| Roof of Africa!
Mount Kilimanjaro 19,341 ft
Route: Machame 6 Day
Dates: August 30-September 4, 2012
Trekking Company: Marangu Hotel
“There, ahead, all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going” – Ernest Hemingway: The Snows Of Kilimanjaro
My wife and I had talked about climbing Kilimanjaro for a few years and we decided for our 5th wedding anniversary and her 30th Birthday, that there was no time like the present! We booked our flights first and choose Delta/KLM because of the few connections (DEN>Detroit>Amsterdam>Kilimanjaro) and because we’ve had great luck with Delta in the past. The next step was choosing a trekking company. We choose Marangu Hotel based on several references from this site, the CMC endorses them, and cost. We choose the 6-day Machame Route so we could see more of the mountain, and also have time for a Safari after the climb. Marangu Hotel’s package included transportation from the airport, accommodations the night before and after the climb at their lovely hotel, which is situated on the grounds of an old coffee plantation, all meals, and a fully equipped guided climb.
In the summer leading up to the climb we set a goal of 10 14ers and lots of running as our main training regime. Because of the poor snow pack we got an early start in May with 14er season and managed to climb 14. These included Pyramid, Lindsey, Longs (for getting up at midnight and middle of the night hiking experience), Crestone Traverse, Yale, La Plata, Kit Carson/ Challenger from TH in a day, Castle/Conundrum, San Luis and Harvard/Columbia the weekend before we left.
We left Denver around noon on August 28th and arrived in Kilimanjaro Airport around 7:30 pm on August 29th. We received our visas on arrival at the airport in less than 3 minutes and then collected our checked bags about 5 minutes later. We were never asked about yellow fever vaccination (which we didn’t get because the US isn’t an endemic zone). We had put essential items such as jackets and medications in our carry on luggage just in case but our bags arrived with out incident. Because of a flat tire we didn’t arrive at the hotel until around 10 pm where we were greeted by the staff and informed the waiter had dinner ready for us. After a delicious unexpected dinner, we grab a couple of Tuskers from the bar and headed back to our room for sleep. The next morning we had breakfast and then had a briefing with Seamus about the climb. Here in the briefing room, which reminded my of a scene out of Indiana Jones, he went over the route, dos/don’ts, and gave out general advice. He did mention that if we had brought diamox to try it before we got to high on the mountain to see how it affected us. He warned not to use it after symptoms arise because it could cause some harmful side effects (diarrhea, vomiting, nausea,…)
After the briefing, we walked outside and met our 2 guides, Gaudence and Gasper, our Chef, Abraham, Assistant Cook, Joseph, and 6 Porters. Then we all got in the van and drove the 2 hours to the Machame Gate.
Day 1 August 30, 2012 Machame Gate (5971 ft) – Machame Camp (9,892 ft)
We arrived at the Machame Gate around 12:00 pm and our guides picked up our permits from the Ranger’s Station. There was a light rain falling, so our rain gear was immediately tested. Surprisingly the gate was relatively empty, I only saw one other group starting the climb. This was probably due to our somewhat late start. We were given box lunches that included veggie sandwiches, hardboiled egg, fruit, fruit juice, hot tea and cashews. After lunch we registered with the rangers and then we were officially hiking!
The hike though the Rainforest/Cloudforest is a great introduction to the mountain. The greenery and huge canopy trees reminded me of the primary forest present in the jungles of Costa Rica. The first 1/3 of the hike is along a dirt/gravel road that was slightly muddy from the rainfall. This is where we first started the “Pole-Pole” and I must admit, the slow hiking pace was a nice break from our usual aggressive ascents in CO. The pace is a gentle constant walk. The road eventually turned into a nice wide hiking trail. After hiking for 2 hours we took our first break on a nice log in the forest.
After the break, we hiked for 3 more hours of “Pole-Pole” and we arrived at Machame Camp around 5:30 pm. The rain had stopped and just as we arrived at our campsite the clouds cleared and we had our first glimpse of Kilimanjaro’s summit.
