11 January 2016

how to climb mount kilimanjaro.

From our Remembering Our Year (ROY) post, you know that one of the last things we did in 2015 was tackle the Tanzanian beast that is Mount Kilimanjaro - “the Roof of Africa.” After we climbed Mount Meru last October, we were told by our Tanzanian guides that climbing Mount Kilimanjaro would be easy, comparatively.


Well, not exactly.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is an awesome, beautiful and ultimately, humbling experience. Read on for a run-down of our eight-day adventure on the mountain.

There are multiple routes that will take you to Uhuru Peak but after doing some research and getting advice from friends who had done it, we opted for the Lemosho Route. The Lemosho Route is one of the longer routes, at eight days and seven nights on the mountain, but with a success rate of 93 percent, we thought the length was well worth it.

The number of tour companies that will guide you through this adventure is incredibly overwhelming. Michael and I were limited in our budget, so a package that was low to mid-range in price was what we were looking for. Finding a Tanzanian company, and one that paid its employees a fair wage, was really important to us as well. Thankfully, we found all of that (and more) in Ahsante Tours. They were responsive to every email and phone call we made and answered endless amounts of questions. Our crew on the trek was amazing as well. We were joined by five other climbers, like ourselves, and were outfitted with a crew of almost 20 guys. Without them, we wouldn’t have made it to the top. Seriously.


Day 1

Distance Covered: 7 kilometers / 4.3 miles
Altitude Increase: 395 meters
Time Hiking: 2 hours, 20 minutes

We kicked off Day 1 with a serious drive from Moshi town to Lemosho Gate, which already starts you off at an altitude of 2,100 meters. The drive is beautiful but definitely bumpy, which can get uncomfortable if you’re trying to do a lot of hydrating before you start your hike. ‘Nuff said there, I think. The first day is really easy hiking and lush, green rainforest scenery. We reached Mti Mkubwa, or Big Tree Camp, still feeling like we had a lot of energy left in us. Not to fear, we would need that energy for the next day. We spent the afternoon learning the songs of our crew (yes, they sing for you almost everyday) and watching the monkeys.



Day 2

Distance Covered: 8.5 kilometers / 5.3 miles
Altitude Increase: 790 meters
Time Hiking: 5 hours, 10 minutes

The second day brings you from the rainforest out into the moorland. Although you’re working uphill, you finally get rewarded with some awesome views, revealing to you just how high you’ve gone (and how much farther you have to go!). One of the best parts of climbing with a group is getting to know your fellow trekkers and crew members. When the going gets tough, you have a group of cheerleaders there with you. You know you’re all in it together and you want to make it there together. After about five hours of serious uphill climbing, we reached Shira Camp 1.



Day 3

Distance Covered: 8 kilometers / 5 miles
Altitude Increase: 330 meters
Time Hiking: 3 hours, 30 minutes

The route from Shira Camp 1 to Shira Camp 2 was, without a doubt, my favorite day of hiking. Everywhere you look, all you can see is dark green, rolling hills and of course, Kibo, the peak of Kilimanjaro, right in front of you. And you can’t see another soul in sight! Coming from the busy, chaotic hustle and bustle of Mwanza, this was exactly what I needed. Luckily, we had beautiful weather for most of the climb - sunny skies with a little bit of clouds and showers in the afternoons. Sometimes, if the clouds cleared up at night, we were reminded of how awesome nature is, surrounded by the mountain, the stars, and only your fellow climbers for company.



Day 4

Distance Covered: 10 kilometers / 6.2 miles
Altitude Increase: 50 meters
Time Hiking: 6 hours

The fourth day is lovingly known as an acclimatization day, which basically means the route will bring you really high and then, force you to go all the way back down again, while telling you it’ll help you get to the summit (eventually). Meanwhile, all you’re thinking is, “But I’m already up so high! I don’t want to climb this again!” Thus, why your overall altitude increase is 50 meters, when in reality, you climb over 600 meters up to Lava Tower (about the same height as Mount Meru), only to come almost 600 meters down to arrive at your final destination for the night, Barranco Camp. The highlight of this day was waking up to Mount Meru in the distance and knowing we would go even higher than its peak in just a short time.



