Kilimanjaro, while not a technical hike, is still a very challenging climb. Anyone who has climbed it should be quite proud of the accomplishment. I am privileged to have had the chance to attempt it and lucky to have succeeded! And so for the other 15 trekkers in our group who also climbed it.
The average age of our group of 16 was 42 (with the median at 46, in case that tells you something!). And we all made it thanks to many factors: our training, our willpower, our support of each other, the collegiality of the group, etc. But just as important were the leadership and support our guides provided. Minding our safety first, they also bonded well with us at different times and in different ways.
The trekkers and the guides can certainly call their efforts heroic or near-heroic. We had a trekker climb with a broken hand for 3 days unknown to anyone but herself. Another had bronchitis. And another had severe nausea during the ascent. They ALL made it. They -Liz, Laura, and Olivia- are definitely heroes to me. The guides worked SO hard on behalf of us. Not only minding our safety but also helping us during summit night ANY way they could. And, for a couple of us, also on the descent through the scree. They certainly are heroes to those of us whom they helped achieve this fantastic feat!!
However, all that said, the real heroes of Kilimanjaro are the folks who make everything happen seamlessly in the background so that trekkers like myself can have a wonderful trek, a comfortable camp experience, and good food and water to sustain us. The real heroes of Kilimanjaro are the porters.
Many of those porters, we never got to meet. They worked behind the scenes. They didn’t hike along us. They carried our main luggage, tents, and everything else needed at camp. They brought water to camp. They cooked our meals. They set up and took down tents. They set up and cleaned the portable toilets. They hauled trash away so we would leave the mountain as unscathed as we found it.
As we walked up the mountain, porters from our group or other groups passed us along the paths carrying their loads. They moved fast and many did not have the right gear. These men work hard and do hard work to earn a living. Many of them are just picked up at the start of the route by the local lead guide to be hired for the trek right before we get going. Some become part regulars. And some eventually become guides.
As porters passed us along the path, we always cleared the way so they could pass us and not be bogged down by us. Partly this was, admittedly, self-serving as the earlier they got to camp, the more ready the camp would be when we arrived. But when we started doing this, that was not what we were thinking about. We were strictly thinking about making things easier for them in appreciation for all they do.
The evening after we came off the mountain, after we all cleaned up, we all met at our hotel to celebrate and thank our guides and porters for their great work. The video clip below is of very amateurish quality but I think the joy these guys live with is self-evident. We loved their singing during the hike and we enjoyed celebrating!
Other posts about climbing Kilimanjaro: