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! 

Top 16 Memorable Moments from 2013 in Photos

Sunset, tree, birds, blue, sky, dark cloud, safari, travel, photo, Olympus, Serengeti, memorable

As I think of 2013, I recall the many neat experiences at home and away.  Looking through my photos is a great way to bring back the memories.  I’d thought I’d share with you some of my most memorable moments from 2013 via photos – some of which have been shared before in other posts and some have not – in no particular order.  Hope you like them!

#1  When I first saw Mt. Kilimanjaro

Not necessarily a great photo from a technique standpoint but pretty “momentous”.  I landed at Kilimanjaro International Airport around midnight.  When I woke up the next day at my hotel, someone told me that if I went outside to the local road, I could see Kilimanjaro, which I was about to climb.  Neat to see it but even neater to run into two little locals on their way to school!  A moment I will always treasure.

Kilimanjaro, schoolchildren, kids, Tanzania, Africa, vista, view, Olympus, travel, photo

#2  At Uhuru Peak in Mt. Kilimanjaro

I have shared a lot of pictures I love through my prior posts about hiking Kilimanjaro (start with the Day 1 summary if you want to see them all!).  So to keep this post manageable, to go along with my first sighting of the mountain in #1, I’d thought I’d then include me by the new sign at Uhuru Peak (the highest point in Mt. Kilimanjaro).  This photo is special as I brought my family along for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure!

Kilimanjaro, hiking, hiker, Uhuru Peak, climbing, Tanzania, Africa, vista, view, Olympus, travel, photo

#3  Ancient ruins

I shared this photo in an earlier post about my visit to Jerash, Jordan but it remains one of my favorite pictures for the year so it deserves inclusion here.  Seeing Jerash – a complete unknown to me until that point – was a great discovery in 2013.

Columns, temple, artemis, jerash, jordan, history, roman ruins, travel, photo

Beautiful columns in the Temple of Artemis

#4  Monumental Petra

Everyone has seen the same picture of the Treasury in Petra and that is because there is not much space to back away from it.  But there are plenty of other angles to photograph this incredible “carving”.  This is one of my favorites.  I had been to Petra before but seeing how well this photo turned out back at home made me happy!

Jordan, Petra, Treasury, Indiana Jones, ruins, column, architecture, sky, travel, photo, Olympus

#5  Twins?

While touring Jordan, after a long day at Petra, the group went out for dinner.  Yes, we were all a little tired.  One of our fellow travelers pointed out how our guide and I were not only dressed alike but were in the same pose – and snap! the picture was taken.  We were laughing when we realized this was all true and the photo captured that moment so well!

Jordan, people, laughing, photo

#6  Kid in Mt. Nebo

Exploring Jordan was incredible:  lots of history, incredible nature, etc.  But the people is what really made the difference:  warm and friendly and the smile on this kid’s face captures well how we were made to feel welcome by everyone.

Mt. Nebo, Jordan, tourism, photo, child, Canon EOS Rebel#7  Food, food, food

I summarized my year in food and drinks in an earlier post but this plate deserves inclusion here.  It is from a lunch I had in Mardaba, Jordan but I’ve enjoyed great food this year from Manila to Miami, from Jordan to Minneapolis, from Washington, D.C. to Mt. Kilimanjaro!  Oh, and don’t forget Tampa and Atlanta!

food, Jordan, travel, photo#8  DragonCon’s parade in Atlanta

DragonCon is an interesting event held in Atlanta every year.  I went with friends to see the parade and enjoyed seeing all the characters that walked along.  This is one of my favorite pictures from that parade (others here).

DragonCon, Dragon, Atlanta, parade, conference, convention, science fiction, fantasy, Canon EOS Rebel

#9, 10 and 11  Africa and the great outdoors!

In addition to hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro, my Tanzania experience included doing a safari the right way (4 days, not just a one drive in-and-out as I had done a few years before due to limited time while on a business trip).  These images capture well my favorite moments from that experience!

elephants, acacia, tree, shade, Serengeti, Tanzania, Africa, Olympus, travel, adventure, photo, safariElephant, sunset, skies, clouds, Africa, Serengeti, Tanzania, travel, safari, photo, OlympusSunset, tree, birds, blue, sky, dark cloud, safari, travel, photo, Olympus, Serengeti, memorable

#12  An amazing construction scene

Driving around the neighborhood next to mine in Atlanta, I ran into this scene!  What an incredible sight.  The house was being lifted so it can sit higher on the ground due to being in a flood plain.

Atlanta, home. construction, lift, engineering, Samsung Galaxy

 #13  Stormy sky in Atlanta

My hometown provided another of the most memorable photos I took on 2013:  stormy skies over Buckhead.

Atlanta, storm, Buckhead, dark sky, Olympus, photo

#14 and 15  Pictures of this traveler

During my trip to Jordan, a few pictures of me were taken by fellow travelers.  I like these two (which clearly were taken on the same day…) in particular because they show how happy I was at the time.  The second one has me with my faithful companion:  no, not the donkey but my camera!

traveler, explorer, Jordan, photo, travel, adventuretraveler, explorer, Jordan, photo, travel, adventure, donkey, ride, Petra, camera, Canon EOS Rebel

#16  Sunset over the Dead Sea with a couple of love birds

To close this post, I will re-share one of my favorite photos ever from 2013 taken by me as the sun set over the Dead Sea from our hotel in Jordan (the Movenpick resort – awesome).  I was lucky these two birds were waiting for me on that palm tree to capture the moment!

sunset, Jordan, Dead Sea, birds, palm tree, golden, travel, photo, Olympus

Is this a sunset scene or what??!!

I hope 2014 brings you many memorable moments, whether you capture them on a photo or not!

 

Photo of the Week – Approaching Stella Point in Kilimanjaro

Approach to Stella Point in Mt. Kilimanjaro on the way to Uhuru Peak sunrise roof Africa

You may have already tracked my hike of Mt. Kilimanjaro via the Machame Route through my prior posts (if not, you may want to check them out starting with Day 1!).  One of the most spectacular moments in the climb of the roof of Africa is the approach to Stella Point.  See, Stella Point is one of the entry points to the rim of Kilimanjaro from which the final push to the summit (less than an hour away on less sloped terrain) takes place.  For many people, like me, arriving at Stella Point is a moment of celebration even if you are not done yet.  I just KNEW I would make it to Uhuru Peak (the summit) even if there is no guarantee really as you still have to climb 600 ft or so crossing the 19,000 ft threshold along the way to Uhuru.

But not only is reaching Stella Point a key milestone, you also approach it right as the sun breaks the horizon which makes it a priceless moment for sure – one I will never forget…

Approach to Stella Point in Mt. Kilimanjaro on the way to Uhuru Peak sunrise roof Africa

Climbers on the final approach to Stella Point under a beautiful sunrise(Photo credit: A. Ruppert) 

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

The Real Heroes of Kilimanjaro

Trekkers at Kilimanjaro's Uhuru Peak

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.

