How Hard Is It to Climb Kilimanjaro?

A few years ago I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the roof of Africa.  I have written about how I prepared, what I took with me, and how each day was from day 1 to reaching Uhuru Peak (Kili’s summit) to coming down the mountain.  However, one of the key questions I get is “how hard is it to climb Kilimanjaro”?  I also get that in a different way when people look at me like I did an almost impossible feat.  I get that it is not something most people do hence why it is a feat of a kind but to me there are crazier and/or harder things (it is all relative, isn’t it??).  So I wanted to share a little of my perspective on how hard is Kili…

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The first time I saw Kili outside of the Honey Badger Lodge

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A photo shared in my earlier post about what I took with me

A bucket list item that never was: Kilimanjaro

I never planned or thought of climbing Kilimanjaro.  It had never occurred to me. I had barely heard or read of people who did, nor was I a big hiker to begin with (my first multi-day hike ever had been the year before and I had never stayed at a tent in my life!).  I had hiked four days in Transylvania (Romania) the year before with Trekking for Kids (TFK) and, at a fundraiser for them a few months later, folks started talking to me about joining them in a few months to climb Kilimanjaro with TFK.  I considered the whole idea preposterous.  “Climbing Kilimanjaro is too hard,” I thought.  While I exercise regularly, I was not running half marathons (had done it once a dozen years before) nor doing bootcamps a few days a week nor anything of the like.

Climbing Kilimanjaro was for the super athletes of the world and I was far from a fraction of that though I knew I was in slightly better shape than the average person.  But, a lot of cajoling, elbowing me (and a couple (or 4) glasses of wine later), I succumbed and said yes, beginning to feel excited that I would attempt something so ‘crazy’ and out of character.  The next morning as I woke up and remembered the prior night’s events, I was asking myself why I had agreed to doing something like (instead of saying I’d think about it).  Well, I am not one to disappoint so I decided I was going to give it a shot after all not thinking I had what it took, expecting it took a LOT of training time I did not have, at altitude I could not spend time on, and requiring plenty more hiking experience at altitude or not that I did not possess…

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Ready to start the climb!

Getting ready for climbing Kilimanjaro

A million questions started swirling in my head.  How do I best prepare?  What do I need to bring with me?  What do I need to wear to deal with the cold?  Can I do anything to improve my chances at the exertion?  Can I do anything to help me be ready for the high altitude?  What did I need to know in terms of my personal safety?  How much was it going to cost me when it was all said and done?

I was fortunate to have been going to Kili with an outfit like TFK.  They provided a good bit of info and gladly answered all my questions as I researched things and acquired the things I needed.  I even remember being at REI looking at stuff and calling TFK’s Director of Operations and all-around hiking guru to understand the choices, look at items, see if the features they had were needed, and all that good stuff.  It was not easy but surely having knowledge helps!!

I won’t repeat here all the things I decided to do in terms of preparation or to pack in terms of clothing and other gear; I will provide links to those posts below.  But I will address here the “how hard” question…

So how hard is it to climb Kilimanjaro then?

Of course, you do not decide to hike to the summit of 19,340 foot mountain on a whim.  OK, perhaps if you are a superstar athlete or have the right genes you can… but most of us don’t fit that category.  Actually, I take that back even being a superstar athlete does not guarantee you will make it to the top.  Physical conditioning is only part of what is needed to make it to Uhuru Peak, the summit.  The other part, well, it is simply how your body deals with the high altitude and lower oxygen levels (for which you can do a couple of things that help a tad).  Nevertheless, you have to have an OK fitness level as you will be exerting your body through a few hours a day of walking and gradual climbs, mixed with some steeper climbs at certain points.

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Leaving the Lava Tower looks harder than it was (Day 3)

Training at altitude would help but, from what I understand, the body’s adjustment to altitude dissipates within a few days/a week so that may not be logistically possible for everyone (to go from training in high altitude in another continent and head straight to climb Kili).  I did not do any high altitude / long climbs as part of my training due to many constraints but certainly they can only help so if you are able to do some of that in the weeks before, then your fitness level will be better.

