Hike for Life An Incredible journey to Africa – Part II The Kilimanjaro

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Rich of our experience from the Safari, we were very excited and also nervous for the big 7 days challenge coming ahead. As I mentioned in the previous post, other than raising funds for Breast Cancer through the Hike For Life project, the Kilimanjaro was the main focus and challenge of this epic journey.

Other than the long drives and the bumby roads, the Safari hasn’t been very challenging physically, but we know that the adventure we were about the start would be completely different. One of us, to not name anyone, was particularly troubled with the quality of the restroom along the way, other were with altitude sickness 🙂

Climbing to the summit takes usually between 5-6 days depending on the route. The  Kibo summit at 5895m remains covered with snow throughout the year and is the highest point in the world that can be reached without any technical or life-supporting facilities. The more days, the higher the possibility to conquer the summit. This is why we have chosen to do an extra day of acclimatisation to reduce the risk of altitude sickness. The Kilimanjaro comprise in fact of 3 volcanos, the Kibo (5895m), the Mawenzi (5149m) and one extinct Shira (3962m).  It was establish in 1973, officially opened for tourism in 1977 and it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987.

Here is the complete story…

August 4th – Day 1 – Machame

We woke up early that morning to finish packing our stuff for the climb, have a good breakfast at the Oasis Lodge and meet up with our guide for a briefing. The equipment for the climb was completely different than from the Safari. From light hiking shirt to full winter gears we had to be prepare to face a harsh climate, as freezing as minus 20 Celsius. Which is to be honest of a second nature for a Canadian but after nearly 4 years in Australia, I have lost some of this raw resistance to cold! We didn’t have all the necessary gear such as winter sleeping bags, winter coat and pants, so we stopped by a rental shop for checking out what we could find to ease our experience with this “exotic” climate. Gears was quite beaten up but we  managed at the end to find what we needed, after some time negotiating and bargaining.

Soon after, we departed for the Kilimanjaro National Park about 1 hour and a half from Arusha near Moshi through the Chagga Village to the start of the Machame route or the “Whiskey Route” as they name it locally. We had lunch near the entrance of the park meanwhile our guide James Boniface and his assistant Jackson and our cook Renatos (same as for the Safari!) gathered the troops at the gate. This was pretty impressive in fact. There was a large number of tourist, larger than what I was expecting, and a huge number of locals awaiting for a tour to take them as porters. We had 17 porters in total just for us 5. Each porters is allowed to take 20kg of equipments including 5 kg for themselves. Seventeen porters seems a lot but when you consider the amount of equipment necessary for the 7 days expedition you soon realise that it is not that many. Most of them carry  heavy things like water tank on their shoulders or heads.

It took some time obtaining all the necessary permits with the local authority before we were able to leave, but we finally left around 2pm and started the ascent from the entrance at 1800m. The total length of the hiking trail from Machame to Mweka gate is over 62km. We left the park gate and walk through the Rain Forest on a winding trail to the first camping site, the Machame Hut at 3100m, where we were to spend the night.

It was raining slightly and the trail was quite muddy. The vegetation around was very dense and beautiful, rubber forest, giant ferns, begonias, ficus and giant heathers. We observed some blue Monkey on the way at the start. Already, our guide was creating the pace for us. “Pole”, “Pole” we could hear all the time (this mean Slowly in Swahili).

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We arrived quite late at the camp site (7pm), it was already dark, cold and very humid. A dense mist was surrounding the camp site and it was difficult to find our way around. The porters installed our tents and the other camp stuff. Tents were quite small considering the large amount of gears we had but we manage to get somehow comfortable after some struggle to fit everything in! We changed (its important you wearing dry and warm clothes at this stage) and we had a good and plentiful dinner. Before going to our tent for the night, we experienced the restroom where you need to squat and aim for the hole while trying to avoid the remains of others on the ground. You also feel the freezing breeze passing pleasantly between your legs! Delightful. The night was cold but we managed to sleep reasonably well.

August 5th – Day 2 – Shira Plateau

We woke up to the first light of the day. The ground was still frozen. We had breakfast and we packed up our gear for the second day. It was a nice and sunny day. Once the sun rose, it was not necessary anymore to wear so many layers. Although, it is quite important to put some sun cream because at this altitude, your skin burn easily. As we were on our way, the porters who left after us because they packed up the camp, walked quickly by us. They’re objective was to reach the next camp site on Shira Plateau quickly to set up the camp and everything and relax before we get there.

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The hiking trail was very different from the previous day. Leaving the “glades of rain forest” we followed a steep ridge, which veers west, and gradually ascend the Shira Plateau for around 5-6 hours. Eco systems changed slowly to moorland with shorter and more alpine vegetation and we had an open view to the horizon where lie a indefinite bed of clouds.

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From late June through September, it is the dry season, during which the nights are cool and the days usually completely clear. Still, the climate can change very quickly with dense clouds or mist forming and changing immediately the temperature, therefore you always need to have some additional layers at hand.

We reach the Shira campsite at an altitude of 3,840 mtrs after a beautiful day hiking. The camping site was vast, with a helicopter pad in the middle. There was many hikers like us, probably a few hundreds. We had a fantastic Sunset over Mt Meru in the distance.

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We had good dinner, clean ourselves as much as we could with wet wipes and we slept early. The next day was a long hike for the acclimatisation day.

August 6th – Day 3 – Lava Tower – Acclimatisation day

That day was the acclimatisation day with around 7-8 hours of walking. We left the Shire Plateau Camp shortly after another great breakfast. I could recharge overnight the GoPro and the Camera with the solar panel I’ve bough for the trip. The weather was fantastic with a clear view with of Kibo summit and its glaciers on one side and the ocean of clouds on the other with the shy Mt Meru pointing upward in the horizon, like an iceberg in the deep.

Tanzania Kilimanjaro 054.JPG Tanzania Kilimanjaro 002 Tanzania Kilimanjaro 019.JPGWe walked east on the plateau, following the trail leading to the Lava Tower up at 4600m. This was a long walk, not as step as the previous day but constant. Eloise had trouble the previous day with the altitude and this one wasn’t better. Headaches and migraines were causing her to go slow and struggle a little bit more. On the opposite, we were lucky and beside a bit of a shortness of breath and slight headache at Lava Tower for Lunch we were mostly fine.

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After lunch, our path was going down toward Karanga hut beside a glacial stream. It took few hours to reach the camp there. We had superb views of the Southern Ice Cliffs and the Breach Wall.

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The night was once again quite cold but our guide James organised to heat up some water to fill our bottles and to put the warm bottle inside our sleeping bags. This was a great idea and worked well.

August 7th – Day 4 – Great Barranco Wall

Another fantastic day was ahead of us. A challenging one as the first objective was to pass and climb through the intimidating Barranco Wall.

We scramble to the top of the Great Barranco without difficulty and traverse over scree and ridges beneath the ice falls of the heim kersten and decken glaciers. After a steep pull out of the Karanga Valley we ascend the ridge leading to the Barranco Camp. This was the most rewarding and exciting day so far, the view was phenomenal with a good dose of adrenaline scrambling up the wall.

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The camp site was well located at 4483m with a awesome view of Uhuru peak . We played a some card games and did a light painting photo shot before going to bed. We needed to sleep well because the following night would be quite short.

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This was the last day before reaching the summit and a shorter one because we needed some rest before the final ascent. The walk from Baranco to Barafu was pleasant and not very difficult with  very interesting view of the peak on one side and valleys and canyons on the others.

Our guides Noah, James and Jacksons had a hard time managing our desire to walk at a greater pace! We pushed ourselves a little more that day and did some yoga once we reached the camp site at 4600m. To the right, there was the majestic Mawenzi peak sitting in the distance.

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We unpacked our stuff and sat down for the remaining of the afternoon playing card games, relaxing and eating. Th aim was to go to sleep at around 5-6pm as we we needed to get ready for ascending the summit by midnight that night. For the first time, we could leave our gears in the tent but it was required to wear many layers as the temperature that night and for the climb would be around -15 to -20 degree Celsius.

August 9th – Day 6 – Kibo Summit

As planned, the night was very short but we were excited to attempt the final ascent to the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro, our utmost reason to be here and a dream to accomplish.

We packed some of our gear for the climb but the tents remained there along with all the porters. We had quick breakfast and put on the beanie, gloves and warm pants. We were ready to go with our 3 guides James, Noah and Jackson. The sky was clear, the moon and the stars were bright indicating us the path where to go. Our minds were ready!

