An Unexpected Climb of Blood Mountain

Appalachian Trail, north Georgia mountains, hiking, trail, Jarrard Gap, photos

I enjoy hiking and love exploring new routes.  Living in Atlanta, I have access to great hiking an hour and a half away at the start of the Appalachian Mountains, host of the famous Appalachian Trail (AT) that runs from north Georgia, all the way to Maine.  There is nice hiking closer to Atlanta but for longer and more strenuous hikes (and overall better vistas), I like going up to the north Georgia mountains.  I was looking for a long hike to do on a daytrip and was seeking a loop, instead of an in-and-out hike.  A good friend who also enjoys hiking offered to come along (I don’t hike solo) and we set out to do Jarrard Gap Trail connecting it to the Slaughter Creek Trail by traversing a 1.85 mile stretch of the AT for a total hike of around 5.75 miles.

While I have hiked in interesting places (like the Transylvanian Alps in Romania and Mt. Kilimanjaro), I am not an expert hiker who knows all the tricks of the trade, who is used to half-missing signage, who is secure in his inner compass, etc.  So I rely on maps and stuff I find on the Internet to create a route.  (My friend Val in Real Life would probably laugh her rear off at my lack of innate outdoor skills!)  On this occasion, my friend and I got a little complacent thinking we had clear in our head the route we were taking.  I will first share with you the hike we DID as it was definitely diverse in terrain and views, and enjoyable, if long.  I will then tell you what we THOUGHT we were going to do that day and highlight the difference between the two.  And then, I will share some lessons I learned!

The innocent start to the hike

After driving about 1.5 hrs, we arrived at Winfield Scott Lake, a rather small lake at the start of our hike.  To get there, we passed the entrance where visitors are supposed to take an envelope and place $5 in it and drop it in a locked box.  One is supposed to tear off part of the envelope and hang it on the rear view mirror of the vehicle (the number on that stub and the envelop in the locked box would match, telling the part ranger that this car has paid).  There were no envelopes to be found so we improvised and dropped the fee with a label that indicated my license plate in case someone checked.  We doubted anyone would be checking on this Sunday but we preferred being good citizens.  I took a picture of what I dropped in in case I needed it later to fight a citation!dollars

The hiked route: from Winfield Scott Lake via Jarrard Gap to the top of Blood Mountain and back

We entered the trail and, after crossing a narrow and single-side handrail bridge, we were dumped on a paved road where we saw a house with Halloween decorations still on the mailbox (this would prove useful later!).  There was a simple sign indicating the way and we walked maybe 0.25 miles on the road until the real entrance to the real Jarrard Gap Trail.

Appalachian Trail, north Georgia mountains, hiking, trail, Jarrard Gap, photos

On the Jarrard Gap Trail

The terrain was a nice upward slope but not too intense.  Nice views of the downhill on this winter day.  Once we exited this trail at the Jarrard Gap, we walked a little to the next set of signs which helped point the way in this 4-way intersection.  Except it was not all too clear as it did not have any of the names in our map.

Someone told us which way was the AT and we walked little on it until we saw the white mark that is used to mark the AT so on we went.  So we entered the AT in the direction of Blood Mountain.  There were slight (rolling, I would call them) downhills and flat bits of terrain.  We passed a camp area on the left after having taken a quick break, and soon on the right we saw the trailhead to the Freeman Trail which sort of parallels the AT (it re-meets the AT on the opposite end).  At that point, we were 2.6 miles from our beginning point and so we went off on Freeman Trail.

Freeman Trail is about 1.8 miles of very different terrain than what we had been on on the Jarrard Gap Trail and the AT.  At parts narrow, often very rocky (small and big), it was actually a fun trail to hit as long as one is not expecting a cozy walk.  We were not.  We even passed an icy spot on our way to the other end of the trail.

We understood we would exit Freeman Trail and take the AT in the direction back towards the entrance to Freeman Trail.  But, before setting on the AT, we stopped to eat our lunch at this popular intersection.  At this intersection, besides the AT and the Freeman Trail, there is a trail that leads to a parking lot 0.7 miles away.  That parking becomes probably the point with the shortest route up to Blood Mountain.

Appalachian Trail, north Georgia mountains, hiking, trail, Blood Mountain, Samsung Galaxy, photos, climb

At the spot where Freeman Trail hit the AT

By taking the AT in the direction of the entrance we took into the Freeman Trail, we were proceeding to ascend Blood Mountain which, at near 4,400 ft, is the fourth tallest mountain in the state of Georgia and one of the most popular mountaintops in the state with breathtaking views all the way to North Carolina and Tennessee.

The climb to the summit was hard.  Rocky and steep with many switchbacks, with vegetation everywhere.  It definitely worked out my gluteus maximus and my hamstrings!  I had the same trouble I had had on Day 4 on Kilimanjaro after passing the Barranco Wall segment of that hike.  I carried a 16-lb backpack as part of my training but ended up emptying my extra bottle of water (one that I carry precisely as a way to drop backpack weight should I feel like I need to; it is not the water I expect to consumer during the hike). It indeed was a challenge – an unexpected one – but I am glad I did it as it was good training for my upcoming hike and a great workout.

