In the end of September I had the pleasure of going to Tanzania to make an attempt to reach the top of Kilimanjaro (Uhuru Peak) at 5895 meters. Our group used the Machame route and we used Marangu hotel as our tour operator. This day by day diary is one of the chapters that I have posted on my homepage www.gardkarlsen.com when it comes to my hike on Kilimanjaro. On the homepage you can read more about the trip, costs, equipment review etc
Friday September 26th – from Norway to Tanzania
After a normal working day I got a ride to the airport by my wife Nikki. It was strange to leave my wife Nikki at home this time. I have become so used to having the pleasure of travelling with her and it felt like something was missing when I was walking around alone at the airport.
I was using KLM/Kenya Airways this time and at 5 pm I lifted of from Stavanger Airport and after a short stop at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam I was on my way to Nairobi at about 8 pm. I was lucky enough to fly in business class so I was in pretty good shape when I landed in Nairobi at the Jomo Kenyatta International airport on the morning next day after the 8 hour flight. When we were planning we had found out that there were two options of getting from Nairobi to Marangu at Kilimanjaro: bus or plane. I didn’t really want to go for the bus option. First of all it would add extra stress to the trip and I would also have to pay 50 US dollar to get a visa to get into Kenya. Instead I went for the plane option and I used Precision Air to get from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro International airport. When I came out to enter my Precision Air plane I knew that it would be small but I was positive surprised when I saw it was a twin engine propel plane. But then all of a sudden I was told that I was going on another smaller plane…so I ended up in a small Cessna Caravan plane with room for only 12 people. I squeezed into the seat and soon we were on our way. The flight from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro is only like 1 hour and on the way we got a great view of Kilimanjaro sticking above the clouds.
Kilimanjaro International airport is a pretty tiny airport but it sure saved me for a lot of time. I’m sure that if I had gone for the bus alternative it would have taken me hours to get here. When I came to the airport I had to fill out an entry card (since I didn't have a visa already) and get in line to get a visa. It took a bit of time getting this because the guy behind the counter was working on “African time” and he used his time collecting the 20 US dollars it cost, stamping the passport and handing out receipts. But soon I was done with the immigration and I picked up my duffel bag. At the airport a guy from the Marangu hotel picked me up and the drive from the airport to the hotel took about 1 hour and 15 minutes. During the drive we came across things that you might expect to find in this part of Africa: goats grassing along the road together with a Masai shepard, pickups with way too much in the back (either people or transporting other stuff), trucks with more or less no exhaust system which leads to lots of smoke and lots of noise etc. One thing I didn’t expect to find here was speed bumps :-) At the hotel I met up with Gayle and Avril. They had arrived a couple of days before me and they were busy relaxing in the beautiful garden at the hotel :-) Later in the afternoon we were also joined by Matt. I have written a review of Marangu hotel on a seperate page.
The Marangu hotel seemed to be quite serious about their business and that evening we got a long briefing from one of the managers called Desmond. He informed us that that we would have 1 main guide called Nelson, 2 assistant guides and 10 porters!! Yes, it does seem like a lot of people…after all we were only 4 trekkers in our group. But there is a lot of food and equipment that needs to be carried. The hotel itself had been keeping track of the success rate and according to Desmond 87 % comes to Stella Point at the crater rim and about 70 % makes it to Uhuru peak (the very top of the mountain). But the main part of the briefing was spent on talking about the “dangers” of the mountain. We were told that we had to protect ourselves from the sun (both skin and eyes), we would have to stay warm on the summit night and we had to know about altitude sickness (AMS). We were informed that the best ways to prevent AMS is to take it easy (to walk in a pace where you can still breathe through the nose), eat well, drink lots of water (our slogan should be “copious and clear” when peeing) and stay warm. The whole briefing was a bit surreal to be honest because there was a bunch of turkeys making lots of noise right outside the window :-) We also discussed the use of Diamox of course. As most of you probably are aware of this is a medicine that can help prevent AMS by helping the body metabolize more oxygen. I had brought with me 100 pills and we decided that we wanted to try it out the next morning to see if it would have any side effects. You don’t want to start taking it on the mountain for the first time and then discover that your body can’t take it.