Trekkers at Kilimanjaro's Uhuru Peak

The 16 trekkers and our lead guide, Luis

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.

With Said, who helped me during summit night and then sped me down the scree field!

With Said, who helped me during summit night and then sped me down the scree field!

With Buga, one of the liveliest of our guides - always smiling, singing and taking care of us

With Buga, one of the liveliest of our guides – always smiling, singing and taking care of us

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!!

Local hike guides Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

The local guides

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.

Porter carrying load up Kilimanjaro

Porter carrying a load up Kili

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!

The porters of Kili are the real heroes for me.  To this anonymous group (we knew some of them but not most), I say ASANTE SANA!  Our Kili experience would not have been possible without you.  If you climb Kili, be sure to clear the way as they try to pass you!!

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Other posts about climbing Kilimanjaro:

–  Day 1 (getting started)

–  Day 2 (the moorlands and my favorite camp)

–  Day 3 (reaching the Lava Tower at 15,000 ft)

–  Day 4 (Barranco Wall and a big challenge)

–  Day 5 (getting to summit camp)

–  Day 6 (summit night)

–  Day 7 (the long descent)

–  The Machame Route

Of Kids, Water, a Fence, and Chicks – the Kili Centre Orphanage

Kili Centre orphanage in Moshi, Tanzania

Going to Tanzania was not just about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro though that consumed most of my energy pre-trip (and, heck DURING the trip!).  I had done a hike in the Transylvanian Alps in Romania last summer with Trekking for Kids (TFK)  and I was so impressed, not only with the excellent logistics planning for the hike, but also with the great care with which the orphanage had been selected and the projects chosen.  So going to Kilimanjaro was also about having another opportunity to help improve the lives of orphaned children via TFK.  Tanzania is far and doing this trek was a not-trivial use of my time and money (though TFK is much cheaper than many outfits who organize Kili hikes).  But I understood that my efforts would really make a difference on these kids’ lives and that my hike would be safe and well-planned.

I have written a few posts about the planning of my trip and the hike itself (see links at the end of this post).  So I wanted to focus this post on the orphanage we worked with in Moshi:  the Kili Centre.

Kili Centre orphanage in Moshi, Tanzania

Kili Centre welcomes its visitors!

The Kili Centre orphanage

I posted in LinkedIn that I was going to hike Kili and work with this orphanage as part of the fundraising all trekkers commit to do (raise a minimum of $1,000).  One of my connections replied that she had been there and that the Centre’s leader, Michael, was doing a great job with the orphanage and the kids.  Though I know TFK does a thorough job vetting orphanages, it was still good to hear this.  After finally meeting and spending time with Michael in Moshi, I have to agree with the assessment my connection had made.  He had a great vision for the orphanage and the projects he had proposed were very well thought through in terms of sustainability, impact to the children and the future of the orphanage, and ability to demonstrate to the donors their money had been well spent.

The projects funded at the Kili Centre

The future site of the Kili Centre

The Kili Centre rents its current location but it is not adequate anymore for the needs of the orphanage or meeting its future plans to accept more children.  Some of the changes that would make it more adequate may not be acceptable to the landlord so the Kili Centre needed to find, not only a new location, but a place where it can be owner of its domain, so to speak.

New Kili Centre location in Moshi, Tanzania

New Kili Centre location with Kilimanjaro covered by clouds (showing the new fence)

What’s in a fence?

So Michael was able to raise funds to buy a new lot (with a GREAT view of Kilimanjaro!!  though maybe this is not hard in the area given its proximity to the mountain and the height of the mountain).  But this lot sat empty and ran the risk of being taken over by others.  In many places in Africa, having title to land is not enough.  If people squat on it, or neighboring folks start farming it, at some point one runs the risk of losing it.  In addition, I heard there are rules that a purchased lot has to have something built on it in a certain amount of or, otherwise, the government can take it back.  So here came an opportunity for the first and main project funded by the trekkers’ fundraising and their generous donors:  building a perimeter fence around the lot.

New fence on the Kili Centre's future home

TFK Executive Director Cindy Steuart and trekker Dave Hughart at the fence on our first visit

Guardhouse at the site of the new Kili Centre

Progress while we were there! The finished guardhouse (shown without a roof in the prior pic)

H20 – Water – A basic necessity we take for granted

Though not an immediate impact to the kids’ lives, it will clearly help the children eventually have a new place that will better serve their needs.  For example the current location of the orphanage does not have running water.  So water must be trucked in (at great expense due to the cost of the vehicle and gas).  In the new location, not only did the project build the perimeter fence (and the gate/guardhouse) but it also connected the lot to the town’s water system!!

I was very excited to see the running water during my visit of the new site.  Water is fundamental to progress in less developed locations as it is essential for good health.  Without good health, the education of the children suffers.  So having running water in their new location will be a real improvement in the quality of life at the Kili Centre.

Running water at the Kili Centre

One of the faucets installed connected to the water system – water, the stuff of life!

Clearly, just having a fence and running water will not be enough to give the Kili Centre its new home.  However, the evidence that other donors saw the Kili Centre’s plan as solid will help it in fundraising to have the wherewithal to build the different structures that will be needed.

Chicks (not for free, contrary to what Dire Straits may say)

One of the Centre’s activities that provide both a food source and income is its chicken coop.  However, the Centre had been forced to sell its chickens in order to pay for the schooling of the children.  The chickens had been towards the end of their productive years so the decision to sell them for meat was a good one however, it set the chicken coop back.  So, some of the budget TFK had for projects went to buy chicks to “replenish” the chicken coop and assure some income and food for the Centre.

Trekkers and kids given the thirsty chicks some water upon their arrival at the Kili Centre

Trekkers and kids given the thirsty chicks some water upon their arrival at the KC

The kids well-being

Another item on the project list was repairing the furniture in the kids’ rooms and getting them new mattresses with new mattress covers (to make them last longer) along with new blankets.  Their rooms looked great!

Refinished bunk beds and cabinets at the Kili Centre

Refinished bunk beds and cabinets

Focus on education

As alluded to, the Centre is focused on the children getting a good education.  (I wonder if the children of the Centre are more “lucky” than the children outside the orphanage given the attention paid to their studies by the Centre’s staff.)  The Centre had a computer lab with learning software but the PCs were ancient and they no longer were going to be good for supporting new/additional software.  TFK’s funds supported the wholesale replacement of the computer lab!

Computer lab being set up at the Kili Centre

Computers being set up!

The focus on education does not stop at school and academics.  The Centre had identified developing a sewing “program” to teach a potential income-earning skill to the girls at the orphanage.  Once kids leave an orphanage, it is important to have given them education and skills to make it in life in terms of livelihood.  So the Centre had proposed TFK fund a sewing room:  from setting up the power outlets to the scissors and materials, and everything in between.  With the funds provided, used sewing machines were acquired, brought up to par and installed in the new sewing room!

