Konquering Kilimanjaro

Jambo, jambo bwana harbari gani mzurisana wageni mwakaribishwa Kilimanjaro hakuna matata. Awe, the Song of Kilimanjaro brings me so much joy and fond memories of an adventure I will never forget. Mount Kilimanjaro is not only the tallest free standing mountain in the world but it is the highest mountain in Africa at 19,341 ft. No wonder it has been rightfully nicknamed the Roof of Africa. Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano composed of 3 cones Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira and it usually takes between 6-9 days to climb. You may think to yourself that you might not be fit enough to climb Kilimanjaro but there is a saying on the mountain; pole pole which means slowly. You must climb Kilimanjaro slowly to reach the top. I personally preferred haraka haraka (faster) but to each their own. This is my journey to standing on the Roof of Africa

Day 1

My first day was met with excitement and thrill to finally start my trek up Kilimanjaro but before heading to Kilimanjaro there was some housekeeping that needed to take place. The night before I had an equipment check completed to see if I was properly equipped to head up Kilimanjaro. One of the lead guides (a very attractive Tanzanian man) came to my room and went through everything on the equipment checklist and made sure everything was packed in my duffel. On officially day one, I had to have my duffel bag weighted to make sure it was under 20kg. When everything was complete, it was time to head to Machame gate. There are several routes to get to the summit of Kilimanjaro, I started at Machame gate which is usually a 6-7 day hike (I would be doing 7 days). As I was waiting to start the trek, I packed my lunch, filled my water bladder, chatted with people, and patiently waited for an adventure of a lifetime. Once everything was good to go I started my ascend to the summit.

The first days hike was super easy especially because the lead guide, Andrew, was going super pole pole. All I kept thinking was how I wanted to go haraka haraka but alas I had to stay with the group *rolling my eyes* (this behavior would become my new favorite pastime this whole trip). As I walked along I noticed how fast the porters were as they sped by me caring 50 lbs worth of gear. The trek up was quite lovely because I hiked through the rainforest and got to see blue monkey’s, tropical plants, and chatted with the guides. Along the way I got to learn some phrases from the guides that were used along the trail like if I wanted to use the restroom I would say I had to use the “internet cafe”. If I had to go #1 I would say I had to “send an email” and if I had to use #2 I would say I had to “send an email with an attachment”. The hike up to Machame camp took about 6-7 hours and was 9,842 ft in elevation, by the time the group arrived it was evening time.

I will never forget that first day to camp because as soon as the group arrived the porters and guides (the crew) was there to greet the group by singing some beautiful songs in Swahili and dancing. This is where I was introduced to now one of favorite songs (and the intro to this blog) Song of Kilimanjaro. After all the celebrating died down I was able to get a good look at the camp. The crew had already setup the sleeping tents, toilet tents, and mess tent. The mess tent would be where breakfast, lunch, and dinner would be served. That first night sleeping in the tent would be the easiest but from this point forward I would dread when the night would come.

Day 2

The next morning the crew came around to everyones tent for a wake up call. While inside my tent, a crew member came by and gave me warm water to use to wash up. The first morning after sleeping on the mountain, it was easy to get wash up and get ready. But as the group started to go higher in elevation the colder and colder it got. This routine for me wanting to wash up, would fall by the wayside. Every morning after I was done getting ready I would have to fold my sleeping bag, pack up my duffel, and set it on a tarp outside of my tent. The porters would be carrying my stuff to the next camp and all I needed for the day was my day pack.  After I was all packed up I headed to the mess tent for breakfast. There was hot drinks like hot chocolate and tea, the crew would serve a warm dish with every breakfast, and varying other dishes. After breakfast it was time to start the hike up to Shira camp which is 12,598 ft in elevation. The lead guide today was Danson and I made sure to be right behind him and every lead guide throughout this trek. Why, you ask? Because I love being first.

The hike to Shira camp would take the group through a new climate zone called the heath. It’s characterized by it’s everlasting flowers and mossy low trees. On the hike up, this part of the terrain was a bit more steep then from the first day but still fairly easy. The hike took anywhere from 4-6 hours to reach Shira camp. I avoided looking at my watch because then the inevitable question would come: are we there yet?? The camp, which sat above  the tree line and clouds had a beautiful view of the top of the clouds and the peak of Kili. I took some of my best scenic photos at Shira camp because of it’s spectacular view.

Into the late afternoon and evening time, it was time to relax and eat lunch and dinner. I loved lunch and dinner time because most of the time I got served some type of a potato dish and there was always soup. I had some of the best soup of my life, on the side of a mountain, in a mess tent, served by Tanzanian guys. The night ended like every night from this point on with one of the gorgeous lead guides telling the group what to expect for tomorrows hike, what we should be wearing, words of encouragement, and telling the group to get a goods night rest.

Day 3

It was a bit cooler at night at this camp but the worst has yet to come. The same routine from yesterday for getting ready for today was conducted. The crew gave me a wake up call, they gave me warm water to wash up, I folded my sleeping bag, I packed up my duffel, I sat my duffel on a tarp outside my tent, and I headed to breakfast. Before beginning the hike, the group got a quick briefing about the day and then it was off towards the summit.   

Today I was leaving Shira camp and heading to Barranco camp via Lava Tower. Lava Tower would be the highest point to climb thus far at 15,091ft and then I will descend down to Barranco camp which is 12,959ft in elevation. The lead guide for today was Baba Aboo and it was going to be a long day of hiking from 6-8 hours. The landscape was barren with mostly just rocks. Today was definitely a challenging day and this is coming from the most fit person in the group. There were steep mounts, scaling over rocks, high elevation, and varying climate changes.

In our group there were only 2 people not taking diamox (an altitude sickness pill), myself and another girl. So, we would be the experimental subjects to determine if people need to be on diamox. Once the group reached Lava Tower test subject #1 started throwing up (no worries, I was test subject #2). With test subject #1 out of the running then it was up to me to prove that people don’t need diamox to climb Kili. I will skip ahead real quick to the end of the story; I went up and down Kili and never got altitude sickness.

Lava Tower camp was the groups resting point and lunch spot before hiking to Barranco camp where the group would be spending the night. As I was waiting for lunch to be served, I could really feel the difference in how thin the air was up here. I had gotten up from the table to go use the toilet tent and when I came back to the table it felt like I just got done running. I was out of breath and tried, it was truly one of the most bizarre experiences I’ve had. After lunch it was time to head to Barranco camp which thankfully would be mostly down hill.

Once the group arrived to Barranco the air was cold and the clouds surrounded the camp. But thankfully the group arrived early enough to have free time. There’s really nothing to do on the mountain once the hike is over. So I just relaxed in the tent, wrote in my journal, looked over the photos I took during the day, and I was lucky enough to take a nap before dinner. During dinner the guides started checking the groups vitals and keeping a chart. They took my pulse, O2 levels, follow by some embracing questions like did I sent an email with an attachment? After dinner there was another briefing and then off to bed. This night was really cold there was frost already forming on the outside of the tent once the sun went down. I had to start sleeping with my electronics so they wouldn’t freeze during the night. The sleeping bag that I rented wasn’t keeping me completely warm and my tent was placed on a slope. I kept sliding down the whole night and having to push myself back up. To say the least, it was one of the worst nights and it will not get any better from here on out till I was off the mountain…ugh!

Day 4

After a horrible nights sleep, I packed up my bags and after breakfast I was excited to start the day. Today the group will be leaving to Karanga camp which is 15,091ft in elevation and it will be between a 4-5 hour trek. The lead guide for today is the handsome Mr. Hollywood (Geoffrey. I’m a happy girl). To get to the new camp the group must first scramble and climb over the Barranco wall. Climbing over Barranco wall was such a fun excursion and way better than yesterdays hike. I had to scale the rocks in some places, just like rock climbing, plus it was a good workout. Once I reached the top of Barranco wall there was an amazing view of Kilimanjaro. But I had to be quick about getting my picture in front of it because the clouds would roll in and block Kili and roll out again. So my timing had to be perfect. The rest of the hike was quite cold because the clouds started rolling in, it blocked the sun, and brought mist. By the time I reached Karanga camp it was only in the afternoon so there was plenty of time to rest. Kilimanjaro was right behind my tent and it looked so close as if I could reach out with my hand and touch it. But there was still another full day of climbing before starting the ascend up Kili.

By this time I was sick of being on the mountain because it was getting colder and colder the further up I went. My sleeping bag was awful; the zipper was broken which made it hard to zip up and it wasn’t keeping me completely warm. I was getting tried of eating the same food for breakfast. I was tried of getting up in the middle of night to use the toilet tent because it was so cold. I was tried of being around some of the other females in the group (this one was a major reason I wanted off the mountain). I was tried of wearing the same dirty clothes and not bathing for days. But on the bright side I was craving potatoes or anything high in carbs and the chef was cooking a lot of potatoes and pasta. Bonus, I didn’t have any altitude sickness and my body wasn’t sore like some of the people in the group (I’m super fit). Plus, I really was enjoying spending time with the crew and I was learning Swahili.

Day 5

Tonight is the big night that I will ascend to the summit and be that much closer to getting off the mountain, lol. I endured another sleepless and cold night but I managed to get through it. I’m really trying to enjoy my journey up to the summit but these damn cold nights are making it really hard to appreciate this experience. But I have sucked it up so far and I’m making my way to the top come hell or high water. I packed up my things in the morning, grateful for another new morning, and headed to breakfast. 

Today the group would be leaving Karanga camp and trekking to Barafu camp lead by Aboo. Barafu is 15,000ft in elevation and it took 4-5 hours to get there. On the way to camp I had to hike through the Alpine desert which was barren. There was just dust, dirt, and rocks, no vegetation in sight. On the way up to Barafu, the clouds were low so it was cold and Kili was not visible. At this point, since I had been on the mountain for a few days and there was no gorgeous scenery, the hike up seemed like it took forever.

I arrived at camp in the early afternoon which gave me plenty of time to rest and prepare for tonight. At dinner the crew gave the group a briefing of what to expect and a pep talk to say how proud the crew was of how far the group has come. And there’s not that much further to go. I had my vitals checked again that night to make sure I was healthy enough to climb to the top. Then it was off to bed to try and get some sleep…no luck there. I could not sleep because it was so cold (it’s at this point I was wishing I had more body fat…damn all my exercising and running it’s coming back to bite me) and noisy from the crew that I just laid in my sleeping bag wishing to be on my safari already…sigh.

Day 6

It’s midnight when the guides come to wake the group up. Since I didn’t require a wake up call, I started to put on more clothes. I haven’t changed my clothes for the last 3 days, I just keep adding layers. For my hike up to the summit I wore 4 pairs of pants, 6 tops including my jacket, 2 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of gloves, 2 scarves, a headlamp, and a beanie. And after all that I still wasn’t completely warm. I wish I had George Constanza’s coat, the one made out gore tex, I would’ve felt like I was in an oven. I had layered up before putting on my hiking boots but since my 2 different gloves were so hard to put on I couldn’t even lace my boots. I made my way to the mess tent for breakfast and some of the guides were already there. They were so helpful; they were making sure the group had snacks for the climb and had on the proper gear. Andrew, one of the guides, laced up my boots for me and another guide set up my water bottle. It’s important to have the water bottle turned upside down and placed in a sock to minimize the freezing because the temperature was 11 degrees. I wore my electronics close to my body to keep them warm so they wouldn’t freeze on my climb to the summit.

On summit day there was a 1:1 ratio of guides to hikers so the guides could give personal attention to the person they were helping to the summit. With my gear on, headlamp on (because it was pitch black), and hiking poles in hand I was ready for the hike of all hikes; getting to the Roof of Africa.

The ascent up was not easy by any means, it was a slow steady climb upward with some breaks in between. Due to me not getting any sleep that night or hardy any night on the mountain, I was falling asleep while hiking. If you don’t think this is possible try climbing Kili without any sleep. There is a saying amongst the guides: “don’t die with your backpack on.” Meaning since people in the group were carrying day backpacks, if someone was to get tired give over the backpack to the guide so they could carry it. I wanted to make it to the summit with my backpack on but I finally subsume to Kili and handed my backpack to my guide, who was the lead guide as well, Geoffrey *goggly eyes*. One of the hardest parts of climbing to the top was my hands getting frozen numb because I had to use my hiking pole and my gloves warmth were average at best. Since it was so cold outside my nose kept running and running, luckily I had a scarf tied around half my face so no one could see what I’m sure was a frightful site.

I decided not to keep looking up towards the top because I would only get discouraged that I wasn’t there yet and so I kept focused by looking at and following Geoffrey’s feet. Where he would step I would step and thats how I made my way up pole pole to the top. But wait there’s more! Once I reached the top which is called Stella Point it was an additional 60 minute hike to Uhuru Peak which is Africa’s highest point. I can’t tell you how many colorful curse words flew out of my mouth when I found out I had to hike an hour more to get my picture taken in front of the Mt Kili sign. So I had to press onward and upward. By this time it was almost 7am and the sun had finally graced me with her presence so it wasn’t as cold as when I first started. Word to the wise, don’t trust anybody coming down saying “Oh, it’s not that much longer” because it is and it’s never-ending (I’m being dramatic but it seemed like the last bit took forever). Then finally, exhausted, cold, and hunger, there she was Uhuru Peak! I konquered Kilimanjaro!

I was so excited and tired all at the same time but I had done it and I finally was able to get my picture as proof that I made it to the tallest point in Africa. It was quite beautiful up top, I could see the glacier and the sky with it’s lovely shades of orange made it even more grand. It was a surreal moment, like I can’t believe I made it but in my mind I always knew I would. The air didn’t even seem that much different up there even though I was 19,341ft in the air, it felt more like 9,000.

I was so excited about coming back down the mountain that I literally skied most of the way down. And no, there was no snow, I skied on little rocks which is what most of the top of the mountain is made up of. And I have never been skied in my life but I did that day. I was zooming down the mountain so fast that people watched in awe. The descent from Uhuru Peak back to Barafu camp is 4 hours and I did it in less than 2 hours. When I finally made it back to camp, I couldn’t wait to take a nap but all the adrenaline running through me, made it impossible to sleep. So I relaxed and wrote in my journal till it was time for lunch. After lunch the group would have to head down to the next camp where the group would be sleeping for the night. I was not looking forward to hiking again but there was only 2 more hikes till getting off Kili and that’s all I could think about.

I truly prefer hiking up than down because my toes started to hurt on the way down. I jammed my toes in the front of my shoes skiing down from the top and now I was paying for it. I finally reach Millennium camp where I would have my last night sleeping in a tent on a mountain. Hallelujah!

Day 7

The last day was met with get me the hell off this mountain! But I knew it will be my last time with the porters and guides and that made me really sad. This morning the crew song their beautiful songs in Swahili and I was heartbroken to be departing from them. I know that I haven’t known the crew for long but I was in love with them, they were now were like family to me, my kaka’s (brothers). Anyways, with my day backpack on, I was ready to follow the adorable guide Nelson to Mweka gate. The decent lasted for 4-5 hours through the rainforest and finally off Kilimanjaro. At the gate some of the crew was there to congratulate and celebrate with the group for a job well done by singing and dancing. My kilimanjaro adventure had finally come to a close and even though I was exhausted at times, frustrated at times, and annoyed at times, Kili has a piece of my heart.

2 thoughts on “Konquering Kilimanjaro

  1. Shilpa

    Great post! You are quite the adventurer Ms. Solosista!!! I am very proud of your achievement of konquering Kili!!! Keep it up!

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