Sunday September 28th – Relaxing at the hotel / gear check
Today was “inspection” day. The hotel wanted to make sure that we had all the gear that we needed for the trekking on the mountain. In the morning a lady came over to our cottage to check out our stuff. We put all our gear on our individual beds and showed the lady want we were planning to wear, what kind of temperature our sleeping bags could take and so on. I got through this check without any problems. But Matt, Gayle and Avril all ended up borrowing some stuff from the hotel (everything from blankets, gaiters, day packs, water bottles and so on). It felt a bit like an exam :-)
We also carried out our little Diamox experiment and we took a 250 mg pill each to check out which effect it would have on us. Matt and I didn’t have any side effects apart from the fact that we went to the toilet more (it is a diuretic) but it could also have something to do with the fact that we had already started drinking lots of water. I also noticed that it influenced my taste buds and the Coca Cola just didn’t taste right anymore. The girls experienced a tingling feeling in the fingers and around the mouth and nose. In other words: we didn’t experience any bad side effects.During the briefing the day before we had been informed a little bit when it comes to tipping of the guides and porters after the hiking. So we handed in about 100 US dollars each and we tried to work out how much we would give to the different people. We wanted to do this just to get an idea of how much it would be but we also agreed that we would review this when we came back from the hiking (hence rewarding people if they had done a very good job).
At the hotel we would see new people heading of to start their climb on the mountain and it was a bit of a torture. So to get our minds of things we decided to go for a guided walk in the area. For 5 dollars you can get one of the people associated with the hotel to take you for a walk in the area. We walked to a local bus stop near by and from here we took one of the mini buses. I have been on rides with mini buses like this before and it can be interesting :-) The car was operated by a driver and 1 other guy that tried to fill up the car beyond its limits. I think that we were at least 20 people in the little bus but we managed to squeeze in there. All the people we met seemed pretty friendly and happy and everyone greeted us with “Jambo” (Swahili for hello). Some seemed more happy that others and according to our guide they were the ones that had been drinking a bit too much banana beer :-)
Our destination was a cave that used to house a Chagga family (the local tribe is Chagga) when they were at war with the Masai people. We were expecting a cave in a mountain type of cave but it turned out to be a cave dug out of the soil. My trip to Kilimanjaro could have ended right there by the way because when I climbed down the wooden ladder to get into the cave, one of the steps gave in and I almost fell. But I was lucky and I didn’t get hurt. The cave itself was pretty narrow and dark and at some places we had to crawl on hands and knees to get through passages. And the girls were not happy of course when we came across lots of bats in the cave. I’m not sure that the cave was interesting enough to justify the 5000 Shillings (about 5 US dollars) we had to pay to enter. But at least we got our minds of the upcoming trek. We had a nice walk back to the hotel and we met lots of children that were smiling and looking at the gang of pale skins that were walking through their territory.
That night the atmosphere was a bit tense and nervous. We were all excited by the fact that we would be off to trek on Africa’s highest mountain the following day.
Monday September 29th – Day 1 on the mountain – Machame gate to Machame camp
We were woken up at 6.30 am this morning and we got tea served to our room. For the first time Kibo (on Kilimanjaro) showed itself in all its splendour above the trees in the garden. We were pretty organized and we had packed all our stuff the night before. We had also packed a couple of bags of stuff that we were going to leave behind at the hotel and we also handed in our valuables that we wouldn’t need on the mountain (wallet, cell phones, passports etc). I’m so used to having stuff like cell phone and wallet with me all the time so it was strange to leave it behind. The only thing you need is your passport number by the way because this is used when entering the “gates” to the mountain.
After breakfast at the hotel we waited around in the court yard and looked at all the porters preparing all that needed to be brought along on the mountain. I had packed my stuff in a US military duffel bag. Some of the trip reports that I had read said that you had to but stuff in plastic inside to prevent it from getting wet. With Marangu hotel this was not necessary because each of our bags was first places in a plastic waterproof bag and then in a hemp bag. Each bag was also weighed at the hotel to make sure that each porter didn’t have to carry too much. I think that the hotel had an upper limit of about 25 Kg (55 lbs.). It looked quite chaotic when everything was being organized.