New sewing room at the Kili Centre in Moshi, Tanzania

New sewing room

While these are not all the projects, I hope you can see why I was so pleased that my efforts to fundraise and my “investment” of my own time and money were well worth it.  But enough about the projects and on to the great kids of the Kili Centre!!!

The children

The first time we got to the Kili Centre, the children were right there waiting for us.  They surrounded our bus as we arrived for the first of 4 days we would spend with them (2 before and 2 after climbing Kilimanjaro).

Welcoming the visitors at the Kili Centre

Cheerful welcome!

That day, they had prepared a dance show for us.  You could tell they loved dancing and putting on a show and, in us, they had an audience wanting to see all they had prepared.  The kids who danced were definitely high energy and not shy!

Children dancing at the Kili Centre

Part of the welcome show put on for us!

Kili Centre kids show us traditional Masai dance at the Kili Centre in Moshi, Tanzania

Kids doing traditional Masai dance

Our time at the Centre was mostly spent with the kids.  We had brought gifts for them (they are kids after all!) and it was a lot of fun giving each of them a backpack full of goodies and also distributing items like soccer balls, frisbees, and volleyballs.  Of course, we then got to use many of those things in an afternoon of just “being.”  I worked along with two kids and another trekker on a challenging jigsaw puzzle that, to this day, I hate not having had time to finishing!

Kids of the Kili Centre in Moshi,. Tanzania

One night, we ate at the orphanage during a party where again the children danced and neighbors of the orphanage were invited to come.  I was so proud watching the kids’ manners.  They lined up by section to go get the food, took everything back when they were done, etc.  Just like I noticed in Romania, the children of this orphanage were very well taught by their staff.  The staff was very much engaged with the kids and I do not recall any instance of the staff just bossing the kids around.  All the engagement I noticed was warm and, at times, playful.  It made me feel good this was the right orphanage to have invested myself in.

Trekking for Kids trekkers, Kili Centre staff and kids in Moshi, Tanzania

TFK photo of the entire group: Kili Centre kids and staff along with the trekkers!

One of the hardest moments in these trips is saying goodbye.  You have developed, usually, a connection with some of the kids and you hate to leave.  Unfortunately, the fourth day of being with the orphanage, I was bedridden with a nasty cold/infection that hit me once we came down from Kilimanjaro.  I had forced myself on the third day to come along with the group but on the fourth day, I just slept all day.  So I missed saying my goodbyes and I am saddened by that.  However, I know the children now have a better home and are set up for an even better one in the future thanks to having been part of this trek.

To Michael and the staff at the Kili Centre:  thank you for the great job you do with the kids and the Centre.

To TFK:  thanks for another great opportunity to push myself (up a mountain) and to make a clear difference in childrens’ lives.

To my donors and supporters:  thank you for your financial generosity and moral support to make this happen for the kids!

To the Kili Centre kids:  keep studying hard, be good and stay cool!

Kili Centre children in Moshi, Tanzania

Kids showing off their new backpacks and sunglasses!

——————————————————————————————————-

–  Preparing for the hike is more than training and gear

–  The Machame Route:  our way up

–  7 things you will not see me without as I climb Kili

–  Day 1 of the hike (starting the climb!)

–  Day 2 of the hike (getting to Shira Camp)

–  Day 3 of the hike (the Lava Tower and hail)

–  Day 4 of the hike (Barranco Wall)

–  Day 5 of the hike (getting to summit base camp, Barafu)

–  Day 6 of the hike (the ascent to the summit – Uhuru Peak)

–  Interview with fellow Kili climber and Ultimate Global Explorer

 

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!!!!

Kilimanjaro Hike: Day 6 – Reaching the Summit: Uhuru

Approach to Stella Point in Mt. Kilimanjaro on the way to Uhuru Peak sunrise roof Africa

Here we go, the BIG day.  Day 6.  The day we reach and pass Stella Point on the rim of Mt. Kilimanjaro and get to Uhuru Peak, the highest point of the mountain – the highest point in Africa!!!  I should say, the day we attempt to reach Stella Point and Uhuru Peak.  I will do my best to convey how this climb feels like on Day 6 but the physical and mental efforts are hard to put in words.

You will notice how the middle of this post is photo-less.  First, do not worry, there are pictures towards the last third of the post!  Secondly, that matches what happened for me in the ascent:  Much of what happened in the middle was not captured by a camera because I was too focused on going up and, for part of it, even my mind didn’t capture any images…

 Uhuru Peak in Kilimanjaro

The goal: Uhuru Peak

Day 6 consisted of four parts – it was to be a LONG day:

  1. From Barafu Camp to Stella Point (expected to be about 7 hours)
  2. From Stella Point to Uhuru Peak (expected to be 45 mins to 1 hour)
  3. Coming down from Uhuru to base camp (Barafu) for a brief rest and lunch (about 3 hours)
  4. Arriving to Mweka Camp where we were over-nighting (about 4.5 hours)

I will cover here only the ascent on Day 6 (#1 and 2 above) and not the descent that happened that day.  I will cover the descent on Day 6 (#3 and 4) with the final descent of Day 7…

Leaving Barafu Camp to hit Stella Point

Barafu Camp at 15,100 ft (4,600 m) was a hard camp to like.  But I could have stayed there a few more hours sleeping that night…  Four of our group left at 11 PM to have an extra hour to reach the summit.  The rest of us saw them leave camp and finished prepping and having a snack prior to heading out.  At midnight, we left the relative comfort of this camp to do what we came here to do:  tame Uhuru!

I was pumped even while wondering what would happen, how it would end 8 hrs later (ah, the fool… the end was NOT reaching the summit, but reaching our camp for the night).

What did I wear on the way to Uhuru Peak?

Though it was very cold at camp given the altitude and the time of day, we were instructed to dress such that we were slightly cold since we would warm up during the climb.  So, I wore my two tight woolen tops, then my Merino wool light jacket, and my hard shell jacket (protects against wind and water though, mercifully, we didn’t have precipitation).  The synthetic down jacket would wait until the breaks (when, since you are at rest, you don’t want to lose the heat your body has generated) or until it finally got too cold even while walking (which it did).  In terms of my legs, I wore my long wool underwear (all the wool layers by the skin helped wick moisture away from the skin) under my convertible hiking pants and then my hard shell pants.

The only place I felt really, really cold was my toes though I was wearing sock liners and the thickest wool socks REI had.  I think we had milder temperatures, if that’s possible up there, than normal as I had been told I would be exceedingly cold.  Whew!

