I’m a goal orientated person. Kilimanjaro has always been on my list of things I want to do. I don’t know where it came from, and to be honest I didn’t even know what country in Africa it was in or how to go about it. The idea has just sat there for most of my adult life. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was another one, I ticked that box in 2011 so Kili was looming next on the agenda.
When my partner, Tim, decided to recruit a group of clients to take over to do the climb I signed up immediately. This was early 2013. In the lead up the trip, 12 weeks of training was scheduled as part of the preparation to hopefully reach the 5,895m summit of the largest stand-alone mountain in Africa. I had experienced high altitude before, the highest above sea level I had been was 4,200m at Warmiwanusca (Dead Woman’s Pass) in Peru. This was going to be a different ball game.
The training involved 1-2 altitude sessions a week. Starting with 1 x per week then ramping up to 2 times per week 6 weeks out. Sessions ranging from 2,600m – 4,300m set in the altitude chamber at AAMI Park. We did several outdoor walks early on Sunday mornings. Sometimes joining with one of Tim’s other groups training for Kokoda. The Mt. Donna Buang walk being the closest to the real thing. 6 hour trek up and down the mountain a few hours out of Melbourne. It was a great test run for the boots, blisters, bladders (water bottles) and snacks.
We met with a fellow who had climbed twice and racked his brains on what to take, what to expect, etc. We also had Tim and Bec (fellow group members) who have climbed to Mt Everest base camp help with our pre climb checklist.
We departed on Sunday 12th August. We had a few days in Moshi and a visit to a local orphanage, which was eye opening. We were starting the climb on a Wednesday and were briefed the night before leaving by Seamus (this guy was a character)! After a 90 minute run down on every single step and stop up the mountain we were sh*t scared but ready to go. We packed one bag to take on the mountain (sack provided) and left our suitcases behind at the hotel.
We had our last showers and dragged our sacks to brekky in the hotel. We met our guides, Geoffrey, Charlies, Lionel and Good luck (hope he is), our cook John, waiter Freddy, our personal bag porter, mine was called Albert and the rest of the mountain crew, 32 in total.
We all piled into the big converted truck with a bench seat wide enough for 5 and took off to the Londrossi Gate. We stopped for lunch and ducked into a local market before getting to the gate at about 3pm after a long and very bumpy drive. We signed in our names on the Kilimanjaro National Park register and were dropped off.
We began with a 2-3 hours walk through the rainforest, the outskirts of the mountain before arriving at our first campsite at 7pm, dark, crowded and confused we were given a camping stool followed by a 3 course dinner and then showed to our tent.
Breakfasts and lunches on the mountain were excessive! Breakfast consisted of porridge, followed by an egg omelette accompanied by sausages, bacon, cucumber and tomato. Lunch was usually on the go in a lunchbox, the sandwiches got staler and plainer as the days went on. Luckily we all over packed on snacks. Dinner always started with a vegetarian soup, bread, then a hot dish like beef stew, ratatouille, beans and rice, potatoes, pasta followed by fruit, one night we had banana fritters. Copious amounts on tea, coffee and drinking chocolate were consumed at every meal.
Our group took the Lemosho route, one of many trails up the mountain. Our chosen route is said to be the most successful as it takes 8 days, 7 nights and this gives you the best chance to acclimatise unlike some of the 5-day routes.
The first 2-3 days we walked across the Shira plateau and it was very hot. We were in the rainforest, walking up and down through beautiful greenery and silence, except for the odd noisy monkey. These first few days were long but enjoyable, the group all chatted and got to know each other better. Each night we’d nominate a ‘question asker’ and they’d have the following day to think of 3 questions to put to the group the following night. We played lots of UNO in the afternoons once reaching the campsite!
Day 4 it started to get challenging, mostly uphill for 6 hours, the pace got slowly, the air got thinner and the mountain sickness started to come in to play slightly. We reached the Lava Tower 4,630m, which was our highest point to date and had lunch. We were now in the clouds, it was starting to cool down and get a bit windy. After a quick stop we swiftly made our way back down through volcanic rock and long landslides where the lava had flowed many years ago.
We came over the last slope and spied the Barranco wall then reached the Barranco Hut at 3,976m. We were half way and everyone was getting a bit excited. This camp is at the foot of the biggest rock-climbing wall you have ever seen. We were warned about this day of the climb, this wall was almost vertical (search it on You Tube). Wow. We were told to put our walking poles away and lighten our packs as much as possible. 2 solid hours up and we’d conquered it. It was actual fun and not as scary as it looked.
From here we headed up through more cloud, temperatures dropped even more to Barafu camp at 4,673m for the night before summit day. Most of the group had a slight headache, I think it becomes part of the experience from this point in. Geoffrey came and had a big chat to us about the summit. We were told we needed to fill our daypacks with lots of layers, sunnies, buffs, sunscreen, snacks, water, gels, and walking poles. We had to cull our big sacks and take only what we needed for the crater camp and we were told we’d come back down through Barafu the day after.
We were getting up at 4.30am for brekky and a departure time of 5.30am. We had a big dinner and were all pretty exhausted so headed into our tents about 8pm.
Our ascent to the summit started in the dark, with the sun joining up as we rose. It was stunning, such a beautiful morning as we slowly step by step made our way up the face of Kilimanjaro. Summit day would have to be one of the best yet toughest days of my life. I’m not going to lie it was hard but we put one foot in front of each other, rested every 200 steps (which descends to 150, then 100, 50 then 20 steps!) and all 7 of us got to summit!
The entire climb you are starring up at this amazing glacier stuck to the side of the mountain and Stella Point, one of the 3 highest points of Kili. It looked like a mirage, it didn’t seem to get any closer for hours but with 20 step bursts we reached Stella Point about 12pm, wow what a feeling. I felt relieved, exhausted, excited, proud and content. We were then told we were not quite at the top of the mountain and had 300m to walk to Uhuru Peak the highest peak at 5,895m. This took us about 45 minutes as we all laughed and struggled at the feeling the high altitude gives you.
We got to Uhuru, took lots of photos and then skied down the inside wall of the crater. The wall is covered with volcano ash. My headache came on about 5,400m and didn’t leave until the descent the following day. Spending the night in the crater was not the best night sleep I’ve ever had but a great experience to top off an awesome summit.
We woke up early walked across the crater floor, over the lip of Stella Point and descended. Coming down from the summit of Kilimanjaro is very quick. We took 2 days to get down with the 7th night camp in Mweka. The last day was short and we were back at the hotel by 3pm, showered and at the bar with our crew of 32 to celebrate.
In summary, I highly recommend climbing Kilimanjaro with ProSport to anyone interested. The preparation was ideal and it’s a credit to our training that all 7 of us made it to the summit. It was the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Reaching the summit after six days (let alone the 12 weeks of training) of focusing on getting there was awesome. To be in nature, exercising, away from all today’s stresses and technology was just what I needed to be reminded to stop and look around.
If you have any questions please feel free to leave comments and I’ll get back to you soon.