Writing about our hike of Mt. Kilimanjaro is no easy task. What to share? Clearly the “facts” of the route, camps, durations, weather, gear, the day-to-day routine, etc. are all important elements of the story. But the more I thought about how to write about this experience, the more I realized I wanted to share how it felt first and foremost, covering some of the elements listed earlier as they fit into the overall story, instead of making those the focus. As I mentioned in another post, preparing for Kili is more than training and gear. As you will see over the series of writeups, the emotional element also applies to actually doing the climb. Let’s get going with Day 1!
The route and the climb
Well, before getting into the hike itself, a quick word about the route and the climb. We went up the Machame Route, known for its vistas and for not being as crowded as other routes. Also, Machame is a route with a higher likelihood of success than the so-called “Coca-Cola” Route (the Marangu Route) since it offers better altitude adjustment (climb high, sleep low; 6 days of ascent; etc.).
The climb itself is to Uhuru Peak. Mt. Kilimanjaro actually refers to the entire mountain, the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. Uhuru Peak is the highest point on the mountain and, therefore, in Africa! Uhuru Peak is the goal and the entry point to the summit area on this route is called Stella Point.
Getting going on Day 1: the Machame Gate and the wait
It starts on day 1 when, full of anticipation, the trekkers finish prepping the daypack they will carry on their backs and the other piece of luggage that will be taken from camp to camp by the porters accompanying our group.
We got up at the crack of dawn to head from our hotel (the awesome Honey Badger Lodge) to the hotel from which the mountain trek would leave, the Springlands Hotel, home base of Zara Tours who Trekking for Kids had hired to do our trek.
The ride to the Machame Gate, entry point to the Machame Route, could not start quickly enough. As with many things, one gets ready and then one waits. After we finished leaving some of our non-trek stuff in storage at the Springlands, our bus arrived and the process of loading up our trek bags began. Soon enough we were on our way to the Machame Gate. It seemed to take forever but it couldn’t have been more than 1 hour or hour-and-a-half. We were just so ready to get this climb going!
Once we arrived at the Machame Route, we proceeded to, you guessed it, sit and wait for about an hour. The reason, though, was quite simple: the permits had to be purchased by the lead guides. This process takes time as we were not the only ones there (fancy that!). This would be a reality throughout the trek: others are there with you. Not that we expected to be alone, mind you. Just that one never stops to consider that until one gets to this first gate. While it could have been chaotic, it really was not. We proceeded to eat our boxed lunches while we waited and took a few pictures to commemorate the start of our climb!
Another thing you can do while you wait is read the few signs posted with instructions and warnings for those starting to climb Kili!
We cheered when we saw our guide come over with paperwork – it meant we were ready to go. The funny thing is that we saw other guides come out around the same moment with their papers. You would think the first-come, first-serve approach would have led to guides coming out gradually and sequentially. Nope. It seems all permits were issued almost at the same time for all the groups waiting! That meant, everyone got going at the same time creating a little bottleneck at the entrance gate. We got to pass quickly through without waiting long so we were FINALLY on our way!!
The hike on Day 1
Day 1 was mainly going through a forest habitat starting at 6,000 ft (1,830 m) and ending at the Machame Camp at 10,200 ft (3,100 m).
It may have been the built-up anticipation but, for the most part, I didn’t feel the altitude wear on me as the day went on. We were fortunate it did not rain that day so the gaiters were not really needed (those green things I am wearing on my legs in the earlier photo to help prevent mud or pebbles from getting into our boots). This part of the trail is about the nicest one with some work done to create a good trail for part of the way.
We got to camp about 4:30 PM, five hours after we had started. We were thrilled at having completed our first day of 6 to get to the summit! While we knew we still had a lot of challenges ahead, it felt SO good to have one day under our belt! At this point we did our first book signing to show we were there – a requirement if we wanted to be issued an official completion certificate at the end of the hike.
The Machame Camp sits in an area with plenty of vegetation. This means we had more smaller animal life than we would have higher up; read, mice. Key here is to keep the tent zipped up when not coming and going! The Machame Camp has a toilet building that is pretty new. I heard it had both Western toilets and Turkish toilets, if those are the proper names for the fixture types. We also had a pair of portable toilets-tents and I preferred those… (less smelly).
In any case, getting to camp means setting up the sleeping tents and the mess hall tent. Normally the porters who carry these items and set them up get there ahead of the trekkers and the guides but on Day 1 we got there at the same time. So this day we got to watch them at work.
Once the tents were set up and before dinner was ready, I, like some of the other trekkers, got organized by washing up, taking out the items needed for the night (headlamp, etc.), and preparing the daypack for the next day. Oh, and the getting drinking water and treating it (Steripen worked wonderfully!) – a staple of the every day life on the mountain!
We got to enjoy a beautiful sunset before heading to the mess hall tent for dinner and an early bedtime so we could be well-rested for Day 2. Dinner included a hot soup, potatoes, fried fish, vegetables, and small bananas along with tea and hot chocolate. On to my first night camping ever and Day 2!
On to Day 2…
Other posts about the Kilimanjaro trek: