Conquering Kilimanjaro – my experience!


Kilimanjaro, known as the roof of Africa, one of the seven summits of the world and one of the seven volcanic summits, as well as the highest point in Africa. It rises above the East African plains rather impressively with its stunning snow-capped peak. It was formed by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. There were 3 distinct cones – Shira, Kibo and Mawenzi. Mawenzi and Shira are now extinct volcanoes where as Kibo is the largest cone is still active, but lays dormant. Uhuru peak is the highest point on Kibos crater rim at around 5895m.  According to our guide Kilimanjaro means the white mountain or shining mountain as a rough translation as the glaciers on top reflected the sunlight.

According to history Johannes Rebmann was the first European to report the existence of Kilimanjaro in 1848. The first known people to summit Kilimanjaro were Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller in 1889. Since then there have been many trekkers attempting to summit Kilimanjaro breaking records for the fastest ascent and descent in around 7hrs, youngest and oldest summiters etc. Now most people do it for the experience, some even raising money for charity along the way.

Since I was 16 I had wanted to climb Kilimanjaro, I had seen it on a trip to East Africa on a school trip. I wasn’t even big into hiking back then but I liked the idea of a challenge. However time passed and I started to travel the world visiting places I hadn’t been before. The main reason Kilimanjaro was not on my list mainly was because I had been to Tanzania and I wanted to see places I hadn’t been before. In my late 20s I got back into hiking more seriously and after a night with family friends I mentioned climbing Kilimanjaro. I remember my Dad saying it would never happen as I had been saying it for years, whether he did this on purpose to give me a kick up the backside I don’t know, but it did. The next day I went into Ambleside and booked on February 19th 2017 expedition with Adventure Peaks.

Routes

There are several routes up Kilimanjaro that I had to choose from, and it all depends on timescales and budgets. The routes are; Northern Circuit, Machame, Marangu, Rongai, Lemosho, Umbwe and Shira and Mweka (for descent only). Marangu, Machame and Umbe approach from the South of the mountain. Lemosho, Shira approach from the West and Rongai and Northern route from the North.

  1. Marangu is the famous “Coca Cola” route, it is the classic trek on Kilimanjaro and takes around 5/6 days depending on if the company offers and acclimatisation day. It is the only route to offer sleeping huts along the way and is considered to be the easiest path to the summit. The downsides to the route are that the summit success rate is not as high due to lack of acclimatisation on the mountain and the lack of scenery.
  2. Machame or “whiskey” route is now the most popular trek on the mountain, it is a steeper more difficult climb and it takes between 6/7 days to summit. This route has higher amount of hikers on it so in high season you may find steeper harder sections bottlenecked. Descending down Mweka route.
  3. Lemosho is one of the newer routes on Kili and therefore has less hikers, it is also one of the longer routes taking between 6-8 days to summit. Lemosho joins onto Machame route around Shira camp 2. Not all Lemosho routes stay at same campsites, our expedition did not stay at Shira Camp 2 but at Moir camp which was slightly higher. The scenery is considered the most beautiful with panoramic views most days around the plains of Africa. Descending down Mweka route. One of the most expensive routes.
  4. Shira is nearly identical to Lemosho route however instead of hiking to camp 1 Shira route takes a vehicle and then hikes to Simba camp. The route then is identical to Lemosho. Although this is very similar to Lemosho you start at a higher altitude which could be a problem for acclimatisation. Descending down Mweka route.
  5. Northern circuit is the newest circuit on Kilimanjaro, the route follows the Lemosho trail but then changes to the rarely visited northern slopes. It is the longest route on Kilimanjaro with a recommended 9 day trek. Descending down Mweka route. It is the most expensive route out of all the routes on Kilimanjaro.
  6. Rongai approaches from the north and is the only route to start from the north. This route has low traffic and is better if walking in rainy season as the north side receives less precipitation. The duration of this trip is between 6/7 days. Rongai route joins up with Marangu route at Kibo camp and descends down Marangu.
  7. Umbwe is short, steep and direct route to the summit. The duration is between 6 – 7 days however this route has tough acclimatisation and therefore summit success is also low. The route descends down Mweka.

I chose Lemosho route as I wanted the extra days on the mountain ascending slowly to increase chances of acclimatising enough to attempt the summit. Personally the extra expense and extra few days is worth it as after all we are probably only going to attempt this once and I would like my chances of reaching the summit increased.

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Altitude map courtesy of Ultimate Kilimanjaro (http://www.ultimatekilimanjaro.com)

Weather

So after choosing the route the next question is what time of year. Kili is open all year to climbers however with every country there are better times of the year to hike. As Kili is equatorial it tends to have wet and dry seasons rather than the usual four seasons we are used to. December to February and June through to October are considered the best months to summit. June through to end of August are the coldest months on Kilimanjaro, but have lowest precipitation and therefore the crowds tend to be at a peak. December, January and February are warm with the off-chance of rain and again because of this the crowds are high. March, April and May and November are the rainy seasons and so therefore the amount of climbers reduces. It is really personal preference when you climb. I climbed in February and the rainy season had come in early. It was still warm but some days we got rain, and one in particular it rained all day.

Trekking Company

I chose Adventure Peaks as they were a local company and had been very knowledgeable and helpful with my questions. I don’t know why but for some reason the idea of climbing Kilimanjaro sparked an interest in me to climb all seven summits, a target I admit will never happen, more due to funding than passion and determination, but the staff were more than happy to talk through a training plan. Climbing Kilimanjaro wasn’t cheap either, I had to buy a lot of new kit and going with Adventure Peaks meant I had a 10% discount in store which was handy being so close to home. A personal advisory kit list is listed at the end, it can vary during different seasons but I have listed what I found useful and things I wish I had taken!

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Packing Nightmares

The trip itself started at around £1800, but it could be split in instalments which were easier on the wallet, although they did charge extra to pay by credit card which I think is a bit unfair when you’re paying so much out. I elected to book my own flights as the ones they booked left from London, and from talking to the others on the tour they went via Nairobi and had a long layover.