At about 9 am we got a lunch pack handed out and we were ready for departure in a big truck. It took us about 1 ½ hours to drive to the Machame gate. Maranagu is located on the eastern slopes of the mountain while the Machame gate is located on the western slopes…and the last part of the road is not all that great so it turned out to be a bumpy ride. At the Machame gate we registered in a big book with name, passport number, and occupation and so on and by noon we were of on the trail. To start with we walked on a 4X4 dirt road and our group was made up by our guide Nelson, the four trekkers and one porter named Amani. Amani turned out to walk with our group all the time and he would stick to the last person in the group to make sure that we all came to the campsite. This was not such a big problem for us because we had decided to stick together as a group and we had decided to take it nice and slow. To start with we were passed by many other trekking groups but we didn’t mind…after all this was not a race :-) It wouldn’t take long before we got a break…after about 1 hour we reached the end of the 4X4 dirt road and we had our lunch right there. The 4X4 trail changed to a smaller trail after this but not to what has been described in the guidebooks. I asked our guide Nelson about this and it turned out that this was a quite recent change. The trail was a couple of meters wide but the red soil was still very loose. From time to time we would see the old trail and after a while we also met up with the workers that were making up this new trail. So in the end we did end up walking on the trail that has been described by others: a trail which is slippery and muddy and with lots of roots everywhere. But even if we had to watch our step all the time we still had some time to take a look at the cloud forest that were all around us.
After about 3 hours we reached a clearing in the woods and we found the first toilet on the trail…it was not a pretty sight and we were all hoping that the state of other toilets would be better than that. The trail continued up and up and even if we didn’t have much of a view due to clouds and fog we could see that we were walking on a ridge. Soon the big trees in the cloud forest got smaller and smaller and at about 5 pm we reached the Machame camp at about 3000 meters (9850 feet) and we saw one of the characteristic green huts that we would see in many of the camps to come. It was kind of weird for me to realize that I had already set a personal record…I had never been at a higher altitude. The highest mountain in Norway (Galdhøpiggen) is “only” 2469 meters (8100 feet). Once again we had to sign into a big book and after this we went over to our tents. Our porters had of course reached the campsite hours ahead of us and our sleeping tents and out mess tent were already erected.
After a quick cup of tea and a quick wash we headed for the mess tent to get some hot drinks. I thought that we would have to live on tea the entire trip. But it turned out that we would get served both tea and hot water. And from the hot water we could make coffee, Milo or hot chocolate. And dinner didn’t turn out to be bad either. We got chicken soup, spaghetti with some sort of tomato sauce with vegetables, meat, fried potatoes, bread etc. As you can understand it was not a problem getting full :-) We got to the camp quite late and after dinner it got very dark all of a sudden and it got pretty cold. Even if we had been walking pretty slowly during the day I still managed to get a bit sweaty and my boots were a bit moist. But as it got dark and cold there were no room to dry anything and that worried me a bit. What worried me even more was the fact that I seemed to be coming down with a cold. My throat was a bit itchy and I had a light cough. It had been a long day so already by 8 pm the girls decided to turn in. I stayed awake a bit more but I felt a bit bad occupying the big mess tent since this was to be used as a tent for the porters. So at about 9 pm I went into my sleeping bag as well…I wore thin super underwear (a Norwegian brand called Bavac), a balaclava and some thin socks.
Maybe I should also mention the toilet at the Machame camp…well, it looked pretty much like the one that we had encountered at the clearing in the woods. It was just a small shed with a hole in the floor…in other words a squatting toilet. It seemed to be a bit cleaner than the one on the woods and I think the park rangers try to keep the toilets at a certain standard on a daily basis. I mentioned that it got pretty dark pretty fast. I have to mention that it was very useful to have a headlamp. I had borrowed a Petzl from a friend of mine and it was great to have when going to the toilet, when brushing my teeth, when writing in the journal etc.
Tuesday September 30th – Day 2 on the mountain – Machame camp to Shira camp
When we got up this morning the weather was beautiful and sun was shining from a blue sky. All the clouds seemed to be below us at this point. It was a bit cold during the night and there were even frost in the grass when we got up. But I didn’t have any trouble keeping warm in my sleeping bag during the night. We were woken up to a cup of tea at about 6.30 am and we packed all our gear before breakfast at 7 am. Once again we got a good and filling meal consisting of oat porridge, toast, omelette, sausage and some vegetables on the side. Our guide Nelson was in charge of carrying the eggs by the way:-). We felt pretty spoilt at this stage by the way…it felt like we were on a luxury camping trip.
