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We are finally to our Mount Kilimanjaro post! Some of you have been waiting to read this one so here goes...
After our safari, we had a day and a half to rest and prepare for our Mount Kilimanjaro trek. There are several trekking options that range in length and difficulty. We chose a 6-day, 5-night trek on the Machame Route. The Machame Route is one of the more challenging routes and we really wanted to push ourselves. We would have preferred to take a longer trek but we were working on a budget and it was just too expensive. We decided not to join a group as it really didn't save us that much money and we wanted a more personal experience with the mountain at our own pace.
We booked our trek through our bed and breakfast (Tembo Tamu in Moshi - look them up on Tripadvisor) and went about as budget as you could go. Sandra and Frank were more than generous with letting us borrow any items that we needed and even gave us a discount for booking both our safari and trek with them. However, there is truly no way to hike this mountain on a budget. We knew that going into the hike so we were completely fine with the splurge.
The government charges a ridiculous amount in camping fees and permits (for 6-days over $760 per person). They also require everyone to have a minimum of the following trekking crew members:
1 Assistant guide
3 to 4 Porters per person
Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro is a totally different experience than hiking to Mount Everest Base Camp. There is no comparing the two. There are no guesthouses or restaurants on this trail...only tents and outdoor toilets. The porters must carry everything from tents, to food, to sleeping bags...basically everything you would need during your trek. The cook makes all meals for you and your crew sets up and breaks down your tent each day. Even though we went as cheap as you could go we still felt spoiled. At first we were a bit uncomfortable with so many people taking care of us and carrying our things for us but since it was the way of the mountain we quickly accepted it.
The government sets a limit of 15 kgs (33 lbs) per porter. We were responsible for carrying a day pack and 3 liters of water each. We went really light with our packing and we were still required to have 7 porters between the two of us. Some of our fellow trekkers had even more porters than us. It's the government's way of stimulating the economy so we had no choice but to accept it and if it means a job for the locals than we are all for it. Side note: Each trekker is required to tip every crew member so we knew exactly what was going on when they added a porter at the last minute. We went with a company that paid above standard salaries to the crew members but we were asked to tip quite generously at the end (over $550 for the two of us).
One of the best things about the trek being so costly is that it limits the amount of hiking traffic. Is was stated that around 55,000 people climb the mountain annually. That is roughly the same amount of people that climb to Mount Everest Base Camp in the month of October alone. Everyone who comes to climb Mount Kilimanjaro is extremely dedicated and determined to summit the mountain. Your crew will do anything and everything to get you to the top of the mountain. The experience is well worth the money!
We headed to the trail gate after breakfast. First, we made a stop at a local butcher shop for fresh meat for the first few days on the trail. That's about as fresh as it gets! To all of our vegetarian friends...look away!
It took about 45 minutes to register our permits, square away our porters and weigh all of our supplies. Each porter had to weigh their load to make sure they were not an ounce over 15 kgs. The porters were required to weigh their bags every night at the campsite. The government means business on this trail!
Our crew (Nickname - Kili Posse):
Anthony - Guide
John - Assistant Guide
Benson - Cook
Hansel - Porter
Simon - Porter
Evan - Porter
Steve - Porter
Victor - Porter
James - Waiter/Porter
Dennis - Porter
Day 1: March 8th
Starting altitude: 5,905 feet (1,800 meters)
Ending altitude: 9,842 feet (3,000 meters)
It was around noon before we set foot on the trail. The number one rule when climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is "pole pole" which means slowly. Your guide, assistant guide and porters repeat "pole pole" all day and every day. When they say slowly, they mean SLOWLY. The first day we were hiking at a painfully slow rate. It was so slow that at times we felt like we were going backwards. You have to check your ego at the door when hiking this mountain. We followed the advice of our Kili posse and slowly put one foot in front of the other. Day one of the hike is about 4 hours through lush rain forest on a fairly well maintained trail.
