It has been months in planning: Mt Kilimanjaro, she was the goal that we had in our minds and what we had been preparing for all year. And then the day finally arrived when we were all together again, towards a common agenda – the summit.
So where did this all start? Well really, this all started in 2012. Sophie, Jason, Kes and myself all met in unusual circumstances – working as expats in Cairo, Egypt. We couldn’t be more different, each of us – from our cultures (English, South African, Canadian and Australian respectively), to our personalities and even our appearance! But when you’re an expat in Cairo the experiences and absurdities that you experience together forges a memorable bond.
Sophie and I had remain good friends in the years to come and in 2014 when we were both down in the rut we decided to travel together. Excited by the idea of Africa we started planning trips to Tanzania and Kenya because Kes and his wife Su had moved recently to Nairobi for work. Unfortunately, in the lead up to the trip Sophie was diagnosed with Stage 1A Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This meant that Soph had to cancel her travel plans and focus on treatment and recovery for the rest of the year. As she battled through the disease and daydreamed about the places in Africa she couldn’t have been she realised that she needed to have a goal, something to strive for at the end of it all, and so our trip to Kili was born. As an addition, to give back to the organisation that helped her fight the cancer, we all agreed it would be amazing to raise some money for the Bloodwise Charity (Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research).
And so on an ordinary day in August, we all arrived in Nairobi and our adventures began.
It was a Wednesday morning when our tour agent, Dickson, picked us up from Nairobi and helped us onto a local bus to cross the border into Moshi, Tanzania (the gateway to Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti). It was a long, but not so strenuous 6 hour ride where we had to stop and cross the border by foot. I had somehow contracted a cold just days before the big climb and was not in such good spirits, feeling rather down and tired during the bus ride with a runny nose.
We finally arrived in Moshi just as the sun was about to set. From the restaurant of our hotel, located on the top floor, we could see for the first time the height of the mountain we were trying to conquer. At 5,895m elevation above sea level this would be no small feat. Having climb Mt Kinabalu recently, with a summit height of 4,095m, I had a feel of how the altitude could affect us all.
In preparation for the climb we had discussed our packing kit for several months (I will add a guide shortly). Just before we left Nairobi we brainstormed anything additional we might need and Jason came up with one very important thing: the bog roll string. Although simplistic, it was ingenious and turned out to be invaluable during our whole hike. The concept was to answer the question: how does one hold onto their bog roll whilst squatting in a variety of climatic environments and whilst fatigued? The ‘bog roll string’ was the answer! I was pleased to be the first one in our team to try this, and it worked brilliantly.
The next morning we met the team. Our team consisted of a Lead Guide: Siraji and three other guides: George Majidi, Moses and Bacari. We also had a chef (we called him Mr. Delicious) and a ‘waiter’: Bariki. In total we had 17 porters who helped carry our tents, equipment, food and bags.
The most popular routes for climbing Kilimanjaro tend to be Machame and Marangu routes. Machame (also known as the ‘Whiskey’ route) is by far the most popular. It starts south of the mountain and has the most diverse scenaries, however, the hike each day is considered fairly difficult with steep inclines. Machame hikers ultimately join up with hikers on Shira, Lemosho, Umbwe and Mweke routes to reach Stella Point (c. 5,700m) which makes the traffic rather busy on summit night. Marangu (aka ‘Coca-Cola’ route) route gives you the option of staying in huts rather than camping, which is what makes it popular. However the route is a day shorter than most which means chances of success is less due to less time to acclimatise.
We chose the 7 day Rongai Route (to allow for acclimatisation) which starts north on the border of Tanzania and Kenya. The first 4 days prior to arriving at Kibo Hut (base camp) were easy walks, the summit night is a killer and you descent via a different route to the one you go up (Marangu) so you have a diversity of landscapes. The route is also considerably drier in comparison to others and one of the reasons it is a less popular (5-10% of climbers only) is that the scenery is considered less spectacular. However this meant less chance of rain for us and we were lucky enough to have had sunshine every day of our walk.
We drove to Marangu Gate to register ourselves for the climb that morning as this would be our end point. Once registered we took the official ‘before’ photo, then headed by car to our start point. All dressed up in our ‘Leukaemia and Lymphoma’ supporters shirt, we looked like a smart well organised team and were all very excited that this was finally happening after months of planning. Our porters, already acclimatised and basically super-humans, trudged up ahead to set up camp.
The route started off as a gentle walk through some farm land. We passed small kids who were running up the slopes whilst we trudged along ‘Pole Pole’ (Swahili for ‘slow slow’). We were surprised at how clean the path was and how well organised the rest stops were. It took us only 3 hrs to reach our first camp spot and we settled into camp life with optimism. Each afternoon, after our hike, and each morning we were provided with a bowl of hot water to bathe with and on this first day some of us (Sophie) were ambitious enough to have a full wash under their towel, others (myself) achieved a half body wash, mentally already trying to prepare for the dirty days ahead.
Kids from the local village
We each got our own tent except Kes & Su who got a spacious three-man tent. This was to be our new home for the next week. Having not read much about what was provided by the tour companies on these routes, I was surprised to find that we were served biscuits, popcorn and tea for afternoon tea. These would soon all become luxuries and something to look forward to each day.
At Simba camp (2,671m elevation) we settled in for the night, with a few restless dreams as the Malarone (Malaria pills) and Diamox (Altitude Sickness pills) started to kick in. The next morning we woke to Bariki tapping our tents and bringing us hot tea or coffee to our “beds”. This was followed by breakfast – which was delicious ‘gruel’ (what we nicknamed the local porridge) followed usually by toast and eggs. We then packed up (which took a lot of effort initially!) and headed off for our second day of hiking.
to be continued…