WARNING: Contains coarse language, if easily offended – don’t read.
6 days is probably not recommended as adequate training for climbing the worlds highest free standing mountain and the highest mountain on the African Continent, but with spur of the moment decisions, comes, well basically anything people will throw at you because beggars can’t be choosers.
I woke up before the sunrise and completed some decent runs, I pulled out all my hiking gear – boots, and anything in my bag that branded Mountain Gear or The North Face and literally emptied my bank account in one transaction to my guide company. Voila!! Ready right?
I found we left late, the guys picked me up at 9am – which is already late in my books but then we dicked around for what seemed like ages, but as a wannabe “patient polite being”, I sat quietly and just smiled. At around 11am we finally strapped on our backpacks and crossed the National Park Gate of KILIMANJARO.
It rained for most of the first day, but it was to be expected as we crossed a Rain-forest. So, I can’t say I was surprised. I was full of energy, I wanted to hop around and run around and roll in mud but I was reminded that the change in elevation was a serious thing and that I should take it “pole, pole” (slowly, slowly in Swahili). Pole, pole – I heard those two words about a gazillion times on my way up that mountain. I’m a mountain goat, and I don’t particularly like to listen to instructions from others, restraining myself was immensely challenging. But I knew I had to just pole, pole (yup, you’re about to read it a gazillion times in this entry!! ) if I was to make it to the summit.
We arrived at the camp, it was like I had seen in the photos. A relatively flat ground with bright tent decorations between the rocks. One thing I had not anticipated though was the noise, my oh my the noise. On average most climbers have a crew of 5 to 7 people. So a group of 2 people will have a staff of 13 or 14 people, 3 people have near 20 etc… The porters, cooks, guides of different groups all know each other, so this is a social event for them. They arrive before the climbers and set up the tents. They get into discussions about cars, women, silly tourist, and literally anything else.. I don’t even think that 14 year old gossiping girls talk this much, but it’s not just talking, it’s yelling at each other from one tent to another, one camp to another – it is loud and I swear Tanzanian men don’t need to breath while talking because it just goes and goes and goes. So, I looked around, absorbed in the beauty for a second and chose to hike an extra bit to find a rock somewhere far far away where I could just sit by myself and be with nature. I quite like nature – she’s mighty quiet.
After all, I wasn’t climbing the mountain to sit around making small talk with strangers. That’s not a negative thing, but it just isn’t my thing. I’m extremely social, but at the right places you know. This experience to me, was a chance to spend some quality time with me, myself and I, reflect on the world and most likely come up with a solution for world peace. Okay, maybe not that far but I wanted to get in some great discussions with Mr. Brain, it’s been long overdue and we had loads to talk about, quietly, in my head.
I returned to my camp around meal time, I had the best team I must say. They also chit chatted like a bunch of school girls, but they were funny, supportive, professional and respectful. My cook, made the best foods out of basic ingredients on a one burner gas flame. Unfortunately I lost my appetite and barely ate most days.
For those of you not familiar with the set up of the crew, here is how it goes. There are too many companies to chose from. They are everywhere. A climber should base their decision on not just the quality of the service, but the companies treatment of their staff, never just on price – you get what you pay for and this is your safety we’re talking about, don’t book the cheapest company. A good company will protect their staff and be transparent with the client regarding their work conditions. They should have a decent pay, ample food, the adequate clothing and a weight restriction for their bags. Bags are weighed at the gate by the National Park, but really bad companies have ways around this – beware and don’t book and support these companies.
My crew consisted of my Guide, my Cook, and 4 Porters. Guides and cooks are only allowed to carry their personal items, so porters carry the tents, pots and pans, food, water, gas cylinder (yes, they carry a whole cylinder), chairs, tables, etc… My team had a lighter load as I didn’t want/need my mess tent, chairs, tables etc.. I ate outside sitting on rocks. But to each their own. It may seem like a large team, but by having a full team, climbers support the salaries and tips of each individuals, and also get reassured in knowing they are well looked after.
Day 2 to 5 were all fairly similar, we hiked along breathless landscapes, my feet covered in blisters and my head pounded pretty much all the time. My team quickly understood my need for peace from the others and found me the most secluded spots for my tents. Morning after morning I rushed out of my tent, perfectly willing to freeze until the arrival of the sun for my intimate moments with the greatest views of her grandness. The reality is that it’s not easy, the days are long and you do get tired, random parts of your body will hurt but most of it goes unnoticed, at least for me it did, because all of my energy was spent trying to take in her energy. The dirt, the rocks, the trees, the rain the air, everything seemed to have a greater importance.
