Day One & Day Two

Mount Kilimanjaro Travel Blog

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Kili...taken from the plane.

Okay, just some background information before I begin…..Mount Kilimanjaro is comprised of 3 separate peaks. Shira (12,999ft / 3962m) to the west is the oldest and the original volcano. Mawenzi to the east (16,798ft / 5120m) was formed by a later volcanic eruption and finally towering between the two is Kibo, the youngest and tallest of the three. It is thought that the last large eruption of Mount Kilimanjaro was so violent that it blew a hole in the side of Kibo’s crater, forming what we now call the Western Breach – the hardest approach to the summit. As the lava flowed west down the mountain it filled the massive crater of Shira, leveling it out and forming the beautiful Shira Plateau. Even though the mountain sits on the plains of Africa just 3 degrees south of the equator Kibo has a snow-capped cone all year round. Mount Kilimanjaro is made up of 5 distinct vegetation zones giving climbers plenty to look at as they make their way to the summit.

Today there are 6 well maintained routes to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro that see over 20,000 climbers each year. A typical climb covers 50km-60km and takes approx 7 days if you're taking proper time to acclimatize. Mount Kilimanjaro is a guided climb; it is not possible to climb the mountain without a guide. Like the Sherpas of Mount Everest, many men from the local Chagga tribe work as porters on the mountain.

 

On Sunday morning I left Pemba Mozambique and flew to the Kilimanjaro International airport in Tanzania.

There I met a couple of my colleagues and fellow climbers who flew in from Maputo. From the airport we were taken by our Kilimanjaro guide to the Mountain Inn Hotel in Moshi, a small town near the mountain where most Kili climbers start out at.  By this time my adrenaline was so high that I was ready to start the climb right then and there. We could see the mountain from our hotel, and although cloud cover obscured the peak from our view, I couldn’t believe I was actually staring at the most photographed mountain in the world. It was even more difficult to believe that I would soon be embarking on a journey up the famed mountain. Despite the fact that I had recently spent a fair amount of time in higher elevations, as well as getting in a lot of exercise each day, the lingering question rooted deep within me was “Can I really do this? Can I really make the summit?” 

 

I had heard that an average of 8 to 10 people die every year attempting to make the summit…not from falling or freezing to death, but from altitude sickness and heart attacks.

Machame entrance.
And it’s not unusual to see porters hauling down some poor soul on a stretcher who just forked out a few thousand dollars to live a dream and yet, never actually realized that dream. The only guarantee in this adventure is that there are no guarantees. But, there were encouraging reports, as well. Our guides have over a 95% success rate for climbers making the summit. And to further bolster my spirits, a group of climbers we met at supper that evening that had just descended from the mountain summit included two men who were well into their sixties…I figured if they can do it, Sybil and I can do it!  (Sybil will be going to summit Kili during the first part of 2009.)

 

It was early to bed that night, and as excited as I was, it didn’t take long to drift off to sleep from a very long day of traveling. We were up at 5:00 AM and met in the dining area of our hotel for breakfast.

Our guide briefed us on things we needed to know about the climb, and before leaving the hotel we also did an equipment check. There was one change from the initial itinerary. We had originally planned to do the Marangu Route, which is considered to be the easiest trail. But a week earlier we elected to do the Machame Route, instead. The Machame Route is widely reckoned to be more difficult than the Marangu Route (and is thus nicknamed the Whiskey Route, in opposition to Marangu’s softer code name of the ‘Coca Cola trail’), but the proportion of trekkers who reach the top using this route is marginally but significantly higher. Whether this is evidence that the Machame Route allows people to acclimatize better because it’s longer, or whether this higher success rate is merely an indication that more experienced, hardened trekkers – i.e. the very people who are most likely to reach the summit – are more inclined to choose this route, is anyone’s guess. None of the trails have any technical climbing, although there is some challenging scrambling over the rocks on the steeper slopes.

 

The drive from Moshi to the Mount Kilimanjaro National Park Gate took about 50 minutes. The journey passes through the village of Machame which is located on the lower slopes of the mountain. Once we reached the Machame Park gate, we made our final preparations for the climb, including a bunch of paperwork that seemed to take forever. The porters were arranging their packs containing all the food, water, firewood, and other equipment. The only items we were responsible for carrying were our supply of water for the day, sack lunch and energy bars, cameras, trekking poles, etc.

We left the park gate and began our walk through the rain forest on a winding trail and into the dense mountain jungle along a steadily rising ridge. The trail was very muddy and slippery in places. I fell more times than I could count and was glad to have my gaiters on. Gaiters wrap around the tops of your boots so that water can’t get in your shoes. We were forewarned that rain was more common than no rain, and so part of our gear included rain jackets and protective coverings for cameras and anything else that needed water-proofing.

 

The gradient finally relented as the forest merged into giant heather, and then the path led more easily to Machame Camp. The walk to our first camp took about 6.5 hours, including a half-hour break for lunch. We ascended from 1800m at the entrance to 3100m at Machame Camp. The oxygen was certainly getting thinner, and my breathing was getting a little more arduous.

Map of all the routes...our's was Machame.
Along the way, we also got an awesome view of Kibo, which is the volcanic crater where Uhuru Peak is located. Uhuru Peak, the highest point in Africa, was our destination!

 

At our first camp, the porters served us hot drinks and popcorn and had already set up the tents and were preparing our meal…pasta, fruit, and bread. We would soon learn that pasta and rice would be our staple meal for the next week. After supper, many of us in our group (there were 19) mingled to get to know one another a little better.

I could instantly sense that some terrific friendships were going to be forged in this bonding experience over the course of the next few days.

 

At nightfall, one of the most amazing experiences was seeing the all the stars in the sky. I must have just stared up into the night sky for 30 minutes. I had never seen such a brilliant array of stars…there must have been thousands upon thousands to be seen by the naked eye. After being mesmerized by the heavens I took to my sleeping bag, determined to get all the sleep and rest I could in preparation for the next day’s segment…which wouldn’t be as far the first day’s hike, but much more demanding because of the diminishing oxygen levels. Another noticeable difference at this level was the temperature change. Once the sun had set, the temp dropped down to about 40F (5C).
iscoe says:
Hiya - just wondering what company you used? would you recommend them again? Cheers, K
Posted on: Oct 05, 2009
ShellyTrekker says:
Such an incredible experience for you! I enjoyed reading this blog to the very last day, thank you!
Posted on: Dec 11, 2008
Biedjee says:
congrats on your featured blog! Great story.
Posted on: Nov 13, 2008
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Kili...taken from the plane.
Kili...taken from the plane.
Machame entrance.
Machame entrance.
Map of all the routes...ours was …
Map of all the routes...our's was…
Porters.
Porters.
Driving to Machame.
Driving to Machame.
The outhouse at Machame camp...not…
The outhouse at Machame camp...no…
The very first leg of the climb.
The very first leg of the climb.
Moshi.
Moshi.
Kili from Moshi.
Kili from Moshi.
Kilimanjaro.
Kilimanjaro.
Porters loading our gear at the ho…
Porters loading our gear at the h…
The Machame Gate Entrance
The Machame Gate Entrance
Kili from the Serengeti plain.
Kili from the Serengeti plain.
This was the day before we made th…
This was the day before we made t…
Mount Kilimanjaro
photo by: pearcetoyou