The climb winds on the slopes until the foot of Ratzel and Rebman glaciers, between which engages the track. The slope was steep and the ground was soft from the ancient volcano’s ash making it harder to walk up. Strangely, we were having a fast pace passing by groups and groups of hikers. There was vomit trace on the ground here and there from people having a hard time! Our hands, that were holding firmly our walking poles, were literally freezing, requiring the help of heat pads alternatively with putting our hands in our armpit in search of heat!  We are exhausted, dizzy and beside all effort to make every deep breath, our lungs were only grasping a few bit of oxygene in the tiny air but we kept on pushing higher and higher. The atmosphere was surreal in the middle of the hanging glaciers.

After about 5 hours of walk, we arrived on the edge of the crater at Stella point. Our hearths were pounding, we were completely exhausted but fulfilled with joy knowing the hardest part was now behind us. We stopped for a short moment, we were cheerful, everyone made it so far. It is an emotional moment. We carried on for about half an hour of walk on the volcano’s crest to reach Uhuru Peak at 5, 895 mtrs – the roof of Africa, with fine views of Mt. Meru to the west and the Jagged Peak of Mawenzi to the east. The view is incredible, just in time for the sun rise about 5:45am. We were in the first couple of groups to reach the summit.
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To make this moment even more memorable and to cross another item on the bucket list,  I proposed Gabriela to be my wife. She said yes but conditionally on a ring, which I didn’t had with me at that time. It was an happy moment for everyone.We stayed about 20min on the top celebrating our success before starting to descend back to Barafu camp. Because of the altitude, the wind and the cold weather, you we couldn’t stay any longer there. The descend was hard, almost harder than going up. The ground was soft making it relatively safe to take large foot step but it was steep and we were very tired. Our group separated a little with me and Komivi at the back at the edge of collapsing, taking regular breaks as our legs were not responding anymore.  Gabby disappeared ahead with Noah guiding her as they descended fast.

We arrived at Barafu camp around 10-11am. Gabby was already there awaiting us. We collapsed on the chair awaiting our arrival. Everyone was tired, but personally, I can say I have never been tired like this in my life. I couldn’t respond to any mental or physical stimulus, I could barely sit steadily. We only had time for a short break (1h) before tea and lunch. The rest was necessary and good. Then another 4 hours ledge of descent ahead of us to reach Mewka camp at 3000m.  The short break and the food gave us back enough to get to our destination. In total that day, we have climbed up and down for over 4000m and walked more than 13hours. The night was a blessing. It would also be the last night in a tent and also the last day without taking a shower!

August 10th – Day 7

The landscape changed drastically once again from the previous day has we got back to the rain forest. The day was mostly clear. We had the last breakfast together with the crew and started our descend earlier than usual at sunrise in order to avoid the crowd and the waiting time at the gate. The view wasn’t as open and spectacular as on the Machame route but the descent through the lush forest was pleasant.

Our legs were tired from the adventure. We reach the Mweka gate before lunch time. This was mission accomplish for Hike for Life. We all reached the summit and also reached (and surpassed) our fund raising objective for Breast Cancer raising a total of 2850$.

We signed up at the gate and received our certificate of accomplishment.  We celebrated the experience with the whole crew and danced on the rythme of the Kilimanjaro song (Jambo Buena). We stopped on the way for lunch with the guides and have a well deserved beer! Then we were on our way back to the Oasis Lodge for the most delightful hot shower ever. We spend the rest of the day relaxing.

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Summary

The Kilimanjaro was our first multi-days excursions on a mountain and certainly not the last one. Of course, comfort was a little scarified but the experience it itself was fully rewarding. Spectaculars views and a great sentiment of accomplishment. The expedition crew were very well taking care of us. James, Jackson, Noah, Renatos were extremely nice and pleasant the share the experience with. A couple more checks on the bucket list, another experience of a life time!

  • Very spectacular landscapes all the way, with 6 day above clouds
  • Changing vegetation, beautiful variety
  • Exceptional weather (we were lucky)
  • Kibo Summit and its glaciers
  • The ascent of the summit
  • Proposing Gabby
  • Strong emotions of accomplishment and exhaustion
  • Service offered was great, once again we were very well taken care of (James and Jackson were phenomenal host)
  • The Kilimanjaro song
  • More people on the mountain than I was expecting it
  • Newer building for the toilets are actually worst than the rustic wood shack!

If you ever think about doing the Kilimanjaro, we would highly recommend James Boniface as a local guide, click here for his details.

Part III on Zanzibar coming soon….

Thanks for readings,

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