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Conquering Africa's Highest Mountain

A 6 Day Trek Up Mt. Kilimanjaro

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I’ve been looking forward to and dreading the climb for some time. For one, it’s the highest peak in Africa at roughly 19,500 feet and there’s no technical climbing involved - if you are in reasonably good shape, you can simply walk to the top. On the other hand, we had just four and a half days to climb approximately 14,000 feet into thin air (we started our trek at around 5,500 feet) and neither of us had been inside a gym in months. We arrived in Moshi, Tanzania and set out to find a reliable tour company offering a six day, five night budget trek up the Machame Route (one of the easier but more interesting trails). In one day, we settled on Bryson Adventures and got all of our gear ready.
Day 1: We arrived at the Machame Gate early in the morning enthusiastic and energized. We signed in with about 100 other climbers; including one who was 69-years old. I was very impressed - the oldest person to ever summit Kilimanjaro was 88-years old! We met our guide, Paul (his African name was Makeme), and the rest of our crew. To get us to the top of Kilimanjaro required one guide, one assistant guide, one cook, and six porters - it takes a village people. Thankfully, the porters carried most of our gear; all we had to carry were our day packs (hard enough on the last three days). Because of cloud cover, we could not see the top of the mountain - probably a good thing for me, I might have cried if I saw how high we had to climb. On the Machame Route, the landscape changes every day with the altitude, so it is interesting to watch the surroundings change from rain forest, to scrub brush, to moorland, and then tundra. The hike through the rain forest on our first day was beautiful and we were feeling good. When we arrived at our campsite, we found that our crew had already set up our tent, laid out our sleeping bags and mats, and also set up a dining tent. We were given hot water to wash with, served popcorn, biscuits (cookies) and hot drinks as a snack, and later fed a huge dinner. There was no shortage of food on our trek.
1b.jpg Standing at the Machame Gate pre-climb
1a.jpg A shot of the porters carrying their loads; the scenery is the rainforest
1_11.jpg Inside our dining tent having some snacks :)
Day 2: We awoke to clear skies and had our first view of the peak. It was intimidating to say the least. The walk on day two was a bit harder as the trail got steeper as we transitioned from rain forest to shrubs. The phrase of the trip was “Pole Pole” which in Swahili means “Slowly Slowly”. Because of the altitude gain, climbers are forced to walk slowly during the ascent to prevent altitude sickness. Our camp for the night was located on a rocky field at about 12,000 feet. It was packed with tents that resembled lunar modules. By this point, the crew had given up trying to pronounce Elizabeth and nicknamed me “Eliza” (pronounced “Eleeeza”). Jeff was called “Joff”.
2.jpg Still smiling
2a.jpg Our camp for the night
Day 3: The morning views from camp were amazing, we were looking down on the clouds. During the hike, we entered the moorlands portion of the mountain, small shrubs and moss. We walked especially slowly, which was good, because my shortness of breath was getting more pronounced. We climbed up to about 15,500 feet for lunch and then descended back down to about 12,000 feet again to sleep (the altitude we were at the previous night). It was so depressing to lose all of the altitude we gained, but the exercise supposedly helped us acclimatize. Our camp for the night was in the clouds, so it was difficult to find the bathrooms. The bathrooms were apocalyptic by the way, but what can you expect at 12,000 feet? On the high-end tours, porters actually carry portable toilets for their clients to use (maybe next time).
3.jpg Sunrise at camp-and above the clouds-stunning
3a.jpg Some landscape views as we walked
3b.jpg A view of the climb- still above the clouds (it was an amazing view)
Day 4: We set off for our steepest climb yet, which turned out to be both fun and exhausting. Our walk took us through the most inhospitable terrain, all rock and no vegetation. We could see glaciers in the distance. During the final portion of the climb we encountered cold rain, sleet, and finally turned to snow. We “camped” at about 15,500 feet on a mountain ridge. We rested and ate an early dinner because summit day was scheduled to begin in hours.
4c.jpg A view of neighboring Mt. Meru
4b.jpg Taking a break- the sky was so clear and you can see the Uhuru Peak well
4.jpg The "lunar landscape"
4a.jpg Snow!
Day 5 - Summit Day: The day actually started with a pre-midnight wake up call. It was well below freezing outside. We felt like marshmallow puffs as we were each wearing several layers of pants, shirts, jackets, hats, socks, and gloves. Nevertheless, except for when we were hiking, we still felt cold. The air was so thin that we were extremely short of breath at times (particularly me). I like to refer to the climb up that day as ball-busting-soul-destroying-and-near-vomit-inducing. It took just over six hours to reach the summit and exhausted every bit of mental and physical energy we had. As we approached the summit, we wanted to burst into tears (not sure if it was from fatigue or excitement, but it was surprisingly emotional). We had our picture taken by the sign on the peak and watched the sunrise over Africa. We thought the worst was over, but climbing down was almost just as hard. It was steep, there was lots of loose rock, and we were already exhausted. Three hours later though, we made it back to camp and collapsed. After two hours of sleep, our day continued. We had lunch and then hiked three more hours down to our last camp. I got spanked by that mountain and in twelve hours of hiking she turned me into an old lady! I could barely walk and my knees were killing me, but we made it :)
5d.jpg Sunrise at Uhuru Peak (Uhuru is Swahilli for freedom)
5c.jpg On top of the world :)
5b.jpg A view of the glacier from the top- the cold wind blowing off of that thing was bone chilling!
5a.jpg Camp! It's really as far as it looks
5.jpg This is how you get rescued if you need to come down the mountain- it didn't look fun
Day 6: Before starting our hike out, we were treated to a song about Kilimanjaro by our crew. It was a relief to know that in four hours we’d be back in civilization. I was especially looking forward to a hot shower! Our walk out was leisurely and, fortunately, not too steep. Because of the downhill hiking the day before, I had to tape every one of my toes to cushion the blisters. In the end, it was an amazing and surreal experience. I am very proud that we did it! It was one of the hardest things we have ever done.
6a.jpg Me and Abi (one of our porters) on our last day
6.jpg Our Kili crew before we set out for our final hike
Although we wish we could rest for a few days, our remaining time in Africa is short, so we are getting picked up tomorrow by our French friends, Alexandra and Oscar and heading to the Serengeti for our final safari. We will write more soon!

Posted by geldere 01:46 Archived in Tanzania

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HI!!!!! Caryn from MIM, WHAT an amazing STORY and PICS! Lisa has me hooked on your travel blog! I miss you! But am sooo happy you both are doing great and having what looks like an amazing time!!!

by CarynDever

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