The start of the rainy season is April. We knew we were pushing our luck with hiking mid-March but we crossed our fingers that we would have dry weather. Before we left for our hike, we met a guy that said the Farmer's Almanac called for rain on March 8th, 9th and 10th. Guess that almanac was right because it rained all three of those days. We put our ponchos on and smiled through the rain. There was no such thing as raining on this parade! Lucky for us, the rain went as fast as it came the first day.
Steve making a trip to the river for a reload of water.
Night one - Home sweet tent!
This is what you pay the big bucks for... shared bathrooms. Where business gets done!
Special shout out to Jenn and Amie. Thank you so much for bringing Hot Tamales to Josh in India. He rationed them out during the trek and it brought a smile to his face each time he ate one. It helped on the rainy days.
Getting cozy in the tent.
Day Two: March 9th
Starting elevation: 9,842 feet (3,000 meters)
Ending elevation: 12, 598 feet (3,840 meters)
Benson fueled us up with a delicious breakfast and we made our way out of the rain forest towards Shira camp.
Still practicing pole pole.
The fog came in like a thick blanket over the hills.
Our packed lunch contained fried chicken!
These ravens wanted some of our fried chicken. You had to have eyes in the back of your head to make sure they didn't get their grubby little beaks on your food.
Anthony was always smiling! Leanne told him to flash those pearly whites her way for this great snap shot.
Introducing the most beautiful outhouse in the world...nestled on top of the clouds!
Day two greeted us with some fierce rain showers. Darn that almanac! We spent about 2 hours waiting out the rain in our tent.
Finally, the rain ceased, the clouds parted and we strapped on our shoes for a short hike for additional acclimatization.
There are no late nights on the mountain. We were zipped in our tent and asleep by 9:00 pm every night.
The next morning, Leanne sat for a few minutes to watch an incredible sunrise.
Low and behold, look what was right behind our tent??? A gorgeous view of Mount Kilimanjaro! We couldn't see this view the day before because of all the clouds. Poor Victor was sick so Josh gave him some of our medicine.
You won't believe this but this was the conversation between Victor and Josh on one day one:
Victor: "You looked like a famous Colombian singer."
Josh: "Colombian singer?"
Victor: "Yes, he has long hair but I can't remember his name. He is very famous."
Josh: "Do you mean Carlos Vives?"
Josh: "How do you know that guy?"
Victor: "His music is good. Do you listen to him?"
Josh: "No but people tell me I look like him so I should start listening to his music."
From this point forward, Josh was referred to as Carlos by the Kili Posse! If you remember back to our time in Delhi, India, Josh was stopped by a group of Colombians that thought he was Carlos Vives and was begged to take pictures with them. What's it going to be like when we get to Colombia?!
Day Three: March 10th
Starting elevation: 12, 598 feet (3, 840 meters)
Acclimatization hike: 15, 092 feet (4, 600 meters)
Ending/Camping elevation: 12, 926 feet (3,940 meters)
We set foot on the trail early (7:00 am) in hopes of snapping a few shots of the mountain before the clouds set in. Our mission for the day was to hike 5-6 hours and camp at Baranco campsite. This day also included an acclimatization hike to Lava tower before descending back down to Baranco camp.
Despite the cold, soggy weather, we couldn't help but have our happy faces on!
Is this scenery for real?
Here come those clouds that the mountain is famous for. Luckily, we were able to catch a few rays of sunshine before the clouds made their move on the landscape.
Good job, Kili Posse!
Acclimatization hike - Lava Tower - 15, 092 feet (4, 600 feet)
We made it without a sign of a headache. Pole pole is the key to great success on the mountain. Also, drinking 3 liters of water helps too. Leanne went to the "bathroom" more than she had ever gone to the bathroom in a 5 hour stretch.
Leanne has evolved so much on this trip. Before our adventures, she wouldn't dare touch meat on the bone. She was such a meat on bone snob! Now she gets her hands greasy and even eats a few bites before handing it off to Josh to finish up. Team work!
Nature's bathroom. We had already downed 3 liters of water by this point and it wasn't even noon yet!
