It rained most of the night at Karanga Valley and the morning was wet and cold and not very clear. What I wasn't expecting when I climbed out of my tent was the vertigo I experienced from the height and the slant of the camping area. I climbed out, reeled and almost fell over. Managed to get my bearings and headed tor the toilet hut where I met up with the Canadian couple I had met at Baranco Camp. They were doing toilet sentry duty as the door at this hut did not shut and you really wanted somebody outside to guard while you were inside. One of them provided that for me when it was my turn and when I came out a German woman I'd met on the trail the day before was waiting. I did sentry duty for her and then headed back to pack up.
This was the day we headed to Barafu Camp. It was not a long distance to travel but the altitude was really kicking in a this point and I was making about 1 step for every breath by the time we reached the camp. At this pace I was still outpacing others on the trail which really amazed me as I'd been one of the slowest most of the way along the route.
At Barafu I signed in at the rangers hut and explored a little, not much as breathing was difficult. The toilet huts were perched on a cliff, long drop toilets! and were probably the cleanest along the route.
I actually saw mouse like rodents at this height. They were scurrying amongst the rocks, certainly hadn't expected to see any wildlife at this altitude. It was cold but not unbearable by any means.
I was quite happy to see where our tents were setup for the night as some had their tents much further down and I didn't want to have to climb back up from there.
The clouds started to roll in and it felt quite damp when that happened.
Most people at Barafu will climb at night but we weren't supposed to climb until the morning.
Dinner that night was spaghetti but I couldn't eat that much, was just so tired.
I spent most of my time in my tent trying to sleep but was jolted out of sleep in the night when another guide woke his climbers up by yelling into their tent. Unfortunately they were right by my tent. I almost yelled at him to shut the hell up as some people were trying to sleep. Managed to restrain myself but I was sorely tempted.
Day 5 started off with quite a bit of trepidation for me as I would be climbing Baranco Wall and, quite frankly, I was scared. I have a fear of heights and knew that I'd have a hard time on this extremely vertical part of the route. I can only be glad that it was sunny and I wasn't having to climb in the rain or mist.
I met a couple of Canadians that morning who were camped near me and we had a nice chat, turns out the boyfriend of the couple lived in the same area as I did. He gave me some tips about climbing the wall but my brain froze when I actually started climbing it. Somebody really should have been taking photos of me as I needed help on several sections to get up the really steep rocks. I had my guide pulling me from above and somebody else shoving me up from behind.
There were so many people climbing that day that was a big of a traffic jam and I managed to take a few photos along the way as we waited for people to make their way along.
There were a few really scary moments, one which didn't even have to do with my hiking but with a young porter who was carrying a plastic chair on his head. We were at the point where we were stopped waiting for people to clear out and this porter climbed up and then teetered on the edge of the rock. There was sheer terror in his eyes as my guide reached out and hauled him to safety. It have been certain death if he had fallen.
The next scary part was for me as we reached a part of the rock that had caused the traffic jam. My guide called it the Kissing Wall since you are practically face first into the wall hugging it as you inch your way around it. I was literally in tears at this point as I was scared I was going to plummet to my death. I was so, so glad to finally get up the wall. It took me much longer than most people as I was climbing a lot slower that day. The altitude was started to affect my breathing as you're getting less oxygen at this height, plus the 4 days without sleep at the start were beginning to take their toll.
Our aim that day was to reach Karanga Camp. Originally our tour had us climbing from Baranco Camp straight through to Barafu Camp but I wanted the extra day to stop at Karanga.
The weather held out until we reached Karanga Valley and as we started down into it a thunder/hail storm before. The rain was just pouring down on us and hail hitting so hard that it stung my hands. The camp was on the other side of the valley so it was down and then up again. We stopped to shelter under a ledge at one where I managed to take a few pictures. My guide eventually had to drag me up the trail as the water was pouring down along the ground like rivers and I had trouble hiking. By the time we reached Karanga Camp we were drenched and all I wanted was my tent and my bed for the night. My guide had to leave me in the ranger's hut for a little bit while he went off to find where our porters had set up for the night. The hail had come down so hard that it was in drifts against people's tents.
