Kilimanjaro Travel Blog› entry 2 of 11 › view all entries
Our hike began in August 2001, but the training began 7 months earlier in January 2001. I was a normal, 39 year old female - in relatively good shape but not an athlete. My goal for hiking Kilimanjaro was to do it with no pain. I figured 7 days of 8 hour a day hiking and over 19,000 feet straight up could be tough - if not properly prepared for. So, I started working out - cardio, arms, legs, and yoga. By the time we flew out, I was in the best shape of my life.
There were six of us total, me, my mom, our travbuddies Ed & Charlie, and two of my friends from Singapore - Winnie & John. Our age group spanned from 35 to 67.
For those who haven't experienced altitude sickness, it's hard to imagine. It's completely random - hits the fit and non-fit. It's devastating - can keep you locked up in your hotel room instead of out experiencing & enjoying. I've seen a young, healthy man lose complete consciousness and be sustained by air from a tire until we could get him to an army hospital in Gansu Province, China, en route to Lhasa.
We flew into Arusha and immediately left for Mt. Meru, the second highest peak in Tanzania. The Mt. Meru hike was only two days - a quick day up to @12,000 feet and back down. Surprisingly, considering the Diamox and our training, four of us had trouble with this short hike, but we all hoped that would be our 'test' and we would have no problems on Kili. After Mt. Meru, we had one night back in Arusha before we started the Kili trail.
Day One of our hike we were transported to Machame Gate, where our personal belongings and sustenance for the hike were weighed. It was determined, based on weight, that we would need 19 porters. We'd already been assigned 3 guides - Wilbard, Jackson and Michael, who also served as cook.
We set off on our first day through wonderful rainforest type terrain - full of lush greenery and lots of roots to watch for. We reached Machame Camp with no problems and enjoyed our first night on the mountain.
Day Two we set off for Shira. The terrain changed with every hour up. We met lots of hikers along the way - folks from all over the world, each with their own story. Since our group of 6 spread out during the day (each day we found we had a different "energizer bunny" leading the pack), we had plenty of time to hike with other folks.
Still feeling great, we started our third day for the Barranco Camp. En route, we hit our first lava terrain - gorgeous in its barrenness, appealing and desolate, and the source of some of our best photographs. We bypassed a camp site at the Lava Tower and descended to Barranco. The idea, again, was to slowly acclimatize. Each night we would meet up at camp and settle in, do yoga, exchange stories of the day, and watch the stars.
Day 4 en route to Karanga was the toughest day. It seemed it just kept coming. Every turn found a new incline. We ended up stumbling in to Camp hours later than expected. Still, we were pain free and enjoying it, just SLOW! We learned a few words of Swahili while we were on the hike.
Our Day 5 was to Barafu Camp. The scenery was increasingly desolate as we climbed way above the tree line. We had timed our hike to ensure our final summit was during the full moon - so we would have as much visibility as possible. When we settled in Barafu, the moon was high and full and promising. This was our starting off point for the big day - the final hike to Gilman's Point and then Uhuru Peak. We were soooo excited. The moon was so full, we were able to get lots of great photos before we headed to bed. Our hike was to begin at 11pm and we were going to try to get a few hours of sleep before starting off.
We were woken after our nap and were helped into our clothes. Barafu Camp was the highest Camp we stayed at on Kili, at 4,600 meters / 15,091 feet. It was sooo cold, our fingers couldn't fasten our buttons or zippers or pull on our extra layers. I felt like a little kid being dressed by her mother, though in this case it was one of our favorite porters, Juma, who dressed me and my mom. All the extreme weather clothes we'd been carrying (or our porters had been carrying) were on, as well as headlamps so we could see the path.
We set off with the moon high overhead. Luckily we couldn't see where we were going - we all speculated that if we could, we would give up.
While I was hallucinating, my mother - one of the strongest hikers I know, decided to give up. She just decided it was too tough and turned around and started hiking down. Luckily, we caught her before she got very far and Ed and I talked her into trying another hour up. Our guide Michael walked right behind her with his arms on either side to keep her stable as she wobbled.
Luckily, within an hour, my hallucinations were gone and my mom was back to her normal smiling self. We were approaching Gilman's Point, just below the Peak. John had made it to the Point first and was stationed with his camera to take pics of us all as we arrived. Mom arrived smiling! From Gilman's Point, we carried on to Uhuru Peak, 5,895 meters / 19,341 feet. Unfortunately, John got hit with nausea at this last bit and arrived last and very very green. Mom, who had wanted to quit, arrived first. I was second!!!
We were lucky in that we were so slow that we were among the last to reach the Peak, so we pretty much had it to ourselves. Some of the other hikers had camped close to the Peak at the Inner Crater, so their hike was a short one, and the other hikers from Barafu had passed us early on, so we could enjoy it in peace.
As we started down, we had a clear view of the steepness of the trail that we hadn't noticed on the way up in the dark. It was straight down, with loads of scree. Not easy going on the knees. We hit Barafu Camp and met up with Winnie, who'd been hanging with the porters waiting for us. She commented on how we were all smiling! I was thrilled that my goal had been met - I made it to the top of Kilimanjaro, pain free and with no altitude sickness!
The trek down to Mweka Camp and Mweka Gate was long and grueling.
Our last night on Kili was dreamlike - after our short nap and our long long hike, we didn't stay up to party. The next day we anticipated would be easy as our elevation was now so low and it was less steep. We were back to the roots and forest of the lowlands. Still, our Day 7 was tough as we were all exhausted and, though not in pain, not feeling like spring chickens.
The hike up and down Kili was one of the highlights of my life. As a hiker, this was my toughest Peak and definitely my most famous.
We followed up our hike of a lifetime with a 9 day safari - about 4 days too long.