Arrival and Simba Camp
Me and Liz
We climbed Kilimanjaro in October of 2009. I went with my sister Liz, and friends Lexi, Michelle, and her husband Dieter. We would be joined by two other hikers, Mary-Anne from England, and Andy from Australia. Our tour group was Team Kilimanjaro
. We did the Rongai route, starting from the Nalemuru Gate on the northeast side of the mountain.
We flew KLM from Chicago, through Amsterdam, and arrived at Kilimanjaro Airport on the evening of October 18. We drove to Arusha and spent the night there. The next day we picked up Mary-Anne and Andy and went to TK's office to get our equipment. We then drove to the Marangu Gate to register. From there it was another two hour drive to Nalemuru Gate. We could catch spectacular glimpses of Kilimanjaro through breaks in the clouds. I slept for most of the drive, due to jet lag.
We ate lunch at the trailhead, got all our schtuff together, and started hiking around 3:30PM.
Group photo at Nalumuru Gate
There was elephant poo on the trail. We didn't see any elephants, though. We arrived at camp around 6PM. Camp setup is impressive: 4 two-man tents, huge mess tent, hot water for washing. It rained nonstop for a few hours after dinner. We hiked about 7km and gained about 600+ meters.
Simba to Kikelewa to Mawenzi Tarn: Oct 20-21
There was snow on Kibo and awesome cloud formations over Mawenzi on the morning of the 20th.
Snow on Kibo Clouds over Mawenzi
We left Simba Camp around 8AM, ate lunch at 2nd Cave around 11:30AM and arrived at Kikelewa Camp around 4:30. The pace was very slow on this day (Pole-pole!
), and this would be the pace all the way to the summit. The weather was great all day: clear and sunny. We could see dust storms and fires burning down in Kenya. We hiked about 12km and gained about 1000 meters.
The next day we left Kikelewa at 8:30 for Mawenzi Tarn. I had not been sleeping too well the last few nights. This was probably due to nerves just as much as altitude. I took some Ambien, and that seemed to help a little. We only went about 3.7km and gained 600 meters to Mawenzi Tarn Camp. Clouds started rolling in while we were hiking. We arrived at camp around 12:15PM. The clouds cleared away after some time, and we were treated to badass views of Mawenzi from the camp.
After lunch we did a brief acclimatization hike up the ridge just west of camp. Michelle was feeling a little off, and decided to remain at camp. While we were hiking, a loose rock tilted up and banged into my right shin. It stung like a bastard, but it was not serious, just a flesh wound. It was starting to get windy and cold, so we headed back to camp.
Mawenzi to Horombo to Barafu: Oct 21-23
We dropped down from Mawenzi Tarn to Horombo Camp to acclimatize before heading back up. I took an Ambien the night before, slept for a few hours, then woke up and couldn't get back to sleep. That seemed to be the sleep pattern for everyone.
We left Mawenzi at 8:15. We went over the far east end of The Saddle, and then descended past Zebra Rocks to Horombo.
The trail is very dusty, and I was developing a sore throat. The dust was also irritating my contact lenses. We arrived at Horombo around 12:30. It's much greener here, and there's a nifty groundsel grove next to the camp. I had been wanting to see these for a long time. It's pretty amazing to see such large plants this high up.
I took a good nap after lunch. It was misting a little bit at camp (we were almost at the top of the clouds). The next day we would head to Barafu Camp, our last camp before Summit Day.
We left Horombo at 7:45. The hike started out foggy and drizzly, but it soon cleared up, and the weather was great the rest of the day. There are lots of ups and downs on the trail, and the land becomes much drier and barren higher up. After lunch, we descended into a deep
valley, then there was a steep
climb up to Barafu Camp.
Trail to Barafu
It was windy but sunny. We were now at 15,000 feet. None of us, except for Mary-Anne, had ever been up this high. Aside from minor altitude related issues, everyone felt fine. The main issue was nerves and fear of failure. The summit was in sight, and it would be a crushing disappointment not to reach it.