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Heading to Barafu Camp from where we would launch to the summit (Day 5)

Part of my training as I share elsewhere was walking on a treadmill on a high incline with a backpack loaded with twice the weight I would carry on the mountain.  It was an odd sight at the gym for sure but it helped physically if not just mentally…  That and the fact that I am in general good shape through routine exercise were in my favor but I still struggled summit night (who doesn’t?) and after the Barranco Wall.

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Climbing along (not up) the Barranco Wall had its challenging spots (me in orange!) (Day 4)

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A little while after the Barranco Wall (OK, an hour or so), we got hit by a little rain

So while Kilimanjaro was far from easy (each day I would end completely drained and able to move but barely), I feel it is a reasonable, attainable goal for people with a fair degree of training/fitness – and the drive to push themselves beyond what they think they can do.  And, with all that, it will still all depend on how the high altitude hits each particular individual – and that cannot be predicted.

I have to say that MOST CERTAINLY going with a great organization (in my case, a non-profit like Trekking for Kids) and having a one-of-a-kind extremely seasoned lead guide as we had (Luis Benitez – read about him here) were key success factors in helping ME complete the journey from planning to trekking to summitting – and making it down in one piece!

What was the hardest part about climbing Kilimanjaro?

It is a hard question to answer.  We are all so different.  My answer may not be yours.  Things I can think of include:

  • the cold,
  • the longing for a nice glass o’ wine or a beer (OK, I threw that in for comic relief),
  • the badly needing to get up to pee in the middle of the night (if taking Diamox – or not),
  • the constant packing and unpacking,
  • the not showering,
  • the bathroom situation at camp and on the trail,
  • the rocks to climb requiring longer legs than I have,
  • the having a sick tent-mate and wondering for days if you will catch it,
  • etc.

(NOTE:  Note food is not on this list.  I ate great stuff thanks to our great porters & crew!)

But all these things are “overcomeable.”  For instance, while I used wipies every day to sort of clean up after a day of hiking, I had no such thing for the hair.  Yet not even ONCE did I think that it had been days since I had washed my hair last (those who know me will know how incredible THAT sounds).  That’s what makes going up Kili something special.  YES, it is hard in many ways.  YES, physically, no matter how well trained (with those rare exceptions).  But the hardest part is the mental part when you wonder if you really can make it all the way and whether you want to on one of those moments you are too tired to think straight.  The hardest part is in keeping going, in putting one foot in front of the other when you think you can step no more.  And you can.  And you will.  And you will be so amazed when it is all done that you did it.  That you had it in you.  I never knew I did.  But I did.

And this is the face of happiness at 19,340 ft above sea level, with my family close to me.

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At Uhuru Peak – the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro!!

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Some key links to posts about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

Gear for Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro Clothing

Preparing to Hike Kili: More than Training and Gear

Top 14 Items to Bring on a Climb of Kilimanjaro

And if you want to read a day-by-day walkthrough of what it is to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro, start with Day 1.

And if you just like hiking in general, check out some of my posts about hiking in different places

Hiking in the state of Georgia: Blood Mountain

Hiking in the Transylvanian Alps in Romania

Trekking the W Circuit in Patagonia

Doing the Camino de Santiago in Spain

A Hike around Fitz Roy in Argentina

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Would love to hear from you about places you hope to hike or favorites past hikes – always good to get ideas from others for future hikes!!

Gear for Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro – Clothing

Planning my hike of Mount Kilimanjaro and the subsequent safari (check out my visit to Serengeti) in Tanzania was not an easy task – it felt daunting.  Good research was key and I figured that would be the case from the get-go.  That research took many forms:  talking to people who have hiked Kili, reading blogs or websites about hiking it, talking to the great folks at REI, and working through the list and advice given to me by the trek organizer (Trekking for Kids) which was outstanding.  In the end, I still had many decisions to make on what felt could be important things to add to my packing list for hiking Kilimanjaro and the subsequent safari.  But I was well armed with information and advice.

This post is geared (sic) to those contemplating climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with the goal of reaching 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!  There are more ways to skin a cat than one!

Before I get on to my recommendations for the packing list, a few key items to note:

  • I went on safari after the hike concluded so I include in the packing list things for the safari as well.
  • 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 choose.
  • 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 post will get more details.
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Pin it and dream of Kili!

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 a couple of 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. Regardless of where you buy them, make sure you know whether you can try them out and return them if you, once you have tried them out, decide they are not for you. These two represent two different price points.

Sample 1Merrell Men’s Moab 2 Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot

Sample 2Columbia Men’s North Plains Ii Waterproof Mid Hiking Boot

  • 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).  You don’t really need knee-high things in my opinion; something to cover the possible gap between the bottom of your pants and the top of your boots is fine.
  • 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).  A key feature I would highly recommend are the side long zippers (ankle to hip) that enable you to very quickly put them on (as in, when rain starts all of a sudden…) – a breeze!  Bottom line on these:  windproof and waterproof.
    • When I was not using the outer shell (which was most of the time), I just used my hiking pants as the exterior layer.  I would highly recommend zip-off (convertible) hiking pants for quick adaptability:  if it gets too hot during the day, you don’t have the “do-I-want-to-go-through-the-hassle-of-taking-off-my-boots-to-change-into-shorts?”-type of dilemma…  But it also saved packing both long pants and shorts 🙂  Read through all the details of these and others you may find (all sorts of price points!).  The convertible hiking pants shown don’t need to be anything fancy:  comfortable and with the amount of pockets you feel you want in the right places (and with buttons, Velcro or zippers on them per your preferences).  Basic worked fine for me!

     

Sample Hiking PantsColumbia Boy’s Silver Ridge III Convertible Pants
Sample Outer ShellMarmot Men’s PreCip Full Zip Pant Shell

  • 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!)  For lower altitudes, a regular long sleeve CoolMax type of shirt.  As I went up and things got colder, a wool “close-to-the-skin” layer under the CoolMax worked well.  Wool is ideal for skin-contact as it wicks moisture from your skin preventing many things (one of them: smells!).  I show one example below but there are tons from many brands that fit the needs – and varying budgets 😉  Bottom line: no cotton!

Sampletasc Performance Men’s Elevation Ultrafine Soft Merino Lightweight Long Sleeve Shirt

  • Mid layer – I got a merino wool mid-layer to have for the evenings at camps lower than base camp. On summit night, this layer would separate the skin-hugging base layers and the outer layers I will mention next. Tasc‘s Elevation line (of which I show a base layer item above) also has a 1/4 zip hoodie jacket that also combines merino wool with their signature bamboo fiber which may be a great item.  I didn’t have one with a hoodie so I had to wear the regular ski hat if I was cold enough at camp at night. (By the way, I am a fan of Tasc‘s regular bamboo fabric t-shirts so I am curious how this one would work).  The Icebreaker item I show below, has the power of one of the best-known and valued brands in terms of quality of merino wool. Normally that means a higher price point but this one seems quite reasonable; search around when you click through below as they have other versions of the same type of item with some range in price point…  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  Be wary of items that will themselves as having wool; a few years ago I clicked on one and it was mostly polyester and only 11% wool – always read the product details!!  Note:  An alternative could be a fleece jacket – there are pros and cons to wool vs. fleece with one of the main ones being how each performs in keeping you warm when wet (wool is better) and how quickly they dry (fleece is better).  Since I knew I would have the right layers to keep rain off me, then wool was a no-brainer for me.

Sample Mid Layer 1Icebreaker Merino Descender Long Sleeve 1/2 Zip
Sample Mid Layer 2Smartwool Men’s NTS Mid 250 Full Zip T

    • Outer layers –  On the trek, I had an outer hard shell for rain and wind.  I also carried a synthetic down jacket which was great because it was very compact when packed.  I used the latter in the evenings while at camp on cold nights and, of course, on summit night.  My outer shell was an Arcteryx jacket very much like the one below. Arcteryx is not a cheap brand (I hunted the jacket until I found it on a great sale!) but reading through the item I show below will give you an idea of the features to look for; best I can tell, this one is pretty similar from top to bottom to the one I had (except mine was orange).  To keep in mind for summit night:  I used 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.  It important to plan these well because summit night will be COLD.

Sample Outer ShellArcteryx Alpha SL Jacket

  • 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 with planning your packing list?

So, this is the run-down of the clothing items I’d include in any packing list for a hike of Mount Kilimanjaro.  These items shared here are the things I obtained and used on the hike (and on the subsequent safari) and they served me very well.  Others may have different opinions or additional suggestions on what to add to the list of things to bring to hike Kili, and I hope they will share those here.  Finally, I hope if you were not considering hiking Kili or were uncertain, checking out my other posts on the topic (which I list below) and know that it is fairly attainable with good training and preparation!

Disclosure:  I am not being paid or in any way compensated by the brands whose wares I discuss in this post.  While I would love to sample their products and review them, that is not the case in this post – just want to show good samples of the types of items I’d consider.

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Day 1 of the hike

Day 2 of the hike

Day 3 of the hike

Day 4 of the hike

Day 5 of the hike

Day 6 of the hike (summit night!)

Day 7 of the hike (going down!)

The Machame Route

7 Items you won’t see me without on Kili

 

Kilimanjaro: The Descent from Uhuru Peak

Going down the mountain from Uhuru Peak began around 20-30 minutes after we had arrived in Uhuru, the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  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 most people so it is not recommended.  Being well-led, after all the picture-taking at Uhuru, we began the descent from the summit of Kilimanjaro.  Coming down from the summit would be 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, Kilimanjaro can be climbed within a day or two.  But altitude acclimatization requires time and lots of good sense if one wants not just to make it to the top, but to survive the experience…

Starting the descent of Kilimanjaro

We passed Stella Point again on the way down but, this time, without much fanfare – or picture-taking.  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; or perhaps there was another path up without scree?).  Well, it was time to come DOWN the field of scree.  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 five minutes or then 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.  Drive me down maybe is more like it.  It was an exhilarating and scary ride!!  We were going very fast and we were mainly sliding downhill, much as you would do when skiing.

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 where 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 two trekkers (husband and wife), 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 in case it was a symptom of something worse (thankfully, it was not and she was fine by the time we got to basecamp for our lunch stop).  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!

(If you are planning your own climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro, I would appreciate letting me know via the comments if the info here (or in my other posts about Kili) has been helpful or what else may help you dream of or plan for the hike!)

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 1 – Getting Going

Writing about our hike of Mt. Kilimanjaro is no easy task.  What to share?  Clearly the “facts” of the route, camps, durations, weather, gear, the day-to-day routine, etc. are all important elements of the story.  But the more I thought about how to write about this experience, the more I realized I wanted to share how it felt first and foremost, covering some of the elements listed earlier as they fit into the overall story, instead of making those the focus.  As I mentioned in another post, preparing for Kili is more than training and gear.  As you will see over the series of writeups, the emotional element also applies to actually doing the climb.  Let’s get going with Day 1!

The route and the climb

Well, before getting into the hike itself, a quick word about the route and the climb.  We went up the Machame Route, known for its vistas and for not being as crowded as other routes.  Also, Machame is a route with a higher likelihood of success than the so-called “Coca-Cola” Route (the Marangu Route) since it offers better altitude adjustment (climb high, sleep low; 6 days of ascent; etc.).

The climb itself is to Uhuru Peak.  Mt. Kilimanjaro actually refers to the entire mountain, the tallest free-standing mountain in the world.  Uhuru Peak is the highest point on the mountain and, therefore, in Africa!  Uhuru Peak is the goal and the entry point to the summit area on this route is called Stella Point.

Getting going on Day 1:  the Machame Gate and the wait

It starts on day 1 when, full of anticipation, the trekkers finish prepping the daypack they will carry on their backs and the other piece of luggage that will be taken from camp to camp by the porters accompanying our group.

Backpacks ready to go up Mt. Kilimanjaro

Daypacks waiting for their trekkers!

We got up at the crack of dawn to head from our hotel (the awesome Honey Badger Lodge) to the hotel from which the mountain trek would leave, the Springlands Hotel, home base of Zara Tours who Trekking for Kids had hired to do our trek.

The ride to the Machame Gate, entry point to the Machame Route, could not start quickly enough.  As with many things, one gets ready and then one waits.  After we finished leaving some of our non-trek stuff in storage at the Springlands, our bus arrived and the process of loading up our trek bags began.  Soon enough we were on our way to the Machame Gate.  It seemed to take forever but it couldn’t have been more than 1 hour or hour-and-a-half.  We were just so ready to get this climb going!

Once we arrived at the Machame Route, we proceeded to, you guessed it, sit and wait for about an hour.  The reason, though, was quite simple:  the permits had to be purchased by the lead guides.  This process takes time as we were not the only ones there (fancy that!).  This would be a reality throughout the trek:  others are there with you.  Not that we expected to be alone, mind you.  Just that one never stops to consider that until one gets to this first gate.  While it could have been chaotic, it really was not.  We proceeded to eat our boxed lunches while we waited and took a few pictures to commemorate the start of our climb!

At the Machame Gate at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro

ilivetotravel doing the obligatory photo at the Machame Gate, looking ready and clean!

Another thing you can do while you wait is read the few signs posted with instructions and warnings for those starting to climb Kili!

Sign on Machame Gate at Kilimanjaro

We cheered when we saw our guide come over with paperwork – it meant we were ready to go.  The funny thing is that we saw other guides come out around the same moment with their papers.  You would think the first-come, first-serve approach would have led to guides coming out gradually and sequentially.  Nope.  It seems all permits were issued almost at the same time for all the groups waiting!  That meant, everyone got going at the same time creating a little bottleneck at the entrance gate.  We got to pass quickly through without waiting long so we were FINALLY on our way!!

The hike on Day 1

Day 1 was mainly going through a forest habitat starting at 6,000 ft (1,830 m) and ending at the Machame Camp at 10,200 ft (3,100 m).

Day 1 of the Machame Route of Kilimanjaro

Typical of the Day 1 Machame Route. Notice the porters on the trail.

It may have been the built-up anticipation but, for the most part, I didn’t feel the altitude wear on me as the day went on.   We were fortunate it did not rain that day so the gaiters were not really needed (those green things I am wearing on my legs in the earlier photo to help prevent mud or pebbles from getting into our boots).  This part of the trail is about the nicest one with some work done to create a good trail for part of the way.

We got to camp about 4:30 PM, five hours after we had started.  We were thrilled at having completed our first day of 6 to get to the summit!  While we knew we still had a lot of challenges ahead, it felt SO good to have one day under our belt!  At this point we did our first book signing to show we were there – a requirement if we wanted to be issued an official completion certificate at the end of the hike.

Register at camp in Kilimanjaro

The Machame Camp sits in an area with plenty of vegetation.  This means we had more smaller animal life than we would have higher up; read, mice.  Key here is to keep the tent zipped up when not coming and going!   The Machame Camp has a toilet building that is pretty new.  I heard it had both Western toilets and Turkish toilets, if those are the proper names for the fixture types.  We also had a pair of portable toilets-tents and I preferred those… (less smelly).

In any case, getting to camp means setting up the sleeping tents and the mess hall tent.  Normally the porters who carry these items and set them up get there ahead of the trekkers and the guides but on Day 1 we got there at the same time.  So this day we got to watch them at work.

Camp being set up in Kilimanjaro

Setting up camp

Once the tents were set up and before dinner was ready, I, like some of the other trekkers, got organized by washing up, taking out the items needed for the night (headlamp, etc.), and preparing the daypack for the next day.  Oh, and the getting drinking water and treating it (Steripen worked wonderfully!) – a staple of the every day life on the mountain!

Trekker at camp in Kilimanjaro

Yours truly getting ready for my first night camping ever!

We got to enjoy a beautiful sunset before heading to the mess hall tent for dinner and an early bedtime so we could be well-rested for Day 2.  Dinner included a hot soup, potatoes, fried fish, vegetables, and small bananas along with tea and hot chocolate.  On to my first night camping ever and Day 2!

Tents at Machame Camp during sunset in Kilimanjaro

Our tents with a beautiful backdrop courtesy of the African sunset

On to Day 2

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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

–  Day 3 of the hike

–  Day 4 of the hike

–  Day 5 of the hike

–  Day 6 of the hike (summit night)

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

–  Interview with fellow Kili climber and Ultimate Global Explorer

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