Climbing Kilimanjaro: My Journey

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There is nothing more powerful than the strength of mother nature. The energy that she expels is especially reverberated in “massive nature”. By massive I mean the big bodies like the ocean and the mountains. When I’m by the ocean or in the mountains I feel an amazing vibration flowing through me. I think that is what draws us humans to these bodies and why we become addicted to conquering them. I am in awe and humbled to be able to witness such beauty and I have respect for the power they evoke and possess. 

I did not grow up climbing mountains. I grew up at the ocean. I still remember as a child swimming in the ocean and body surfing the waves. When the swells were up, I would constantly be dumped and spun by the wave. I was sometimes scared but I always went back for more. In my 20’s I moved to Europe and often visited my father’s birth place in a valley in the northern Italian Alps. Here is where I fostered my love for the mountains. But not just the mountains, it is when you are in the high peaks, where you truly feel on top of the world. In my late 20’s, when I moved to Switzerland, I was better able to nurture this passion, whether it be hiking or trail running, or simply just “being” in the mountains.

As I am often in Zanzibar visiting our hotel there, and I was turning 50, I had decided I wanted to use this special birthday to climb Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. I am in general fit, so I didn’t see this as an issue, I was mostly concerned about the altitude, as this is not something I could train. I was also worried about the amount of people summitting and that it would be a long chain of people wanting to summit. Needless to say, my partner, as well as a girlfriend, decided this would be our challenge for 2022. Our chosen route was the Rongai route. The suggested route time is 6 to 7 days and the success rate is fairly good. It is also a less popular route, which is another reason we chose this route. Our tour operator was Zara Tours leaving form the Springfield Hotel in Moshi. After leaving the luxury of our Villa in Zanzibar we were a little set back by the standard of the very small and tired rooms. We arrived at 1am in the morning, after delays from Zanzibar so were glad, we had the next day to just relax. The next morning, we decided to go into Moshi town. Moshi is not worth visiting, in my opinion, it is quite simply an African town but there is nothing beautiful about it and really only used as a layover before an onward journey to Kilimanjaro. We were therefore eager to take off the next day and woke early for our pick up. 

We waited for approximately two hours for our expedition leader to get himself and the crew together. We were a little perturbed by the very late take off and realized when we got on the bus that our head guide and assistant were in fact drunk. Worried about this I contacted our trip organiser. Unfortunately, I could only send an email, but after having them drink a beer in the bus I thought I had to at least try. What we didn’t realise was that our driver had also contacted Zara tours to warn them of the problem. Upon arriving at the gate, three hours after we should have been there, suddenly a new guide turned up. This certainly put our minds at rest as he was to take over from the very drunk assistant guide. 

Although this was not the start we expected, we were happy to finally start and we took off into the rain forest for our short hike to Simba Camp. The rainforest walk could have been beautiful but the day was grey, which was added to our slightly grey mood. Day two we set off for the Second Camp. We had a slight spring in our step, while our head guide was more sombre and hung over. We left the rain forest climate zone in to the heath and moorlands area. The only real animals we saw were from here on in were small mice and huge white necked ravens. The flora on the mountain showed a variety of plants and flowers which were in bloom including mountain gladiolus, red poker as well as other trees like huge ferns and cactus. The temperature became cooler and the climate drier. Broken bush and hooves in the mud leading off from the main path signalled the presence of water buffaloes, which roam through the region at night in search for water. From day two to three we moved up from Second Camp to Kikelewa Camp at 3600 height meters. This is where my headache started. We had started on day one to take half a tablet of Diamox, which is supposed to help against altitude sickness. I was therefore worried that if I already have a headache at this height, how will it be when we were higher up. 

