Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

A personal account of the Lemosho Route

Mountains attract me, especially the snow covered ones. Whenever I saw a picture of a mountain or heard about a mountain when I was growing up, all I wanted to do was climb to the top. When I was in grade 10, a bunch of my friends and I formed a hiking club to do some trekking in the majestic mountain ranges of my native country, Pakistan. Our first alpine style attempt was Musa-Ka-Musala (4076m). It was quite ambitious for our first ever hike. We did not make it. We did, however, manage to complete the 5 day trek reaching a maximum height of just over 3000m. Over the next 3 years we did more treks and one of the prime treks was Mazeno Pass (5399m). Soon everyone started going their own way but the passion was built for a lifetime. A few years later I attempted Musa-Ka-Musala again and was not able to reach the summit again, this time due to really bad weather just 2 hours from the summit. My last trek in Pakistan before moving to Canada was Julipur Pass (4837m) and what remained after that was just reading about treks and mountains.

There are many mountains that fascinated me and one of these mountains is Kilimanjaro. Every time I would read something about it, it would just draw me towards it and I wanted to climb it even more. Finally this year I was able to plan a trip to Tanzania.

Kilimanjaro can be climbed through several routes all with their own pros and cons. There is overwhelming information all over the web. I chose the Lemosho route mainly because it is a longer route and allows for better acclimatization to the high altitude. This route starts from the west of the mountain and traverses all the way to the east just before summit. What follows are some of my personal experiences of this route.

Day 1 — Lemosho Glades to Big Tree Camp

My guide Henry came with the crew to pick me up from the hotel at 7:30 a.m. The drive to Londorossi Gate was about two hours. Here, we had to register, pay the fee and get all the equipment and supplies weighed. I was taking a 7 day route but we paid for 6 days. Several climbers come down all the way on summit day (day 6), so there is an opportunity here to save on that one extra day and only pay if you use up the 7th day, which is what I did. The park fees are relatively high (USD 704 for 6 days) but is included as part of the package with the tour operator. We also had to hire another porter at the gate since our supplies weighed more than what was allowed. The regulation for porters is to carry no more than 20kg. Disposable water bottles are not allowed in the park, so I filled up my bottles here. Once everything was taken care of, we drove for another half an hour to get to the starting point of the Lemosho route. We started walking at 10:50 a.m.

Colobus Monkeys

The first half an hour walk was out in the open. It was very sunny and hot but the walk itself was easy. We took a lunch break at a beautiful spot under the shade of large trees. The rest of the walk is through the thick rain forest and mostly very gradual with only a couple of spots that are steep. I spotted a couple of black and white Colobus monkeys on the way as well.

Some flowers in the rain forest

Henry asked me a few times if the pace was good. He kept stressing to go “pole pole” meaning go slow in Swahili. Going slow is critical for our body to properly acclimatize to the altitude. It took me just under 3 hours to get to Big Tree Camp at 2895m. As the name indicates, it is completely nestled in very large trees and is a beautiful campsite with great views of the sunset. First thing I had to do was register. My crew had already setup my tent. I was given some hot water to freshen up and a cup of tea with some snacks. I spent the rest of the day taking pictures and just meeting some of the other groups that were coming in. In a couple of hours the whole campsite was full of tents and hikers from everywhere.

Day 2 — Big Tree Camp To Shira II

I woke up at 6:00 a.m. I was given some tea, filtered water to carry along and breakfast. The water is just passed through a piece of cloth, so I was using my own purification tablets before drinking it. We started walking around 7:15 a.m. It was slightly cool so I had an extra layer. This was a tough day for me. It didn’t take me long to take off that extra layer. It took me 8.5 hours to get to Shira II at 3810m.

Shira I

The first 5 hours were mostly a steep hike to Shira I. At the beginning I went “pole pole” but then I ran into a Canadian couple from Edmonton. Started chit-chatting with them and before I knew it, I was walking quite fast which came back to bite me later in the day. We took a lunch break at Shira I. A few groups were setting up to camp here. That is also an option if one wants to do a longer trek.

Shira II

The rest of the hike was gradual until the last half an hour before Shira II. I was completely exhausted by then and had a severe headache. After registering at the campsite, I took some ibuprofen and went for a nap. After a couple of hours of rest, I was much better. There are no more trees so this was a very open campsite with amazing views of the mountain.