Appalachian Trail, north Georgia mountains, hiking, trail, Blood Mountain, photos, climb

On the way to the summit!

At some point, we reached a clearing with large smooth rocks replacing the ground, like how Stone Mountain is when you are climbing it.  We stopped briefly and chatted with some folks who had gone up ahead of us; they had not heard of Slaughter Creek (which was a little unnerving but they had come from the “nearby” parking lot so they were likely not expecting to hit the creek on the other side of the mountain).  From this clearing, one could see Stone Mountain and Atlanta in the distance.  That was very impressive given how far north we were.

Appalachian Trail, north Georgia mountains, hiking, trail, Blood Mountain, photos, climb

The view from the clearing

The AT is well-marked with rectangular white boxes painted on trees and rocks so no issues knowing where we were so we continued on it as we knew the AT would connect to the Slaughter Creek Trail.  Not long afterwards, we reached the summit which has a neat rock outcropping from which to soak the entire view.  It is located right next to a nice shelter structure for those who stay overnight (further down, there is a “privy” or basic toilet facility).  After checking the view and confirming which of the two possible ways was the way down (other than the one we came up from), we began our descent which I welcomed as going up had been hard.  I read later that the side we went up was harder but I am glad we did it that way because going down that way would have killed my knees with all the rocks…

The descent was uneventful.  We passed a campsite area on the left and it was a little mis-leading as the white box marking the trail made us think we had to detour at the campsite because the other part of the trail did not have the white rectangular boxes.  But the crude wooden map on the campsite and a brief exploration of the other trail (where we saw a sign that said “Water” and pointed down that path) led us to determine that the unmarked way was the way to go.  Confidently we moved forward and downward and soon we ran into a trio that confirmed for us that was the way down indeed.  So it was nice to have that validation.  They told us that we would make a left at the steps at the bottom that were still iced over.   The descent was not too rocky at all so that made it better for our knees.

We reached the iced-over steps and felt really good that we were on the final stretch.  We walked maybe 0.4 miles before we hit the entrance that we had taken to enter the Freeman Trail and then returned to repeat backwards the way in – a final 2.6 miles to get to our parking lot.  Along the way, we had forgotten about the road we had been dumped into before hitting the real Jarrard Gap Trail.  Thankfully, the house that still had Halloween decorations on the mailbox saved the day as we remembered having passed it.

The intended route:  from Winfield Scott Lake to Jarrard Gap to Slaughter Creek

So after having read what we did.  Here is what we had intended to do…

We were supposed to get on Jarrard Gap Trail (check) and hike it until it ended at the Jarrard Gap (check) and then connect with the AT (check) and walk towards Freeman Trail (check) but continue 0.4 miles past the entrance to Freeman Trail without taking Freeman Trail (NOT CHECKED!).  After the 0.4 mile stretch, we would encounter the trailhead to Slaughter Creek Trail which would have taken us back to the road near Winfield Scott Lake.  End of a moderate day hike.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we were supposed to do.  5.75 miles that could have taken us 2.5-3 hrs, perhaps.

What went wrong on this north Georgia mountain hike?  No, no banjos or bears

The map from the website where I got the route instructions did not label the trails the proposed route would take us on.  Thank goodness there was a clear map at the parking lot by the lake that had trails with names on them.  We could not quite reconcile this map to the one in our printout so we took a photo of the map so we could have handy along the way (boy, was that a good idea!).

map, Appalachian Trail, north Georgia mountains, hiking, trail, Blood Mountain, photos,Jarrard Gap

The parking lot map

However, the map sort of helped get us confused – we saw that there was clearly a way from Freeman Trail on to Slaughter Creek Trail (via the AT) so we thought we were good.  But, what we failed to grasp was the increased distance such a route meant:  instead of our intended 5.75 mile plan, we ended up doing about 10.5 miles (per our reconstruction of the facts once back in the comfort of our respective homes).  This is how…

Remember when I said earlier that we encountered the start of the Freeman Trail so off we went on it?  Well, as you read on the “intended route” bit above, we were not supposed to take Freeman Trail.  The route instructions we had printed were just highlighting that at mile 2.6 we would encounter the trailhead for Freeman Trail. The explanation of the route was peppered with beautiful photos that certainly kept us from focusing on reading the text carefully as, upon careful reading later, we realized it never indicated that we needed to get on the Freeman Trail!

0.4 miles after passing the Freeman Trail, we were supposed to find the start of Slaughter Creek Trail at which point we would be returning along the same-named creek.  After a while on Freeman Trail we wondered if we had missed a turn 0.4 miles after we had started on it to find Slaughter Creek Trail (the connection to that trail was not evident in the map from the parking lot).

Appalachian Trail, north Georgia mountains, hiking, trail, Freeman Trail, Olympus, photos

Along the Freeman Trail

We should have turned around…  However, the map we had taken a picture of did show that we would hit the AT again and would swing back to hit Slaughter Creek Trail at some point (which we didn’t realize was much later than expected…).