This tree, the name escapes us, reminded us of a Joshua Tree. There were valleys of these trees everywhere and they were extremely beautiful. We have taken a little too long admiring them because the rain opened up on us for the last 20 minutes or so of our hike. We were absolutely soaked from head to toe.
After sleeping and attempting to dry off in our tent the clouds moved out a little bit and we were able to walk around and snap a few pictures.
It was tough being soaking wet but the scenery that we got to enjoy once the rain was gone was breathtaking.
That night we had dinner with the guys in their tent because it was getting a little chilly. Our shoes were soaking wet and the guys were very cool and sat them by the fire to dry them out.
Day Four: March 11th
Starting elevation: 12, 926 feet (3,940 meters)
Ending elevation: 15, 092 feet (4, 600 meters)
Our day four picture was taken later in the day. Our camera was acting up in the morning because it was so cold. Leanne forgot to sleep with the camera in her sleeping bag so we had to let the camera thaw out before it would properly work again.
One of the most beautiful camping spots in the world!
We got an earlier start than everyone else at the campsite. The beginning of the day four trek required some scrambling up a narrow path so Anthony wanted us to have a head start on all of the porters. Despite the guys attempt at drying our shoes, they were still soaking wet. We couldn't wait for the sun to make it over our way to dry out our feet.
Scrambling up the mountain.
Finally, the sun made it our way! Our feet dried out within minutes and the camera starting working right again.
On top of the world...or above the clouds! A man and his thoughts...
Even though Victor wasn't feeling well, he still had a smile on his face and a positive attitude while carrying 15 kgs on his back! He is one awesome man!
After our brief stop, we made our way onwards!
Check out that arch forming on the mountain? It reminded us of one of our favorite places in the world, Moab, Utah!
A hot lunch on the side of the mountain? These guys are too good to us. We were spoiled, spoiled. spoiled!!! The 7-day Machame Route trekkers stopped at this point to camp for the night. Since we were on the 6-day track, continued climbing after refueling. Barafu camp or bust!
Ominous-looking clouds began to appear in the horizon. Since our gear had finally dried out, we weren't taking any chances and suited up in all of our rain gear this time!
Of course, when we were ready for the rain, the sun greeted us instead. That must have been the trick. Suit up in your rain gear and the rain never shows. We were fine with that though!
Just as we made it to our campsite the clouds rolled in and the sleet started falling. The rain gods had our back this time because the sleet and snow blew out as fast as it blew in. Thank goodness!
It was cold at 15, 092 feet!
We ate an early dinner at 5:30 pm, senior citizen style. We had to go to sleep as soon as possible so we could get a few hours of rest before waking up at 11:00 pm to begin the ascent to the summit.
Day Five: March 12th
Starting elevation: 15, 092 feet (4,600 meters)
Summit elevation at Uhuru Peak: 19,341 feet (5,895 meters)
Ending/camping elevation: 9,843 feet (3,00 meters)
The alarm seemed to go off just as we had laid our heads on our pillows and had fallen asleep. We lurched forward and changed into all of the warm clothes we had packed. It was 11:00 pm on the day we had been waiting for. This was the night/day we would summit Mount Kilimanjaro!
After some coffee to warm our bodies, we unzipped the tent and took the cold night air head on! Let's do this!!!
We hit the trail at 11:40 pm and were wondering what we were getting ourselves into. It was the middle of the night, pitch black, our camera was on the fritz and our fingers were frozen so obviously we didn't get very many pictures. As we labored to the top our guide and assistant guide sang African songs to us to keep our spirits up. Leanne was having trouble catching her breath and we both were starting to feel the effects of the altitude. There was no way that we were going to stop though.