At about 8 am we were ready for departure from the Machame camp. The trail went up and up and once again the other groups went past us pretty fast. My cold was making me feel a bit lousy but I kept up the pace by focusing on the person in front of me. There was not much of a view by the way…we started out with blue skies but soon we were walking in the clouds again. It was warm and comfortable when the sun was shining and a bit cold when the sun was “gone”. I guess we were walking on volcanic ashes on the trail because it was very dusty. As I have mentioned we try to control the pace by breathing through the nose…and with all the dust it is not a pretty sight when I blew my nose later in the day…it was just like being back in Beijing :-)
Due to the briefing we had back at the hotel we are trying to drink a lot of water. I got a litre of warm water in a flask the day before and I used this for warming up my feet in the sleeping bag. In the morning the water was temperate and I drank this litre before breakfast. When we walked I was carrying 3 litres of water with me. We continued to walk in a never ending uphill and at some places the trail was a bit steep. At noon we came to a place were we had lunch and it looked like it was a popular lunch stop because most of the groups had stopped there and there was a toilet there. Our lunch was more or less the same as yesterday: two sandwiches, a banana, an orange and a little cookie.
After lunch the weather cleared up a bit and all of a sudden we could see the top of Kibo. But the clouds would come and go so we had to be pretty quick on the trigger to get some good pictures of it. Only 2 hours after lunch we came to the Shira campsite at 3800 meter (12470 feet) and the sun was shining and it was windy. The conditions were perfect for drying some of our stuff and soon I had trousers, socks etc hanging on the tent. The Shira campsite is a dusty open space with some rocks here and there and a few small trees. It was really nice to have the mess tent to hide in because it was quite windy. The toilet at this campsite is pretty nice by the way…for the ones that are lucky enough to pee standing up there was a beautiful view of the campsite and Kibo in the background from inside the toilet :-)
I got pretty attached to my walking poles by the way. Due to my cold I wasn’t feeling that great and it was nice to have the poles to keep the balance and to help me move forward. It reminds me of cross country skiing by the way. I missed the poles when we went out of the Shira campsite to walk over to the hut to register. It turned out that this was a walk that would take us more than the 10 minutes that Nelson told us it would take. And in the end it turned out that we could have stayed at our camp because as we came to the hut the people there got out and they were bringing the book over to the campsite. Well, at least we got a walk and we got a chance to take some nice pictures.
I’m not very good at keeping my bag in order. I had already managed to misplace my sports tape and I had no idea where my tiny thermometer was. Matt and I have enough space in our tent for our two sleeping bags on each side and our big bags in the middle. Dinner tonight was tomato soup and pancakes as starters. The main course was some sort of stew with rice and for dessert bananas and oranges. And we are still focusing on drinking a lot and besides the water we are drinking lots of tea, Milo and hot chocolate. At the campsites we have seen some big crows by the way. Nelson called them "clean up crows" because they ate the leftovers from the campers.
Today’s leg was supposed to be one of the easier legs but I have to say that I struggled a bit due to my cold. When I came to the Shira campsite I had a Lemsip (which contains paracet, vitamin C and so on) and it made me feel a bit better. Gayle was also feeling a bit exhausted when we came to the camp. She seems to be the one that has trouble keeping up the pace so we let her lead the group so that we can stick together. Already at about 7 pm we were in our tents…as the night before it got pretty cold as the sun went down. But the sunset was beautiful and it made Kibo glow. And later on when it got dark the skies were clear and thousands of stars were out…it was a beautiful sight.
Wednesday October 1st– Day 3 on the mountain – Shira camp to Barranco camp
Once again I stayed warm in my sleeping bag during the night…I was also wearing a thin fleece during the night and some thicker socks. But I have problem staying in “bed” for that many hours. At home I sleep 6-7 hours and here I’m “forced” to stay in bed for something like 11 hours. I was not feeling great this morning…I was a bit nauseous but I still managed to squeeze a litre of water in me before breakfast. For breakfast I had another Lemsip before eating the breakfast itself.
A bit after 8 am we were ready for departure from the Shira campsite and from my book “Kilimanjaro - A Trekking Guide to Africa's Highest Mountain” we knew that we would have about 6 km ascent to start with. Today I was wearing a long sleeved dri-fit Nike shirt covered by a Gore-Tex jacket. It was nice and sunny but the wind was cold so it was best to walk with the hood up. I can’t understand how our porters can stand this weather..they don’t seem to be equipped for it. History repeated itself and most of the other trekkers overtook us pretty fast.
We have been pretty good at putting on sun cream during the day and this together with the sun hat protects the face from being fried. I don’t get much sun on the face because I’m still looking at the feet on the person in front of me. That seems to keep me pretty focused.