And so we kept going on the rougher trail that is Freeman Trail.  Partly perhaps because we were distracted by our conversation and maybe partly because the trail was unusual (narrow, rocky, with more interesting vegetation that leafed-out winter trees).  Maybe it was just such a nice day for a hike so why rush it?  Eventually,we ran into a man and his dog and we asked him how far to hit the AT and he told us “one mile or so.”  We were taken aback but pressed on as we knew this way we would get to where we wanted to go.  We finally hit the AT and decided it was time to sit down and eat our lunch.  We had worked hard and had, at least, the same effort to go still to finish!

As we continued the hike by getting back on the AT, I still didn’t realize we were headed all the way to the top.  I thought this trail would swing on the south side of the mountain and some other trail would take hikers all the way to the top since I didn’t think the AT would run through mountaintops.  But we agreed we didn’t want to backtrack across the Freeman Trail so we went forth.  I think this was a good decision as, at least, we experienced reaching the top of Blood Mountain.

Appalachian Trail, north Georgia mountains, hiking, trail, Blood Mountain, photos, climb

Yours truly on the climb to the summit – note the white mark towards the bottom

The descent from Blood Mountain was uneventful except that we totally missed the entrance to the Slaughter Creek Trail!  When we reached the spot where we were supposed to turn off, we ran into a group of folks and we briefly chatted as we passed each other (after having seen a sign indicating the trail was coming up) and seemed to have missed the trailhead.  We had seen a little of the creek but missed the fact that we lost it at some point.  Or we assumed that for part of the trail, it would not be right by us. I am not really sure.  Anyway, we realized something was amiss when… we encountered the sign that marked the entrance to Freeman Trail that we had seen a few hours before!

At this point, I don’t think we were in the mood to backtrack and find Slaughter Creek Trail.  We understood we had missed the entrance and, given how much we had done already, we decided to back out the way we had come in via the Jarrard Gap.

Appalachian Trail, north Georgia mountains, hiking, trail, Jarrard Gap, Olympus, photos, climb

Back in the familiar territory of the Jarrard Gap

So, there you have it.  A series of mis-steps that, while annoying, did give us what looking back was a challenging and rewarding day of hiking.  However, there are lessons to be learned and that is also a good by-product of this experience!

Appalachian Trail, north Georgia mountains, hiking, trail, Blood Mountain,  photos, climb

Nice views on this hike – worth the effort

Key lessons learned for future hikes

  • Read the route carefully and if it does not explicitly say to take a trail, do not; do not be distracted by pretty pictures!
  • Corroborate the route on another website if possible.
  • Use a clear map that labels all the trails and shows a scale so you can properly estimate things.
  • Take a photo of whatever map you find once you arrive on-site and compare to your map to be sure you are clear.
  • Signage will not always be clear so the points above are important.
  • Cell service, though not always available, can be at some clearings.
  • Be prepared with enough food and water (we were, mercifully).
  • Bring a headlamp even if you think you are hiking in the daytime (had the hike been even longer than we thought, it would have started getting darker).
  • Always hike with someone.  Certainly, solitude can be an aim of hiking for some – but not for me!  If something goes wrong, I want another head thinking about things along with me!
  • Never stop hiking because you had one hike were you were not “with it.”  That is how one learns and it can still be very rewarding and worthwhile – plus it gives you a good story to laugh at and not take yourself too seriously!  And one does learn.

Regardless of all this, if was great to be able to do such a long hike to help my training for Patagonia and to prove to us that we were fit enough for such a hike combining length and climbing.

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Read about other hikes in Georgia:

Sope Creek

Sweetwater Creek

Island Ford

Tallulah Gorge

Panther Creek

Top 14 Items to Bring When Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

ilivetotravel in Shira Camp in Kilimanjaro OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is quite the experience – an achievable one for most people with some training and mental readiness for the effort.  But climbing to the “roof of Africa” is also an operational endeavor!  Lots of planning for the clothing and other items that are needed, balancing need, cost, and weight.  The following picture sort of gives you a visual of the amount of stuff involved in the trek!gear, Kilimanjaro, clothing, Olympus, hiking, climbing

I have written before about what to bring as far as clothing if you are climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro but I also want to share the other items that you ought to bring along.  In no particular order, here are the top 14 items that were important for me in my hike.

1.  Sleeping bag

Get a good one.  One that keeps you warm.  Remember that some of them work best when you wear the least amount of clothing.  I know.  It seems counter-intuitive.  But it is true.  Zero (Fahrenheit) -rated is recommended.  If not, get a liner with extra warmth.  But the best is just a good sleeping bag as the liner would be just one-more-thing to get into and out of…  The mummy style works best.  You want that tapered shape instead of a rectangular one – the rectangular one has more space for air inside that will need to be warmed and that heat comes from you body.  The tapered one is better in that regard.


2.  Wipies

Oh, wipies, thou art so versatile!   Whether it is cleaning yourself after a day of hiking or cleaning yourself after nature calls – or just to wipe your hands after eating, these little suckers are quite helpful.  Take some.  Take a good amount.