Time is a funny thing

During the climb up to Stella Point, it is amazing how time flowed.  The hourly 5-10 minute breaks (a lot shorter than the breaks on prior days) provided respite from the effort and allowed for drinking some water (in one break they surprised us with hot tea! one of the happiest moments in those 7 hours!), eating a little something, and handling nature calls.  That last one was a little more of a pain than it had been before because it was dark.  But when nature calls, it calls.  And no pee bottle here.  In any case, I worked my way up by focusing on each hour’s walk.  I was not looking at my watch much but when the break came, I knew an hour had passed and that was an hour off the 7 hour count…

And who said it would be a piece of cake?  No one.  They were right.

After the first hour of the climb, my heart rate starting racing and I was out of breath a lot like on Day 4 after we had passed the Barranco Wall.  We had been climbing bigger rocks (requiring big steps) which was exactly what had caused my troubles on Day 4.

That was going to slow me down and, tonight, falling behind could mean being turned around.  The guides had been clear with the first subgroup that if we got to Stella Point at the same time as them, they would have to turn around at Stella Point.  It meant they would take a lot more than an hour reaching Uhuru and, having already been at that altitude an extra hour than us, it would have been too much time up there.  So, I knew that if I fell behind too much in my group, that I could miss getting to UhuruThat realization really hit me hard.

One of guides, Said, told me to give him my daypack.  My heart sank.  As soon as the path became less pronouncedly rocky, I told Said I could take my daypack back because I was back to “normal.”  He shook his head and said he would keep it.  At first, with pride stepping in, I said no, I could take it.  And then I realized that it may be the worst thing I could do.  I needed to save my energy for the big rocks ahead.  I resumed my climb, daypackless.  Boy, am I glad I did…

I believe I was the second or third person to lose their daypack.  I felt this would take away from the feat should I reach the summit.  I had nothing to fear.  Within a few hours, more than half (including the 4 guys in this subgroup) had lost their daypacks too, including our star athlete who had run across deserts and had been carrying a daypack every day of this climb loaded at 30-40 lbs.  I have to digress and mention that this guy, a dentist from northwestern Canada, would carry all  sorts of candy in his daypack and, all throughout the week’s hike, would pull out a DIFFERENT bag of candy (gummy bears, sour patches, etc.) to pass around at breaks.  Needless to say, Stan became everyone’s friend fast!

It is worth pointing out how carefully our guides were watching each one of us even after we surrendered our daypacks.  Clearly, ensuring no one exhibited dangerous signs of altitude sickness (the ones that represent life-threatening danger).  But they REALLY wanted us to make it to Uhuru as long as we were not exhibiting the serious symptoms and did everything they could to assist us.

The lights are not always at the end of the tunnel…

Though we had a full moon, we still needed to illuminate the path ahead by wearing headlamps.  I remember that I would look up ahead on the trail and see what was becoming a downer for me:  a long trail of headlamps zigzagging the slope of the mountain.  And then you didn’t see any.  That point would get closer and closer, and it felt good to know we were reaching a “milestone” of sorts.  But once we reached the milestone, I would look up and see, yet again, another LONG trail of headlamps going all the way up to a point far up the mountain.  After this, I decided not to look up anymore…

Sleep and memory loss – all in a Kili climber’s night!

Maybe halfway up to Stella Point, I was dozing off.  No, not during breaks.  This was as I moved my feet up that mountain and as my arms moved the hiking poles.  The lack of oxygen and being tired had everything to do with that.  And through chats post-facto, I learned others were also dozing off as they walked up.  It was insane.  I decided that I needed to occupy my mind but I was too tired to alphabetize countries or come up with some other mental activity.

Looking at the Southern Cross, which someone pointed out, gave me something think about (or try to look at without tripping).  Some folks had music in their portable devices but I had not brought mine.  I actually wanted to listen to the folks stepping on the mountain, focus on the quietness of the surroundings.  I like not feeling “trapped” within myself when it comes to sounds.

A “happy” place.  Say what?

Towards the end of the third hour, our lead guide, Luis, told us that we needed to be sure we were not spending our every last drop of energy in the remaining part of the climb.  I thought to myself  “huh?”.  He said that coming down would be very hard too so it was important we managed our exertion level.  I was not sure how we would do that but then I started thinking maybe he was trying to subtly tell some people to give up their daypack…

Then, he said, “guys, the next few hours are going to be very hard; find your happy place because you are going to need it”.  I remember thinking, in my tiredness, “my happy place?  my happy place?  what IS that??  a beach?  no.  wine?  no, wine is not a place.”  I had no energy to conjure a happy spot I didn’t have previously.  And then, all of a sudden, the faces of my sister’s, cousins’ and friends’ kids came to mind.  Their smiley, happy faces.  So I started calling roster on all of them seeing those smiley faces.  I had found my happy place.  And it kept me distracted easily for another hour.  I say “easily” because I think it is after an hour of that that my memory goes blank…

Yes, what happened in the last 2-3 hours prior to Stella Point are a big blank.  I have no idea what happened, when we stopped, what was I thinking, nothing, nada, nil.  Comparing notes with others later, I am not the only one to whom that happened.  We had been told the last bit before reaching Stella Point would be scree (small pebbles) so for every step forward, there would be a step back.  I have no recollection of scree, of steps forward, or steps back.

And then it happened… Steeeeeeeellllllaaaaa!

So I was in some zone when all of a sudden, to my right, I see a glimmer of light on the horizon.  Sunrise is beginning!  It was like an injection of adrenaline straight to my heart – and mind.  Watching the sun rise and trying to take good pictures became the priority as we continued walking up.  I was awake!

Sunrise from Kilimanjaro as we neared Stella Point

Glorious!

The sun finally broke through the horizon and we could see that Stella Point was just like 20 minutes away.  It was one of THE most incredible moments in my life.  You see, at that moment, I had no doubt I would make it (though how could I really tell how the higher altitude and serious lack of oxygen would hit me 20 mins later?).  It didn’t matter, I just knew I was A-OK!

We hit Stella Point and I couldn’t believe how quickly it came upon us (I don’t think I could see it from the final approach).  This was unbelievable.  I was at over 18,000 ft and would only have one more hour up to Uhuru Peak after a short break at Stella Point.  We laughed, hugged, and even teared up some.

Some of the trekkers and guides at Stella Point on Kilimanjaro

Some of the trekkers and guides at Stella Point (I am on the far left)

My eyes couldn’t believe the view outside of the mountain and INTO the mountain.  Remember the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro is a crater from a long-extinct volcano.

Kilimanjaro crater

Looking around the top of Kili

Immediately the picture-taking began in front of the brand-spanking-new green sign with yellow letters (TERRIBLE design… you had to be RIGHT IN FRONT OF IT for the letters to show well in a photo).  In any case, pictures were taken and then we proceeded to get to Uhuru Peak…  Time was of the essence as, at that altitude, you do not want to linger despite the fact that we noticed tents in the crater.  In any case, we had to mosey to the peak and we couldn’t dilly daddle.  We had to move.