Luckily on day 8 I woke up and my knees were feeling fine. My guide told me it was about 2 hours to descend to Mweka Gate where the trek would end.
We set off and I started feeling like I wanted to just get off the mountain. It was still pretty steep at the start but eventually the trail flattened out and I was practically running to get off the mountain. I took me 2 and a half hours to reach Mweka Gate with my cook James keeping me company as my guide was on his cell phone sorting out details for us to be picked up.
At Mweka Gate I ended up in a lineup to sign out but eventually was done with the climb.
Hopefully I'll make it back up Kilimanjaro to the summit someday.
Day 7 didn't go as it was planned. I woke up and was completely exhausted with no energy whatsoever. My guide thought it would take me 6 hours to reach the summit and I was pretty sure I wouldn't make it at all. We were supposed to spend the night at Crater Camp after reaching the summit and the porters would have packed up and headed off with my stuff if I struggled up the trail and probably would end up turning back. I decided to not go for the summit and to head down the mountain. I was still pretty happy with myself as I had never climbed that high in my life and never for that many days.
My guide and porters were disappointed but I really didn't want to be dragged to the summit. We packed up and headed down to Mweka Hut which is a really long day. Most people start at Barafu, up to summit and then back down to Mweka Hut so my day was shorter than others.
Shortly after we started the descent we met up with a guide who had fallen and wrenched his knee and was struggling with the descent. My guide sent me off down the trail and he went back to the ranger's hut to get help. The trail is fairly easy to follow and I headed off. I met up with a couple of guys I'd met on day 2 of the trek who had turned back before reaching the summit, both of them were sick so I wasn't the only one that day not to make it. I'll tell you though, I felt so much better after descending and starting to get more oxygen into my lungs. My speed started to pick up and eventually one of my porter's caught up with me as my guide had sent him off to accompany me. He was a sweet young man we really wanted to become a guide someday and was explaining the vegetation to me. He struggled a bit with the language but I really hope he becomes a guide someday, he was so helpful to me.
The descent is long and hard and we took at break at Millienium camp where another porter showed up with my water bottle (my guide had been carrying my water and pack for me and had forgotten to hand it over in his haste).
After the break we set off again and eventually the rangers came racing down the mountain with the injured guide on a wheeled gurney, bumping and jolting the poor guy all the way down. You really do not want to descent that way!! There are gurneys along the way that are placed there for that exact scenario.
The descent got harder as it was muddy and wet and while steps began to appear they were really deep and my knees really began to hurt even though I was wearing knee braces. By the time we reached camp I was limping badly and my guide was worried that I wouldn't able to walk off the mountain the next day. Not exactly sure how long it took but it was a long trek and was so happy to sign into camp that day.
The best thing of all was there were bottles of coke for sale!! $3 for a coke and $4 for a beer but it was the best damned tasting coke that I had ever had!
The toilet huts at this camp were pretty nasty so be prepared.
I only managed to take one photo that day as I was so focused on the descent.
Then it was back to my tent and a very well deserved sleep.
Day 4 did not go well for my friend. He had been extremely thirsty through the night and had to get our guide up for more water during the wee hours. In the morning he was feeling awful, he'd been sick the night before and his breathing wasn't sounding good but he thought he could continue so we set off for Barranco Camp via Lava Tower.
It wasn't long before my friend really started labouring. He was really hiking slow and breathing very heavy. We stopped to see if he was going to be okay. I didn't want him to push himself if he was starting to feel the effects of the altitude. It was eventually decided, after an agonizing decision by him, that he should cut his trek short and get off the mountain with our assistant guide. They descended to the ranger hut at Shira 2 and called for the ambulance, unfortunately, though the ambulance had been sitting in the distance when we set off that day by the time he returned to the hut it was already gone getting somebody else. Poor guy had to wait several hours for it to return. The rangers gave him soup which did not stay down but he eventually made his way back to Moshi.
I will add that when we arrived at Shira 2 the previous day we had met a gentleman at the ranger hut who was also cutting the trek short and was descending that day.
I continued on with our guide to Lava Tower for some acclimazation and felt fine that day although it was an extremely tiring day. My legs were like jelly by the time we reached Baranco Camp. Lava Tower is about the same altitude as Barafu Camp which is the camp before you summit so if you are fine at Lava Tower you should be fine at Barafu later on.