3.  Pee bottle

“Huh??,” you may say.  That’s what I said too.  But, stay open-minded.  Picture this:  middle of the night, you zipped into your zero/sub-zero rated sleeping bag, in a tent, with two pairs of zippers in your way to go outside, you with little clothing on, outside freezing cold, you needing to put on clothes, shoes too, stumbling to find the headlamp so you don’t stumble outside OR, middle of the night, you zipped into your zero/sub-zero rated sleeping bag, stumbling to find the bottle (i.e., the pee bottle), then trying to carefully point/aim.  Done.  Yea, I thought so.  Pee bottle.  A tip:  Get a wide mouth bottle (improves the odds of filling it not your tent).  Another tip:  Make sure it seals tight so, when it tips over as you move in your sleep, it will not fill your tent.  Final tip:   Make it big enough.  Do not underestimate how much pee comes out in one “go” plus you may go more than once per night.  Any questions?

4.  Headlamp (with plenty of batteries)

The headlamp will be key on summit night as you start the hike up to the summit at midnight.  You will need to watch your step even if you go with a full moon.  Additionally, at camp at night and in your tent, you will make use of the headlamp.  Make sure you bring extra batteries and save those for summit night.  An extra little light bulb may be good but if the one you have is new, you may not need it (I didn’t).

5.  Pain killer

While my personal preference is to deal with the pain without the need of meds, this approach is suspended when I am trying to climb a 19,340 ft mountain, you know?  I was not sure how my knees would perform nor what other pains may arise during this week long adventure.  I only used them on the descent (not at the start while going down the scree field but after leaving base camp).  It is EXTREMELY rocky in this part of the mountain and I could feel my knees were going to have issues.  I took 2 preventive Advils and repeated once later during the descent and then with dinner that night.  Whether because of my preventive measures or not, I had only very slight soreness on my knees.

6.  Ambien

I was leery of using Ambien at altitude not knowing what effects, if any, it could have on me (other than making me fall asleep).  I had them more for the flight and my first night in-country not for the hike.  But our lead guide said it was OK and maybe even a good idea to take half an Ambien to take the edge off and be able to fall asleep in the evenings since rest was so important during the hike.  So I did and it all worked great.

7.   Hiking poles (two of them!)

Yes, this hike will be a lot easier with two, not one, poles.  Poles give you impulse as you climb over a big step and also you can push off with them as you move forward.  However, they shine in the descent:  my knees would have been pulp (more than they were) if I had not had these poles to soften the impact when stepping down over rocks.  Can’t recommend using them enough (even if you are “tough” – everyone has them) – and if you can score the ones with shock absorbers, even better!

Do try them out somewhere as the grip will be important.  I liked the foam grip and cork handle as it would feel better if my hands got sweaty either way I held it.  I could unscrew the handle to use it as a camera mount (though I did not use that feature during this hike).  Also, make sure they are adjustable:  when you go up, you may want them shorter than when you are going down when you may want them longer!  There are hiking poles at every price point so just check them out in person, ask questions, and then pick!  Or even better, borrow them from someone you know 🙂


8.  Duct tape

You never know what you will need this for and therein the beauty of duct tape:  it fixes anything.  OK, I exaggerate.  Most anything.  I roll it on a pencil as taking the roll itself is bulky.  You can use it to fix a broken backpack or to nip a budding blister before it becomes a nightmare.  You choose the color!

9.  A camera!

OK, this may be obvious.  I was trying to keep the weight down in my “carry-on” during the hike but I clearly needed a camera.  How would I otherwise take magnificent pictures??  I did make a good decision to get a high quality pocket camera instead of my regular bulky camera.  Good call – I got plenty of great photos but without too much bulk/weight.  The views and the moments are worth the camera weight!

 10.  Quick dry towel

While you are not showering for the duration of the hike, you will be brushing your teeth and, likely, your porters will have warm water ready for you when arrive at camp to wash your hands, face, etc.  The quick dry part is likely self-explanatory (when you leave a camp, you don’t return to not a lot of time for the towel to dry out).

 11.  Pad for the sleeping bag

The ground you will be sleeping on is often hard and cold.  In fact, at a couple of places it was even rocky.  The little pad the hike organizers provide for you to lay your sleeping bag on is rather thin and will not do a good enough job to add cushion or protection from the soil.  I took with me an inflatable pad that made my sleep more comfortable – and that is priceless.  A fellow hiker was going to let me use her pump but I ended up having no problem blowing up the pad even at higher altitudes (good job, my lungs).  I got to practice my forced breathing by blowing up the pad so it was good all-around!  (I did HATE every morning deflating it and folding it up…)

12.  Notepad

You may want to bring something to write on as you will have a lot of time at camp after a day’s hike and you may have things from the day to jot down so you don’t forget.  I wrote down start/end times, hours walked, and even what I ate.  I also took notes on funny things or things I experienced – not quite a diary, just quick notes.  On the topic of a lot of time at night, you may want to bring anything else that may amuse you (cards, Sudoku sheets, etc.) but don’t add too much weight to your bag!