Uhuru Peak, here we come!

Mt. Kilimanjaro used to be covered in glaciers.  Today, the glaciers are there but they are not as dominant as they must have been.  They are expected to disappear completely in a few decades.  Still, seeing them from a distance was impressive with the African horizon behind them.

Glaciers atop Kilimanjaro

Glaciers atop Kilimanjaro

The hour walk (or maybe 45 mins?) up to Uhuru was much easier and less steep than the prior few hours though we still went up 660 feet (200 m) or so to reach it.

Trekker and guide walking up to Uhuru Peak in Kilimanjaro

Said and I headed to Uhuru Peak

Everyone was in great spirits and then…  we saw it – the big green sign marking Uhuru Peak!!!  WE WERE THERE!  Laughter, smiles, even some jumping-for-joy all around.  We caught up with the first group and it was so awesome to see all of us together at the peak – the probabilities were that they would be already on their way down when we got to Uhuru or (hopefully not) that they wouldn’t reach it.  So the fact that we all were there together, this group that had been together for about 10 days, was truly priceless.

At Uhuru Peak

One of the many celebratory photos taken: here with Liz and Len Stanmore

Immediately we got close to the sign to wait our turn to stand in front of it and capture the moment in a photo.  Phenomenal moment of joy for all of us.  And just as happy as we were, our guides were beaming that we had all make it – asante sana, guys!

And so reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro comes to an end

The story of the descent is for another post – and the descent was painful.  However, I will share one reflection here about having reached the summit…  Even if I had surrendered my daypack no one moved my legs forward and upward for me, as Luis our lead guide told us once at base camp.  Every step I took on that blessed mountain was my own.  That is the real achievement here for each trekker:  the strength of will and of body to push forward and upward when you think you don’t have it all together, when you feel the next big rock may be the one that tips the climb over for you and sends you back to camp, when you don’t know what is your “happy place”.  I will treasure what I learned that early morning the rest of my life.

At Uhuru Peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro

A very happy trekker at Uhuru Peak!

Back to Day 5

… On to the descent

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Other posts about the Kilimanjaro trek:

–  Preparing for the hike is more than training and gear

–  The Machame Route:  our way up

–  7 things you will not see me without as I climb Kili

–  Day 1 of the hike (starting the climb!)

–  Day 2 of the hike (getting to Shira Camp)

–  Day 3 of the hike (the Lava Tower and hail)

–  Day 4 of the hike (Barranco Wall)

–  Interview with fellow Kili climber and Ultimate Global Explorer

Kilimanjaro Hike: Day 5 – Rocks Everywhere

Great view of Mt. Meru, close to Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania

Ah, the final day before summit.  Day 5 was taking us to the promised land of summit base camp for the Machame Route.  Not a day too soon.  Sure, one more day of acclimatization would have only helped.  But after four spectacular days, now I was beginning to crave reaching the summit.

Hiking the Machame Route from the Karanga Camp

The day began as all the days with the morning routines that set us up for the day’s hike.  The tedious, the necessary, and the helpful all were taken care of and we took off from the Karanga Camp at 13,800 ft (4,200 m) for a seemingly short 3.7 miles (6 km) hike up to the Barafu Camp at 15,100 ft (4,600 m) (at that altitude, short walks are challenging!).  Did I mention that after all these days of sleeping bags, tents, daypack, large backpack, jackets, zippable hiking pants, rain gear, etc. one gets REALLY tired of zippers?  Velcro all the way, bay-bee!!!  (Thanks, Sarah for your help fixing zippers!)

Rocky terrain on the Machame Route headed to Barafu Camp on Day 5 of the Kilimanjaro climb

Me helpfully pointing the way, like a modern Columbus. Rock on trekkers, so to speak  (Photo courtesy of K. Shuman)

Day 5 Headed to Barafu Camp on the Machame Route over rocky terrain in Mt. Kilimanjaro

Happy that I showed them the way (lol!), I trail with the stylish plastic bag over my daypack. Not sure why. Not a cloud on the sky.  (Photo courtesy of K. Shuman)

The route was devoid of vegetation.  Rocks everywhere.  Small rocks though.  Like debris almost.  And some neat views, as usual on this mountain!

Great view of Mt. Meru, close to Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania

Great view of Mt. Meru as the group treks on.  (Photo courtesy of K. Shuman)

Mt. Mawenzi, one of the 3 peaks on Kilimanjaro

Mt. Mawenzi, one of the 3 peaks on Kilimanjaro; it peaks at over 16,000 ft.

Our time at the Barafu Camp

The Barafu Camp was a camp of sorts for us:  we were setting up as usual except we were NOT going to spend the night at this camp.  You see, at night, midnight specifically, we would we leaving this camp to summit.  But that, my friends, is Day 6 so out of scope for this post!

Approach to Barafu Camp in Mt. Kilimanjaro

Our final approach to Barafu Camp (Photo courtesy of K. Shuman)

Signing in at Barafu Camp

At the camp hut to sign in. The stylish looking guy with a plastic bag, an orange jacket, a buff sipping water through a hose… That’s not me…

This camp was VERY rocky.  I had to mind almost every step to not trip or step on a rock that would give way from under me.  To walk around our tent to reach the vestibule on the back (vestibule is a generous term; it was a place to put our bags zipped away and protected from any rain), we had to be extremely careful.

Barafu Camp in Mt. Kilimanjaro

Me trying to make my way around all the darned rocks! (Photo courtesy of K. Shuman)

I woke up in the middle of  one of my naps once it was dark to go to the toilet-tent and, though there was a full moon (it was beautiful especially on summit night), while minding the rocks, I missed noticing the cable holding another tent down and I almost had my face meet a rock that would have likely broken my nose or jaw (and end my attempt to summit).  Luckily as I started falling, I caught my balance and didn’t hit the ground.  BIG whew.  And added respect for the camp…

In any case, this camp was a little bit surreal because of the landscape.  We were also on a steeper slope than we had been at any other camp.  However, always looking for the bright side, some of us concluded that at least we were towards the “exit” of the camp on the way to the summit so we would save, oh, about 4 minutes once we started heading up to the summit…

Barafu Camp in Mt. Kilimanjaro's Machame Route

Barafu Camp – see what I mean about the slope??!!

Though we were not staying overnight, this camp was very important.  We were to have a nice late lunch and then do two very important things:

1.  Pack/Prepare for departing for summit at midnight.

2.  Resting/Sleeping whatever we could to have more energy for the climb that night and to also allow our bodies to get as used as possible to the higher altitude.

Trekkers happy in Mt. Kilimanjaro

Three very happy -if tired- trekkers at Barafu. Myself with the awesome Laura and Kristin!

