When I decided to take a sabbatical from work, one of the first things I did was research amazing things to do around the world. I quickly found Mt. Kilimanjaro. 1. I’ve never been to Africa 2. Its the highest summit available to hike without oxygen assistance. 3. Why not?
And so it began. I hiked and summited Uhuru Peak Mount Kilimanjaro.
Here’s a recap of what happened back in February 2016:
Preparing for the Hike
I’m not a hiker nor am I really experienced with anything regarding High Altitude. I decided to hike this mountain with about 1 month prep time (as soon as I decided to leave work). I started to do 3-4 hour hikes on the weekend. The week before my trip I got a flu/cold but was still able to complete the Uhuru Peak with the “Pole Pole” mindset and the help of the best guides.
Choosing a Trekking company
Nerdy Me. I didn’t want to go with the most popular, nor did I want to go with a big company. I wanted to go with a local company with nothing but 5 star reviews and would give me an upper edge on summiting the mountain. How did I do this? Well I made a spreadsheet of course.
- I used trip advisor to sort through all the 1-4 star reviews and removed those companies.
- I made a list of only 5 star review companies and emailed them for more information and prices.
- Rule out any company that was not locally based in Tanzania.
- Omit the lowest price and highest priced companies.
- Preference points on private tours versus group tours
- Bonus points for companies that also arranged safaris as combo tours.
- Company’s website page and facebook interaction / social media participation
- Rate the different information given by companies on all the routes. What and why they preferred certain routes over others. I also rated the quality of the information given back.
Majestic Kilimanjaro came out to be top of the heap. I had no doubt in my mind that this company would not meet my expectations.
Packing for the trip
Here’s everything I packed for the trip: a Daypack hiking backpack with 3L camelpak and additional nalgene 1L water bottle, 2 long sleeves (one thermal, one cotton). 1 windbreaker, 1 down jacket, short thin gloves and another pair of snow mittens, 1 pair of snowboarding pants including thermal long underwear, sun hat, 2 short sleeve shirts, 2 sports bras, 5 underwear, 5 pairs of socks, 2 beanies.
Random other stuff: SUNBLOCK ( i got burned on my hands where i held my walking sticks. after that i wore my long sleeve shirt to avoid the sun despite the heat), nail clippers, chapstick, lotion, Flushable baby wipes, hair ties and bobby pins, sleeping mask, toothbrush and toothpaste, a speedo shammy towel, and diamox (you only need 125mg a day).
The trekking company provided the camping gear and we rented walking sticks, gaiters and sleeping bags.
What Actually happened during the hike
Pre Hike- Caught a flight from Amsterdam directly to Kilimanjaro (JRO) via KLM using my points from American Express. 2 one way tickets cost only 25k miles. I pay extra to get the front row in economy which turned out to be a big bonus when getting off the plane and getting the on site Tanzania Visa Permit. There are only 5-6 people in line in front of us. Visas and baggage in hand within 30-40mins. If you sat in the back of the plane, I bet it would have been about 2 hours to get through that visa line.
Tumaini, the guide and owner of the company, picked us up and drove us to the hotel in Arusha. The next day he gave us the whole hike route and checked to make sure we packed properly.
Most of the day is spent picking people up and buying snacks. We get to Rongai route, eat a bunch of food and hike for 4 hours. Doesn’t seem too bad at all. Pretty scenery and even some skunk like monkeys in the trees. We pass by some gardens where locals are farming.
I wake up to fresh french press coffee in our tent. No joke, some guy woke us up and gave us fresh hot water to wash our faces and coffee. After we changed, we went to another tent and had a full breakfast. We got to order what kind of eggs we wanted in addition to all the fruit and sides. It was insane how much food was on that small table. We hike for 4hours, take another HUGE lunch break and then hike 3 hours. So far so good. This doesn’t seem too bad. I feel good.