13.  Water purification method

Water is boiled at camp but that is only for cooking.  It takes too long to boil water at altitude and your porters will not be able to boil water for you to drink.  You will need to bring your own purification solution of which there are several options (purification tablets, ultraviolet radiation, etc.).  The tablets, such as iodine tablets, are lighter to carry but you have to wait before the water is ready to drink and the iodine causes an odd taste.  SteriPENs are a portable ultraviolet radiation option that is quick and easy.  I had brought the tablets but others had SteriPENs in the group and I quickly realized how much better the SteriPEN approach was.  They all offered the rest of the group their SteriPENs so I traded using one of the hiker’s SteriPEN for sterilizing her water bottles in return – a win win!  Just know they can be temperamental and be sure to bring enough batteries!

 

14.  But the most important item…

Hopefully, this list has been helpful so far – if you have any questions on the above items or any other, feel free to leave a comment and I will get back to you.  While the list is not all-inclusive, it is the list of the items I most appreciated having with me.  However, the most important item I brought along was… a photo of my family.  This photo went with me to the summit which meant they went up Kilimanjaro too, with me…

Uhuru Peak, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, hiking, climbing, Olympus

Want to read how the hike went?  Start on Day 1

The items recommended are recommended for their key features, not because I have an opinion on whether they are the best in their class! 

Gear for Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro – Clothing

ilivetotravel in Shira Camp in Kilimanjaro OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Special request:  After reading the article, would you share with me via the comments what you found most helpful about it?  Just trying to learn what helps the most for future writeups.  Thanks!

Planning my hike of Kilimanjaro and the subsequent safari was not an easy task.  Good research was key.  That research took many forms:  talking to people who have hiked Kili, reading blogs or websites about hiking, talking to the great folks at REI, and the list and advice given to me by the trek organizer (Trekking for Kids).  In the end, I still had many decisions to make on what felt could be important things.

So, this post is geared (sic) to those contemplating climbing Kilimanjaro to reach its peak:  Uhuru Peak, an adventure that requires both cold and hot weather gear.  I will attempt, as an amateur, to share over a couple of posts what made it to my packing list and how it helped.  This post will focus on clothing.  If you are reading this and planning a similar trek, please feel free to leave any questions as comments and I will reply and try to help.  In addition, should you have other suggested items or even better suggestions than mine, please share!

Before I get on to that, a few key items:

  • I did a safari after the hike so I include in the list things for that very different experience.
  • Kili has multiple climate zones ranging from hot to extreme cold.
  • I am not laying out all the options possible, especially in clothing, but will share what all the advice led me to.
  • I did write about my 7 top items to take on this hike.  It was a high-level view of the question but hopefully this will get more details!

Clothing – Lower Body

From the bottom up:

  • Hiking boots – Get good ones and do your practice hikes with them so you break them in well.  Otherwise you may suffer more during the hike, including dreadful blisters.  Some folks went for shoes that were more like hiking shoes but I like the safety of the ankle support since I am bound to get sloppy and then twist my ankle when tired.  The following are some boots that read well from the product descriptions (mine were REI waterproof hiking boots from a long-time ago so no image at Amazon for them!) – study these and keep in mind that waterproof and comfort reign supreme in terms of choosing one.


  • Gaiters – These help keep mud and scree from doing a number on you.  You will need them at summit for sure and probably on the first day if it has rained recently (it had not for us so I did not use them that day).
  • Socks – Socks for the hike and the safari were very different types.  For the latter, you may not need to be told what to get.  But for the former, remember to use a liner to wick moisture from the feet and then woolen socks over them.  For summiting or the colder days, you need very thick woolen socks.  I was still a little cold in my feet even with the sturdiest of these.
  • Pants – A rainproof outer shell was a must to avoid getting soaked.  However, it does not need to keep you warm (I used under layers to handle the cold).  The outer shell is about rain and, also, wind.  I got a hard shell (you can get a soft shell instead if you want).  When I was not using the outer shell (which was most of the time), I used hiking pants as my exterior layer.  Zip-off (convertible) hiking pants are great for quick adaptability if it gets too hot during the day but also because I could save carrying pairs of shorts for the safari later 🙂  The following are sample hard shell pants – showing you a range but a key feature that I like are the long side zippers to facilitate quick putting-them-on (the Eddie Bauer ones have it).  The STORMTECH ones have gaiters.  Read through all the details of each – bottom line:  wind-proof and water-proof! On the convertible hiking pants shown, they both look basic but basic is fine with me. Mine were the basic REI ones and they worked well enough for me! (NOTE:  When it says “My Picks” below and in other sections, that is text I cannot change.  I show these as illustrative items not as my picks per se.)


  • Base layer for the legs – Base layers (long leggings) made from merino wool (the best) will be important to keep me warm.  This layer, given the material, will also keep odors from building up which makes them re-usable for more than one day (saving the load of what needs to be carried by the porters and taken in my luggage on the trip to/from Africa).  You can use polypropylene for this layer but I hear merino wool just performs better.  On summit day, you may need two layers of base layer.  I wore two under the hiking pants and then the hard shell on the outside.  I was consistently told before the trip that silk is about the best material to help retain warmth next to the skin.  I was surprised when I heard that.  I just happened to have this pair of silk leggings but, once on Tanzania, our lead guide told me to use the two merino layers I had instead of the silk pair and one merino pair.  It worked well enough for me on summit night!
  • Shorts for safari – I wore shorts during the safari (the zip-off hiking pants and an extra pair) but I also did wear my full hiking pants to better protect me from the sun (and bugs, I suppose).  Of course, shorts will also be things you wear in the evening or when exploring towns.