Being active after getting to camp was not the best thing to do as the body would not get to recover.  So we were advised that whether we napped or not, that we lay down for as long as possible.  Not being one to ignore advice from experts, after lunch I did all I could do to prep for that night’s departure (we were stopping at this camp after coming down from the summit) and proceeded to get comfy and lay down.

I was very pleased that I napped (can’t recall how long a nap but it was long) not once but twice with the final one leading me to wake up around 10:30 PM which was great!  I was able to say bye to the first group of 4 from our group to depart (they were leaving an hour early to be sure they had ample time to make it to the summit by sunrise).  Then I took care of a few things before sitting back down at the same mess tent where I had just said goodbye to our first group an hour before to wait for our own departure.

I couldn’t wait to get going… – but, wait, that’s midnight so that story is part of Day 6!

Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania

The summit beckons…

Back to Day 4

…  on to Day 6 – summit night !

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Other posts about the Kilimanjaro trek:

–  Preparing for the hike is more than training and gear

–  The Machame Route:  our way up

–  7 things you will not see me without as I climb Kili

–  Day 1 of the hike

–  Day 2 of the hike

–  Day 3 of the hike

–  Interview with fellow Kili climber and Ultimate Global Explorer

Kilimanjaro Hike: Day 4 – Barranco Wall and Its Challenges

Entrance to the Barranco Wall on the Machame Route

(Please feel free to ask questions by leaving a comment below – I will respond as quickly as possible!)

There is a morning routine to camp life in Kilimanjaro – at least I concocted one all of my own (did you feel that too, if you have climbed Kilimanjaro??).  This routine quickly moved from these individual tasks to those that were about packing up and getting ready to go.  While I was a little more leisurely about the first set of tasks (I woke up early enough), I usually felt rushed on the latter and somewhat worried I would slow down the group’s departure.

Day 4 on the Machame Route up Kilimanjaro began like every other day:  get out of the zipped-up sleeping bag, figure out where the full pee bottle was to not accidentally crush it, find the camp shoes, put on some warm clothes, have some water, take any of the daily meds required, etc.

 Hiker, Trekker in front of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania wearing Arcteryx

Once the morning routine was completed, this trekker looks like a pro!

A mental and physical wall?  Meet the Barranco Wall

But on Day 4 I also woke up with something else on my mind beyond my routine:  the Barranco Wall.  I had on purpose not read every detail about the Machame Route before I left for the trip because I figured leaving some element of surprise would be good.  I didn’t want to be anticipating what came next but, instead, enjoy each moment (and not dread the next moment…).  Then, the night before we went on the Barranco Wall, I was told about it.  I was not sure what was shared really meant but I had seen the wall on our way in from a distance and I got a little worried about what it would take to get through it for this amateur.  Clearly it was going to be a narrow path with the wall on one side and the “fast” way down on the other…  I tried to not think about it because there was no sense in over-processing it.  But I was hoping it was not wall climbing with a cliff’s edge right by my feet…

It should be called the Barranco Wait, not the Barranco Wall…

Of all the things to have worried about, wall climbing was not it.  No mental or physical wall there (that does not mean there were not a couple of tricky moments!).  The real “wall” was the wait to cross the Barranco Wall!  See, normally trails are wide enough to walk two people side-by-side which allows for letting porters pass you without you having to stop or get out of the way.  We appreciated porters because they make the trek possible for the hikers (more on the porters here).  So we always let them pass if we were walking side by side at any point.

However, the trail on the Barranco Wall narrowed to single file for most of it.  The wall did require some times pulling yourself over rocks but always with the trail on either side of it (that is, never floating over empty space below).   So porters would be trapped waiting for hikers to work their way through these points.  Our group stayed off to the side right before the Barranco Wall started to let as many porters pass but it became rather tedious as we ended up sort of waiting for like a good 30 minutes or so.

The Barranco Wall on the Machame Route climbing Mt Kilimanjaro

Long line of climbers and porters entering the Barranco Wall. Me?  In the waiting room to enter the Wall, I suppose!

The Barranco Wall on the Machame Route climbing Mt Kilimanjaro

Barranco Wall, here we come! OK, in 2 minutes. No, in 10. No in 20…

Wondering what lay ahead of me, I was very eager to get going (instead of pondering what lay ahead) and I sensed others around me were ready to go for whatever reasons of their own.  We finally got going and the wall was actually quite doable.  Yes, the trail narrowed at certain points to widths not comfortable for everyone but this actually did not bother me – but I still made sure I was closer to the wall than the edge 🙂

Climbing on the Barranco Wall in Kilimanjaro

At the beginning of the Barranco Wall, finally! (Photo courtesy of K. Shuman)

Given we had to go slow, I had the time to look back at the direction of the Barranco Camp and the entrance to the Barranco Wall…

View towards Barranco Camp from the Barranco Wall

Camp was in the direction of the green-roofed hut on the top left. Note that trail of trekkers and porters.

Entrance to the Barranco Wall on the Machame Route

Closeup towards the almost-dry stream we had to cross to enter the Barranco Wall’s “waiting room”

There is a trail post- Barranco Wall:  a trail of doubt for me

The wall behind us, I felt relief that now we were going to be back on a more “normal” trail.  Well, we were not quite back to one of those.  The trail after the Wall required climbing over a lot of rocks (without a cliff around) and the exertion of climbing over large rocks actually left me quite winded.  I could see myself lagging the group a bit more with every passing section of the trail and I was not happy.

Our Trekking for Kids lead reassured me that the extra exertion of the legs would definitely have this impact (picture, if you will, the difference between walking uphill vs. walking up the same incline using stairs:  it is harder on the latter).  I still was disappointed and wondered if my fitness level was not up to par and – furthermore- what did this presage about summit night??  Our hiking guide, checking in on me at the next break, told me that an accelerated heart rate is also caused by altitude and may not be a statement about fitness level.  I appreciated the support of the TFK lead and our guide and mustered enough strength to get me past this stage of the trail – but just barely…

Onwards!

Mercifully, after that stage, the trail become more the normal up and down hills so I was OK on those.  Occasional rocks along the way were further apart from each other so the issue did not re-surface and I once again believed I could do this.  My first moment of doubt since entering the mountain had lasted maybe less than an hour but, mentally, it had been huge.  So this is what people mean when they say climbing Kili is both a physical AND a mental challenge…

Along the way, the weather seemed to have taken a turn for the worse so we donned our rain gear but it really did not rain much or for long at all – whew!

Rain hits while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania

Hikers walking into the cloud…

We arrived at the Karanga Camp (13,800 ft; 4,200 m) after a 4 mile (7 km) hike that took around 5 hours and we were pleased it was yet another nice camp.  The tents were on a little bit of a slope but after one slightly uncomfortable night on Day 2, I learned the trick to make the sleeping bag as horizontal as possible:  just put stuff under the sleeping pad to even it out – simple!

