Mandalapa's Excursions

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Currently in: New York | Miles traveled: 450,000 miles | Countries Visited: 27

Climbing Kilimanjaro – How I did it

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In the summer of 2013, I went on an adventure to Africa with a plan to climb Kilimanjaro, the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. It was on my bucket list for a while. But the entire climb and feeling of accomplishment was more than just an item to cross off  the list. It was a journey in and of itself. Climbing Kilimanjaro is every bit mental – altitude anxiety, fear of not making it — as it is physical. The best reward after the climb was the hot shower after the climb. Not even kidding!

Choosing the Route:

All of Kili Climbing routes

All of Kili Climbing routes

Choosing a route to climb can be difficult. You hear so many different things from different people about what is easy, hard, scenic, beautiful, dangerous or rugged routes. Let me give you a brief rundown on the routes and see if it helps you decide.

If you are strapped with cash, Marangu and Machame are the cheapest and fastest routes to the top of the mountain (I have heard people spending just 1200$ for a 5 day Marangu hike). It is also very populated most of the time. Rongai, Lemosho and Shira are very scenic because you see 3 sides of the mountain during the hike. Lemoso and Shira start on the west side of the mountain which is the rainy side of the mountain. In my opinion, Lemosho is the best of all the routes and also the most expensive. If you don’t mind spending some extra money for the hike, I highly recommend doing this route. It is also the most difficult route but getting acclimatized is easy on this route.

Kilimanjaro Route

Min.Days

Difficulty

Scenery

Traffic

Rating

Comments

Marangu Route

5

medium

good

high

**

Very popular tourist route, approaches from southeast, easy, gentle gradients, beautiful rain forest section and moorlands, comfortable but basic hut shelter, poor acclimatization profile, descent on same trail

Machame Route

6

high

excellent

high

***

Second most popular route, approaches from south, very scenic route with southern traverse, difficult route but very good for acclimatization, camping

Lemosho Route

6

high

excellent

medium

****

Long access drive to trailhead, approaches from west, remote, less frequented, beautiful heath section, very scenic with southern traverse, camping, difficult route but excellent for acclimatization, camping

Shira Route

6

high

excellent

medium

***

Almost same as Lemosho, approaches from west, long access drive to trailhead, trail starts at 11,800 ft, remote, less frequented, beautiful heath section, very scenic with southern traverse, camping, difficult route but excellent for acclimatization if ok at 11,800 ft, camping

Rongai Route

6

medium

very good

low

****

Long access drive to trailhead, approaches from north, remote, less frequented, easy, gentle gradients, beautiful alpine desert section, good alternative to Marangu, camping, fair acclimatization profile, camping

Umbwe Route

5

very high

very good

very low

**

Least used trail, approaches from south, shortest and steepest route, spectacular ridge, scenic with southern traverse, difficult route with poor acclimatization profile, pre-acclimatization is recommended, camping

3 simple tips for the climb

1) Pole Pole (means slowly slowly in Swahili). Take your hike easy and slow. Don’t stress yourself.

2) DWPO(Drink water and Pee Often): The secret to beating altitude sickness is drinking lots of water and peeing crystal clear every hour. I took 5 gallons of water for the hike alone every day and pee’d almost every single tree/bush/rock face along the hike. Even if you don’t feel like drinking, force yourself to drink water and eat plenty of food.

3) Rest well and enjoy your scenery: Take a look around as you climb. make sure to pause and look back to reflect on how far you’ve come. Your position above the cloud line is something to be treasured.

View from the cathedral - Day 3

View from the cathedral – Day 3

Training and Gear:

First of all, this is not one of those mountains in Himalayas or alps that require a lot of training and exercise to reach the summit. Kili is relatively easy compared to those ones. However, I was in relatively decent shape as I did a couple of half marathons, went climbing at a local climbing gym and some biking for cardio. One thing you can’t really train for is Altitude. Altitude sickness is a bitch. There is nothing you can do except take it easy, hydrate and get acclimatized to the conditions.

Check out the following link for the gear you need to bring. http://www.ultimatekilimanjaro.com/preparation.htm#gearlist.

I would say the most underrated but essentials are Gaiters, Poncho (even if you have rain jacket), and Diamox (altitude sickness pills). Lot of people used walking sticks but I didn’t use them and I fared well.

Hiking group:

Make sure to have 3 to 8 people in your group and not more or less. There were 3 of us who decided to do it and we went through an operator called “Marangu Hotel” who were really good and I recommend them to anyone who wants to do any route.

Porters loading our stuff into the truck

Porters loading our stuff into the truck

 The Final Ascent(My experience):

This was one of the most brutal event I have ever endured in my life. The hike started at midnight and it was very windy. On top of all this, it was incredibly cold. The temperatures were -25 degrees when we started the final ascent and it was plummeting as the night went on. None of us got enough sleep because of anxiety of the climb and it was very cold and windy.

IMG_2258

Each of us had about 5 layers of clothing on and set out to climb the final ascent. Every single step was a struggle. No matter how much we climbed, we still kept seeing the peak so far away. I remember asking our guide charles “How far away is the top?” and he replied “You don’t want to know”. To make matter’s worse, our water lines froze and we had to split the water from our guide Charles. After 5 hours or so, we saw the sun come out slowly on the east side of the mountain. It was a magical sight for all of us. After 8 hours, we reached the first peak called “Stella Peak” which is about 19000 ft. We took some pictures, saw the views and climbed onwards to Uhuru peak. The winds here were insane and knocked few people off their feet. It was -30 degrees at the top with little oxygen to breathe and 40 mile per hour winds. All of us were incredibly tired and oxygen deprived that we just couldn’t wait to descend.

IMG_2253

Once we got to the top of Uhuru Peak, it was simply magical. The clouds floating below the mountain, the crater, massive glaciers on both all sides of the mountain. The views from the top were simply stunning and we forgot the pain, wind, cold and sickness. It was worth it. We were advised by our guide not to stay there for more than 20 minutes, so we descended immediately to Barafu hut and took a nap there before we headed to Millenium Camp. We later learned that 25 of the 40 people who attempted the final ascent didn’t make it that day. We felt incredibly lucky.The first thing we did after we go to the hotel was to drink a really cold beer. That beer was worth a thousand dollars.

IMG_2324

The Hot Shower:

Not showering for 8 days took a toll on our hygiene. We all smelled terrible and the thought of a hot shower at our hotel was just too exciting for me. Funny thing is, Once I got to the shower, I delayed the pleasure by simply staring at the hot shower for 5 minutes and then slowly stepped in. BEST THING EVER!. Yep, it was the longest shower I had but worth it.

Kilimanjaro is not just a hike, but a journey and a lifetime experience. The journey only got better for the rest of my trip in Africa.

So, what do you think ?