The camp wasn’t overly crowded and our porters choose a great campsite just before the bridge crossing. Our tent and toilet were ready when we arrived. I immediately put on my R1 pullover as the chill set in slightly as we stopped hiking. We got settled in our tent, we were brought warm water for hand/face washing then we were introduced to our dining tent for the first time. There we had our first afternoon hot tea and fresh hot popcorn. After an hour or so of rest we were called back to the dining tent for dinner which consisted of cucumber soup, African/thai chicken, fried potatoes, veggies, and mango for desert under candlelight. We were very satisfied as dinner was delicious. Our guide Gaudence came in after dinner and briefed us on the next days’ agenda. We were in our sleeping bags by 8:30 pm and immediately fell asleep.
Day 2- August 31, 2012 -Machame Camp (9892 ft) – Shira Camp (12,598 ft)
Joseph, our assistant cook, woke us at 6 am with warm water for washing and hot tea. Hot tea was a nice surprise in the tent every morning as the temps were always chilly and tea defiantly provided motivation for climbing out of the comfy down sleep bag. I had a decent night’s sleep even though our time clocks still had not adjusted and only had to get up and use the toilet once during the night. I would guess the temperature never fell below 40. We sat down for breakfast at 7:30 am and it consisted of hot porridge (similar to grits), fried egg, sausage, toast, and fruit. My wife had hot tea and I tried the Africafe instant coffee. After breakfast we packed our porter bags and daypacks and hit the trail around 9 am with our guides.
The hike started out steep and “pole-pole” was again a nice pace. As we gained elevation, the trees slowly gave way to juniper and sagebrush. Soon after climbing we saw our first view of Mt. Meru peaking through the clouds. We hiked for 3 hours until we came to the popular lunch spot. Lunch consisted of bologna sandwich, hardboiled egg, fruit, fruit juice, banana and of course hot tea. It was at this point we decided to first take diamox, based solely on Seamus’s advice. If we have it, we might as well try and use it. After lunch the hike continued for a few hours to the top of the plateau on Kilimanjaro’s north side. We stopped for about 30 minutes just before camp in a nice juniper forest with stunning overlook towards Mt. Meru. We arrived at Shira Camp around 2:30 pm and once again our porters choose a nice private campsite with direct views over the Shira Plateau.
Afternoon snack consisted of hot peanuts and tea. Afterwards we both crashed for an hour nap before being awoken by our guide, Guadence stated, “lets go for a walk for acclimatization.” We took a stroll up to the original Shira camp, where campers on the Lemosho Route were camping, and then back down to the new Shira Camp where we registered at the ranger station. The walk lasted about an hour and but was very refreshing, I could have slept longer in my tent but was glad we ventured out. Soon it was time for dinner, which consisted of vegetable soup, and lasagna. Then mango and hot tea for desert at which point Guadence reviewed our day, asked if we had any headaches, and then went over the next day’s route. That night I slept similar to the previous night, slept like a baby from 9 –11 pm, then bathroom break and woke up every hour or so.
Day 3- September 1, 2012 Shira Camp (12,598 ft) – Barranco Camp (13,009 ft)
Awoken again by Joseph with warm water for washing and hot tea, and this is where I first felt the chill in the air. I would guess the temperature was hovering right at freezing at 7 am. I put on my usual trekking pants, tech shirt, R1 Pullover, down vest, then light gloves. Breakfast consisted of the usual before we hit the trail again at 9 am. We were both excited to reach the Lava Tower and hopefully scramble to the top. Although our guides had indicated it may not be possible the previous day because of a crack that had developed in the tower. We hiked for a few hours passing briefly through juniper forest then it became alpine tundra, with a few low shrubs, but mostly just rocks.
We reached the lava tower around 12:30 pm for our lunch stop. The hike up was cold; I wore my R1 pullover and down vest the entire way up. The lava tower was a milestone for us as we had never been above 14,433 ft (Mt. Elbert). After lunch, our guides led us to the top of the tower and this was the first place both my wife and I felt the altitude. Our guide made quick work of the tower quickly climbing the Class 3 section and reaching the top in about 10 minutes. Top of the Lava Tower, elevation 15,272 ft.
