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Kilimanjaro climb report.

Discussion area for peaks outside of the USA.
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Joined: Tue Dec 23, 2008 5:47 am

Kilimanjaro climb report.

Postby Lavich » Sun Dec 28, 2008 2:35 am

We took six days, two guides, seven porters and a cook and didn't make it all the way but still had the experience of a lifetime.

Iconic Mount Kilimanjaro is one of Tanzania's biggest drawcards, luring travellers who want something more physical than lying on a Zanzibar beach or viewing Serengeti wildlife from a safari vehicle.

As one of the world's tallest peaks that can be climbed without technical skills, Kilimanjaro is an accessible challenge and thousands reach the summit each year.

But that doesn't mean it's easy. To put the climb in perspective, Australia's tallest mountain, the 2,228-metre Mt Kosciusko, is only slightly higher than the park gate that marks the start of the Kilimanjaro trail.

At its highest point, Kilimanjaro reaches 5,895 metres above sea level. Needless to say, the thought of climbing to this height left us quaking in our brand new hiking boots.

The world's tallest freestanding mountain – actually a trio of dormant volcanoes – rises dramatically out of Tanzania's plains. Despite being close to the equator, its peak is famously covered in a permanent but rapidly shrinking ice cap.

While most people are focused on reaching the summit, the ascent is surprisingly gentle and passes through a dramatically changing landscape.

As the trail ascends it transitions through different climatic zones: from lush farmland on the lower slopes through dense tropical rainforest to an open moorland of heath and wildflowers, a Mars-like alpine desert and, finally, the ice-capped summit.

Apart from the strenuous summit attempt, we averaged about six hours a day carrying just a daypack.

It is only possible to climb Kilimanjaro through a local agency, which will provide guides and porters and make arrangements with park authorities.

This makes the trek an expensive proposition, and the park and hut fees alone exceed $US600 ($NZ1089.52). But it does mean someone else does all the cooking, cleaning and set-up on route.

We opted for the Marangu route, the only one that has huts to sleep in (on all other routes you need to camp). The porters walked ahead with most of the equipment and the cook usually had a snack waiting on arrival at each overnight stop.

Watching the porters power uphill carrying 20 kilograms each while we struggled behind with nothing more than lunch, a water bottle and camera was a humbling experience.

But as we ascended, even this small load began to feel like carrying an elephant. Above 3,400 metres, most walkers begin to experience altitude sickness.

The danger on Kilimanjaro, given the excellent state of the track and the mostly gentle gradient, is taking it too quickly and succumbing to illness. A mild headache comes first, followed by dehydration, lack of appetite, insomnia, quickened heart rate, nausea and vomiting.

At higher altitudes some trekkers develop a persistent cough and have trouble staying upright. Breathing also becomes more difficult and the higher altitudes left us gasping for air. The condition can be fatal but guides are trained to detect serious illness, and medication can assist in acclimatising.

By the time we reached the final hut at 4,700 metres, ibuprofen couldn't touch Jane's headache, and we had passed several huddles of people looking after other stricken hikers throwing up.

We'd already walked for six hours that day, the fourth of the trek, through a barren frozen moonscape. It was about this time that the hike stopped being fun and started being a test of willpower.

At Kibo, the final and most basic hut consisting of 10-bed dorm rooms, we had about six hours to rest and refuel before heading back out into the cold. Summit attempts generally leave at midnight so climbers can watch the sunrise from the top and also because the wind supposedly dies down at night.

But on our attempt the wind blew strong and icy, bringing the temperature down to -18C. Although trekking operators claim to have almost perfect success rates, guides confess privately the real number of hikers to reach the top is between 30 and 50 per cent, depending on the route and the weather.

And on the bitterly cold night we pushed for the summit, it seemed almost all the little torchlights heading up the impossibly steep slope ahead of us were faltering and turning around.

Our guides had woken us at 11pm to dress: two thermal tops, two T-shirts, a hoodie, a polar fleece, two thick jackets, thermal pants, hiking pants, ski pants, gloves, balaclava, neck warmer, three pairs of socks, boots, hiking poles and a headlamp.

At this altitude, even getting dressed felt like running a marathon – never mind the challenge of a dash to the loo.

Once on the slope, our guides set a pace they probably thought was a crawl, but it was still too fast for us. We slowed down to almost zero: shuffle, shuffle, pause, shuffle, shuffle, pause.

After three and a half hours of pain and internal self-motivating speeches we reached Hans Meyer Cave at 5,180 metres, the halfway point of the summit stretch.