Not long before the trip was to start I got an email from Adventure Peaks to say the price of the climbing visa had risen and so they were charging everyone an extra 10%. I phoned up to find out what was going on, as it was a fair amount of money to have to pay for close to trip departure and out of the blue. Apparently in the contract I hadn’t seen or signed it does say that they can increase prices at whatever time they choose upto 10% of the total price. It just so happened that all their trips had a price hike at the same time so I am doubting the legitimacy of the Kilimanjaro climbing visa increase, as I would assume that would not be a percentage of the total price but a few extra quid! I was stuck I either had to pay or cancel the trip and lose my flights and my deposit so I had no choice but to cough up the extra cash.

It is worth noting that I paid a UK company to take me up Kilimanjaro, however, once we were booked on the trip, as there were only 5 of us we did not get a UK expedition leader. All treks on Kilimanjaro have to be through local tour operators using local guides and porters. It is sometimes worth doing the research as you can save around £600 booking this direct with tour operators in Tanzania. The tour company that lead us were very good (Kili Worldborn Safaris) and the equipment although old was suitable and sufficient. The guides speak very good English and the porters although don’t speak perfect English they do try, and they are very polite. If a UK company is offering the tour you are now probably looking at £2000 so if you are going to pay that much ensure that a UK expedition leader will be going with you, if not then book direct and save the cash.

Fitness

Kilimanjaro can be climbed by almost anybody, it’s not a technically difficult mountain to summit and as long as you are fit and healthy and take your time hiking then it is achievable. Most people seem unimpressed when you say you have summited as it is looked at as an easy mountain. However after my own experiences and reading several mountaineering books I think the general consensus is that it is massively underestimated. I would say a good level of fell fitness is needed before anyone attempts Kili, there are long days of hiking mostly going uphill but on Lemosho there was a fair few downhill areas, which were draining as you knew at some point you would have to hike back up what you just came down.

I was accepted into the London Marathon for April 2017 so I was running on a weekly basis as well as a few hikes now and then. I literally could not run when I first got accepted for the Stroke team so my main training was running. It seemed to work, yes I found it hard but I wasn’t exhausted everyday apart from summit day. I did hill walking once a month, to ensure that the right muscles were being used. I had damaged my ITB while descending down a fell in the Lake District so after I had that sorted out I was a little nervous about doing too many hikes before the trip.

What to expect

A few things to note before going into a day by day account of time on Kilimanjaro is the trekking times companies say it takes to walk from camp to camp can vary massively. Most days we would set off early and maybe walk for 6-7 hours which the information was pretty close to. The guide will watch your progress and will become very accurate on how long it will take you to walk somewhere as a group. However summit day was supposed to be a hike of 10-14hrs which by anyones standards is a very very long day hiking and at altitude this is a lot worse, this was not how long we walked for, it was a lot longer! Our summit bid and return to Mweka camp took 18hours. It was 18 hours in total, 15 hours of walking – 8 hrs to summit, 3 back to Barafu and 4 hours from Barafu to Mweka. It is an extremely long day and very tough so please be aware of this.

Be a team player, it’s not nice to have people walk off and leave you behind at the back of the group on your own, some people may take longer and you should physically walk at your own pace but stop every now and then have a breather take in the views and wait for them. Climbing Kilimanjaro is a marathon not a sprint and it’s always nice when you arrive in camp together as a team. You are spending a lot of time with these people, you eat together, some will have to sleep in same tent with others (unless you pay for single tent) and you spend all day in each other’s back pockets so being nice and waiting is key. Helping each other out and encouraging those that are struggling means a lot to others, summit day was a hard slog and I think at one point I was close to tears but the other 4 members of the team picked me up gave me the encouragement I needed.

The weather can change rapidly at altitude, you might be walking in blistering sunshine – where you can get burnt very easily. I had factor 30 SPF and ended up using someones factor 50 SPF as 30 was nowhere near enough. It was not hot at higher altitude even though the sun was shining down on us. It can rain/snow/hail a lot, so decent waterproofs are a must as are layers. It also gets very cold at night and on summit day, so ensure you have a lot of thin layers and a warm down jacket.

The food on the mountain is very good, a big surprise to all of us to get 2 courses every day twice a day. It is important to try and eat as much as you can as you need a lot of energy to hike at altitude. We had pancakes, toasties, chicken curries, pasta, rice, lots of soups, etc. If you are a fussy eater, tell them when booking to ensure that there will be food for you to eat everyday. I did tell my company this but the information was not passed on, so make sure that they do this.

The Trek

Day 1 – Lemosho Gate – Mti Mkubwa

Distance – 4miles

Time – 3-5hours

Altitude – 7742ft – 9498ft (2360m-2900m)

Landscape – Rainforest

Today was the first day the whole team would be together. I had met Rob, John and Alison (briefly) the night before and had a meal and a few drinks with them. I got up early to try and get a look at Kilimanjaro from the hotel terrace as it had been cloudy the previous morning by the time I had gone up to look. It was just breaking dawn when I got up onto the terrace and I was alone, it was beautiful, the birds had just started to come out and there were still a few bats flying around. As the sun broke it lit Kilimanjaro up, its immense presence looming over Moshi, there was a faint mist around the lower half of the mountain which reflected the colour of the sunrise. The snow-capped peak was shimmering in the sunlight. I was sat there quietly admiring the view until I was interrupted by Japanese tourists yelling and shouting and pointing pushing past each other to get a picture (the terrace was huge). I reluctantly headed off back to my room to finish off sorting my clothes out with what I would need for the trek and things I could leave in the hotel.

I headed to breakfast worried about what the next 7 days would bring, would I get ill? Could I make it to the summit? Would I even enjoy it? At breakfast I met the others and James who was the final member of our team. First impressions looked like everyone would get on really well, everyone was excited but nervous at the same time and were looking forward to the challenge. We headed to reception with our kitbags and daypacks in tow and sat waiting for the company to arrive. When they eventually turned up they picked our bags up chucked them into the back of the minibus and bundled us on-board, still none the wiser about what was happening or how the trip would go. The journey to Londrossi Park Gate where we would have to register for the hike took around 2 hours. Something we weren’t told about was the fact you would need your passport to register, most of us had our passports packed in our kit bags which we had to rummage through to get.