I wake up to the fresh smell of coffee… and then the slight soreness from getting sunburnt from the day before. Really, the sun in Africa is intense. I looked like a half burnt, half tan zebra. I also start feeling the effects of diamox and really have to pee (a lot) every few hours. There’s not that many people on our route. Some french group passed us, about 10-13 hikers. Some were faster than others, and all I could think was… I’m so glad its just the 2 of us. I didn’t need th pressure of keeping up with anyone. I’m relieved not having to think about small talk with strangers. We hike for 4 hours to the next camp. Then we do a 45 mins acclimation hike where we see the french people again along with some South Africans. At this point, I’m getting a bit tired and cold. The environment is definitely changing, no more shubbery. More rocks than anything else. Patrik, is getting pretty sick. He caught a chest cold and is now alternating from shivering to hot sweats. Tumaini has some antibiotics and gives them to Patrik.
Patrik’s health is starting to improve. I’m feeling generally tired from all the walking and the altitude change. Going to the bathroom a bunch of times during the night doesn’t help. The saving grace of Majestic is that they included a private toilet. Yes a tented bucket with a seat for me to go in during the night so I wouldn’t have to put on my glasses and use the communal one that smelled like every elephant in the jungle had taken a dump in. We do about 4.5 hour hike through a rocky flat terrain. During the hike we see pieces of a crashed plane. Seat here. Metal scrap there. So sad to imagine what happened to the passengers.
Tumaini comes and does a health check that night. He measures our heart rates, oxygen consumption and temperature. All good. He shows us his stats. Our resting heart rate was about 100 because of the altitude, he’s heart rate was about 80. He might as well been down at sea level reading a book. I didn’t feel like my body was working that hard, but when i saw the stats, it started to make sense to me why everything seemed so difficult now.
I’ve never been so miserable in my life than on Day 5. After about 3 hours of hiking I was really cold. My guide gave my hand warmers and a Baclava to help. About 1/3 of all attempting this mountain don’t make it. Walking in the dark, you could see someone hunched over, and someone yelling for oxygen. It was nuts. We hit Gilman’s point, its the start of the top of the mountain. Its snowy and dark. Patrik takes a piss and the pee starts to freeze as he’s going. I try to sip from my camelpak and its frozen. I chomp down on the rock hard snickers. The chocolate tastes great, but I feel like my teeth are going to fall off on the peanuts. As we walk around the edge, I can see the peak. Misery starts to set in. Each step feels like my body is crumbling. I hold onto Tumaini’s back strap as if I would die without it. The next 45 minutes seemed to last forever. I kept talking to myself “don’t give up. you’re almost there. keep going. one more step…”
There it was. The Uhuru Peak Sign. I felt like God had parted the clouds and opened heaven’s gate. Tears came down my cheeks as I hugged everyone. We did it. I did it. Wow. I can’t believe I just hiked 7 hours and reached 5,895 meters.
But that’s not it. It wasn’t over. If it was movie, the next scene would be a quick jump down the mountain. Instead, it was a brutal, 2-3 hour hike down to the mountain to one of the base camps for lunch. There I sat/ laid down in the lunch hut in a zombie like state. I took off all my filthy clothes and ate watermelon and drank mango juice while people came and went. Once “refreshed” we had to hike another 4 hours to Horombo Hut. Our private toilet was set on a cliff overlooking a beautiful valley. I sat on the toilet for about 5 minutes just letting my legs rest while I took in the view. For dinner, our chef rewarded us with a tasty spaghetti bolognese. I ate until I felt my hiking pants were too tight. I would of paid $100 for ice cream and a foot massage if I could have it.
The last day. 19km to go. Most of the hike is down hill through a forrest. I see some monkeys hanging out. I curse the rocks on the path. My legs are sore and my feet don’t want to walk anymore. At the bottom of the mountain, we sign the official log books and get our certificates. Shortly afterwards, we bump into the South Africans we met on day 4. They look rather toasty (sunburnt), dusty and weathered. (just like me!) . We all did it. Glory never felt so good. Take that Sabbatical!
We get one day of rest before the safari starts. I chuck my hiking boots aside. I take a long shower and then enjoy the pool. Now I can say I summitted Mount Kilimanjaro. What’s next? Everest base camp? Who knows. Anything is possible.
Here’s the link to my tripadvisor review. This has more info for some prepping for the trek!