As we walked we got higher and higher and in the end we were at about 4500 meters according to the book. And I was feeling worse and worse….it actually felt like taking a long walk with a really bad hang over….I had a nasty head ache and I was feeling nauseous. We walked in silence most of the day to start with and I made jokes about that we would be nicknamed “the quiet bunch”. Gayle and Matt didn’t feel great either. At lunchtime Gayle puked and only a few minutes later Matt did the same. I was a bit relieved when it happened because I was not feeling great either but I didn’t want to be the first to give in :-) Our guide Nelson seemed pretty calm about the whole thing. I guess he has seen it happen many times before so he just offered to carry their daypacks and we continued walking. The only person that seemed to handle the altitude well was Avril. While we were at this altitude we stopped to have lunch but with our current condition it was not a big success. The lunch pack was the same as yesterday (2 sandwiches, banana, orange and a cookie) but I didn’t feel like eating anything. I did manage to squeeze a Granola bar in me because I needed some energy.
I have no idea how long we stopped for lunch…it was just nice to sit down and relax. After lunch we started going a bit up and down before we started descending down to the Barranco campsite. On the way we passed the Lava Tower but we were just focused on getting to the camp. The 10 km walk today felt much, much longer…at about 4 pm we reached the campsite at 3950 meters (12960 feet) and Matt was just glad to be able to lie down and relax. It was great to come down to the same level as Shira and my headache and nauseous feeling subsided as we were going down. The Barranco campsite was quite nice and we were in a valley next to the Barranco wall (or Breach wall). Once again the view would be great for a few minutes and then the clouds would drift in and cover it all.
We soon gathered in the mess tent and I had some pills to get rid of the rest of the head ache. After a day like this with altitude problems Matt, Gayle and I decided that it was time to bring out the Diamox. I’m glad that we tested it before hand so at least we didn’t have to worry about that. The only side effect was that it makes me pee more but I can live with that. Our guide Nelson came into the tent this afternoon to ask us how we were feeling and to give us some information about the next day. It was great to have dinner after a long day of walking. We had some chicken soup to start with and then we moved on with macaroni, vegetables, potatoes and sauce. And for dessert we had canned pears.
It seems like we are getting dirtier. One way to tell this is of course that we were all getting lots of dirt under our nails. To start with we tried to wash ourselves in the water we get when we reached the campsite but we were not very tempted to do any washing when we reached the camp today. First of all we were tired and not feeling well but there was also a pretty cold wind. But at least I have my Antibac to kill the germs on our hands. When we were having dinner today I think I realized that I haven’t been without my cell phone and wallet for this long in years. And I haven’t seen myself in a mirror for days. It is actually a pretty strange feeling :-)
When we were at the highest point today and I felt miserable I felt like I was in another world. I did of course start to think about why I was doing this in the first place. What drives a man to pay lots of money to get “tortured”? Well, at that point I was thinking that I would go home and make a trip report that would tell the truth, a trip report that would tell what challenge this really is. Maybe it is the cold that makes it harder for me but I have to say it is more of a challenge than I thought it would be. I also started to wonder if I would reach the top at all. Gayle also seemed to be a bit exhausted and sometimes I was hoping that she would give up so that I would have an “excuse” to give up too :-) But once we got to the campsite these thoughts went away and in the evening I was once again optimistic when it comes to my chances of reaching the top.
At about 8 pm I went to the toilet before getting into the sleeping bag. Once again it was a clear night and there were lots of stars and planets to be seen. The moon was about half and it made the glaciers on top of Kibo glow. It was such a pretty sight. At that point I started thinking about my thoughts earlier that day. All of a sudden the trip didn’t feel bad at all :-) All of a sudden I realized that it is pretty amazing to sleep in a tent at 4000 meter above sea level…at the equator…in Tanzania…next to the highest mountain in Africa. All of a sudden it felt like quite an adventure.
Thursday October 2nd – Day 4 on the mountain – Barranco camp to Barafu
We got up a bit later this morning…according to the guide it was better to start a bit later because it can be a bit cold here before the sun comes up. We all felt better this morning compared to the state that we were in yesterday afternoon/evening. I guess the body is getting a bit used to the altitude and maybe the Diamox pills have an effect.
After breakfast we got ready to face the Barranco wall and we started walking at about 9 am. I was wearing my Fjällräven trousers once again and I had the thin Bavac super underwear top under my Gore-Tex jacket. The climb up the wall was not as bad as expected. As we were coming down the campsite the day before we looked at the path up the wall and thought that it would be a hard day. But once again we took our time and after about an hour we reached the top. The wall is steep at places and from time to time you have to use your hands to haul yourself up. But I walked most of the way up to the top with my walking poles. After reaching this top the path goes a bit up and down and we were keeping up a good pace.