At Londrossi Park Gate the porters and guides sort through all the bags which are then weighed individually as each bag has a weight limit (15kg). There were a lot of groups waiting here and we were one of the last ones to arrive so we settled down on some benches and started to chat to get to know one another. Our guide Felison came over and gave us a packed lunch and stayed with us for a bit, he told us a bit about what to expect over the next few days. We were here in total about 3 hours before we were ready to head to Lemosho Gate.

Lemosho gate is around 2300m the gate sign itself says 1800m, no one is 100% sure which one is more accurate, but this one is the one with biggest variation along the route. We headed off slowly or as Felison says “pole-pole” which is Swahili for slowly-slowly, which was to a theme for the next 7 days hiking. It was a steady pleasant hike through the rainforest where we stopped often to admire the surroundings, toilet breaks and snack breaks. We did see some monkeys along the route which was fantastic. The weather was warm and it was rather humid under the canopy of the trees. The trek itself was not difficult and was undulating in favour of gaining height. There were no issues with altitude as they don’t normally start until you are above 3000m which would be tomorrow. I was on Diamox by now which a well-known side effect is the need to go to the loo more often. It is a pain but also a good way to keep track of hydration, sounds gross but it is the most important thing while hiking at altitude. As you would expect there are no toilets along the route so you have to find somewhere private to go, a note on this section is that bees nest in the ground so watch out.

We got to camp just before nightfall, it seemed quite a busy camp as there were a lot of tents put together. All our tents were up as the porters had shot off at the start at an impressive walking pace, not something I would have liked to have kept up with. A first for me while camping was the provision of a mess tent where there was a full table and chairs in there and it was equipped with a little light. All the tents had seen better days – the mess tent in particular had quite a few holes in it, but it was cosy and a welcome site. There were 5 of us on the trek, 2 women and 3 guys, normally it would be 2 women sharing, 2 guys sharing and a guy on his own, but Alison had paid for her own tent to ensure a peaceful nights sleep as if you are not travelling together you have no idea who you will get stuck with, and a snorer at night when you are knackered and trying to sleep could lead to attempted murder! Alisons tent was not brought on the trip which caused the guides and porters to panic a bit, James offered to share his single tent with me so Alison could sleep on her own. The guide promised at the next camp we would have the other tent there as one of the porters would go down and collect it and bring it up to the higher camp the next day.

After we had sorted the tent issue out we got all our kit out, inflated air mattresses, unfurled sleeping bags etc and headed into the mess tent for our evening meal. I had heard from other people who had hiked this trek how amazing the food was, but I thought they were joking with some of the things they had mentioned. I was wrong. The food was amazing. The first night we had leak soup for starters with bread rolls and then fish and potatoes for our main course, both were delicious and I am a very fussy eater. Rob had brought some crème eggs up on the trek with him and shared them out for dessert, amazing! We were all pretty knackered after the first day even though the hiking was neither long nor difficult, we headed off to bed at around 9:30pm.

Day 2 – Shira 1 Camp

Distance – 5 miles

Time – 6 hours

Altitude – 9498ft – 11500ft (2900m – 3500m)

Landscape – Heath

First night in a tent for a long time and I did not sleep well, my heart was racing for unknown reasons whether that was worry or the Diamox I am not sure. There were a few snorers in camp as well so when I did drift off I was awoken by them. I did have earplugs in my bag as well. It was an early wakeup call at around 6:30am, it wasn’t a bad one either we got a little knock on the tent with offer of tea or coffee and a bowl of hot water to have a wash. I had babywipe showers so I used the water to brush my teeth in. Breakfast was again really good with a wide selection of things such as toast, sausages, eggs etc. After breakfast we went back to the tents to pack everything up properly, sorted our day pack out and set off walking at around 7:30am.

The walk today was a lot steeper than the first day. The path was really good as well but a little muddy so gaiters were a good idea. The weather was not the best but when walking it was still quite warm and when we came out of the clouds and looked back the scenery was amazing. As we walked we could see far ahead of us the porters on a steep bit of the path which filled us with dread. Most of the say we were walking at around 3000m which was hard work for me personally. As a group we got on really well, we seemed to have bonded rather fast which was great and we all stuck together. I will admit that today was hard for me, I have shorter legs and I found the steepness of the incline was rather difficult.

After about 4 hours of walking through the rainforest the gradient of the path eased off a bit but with the respite from the uphill struggle we got rain instead. It wasn’t torrential rain but enough for us to all get our waterproofs out. The last hour of the hike was more or less flat, a welcome rest for my thighs and knees which were in protest. The scenery had change quite a bit from rainforest for most of the today to heathland. We arrived at camp quite early at around 1pm, Felison was happy with our slow and steady pace throughout the day. As we got into camp we dropped our bags off and went straight to the mess tent for lunch and a hot cup of tea. Lunch was soup with bread rolls followed by pasta and bolognaise which I didn’t eat as I am not a fan of pasta. I had a few biscuits from my stash in my kit bag.

That afternoon we sat in our tents – I was still sharing with James while we waited for the porter to come back up with the other tent. The weather was appalling it was throwing it down for most of the afternoon. I sat and wrote in my diary and tried to read my kindle but it was really hard not to fall asleep. Once the rain stopped I headed out to get some fresh air and stretch my legs, I looked around and saw the clouds breaking up which was a welcome site. From behind the clouds appeared a large dark mass with snow on top. This was our first close up view of Kibo, the summit. Everyone came out of their tents to take photos, we were out for maybe an hour having a laugh taking pictures from the toilet – as the toilet was overlooking the summit. We headed off into the mess tent together and drank a few cups of Milo which was delicious. Shortly after this my tent arrived so I got out and moved my stuff over and set up my air mattress and sleeping bag. Was quite hard work as I found myself out of breath trying to set everything up. When I had finished I looked up to see a wonderful sunset behind the summit. We had dinner and had a chat and some hot drinks and went to bed quite early as most of us were really tired.