There was a sobering moment along the way to Lava Tower as we passed the grave of a porter who had died on the moment. You really can't chance your health on Kilimanjaro as people do die while attempting it.
This is the day when the Lemosho route meets up with the Machame route before you reach Lava Tower and you continue on what is the Machame route.
There is actually a camp near Lava Tower and some people choose to stop off at it for the night depending on which route you're taking.
You can also see the Western Breach route which goes to the crater, it's one of the riskiest and most challenging routes to take and rocks are commonly known to fall along it and have been known to kill people.
This was an 8 hour climb that day, including stopping for my friend, and I was exhausted after reaching Baranco Camp. I knew the next day would be hard as you climb Baranco Wall and I'm scared of heights. I had an early night and went to sleep.
Day 3 started off so much better after a full night's sleep. I felt absolutely fine and was raring to go. We were off to Shira 2 camp for the night and it's a quicker day than day 2 and a much easier trek, not as much steep climbing, probably my favourite day of the climb in fact.
You can choose to take the Shira Caldera route to acclimatize but we didn't as we'd be acclimatizing at Lava Tower the next day.
Vegetation has really thinned out on this day and the terrain is much more arid and desert like. You get to see the peaks of Kilimanjaro in the distance, even though they never seem to get any closer! We also saw some amazing vegetation like Giant Groundsel
I believe it took us about 3 and a half hours to reach Shira 2 and while I was feeling fine my friend was starting to breathe heavier.
The sunset was absolutely amazing from Shira 2 and we could also see thunderstorms in the distance. At this height (12,220ft) you can see clouds below you and we watched lightning flash through the clouds in the distance.
It's a really dry, rocky camp and make sure you don't fall off a cliff when going to toilet huts in the dark!
Day 2 did not start off well for me as I hadn't slept that night, mainly because the airline pillow that I'd planned on using had developed a leak on the flight to Nairobi, rendering it useless to me. I'd hoped that piling clothes beneath my head would help but they didn't. This would now be the 4th day in a row without sleep for me as I was unable to sleep our one night in Nairobi and our one night in Moshi. I managed to get a couple of hours sleep on the flight from Toronto to London but not a full night's sleep.
When I don't have enough sleep and I'm physically active as this trek calls for my body rebels and I'm sick. I managed a bit of porridge and tea before we headed off for Shira 1 camp but it would be a very long day for me.
This day is a lot of up and downs with a rest stop for lunch in a pretty valley with a stream. Unfortunately I was walking really slow and was sick a few times along the route.
The lush canopy you walk through on Day 1 eventually thins out on Day 2 and it starts to get a bit drier as you ascend.
Shira 1 hut is spread out on a flat plateau and is a bit quieter than the first camp as you're not so crowded together.
Due to my slow pace it took us about 8 hours to get to Shira 1, it normally takes around 5 hours.
Barely managed to eat any dinner at all, took a muscle relaxant guaranteed to knock me out and with airline pillow borrowed from my friend I managed to sleep.
The route that we chose to do was a 9 day Lemosho trek which would include a night at Crater Camp. It's considered one of the most gentle routes and is quite scenic.
You begin your trek by signing in at Londorossi Gate (your guide will make sure you're signed in at the ranger stations) and then then you get back into your vehicle to head to Lemosho trail head. It was a really muddy drive at times and our vehicle couldn't make it fully up to the trail head so we had about an extra km trek added on at the beginning.
The packs are unloaded and sorted out between the porters and then you and your guide will head off to Mti Mkubwa (Big Tree Camp 8695 ft ). This took us about 3 hours and it was pretty much uphill all the way. We saw lots of monkeys in the trees and had to watch where we stepped as there was elephant poo on the trail, recent stuff which meant we'd just missed them. It's quite a lush, green area to walk through.
We arrived at the camp which seemed to be quite full and noisy. Our porters had passed us along the way and our tents were already setup for as when we arrived. We just had to wash up with hot water in a bowl provided by the porters and unwind before dinner.
This is probably the easiest day of the trek, day two takes a bit longer.