Summit Day: October 23-24
Summit Glaciers Summit Glaciers and Mount Meru Summit Glaciers Summit Sign
A few nights prior to summit day, Mary-Anne produced a copy of the trek itinerary. There were several dire warnings (in great big bold letters) about the summit assault: You'll probably feel like falling asleep, a quarter of climbers will throw up near the summit, "Do not lie down or close your eyes", Cerebral & Pulmonary Edema and all that. I was also reading accounts of other climbers, that it takes a colossal effort to place one foot in front of the other up there. I had climbed Longs Peak, Colorado
in August, and came down with a pretty nasty case of altitude related nausea on the summit. Fear of failure had been on my mind for the months leading up to this, so I was pretty keyed up on Summit Day.
Our guides woke us at 11PM to get us ready. We drank some tea-no breakfast-and got ready to go. When we were ready, I said "Let's climb the mountain!" and we were off. It was windy and cold. We could see lots of headlamps on the way up. The skies were clear. There must have been billions of stars in the sky. We could see the lights of Moshi down below.
The pace was very slow, but we did pass a few groups on the way up. Everything began to freeze as we climbed higher: water froze in my Camelbak hose, rendering it useless. Water partially froze in Nalgene bottles. My camera battery started to go on the fritz. I had to put it put it in my mitten to warm it up. As a result, I wasn't able to take as many pictures as I would have liked. Everything became covered in frost, even our eyebrows and eyelashes.
The sun came up as we reached Stella Point at 7AM. We climbed into the clouds as we neared the Point. Everyone was feeling fine, other than minor altitude effects. We rested for a bit, drank some Red Bull (\m/RED BUUUULLL!!\m/), and continued on. I knew then we were going to reach the summit. The clouds began to clear, and we had spectacular views of the glaciers, the summit crater, Mawenzi, and Mount Meru off the west. There were quite a few other groups wandering along the summit crater. After a bit, the summit sign came into view. Liz and I tried to "sprint" to the sign, but at over 19,000 feet, that is not
happening. The others followed shortly after. We arrived just before 8AM. We took a whole bunch of pictures and shared the top with another group before heading down. We made it, and it was worth it!
Descent: October 24-25
We walked back along the crater rim to Gilmans Point and descended the scree slope to the Kibo Huts. I can't believe people actually go up
this slope. It must take forever. The scree is very fine, so it's hard enough to maintain your footing when you're going down. We ate lunch at Kibo, then continued across the barren Saddle and the ups and downs of the heathlands to Horombo Camp. After the summit, we were not bound by the mantra of pole-pole, so everyone went at their own pace. We arrived at Horombo just before 3PM. It was a very long, tough day: we hiked 20km with total up and down elevation change of 11,000 feet!
I would sleep better that night, now that the monkey was off my back. The next day we would finish the trek by hiking another 20km down to Marangu Gate.
Colobus Monkey, Mandara Camp
Our last day on the trail, we left Horombo Camp at 7:30 to head on down Marangu Gate. It was a long hike through the heath/moorland zone before dropping into the cloud forest just above Mandara Camp. Everyone got spread out on the trail until we met up for a short break at Mandara. There were a few colobus monkeys climbing around in the trees, and lots of people taking pictures of them. We then continued on to Marangu Gate. This last section seemed to take forever, but arrived at the gate before 2PM.
We took care of some paperwork at the gate and received our certificates. We ate lunch at the Chrisburger resturant in Moshi, and then bade farewell to Mary-Anne and Andy, and our guides. The next day we would begin a safari to Tarangire, Ngorongoro Crater, and Lake Manyara National Parks.
We had a great time on our safari, we saw lots of animals and beautiful scenery in the parks, though it was a little anticlimactic after climbing the highest peak in Africa. Still, highly recommended. You'll see lots of animals (and plants, for that matter) that you won't see anywhere else. After that, we spent a few days at the Arumeru River Lodge east of Arusha (also highly recommended) before heading home.
I had an easier time on Kilimanjaro that I expected. I was worried about altitude sickness, but I actually felt OK up there. It wasn't an easy hike by any means, but the slow pace and the extra day at Horombo for acclimatization helped a whole lot.
Special thanks to Team Kilimanjaro: everything about them was great! We could not have been successful without them.
Most of all, thanks to my climbing partners: Lexi, Michelle, Dieter, Mary-Anne, Andy and Liz. Now that we've climbed Kilimanjaro, where do we go from here?
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