Day 3 – Moir Camp

Distance – 7 miles

Time – 6-7 hours

Altitude – 11500ft – 13800ft (3500m – 4200m)

Landscape – Heath 

Another lovely wakeup call this morning from our porters with a lovely cup of tea which I had in my tent while packing everything up and getting dressed. It was around 6:15am when I stumbled out of my tent in the very fresh air, the tshirts now would be packed away until our descent. There was a beautiful sunrise this morning which we all enjoyed, tea in hand still. From Shira I most people head up to Shira II but we were taking a different route and going straight up to Moir Camp which would be a lot quieter and give us a bigger jump in altitude today to help acclimatise us.

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After breakfast we headed out to Moir camp at 4200m. It was going to be another 6-7 hour hike with a 700m altitude gain taking us for the first time over 4000m. The trek started out pretty flat and through a boulder field/ lava bomb field. The scenery started to become a bit more baron making going for a rest break would become more difficult for all of us. It was a nice steady pace through the boulder field not too many rest stops along the way. In the distance we could see quite a steep rock face where we saw our porters hiking up with our stuff, this would be where we would gain most of the height for todays trek. The hike up was quite steep but we took a few stops and Felison would tell us about the area we were in and the flora and fauna. We saw some scat on the path which Felison told us was wild dog.

When we got to the top of the steep section we came out at another lava bomb field we chilled out here for a while and ate sweets to get a bit of a sugar rush – haribos! One of our team started to feel a bit nauseous so we extended our stop to make sure they felt ready to move on. As we clambered through the rocks I started to get a headache and feel nauseous, I wasn’t sure what was causing it as it came on shortly after I had had a rehydration sachet to replenish lost salts etc. We got to a lava tube to have a look around and I just couldn’t be bothered I just wanted to get into camp which we could see from the there. When we started from the lava tube to camp I started to feel like I was going to be sick and had to sit down for a while. We carried on slowly and arrived at camp at 1:30pm. I got in my tent and tried to set it up while retching, my headache was unbearable by this point. I sat with the others in the mess tent and didn’t touch any of the food. I was really worried this was altitude sickness and that I wouldn’t make it any further. Felison and Sanjay (other guide) was also worried he came up to talk to me and said it might be because of the rehydration sachets and my body didn’t need the extra salts, or altitude sickness which may go away overnight.

After my non-existent lunch I clambered into my tent and took a couple of paracetamol and just lay there staring at the roof of the tent. A couple hours passed, I might have dozed off once or twice during that time but I can’t remember, Sanjay came to our tents and asked us if we fancied an acclimatisation walk. I really couldn’t be bothered with this and I just wanted to stay in my tent and sleep, but I knew this would be great for the days ahead so I pulled myself out and put my boots back on. We didn’t take our bags as the walk was just going to take us on a ridge above the campsite to about 4400m roughly. We took it extremely slowly going uphill, I think a snail may have been faster than I was heading up but we all stuck together and I was drinking a lot of water. The hike to the top was quite steep but we zig-zagged our way up to the top where we were greeted with amazing views. We didn’t spend too long up here just enough time for the guides to make a few phone calls (there was signal up there but no one else took phones). The trek down was around 40 min, when we got back we were straight into the mess tent for dinner. I still wasn’t hungry but by this point neither was Rob, the day was exhausting and took it out of both of us.

I was looking forward to getting into my sleeping bag and trying to get as much rest as possible and give it a go tomorrow and see how my body reacted. I was quite cold last night so I spoke to Felison who said if I gave him a water bottle before bed tonight he would fill it with hot water for me to use as a hot water bottle. Went to the toilet, brushed my teeth and got into a very warm cosy sleeping bag. Happy!

Day 4 – Barranco Camp via lava tower

Distance – 4 miles / 2 miles 

Time – 8 hours +

Altitude – 13800ft – 15190ft / 15190ft – 13044ft (4200m – 4600m / 4600m – 3975m)

Landscape – Alpine Desert 

Today was going to be one of the toughest days – other than summit day, as we ascending amd descending 700m so we were camping at roughly the same height as last night. I woke up still feel nauseous, I slowly moved round the tent packing everything up and sorting my daypack out. I got out of the tent to take my morning cup of tea which I tried to drink and then threw back up again. Felison was worried still but he said if we walked very slowly today I might acclimatise. I managed to get some food down me before we set off, a piece of toast, half a sausage and some hot water. As promised by Felison we set off at a very pole-pole pace. I felt for the others as this was a lot slower than our normal pace. It was going to be a long day hiking anyway over 8 hours without me slowing everyone down. When we got to the top of the first hill we had a break, there were stunning views of the summit and the sun had come out and started to warm us up, so layers of clothing came off. I started to feel a bit better at the top, the nausea and headache had both gone.

We were now in Alpine Desert surroundings which was very baron with the odd shrub and small rock, literally hardly anywhere to hide yourself for a discrete pee. As we descended from the top into the valley below Alison started to feel really ill, though it wasn’t from altitude. As Alison and I were drinking a lot we were drinking while walking and I think this is what caused it. We sat down for a while until she felt better, by this point the clouds had come in really quickly and the temperature plummeted. We set off walking again and it started to thunder slightly and then a hailstorm made our journey more interesting. The ascent to lava tower is quite difficult, add to the fact that the higher we climbed the hail turned to snow. When we got to lava tower the weather had subsided a little bit, enough to take photos of the tower and head inside our mess tent which the porters had set up for us and have dinner. There were a lot of hikers at lava tower when we were there and a lot of porters and what I found quite upsetting is the fact that the porters were all huddled together under large rock overhangs to keep warm and dry. These guys carry our own stuff, there personal stuff, a kitchen, food, mess tent and toilet all day and there was nowhere for them to take shelter while we ate. I have to say lunch was amazing and by now I had my full appetite back and was desperate to eat something. We were served cheese toasties and chicken stew for lunch, I ate loads.

When we came to leave Lava Tower it was dry again, we set off down a steep slope/waterfall and by the time we had got to the bottom it started to thunder and rain this time and quite heavily – just our luck. Baranco camp was only 2 miles away but for the entire 2 miles it was downhill. I hate going downhill as I am very clumsy when it comes to slippy rocks, I just seem to fall. The weather was miserable all the way down, we seemed to be walking through the clouds. There were some amazing trees called giant Groundsels, they looked very odd in the landscape. For the most part of this bit of the trek everyone had their hoods up and face down concentrating on getting down in one piece. As we got nearer the camp the group split up and as usual I fell, but only once.