Day 3 — Shira II to Barranco Camp

The combined effects of a long walk to Shira II, giving up pole pole and the altitude, contributed to a feeling of lethargy when I woke up. I had completely lost my appetite and had to force myself to eat. It reminded me of my kids when they don’t want to eat something. At 7:30 a.m. we were walking again. I stuck to walking slow and took extra breaks and drank lots of water. This was a great day for acclimatization since I was going to Lava Tower at 4630m and then down to Barranco Camp at 3940m. At 12:15 p.m., I got to Lava Tower where we had lunch. Some groups were setting up to camp here.

Lava Tower

The rest of the hike was just to come down to Barranco. It took me another hour and a half to get to the campsite. The mountain seemed very close and the views were stunning. Right next to the campsite was the Barranco wall. Henry pointed to the wall and said “we will climb it tomorrow”. I just laughed at him telling him he must be joking. He wasn’t!

Day 4 — Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp

Barranco Wall

This was not a long day so we started walking a little later than previous days, at around 8:30am. I could see climbers on the Barranco wall in front of me. I really enjoyed climbing the wall. I had to give up my hiking poles because at times I had to use my hands to hold onto the rocks while climbing or stepping down. I would not call it scrambling but it was really engaging. I really enjoyed this part of the whole trek. I actually thought it was too short. We reached the top in an hour and a half. The elevation of Barranco is approximately 4200m.

The rest of the hike was pretty much an easy walk. Just before the campsite though we went all the way down into a valley and then had to climb back up to get to camp. My total hike this day was 3 and a half hours, so I had enough time remaining to take pictures and walk around camp.

Day 5 — Karanga Camp to Barafu Hut

Thick cloud coming in at Karanga Camp

This was another short day. This makes for an ideal opportunity for rest before summit attempt. A good option to take on the Lemosho and Machame routes. I started my hike at 9:00 a.m. and reached Barafu Hut (4673m) at 12:00 p.m. The path is wide with stunning views of the mountain and surrounding terrain.

Mawenzi Peak view from Barafu Hut

There are great views of Mawenzi peak at Barafu Hut. Henry forced me to rest knowing that we would start the hike at 12:00 a.m. I spent the rest of the day just lying down in the tent to get as much rest as possible, there was no way I was going to sleep as it only got dark around 6:30 p.m. After dinner I did finally get a chance to sleep for a few hours.

Day 6 — Barafu to Uhuru Peak & Millennium Camp

Finally, the big day was here. I got up at 11:00pm. Had a quick tea, some porridge and started walking. It was dark so I could only see bright lights from headlamps shining quite high. Many people had started way before me it seemed. It is a steep hike all the way to Stella Point at 5739m. It was tougher than I had anticipated and I had to take regular breaks for a breather every 10 to 15 minutes. First 5 hours I was doing well. The last hour to get to Stella Point was very tough for me. I took a short break every couple of minutes. Every time I stopped, I felt just a little dizzy but when I walked I felt fine. I had a mild headache as well.

Mawenzi at sunrise just before Stella Point

Just before getting to Stella Point I was rewarded with a magnificent sunrise. Once I made it to Stella Point I felt great. Either I forgot or probably some sort of adrenaline kicked in. That was the first major step towards Uhuru peak (5895m), the highest point on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Henry told me it’s just an easy 40 minutes walk to the peak now and that’s about how long it took me. At the top we took some pictures.

Henry and I at the top.

There was a rush of climbers at the top so we had to take pictures as quickly as we could. The views once hitting Stella point were amazing. The glaciers, crater and views of Mt. Meru were just spectacular. I was lucky that the weather was amazing and it had stayed clear. After spending some time taking pictures we started the journey back.

Glaciers of Kilimanjaro

It took me about 2 hours to get back to Barafu camp. I spent another 2 hours relaxing and after lunch, got up again to go to Millenium camp.

The walk down to Millenium camp was just another hour and a half. It started raining as soon as I got there so I pretty much spent the rest of the time in my tent. Millenium camp’s elevation is at 2075m. In one day, I had gone from 4600m to 5895m and then down to 2075m. It was a physically demanding day but the feeling of accomplishment made it well worth it.

Day 7 — Millenium Camp to Mweka Gate

Henry and I at the end

I had a good sleep that night. We started walking around 8:30 a.m. From here on, the hike is in the rain forest. It felt similar to going down stairs. We mainly took breaks just to take pictures and at 11:30 a.m. we were at the gate. Here, I checked out of the park, got my certificate and payed the extra day fee.

I had the best feeling ever after accomplishing this and was really excited that I had fulfilled one of my dreams. Now back to reading about mountains and famous treks all over the world. I plan to hike trails in Canada over the next few years with my wife and kids so they can hopefully start building this passion so that my next big hike will be “our” next big hike.