There are several routes to choose from when deciding to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. The most popular are Marangu and Machame, Marangu being the so-called Coca Cola route which has huts available but has the lowest percentage of summit success and Machame being harder with more success.
Other routes are Lemosho (the one we chose), Shira, Umbwe and Rongai. There is a route for descent called Mweka which is how I descended.
There are also different variables for each route and it's also possible to sleep at Crater Camp which will add an extra day to your climb.
The best summit success comes if you hike at least 6 days, preferably 7 if you can manage it. We chose a 9 day route to try and up our chances of summit success and we also hoped to sleep at Crater Camp.
Do your research, treks are available from budget to high end and you should be able to find something which suits your needs. We chose a basic budget trek and booked with a local Tanzanian man who runs his own company. I corresponded directly with him, he was a former guide on the mountain and been up and down it for more than 8 years. He hires local men and they were all really helpful and friendly.
There are also treks available through international organizations just find one that you are comfortable with.
You can check with TATO (Tanzanian Association of Tour Operators)
The last day is a quiet walk back to the Marangu gate from Horombo Hut and will take 6 to 7 hours. It's mostly downhill so an easy trek. No pole pole now!! Somewhere on the track is where you will get your last view of Kili's summit from the track. If like me you've made it to the top then savour the moment of the last look!! Today is one to be enjoyed as you walk out. It was interesting seeing other groups on their way up and noticing just how slow they were going. Were we really going that slow? LOL!!
Going down the track seemed to be a lot more dusty so having something over our mouths helped. We got asked the occassional question from the red faced people coming up the track toward us - did you make it? what's it like at the top? - and it was funny being the experienced 'I've done that' climber - hahaha.
At the gate you will be presented with your certificate (after signing off that you have left the mountain). The colour depending on where you managed to get to - Uhuru Peak will give you a gold trimmed certificate, Gilman's a green one. We all got gold edged certificates - woohoo!!
We got transferred back to our hotel after a beautiful cold beer in a small bar in Marangu - my group shouted the guides a few beers as our last thankyou. The hotel meal that night was the first lot of food I could eat - bland steak and spuds!
Get ready for a massive day - approx 12 to 14 hours on your feet!! The day starts at 11pm with your wake up call to allow you time to have breakfast and get ready for a midnight start on the ascent. The aim is to get to Gilman's point at sunrise on or around 6.30am so lots of walking across the scree slopes in a zig zag to reach the top.
It will be very cold up here in the dark so make sure you wrap up your camera to protect its battery. You'll need 3 layers on your legs and 6 to 7 layers on top plus 2 pairs of gloves, 2 pairs of socks and a warm beenie plus even a balaclava. Make sure you protect your water - you should be able to use a bladder (eg Camelbak) for the first part until it freezes over - then use a bottle kept sfae in your back pack. Tonight is where you will also find out how good your gear is and if it was worth saving a few dollars rather than buying the more expensive but warmer gloves etc. I found that the number of layers I had was perfect and reasonably light weight. The only thing I could have spent more on was my gloves as my fingers got a bit cold.
The last 400 to 500m before Gilman's Point are the hardest with the trail very steep and the last section climbing up and over boulders to get to Gilman's point - a small bit of land that equates to a succesful climb (you'll get a certificate for reaching Gilman's). From here it's another hour or so to Uhuru Peak and it's a lot harder than you think given the altitude! We got to Uhuru Peak at 8.15am so 8 1/4 hours getting to the top.
The sun will be up now so the place will (hopefully) be warming up. This will make it easier on your camera battery if nothing else. You'll go up past Stella Point and then onto the peak not too far after for photo's and signing the book (it's in the metal box under the sign).
The next phase is almost as tough - you have to get off the top and back to Kibo. This includes scree running if you are able and will get you down off the top in and hour or so. After a rest you'll walk back to Horombo Hut making a total of around 20km today.
I couldn't believe how good I felt on the climb. After how sick I felt earlier in getting to Kibo I was in a bit of a black mood about my chances. I managed to keep some porridge down and set off with the group. One of our group woke up throwing up and was not in the best shape. She, like the rest of us, made it to Uhuru Peak!! Never give up as, even if you do feel rather crappy, you've got a great chance of summitting. It's all normal - so our Guide told us - so don't worry.