We could hardly see camp when we arrived it was covered in thick cloud, there was hardly anything to see around us. Upon arrival we went straight into the mess tent for a hot cup of milo, which was needed. I disappeared off into my tent and used the string inside the tent as a drying line to dry all my clothes out. I set up my bed and checked my phone…I had signal. I phoned my parents up to let them know I was ok, the signal isn’t great up here as you can imagine but it was sufficient enough for a quick call, during the call I heard something in my tent, I looked around and there was a little mouse running around my tent, extremely cute. I got it out eventually after my call. I was aching quite a bit after today’s walk so I gave my legs a massage as I suffer with iliotibial band syndrome and so I need to release the tendon in my leg as when it gets tight it pulls the kneecap out. The sunshine came out while I was in the tent so I opened the door as it gets very hot very quickly in there. You could see all the way down to the plains below it was beautiful. I got out of the tent and admired the view and towering over me to the left was Barranco Wall, the famous massive obstacle we would have to get over tomorrow morning. There are so many horror stories about this wall with top to tail traffic jams being stuck on narrow ledges, and I was secretly dreading it. We settled into the tent for most of the afternoon until dinner came, fried chicken and chips. AMAZING! Again it was another early night for an early start in the morning.

Day 5 – Karanga Camp

Distance – 3 miles

Time – 6 hrs

Altitude – 13044ft – 13106ft (3975m – 4000m)

Landscape – Alpine Desert 

Another 6am wake up call this morning with our usual tea and smiling face. Saved my tea and packed up quickly and went outside to drink it looking at an amazing view yet again of Kibo. There was frost on the tent this morning and a fresh layer of snow on the slopes of Kibo. Went in for breakfast started to feel a bit nauseous again, I was sneezing and coughing a fair bit as well, I had a bit of blood coming out of my nose as well. I drank some water to clear my throat coughed and threw it back up again. Great start to the morning. I was hoping when I started to walk I would feel better or at least in pain so it would take my mind off the nausea.

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We set off towards the wall through the campsite. I am not going to lie, the trek up the wall was difficult but it wasn’t as jammed packed as everyone said and the space you had to walk although narrow was reasonable enough for you to fit on comfortably. It was constantly uphill zig-zagging along, moving out of the way of the porters bouncing up like mountain goats with huge heavy packs on their backs. I was pulled to the front of the queue, I am assuming because of my height, Felison was infront of me all the way and physically pulled me up some of the rocks as they were way to big for me to step up. I probably could have climbed up but it wasn’t an option with Felison around. We had a break about half way up and had a laugh at some of the other hikers around us, there were what I can only describe as Russian models with expensive ski gear on with their guides etc carrying their daypacks up with them. They had makeup on their hair was perfect and they looked like they could be on a shoot, and then there was me, hair greasy, a mess and in a ponytail, hot and sweaty, a burnt nose even though I had high factor suncream on, clearly the poster girl for hiking! I had the guys call me Rudolph as my nose was that red. To get up 900ft of Barranco Wall it took us around 2hours. On the top of the wall we were right underneath Kibo and we would be walking around the flanks of the summit cone to Karanga camp.

The walk from the top of Barranco was pretty easy going, the views were all around behind us was Mount Meru which was a stunning sight. It was flat for quite a while and then descended a bit. I started to feel a bit dizzy on the way down so we stopped for a rest at the bottom and I drank lots of water. When we set off hiking again we could see our camp across Karanga valley, there was what I thought a track that went along the back of the valley and looked pretty flat, however that was not a path. The path descended down to the bottom of the valley and then back up again to the same height. I am not going to lie I wanted to cry. We headed down to the bottom of Karanga valley, we could see porters going along the path along the side of the valley which stopped a short way in, this is where the porters were getting fresh water from. This apparently is the last place to get fresh water until we get to Mweka camp on the way back down. We had a short stop at the bottom to have a snack and some water. We headed up to Karanga which was more or less vertically above us. It was a hard slog up the other side of the valley, it seemed to take forever and I kept stopping for a breather.

We got into camp at 1pm and it in my opinion was the best camp site we had, we had a view down into Moshi and behind us the ever closer Kibo. We chucked our bags in our tents and headed straight for the mess tent for some hot chocolate which the porters had brought out. We had lunch and I sorted my kit out for tomorrow and set up my mat and sleeping bag. I called my parents again as I was getting worried about not being able to make as I seemed to be the slowest one in the group and I was knackered. I was still happy to plod along though I didn’t feel like altitude was affecting me as much anymore as the nausea had gone completely now. I was starting to look forward to Monday night sleeping in lower warmer conditions which is a shame as I was summiting tomorrow night and I should have been looking forward to that more.

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My tent broke

Felison came to grab us early afternoon to take us for another acclimatisation walk, as we hadn’t walked enough that day, we hadn’t really gained any height so he wanted us to go to a higher altitude. The hike was along the route we would be taking to Barafu tomorrow morning. It wasn’t too difficult just a slight elevation increase, however the weather started to come in so we descended back down to camp. The clouds came in and we lost sight of Kibo and Moshi below. Tonight was our last full night on the mountain and the idea of summiting tomorrow night was very strange, we had been walking 5 days for tomorrow night yet the idea that the day was almost among us was strange. We settled down into the mess tent, it was freezing cold. Food was pasta again and so I didn’t eat, as I really needed all my strength tomorrow night I had a word with Felison about food tomorrow to make sure there was no pasta so I could eat.

We left the tent to one of the most amazing views I have ever seen in my life. Kilimanjaro summit was right in front of us, the snow lit up by the moon and the stars shining so bright. The tents were lit up with people inside with their headtorches. Looking around the town of Moshi was lit up below. I went into my tent and pulled my phone out chancing a quick snap as clouds were closing in. I got one amazing shot on my phone, my camera didn’t take any good shots as they were too blurry. I tried to take pictures of the stars but they didn’t work either. We ended up going to bed at 8:30pm, I went with my hot water bottle as it was absolutely freezing.

