Peak(s):  Kilimanjaro - 19340
Date Posted:  08/25/2008
Date Climbed:   03/16/2008
Author:  Patinator
 Kilimanjaro - Machame Route   

I know this is a little tardy, but I could have sworn I posted this months ago...

This was my first big peak and it was a great experience. It was probably enhanced by the fact that I did it during the slow season and avoided the crowds. I would describe the route that I took (Machame) as a tourist's climb rather than a climber's climb. It was much easier than I expected, but I would not call it easy. I don't think anyone who is comfortable climbing 14ers and trains properly will have any problem with this peak. Most of the segments are short and the guides will not let you go too quickly - you will hear "pulli, pulli" over and over again.

Despite being a group of one, I had five servants - guide (Yusuf), cook (Ezeke), toilet man (Mohamed) and two porters (Abdullah, Yosiah). I felt uncomfortably regal and never got totally used to it, but there was another group of one with five servants so that helped. When shopping for guides ask about having a private toilet - I highly recommend it. One benefit of an off season climb is that at that time of the year, work is sparse and the best guys are at the top of the list. I got an all star team.

All of the times (breaks are included), distances and altitudes are guesses unless specified.

DAY 1 - Machame Gate to Machame Camp
Altitude: 1900m to 3000m (+1100m) or 6,234ft to 9,842ft (+3608ft)
Distance: 13km or 8 miles
Time: 6 hours

Another benefit of doing this climb in the off season became readily apparent when we got to Machame Gate (the entrance to the park).


(Machame Gate)

We were the first ones into the lot and I was the first one to check in. During the regular season, this is crowded, chaotic and time consuming. I felt like a woman with 10 hat boxes at the weigh in when my duffle was a few kilos over the average. I know that the porters were making fun of me, but since they had to carry it, the joke was on them.

The hike up through the jungle/forest was less stifling than I thought it would be and there were hardly any bugs at all unless you stopped.


(The jungle floor)

I did manage to get a bunch of ants to swarm up my leg when I dropped some food and was lucky enough to carry one all the way to camp. I didn't notice it until I stopped and it started biting me repeatedly in the neck. I was just happy that I didn't get bitten by a wild monkey.

On the way up, the literary world and the real world met when my guide pointed out a bird called "Paradise Flycatcher". It just so happened that in the book I was reading (The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver), the author referred to the same bird as evidence that there are flies even in Heaven. Clever.

They don't call it a rain forest for nothing. It rained for 3 solid hours and about 40 minutes of that were just buckets - big, sloppy, heavy buckets.


(Looking up the slope from Machame camp)

At camp, I met a girl from Finland (Kirsi) who was also climbing by herself, a girl from Russia (Julia) and a guy from Holland (Ronald) who were a team and learned that there was a couple from Sweden (Peter & Jennifer) who were also on the trail. Julia and Ronald gave me a weird vibe, but I couldn't figure out why.

DAY 2 - Machame Camp to Shira Camp
Altitude: 3000m to 3900m (+900m) or 9,842ft to 12,795ft (+2953ft)
Distance: 9km or 6 miles
Time: 4 hours

This was a short trip up a relentless ridge, but ridge climbs are always fun.


(Some of the wind swept trees along the ridgeline)


(Hellrshim Johannes flower)


(Cennisiar tree)

Even though it was very sunny, the clouds moved in and out very quickly. You could see all the way down to plains one minute and then were covered in mist the next. The fun stopped when we got to Shira camp because it was a nonstop, windblown hellhole. It was so windy that the mess tent got blown over and I thought every time I went into the lavatory tent it would blow away and I'd be left there like a bad Benny Hill character.


(Shira camp)

I did learn about what was up with Julia and Ronald. Apparently, a food porter from their team did not show up the first day and they were very hungry. Sometimes you get what you pay for. They paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 for their tour. As a point of reference, it costs about $635 just to get into the park. So that left $65 bucks to pay for their guide, food and porters. No wonder the dude didn't show up. They felt confident that the guy would show up and were going to continue on. I had mixed feelings about this. I wanted to give them some food, but I didn't want to short my supply, couldn't give them enough for the whole way and it would have been worse to have them run out of food higher up on the mountain. Not quite like side stepping someone who is dying on Everest, but that is what it reminded me of.

DAY 3 - Shira Camp to Lava Tower (4610m or 15,125ft) to Barranco Camp
Altitude: 3900m to 3950M (+50m) or 12,795ft to 12,959ft (+164ft)
Distance: 12km or 7.5 miles
Time: 6 hours

Until the Lava Tower, I had only been as high as our 14ers so it was pretty cool to make it to 15K. The Tower itself was a pretty interesting massive formation. It was formed from slow cooling lava so it was solid instead of the typical light and airy lava rock.


(Lava Tower)

Loosing 2K vertical on the way to the camp was just brutal, but at least there were some nice waterfalls along the way.

Barranco Camp was my favorite camp because it had the Barranco wall on one side, the long valley descent on the other side, rested on a moraine field and looked right up the gut of the summit. The glacier, at one point, rested where the camp was but had receded an incredible distance.

I met a couple of British ladies who had just finished climbing Mt. Mehru and were determined to finish Kili earlier than planned because they were getting tired of trekking. I had no doubt they would do it because out of everyone I had met, they were by far the strongest climbers.

I didn't see the starving pair of climbers so I assumed that they had turned around.

