Alpinism, 7 Summits, Kilimanjaro 2014 (Victor)

Facts

  • Location: Northern Tanzania (03°04′33″S 37°21′12″E)
  • First ascent: H. Meyer (1889)
  • Mountain range: Eastern rift mountains
  • Elevation: 5,895 m
  • Prominence: 5,885 m

Background

I just so happened that I was in Kenya for my bachelor thesis in development economics. A good friend had been in Tanzania the year before and climbed on top of “the roof of Africa”, the worlds tallest free standing mountain, “Mount Kilimanjaro” or “Kili” for short. Inspired by his adventure I decided to take the opportunity to climb it myself since I found myself just around the corner, relatively speaking (Nairobi->Kilimanjaro: 336 km).

Preparation

“Expedition” planning:

Kilimanjaro was the first mountain I ever climbed and I had to rely a lot on my friend’s guidance. Luckily, his only advice was: just go there and you’ll find everything you need in the towns surrounding the mountain (Moshi and Arusha). So I added a couple of days to the travel plan and went straight to Arusha and started asking around for guides. I made a list of 5 touring companies who seemed serious but not pricy, scheduled meetings and made my decision there and then.

Positives:

  • There are many groups go up all of the time during hight season and it’s no problem to find a group to join. (I ended going alone with my guide and porter but still payed less than I would have had I booked from Sweden)
  • Pick your guide: You meet and talk to your guide and make sure you find someone you trust.
  • Cutting out the middle man: The big touring companies add a large premium that does not go back to the guides and porters. They are basically all payed the same anyway, regardless of tour company. Save the money for tips to the people who are actually helping you up the mountain. (Write and link to separate post on making sure porters and guides are well treated)

To think about:

  • Takes a few days extra.
  • Even if it can save you money it does requires some work.

Physical preparation:

None, planned to go running quite a lot more than I ended up actually doing. As I started the climb my main concern was: “I’m I too fat for this?”

The Climb

My research in Moshi resulted in finding the guide David and the porters “Mox” and “The Cook”. I had decided early on that i wanted to take my time on my way up since the biggest risk on this climb is Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) from the altitude. It is well worth to spend 1 or 2 days extra on the mountain to acclimatise properly. The choice landed on the Machame route in 8 days.

Picture of David the guide.

Day 1 — Machame Gate (1830 m/6000 ft) — Machame Huts (3030 m/9940 ft)

The first day starts with an easy climb on what can best be described as a pathway through the tropical rainforest that surrounds the mountain. It is the perfect warmup for what’s coming. I definitely felt my legs after this one though.

Seeing the snow covered Kibo peak from 3000 m.

Day 2 — Machame Huts — New Shira Camp (3850 m/12630 ft)

This day is a steeper climb up to new Shira camp, we reached camp after 4 hours only which gave us time to do a short acclimatisation walk with Mox. My legs felt better at the end of this day than the first one.

The coolest porter on Kili: “Mox”.

Day 3 — New Shira Camp — via Lava Tower (4640 m/15220 ft) — Barranco Huts (3985 m/13070 ft)

This is the very important acclimatisation climb on the Machame route with the ascent to 4640 m before lunch. Descending to 3985 again for dinner and sleep really helps the body recuperate and adjust to the altitude. This was the first day where the altitude was noticeable in the form of a slight headache.

Seeing people making their way to Lava Tower

Day 4 — Barranco Huts — Karanga Camp (4040 m/13255 ft)

This day starts with the slightly challenging Barranco wall which is the only part where you need to use your hands on the entire climb. I remember feeling very strong after the hour long push up the wall but I was not as cocky during the last hour before camp which is also very steep. Karanga camp is not much higher than the Barranco Huts meaning that the body has the time to adjust further to the altitude. Some people chose to head straight to Barafu, skipping the Karanga Camp. I would not recommend this if you have known problems with high altitudes or if it is your first time being this high above sea level.

Hillary “the Cook” at Karanga Camp

Day 5 — Karanga Camp — Barafu Huts (4800 m/15360 ft)

This was a heavy day in many ways, now the altitude was starting to have an effect on the muscles as well. Along the way David and I found a porter from another group who could no longer walk from exhaustion. Apparently he had not eaten for two days as he had made his way up the mountain carrying 20 Kg. I helped the guy recover with some rehydration formula and cashew nuts and helped him carry his load. It is every climbers responsibility to make sure that all crew members and porters are treated fairly. Unfortunately, this is where most costs are cut, no matter what price you pay the organiser. Despite this sad episode we made it to the Barafu Huts where dinner and a few hours rest was the only thing remaining before the summit attempt.

David at Barafu with the peak behind him

Day 6 — Barafu Huts → Uhuru Peak (5895 m/19340 ft) → (Mweka camp (3090m/10137 ft)

00.00: The sound of the alarm clock rings means it is time for the summit attempt. Not only my first one on Kili but my first one EVER. Was I nervous? Yes. Did I think I would make it? Maybe. Would I try until I collapsed? Probably…

This was by far the most demanding physical challenge I had ever been subjected to even though I walked as slowly as was humanly possible . My body was fighting to supply the muscles with enough oxygen. The last 300 metres, my feet honestly felt more like led than flesh. David helped push me the last stretch (the fact that I had promised him a bottle of whisky if I made it to the top might have had something to do with it)

Luckily the pain was bearable and the altitude was not a big problem. Just before 6.00 AM we reached Uhuru Peak and “the Roof of Africa”.

Uhuru Peak with David, quite clear who of us is there for the first time.

The summit is only half the climb and we had to begin the descent after the mandatory summit pics. Halfway down back to Barafu, the altitude had really started to mess with my stomach. I basically did my best to clinch and run at the same time which luckily did not end in disaster.

A walk in the rain forrest 24 hours after having been on a glacier

After a short rest for a few hours, the descent continues along the “Coca Cola Route”. Where you will walk through 5 climate zones in a few hours.

Day 7 — Mweka camp — Mweka Gate (1641m)

Very chill hike through the tropical rain forrest the surrounds the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. The day ended with well deserved Nyama Choma and several cold Tuskers.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.