This is the start of a physically demanding day and a half. Your day will involve a 9.5km walk from Horombo Hut to Kibo Hut and get you up to the 4700M mark. The walk has its only steeper section at the start and levels out to be a comfortable wander over The Saddle and up to Kibo Hut.
Great views of tonight's task can be seen with the steep section at the top near Gilman's point easy to pick out. This is the bit that you will remember when you have finished! By now the wind will probably be racing over the sub-alpine desert and you should need your wind breaker on.
The sun is also getting fiarly strong so a wide brimmed hat will help keep the rays off your face and neck. If your Malaria option is Doxy then this is even more important as it will make you sun sensitive.
This was to be my hardest day. After throwing up the previous night I had very little energy and wasn't confident of making it to the top. In fact I didn't think I'd make it to Kibo hut! I threw up again after a small amount of food though felt better after my last heave! It was at that moment I figured it was the food rather than altitude that was the problem.
Remember that you are at 4700M so moving about the camp should be slow and steady! The hut here is basically 5 rooms with 12 beds set up in twin bunks. You'll be sharing, like we did, with a multi-national crew which should add to the overall experience.
Makr sure you get to bed early as you will be woken up at 11pm for food and then a start for the summit at approx midnight. Don't worry if you feel abit sick and eveb throw up - this is normal.
From Horombo Hut at 3720M, you will walk up the track taking the right fork which leads to the Zebra Rock. The first part of the walk is rather steep with footing not as easy as you have experienced so far.
From here you will walk to the left of Zebra rock and up a steep section and over to the left fork of the Marangu and back to Horombo Hut. Today you will get over the 4000M mark before sleeping back down at 3720M.
From Zebra rock is a small 'switch back' path above the Rock which is similar to what you'll need to be doing on summit night. Slowly but surely always moving higher and higher!! Make sure you keep your pace slow and allow yourself to get used to the highest altitude you may ever have been at (like I was).
It was the night after this day that I started throwing up. I thought it was the altitude but I was later to find it was the spicy food that made my stomach a bit dodgy. I lost 4.5 kgs over the 6 days and probably got a bit dehydrated. Having the support of my fellow climbers including carbo gel and rehydration sachets really helped me get the job done!
Day 2 sees a change in flora with the rain forest of yesterday giving way to tussock and more sparse vegetation. Unless it's raining, today you'll need to get used to the dust that will get into everything for the rest of the climb. If you have gaiters then today is when you'll want to start using them. I didn't have any but had good long pants that kept the dust out of my boots.
The walk to Horombo takes around 6 hours and is generally easy. It is in the early part of day 2 that, weather being good, you should get your first glimpse of Kili's peak in the distance. This is a lifting experience as the goal is seen for the first time.
As for day 1, your pace will be slow as you wind your way up to 3720M above sea level and the zone where altitude sickness will possibly start. As you will not be used to the altitude, remember to walk slowly when in camp and to take things easy.
At this altitude it is also quite cold at night so ensure you are prepared before you take off from Mandara hut and have warm clothing available if you need it. Remember that the porters will have your main gear bag on its way to the next stop so you'll only have what you are carrying to keeo you warm and watered.
I felt really good during this period and dealt with the altitude okay. I often felt short of breath on the first night but managed to get used to it!
Day one on the Marangu is the easiest day on the trip. From the Marangu gate start it is only a 3 hour walk to the Mandara Hut. Given that you will be walking slowly, this is a nice and easy intro to life on the mountain.
The first job to be done is registration at the gate which will require a bit of work from the head guide. Once the paperwork is done you will need to sign in and then get walking. There are a few sign posts you may want to get a photo of including the one with the walk times and climate ones.
At this stage the 'pace' of the climb will be set. Be prepared for a very slow pace and the mantra 'pole pole' to be chanted a few times to ensure that everyone is aware of the need to keep an easy pace to help aclimatising to the ever increasing altitude.
Day one will be in rain forest with a few plants and flowers that you'll see only in this zone. Don't forget to take photos as the chance arises as you'lll likely forget when you are coming back down.