Clothing – Upper Body

  • Base layer– The upper body layering approach is much like the lower body’s.  I used base layers for the colder days – again merino wool.  Usually one but two on summit night!
  • Mid layer – I got a merino wool mid-layer to have for the evenings at camps lower than base camp. On summit night, this jacket would serve as the mid layer between the skin-hugging base layers and the outer layers I will mention next. Of the ones I show below, the Tasc one is interesting as it mixes their signature bamboo fabric with merino wool; I am a fan of their regular bamboo fabric shirts so I am curious how this one would work. The Icebreaker one has the power of one of the best-known and valued brands in terms of quality of the merino wool. Normally that means a higher price point but this one seems quite reasonable. The SmartWool brand, in my short years of serious hiking, has proven to be a good and reliable one; so theirs is worth reading more about when selecting a mid layer top. Finally, the Duofold is mainly polyester and only 11% wool. I include it as a caution that when you search and include the term “wool,” you need to make sure you read the product details as it may not be truly all or mostly wool!


  • Outer layers – For lower altitudes, a regular long sleeve CoolMax shirt.  If needed, a base layer under it.  I had a hard shell for rain and wind.  I also had a synthetic down jacket which was great because it was very compact when packed.  I could use it in the evenings while at camp on cold nights and, of course, on summit night.  To summarize for summit night:  two merino wool base layers, the merino wool light jacket, the hard shell (for wind, not rain), and the synthetic down jacket – which I was not wearing at the beginning of the ascent but which I wore during breaks and once it got too cold even while moving.
  • Shirts for safari – I had quick-dry short sleeve shirts that also had side vents – very comfortable in warm weather and preventing odors from building up…
  • Head- and neck- gear –  I used different items to cover my head from the cold and from the sun – both very important.  A typical sun hat to protect against the sun (with a rim) was a very good idea.  A skull cap was one of the items I used in cold weather.  In very windy or in rainy conditions, the hood from the hard shell helped a good deal.  I also had a buff which I used when the skull cap seemed like a little much.  In fact, the buff served many purposes, like loosely hanging around my neck to avoid burning up when in the sun.  I also used it to cover my mouth and nose when it got dusty on the trail or in the safari.  Finally, I brought a balaclava for summit night.  It would offer lots of protection with only a small space open to look out.  I could also just use it around my neck (would keep it warmer than the buff would).  So quite a few options!
  • Outer gloves –  You are going to want some extreme gloves! The gloves should be waterproof because you don’t want gloves getting wet where it is cold! And some good heavy duty insulation (e.g., PrimaLoft). You will still need liners underneath (you would think an extreme glove would be enough…).  My fingertips were still a little cold on summit night even with the liners! But that eventually passed as I entered “the zone” (read how summit night unfolded!)  You also need to decide on the type: mitt or separate-fingers. For that outer layer of gloves, I chose mitt. Plus: less “surface” exposed to the outside, so keeps more warmth around your fingers. Minus: Lower usability of your fingers since they cannot move independently. However, my rationale for mitts was that most of the time, I would be holding hiking poles in my hands during the ascent and for that, the mitt grip worked. Once I wanted to reach for tissues or take a photo, yes, I would have to take the mitts off but that was not a big deal. Even fingered style gloves may have been too thick for some of these motions.
  • Liners – I only used the extreme gloves summit night but the liners I used a lot on the days and evenings prior to summit night.  Maybe bring two pairs of liners of different thicknesses, or one pair of liners and one pair of lighter gloves.  The Grabber hand warmer thingies that generate some heat can be helpful though they do not always seem to generate the same level of heat at high altitude.  Nevertheless, any heat helps so you may want to bring some.

Clothing – sleep time

OK, do I really think you need help with this?  No and yes.  No, because sleep wear is such a personal comfort thing.  But yes because part of it is slightly counter-intuitive.  When you are sleeping in the super-cold weather sleeping bag at night at the higher altitudes and on colder nights, the less you wear, THE BETTER.  No, no, nothing kinky about that statement.  Simply the interior of the super-cold weather sleeping bag will make you feel your own body heat warming you as it leaves your body.  So the more clothing you wear, the less your body heat will work with the sleeping bag to keep you warm.  Other than that, keep the jackets, pants, etc. close to the sleeping bag because when you wake up in the middle of the night to relieve yourself (and, trust me, you WILL if you are taking Diamox), you will need to put those on because you will not be able to go outside in your “sleepwear”!

ilivetotravel Shira Camp with Mt. Kilimanjaro Olympus camera

A happy if tired hiker by his tent and the roof of Africa!  Wearing the merino wool mid layer and the synthetic down jacket.

Can I help you any more?