The area surrounding the lava tower was quite dirty, as it was littered with trash, toilet paper, and a foul stench from the long drop toilets nearby. In hindsight I would have rather had lunch just before reaching it, like some other groups. I did use one of the toilets at the lava tower, and that made me glad we had our own private toilet. The hike down to Barranco camp was fairly quick and quite scenic. We encountered our first Scencia or “Dr. Seuss” trees.
The descent to Barranco camp reminded me of coming down a 14er in CO as we descended almost 2000 ft in less than two hours. We arrived at Barranco camp around 4 pm and this camp was my favorite. We had a great spot overlooking the valley of scencia trees and a perfect view of towering Kibo above the camp.
We settled into our tent, and after washing up for afternoon snack and hot tea we walked around the camp and registered at the Ranger’s Station. This was the first camp we ran into several groups of Americans, up to this point there were lots of British and Germans, but not many Americans. I am assuming they started on the Lemosho Route. Dinner that night started with vegetable soup, then beef and vegetable stir-fry. Desert was mango and drinking chocolate. After dinner we both fell asleep reading in our tent as we knew in about 24 hrs we will leave for summit.
Day 4- September 2, 2012 Barranco Camp (13,009 ft/3965 m) – Barafu Hut (15,223 ft)
Next morning, wake up call was an hour earlier at 6 am. Breakfast was toast, porridge, fried eggs, bacon, vegetables, and pancakes. This morning was cold as I first put on my down hooded parka. We left camp at 7 am to tackle the Barranco Wall. The Barranco wall looks like a steep ascent from camp, but soon after starting you realize how steep it really is, in CO this would be Class 2+. This day you realize even more than before how hard the porters work, climbing up the Barranco Wall, setting up lunch kitchens and tents in the Karanga Valley for lunch, then, carrying all the normal gear plus water to Barafu Camp. It took about an hour to reach the top of the wall where there is a great overlook and nice break spot. From here it was another hour and half to the Karanga Valley. Here we found our porters and cooks and they had the kitchen tent setup, and a nice outdoor eating area for our “hot lunch.” Lunch consisted of vegetable soup, fried chicken, and fried potatoes. I was craving Chick-fil-A hiking that day so the lunch was a pleasant surprise, especially considering the 13,000 ft elevation.
After lunch we continued on with our guides to Barafu Camp, which we arrived around 2 pm. After registering, we had a light snack, followed by pasta for an early dinner around 5 pm. During dinner, our guides informed us they normally wake up at 11 pm and leave around midnight for the summit, but they thought that was too early for us. They recommended we wake up at midnight and leave around 1am. I guess you want to be on the summit for sunrise, but we also had told our guides we would like to be first on the summit to avoid any crowd. It was an early bedtime with our alarm set for midnight. Barafu camp was the coldest camp of course at over 15,000 ft elevation. That night I slept in my thermals, socks, and R1. That was perfect in my 20 degree down bag, as I never awoke hot or cold and the next morning I already had on my first few layers.
Day 5- September 3, 2012 Barafu Hut (15,223 ft) – Summit Kibo (19,341 ft)
Midnight came pretty early, but we both managed, despite a few trips to the toilet, a few hours of sleep. I finished getting dressed in the tent as Joseph brought us hot tea and biscuits for breakfast. He also brought us packaged biscuits for the climb. On top of my capilene thermals, I wore R1, down vest, down hooded parka, and gore-wind proof ski shell. For my legs I wore capilene thermals and my insulated ski pants. We left Barafu camp at approximately 1 am.
We started at a moderate pace as the first 150-200 yards out of camp is steep. Then our guides increased the pace as we passed several groups. The moon that night was almost full and although I had my headlamp on, it wasn’t necessary. At first I became quite hot in my layers and unzipped and adjusted until I felt comfortable. I would describe the summit approach of Kili to a 14er in Colorado with about 4118 ft of gain over 2.8 miles (4.5 km). Except of course at a much higher altitude. My only concern the entire trip was developing altitude sickness. We are pretty experienced hikers and know you can do everything right and still come down with Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). I developed AMS one time on Torrey’s in Colorado and it ended my climb that day. So I knew physically we were in fine shape for a successful summit but as we ascended that night and reached 16, 17 and then 18,000 feet, AMS was in the back of my mind.