Karanga Camp at Kilimanjaro's Machame Route

Yet another beautiful camp! (Photo courtesy of K. Shuman)

It is worth explaining that we used sleeping pads under the sleeping bags for two reasons:  one, further insulate you from the cold ground and, two, a little more comfort in sleep with the extra padding.  Mine was an inflatable one (but not self-inflatable).  I thought this would be an issue given the altitude and diminished oxygen levels but it actually was no trouble at all.  Plus it helped me practice my pressure breathing – good exercise for my lungs at altitude!  Folding the sleeping pad in the morning after deflating it to slip back into its tight packing sleeve was actually THE worst moment of my morning routine…

It’s all in the views…

Like many moments on this climb, neat views delight when they appear.  After the Barranco Wall waiting room, the post-wall stage that slowed me down big time and brought doubt, and the slight rain, it is the nice views that really motivate you to continue with every day and every step.  Such was, for me, this view on Day 4…

Mt. Kilimanjaro's summit beckons climbers

The summit beckons!

Back to Day 3

… or on to Day 5!!

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Other posts about the Kilimanjaro trek:

–  Preparing for the hike is more than training and gear

–  The Machame Route:  our way up

–  7 things you will not see me without as I climb Kili

–  Day 1 of the hike

–  Day 2 of the hike

–  Interview with fellow Kili climber and Ultimate Global Explorer

Kilimanjaro Hike: Day 3 – A Lava Tower, Then All Hail Broke Loose

Mt. Kilimanjaro with a beautiful blue sky and clouds

Morning greeted us at Shira Camp where we had arrived on Day 2, and we started our way up around 8:45 AM to the famous Lava Tower of Mt. Kilimanjaro (though, admittedly, I had not heard about it before I signed up for this trip…).  Excitement combined with anxiety as to how I would perform at the higher altitude.  Our hike on Day 3 started at 12,600 ft (3,840 m) and would peak at the Lava Tower at 15,200 ft (4,630 m).  I had not been that high before (airplanes aside).  Not the longest climb we had done so far (that was on Day 1 of the Machame Route).  But given the altitude, I expected a challenge.

Climb high – and then come back down?  Seriously?

So, the plan for the day was to go up to 15,200 ft.  I remember reading the itinerary and thinking “wow, only 4,000 ft more to go to the summit!”.  And then I read we would end the day at 12,700 ft, barely above our starting point at the Barranco Camp.  “Say WHAT??!!!,” I jived to myself.  I quickly learned how smart this approach was.

The “climb high, sleep low” approach allows for the body to exert itself at higher latitudes with lighter air but sleep at a lower altitude where more oxygen in the air would help the body recover.  As I learned,  this would help the body adjust to altitude better.  I am not sure one fully adjusts to the altitudes in the mountain but you are closer to that with this approach.

Mt. Kilimanjaro with a beautiful blue sky and clouds

This view early on Day 3 certainly motivated us to tackle Day 3’s challenge

The way to the Lava Tower

So off we went, walking in semi-desert terrain.  It is amazing how the terrain is so different every day of this climb.  It keeps it interesting.  I heard the Machame Route is actually the best to truly enjoy this diversity and, as far as I could tell, it was definitely true of the route (though I cannot personally compare it to other routes).

Alpine desert in Mt. Kilimanjaro near the Lava Tower

Some little vegetation…

Alpine desert in Mt. Kilimanjaro near the Lava Tower

… gives way to no vegetation in no time!

As the day went on, the skies darkened and, at different times, fog or clouds passed us, like right after we arrived at the Lava Tower (around 1 PM).  The Lava Tower, one can safely assume, is made from the rocks that the mountain spewed during its volcanic heyday.  But for me, what was more important when we got there was the fact I had managed OK to get to this altitude (“OK” does not mean piece of cake; but it does not mean “barely made it” either).

Lava Tower shrouded in clouds

Clouds coming in to the Lava Tower camp area

At the Lava Tower in Mt. Kilimanjaro

Celebrating arriving at the Lava Tower with my hiking buddy for the day, Melanie

Making it to 15,200 ft is a celebration worthy moment.  For us, that meant a warm lunch!!!

DIning tent while hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro

Our dining room on the mountain

Every day, our porters would set up the tent at camp and serve our meals there (though, normally, lunch was taken on the trail during a break).  The food was so good – or was it just we were starving from the exertion??  I think it was a little bit of both.

So let’s go down from Lava Tower to the Barranco Camp – piece of cake

After having succeeded in climbing to over 15,000 ft and surviving the thinner air during the one hour lunch break, it was time to go down to camp (and more oxygen density!).  We felt at this point we had this covered – everyone was in great spirits, talking and laughing.  We exited the Lava Tower Camp area by going between two very large rock formations and proceeded to go down.

Exiting the Lava Tower Camp area in Mt. Kilimanjaro

Exiting the Lava Tower Camp area

Well, Mother Nature had a different plan for these hikers.  Just after we cleared the rock formations and had proceeded down the rocky terrain some, the weather turned.  A little rain and we all got geared up (covering our daypacks, putting on the hard shell pants, etc.).

Daypacks covered during a storm in Mt. Kilimanjaro

Stormy weather in Kilimanjaro

The umbrella person was not one of ours, for the record. They may have just been blown away by the winds after this photo was taken…

And then it started to hail.

At first, we actually kind of liked it.  Cool was the word.  Until it started hailing harder.

Our collective recollection now is it was hail the size of a small motorized vehicle.  That day, they were the size of mansions.  Upon closer examination of our pictures, the hail was the size of small pellets (my fellow trekkers may kill me for revealing this).  However, this group of trekkers had been spoiled -er, blessed- with awesome weather so we can be forgiven for talking about this hailstorm for a day or two as if it had been a preamble to the Apocalypse.

Hail on Mt. Kilimanjaro

See the MONSTROUS pieces of hail?? The humanity!

We got to camp (still raining some) around 4:45 PM and quite a few folks had to make a run for number one or number two since we had not made any stops during the hail/rain.  No one will forget our guide’s impression of one of our trekkers who was suffering more from an urgent number two run.  As we discussed the day over dinner, we all kept talking about the storm.  Until our guide, Luis, proceeded to tell us that the storm had lasted exactly 1 hr 47 mins and that, on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of bad weather in the mountain, this ranked as a 0.5.  We pondered his point for a moment and, I believe, someone asked for the mango plate to be passed…

E.T., phone home

The Barranco Camp, where we were going to spend the night, was my second favorite camp after the Shira Camp.  I think it was the sense of proximity to the summit combined with a nice setting (though not the expansive vistas of the Shira Camp).

Barranco Camp in Kilimanjaro

One of our trekkers managed to get mobile network signal at this camp and offered the phone for quick calls home for anyone interested.  Having a Cuban mother, I decided I had to take advantage of the opportunity to tell her I was eating well and alive (I think those are her priorities for me, in that order).  She was ECSTATIC to hear my voice, that I was eating food, and that I was alive.  Thanks, Annie!!