So, this is the run-down of the clothing for a hike of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  These are the things I got and used on the hike (and on the subsequent safari) and they served me very well.  Others may have different opinions or additional suggestions and I hope they will share those here.  Finally, I hope if you were not considering hiking Kili or were uncertain, check out my other posts on the topic (which I list below) and know that it is fairly attainable with good training and preparation!

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Day 1 of the hike

Day 2 of the hike

Day 3 of the hike

Day 4 of the hike

Day 5 of the hike

Day 6 of the hike (summit night!)

Day 7 of the hike (going down!)

The Machame Route

7 Items you won’t see me without on Kili

Kilimanjaro: The Descent from Uhuru Peak

View of Barafu Camp on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Going down the mountain from Uhuru Peak began around 20-30 minutes after we had arrived in Uhuru.  Such is the story of ascending Mt. Kilimanjaro for many.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could picnic up there or, at least, at Stella Point and soak in the achievement?  Yes, it would be except the thin air would begin doing a number on many people so it is not recommended.  Being well-led, after all the picture-taking at Uhuru, we began the process of coming down.  A process that would take about 8 hrs that day (YES, that SAME day we had just walked up 8 hrs without a full night’s sleep) and about 3-4 hrs the next day.  Think about it, 5 days and 8 hours to go up but about 12 hrs to come back down.  In reality, altitude issue aside, Kili can be climbed within a day or two.  But altitude acclimatization requires prudence and time…

Starting the descent of Kilimanjaro

We passed Stella Point without much fanfare – or picture-taking – this time.  We were now on a mission to lose altitude quickly.  And quickly it was to be!!  I had not been prepared for what came next.  We supposedly had crossed a field of scree (small pebbles) on the ascent (which I mentioned not remembering that part).  Well, it was time to come DOWN the field of scree.  And I was very unprepared on what technique was required here.  All I knew is that it was like skiing except you had to watch out to not pop out a knee (a terrifying thought, really).

So I began to walk down the scree, putting one foot down, using my hiking pole to stop its slide (as you step on the scree it shifts down, taking your footing with it), then moving the other foot and repeating.  Well, this was taking a little bit of time and other trekkers were passing me fast.  After maybe 5 minutes or 10 of this, the same guide who had carried my daypack on the ascent, locked arms with me and proceeded to take me down the scree.  It was an exhilarating and scary ride!!  We were going very fast and we were mainly sliding downhill.  At any given moment, either of us would lose his balance but Said, the guide, would ensure neither one of us fell.  That continued to be true pretty much for the next 3 hours with the exception of certain patches were there were rocks and the sliding paused for a stretch.  The only people moving faster down that field was a trio consisting of a guide and 2 trekkers, one of which had begun to have severe nausea and the other two were on either side of the trekker taking her down the mountain STAT.  They flew past us and continued the high-speed scree-field crossing at that very fast pace.  I have never experienced this mix of thrill and almost-panic at the same time.  Looking back, it was rather fun.

View of Barafu Camp on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Our approach to Barafu Camp

A break at Barafu Camp – just a break, not a stay

Soon enough we sighted Barafu Camp from which we had departed not quite 12 hrs before.  A break was coming!  This was where we were going to have lunch, change out of the warm clothes we had worn for the ascent, and replenish water bottles, etc.  There was a little delay in the lunch being prepared so the stop was about an hour longer than expected.

On my way down the scree, I failed to pay attention to my feet and two-thirds of the way down, I realized I had a blister and was at risk of getting two more.  I stopped, got some duct tape, and took care of things, as I learned from the Trekking for Kids lead when I hiked in Romania last summer.  Once at camp, a fellow trekker had some magical thing she had gotten at REI and she SO kindly took care of fixing the blister.  Whatever it is she had gotten at REI worked like magic (I have never had to use moleskin before but she said this was better).  The remainder of the hike after lunch, I did not even feel my blister!!

Taking care of a blister earned while climbing Kilimanjaro

Thanks, Melanie!!

Though we were tired, we had to keep going to our camp for the evening, the Mweka Camp, named for being the first camp on that route for those who enter the mountain through the Mweka Gate.  Some were asking why couldn’t we stay in Barafu to overnight.  I was quite happy not staying for several reasons:

  1. We had arrived before noon.  Staying would represent a loss of an entire afternoon of moving and getting closer to exit the mountain.
  2. Getting to a lower camp meant Day 7, the last day on the mountain would be a short one:  a downhill hike of 3-4hrs and – bam! – off to the hotel, a great lunch, and most important:  the first shower in a week!
  3. I hated the inhospitable environment of Barafu Camp with it being so rocky and so dusty.  I was done with the dust and didn’t want to have a fall like I almost had suffered the day before when I tripped on a tent cable while minding the rocks I was stepping on.

So I was quite happy with moving on.  If I had only known what was coming our way…

Rocky road to Mweka Camp

Pretty quickly the second part of our descent on Day 6 became a nightmare of sorts.  Though the views were great most of the time, the terrain was rocks that you had to navigate carefully (at least those not super experienced).  Some of us started feeling that our knees were being hit hard and had to slow down some.  My legs were extremely tired at this point and the knees, though not hurting yet, were wearing out with every step.

