Kilimanjaro is the highest point in Africa. It is one of the free standing mountains in the world. Kilimanjaro is an extinct volcano reaching a height of 19340ft. Why did I decide to climb Kilimanjaro? Well I wanted to do some thing little bit strenuous and adventurous and Kilimanjaro came to my mind. I started talking to some of my colleagues about this and Jesse and Bruce seems to be very much interested. I guess Jesse had no clues about what he was signing up for. Then I met Girish on a Hike to Mt. Shasta and he decided to join us for the climb at the last moment. So we were four people in the group.
Since summer worked pretty well for everyone we decided to climb during the end of June 2004. And also the rainy season ends in Tanzania by mid June, and also July 3rd was full moon day. So we decided to be there on the summit on July 3rd. Initially we thought of doing a 6 day trip but later on we decided to go for a 7 day trip and spend an extra day in the mountain to get acclimatized. I think that was a good decision, I don’t think everyone of us would have made it without acclimatization.
I guess every one of us were preparing for the hike in our own ways. I joined a group who were attempting to climb Mt. Shasta. This group was organizing some local hike and also thought that Shasta might be a good hike to get some altitude. Mt. Shasta climb was really tough, and unfortunately on our climb day the weather turned out to be pretty bad so we had to turn back at around 9500ft. And I was going to the gym pretty regularly (4days a week) and started doing lots of cardio exercises, I guess that helped me a lot, at least it gave me some confidence. Jesse is a marathon runner, he was also hitting the gym pretty regularly at least a month before the climb. And Bruce I guess he doesn’t have to get any cardio exercise since he plays sports everyday (I don’t know how he does that). I guess we were all in a decent shape.
After doing lots of research on the tour companies, I found out that all the companies which are based in US are really expensive when compared to the companies in Africa. I mean really really expensive, the US based companies are almost 4 or 5 times expensive than the companies in Africa. I really don’t know why they are that expensive, all I can think of is since they have offices here in US they might have more operating cost. And also people feel little bit more comfortable going with a US based company. After reading some good reviews about Good Earth Tours, I decided to go with them. They are based in Africa, I was really surprised by their service. They were very professional, took care of everything for us, from picking us up in Nairobi airport till dropping us back in Zanzibar airport. I had no problems with them, and the entire group had only good things to talk about them. I would recommend them to anyone.
Day 1 June 28th
~6232ft – 9840ft (1900m-3000m)
We had a good night rest at La Jacaranda hotel in Arusha. It was drizzling in the morning, but the weather is not that cold. But all the rain cleared out by the time we started climbing. The tour company came and picked us up from the hotel at 9.00am US time (Africa time 9.00am means 10.00am). The tour company also brought us some last miniute rentals. We were met by two other groups who will be doing the climb with us. It was such a coincidence that every one is from the Bay Area and most of the people live in San Francisco. So there were totally 9 climbers (Me, Bruce, Jesse, Girish, Ben, Esther, Amanda, Greg and John). I guess John and Esther have done some high altitude climb before, for the rest of us it was the first time. The drive from Arusha to Machame gate took us about 1.30 hours. We reached Machame gate at around 12.00am. As we prepared for our climb in the shelter they had at the gate, our tour company was doing the registration for the climb. I don't know why it takes such a long time to do the registration, it took more than an hour. Finally we were all set and started our climb sometime around 1.00pm.
We were given our packed lunch for the day at the gate itself and since most of us were hungry we had our lunch at the shelter in Machame gate. Most of today’s hike was in the rainforest. And almost the entire day hike the path was pretty well maintained I don’t think we needed the gaiters at all. The sceneries through the rainforest were interesting. We were going at a slow pace, and almost most of the porters were going really fast overtaking us. We were all feeling really fresh and I don't think we felt the altitude at all today. I was excited and a little bit scared about the altitude. We were taking some breaks in between and enjoyed the rainforest. After almost 4 hours of hiking I asked Dismas (our guide) how far the campsite is, he told me it only 45mins away. After about 45mins someone else asked him the same question and he gave the same answer. Well… he was doing a good job of being a guide I guess. All through out our climb we had to translate the guides timing to our timing. If the guide says one hour we should just double it.