Day 4 - Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp
Altitude: 3950m to 4000m (+50m) or 12,959ft to 13,123ft (+164ft)
Distance: 5km or 3.1 miles
Time: 3 hours

After a leisurely start, I passed Julia and Ronald on the Barranco wall and found out that the Brits had determined how much food they could spare since they were going to finish early and gave it to them. The wall was the only part of the whole climb that might be considered technical (a very light class 3). There was a little exposure and in fact one person died at this spot which added a little cache to the segment. My guide took me off the main route and we did some pretty cool bouldering up the wall.

At the top of the wall we took a break where we had another dramatic view of the peak and its glacier. I don't know if anyone has skied it or if it is even skiable, but I think there might be route down the middle piece that stops before the cliffs and continues on the skier's right glacier after taking off skis and climbing over to it. That or just ski straight off the cliffs, pull a parachute and float down to Barranco camp. Yeah!


(On the road to Karanga)

I asked Yusuf if there was any real climbing reason for summiting in the dark and whether anyone had done it during the day. He said it was just a trendy thing for the sunrise and that if he had his choice, he would prefer a day summit. The reason why I asked him is that I had been feeling stronger and stronger each day and since we had been getting to each camp way ahead of the estimated times (we beat the porters a couple of times), I was worried that I would summit and descend in the dark.

At Karanga camp, I found out that the Swedes, Brits and the then not starving pair were all moving on to Barafu camp after lunch in order to make a summit attempt at midnight. They all seemed to be in good shape except for the Russian who was a walking zombie. I figured out what GU and Clif bars I could spare and convinced her to take and use them. It killed me to watch them all go when I knew that I was not leaving until morning even though I felt like I was in better shape than them - major summit envy!

Day 5 - Barranco Camp to Barafu Camp
Altitude: 4000m to 4600m (+600m) or 13,123ft to 15,092ft (+1969ft)
Distance: 4km or 2.5 miles
Time: 2 hours

The hike to Barafu camp was very short, but I was just dying to find out if everyone had made it. They all did and Julia said that the stuff I gave her really helped; cool. I told Yusuf I felt strong and was interested in a daytime attempt. We fired down lunch, swapped out gear and were off at 12:15 PM. It seemed like insanity starting for a peak that late, but when in Africa...

Day 5 - Barafu Camp to Summit to Barafu Camp
Altitude: 4600m to 5895m (+1295m) or 15,092ft to 19,340ft (+4212ft)
Distance: 9km or 5.6 miles (This is a total guess)
**ACTUAL TIME**: 6 hours (4.5 hours up, 1.5 hours down)

The trail seemed to go up forever and I was worried that it might be too much for one day, but I had my game on and just grinded my way up.


(A good first shot of the way up just above camp)


(A well worn path)


(Looking back down at camp somewhere down there)


(A side view of the glacier)

I was trying to target 1,000 feet per hour and forced myself to drink every twenty minutes. When I thought we were at about 18K, I asked Yusuf to check his altimeter and we were a little off the pace. I wanted to stop at 18K, but after a little while longer when Yusuf didn't say anything, I got a little worried. I asked him again and he said that he didn't hear the part about stopping at 18K, we had gone that far, but if I still wanted to stop, there was a good spot just up ahead. Part of me thought he was tricking me into going nonstop to the summit - what a cheeky guide!


(Checking out the "stopping point")

Instead, it was Stella Point which is the first spot on the ridge to the top and it looks down into the crater. You will know that you are getting close to Stella Point when the trail is so sandy that it is like walking on a vertical beach. The wind was vicious and it also started to snow at the stopping point. I was excited to finally break out all the heavy duty gear, suck it up and battle up to the top. A windy ascent up the ridge in a snow storm sounded like a sweet way to bag my first big peak. Ten minutes later, the sun came out; I was sweating and peeling off layers. A short while later we made it to the top and had it all to ourselves - Awesome! Even though I was a day early, I had to bust out my can of Guinness for St. Patrick's Day to celebrate. Heck, I lugged it halfway around the world and it was the 17th somewhere.


(Happy St. Patrick's Day!)

In addition to being pumped up about making it to the top of Africa, I was psyched that I had gained 6,000 ft in one day without any brain squeeze.

Day 6 - Barafu Camp to Mweka Gate
Altitude: 4600m to 1950m (-2650m) or 15,092ft to 6,398ft (-8694ft)
Distance: 19km or 11.8 miles (This is a total guess)
Time: 7 hours

Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. When I woke up and poked my head outside, I discovered that it had snowed that night.


(Morning snow sentinals)

I was so glad that I didn't have to get up in the dark and attempt to summit up during the storm. Ha! The lesson learned is that if the weather is good and you are feeling solid, go for the peak.

The descent was a long slog, but going through all of the different micro-climates was a nice wrap up. There was one stretch through muddy, solid rock that was the most brutal part of the entire climb, but it was over soon enough.


(Knee busting descent)

It appropriately dumped buckets on us once we got back into the rain forest.


(More rain in the rain forest)

Then just like that it was over.


(My team - Yusuf, Ezeke, Mohamed, Yosiah, Abdullah)

Instead of opting for the traditional safari, I had a wedding in Dubai to attend. I'll have to go back and do a proper safari someday.


(Kili from the plane)

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions

08/26/2008 16:41
Congratulations! Your TR brought back many memories from our 2007 climb ... especially Yusuf and the cook, Ezeke ... they were part of our team as well! Small world ...


08/26/2008 21:54
”Uncomfortably regal” is a great way to put it, and it‘s something my friend and I never got used to either. It was luxury camping for sure! Great pictures, we took the Machame route as well. What time did you start on summit day? Your pictures looked like it was not midnight, as we did.


08/27/2008 15:36
Aubrey...I used your fine TR from 2007 as a primer for my trip, so thanks!

msc118...I started just after noon.

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