I was woken up at 11 pm. It took me no time to get ready, I had gone to sleep wearing all my gear and still without an appetite, eating before my attempt for the summit wasn’t even to be considered. We left, equipped with our headlamps and light bag with some more clothes, water and a few snacks – this part of the hike consisted only of my guide and I, the rest of the crew waited at camp for our return.
Pole, pole needed no more reminders at this point. My body was heavy, breathing unsatisfying and not 10 minutes in my hike, my headlamp went out. A blessing in disguise really since my head was throbbing like a ticking bomb ready to blow so taking off that elastic strap from around my cranium was warmly welcomed. I refused to take any altitude sickness medication, I hadn’t busted my arse for 5 days to make it this close only to cheat. I slowed my pace to mere slither of my feet and drank water. My guide an inch away from me illuminated my path without saying a word. Just keep slithering along, don’t look up and breath I thought. We walked for 3 hours with my skull split in half and my stomach upside down. I sat for merely a second before my guide explained that rest time was not an option, the temperature was too cold and the wind was too strong. We had to keep climbing to keep warm. But the further I climbed, the further it was going to be for me to get back to camp. Everything ached, I was tired and it was 3 O’clock in the morning!!! Who in their right minds pays to climb a freezing cold mountain at 3 am??
The time slowed to a crawl, I think I looked at my watch every 2 seconds. If only the sun could come up I thought, maybe I could warm up and finally rest. 3:30 am came, in an amateur, stupid move I looked back and saw just how little distance I had covered in 30 freezing minutes. I dropped to my knees, rolled on my back and “I’m done” just came out of my mouth. My guide, perhaps slightly annoyed, turned back, reminded me it was too cold to rest, and I think he expected me to get up, but instead I think the devil took over and before I knew it all I heard was a crazy lady yelling “I don’t have to f*$%ing do anything, I have nothing to f*$%ing prove to anyone, and I paid for this, so if I want to f*$%ing quit and go back down, then i’m a grown, strong and independent woman and that’s exactly what i’m going to do!”. Problem was, there was no one around us, and then I suddenly realized that I had just yelled at the 1 man ultimately responsible for my safety and health.
“Do you think I f*$%ing want to do this?? Don’t you think i’m f*$%ing cold?? I’m tired too!! But you didn’t come here to turn around now, you came here to climb this f*$%ing mountain! So get up, and let’s go!” slightly unexpected coming from the mouth of my non-cursing, usually gently spoken guide. But he had made his point, in Katie language at that, so what was I to do, but to suck it up, harden the F*@$ up and keep climbing.
It was just as hard, and I was just as tired. The sun did eventually come up, but it did not warm me up, the wind was still just as cold and by this point my face was frozen to my scarf anyways.
The trail was steep and I found it hard to keep my balance. I had learnt my lesson and I kept my eyes on the ground. I no longer looked up or down. I didn’t want to know how far to go, I didn’t want to know how little I had moved, I just wanted to make it to that sign that said “Congratulations, you’ve made it to 5,895 meters above sea level, the roof of Africa”. My guide tapped me on the shoulder and pointed in the distance. In hesitation I looked up momentarily and although it wasn’t THE sign, it was a sign and I had made it to Stella Point on the edge of the crater at 5, 865 meters above sea level. I held in the tears, I was overwhelmed and just tired but a chick with the mouth of a sailor can’t possibly be seen crying!
The last 200 meters were by far the easiest. I was still cold, I was still tired and I still had a headache, but I had made it. I walked along the crater past the melting glacier and around the bend to finally have my short but memorable moment with a stupid but highly sought after sign labelled “The Roof of Africa”.
I spent no more than 10 minutes, it was seriously soo cold all there was to do was turn around to descend, the one, the only, her Grandness – Mount Kilimanjaro.
Notes for other climbers:
Company booked with: Nyange Adventures in Moshi – Contact Steve
Guide Name: Davis
Porters: Benson, Kibi, Goodluck and Peter
Route Taken: Machame Route 7 days (but I completed it in 6, this was my choice)
Summit details: It took 7 hours to climb from Barafu Camp to the Summit. I reached the Summit at 6:50am and I left at midnight on the dot. It took 2.5 hours to go down from the Summit for a rest. On the same day as the summit day, you will (after your short rest) need to go down to high camp or Mweka camp. I chose to keep going past it and make it straight home for a nice hot bath. My total hiking time on my last day was 15.5 hours – but it could have been 13 hours should I have decided to spend the night at Mweka Camp.
Cost: Expect to pay in USD anywhere from $1,800 to $2,000 PLUS your tips which should be a minimum of $200 per person. Anything cheaper than this is probably not a responsible company, note that I said “probably” so just book cautiously and do your homework.