Descent to Mweka Camp in Kilimanjaro

The rocky way down that never seemed to end

After a couple of hours or more, we saw in the distance a colorful array of tents.  Yes!  We weren’t terribly far!  To which our guide quickly replied:  “That’s not our camp, that is base camp for the Mweka Route ascent and we are not allowed to stay there since we are no longer on the ascent; you see that piece of metal over there (he pointed to a structure far, far away)?  That’s where we are going.”  Our collective jaws dropped (and almost hit rocks, I am sure).  NO WAY, José!  (OK, his name was Luis, not José.)

We continued our descent and, at times, it felt that that piece of metal was actually getting further away (I swear that it did look that way!).  A couple of times our path became a smooth dirt trail which would thrill us tremendously only to turn a corner and resume the very rocky terrain.  It was an exhausting, frustrating, and demanding-on-the-knees 4.5 hrs hike – I almost wished I was back in Barafu, resting and breathing dusty thin air at 15,000 ft+ altitude…  But not quite.  It helped me push forward knowing that what we were doing was the best approach.

Trekker in Kilimanjaro after 6 days of no shaving

Though exhausted, I trekked on. Or was I just considering jumping off the nearest cliff??  (This is what 6 days in the mountain look like!)

The most difficult part of my climb – the descent

Most of these 4.5 hrs were the most mentally and physically difficult part for me of the entire 7 days.  Yes, the accelerated heart rate on Day 4 slowed me down and made me worry.  Yes, on ascent night I wondered if I would make it when I had to surrender my backpack.   Yes, we were getting more and more oxygen on the descent as we went – to the point where, somewhere along these 4.5 hrs, we must have reached an altitude to which our body had acclimatized (I am sure were not adjusted to 15,000 ft though we had spent part of the day on Day 5 there).  But, I just didn’t see an end to the rocky path on Day 6 and the Mweka Camp kept looking very far away any time we spotted itIt was a true test of will power for me to finish that path.

Finally, camp!

But, all good things come to an end (!), and we reached the Mweka Camp.  The customary “signing of the guestbook to prove we had been there” done, we approached our tents for a final night of camping.  Hot water was brought to us and I happily washed off my face and did what I could to clean myself before having dinner.

Dining tent in Kilimanjaro

Our mess tent was a palace that night!

That meal may not have been spectacular by some standards but we were exhausted and we loved sitting around that mess tent, eating and reflecting on what we had just done.  I didn’t linger – I was tired and wanted to get everything ready and go to bed.

Dining tent in Kilimanjaro camp

Happiness in a tent

Getting off the mountain

On Day 7, we woke up all ready to go:  This was our freedom day!  Don’t get me wrong, I was eager to climb Kilimanjaro and enjoy the mountain.  But once we had reached the summit, we were ALL about getting to the hotel and a nice shower.

We trekked down for maybe about 3 hrs from 10,000 ft or so to the Mweka Gate at 6,000 ft (3,800 m).  The climate zone went to full forest again, as we had experienced on Day 1.

Uproote tree in the Mweka Route on Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

The clothing was lighter and so was our mood.  Someone even rode the emergency stretcher that was laying about during one of our breaks…

I found my happy place:  the Mweka Gate hut!

Finally, the sight we wanted to see:  the Mweka Gate hut where we would sign in one last time, proving we made it to that gate AND the place where we would sit around for an hour+ to wait for the certificates that would prove we HAD climbed Kilimanjaro (though there was no book to sign at Uhuru Peak…).  We were not getting those certificates just yet… Zara Tours would also be issuing one and we would receive them both that evening at the celebration with our guides and porters.

Exiting the Mweka Route trail to hiti Mweka Gate in Kilimanjaro

About to leave the trail!!! I found a happy place!

While waiting, folks would come by selling us stuff but we knew we could get all that cheaper elsewhere.

At Mweka Gate waiting for our certificates for our climb of Kilimanjaro

Waiting leaning against the wall and sitting in the shade. With a beer in hand. Heavenly. (I am sitting to the right with the red t-shirt)

Kilimanjaro trekkers from Utah

Trekkers from Utah wishing that the park was using a computerized system…

However, one of my fellow trekkers eyed a beer seller and he looked at me and, of course, I wouldn’t leave a buddy drinking on his own.  Especially after a week of no alcohol and a hike of 3 hrs… That’s when the first beer was bought.  Others in the group looked at us like “really?”  20 minutes later, most everyone had a beer in their hand!  And off we went to the bus, to get to the Springlands Hotel and back to being clean!!!

Trekkers leaving Mweka Gate after climbing Kilimanjaro

On the way to the hotel! (Photo courtesy of K. Shuman)

The descent, as you can see, was a mixed set of emotions and terrains.  It is amazing how little time it takes to descend.  The feeling of accomplishment once you get to the Mweka Gate is incredible.  And so is the entire experience of spending 7 days on this incredible mountain, home to the roof of Africa:  Kilimanjaro!

One final look up at Kilimanjaro from the final stretch of the Mweka Route

One final look up at Kilimanjaro from the final stretch of the Mweka Route… I was up THERE!!!!

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