Region: Africa >> Tanzania
Travel time: 2012, June 15th to June 19th
Picture Gallery: Link
“Right where you are,” our guide says, “is where the man died in the landslide.” I look at him in utter disbelieve and continue slogging through the alpine desert, 4.000 meters above the African plain. Climbing to Mt. Kilimanjaro’s snowy summit is a once in a lifetime experience for some and the start of a mountaineering career for others. I’m not sure which group I belong to just yet, but I will certainly share my experiences on the world’s highest free standing mountain.
June 15th, 2012 – Frankfurt to Nairobi
It’s Friday evening and I am on Condor Flight DE5264 from Frankfurt to Nairobi, Kenya. Christoph is sitting next to me, struggling with the comfort and narrowness of our seats just like myself. We’ve known each other for two years and have become good friends with similar interests. One of them is traveling and we are currently on our way to Africa in order to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. I’m looking over the main aisle to the other side of the airplane, where Christoph’ friends, Moritz and Simon, are already sleeping. Certainly a good idea, as we will be on plane for the night and arrive in Nairobi at 5:10 in the morning.
Restless thoughts about our route are keeping me awake. At 5,895 meters, Uhuru Peak is the highest point on Kilimanjaro. No technical climbing is involved in scaling it, but the high elevation can not be underestimated and only 41% reach the summit according to the Kilimanjaro National Park. I could not prepare for the trip, but am confident in my solid base condition, which leaves the AMS (acute mountain sickness) as the only real threat. Eventually, my mind settles and I doze off in economy class discomfort.
June 16th, 2012 – Nairobi to Moshi
The plane begins to descend and the beeping of the please-fasten-your-seatbelt alarm wakes me up. It is nearly 5AM and we are just on time. I get up and walk towards the exit of the plane and surprisingly, only my buddies and a handful of strangers are leaving the plane in Nairobi, as the rest keeps on sleeping on their way to the final destination. My eyes don’t like the fact that I left my contact lenses in during the flight and I’m still pretty tired. We grab our bags, pay the transit visa ($20) and walk to the waiting area outside.
Moritz provides some anti mosquito repellant for us and we only need to put it on today, as we will be too high for them when we start the hike tomorrow morning. The airport in Nairobi is not very nice and after three hours of waiting, the shuttle bus finally arrives. We get inside and try to rest on the most uncomfortable seats I’ve ever used – too bad we will be in here for the next seven hours!
I’m looking outside the window and it does not take long to realize that I’m in a Third World Country. People and especially young children have a look in their eyes which is hard to describe. They seem lost and not able to change their life for the better, almost like they’ve given up on themselves. We leave them behind and drive towards Arusha, which is a rather big city of about half a million people. There are a couple of mountains on our way to Moshi, but it takes a while until we can finally catch a glimpse of Kibo.
The driver drops us off at the Weru Weru River Lodge, which belongs to our Operator Ahsante Tours. We receive a warm welcome and one of the employees updates us about the current European Football Championship scores and it’s looking pretty good for Germany! Our rooms are good, we have a pool and some sunshine left, so we are getting right into i.! Some overpriced beer and pizza rounds up the day and it’s time to get some sleep and rest for the upcoming hike.
June 17th, 2012 – Lemosho Glades (2100m) to Big Tree Camp (2750m)
I wake up at 7AM and could not sleep very well due to Christoph’s unrelenting snoring. There is nothing he can do about it, but I’ll try to find another person to spend the upcoming nights with We get down to the reception area to meet our guides, Nelson and King William of Kili. They are both very nice people and I can’t image having better guides for the trip. I even got a high-quality pair of gloves from Nelson – mine are apparently not good enough for the cold summit night. We also have time to catch up with Jessie from New York, he is on his own and will join us.
We leave Moshi (910m) and drive west for two hours to reach the Londorossi Park Gate (2100m). All of our luggage has been weighed to determine how many porters we need before we continue to Lemosho Glades (2100m). This is the actual starting point of the beautiful 56km Lemosho route. It will take us six days to get to the top, as we are adding one extra day for better acclimatization. Our 4×4 jeep can’t continue through the mud, so we get out and walk the rest to Lemosho Glades. Everyone looks very motivated as we begin to walk into the foggy rain forest…
Our destination for today is Big Tree Camp (2750m), also known as Mti Mkubwa in Swahili, the official language in Tanzania. We are entering the second climate zone on the mountain (five in total) and it’s not easy to climb the steep muddy paths due to the rainfalls in the last days. Nelson tells us that this part is actually one of the hardest in bad weather. There are not many animals around and it is rather quiet, except for the sounds of the Black-and-white colobus and blue monkeys. King William is making sure that we keep a slow pace throughout and it takes us nearly three hours to reach the Camp.