We had just crossed paths with a couple of very fit-looking newlywed Brits who were packing it in because of illness. From this point our stops became more frequent and we were feeling the full buffet of altitude sickness.

We were walking on scree, small loose stones resembling gravel, which slid away under our feet. The route was so steep we had to zigzag across the slope, making our progress agonisingly slow.

We were still an hour from the top when dawn started to break. Watching the sunrise from the roof of Africa, a mile above the clouds, was an unforgettable, magical experience. But it was only a brief moment before we had to push on.

The last push, a near-vertical scramble over rocks, seemed to go on forever. Reaching the crater rim, known as Gilman's point, was a relief but by this stage we were too tired to feel anything resembling elation.

Exhausted, we collapsed on the freezing ground, from where we could just peer down into the icy volcanic cone.

We had to make a tough decision about our next move. Although Gilman's Point is on the top of Kilimanjaro, it's not actually the highest point. This honour goes to Uhuru Peak, normally another 90 minutes walk around the crater rim, although the guides predicted it would be a five-hour round trip for us because of exhaustion.

When they asked us if we had medical insurance and warned that we would be risking our lives if we kept going, we decided to be satisfied with Gilman's.

It was probably lucky we did. On the way down Jane's legs buckled repeatedly, and – despite the supportive arm of one of the guides – she stumbled and fell into the dust every few minutes.

Once back at Kibo hut we were given just two hours to sleep, pack and eat lunch before we had to descend the longest nine kilometres of our aching legs' lives back to Horombo hut.

The final day we walked 20 kilometres to the park gate, some pizza and a blissfully soft bed.

Kilimanjaro had left us with blistered lips, swollen knees and feet, and bad sunburn. But it was also some of the most beautiful hiking we've ever done, and the thrill of watching the sunrise above the clouds over the African plains is a memory that will stay with us forever.

Pushing our bodies to their limits and beyond also left us feeling we could take on the world. We took on Kilimanjaro as two completely inexperienced trekkers, but now we are searching for the next mountain to climb.

IF YOU GO:

Dozens of companies run trips up Mt Kilimanjaro, all offering similar packages for wildly varying prices. Most Australian agencies and Americans agencies simply pass on your booking to a local operator and take their cut, so booking with a Tanzanian company saves a lot of money.

Booked locally, the most basic trekking packages – including guides, porters, park fees and food – start from $US1125 ($NZ1779.68) pp excluding tips.

Most local companies are based in Moshi or Arusha, and while some are shoestring operators, reputable companies include Mar tours and safaris(www.martoursandsafaris.com), since we had an wonderful climb with mar tours they were excellent and The food was excellent as well.

Kilimanjaro has two wet seasons, between March and May and again between November and February.

Although it's possible to make the round trip in five days, taking at least six helps acclimatisation and reduces your chance of altitude sickness.

There are several different routes up Kilimanjaro, but the most popular paths in order are Marangu, Machame and Rongai.

Kilimanjaro airport takes flights from Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, which can be reached from Australia via Dubai, Bangkok or Johannesburg.
Last edited by Lavich on Wed Apr 07, 2010 12:42 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Kilimanjaro climb report.

Postby Steve Bonowski » Sun Dec 28, 2008 3:07 pm

Nice report. Sorry you didn't make the summit, but sounds like you had a good experience.

As a new person to this web site, you'll find a number of reports here about climbing Kilimanjaro, as well as general informational threads. Given your reference to Mt. Kosciuszko and flying from Australia, I get an impression that you're from there. I'd be interested in knowing what you did for training and preparation for Kili, since that doesn't appear in your report. I lead Kilimanjaro for the Colorado Mountain Club & I'm always interested in trading reports, impressions, and experiences. Steve

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Re: Kilimanjaro climb report.

Postby Haliku » Tue Dec 30, 2008 10:25 am

Lavich wrote:Our guides had woken us at 11pm to dress: two thermal tops, two T-shirts, a hoodie, a polar fleece, two thick jackets, thermal pants, hiking pants, ski pants, gloves, balaclava, neck warmer, three pairs of socks, boots, hiking poles and a headlamp.


I'm amazed you could walk with all this clothing on! Too much clothing can lead to a cold body since you crush/compress the insulation of the layers that are supposed to keep the warm air around your body.

Thanks for posting the report. I'm planning a trip for early 2010 so this helps a lot. I'll second Steve's comment on what training/or not you did to get in shape for the climb. Cheers!
"You step onto the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to."

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Re: Kilimanjaro climb report.

Postby Lavich » Wed Jan 28, 2009 2:16 am

I've just did it to make me stronger!! Wish you a good lucky # 2. in 2010.

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