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Day 6 – Barafu Camp

Distance – 2 miles

Time – 3 hrs

Altitude – 13106ft – 15331ft (4000m – 4680m)

Landscape – Alpine Desert

We had a nice lie in this morning as we only had 2 miles to hike today to Barafu camp. We decided there was no point rushing the walk today so we went very slowly. We had to ascend nearly 700m as well so the slower we did this the better it would be for us with acclimatisation. Most of the altitude gain was first thing in the morning. The views were well worth the effort, looking over at Mount Meru and Kili summit.

The walk was mostly undulating after the first stretch until the last section which was a steep climb up onto Barafu ridge. The walk was very steep and we needed a few water stops to get to the top. On the ridge there were very large rocks which were difficult to get round, we checked in at the lodges as was usual procedure and had to walk back the way we came to get to our tents. It was a pain to get on the other side of the ridge and down to our campsite as the slabs were massive and difficult to get down. We had a light lunch in the mess tent, the clouds were now below us and a thunderstorm was forming. We all headed off to our tents to have a nap. It was all we could do today as we needed as much rest as possible. We were woken at 5:30pm to have some chips and a hot drink. We spoke to Felison and Sanjay about the hike to the summit tonight and what we should take and what to expect, they didn’t say much other than pack light and drink lots. This was probably the best thing to not mention what was to come as we were nervous enough. We headed off back to our tents, nervous and excited at the same time. I packed my kit bag up as much as I could got dressed in my hiking gear and slipped into my sleeping bag for a few hours sleep.

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Day 7 – Summit and Mweka Camp via Barafu Camp

Distance – 3 miles / 7 miles

Time – 11hrs / 5hrs hiking

Altitude – 15331ft – 19341ft / 19341ft – 10065ft (4680m – 5895m / 5895m -3070m)

Landscape – Artic / Rainforest

Its hard to call this day 7 as it is still day 6. We were woken up at 10pm by Manjo one of our porters. Our tents were all frozen and it had snowed while we were asleep. We were given a hot drink and I managed to stuff down a few biscuits. I was knackered. I had several layers on; thermal long sleeve top, long sleeve top, short sleeve tshirt, jumper and down jacket. We put our backpacks and headtorches on and set off. We had to climb the equivalent of Ben Nevis from the base. I was again put right behind Felison which made me nervous about what lay ahead, Sanjay brought up the back of the pack. After about 10 minutes I was suffering really bad – my mistake – I had put too many layers on, I was boiling. I had to stop to take layers off, luckily Alison had also done the same. Felison was not impressed with how much I had in my daypack – I only had a camera my jumper and tshirt that I had taken off and 2 litres of water. Felison started taking everything out of my bag and then gave me an empty daypack back.

We went across a boulder field where Felison had to drag me up and over some of them. I really don’t remember much of it as I think I sleep walked through quite a bit. The air was really dry which was drying my throat out so I was drinking lots so I had to stop Felison to get my water out. One of my waters was in an insulated case and the other was not, it turned to slush after about 3hrs. As we were all drinking so much going upto the summit we needed to go to the toilet a fair bit which was not an awesome experience at these temperatures. We progressed very slowly and other teams started to overtake us. All you could see above you was the light from headtorches going all the way up, it was depressing. All I wanted to do was give in and go back to camp to sleep, but somehow I put one foot in front of the other and I was getting their one little step at a time.

The terrain started to get steeper and the snow on the ground slightly deeper than at camp, my feet were cold and I had to keep kicking them into the snow/ash to warm them up again. The path continued to zig zag and the lights above us disappeared, I was hoping this meant that we were approaching the summit ridge, but we weren’t. Everyone was struggling mentally and physically, we were all tired and cold, we were being stopped and told to drink but all the water was getting really cold and giving me brain freeze.

Hours had passed and the camp below us was a tiny dot now and the lights above us and all but disappeared, over to the right we could see the start of daybreak. Knowing we were due at Stella point at sunrise it gave me hope that we were close to the summit ridge. Felison had slowed right down and I was getting annoyed by the pace as we were literally taking baby steps now and the gradient had reduced a bit and I could have taken larger steps. I kept bumping into the back of him to try make him go a bit faster but it didn’t work. As the dark sky began to lighten I could see the crater rim just above us, it wasn’t far and I felt amazing, if not very cold and knackered!

We eventually got there onto the crater rim and Stella Point at 5795m. Dawn was just breaking and the view was breath-taking. We stopped here for about 10 minutes to take photos and to have a drink. There were a few people heading back down from the summit at this point and other trekkers from other routes slowly making their way up along the ride.

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Uhuru peak was just another 100m altitude gain but about another kilometre away from us. You could see it in the distance and it didn’t look that far but it took what seemed like forever. I was definitely feeling the affects of altitude sickness now, I had a dim headache and was feeling nauseous, I think the majority of us were feeling the same. We walked past the glaciers on the slopes and took some photos and then… we were at the summit. WE HAD ALL MADE IT! We had summited Uhuru peak the highest point on Mt Kilimanjaro at 7:01am on 27th February 2017.

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I can’t remember my feelings at the time, its strange. I know I was there and I had pictures taken but there was no sense of relief, it wasn’t too busy at the summit but I felt slightly rushed to take pictures and to get off. This is for your safety as we gained 1200m in altitude which is not recommended if you do that to stay at the altitude for long as you have not acclimatised. It was Johns birthday and so we celebrated on the summit with a sip of Rusty Nail which Rob had brought up with him. We all had our pictures taken – mine were not that good in the group shots as for some reason I was doing a stupid pose. I took my jacket off to show my Stroke Association t-shirt with “for Grandma” on the back. Everyone else had their pictures done for their charities etc. We headed back after about 30 minutes on the summit.

