Ever since my parents moved to Africa, I remember my mom saying she’s going to climb Mt Kilimanjaro one day and I never really gave it much thought. Not even when they finally decided to book tickets to Tanzania and finalize the tour details did the feeling of what lay ahead enter my mind. But approximately two months later, I got to experience one of the most beautiful sunrises of all time – cold and hungry – but realizing what
I we achieved.
Ken Hill (United States/Italy), Santosh Chandra (India/Uganda), Dan Ron(Israel), Ruth Dayan (Israel), Divya Chandra (India/Uganda), Jason Stine (United States), Rama Harinath (India), Sam Richardson (United Kingdom), Laura Crompton (United Kingdom) and finally myself, Shashank Chandra (India/United States) – accomplished collectively as a group what few achieve – summit the world’s tallest freestanding mountain in the world – Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Everyone had their reasons to do this and in the end after having spent 7 days in each other’s company, 10 strangers from around the world became family.
Its not just about the destination, but also about the journey.
Our Journey begins at Moshi where we are checked in and briefed on the journey ahead. Our blood oxygen levels, bpm and general physical state are tested following some basic questions. We are on a 7 day hike along the Machame route. It is a good for those who have not trekked much at high altitudes, with an effective extra day’s acclimatization, giving a better success rate.
Day 1: Machame Gate to Machame Camp
Elevation: 1800 mtrs to 3000 mtrs, Distance: 11 km (~6.9 miles), Time: 6 hours, Habitat: Montane Forest
This is officially the start of the hike – through the rain-forests at the feet of Mt. Kilimanjaro – and it puts you right at that oh-so-steep incline no treadmill can simulate (>15%). Out came our hiking poles – not that we needed them, but more so to get used to them. Admittedly, these were a lot fancier than the bare sticks I have used when climbing mountains in India.
Day 1 was our chance to get to know each other as well as remind you, we’re all international strangers and will be spending the next 7 days in each other’s company, sharing tents, our proudest and not-so-proudest moments.
The route is lush green and so soothing to the eyes with time flying by quickly until we stopped for lunch by a couple of logs. Whilst getting up, we could feel it in our legs but still marched on.
To relieve yourself on trails, there are no public restrooms, so you make the most of cut-off lanes into the bushes and there is no such thing as privacy once you’re on the mountain. So getting used to that may take some time, but eventually its just better to stop caring. Needless to say it’s a lot easier for men than women but that shyness or comfortableness of doing it in bushes fades away rather quickly.
Upon reaching camp we were greeted by our porters and the tents they had set-up. We all had tea/coffee with some snacks and marveled at the view which was a distant Mt. Meru. As part of the package was a portable toilet – not as fancy but a small toilet to ourselves inside a tent. Needless to say it was much better than the alternative – a hole in the group which if you drop something in – you didn’t want back.
Day 2: Machame Camp to Shira Camp
Elevation: 3000 mtrs to 3850 mtrs, Distance: 9 km (~5.7 miles), Time: 5 hours, Habitat: Moorland
Now the terrain became rocky with the flora being reduced to 6-7ft tall at most. It was mostly uphill and the rocks did make it seem like more work. I personally found it much easier than most others maybe because my long legs and with the clouds rolling it, it would go from sunny to cloudy and warm to cold. We did stop along the way for a few pictures and kept munching on the energy bars/ trail mix/ nuts, etc… to stock up our energy reserves before making it to Shira Camp.
It’s ironic to mention that at one point, because we were only wearing T-shirts and the temperature was in low 10s (deg C), we asked the guide to stop and let us wear our jackets. Upon him mentioning the camp was only 7 minutes away, we suddenly felt charged up, fully warm and just pushed on.
Upon reaching the camp, we took our pictures and headed straight for the tents to avoid the incoming rain. Once the rain stopped, we did make a short 1 hr trip up to an altitude of 4000 mtrs to acclimatize our bodies for the next day. Upon our return, the whole group of porters and guides welcomed us to traditional Kilimanjaro songs and it truly was amazing to watch/hear.
Jambo! Jambo bwana!
Habari gani? Mzuri sana!
Kilimanjaro? Hakuna matata!
Tembea pole pole. Hakuna matata!
Utafika salama. Hakuna matata!
Kunywa maji mengi. Hakuna matata!
Kilimanjaro, mlima mrefu sana.
Na Mawenzi, na Mawenzi,
Na Mawenzi, mlima mrefu sana.
Ewe nyoka, ewe nyoka!
Ewe nyoka, mbona waninzunguka.
Wanizunguka wataka kunila nyama
Hello! Hello sir!
How are you? Very well!
Guests, you are welcome!
Kilimanjaro? No trouble!
Walk slowly, slowly. No trouble!
You’ll get there safe. No trouble!
Drink plenty of water. No trouble!
Kilimanjaro, such a high mountain.
Also Mawenzi, also Mawenzi!
Also Mawenzi such a high mountain.
Like a snake, like a snake!
Like a snake you wrap around me
You wrap around me, you wrap around me
Trying to eat me like a piece of meat
It was going to be a full moon that night and with the clear skies, we could see Mt. Kilimanjaro’s shiny white peaks as if they were so close. With the rise of the moon from behind the mountain, you could hear the wolves howling – campers I mean – almost three to four hundred of them.
Day 3: Shira Camp to Barranco Camp via Lava Tower
Elevation: 3850 mtrs to 4600 mtrs to 3950 mtrs, Distance: 12 km (~7.5 miles), Time: 6-7 hours, Habitat: Semi Desert.
After a beautiful sunrise, we headed out on a rocky desert like terrain which wasn’t as steep but was most definitely higher up. We climbed the equivalent height of the world’s tallest building – Burj Dubai and needless to say, we felt the air thin. Lava Tower was as the name implies a towering rock formed millennia ago by lava that once flowed down the mountain.
We had a quick lunch at our pit stop to acclimatize and were soon headed back down with our camel packs and platypuses full with water. Holy cow was the way down tricky. Imagine a 200 mtrs drop you climb down feeling like a goat – that’s how we felt and it was not easy. But we still did it!
The group split up eventually and we continued our ascend/descend along a beautiful valley to eventually arrive at the Barranco Camp. Over the course of our hike, we follow the rule: “walk high, camp low”. We are presented with beautiful photographs of the Western Breach and Breach Wall. The camp is situated in a valley below the Breach and Great Barranco Wall.
In the next article, I cover the days leading up to the summit night and the changes we observed as we went higher up.