The Top of Africa!
Mount Kilimanjaro is located in East Africa, Tanzania although it overlaps into Kenya. It is the highest mountain in Africa. Before I share my experience with you, please note hiking Kilimanjaro is not a challenge to be taken lightly.
After a friend of mine gave me the contact of his cousin who happens to manage a tour company in Tanzania, it was just a matter of meeting him and his partner to set up a plan. Luckily for myself and my friend the tour guides were a pleasure from day 1. I had personally done a lot of research beforehand on different tour companies, hiking routes and even read many other peoples experiences through blogs. I had asked all my questions and the decision was made. We were to set off on our hike two days later.
In this time I was annoying excited and ready to go, although I can’t say the same for my friend who was terribly nervous about the upcoming climb. Note that I used the word climb deliberately.
Day 1: approx 6 hours
After waking up bright and early, enjoying a big breakfast and checking our already packed bags for the last time before our tour guides picked us up from our accommodation. From there we were driven to the park entrance/gate where we had to pay park fees,
Once everything was settled, we were on our way. The first few hours was a very easy walk along a lovely pathway shaded by the over-hanging trees with the gentle musical sounds coming from the surrounding wildlife. The tour guides stop you along the way to tell you some interesting facts such as: the age and name of some special trees, the difference between the various bird sounds and to simply show you some unique natural scenic spots.
Later in the day the pathway included some rather large steps and minor climbing points but again, it wasn’t strenuous as long as you take it at your own pace. Hours later we arrived at Base Camp 1 where our tents had already been set up by our porters and dinner was already being prepared.
Day 2: approx 6 hours
Our server woke us up at the crack of dawn so we could wash ourselves and enjoy a good breakfast before setting off on our hike. This was a very fun walk full of variety including flat winding paths, natural steps and rocks to climb. Unfortunately we got caught in the rain which added to the challenge of climbing up a fairly steep section of the path. Thankfully the rain lasted no more than one hour then the sun was back out stronger than ever.
Day 3: more than 8 hours
Although Day 3 was the easiest, it was a long day of constant movement. It honestly felt like it was never going to end. For miles all we could see was rocks of various shapes and sizes dotted along the never ending desert. Towards the end of the days walk as the sun was coming down, we stopped to take come victory pictures and take a much needed break.
The last part of the journey was actually quite difficult towards the end as the pathway was up and down hill, small climbing sections and crossing small streams. Saying that, it was an absolutely beautiful end to the day with all the strange and spectacular trees and plants while the sun slowly came down and day became night.
Day 4: approximately 6-8 hours
Immediately after setting off on Day 4 I noticed a huge difference in the pace and spent most of the day practically jogging behind the guides. For me this day was by far the most scenic from morning till noon. We stopped off at a camp for lunch then we were off again for another three plus hours. This was a constant walk up on a gentle incline. After arriving at our camp I was beyond exhausted and excited for a long sleep. Sadly, I was mistaken. At 11:30pm I was woken up by my guides telling me to get ready, it’s time for the midnight climb. The temperature had plummeted making the air uncomfortable to breathe in. Now I knew why I was told to bring a balaclava and thank the lord I listened and brought one.
Imagine, it is freezing cold, you are tired from the past few days, it is pitch black out and you are being told to keep a constant slow pace for six hours because stopping could result in you freezing to death. Not to mention there are no safety barriers between you and your impending death. This was the first time I truly struggled and a few times almost gave up. Somehow I continued on due to a combination of my stubbornness coupled with my amazing guides having complete faith in me. As the sun was coming up we reached the Stella Point at 5723m.
Note: Stella Point is not the Summit.
After seeing numerous people who had attempted the Summit being escorted or carried down on stretchers I decided to stop at Stella Point. I wanted to take in what I had just achieved and enjoy the moment feeling happy and healthy.
Day 5: Descending down to camp
The sun beaming down upon us we set off down the mountain. Surprisingly I felt full of energy and we were in high spirits. Due to the gravel pathway allowing you to basically ski down, we managed to keep up a good pace. The wind and dust began blowing from all directions and once the sun had come up fully it was quite an uncomfortable walk. Hours later we arrived back at the camp we had left the previous night. After a good wash, a big meal and a long nap, we were off again to the final camp which took around four hours to reach.
On the way down I had noticed several people looking at me strangely. It wasn’t until we reached our final camp and I looked in a bathroom mirror to understand why. To my complete horror my face had swollen to double the size, plus a strong red glow due to a combination of both sun and wind burn. To add insult to injury, my bottom lip had completely burst open. Sexy right!
After much hydration, several applications of face cream and lip balm I managed to fall asleep. My body definitely needed the rest as I slept about nine hours.
Day 6: The Final Day (3-hours down)
Super early start but luckily only a three hour trek back to the gate where this wonderful and challenging journey began. The majority was downhill with rocky steps to clamber over until the last 30-40 minutes which was a flat gravel path on a slight slope.
Exhausted and exhilarated we arrived back at the base of the mountain where we had began only six days earlier. A member of the tour company was waiting with a box of much needed cold beers. The reactions to my sunburnt, swollen face were priceless but it’s all part of the experience and I wouldn’t change anything. After an ice cold beer and a quick catch up, my guide took me to collect my certificate as proof that I completed the hike.
All in all, climbing Kilimanjaro was a dream come true and although it wasn’t a cheap experience, it was worth way more than that.
It is a lifelong achievement which I will cherish and look back on with only positive memories. I would like to say a huge heart-felt thank you to the crew of men that made my dream come true.
Tour company used: www.steptokili.com
Extra Pictures from my Kilimanjaro Experience
Follow up article coming soon - specific tour information including prices, equipment, clothing, tipping and my personal tips.