Day 5

Distance Covered: 6 kilometers / 3.7 miles
Altitude Increase: 150 meters
Time Hiking: 4 hours

Right after breakfast on Day 5 came Ashley’s nightmare: Barranco Wall. If you’re afraid of heights, this is simply not the place for you to be. Up to this point, hiking poles were relatively useful (though not that necessary) but on the wall, best to put those poles away as you need both hands to grasp onto anything that’s going to keep you from toppling off the edge. (Okay, it may not have been that bad, but for someone who hates heights as much as I do, it was the last place in the world I wanted to be.) Thankfully, once you tackle the wall, it’s a lot less terrifying hike through the valley until you reach Karanga Valley Camp, where you get your last full night of sleep before summit night.


Day 6

Distance Covered: 6 kilometers / 3.7 miles
Altitude Increase: 500 meters
Time Hiking: 4 hours

The summit is getting close now. So close but yet so far! Today brings you a short hike to Barafu, or Ice, Camp, signaling how close you’re getting to the top. My nerves definitely started to kick in by Day 6. You feel as if you want to hike straight through Barafu Camp to Uhuru Peak, only so that you can get it all over with. Although this day’s hike ends early in order for you to rest, very little rest actually happens. You’ve gotten so high that the wind constantly whips your tent around, making it virtually impossible for you to sleep. From this camp you have a beautiful view of Mawenzi Peak, the second summit on Mount Kilimanjaro, which is an awe-inspiring sight.



Day 7

Distance Covered: 14 kilometers / 8.7 miles
Altitude Increase: 1,295 meters
Altitude Decrease: 2,105 meters
Time Hiking: 6 hours, 10 minutes on ascent / 5 hours on descent

This is the day we’d been waiting for! Or should I say, the night? Our guides “woke us up” at 11PM and tried to make us eat and drink before starting the grueling day ahead. We couldn’t actually sleep at all because the wind was howling so much it continuously threatened to blow our tent over. (More on that later.) Most of us were so nervous, we couldn’t force too much down at this odd hour breakfast. At midnight we were off, putting one foot in front of the other. Getting to the top of Kilimanjaro was a mental feat, more than a physical one. If you looked up, all you can see is a long line of head lamps, slowly snaking their way up the mountain. In the dark of night, it seems never-ending! So with Michael as my coach, I kept my head down and focused on the climber’s feet in front of me. There were times I definitely thought I would never make it. But finally, the stars begin to disappear, there’s a bit of light on the horizon, and you know that you are getting close.

We reached Stella Point, the pre-cursor to Uhuru Peak, at 5:20 AM and what a relief it was! After the never-ending uphill climb Stella Point brings level ground and your first encounter with layers of snow on the mountain. From there it was a relatively easy walk to the summit, Uhuru Peak, which we reached at 6:10 AM. I’m not embarrassed to say, I was so relieved to be at the top that all I could do was hug Michael and our fellow climbers with tears of joy and relief in my eyes. Unfortunately, your celebration at the top doesn’t last long. The guides are practically pushing you back down the mountain to get you breathing a bit easier again, and too escape the bitter cold. We each had five to six layers on both top and bottom, but the wind was so ridiculously intense that it was biting cold. Michael’s beard was covered in ice and kept freezing to his coat collar By the time we were back at Barafu Camp, we were dirty, exhausted, and nauseous. We had a couple hours’ nap and lunch before you load up your pack once again to push another two hours down the mountain, to your last camp, Millennium.



Day 8

Distance Covered: 13 kilometers / 8.1 miles
Altitude Decrease: 1,650 meters
Time Hiking: 4 hours

By Day 8, we were ready to get off the mountain. We had gone up in the air to 5,895 meters (19,341 feet) using just our two legs for eight days with no shower, sleeping on hard, rocky ground, wearing the same clothes to keep warm - you get the picture. A hot shower and an actual bed were calling our names. The hike from Millennium Camp down to Mweka Gate, where we got picked up by our tour company Landcruiser, was absolutely lovely. I wish I could have appreciated it more but the descent was so hard on my knees that I couldn’t focus on too much else. I think the last mile of the hike was spent jogging, as we could almost see the end in sight. At the end, you get a certificate stating that you made it to the top. Sounds silly, but after such a journey, I felt pretty proud to get that little piece of paper.


A trek to the “Roof of Africa” is undoubtedly worth it but don’t kid yourself. It’s not a vacation. Instead, it’ll offer you amazing views of this beautiful country of Tanzania, allow you to meet people from all over the world, while challenging you mentally and physically in a way that I had never been challenged before. Am I going to do it again? Absolutely not. But I have no regrets. (Michael absolutely loved the climb every bit of the way and practically as soon as we were off the mountain he wanted to go back and do it again.)

Now, looking back at the pictures, it’s amazing to think we were actually there, standing at the top of the highest mountain in Africa. Can’t get much better than that!

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