That night’s sleep was bad. It was incredibly cold and my headache was concerning me. I decided to take a pain killer and hoped for the best. Fortunately, this helped as it soon disappeared and we were on our way up to the alpine desert region and our camp at Mawenzi Hut, at 4315 height meters. The panorama was at this altitude is just spectacular. We were above the clouds with a view of Kilimanjaro as well as the mountain of Mawenzi, rising up to a height of 5149m which is the third highest in Africa. Breathtakingly beautiful area and surprisingly warmer than below we were feeling super charged and at the same time humbled by the surrounding beauty. At night you could see the sky was illuminated by trillions of stars as well as the lights below of Kenya.  I was also happy that my headache had gone and woke for our day five climb in high spirits. From Mawenzi we traversed the alpine desert, with cold winds blowing across the plains. While the altitude increase was nominal the weather made the climb to our finally hut before summitting slow but stunning. We felt like we were walking on the moon. We arrived at Kibo Hut, at 4720meters in the early afternoon. We were supposed to eat, and rest because at 11pm we would be up for a midnight departure for the summit.

Of course, we did not sleep, but in fact were more anxious to get going. It was cold and windy and that evening we heard ice and rocks hitting our tent. We were hoping for good weather but the mountain will do as it wants. Upon rising and preparing I put on almost every layer I brought with me. I ended with 8 upper layers, 3 on the legs, two pairs of socks and gloves. And I was still freezing as well as having a slight headache.  We nevertheless only continued with half a Diamox as the side effects of constantly wanting to urinate was not what we wanted on the climb to the summit. 

Another advantage of the Rongai route is that it’s the only route where you hit all the three peaks, Gilman’s point, Stella and finally Uhuru.  The slow hike to the first peak at Gillman’s Point was arduous as it was very steep and the path was all scree, meaning every step forward was a half-step slip backwards. My hands were frozen and breathing was difficult. After five hours we arrived at Gillman’s point at 5681 height meters where the nausea had set in and I felt very dizzy. I was so relieved when we arrived, however, that I could have cried. It was still dark but Uhuru was not far. Stella is the next point you reach, which is at 5756 meters, and takes about an hour to get to. The final slog to Uhuru at 5895 meters was where the tears fell. I am not the type to cry with joy, I am not sure I ever have before, but I couldn’t hold back. 

The sun was starting to rise as we approached the final peak, with the sun causing the ever-shrinking glacier to sparkle. The sheer beauty was quite simply outer worldly. I wanted to take 1000 pictures but none could capture the beauty and actually my camera stopped working because of the extreme cold. At about 6:15am we summitted and we could not have been happier. The guides however wanted to rush us down as we all were feeling nauseous and we had a long decent to get out of the high altitudes. Running down through the scree was like running through snow so we descending in about two hours. From our previous night camp, we took a break, ate something in the hope of calming the nausea. After a short rest we then continued our descent to Horombo camp which is part of the Marangu route, giving us the advantage of seeing yet another route. Here we would spend our last night before descending to the gate. The Marangu Route, is called the “Coca Cola route”, because of its apparent ease and popularity. This route is set up with huts the entire way and is one of the busier routes. It was lovely to see but we definitely enjoyed the solitude of the Rongai. In total along the Rongai route we saw only six other people. The rain forest walk in the lower area of the Marangu route was quite beautiful and we saw many monkeys and birds.  Once back to the main gate we filled our bellies for the last time and headed back to Springfields, which had now become our luxury after six nights in a very small tent with no shower nor proper toilet. 

While the trip is not luxury you are certainly part of nature and at its will. The tents are simple and the zips were often stuck from the wind blowing dirt onto them,  however the team we had were incredibly sweet, the food was good and the service was great.  We totally appreciated the team that helped us get to the top. We had one porter just to carry the toilet, we had eight others carrying food, tents and equipment, which included also the chef and waiter, then with the two guides our team was a total of 10 men and one female porter. 

The ups and downs, the stories, the tears and the laughter all made this the most memorable experience, topped with the absolute joy at reaching  the summit. The experience we made was truly unforgettable. Thank you Kilimanjaro, you have made my year.

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