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Kilimanjaro hike in September 2003
Trip Report

Kilimanjaro hike in September 2003


Page Type: Trip Report

Location: Tanzania, Africa

Lat/Lon: 3.0667°S / 37.35000°E

Object Title: Kilimanjaro hike in September 2003

Date Climbed/Hiked: Sep 29, 2003


Page By: gardkarlsen

Created/Edited: Oct 28, 2003 /

Object ID: 169138

Hits: 3199 

Page Score: 72.03%  - 2 Votes 

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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