More of the scenery

Barring the summit, my favorite vistas were coming to a close.  That does not mean there were not going to be other great views but the best for me had been Day 2 and Day 3, in that order.  Before you close this browser window, a couple more pictures of the scenery of Day 3.   Day 4 will be bringing the Barranco Wall – something that had me wondering how scary would the wall be…  Stay tuned.

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Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro

Back to Day 2

On to Day 4

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Other posts about the Kilimanjaro trek:

–  Preparing for the hike is more than training and gear

–  The Machame Route:  our way up

–  7 things you will not see me without as I climb Kili

–  Day 1 of the hike

–  Interview with fellow Kili climber and Ultimate Global Explorer

Kilimanjaro Hike: Day 2 – The Moorlands and Shira Camp

The summit of Kilimanjaro from Machame Camp

While the excitement of getting going made Day 1 a great day, Day 2 was no less exciting.  For many of us in the Trekking for Kids group, that was mainly due to the change in the landscape (and maybe having one day under our belt?).  Day 1 on the Machame Route had us hike through the forest zone at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro; nice but not terribly interesting (at least to me).  We had heard Day 1 could be tough if it were raining or had just rained with the mud, etc.  But we had good luck on the weather front.

In any case, on Day 2, we moved into what is called “the moorlands“.  And it was a landscape I really liked, offering interesting plants and great views as well.  But before we got going on Day 2, I took a look around when I got out of my tent at the Machame Camp (at 10,200 ft / 3,100 m) and this is what was waiting for me!

The summit of Kilimanjaro from Machame Camp

The top of Kili!

A moorland?  What is that?

I had no idea what moorlands were prior to the hike.  So I looked the term up and it said it was a climate zone at some elevation with low-growing vegetation and fog.  In the end, the descriptions I had found didn’t really help me conjure a good mental picture though the Wikipedia article actually had a picture of Kili’s moorlands.  No worries, I was about to spend a whole day hiking the moorlands of Kili so I stopped trying to get that mental picture.  And these are some of the sights of the moorlands!  (Hope they give you a better sense of the moorlands than Wikipedia gave me.)

Plant in the moorlands terrain of Kilimanjaro with fog behind it

One of the most interesting plants we saw on the climb

Plant in the moorlands terrain of Kilimanjaro

Another interesting plant of the moorlands zone

Moorland terrain in Mt. Kilimanjaro

Great example of the terrain and sky that day! Here a guide walks in front of me

Moorland terrain in Mt. Kilimanjaro

The trekkers making their way in the low vegetation and fog typical of the moorlands zone

Great vistas were part of our reward on Day 2!

We left camp early in the morning around 7:45 AM under a great and beautiful blue sky.  We could see neighboring Mt. Meru in the distance which made for some good photos of the view.

View of Mt. Meru from Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Mt. Meru in the distance

View of Mt. Meru from Mt. Kilimanjaro

I told you it was a photo opp spot!

The trail that day was pretty rocky but not in an intense way as other days.  Interesting larger rocks along the way also made for photo opps that the group did not let go to waste.  This group let NO photo opp go to waste!!

Rock in Mt. Kilimanjaro's moorlands

Hikers on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Everyone trying to get their photo taken on this scenic spot

A beautiful place to spend the night:  Shira Camp

We had had a great day but it was to get better after the 5.5 mile (9 km) hike:  Shira Camp at 12,600 ft (3,840 m) (a gain of 2,400 ft in the day), where we were going to stay that night, was one of the most beautiful spots I saw on the entire climb.  It overlooked a ridge (the Shira Ridge) and, turning 180 degrees, would leave you facing the summit of Kili.  It was breathtaking, especially at sunset.  We were fortunate that we got to camp about 6 hours after we started (around 2 PM) which allowed us ample time to soak in the views – and get good rest before the challenge of Day 3!

Approaching Shira Camp on Mt. Kilimanjaro

When we first spotted the camp – notice the fog

Shira Camp in Mt. Kilimanjaro

We enter camp and look for the green tents of Zara Tours

Shira Camp in Mt. Kilimanjaro - Zara Tours tents

We finally found our tents and everyone proceeded to settle in. We had THE BEST location in camp!

One of our trekkers, Annie, had brought, of all things, a couple of small kites, and it was neat to watch her and others fly them.  Myself? I joined fellow trekkers Olivia and Austin in doing some stretches after the long day of hiking – but enjoying the great views while at it!

Flying kites in Mt. Kilimanjaro!

Kites on Kili

One of the spots with the best view of the ridge and, therefore, a great spot for a photo opp also seemed to be the best spot for a cellphone signal as a few guides would sit on those rock and text away for a while.  This spot also happened to be like within 10 ft (3m) from the toilet-tent nearest to my tent – a place I would visit a couple of times during the night as Diamox (the med you take to help prevent altitude sickness) is a very effective diuretic…  One of the best pieces of advice we got pre-trip was to bring a so-called “pee bottle” so one could relieve oneself within “the comfort” of one’s own tent… Easier for guys than gals, I am sure.  Of course, if the bottle runneth over or a case of bad aiming hit, neither would not be a good situation (not alluding to ANYONE in the group…) so care must be taken in the use of said bottle…  Sometimes though, the bottle did not have enough capacity for production so one still had to go outside.  That was a slight pain as one had to put on the shoes, maybe a jacket and long pants, find the headlamp, etc.  But I never failed to fall asleep easily upon returning from these small nighttime outings, mercifully…

I am not sure how this post took such a turn, dear reader, so I will bring myself back to the more pleasant topic of the hike…  OK, since I have already brought the topic up, here is a gratuitous photo of the portable toilet in the toilet-tent. (I know some of my friends and family are DYING to see a pic of one of these.)  Are you glad I went “there”?

Toilet in a tent in Mt. Kilimanjaro

At least I made the picture smaller than the rest…

So, quickly switching gears (warning:  awkward turn of topic coming…), this day we had one of our many favorite lunches:  grilled tomato, cheese and cucumber sandwiches!  A real treat and we all gobbled up these babies up happily!

Grilled sandwiches during our Kilimanjaro trek

Grilled sandwich goodness!

When it is all said and done…

So all these make for great memories of Day 2 but these are the images that really capture the “awesomeness” of the day for me.

Sunset at Shira Camp with clouds going by hikers

Shira Camp with Mt. Kilimanjaro as its backdrop

A happy if tired hiker by his tent and the roof of Africa!

Back to Day 1

On to Day 3

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Other posts about the Kilimanjaro trek:

–  Preparing for the hike is more than training and gear

–  The Machame Route:  our way up

–  7 things you will not see me without as I climb Kili

–  Day 4 of the hike

–  Interview with fellow Kili climber and Ultimate Global Explorer

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