As we were descending it eventually hit me what I had just done and I was overcome with emotion, hoping my Grandma would be looking down on me with a big smile on her face. On the way down we bumped into quite a few more trekkers on the way to the summit, it seems like we were one of the first groups up there. The route on the way back down was slightly different as it was down an ash slope. Now the sun was up it was getting rather warm and some were struggling getting back down. The famous quote “It’s a round trip. Getting to the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory” by Ed Viesturs. This was very true, we had spent most of our energy getting to the summit is was draining to get back down to camp. For me I am pretty good at going down as I seem to take one step on scree and fly down a few feet. Our porters came up to meet us on the way down to congratulate us and take our daypacks for us. I had hardly anything in mine now, I did take the rest of my stuff of Felison at the summit though. It took us around 3 hours to get back down to camp. We chilled out at Barafu camp for a couple of hours to let everyone recover, a couple had a nap, I didn’t want to as its not recommended and although I was tired I felt ok to carry on down as I was. I phoned my parents up from my tent here and told them I had summited, they were very proud and happy, although I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for what I had just done. Think the words I said were “never again” and “that was the hardest thing I have ever done”.

We set of for Mweka camp at around 1pm. We could see clouds forming below us and knew it was going to be a wet walk back down. The hike down to Mweka was 7 miles and all of it downhill, it was really hard on the knees and emotionally draining as it didn’t seem to end. I felt my temper going as time went by and I was soaked. We arrived at Mweka at 5pm, the pub we got told about on this route had been shutdown a while back as porters were not arriving at camps due to stopping off and drinking so they had to shut the bar down. It was gutting as well all fancied a celebratory drink. I jumped into my tent took off the waterproofs set my bed up. I wandered into the mess tent for a hot drink. Rob had gone to bed as he wasn’t hungry. I stayed and waited for dinner…. Pasta. I had some of the soup and bread and after everyone had finished we all headed off for a lovely long nights sleep. There were a lot of teams down at this camp, some had more energy than others, they seemed to have been there a lot longer than us as no one passed us on the way down and the camp was packed, so maybe they had had an afternoon of sleep. Music was blaring and everyone was having a great time. I shoved my ipod in and drifted off to sleep. I slept amazingly well.

Day 8 – Moshi

Distance – 6 miles

Time – 3 hrs

Altitude – 10065ft – 5380ft (3070m – 1600m)

Landscape – Rainforest

I was not impressed with the 5:45am wake up call this morning. Nice cup of tea in the tent and I packed my bags up for the last time on this trek. We had a pancake breakfast which was fitting as it was Shrove Tuesday. Everyone was up and ready to go an very cheerful, its amazing what a good nights sleep at lower altitude can do. We gathered all our money for the tips for both porters and guides and gave it to Felison who has the job to split it between everyone. We had a big group hug with all the porters and had some group pictures taken. Needless to say we could not have done this without them and they were all amazing. They sang us a song called Hakuna Matata (not the Lion King one) about how for us summiting Kilimanjaro was nothing to worry about and we managed it.

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We set off down towards Mweki gate, I set off at a slow pace as the ground was all smooth rock which was wet and so very slippy. I think we all fell over at least one on the way back down. The first hour or so was covered in this rock and then it turned into a dirt track which was very easy, loads of groups were all heading down some were running down. It was a lovely warm, dry day and I managed to put a tshirt on again. We managed to get to Mweki gate after only 3 hours, it was a very quick pace to what we were used to and it felt great not struggling to breath while walking.

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We had a picture taken under the congratulations sign altogether and individually. We signed out of the national park and got our certificates. We were all exhausted it was a tough hike, we wanted to go back to the hotel but Felison wanted to take us out for a celebratory meal. It was quite nice and it was first time we had wifi and everyone was inundated with messages etc. We got back to the hotel and said our goodbyes to Felison. We all must have looked like crap as the hotel decided it would be funny to tell us during check in that there were no ensuite rooms available for us. Our jaws must have dropped as the receptionist was laughing. It was a very hot day in Moshi. I grabbed my bag from storage and went to my room. I emptied my bag from the trip onto the bed and went to the bar to grab a bottle of wine and then headed for the shower. I probably spent a good half an hour in the shower, it was amazing. I got out and as soon as I opened the door from the nice smelling bathroom into the bedroom I could smell the utter stench that was coming from my hiking clothes. They were quickly shoved back into the bag and I got dressed and headed downstairs to sit by the pool. The guys were already sat at a table drinking Kilimanjaro beer. We stayed out by the pool all day, Alison joined us later on. We had a lovely meal inside the hotel and had a few more drinks and toasted properly to Johns birthday and to our summit success. Needless to say we didn’t stay up late.

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Overall and now looking back it was an amazing experience and I wouldn’t have changed anything, even the bad things about the trip were what made the trip extra special. We overcome a lot as a group and we got to the summit together. It has been the hardest thing I have ever done but even after saying never again, I really want to do lots more mountains. John, Rob and myself were even heard talking about Mt Elbrus in the future. But for now my next adventure is Mera Peak in Nepal which I need to do a decent Scottish Winter Mountaineering course with a new company I found called Jagged Globe, I will be doing both the course and Mera Peak with them and I am looking forward to both.

 

Tips and advice

Below are a few tips and advice about what to take, and what to do before you consider booking the trip. Everything below is from my own personal experience and if you are concerned or want to know more information you can contact me, or speak to your chosen tour group or doctor.

Gear

Gear is the most important thing on your expedition, if you get your gear wrong it could turn a great expedition into a nightmare. Please note that equipment is what I took on a February expedition, in winter time you may need more but your company should give you a comprehensive list, below is what I found useful for me. I do feel the cold and some things I have added that I didn’t take that I wish I had.

BAG

  • Daypack – 35L+10. Large enough to carry your camera, water, rain-gear, snacks & warm clothing
  • Most companies will give you a kitbag for the porters to carry.

 FOOTWEAR

  • Hiking Boots.
  • Shoes for camp at night – I didn’t take any as I stayed as was in hiking gear until bed
  • Gaiters
  • Warm / Thermal Socks – Summit day, personal pref how many you take.
  • Trekking Socks – daily fresh clean socks
  • Liner Socks – For under warm socks in case of extreme cold.

OUTER LAYER

  • Waterproof Jacket – ensure it’s a decent one you don’t want to get wet.
  • Waterproof trousers.
  • Down Jacket – I had a RAB Down Jacket and a RAB insulated jacket (RAB or a decent outdooe shop will be able to advise you on the best jacket for you).