The hardest part of the trip was seeing a dark ridge in the beginning of our trip that never seemed to get closer. We were climbing with two other groups and using each other as marks on where to stop and rest. After about four hours of seeing this ridge in the distance we finally noticed the top of the ridge getting higher and we were at the top of the ridge! This was Stella Point, elevation 18, 829 feet (5,739 meters). Everybody in our little group was feeling pretty terrible but very excited because we could see the top of the mountain and were only 200 meters away. The rest of the climbers took a rest but Leanne was feeling the adrenaline so Josh kept going with her. On the final push towards the top we started to think, "Wait, 200 meters is still over 650 feet." We just put our heads down as the first light started to peak over the distant horizon. At 5:55 AM we summited and were the first group of our campsite to summit. Leanne's eyes welled up with crocodile tears and she started to cry and Josh choked up when he saw her crying. The mountain seemed to have some sort of power to evoke emotions that we never even knew were there. Climbing and being barely able to breathe gives you a lot of time to do nothing but think. All the things we had been thinking on the way up came out and it was very emotional for us. The reasons why we did this and the journey to get here. Not just the climbing journey but the actual journey of being in Africa. Mount Kilimanjaro is why we came here. Our minds were filled with memories of friends and family we've lost before the trip and Josh's Aunt that he lost last year while we were on our trip...not to mention all the friends and family we left and miss so much. Of course Leanne's lifelong dream of climbing the mountain poured out as well. You can see by reading this little section that there was a flood of emotions and feelings flowing out at once...we made it!
After catching our breath, the sun came up over the horizon and took it away again. It was such a beautiful sight. Definitely like something from another planet as you sat on top of the world.
The top of the mountain was like a war zone. People were lying on the ground and throwing up all over the place. We were really moved by the will of the human spirit to get up this mountain. People were pushing deep, as deep as they could, to conquer this hill and it was amazing to witness.
Check out the massive glacier.
We only stayed on top of the mountain for 20 minutes because it was so cold and very difficult to breathe. We took our pictures looked around as long as we could and then started back down. We got a picture of the Stella Point sign on the way down because it was too dark on the way up.
It was the perfect day to summit a mountain and an even more perfect view as we headed down the mountain back to the campsite.
We made it back to the campsite just shy of 3 hours. With a pole in each hand we practically skied down the mountain on the loose gravel. We took an hour nap, forced ourselves to eat and drink a little something and continued our journey down the mountain. It's almost mind blowing just how fast you start to recover from altitude sickness as you descend in elevation. We were getting our pep in our step back and our headaches and nausea was subsiding.
As we descended, the vegetation and temperature drastically changed and so did our outfits as we shed layers upon layers of our clothes.
Nothing but ear-to-ear grins on the way down.
Over 13 hours of hiking and we finally made it to the campsite. Saying that we were exhausted was an understatement.
We hung out with the guys for a few hours and then hit the sack hard. We are fairly certain that we were fast asleep by 8:30 pm that night
Day Six: March 13th
Starting elevation: 9,843 feet (3,000 meters)
Ending elevation: 5,905 feet (1,800 meters)
The guys were great and serenaded us with traditional African songs and dance moves at 6:45 am. Yes, they do this for all trekkers but it was still special and we appreciated their spirit. We were very fortunate to have such a great crew. The Kili Posse have been friends for over 10 years and work together on each of their treks. While other trekkers didn't even get a chance to meet their crew, we ate dinner in their tent and laughed and exchanged stories with ours. They definitely made our trip more memorable and we can't thank them enough for that.
It was a short one and half hour trek down to the main gate. We caught one last glimpse of the mountain that moved us.
We even saw a monkey on the way down.
Step on a crack, you'll break your mother's back. Step on a massive ant path, you'll surely feel their wrath.
Magically, our puffy eyes and dark circles disappeared as we made it to the bottom of the mountain. We were presented with our official summit certificates and we proudly took this dorky picture!
Mount Kilimanjaro challenged us, moved us, changed us and no matter what, summiting this mountain is something that can never be taken away. The journey of this climb will forever have a special place in our hearts.
Don't forget to leave us a comment in our comment section below and a postcard will be sent your way. We realize that is not the most enticing bribe but it's all we can do.
We should have a post up sooner rather than later covering our time in Zanzibar.
As always, thanks for following! We miss you all.
Leanne & Josh