Climbing Kilimanjaro: The Roof of Africa
Avid trekker, adventurer and all-round good egg Jane Carrigan gives us her take on tackling the awesome Mount Kilimanjaro – the roof of Africa.
Climbing Kilimanjaro: The Roof of Africa
With its three dormant volcanic cones Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa's highest mountain, rising approximately 4,900m from its base. Jane Carrigan gives Hike.Mountain.Trail the lowdown from her Afrcian Adventure.
So, I’m in Tanzania, in a rickety old mini bus flying uphill from Moshi Town along narrow bumpy mud roads towards the gate to the Machame route. We are whizzing past old shacks and people at the sides of the road buying and selling. Suddenly we are surrounded by a banana plantation and better houses and shops now line the way. I’m on this trip to Kilimanjaro with an old friend and around a dozen other trekkers, but the first thing I will tell you is that this trek is a very personal journey; you spend an awful lot of time in your own head.
Anyway, we are at the gate, we’re off the bus and taking the obligatory photos.
We complete park formalities, meet our crew of porters and start to climb. The first section of the route climbs steadily and passes through magnificent, dense rainforest. This path is less well-trodden so it can get somewhat overgrown in places and it is wet and muddy underfoot. We have a packed lunch at the side of the path, catching a glimpse of some monkeys.
Night camp: Machame Camp (3100m).
Trekking distance approx. 18km (5-7 hours)
The next morning I’m shattered, no sleep at all and I’m starving. We all have breakfast in the main tent and some of the group say how hard they found day 1; I thought it was quite pleasant so am feeling quietly confident. That would not last.
Our route continues up through the forest until we reach the steep ascent onto the Shira Plateau, where there are rewarding views of Mount Kilimanjaro. Just after lunch it hit me; I felt sick, everything was spinning, I looked like I was drunk. The altitude was killing me. Not great as this was very early in to the hike to be start being affected…
The forest has gone, we are in shrub land and it’s now started to hailstone. Great.
The rest of the group was having a lovely day, enjoying the views and finding the going easy. Meanwhile I was trying to send messages home to tell everyone I’d failed; I really did think this was it. We finally reached the night camp at Shira Caves where Looking back, you can see Mt. Meru rising high above Arusha town in the distance. I on the other hand was projectile vomiting in the toilet tent. Early night for this adventurer.
Night Camp: Shira Caves (3840m).
Trekking distance approx. 9km (4-6 hours)
I’m still here. Like a shriveled prune from dehydration, but feeling 100% better; my body had acclimatised somewhat through the night. I drank 7 litres of water today to catch up. I’m still at the back of the pack though, struggling to keep pace at this height. Others are starting to feel it now though and the group is very quiet. Even the retired GP with terrible wind who has not shut up at all until now, was head down, his feet dragging. Walking now on high moorland, the landscape changes the entire character of the trek. We traverse the southwest side of Kilimanjaro, passing underneath the Lava Tower and the final section of the Western Breach and finally reach camp at Barranco Hut, a tin shack where we pitch our tents. The day has been spent at altitude (up to 4600m), but we have followed the mountaineering code of ‘walk high, sleep low’ to aid your body’s acclimatisation to altitude.
Night camp: Barranco Hut (3900m).
Trekking distance approx. 15km (8-10 hours)
This morning I’m feeling perky, even without sleep and our tent being completely frozen!
Our day starts by descending into the Great Barranco; a huge ravine. We then exit steeply, up the Great Barranco Wall, which divides us from the southeastern slopes of Kibo. It’s a climb over rock, not technical, but long and tiring. Cheryl Cole managed it so I was certain I could!
Passing underneath the Heim and Kersten glaciers, we head towards the Karanga valley, which is our last stop for fresh water before the summit. Scree now forms the terrain as we walk through arid and desolate land towards camp; it’s now very very cold.
Night camp: Barafu Camp (4600m).
Trekking distance approx. 18km (7-9 hours)
It’s 11pm. We are frozen, starving and very tired. Tent tea followed by a last-minute pep talk, and we are off. We avoid walking too long in the heat of the sun today by starting while it’s dark, and walk steeply upwards to the summit glaciers. Setting off wearing just about everything I own, climbing scree for 4 to 5 hours but gaining incredible height over a short distance. It’s so cold up here that we are only able to stop for one minute or we would get too cold. The sight of miles of trekkers’ headtorches lighting up an orange snake straight up to the sky is quite moving; in fact, I had a little sob (well, I am very tired).
I was placed at the back of the pack with another lady – we’ll call her Julie – for the push to Stella Point (5739m), hopefully as the first rays of the sun hit us. Poor Julie was past her best, she was holding me back and I was impatient; she was suffering badly from the altitude. Meanwhile, our poor doc had to escort one of our party back down to the last camp as she herself had succumbed to the altitude with a massive explosive nose bleed, so could not continue; he then came back up to continue. What a guy.
Spectacular ice cliffs within the crater surround us and the views to jagged Mawenzi – Kilimanjaro’s secondary, but more technical peak – and beyond are breathtaking. I on the other hand was now hallucinating rabbits, whilst another one of our party was talking to a dead relative. It’s altitude…very strange.
Another hour’s walking takes us to the summit, Uhuru Peak (5896m); Uhuru means freedom in Swahili. I reached the top way after everyone else, just me and the doc shuffling along with our porters; I can honestly say my porters got me there. I wanted to give up but they held my hand and coaxed me along. I did manage a wry smile at this point at the sight of a young American being carried off the top almost unconscious; he had pushed past us 2 days ago, whooping that he was going to do press ups on the summit. Not today he wasn’t. His guide did say he would be ok though so no harm done.
We began our descent by returning to Stella Point, then descending on the scree slope, track back to Barafu Camp for breakfast, before finally heading down to camp for a long well-earned rest. Unfortunately, I decided to have 5 minutes lay down after breakfast, but I’d just taken a malaria tablet, so should not have laid flat. A minute later I’m on my knees once again throwing up but with the bonus of burning my stomach and having bad acid for the next week; lesson learned. On our descent, we have fabulous views of the plains and Mawenzi.
Night camp: Millennium Camp (3720m).
Trekking distance approx. 20km (7km climb),(10 – 12 hours)
A gentle trek takes us down through the rainforest to Mweka Gate, where we complete park formalities and receive certificates, which you can hang up with pride! I was last up but first off the mountain, even with my throbbing feet. I think the guys stood clearing forest ditches with machetes made me move faster if I’m honest. Taking the opportunity to grab a Kilimanjaro beer (yes it exists) from the bar at the bottom of the Mountain (only on Kilimanjaro!), we are then met by our vehicles and return to the hotel in Moshi. It’s here I realise I’ve killed most of my toenails and my feet are purple and swollen. To add insult to injury my friend has used all the hot water. I’m shattered, in pain, and don’t feel like celebrating. In fact, it takes me several days to even acknowledge my achievements I’m so, so, so tired.
Trekking distance approx. 10km (5 hours)
What can I say about the mighty Kilimanjaro? This trek is AMAZING. It’s hot to freezing, the views are out of this world and you are pushed to your mental limit; but being ultra-fit is not important. Do some training, be sensible and try to enjoy yourself. You CANNOT control the altitude, if it gets you it gets you and there is really no point worrying about it. This is a battle, but with yourself. Be strong you can do it.