The first day camp was at Machame Hut, which was at around 3000mt. When we reached the campsite we saw all our tents were ready and there was dinner table and chairs every thing set up for us. The hot soup they served us was pretty good after the long hike. As soon as the sun went down we went to bed. I woke up in the night and I had to go to the toilet, I was felling really fresh so I thought it must be pretty close to morning and I thought I will wait till the sun comes out since it was cold outside. Unfortunately when I checked the time it was only midnight (well if you hit the bed at 7.00pm that explains why I was so fresh by midnight). It took me a lot of effort to just get out of the tent. But to my surprise it was a clear night and it was very pleasant outside and I got my first look at the top of the mountain. It was an awesome view.
Day 2 June 30th
~9840ft- 12792ft (3000m – 3900m)
We woke up around 7.00 and we were given a bowl of warm water to wash. (yeap that all we get to clean ourself). The breakfast was really good, everyday breakfast consist of porridge, omelets, sausages and bread toasts. We were also given 3 liters of warm water for that day. We packed our stuffs and started our second day. The weather seems to be pretty warm, so I decided to hike in my shorts; I guess that was bad idea since the weather just changed completely by noon. And I also didn’t pack any warm cloths in my day pack; I just had a wind breaker.
The second days hike was on narrow rocky ridges. The vegetation has changed completely from the first day. Since the paths were really narrow we had to stop frequently to let the porters pass us. These porters are really fast. Around noon the weather started to get little bit cold and soon it started to drizzle. I am not sure if its the drizzle of the clouds we were passing, but the cold wind was making things worse for me. I didn’t have any warm clothes with me and my hands were getting frozen, fortunately the guide had a pair of gloves and he was generous to lend me the gloves. From this day I made sure that I had all my warm clothes in my day pack. We had our lunch in the rain and continued our hike to Shira hut camp site. Our topic of today was weather to take our altitude medicine or not. We all had our own opinion, some of us decided to take it from the second day. I was waiting to see how I feel. I didn’t fell any kind of altitude sickness till this point.
We reached Shira hut campsite in the evening and it was still drizzling. Most of us in the group decided to hike a little bit higher to get our body to acclimatize, so we went on a small hike to Shira hut. It is raning and it is cold outside I really didn't want to go on anymore hikes in this weather, I just want to sit inside the tent, but I don't want to take any chance with the altitude. I wanted my body to get acclimatized, so I just forced myself to do the hike. This hike gave us around 500ft altitude gain. I was really surprised to see that in the Shira hut they had a rescue team and all they had was a stretcher with one wheel. We got back to our campsite after the hike and the weather was getting better now. But it was still cold outside. We were served dinner inside out dinner tent (they had a big tent which can fit our small folding table and probably 8 people comfortably) and went to bed pretty early. I was trying to be more careful about how much water I drink before going to bed, all I wanted was to make sure that I don’t have to get up in the night to go to the toilet. But I guess nothing helped, I had to get up twice or thrice everyday. It wasn’t the cold weather which makes it hard to get out for toilets in the night; it is the amount of work I need to do to get out of the tent.
Day 3 July 1st
~12792ft- 12956ft (3900m-3950m) highest point 15120ft(4610m)
Asusual we got up around 7.00am and had our breakfast and started preparing for our third day hike. The clouds were just below us today and it was an amazing view to see the clouds below us. And it was an amazing feeling to be on top of the clouds. As we started hiking we saw the clouds moving towards us and we were trying to move away from the clouds. As we started to climb we were able to see the Shira plateau, it was pretty huge may be they can have a small airport out there in the plateau. We were also able to see Mt. Meru in a distance on top of the clouds. There is no vegetation here all we can see was rocks. The weather was perfect today it was not too cold and not too hot.
I saw a picture at our tour company there were two people standing in front of a huge rock of ice; they told me that that picture was taken at lava tower. It was an amazing picture. I really wanted to go to lava tower. I talked with our guide to see if we can take a detour and go to lava tower since this is on the way. He told me that according the time we have we will decide on the way. We did go in a pretty good pace and we decided to go to lava tower. Unfortunately due to global warming all the ice is melted down 7years back. We were able to see only the rocks. The elevation at lava tower was more than 15000ft. This was the first time I started to get altitude sickness. I was getting headache and it was getting bit worse. Some people in the group decided to climb the tower; my headache was getting worse so I decided to head down to Baranco Campsite.
