afternoon going down then there was going up that morning. The rain did not disappoint, and in the afternoon before we got into camp it decided to join us once again. This day it stayed for the evening, meaning everyone was damp and cold throughout supper and when we went to bed. With limited light and no heat source, bedtime on the mountain is pretty quick after we finished eating, and after a long day, with an even longer one tomorrow, everyone did just that.