Our pace continued, the temperature was dropping, my camelback tube froze, layers were getting re-zipped, and my wife asked Gaudence, “Are we getting close?” I was feeling ok as we had left camp only 2.5 hours before but the last thing I wanted to hear was “2 more hours to go.” Something about hiking in the middle of night in frigid temperatures, I kept zoning in and out, as my only goal was placing one foot in front of the other and maintaining the march to the crater rim. But Gaudence responded back “yes, only 20 minutes to Stella Point!”
At 4:10 am we reached the Crater Rim and Stella Point. Immediately the glaciers came into view. They are stunning. The mammoth ice fields reminded me of my first view of the Grand Canyon. Just one of those mental images you will never forgot. Once on the rim, although still dark, we could see Uhuru Peak, the official summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The wind was howling at what I would guess around 30-35 mph and temperature of –5 F. We took shelter behind a rock out cropping overlooking the ash pit and crater for a short break, but after a few minutes we decided it was too cold to sit. We started walking towards to the summit when my wife became a little nauseous and walked with an unsteady gait, but after 2-3 minutes she recovered and the summit sign came into view. We reached Uhuru Peak, the Roof of Africa and summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro at 5 am on September 3, 2012.
We were the only ones on the summit and took a couple of photos and celebrated with our guides. Although still dark, it was nice to not only be first to the summit that day, but to also avoid any crowds. We stayed on top for only a few minutes before heading back down and about 15 minutes later passed another climber approaching the summit. We reached Stella Point and took shelter just below the ridge for a well-deserved break with hot tea, biscuits, and a sunrise from the roof of Africa.
After a brief break we continued down the steep dusty trail back to Barafu camp. It took only an hour and half to get back to camp from the summit. Once back on camp we had some more celebratory hot tea.
Kibo Summit (19,341 ft/5895) - Mweka Hut (10,171 ft/3100 m)
After a nap, we had vegetable stew for brunch before departing around 11 am for Mweka Camp. The descent was steep as you lose almost 10,000 feet from the summit to Mweka Camp. The descent trail is very scenic with stunning vistas of Kibo.
Millennium camp lies in a juniper forest just an hour above Mweka camp and was erected in for Y2K when over 10,000 people were on Kilimanjaro. Although some stop here from the summit for the night, I would recommend continuing on to Mweka as it shortens the final day by an hour. We arrived at Mweka camp around 4 pm and it was a nice break from the alpine environments the previous 4 nights as it is nicely secluded just at the start of the rainforest. This moment was also bittersweet as it also signified our last night on Kili.
Day 6 -September 4, 2012 Mweka Hut (10,171 ft) - Mweka Gate (5381 ft)
We were woken at 7 am and after our last Kili breakfast and we departed for Mweka Gate at 8 am. The hike out is very scenic through the rainforest and we even saw some monkeys in the trees. Amazing that just 24 hours prior we where hiking through glaciers, which shows not only the size but also the diversity of Kilimanjaro. We reached Mweka Gate around 11:30 am and after registering, we bought some t-shirts from the many vendors set up at the gate. Just before the gate there is a little village where we stopped for lunch and our celebratory Kilimanjaro Beers!
After lunch we drove the hour back to Marangu Hotel where our crew sang the traditional Kilimanjaro song to us and presented us with our summit certificates. We also gave out tips and donated items. Afterwards, the crew hung around for another beer and told stories of previous climbs. It was a great moment as you really get to know and become friends with your crew the week of the climb. We could not have been happier with our guides Gaudence and Gasper, our Chef Abraham, Assistant Chef Joseph and the rest of the porters. We brought over 30 protein bars with us (cliff, mojo, and probars) and we didn’t eat one on Kilimanjaro. They did a wonderful job of cooking great food and lots of it! They were even very accommodating for my wife who is vegetarian and always had a vegetarian option at each meal. Overall it was definitely a trip of a lifetime. We did a Safari afterwards with Swala (Felix was our Guide) stayed at Escarpment Lodge in Lake Manyara (the most luxurious hotel I’ve seen any where in the World including the US!), Lemala Ngorongoro Tented Camp, and Tarangire Treetops. An amazing trip to Tanzania, and now that I’m home and back in the grind, I try to keep a couple words in the back of my mind…“Hakuna matata!”
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):