Myself, Amanda and Jesse decided to go down and the rest of the group decided to climb the lava tower. As we were heading down we saw small creatures on top of the tower, fortunately the rest of the group managed to climb the tower and they said it was an awesome view. All I was trying to do was head down to the campsite and get some rest since my head is pounding now. Unfortunately going down was not that easy, I had a hard time getting down to Baranco Campsite. I just went and rested for a while and my headache is not getting better at all. From the Barahco Campsite the view was awesome, down below us we were surrounded by the clouds and mountains on both the sides. One side we had a huge cliff and our guide told us that we have to cross the cliff tomorrow. Because of my headache I couldn’t enjoy the view that much. I just took some headache medicine and started taking my altitude medication (Diamox), which really helped me a lot to get better.
Today during our dinner time, we were having soup. And someone by mistake spilled Jesse's soup, Esther was helping Jesse to clean up by taking the soup from the table and putting it back in the bowl (note when I say table this is a folding table made of some cloth, which was used by us for the past three days and I guess the porters were even sleeping on them) and Jesse surprised everyone and started to drink the soup. All he said was 'I wasn't done yet'. Well I guess he was hungry and thought that the 3 second rule is still valid for soups also.
Day 4 July 2nd Rest Day
~12956ft-13120ft (3950m-4000m) Highest point reached 13776ft (4200m)
This is our extra day we added for acclimatization. Our guide gave us the option of doing the whole trip in 6 Days without having the rest day. I felt that my chance of going to the summit will be more if I had this acclimatization day, so I decided to take the rest day. Except for Amanda, Greg and John we all took the extra day (their original plan was to do it without the extra day). So instead of going to Barafu hut we will go only till Karanga Valley and camp their tonight. Amanda, Greg and John will continue after Karanga valley and go to Barafu hut and will attempt the summit tonight. I was felling pretty fresh no headaches or any altitude sickness today.
Today we need to cross this 1000ft rough sheer wall. From were we camped we can see the porters climbing this wall and they were looking as if they were ant in the wall. We all started to climb this wall, and Jesse must be cursing me for getting him into this. He hates cliffs, he had a rough day. At some places in this 1000ft we have to use all our four limbs, which was little bit scary. The top of the cliff was our highest point today and then a little bit more hiking brought us to the Karanga Valley, were we will be camping tonight. We were quiet early to reach Karanga valley. We had our lunch in Karanga Valley. After lunch Amanda, Greg and John continued to Barafu Hut, while the other we stayed back in Karanga Valley.
I felt it was a good thing to take the extra day. Definitely it helped us to get acclimatized and it also gave us some time to just relax and enjoy the surrounding. For the past three day all we were doing was hiking and we really didn’t have time to relax and enjoy. Today was that day. The campsite was very close to a stream. We decided to clean our self a little bit. And some of us even cleaned our clothes today. This is the only source of water close to the summit. The view from Karanga Valley was great; we were surrounded by mountains on three sides. And we can see the top of Kili covered with snow from here. We were just relaxing the whole evening. The guide told us that the breakfast will be ready tomorrow by 9.00am, which is quiet late. Karnaga Valley gets sun only by 8.30-9.00. Esther and Bruce went on a short hike with a guide and some porters, they told us that the porter was walking on his hands for 30sec, it is hard enough to walk using your legs I wonder how these porters manage to walk on their hands. Once the sun went down at 5.30pm it started getting cold. We had our dinner and went to sleep.
Day 5 July 3rd
Today is also a very short hike to Barafu Hut. The hike took us around 3 hours, we reached Barafu hut around 1.00pm. We saw some of the people who summitted the day before packing to descent. Unfortunately we have to wait for the people to leave to get the campsite. I saw a lot of people camping and I guess most of them are going to summit with us. We meet a group of people from US and asked them how hard the summit was. He said it was hard and it was worth it. I don’t know what it means but I was getting little bit nervous about the summit day.
It was another beautiful day today. It was a clear day and most of the clouds below us have cleared and we were able to see the city below us. It was an amazing view. In the evening the sunset was amazing, we were able see the shadow of the mountain on the clouds. At this point every one in our group is on Diamox except for Esther. I don’t know how her body was able to take it. She had no effect with the altitude.
We were supposed to rest for the day and start our summit climb around 12.00pm tonight. I could not rest at all; the weather was pretty hot I could not stay in the tent since it was really hot inside. We had our dinner pretty early and try to get some rest. Unfortunately I could not get any rest, may be because I was nervous. Once the sun goes down the weather changes completely. It was pretty cold.