At noon we reached Karanga Valley and our mess tent was erected here. I guess this is used as a camp site from time to time because there were a few toilets here. We were the only one there at that moment and we enjoyed a hot lunch in the mess tent. We got a pretty good meal here consisting of soup, an omelette with fries etc. According to the Kilimanjaro book Karanga Valley is the last place on this route where water can be found so the porters had to carry water from here to our next campsite at Barafu.
The path out of Karanga valley is a bit steep but we were still in pretty good condition. Once we reached the top we turned north and headed for the Barafu campsite. It took us quite some time to reach this campsite by the way. And it was a quite miserable because it was getting windy, we had no view due to all the clouds that came in and I was getting a bit cold. But at about 5 pm we reached the campsite and the first thing we saw was a toilet :-) It was still quite cloudy so we didn’t have a view to the mountain itself or the route that we would be taking the same night.
The Barafu campsite at about 4600 meters (15090 feet) is a strange place…it is situated on a hill side and the camp site is filled with rocks. I’m quite surprised that they were able to find places to erect our tents. At 4600 meters we started to feel the effect of the thin air. It became a little mission just to go to the toilet because it was located a few meters higher than the tents. I was sitting in the mess tent and I measured my resting pulse and it was 105. When I’m at sea level it is about 60!! I felt cold even in the mess tent and it was nice to have a warm meal again and some warm drinks. Our guide Nelson told us that we would get a light meal this even but it looked pretty standard to me.
After dinner we started preparing for the BIG thing!! I got into my wool underwear, long woollen socks, changed the batteries of the headlamp, mixed XL-1 into 2 litres of water in my Platypus to get some energy on the way to the top, put my sun glasses and sun cream in the pocket of my jacket and so on. At about 7 pm we were ready to get some rest and sleep because at 11 pm we would get a wake-up call. It was quite windy when we went into our sleeping bags. I don’t think I slept at all during these hours because I was excited.
Friday October 3rd – Day 5 on the mountain – Barafu to Uhuru peak to Mweka camp
At about 11 pm we got our wakeup call with tea and biscuits. We had prepared most of our stuff so we got ready pretty fast. The strong wind we had earlier was totally gone and it was a clear night. During the days on the mountain I had my doubts that I would get to the top. But at this moment I was feeling pretty great and I was just looking forward to the challenge. I was also looking forward to see if my gear would keep me warm :-) I had on woollen underwear, long thick woollen socks, a pair of fleece pants, a thick woollen sweater, Gore-Tex pants and jacket, fleece mittens and Gore-Tex outer mittens, a woollen balaclava and a warm hat on top. The only thing that worried me a bit was the fact that my Crispi trekking boots were getting a bit moist. I had been wearing them for days and I never really got a chance to dry them properly. I had a small backpack under my woollen sweater and this contained the 2 litres of XL-1 water. I had the tube hanging out of the neck of my jacket so that I could take little sips at every chance.
We started our walk toward the top at about midnight and apart from the trekkers (Gayle, Avril, Matt and I) we were guided by Nelson and 2 assistant guides. Nelson was leading the whole group while one of the assistant guides was in the middle and the other one in the back. We walked slowly and I didn’t focus on much apart from keeping a steady pace. From time to time we would stop and I would use the chance to rest on my walking poles and sip a bit of my water. I’m not very used to staying up late and I enjoy my sleep. So after a while I got really, really sleepy. But we continued in our monotone walk in the darkness. We could see the headlamps of people both in front of us and behind us. At one point Avril asked Nelson if we were heading in the direction of some stars on the sky. Nelson replied that it was not stars we saw but the headlamps to people that were getting closer to the top :-)
After a while we started walking in zigzags and Gayle was starting to slow down a little. After a while we agreed to split up the group so that Avril, Matt and I would walk with Nelson and Gayle would walk with one of the assistant guides. I kept pretty warm so I guess my gear was a success. But I did get a bit cold in the toes from time to time and I guess this was due to the moisture in the boots. The Petzl head lamp that I had borrowed was also a success. I had the battery pack in my pocket and they were kept warm and the headlamp kept on shining all night long :-) Matt had a headlamp were the batteries were attached to his head and he had to change batteries half way to the top. We had a great view of the town Moshi below us by the way. The patterns of the streetlights made it look like we were seeing it from a plane
All of a sudden we could see that the eastern horizon were getting a bit lighter and the sun was about to rise. It was a blessing for me because it would make it a lot easier to stay awake at least. It was getting steeper and steeper (or maybe it just felt that way) and I was hoping that we were getting close to the crater rim. But it turned out that it would get even steeper. The higher we got the slower we walked as the air was getting thinner. It was quite strange to be able to see the people on the crater rim but not be able to sort of just walk fast to get there. We had to take breaks all the time to get enough air.