 SECOND/THIRD LAYER

  • Tshirts/vest tops for lower down
  • Long sleeve tshirts
  • Softshell jacket
  • Fleece lined pants – a Godsend!
  • Trekking trousers
  • Hiking hoody
  • Bodywarmer
  • Insulated lightweight hoody

THERMALS

  • Thermal underwear pants
  • Thermal underwear top

CLIMBING ACCESSORIES

  • Buff – warm
  • Gloves – Insulated, Waterproof, windproof and breathable
  • Sun hat
  • Warm hat
  • Trekking poles
  • 2 x 1ltr water bottles which are either insulated or get insulated bottle holder. Water will freeze on summit day.
  • Headtorch and batteries.
  • Water Purification Tablets
  • Sun Glasses  with good UV protected lenses
  • Sleeping Bag – Rated to at least –15 comfort – although mine was and I was still cold.
  • Sleeping Bag liner – I would recommend silk as my cotton one was rubbish.
  • Insulated sleeping mat
  • Dry Sacks – for daypack and kitbag ensure all your things are kept dry as the kitbag is NOT waterproof. Also on summit day you are asked to take up passport and money as the porters don’t want to be in charge all day of those belongings (if any go missing they are fired). My passport got a tad damp summiting and my face melted luckily I was still able to fly home.

ACCESSORIES

  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, wet wipes, etc, hand tissues.
  • Toilet Rolls – depending on company. We has toilet tent with paper provided.
  • SPF50+ Sun Screen Lotion, I took SPF30 and got burnt.
  • SPF Lip Balm
  • Aftersun/Aloe Vera
  • Fluffy warm bed socks – a must if you get cold feet
  • Pyjamas
  • External battery charger or spare batteries for camera etc.
  • Rainproof bag 35L covers to protect your daypack from rain – I find them a waste of time.
  • She-pee
  • Spare water bottle to pee in at night – believe me I was against this but this was one item I regret not taking. Its really cold at night and last thing you want to do is get out of your warm sleeping bag and trek outside to the toilet tent.
  • Metal water bottle for use as a hot water bottle – again I didn’t think about this but I borrowed one from one of the guys on the trek. I HATE the cold so I put this in my sleeping bag before we went to bed and it warmed it up and kept me warm all night. Bonus is the guy had sterilized cool water already for him in the morning.
  • Small hot water bottle for sleeping bag – If you feel the cold.
  • Phone/Camera – Phone Reception is not very good but you can get it in some places on Lemsoho route.
  • Energy snacks and sweets – nice to share chocolates etc after the meal at camp and sweets with the guides and porters and fellow trekkers along the route.
  • Ear plugs.
  • Plastic bags – there is so much toilet paper scattered along the footpaths, its just nicer to carry it with you instead of adding to it.
  • Isotonic powder – good if you have upset stomach and if you are sweating a lot. However I had one and it did not agree with me at all, was vomiting a lot and felt awful.
  • Cordial – I didn’t take any but I regretted it when I saw other had some. Thankfully groups share.

FIRST AID

  • Pain Killers
  • Personal first aid Kit For minor cuts and bruises
  • Imodium (diarrhea)
  • Laxative – just in case.
  • Throat lozenges
  • Insect repellent
  • Diamox – personal preference. We all took them, you need to pee more but it does help you acclimatize.
  • Antibiotics – if your doctor will prescribe them

 

A few things to remember before going on this expedition.

  1. Check with your doctor first, it is a physically strenuous walk and you want to make sure you are in the best condition so a check up before booking the trip would be ideal – just in case.
  2. Make an appointment with the travel clinic/nurse to get upto date on your immunisations. Some transit countries depending on where you fly via require you to have a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate.
  3. Malaria is not an issue anymore around Kilimanjaro so malarials are not required during the trek however if you have a layover somewhere you maybe required to take them. Always check the updated travel site http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk
  4. Most reputable UK companies will require you to have sufficient travel insurance and require the details. British Mountaineering Council do offer great cover for trekking/mountaineering but they require you to become a member which is not a bad thing as the magazines are full of useful information etc.
  5. Ensure when you book with whichever provider you choose you ask if they provide toilet tents. If not a highly recommend paying the extra to hire one. They are well worth the money, I never used the toilets provided enroute, however we walked past them and could smell them quite a way off.
  6. Do listen to your guides. They are highly experienced and know the signs and symptoms of altitude sickness. If they tell you to slow down, or go back, listen to them, they are not there to ensure everyone summits, they are there to ensure everyone survives. If you are ill don’t push your body, altitude sickness can become severe very quickly and reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro or any mountain is not worth your life.
  7. Before booking you should take into consideration into your costs tips. I know this because this was something I did not consider. Not long before we departed I got an email stating that the guides and porters expected a tip of around $200-250. I knew I would tip and had put aside $100 for this but I was not expecting this much. When a company says expected it is not mandatory to tip this much. Another way to tip or show gratitude is to give them hiking gear as believe it or not quite a few companies guides etc do not have suitable clothing etc. A few of our group left behind unused tshirts/jumpers etc, which they found really useful.

Altitude Sickness

Mostly everyone will experience altitude sickness, its not a big deal if you get minor symptoms such as headache, loss of appetite or nausea/vomiting and shortness of breath. To overcome these walk slower, take paracetamol and drink more water. Loss of appetite is very normal for everyone at altitude no matter if you are not experiencing any other symptoms, just ensure you are forcing yourself to eat something as you can summit on an empty stomach you need all the energy you can get. Diamox will usually prevent most of these symptoms. Shortness of breath will be more apparent when you are walking, and it will usually take you longer to hike shorter distances, and everything seems like an effort. This is just high altitude and even Diamox won’t reduce these symptoms massively as there is less oxygen available at altitude. More serious signs of altitude sickness or confusion, loss of co-ordination, hallucinations, weakness which are signs of High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema. Breathing difficulties (serious), tightness in chest, persistent cough, blue tinge to skin are sings of High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema. Both of these are life threatening and require immediate descent and dexamethasone injection. Your guide will be trained to deal with this, our guide carried an hypobaric oxygen chamber in case of emergencies. Altitude sickness can and has killed people on Kilimanjaro and should be taken seriously.

 

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