||After having climbed 5-6 thousand meter mountains
in both the Himalayas and the Andes, I made my next target conquering
Kilimanjaro. Uhuru Peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro's highest summit is the highest point
in Africa and Kilimanjaro is the world's tallest free standing mountain.
Another reason Kilimanjaro is so popular is that it is not technically a
difficult climb, there are several different paths you can take to the top and
several of which avoid the ice crevasses and steepest inclines. The real
dangers are not the climb itself but the weather and the altitude.
There are three main routes one can take up to Uhuru Peak. The easiest
way up Kilimanjaro is the "coca-cola route" Marangu. This normally takes five
days / four nights. I opted for the slightly more difficult Machame route,
dubbed the "whiskey route". The benefits are that it's known to be more scenic,
and more importantly, it also requires six days / five nights - giving the
climber an extra day of acclimatization. The third route is the Umbwe route
which does require some rope work and crampons and should be challenged by
experienced mountain climbers only.
Kilimanjaro is an excellent hike
because it takes you through a vast array of terrain in a very short period of
time. The first day or two you trek through farmland and into the dense
rainforest mysterious rainforest. The next couple of days are spent above the
low clouds of the rainforest and into the mountain steppe terrain, before
reaching the dry, arid moon surface landscape that leads up to Uhuru peak. You
get to do it all over again on your way back down, albeit a different path.
Throughout the entire journey, there are captivating, breathtaking scenes and
the walk never becomes too exhausting. That is of course, until the final push
on gruesome day 6!
|Day 1 - Arusha - Machame Gate (1,800m.) -
Machame Huts (3,000m.)
I was picked up by my tour group,
Shidolya tours from the Colobus Mountain Lodge outside Arusha and driven to the
Kilimanjaro National Park where I met up with my team. I had one guide, a cook,
and two porters. At first I felt a little embarrassed about having such a huge
entourage for being a one man party but in the end I could see why it was
necessary. Day 1 was surprisingly actually quite strenuous as we walked for a
good 6 or 7 hours through a scenic dense rainforest up to the Machame huts at
Day 2 - Machame Huts - Shira Hut
Day 2 was actually quite a breeze
compared to the previous day as the walking time was considerably less. We came
out of the rainforest and above the clouds to the Shira camp. The walk only
took about 5 hours. I got my first glimpse of the Kilimanjaro peak from Shira
in the morning as a reminder of the daunting task ahead.
||Above: The nearby Mt. Meru is Tanzania's 2nd
highest mountain at 4,566 meters. It is visible on several parts of the
Day 3: Shira Hut - Barranco Hut
This was one of the most scenic days yet
a little more tiring than the previous days walk. We hiked up from the Shira
campsite to about 4,000 meters, at the base of the Lava Tower. Along the way
there were some spectacular views of nearby Mt. Meru, Tanzania's 2nd largest
mountain (although I'm not sure, this might have actually been day 4 - my
memories a little jaded). We then descended through a picturesque valley
before coming up to the Barranco Hut campsite. The re-ascent was quite tiring
and for some reason the altitude began to affect not just myself but other
hikers. I saw a couple of people getting quite sick here. The Barranco Hut did
offer some spectacular views of the cloud covered view below, as you can see
from the photos below.
Left & below: Watching the
sunset and basking in the view from the Barranco Hut campsite was one of
Kilimanjaro's many gems.
|Day 4: Barranco Hut - Barafu Hut
Day 4 is best described as the calm
before the storm. We started walking a steep incline out of the Barranco
Valley, out of the mountain meadows and into the rocky desert land that is
found at altitudes beyond 4,000 meters. We arrived at the campsite of Barafu
Hut quite early in the afternoon. There was good reason for this. The plan was
to try and get to sleep by 6-7 pm and wake up just before midnight for the
final push up to Uhuru Peak. Barafu Hut offers some stunning views across the
Kilimanjaro Saddle of Uhuru's twin peak, Hans Meyer Peak on the Mawenzi cone.
Keeping yourself warm is a major issue at Barafu Campsite as temperatures can
reach -20 degrees Celsius at night. I put on just about everything I had in my
bag but got lucky as there was it was not a windy night.
think my cook put one of these in my stew one night.
Below right: The
view from Barafu Hut... a fellow trekker poses in front of the Mawenzi Cone,
Kilimanjaro's second highest summit after Uhuru.
|Never before have I been so glad to see a couple of
blocks of wood than upon reaching Uhuru Peak
|| Day 5: Barafu Hut - Uhuru Peak
(5,895m.) - Mweke Hut (3,100m.)
To say that this
was the most difficult day of the hike would be the understatement of the
century.... this was the most physically strenuous days of my life!!!! I got up
at 10:45 pm as planned and we began our steep ascent to Stella Point at the
edge of Kibo Crater. Only my guide and I made the final part of the journey as
the other three opted to stay back at the camp. We started off fine. It was
neither dramatically windy nor cold and we were the first ones out of the camp.
As I said earlier though, Kilimanjaro is not necessarily a technically
difficult climb - it's all how you handle altitude. And this was my nemesis, I
knew from my previous experiences in the Himalayas and Huyana Potosi in Bolivia
that I don't handle altitude that well. Things were going fine until we reached
about 5,300 m. I don't know if it's my asthma or what but basically I just
couldn't breathe and eventually other hikers began to pass us. Fortunately I
had an excellent guide who was committed to making sure we made it so I
struggled my way up to Stella Point and then along the rim of Kibo Crater to
Uhuru Peak - Africa's highest point at 5,896 meters. I must admit I felt like
kissing the ground when we reached the "you have reached Uhuru Peak" sign but I
was so out of breath I just sort of stood there and grinned. The views from
here of the ice glaciers below were breathtaking. I just wish I had been in a
slightly more cognizant mental state to have taken more photos but as it was I
was absolutely exhausted and out of breath.
(Day 5 continued
(Day 5 continued) .... The
descent down was also exhausting. It was broad daylight and warmer and as we
descended, the altitude became less and less of a factor. Still, the pressure
on the leg muscles was quite intense and we got back to Barafu Hut in the late
morning. My guide then gave me the news that we had to walk another 3 hours
down to the Mweka Hut campsite. Wasn't much I could do, so after about half an
hours rest we descended.
Day 6: Mweka
Hut - Mweka Village (1,700m.) - Arusha
Campsite was located just about the above the rainforest terrain at about 3,100
meters and made a nice little stop on our way down. From the campsite, there
were excellent views of snowcapped Kilimanjaro rising just above the forest
trees. The last leg of the journey was an easy hike down through the rainforest
canopy to the Mweka Wildlife Park where I was awarded with my certificate.
There's no better way than to celebrate climbing Kilimanjaro than with a
Kilimanjaro... a Kilimanjaro beer that is! Actually my group and I had a well
deserved couple of Kilimanjaros before driving back to Arusha.
|Above: The cook downing a
Left: My group... from left to
that's my guide, cook, porters, and moi!