As we were in the steep part the sun rose over Mawenzi but I was too tired to try and get my camera out of my backpack (which was underneath my sweater). All of a sudden Avril noticed that my backpack was leaking so I had gotten a bit wet on the back without even noticing it. During the little breaks we had to catch our breath I started to think once again why I was doing this. Why pay to “torture” yourself, why pay to have a challenge like this when you can relax on a beach in Thailand instead. I don’t think I came up with a good answer. But my competition instinct kept me going. I’m always a bit afraid to fail and it would have been a bit of a failure to come all this way and not reach the top.
At about 7.30 am I stepped up on the crater rim at Stella Point. Matt followed right behind me and after a few minutes came Avril. Towards the end I didn’t pay attention to where the other people in my group were. I was just focused on getting to the top. After 15-20 minutes Gayle came towards Stella Point to and we were getting lots of help from the two assistant guides. One was basically pulling her up with walking poles and the other one was pushing her :-)
It was great to finally be at the crater rim and get some warm tea. When I was struggling to get to Stella Point I thought to myself “screw Uhuru Peak”. But when I got some tea and got to relax I knew that I had to continue to the very top. Avril and Matt also had the same feelings but Gayle was exhausted and she decided to go back down again. Stella Point is located at about 5735 meter (18820 feet) by the way so it was not that far to get to Uhuru Peak. The weather was great when we reached the crater rim by the way. The sun was still shining from a blue sky and it was not very windy. On the way up to the crater rim I had a slight head ache but nothing like I experienced when we went from Shira to Barranco. And as far as I know none of us got sick on the way up.
After the rest at Stella Point we started on the way up to Uhuru Peak. Matt and Avril started a bit before me and I tried to catch up with them but in the thin air I had to take breaks all the time to breathe. It was a bit unreal to see Matt in front of me and to see him stopping just because he was reaching a small uphill. On the way up I had great views to the crater itself and to the surrounding glaciers. The glaciers were bright white in the strong sun. I guess it must have taken about 50-60 minutes to get to Uhuru Peak and at 9 am I finally reached the sign that says “Congratulations. You are now at Uhuru Peak, Tanzania, 5895 m” Now I was starting to get tired and I had forgotten all about drinking and about the chocolate bar that I had in my pocket. We took a few pictures at the top and there was a book there that I wrote something in. I’m not sure what I wrote but I think I did it in Norwegian and I think I was complaining about how hard it was and that I would share all this “pain” on this homepage :-)
We didn’t stay at the top for long. The blue skies were threatened by clouds that were drifting in. It was much easier to walk down to Stella Point compared to coming up. At Stella Point we started the decent to the Barafu camp site and we could almost ski/slide down in the loose sand/gravel. I was really drained of energy at this point. On the way up the guide Nelson asked me if I wanted him to carry my day pack and I said no. On the way down I was not able to keep up with Avril and Matt and I was in the company of one of the assistant guides. He helped me by carrying my day pack and I just concentrated on staying on my feet and drinking water.
I’m not sure how long it took us to get to the Barafu camp site. I would guess that it took us something like 1 ½ hours to get down to the camp. When I got there I took of my boots, my Gore-Tex outer layer and went straight in the sleeping bag and I fell asleep right away. I was woken up by the porter Amani after a while and he asked if I wanted some soup and I said yes but I fell asleep again. Matt also came to ask me if I wanted some soup so I dragged myself out of the bag. At this point I hadn’t had a decent meal in about 18 hours so I was running low on energy. After a bit of soup we packed up our gear and we started descending down to Mweka camp at about 3100 meters (10170 feet). Going down is of course a lot easier than going up so we could walk faster. The only problem was that my nails on my big toes were taking a bit of beating in the boots. To start with we walked on the train were we had walked up the day before but soon we went over to the Mweka route which is a route used for descending from the mountain only. At about 4.30 pm we reached the Mweka camp site and we were now at 3100 meter and once again there were trees in the surroundings of the camp. It was great to get out of the sweaty clothing I was wearing and it was great to get into the mess tent to get a decent meal again. On the way down to the camp I had been drinking lots of water to avoid getting more dehydrated and I also had a chocolate bar that helped.