The camp is already set up from our porters, who passed us earlier while carrying about 25-30kg each. They are doing an incredible job and try to get promoted to a guide someday. Everyone here needs to start as a porter and only the ones who can speak English will have a chance for a better job. I walk around the campsite and notice the toilets – a hole in the ground surrounded by some walls. Not really looking forward to use these! We gather in our dining tent and patiently wait for the first big meal of the day; turns out that our cook is incredible, as he made us some very delicious chicken with potatoes and vegetables.
June 18th, 2012 – Big Tree Camp (2750m) to Shira 2 (3840m)
Our waiter(!) wakes me up and hands me a nice hot cup of tea. Jessie is sharing the tent with me now, but I could still not sleep this night thanks to the Dolby-surround snore theater around us. The porters provide us with some water to clean ourselves and some purified water to fill up the 3-litre camel backs. We enjoy breakfast, pack up our stuff and then begin the walk to the next camp: Shira 2. We decided to skip Shira 1 and take this long 15km day in the beginning, in order to have an extra day for better acclimatization at Karanga camp.
The path looks very similar to yesterday’s and we are constantly climbing up, being happy about the great weather, as more and more sun shines through the trees the higher we get. After about 50 minutes, we reach the top of the forest and get a good view on our surroundings. Nelson makes us aware that we are entering the moorland climate zone and it is great to have a change of scenery again. The sun is really strong now and we are constantly getting passed by porters.
We descend a bit again and reach a nice spot to take a break. Some french guys pass us without any porters, they carry everything on their own and just have a guide with them. I think I could do it as well, but since it’s my first time in this altitude, I decided to take the easy way to make sure I reach the top We take some pictures and continue climbing up, only to finally see what we were all waiting for: Kilimanjaro is showing up in the distance and he looks damn far away still!
The hike continues for about half an hour before we reach Shira 1 camp. We stop for another break and just enjoy sleeping in the sun for a short while. Turns out that this was a bad idea, as I can already feel the first sun burns coming up, especially on the back of my legs. I decide to cover up most of my body from now on, even if the sun is still out strong. The hike starts to get more demanding the further we go on, but eventually we reach our destination with a slight headache.
As usual, we first need to sign up in at one of the huts with our name, nationality and signature. This needs to be done each day and the data is used for official statistics including date, name, nationality and operator. I notice that it is significantly colder already at 3840m and put on some extra layers, as well as my hat. We are already above the clouds and I stay out to enjoy the great views before heading back to get dinner. We are all freezing in the tent while waiting for hopefully yet another great meal. This is gonna be a very cold night…
June 19th, 2012 – Shira 2 (3840m) to Lava Tower (4630m) to Barranco camp (3950m)
I’m blessed with hot tea again – definitely a must-have right now, as last night was one of the coldest I ever experienced. Our sleeping bags only have a comfort temperature of +4 °C and I would not exactly categorize the sleeping mats as comfortable. We get popcorn soup for breakfast again and I’m so sick of it, the cucumber soup is way better.. My body is a wreck, four sleepless nights and a lack of appetite have taken their tolls, but this won’t break my will to reach the summit, as my mental health stays strong.
A long walk through the warm alpine desert is ahead of us and our crew celebrates the famous Kilimanjaro Song, singing and dancing for us before we start this difficult day:
Tembea pole pole (Walk slow, slow)
Utafika salama (Arrive safely)
Kunywa maji mengi (Drink plenty of water)
Great performance by the guys (and the porter girl!), the rhythm of this song will stick in our heads for sure. I make sure that my jacket is protecting me from both the wind and the sun as we head towards Lava Tower (4630m). Hour after hour walking on rocky paths without any vegetation or animal life is passing, and my stomach is giving me a very hard time. The headache is getting stronger as well, definitely a result of the high altitude. I can spot people in the distance as they are walking on the Machame route, which will unite with ours very soon. We finally arrive at the Tower after 6 long hours.
Our guide Nelson suggest some extra-fun by climbing the Tower before we get together for lunch. “It is a very easy climb”, he says and it would only take him 15 minutes to get up and down again. We look at each other and decide to accept his offer. I’m the last one in our group and the climb is not exactly easy for me in my current state, nevertheless all of us make it back safely and the great views on the Western Breach and down a 60m vertical cliff were amazing!
The utterly bad feeling in my stomach is getting worse as we are leaving the Tower behind us. Heading into a valley, I can see the first Senecio kilimanjari – a unique and bizarre plant that only exists in this part of the world. I notice a weird feeling in my throat and then suddenly scream out “STOP!“, seconds before throwing up in the serpentine curve next to me. “Are you OK?”, Christoph asks and hands me some tissues. “Feeling much better now, thanks.”, I reply and continue walking with renewed energy after dropping all the bad stuff in my body.
I can finally enjoy the ongoing walk and my release could have not come at a better time, as we are entering the final path down to the camp. The immense Western Wall of Kilimanjaro is constantly present to my left, while tons of huge Senecio kilimanjari are showing up along the way – just incredible! I can see the camp already and King William explains that this day was very important for our acclimatization, as we were climbing very high today while staying in a camp 700m lower than the Lava Tower.