We got ready at around 11.00pm and gathered in our dinner tent to have some tea. Yesterday was a full moon day, today it was almost full moon so the whole place was pretty lit up by the moon. I was able to see the lights of the city down below. We had some tea and started our summit climb. I had two gloves and one was starting to give me trouble and could not use it, so I exchanged my gloves from Dismas (our guide). I don’t know how he managed with my gloves. We were walking in a really (ridiculously) slow pace, all of us wanted to stay together. Bruce was having some altitude problem in the beginning and for some reason singing helped him to breathe properly. He was singing most of the way, which was annoying for some people. It didn’t bothered me.
The guides were pretty encouraging. We took some small breaks in between. At around 18500ft the altitude hit me, I was feeling really dizzy. I thought I won’t be able to make it to the summit. I guess Girish also had problems with the altitude. I rested for a while and I decided to take another Diamox and see If that helps. Fortunately the Diamox helped me. I was not feeling dizzy anymore, but I was not normal either. I decided to continue. Dismas was pretty helpful. At some points when I was feeling dizzy he was carrying my backpack. We reached Stella Point before the sun rise. We were so happy that we made it to Stella Point. We all congratulate each other and continued to Uhuru Peak which is probably another half a km. But that half a kilometer seem really long for me. We reached Uhuru peak just before sun rise.
It was an amazing view to see the sun rise. One side the moon was still there and the sun is rising with all its glory and we can see the shadow of the mountain on the clouds, it was an amazing view. We spend sometime at the top taking some pictures and we saw lot of people on the top. I was very happy that everyone in our group made it to the top. I was carrying a camel back which was totally frozen and the Nalegene water bottle was half frozen, I had to borrow water from other people. It is not a good idea to go just with camel back. We started out descent; the descent was pretty tough for me than the ascent. The whole trail was filled with small rocks which was making our descent very tough. It was quiet slippery. We made our way back to Barafu hut around noon. We were served some cold Mango Juice and all the porters were congratulating us on our summit. I was totally exhausted. This was not all for today we need to descent another 9 km today.
We rested for a while and started our descent to Mweka Hut which is at 3400m. It was very painful to keep going down. Once we reached Mweka Hut for some reason everyone was feeling really fresh. We haven’t slept for almost 20 hours and we were hiking the whole time, but still once we reached Mweka Hut we were not that tired. Some of groups were playing cards in our dining tent. We had our dinner and went to sleep. Today was the only day; where I never got up in the middle of the night. I slept for almost 11 hours straight. Well my body needed that.
Day 7 July 5th
I got up in the morning and I was so surprised that I slept for 11 hours straight. We had our breakfast and started to talk about the tips for the porters and the guides. Everyone felt that the porters did a really good job and we all wanted to give them some good tip for their work. I guess all the porters were happy with the tips we gave them. The guides were amazing they were encouraging and very accommodative. We took some group pictures with the porters and started our descent down to the Mweka gate.
We started out descent down to Mweka Gate. The entire hike was downhill, thru the rainforest again. It was nice to be back with the vegetation. We reached Mweka Gate around noon, we had to wait for a long time to get our certificate. I guess the tour company by mistake send the van to a different gate, so we had to wait for the van. We got some nice cold coke in the Mweka gate, it felt really good to drink a cold coke. It felt like I have been out of the civilization for a long time. But as soon as we were in the civilization, people were trying to sell you something. Which was quiet annoying, even if you tell them that you don't want it they keep talking to you. I kind of felt rude in the begining to ignore them, but that is the only way to avoid them. There was this one guy, he said his name was peter and he was trying to sell me some of his paintings, I told him I don't have any money. Then he pointed to my okley sunglasses and told me he will trade for my glasses (sure I will trade if he can give me 150$ with his painting...). It was quiet annoying but that is the only way this guys make their living. If they weren't bugging me so much may be I would have bought a T-Shirt which says 'Just did it'.
We had to drop some people at Moshi, and on our way back from Moshi we were able to see Kilimanjaro very clearly. I can’t believe that we climbed this mountain. We reached our hotel in the evening and we got some drinks for the porters and guide. And finally got a nice and hot shower.
Very intersting account. My son reached the summit today.He is very impressed with his guides and porters too, i dont know if he used the same company. I'm glad I didnt see this post til he had already reached the top. He had an altitude problem with Mt. Mckinley--did not reach the summit. Thanks for the really detailed look at the mountain.