I think we were all marked by the decent that we had been through and we all looked like really old people when we got up from a sitting position to standing. My thighs were sore and my big toes were sore. Needless to say we went to our sleeping bags pretty early this evening and I think we all slept well :-)
Saturday October 4th – Day 6 on the mountain – Mweka camp to Mweka gate
As usual we were woken up at about 6.30 am. I slept very well from 9 pm yesterday until we were woken up. It was actually too warm in the sleeping bag and I had to open it up to get some air. Once again we had fruit, oat porridge, omelette, toast and sausage for breakfast. After packing up our gear we started on the last leg of this trip. Led by Nelson we kept up a very good pace even if we had sore legs and knees. The trail was pretty good but steep some places and very slippery at times. The border between the heather zone and the cloud forest is pretty distinct. Only a few minutes after we had walked out of the camp we were back in the cloud forest surrounded by huge trees. The trail from Mweka camp to the Mweka gate is only about 10 km and with the speed that we were going at we reached it in less than 2 hours. We were all pretty happy with the speed because we all looked forward to getting back to the hotel, taking a shower etc :-) At the gate we had to sign in once and we got a lunch pack made with fresh goods from the hotel. At the gate there were lots of activities of course. Trekkers were picked up by the tour operators, porters were loading stuff into the cars, people were trying to sell the trekkers different items such as masks, paintings, t-shirts etc. We were picked up by the same truck that drove us to the Machame gate and at about 11 am were ready to drive back to the hotel.
Once again I sat at the window and I watched the world pass by. There are so many pictures that never got taken. Like a young girl that was looking at our truck pass by. When she saw us she stretched out her hand with her palm up and I guess she was hoping that we could stop to give her something. Many of the bars/shops in the area seem to be sponsored by Coca Cola. Each shop seems to have the same signs but just with different names. There were many strange names. One bar was called the “White chair bar” but in the bar itself there were only red plastic chairs. We also passed a crew on the main road to our hotel. They were painting the road markings on the street manually and I guess that can take quite some time.
Back at the hotel is was great to have a shower. I had to scrub my entire body to get all the dirt of. I also found out that I’m basically out of clean clothes. In fact I had to buy one of those Kilimanjaro t-shirts just to have something to travel home in :-) After we had take a shower we went into the garden to have a couple of drinks with our crew. The whole thing didn’t cost all that much by the wayԴ rounds of drinks on the 4 of us and our 13 man strong crew cost us about 38.000 Shillings. The crew sang a little song for us in the end before Nelson handed out the certificate so that we can prove that we have been to the top of Kilimanjaro. Matt, Avril and I got the gold certificate for reaching Uhuru Peak while Gayle got the green certificate for reaching Stella Point.
This was also the point were we handed out the tips and that is always a delicate matter :-) I’m not very used to tipping from back home but according to the guidelines from the hotel 10 % tipping is the standard here. But the manager Desmond pointed out that this was only guidelines. We handed in 110 US dollars each as tip and we tried to distribute this the best way. I think we gave about 22 dollars to each porter (25 dollars to Amani since he served us food), about 45 dollars to the assistant guides (a bit more to one of them since he basically dragged Gayle to Stella Point) and about 65 dollars to the guide Nelson. The rest of the evening was pretty quiet. We still had sore legs so it was nice just to enjoy a nice dinner and to have a couple of beers. The most popular beer here is of course Kilimanjaro. And the second most popular is Kibo. As you can tell there is a lot of pride when it comes to the mountain.
Sunday October 5th – The end of the adventure
For the last time I had to try to squeeze everything into my duffel bag. We had to check out at 10 am from the hotel and we were just waiting around to get home. I wrote some postcards before we were transported out to the Kilimanjaro airport at about 12.30 pm. We flew Precision Air once again to Nairobi. I was hoping to get some good pictures of Kilimanjaro as we took off but the entire mountain was covered in clouds. Right before we landed in Nairobi we flew over some sort of game reserve and we could actually see giraffes running across the savannah.
Waiting around at airports going home is never any fun and the Jomo Kenyatta airport is not the greatest airport in the world. Matt and I had to say goodbye to the girls as they were staying behind in Nairobi. I walked about around in the airport and tried out the internet café. It cost me about 4 dollars for 30 minutes. We even experienced a black out at the airport. All of a sudden the electricity disappeared and all of a sudden the electrician was asked to report to a certain location to fix it :-)
I took my KLM flight at about 10 pm and before 6 am I was in Amsterdam. And from here it was a short flight back to Stavanger and the end of my adventure.