Climbing Kilimanjaro
   
  "The challenge of our adventure becomes increasingly apparent ... not everyone makes it to the summit."  
 

  
  More information below videos.

   
   
   
   
   
   
Terry and Michael had arrived in Africa on May 28, five days before commencement of their Kilimanjaro climb, to allow sufficient time to get over jet lag and to become acclimatized. The time was spent on safari with Zara Adventures in the area of Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara National Park, finally ending up on June 1 at the  Springlands Hotel in Moshi where gear was sorted out and they readied themselves for the challenge ahead.

Before sunset, Felix, the gentleman who would be their guide and protector for the next six days, arrived.  Felix is fifty-three years old and has plenty of mountain experience ... a great comfort.  Felix asked if they had this-and-that kind of equipment and seemed to be pleased Terry and Michael were well equipped. They would meet again in the morning.
 

Michael and Terry toasted the mountain with their last beer (until their return) ... suitably the beer’s name was "Kilimanjaro".

 

June 2

It was a morning of nervous excitement.  Felix arrived shortly after breakfast.

Terry and Michael would meet the rest of the crew at the park gate. Joining Terry and Michael on their climb would be a seven person support team ... Felix, their guide, an assistant guide (needed, should Terry or Michael have to come down while the other continued), a cook and four porters (one which would also serve as a waiter).

This was Day 1 of the climb and as Michael had done each morning on the West Coast Trail, he took a picture of the two of them ... father and son.

Final equipment check. Felix insisted that Terry and Michael rent heavy duty duffel bags for their backpacks which will be carried by the porters on their heads.

It was a fine, dry morning, with some scattered cloud, when they climbed into the Springland’s van which would take them some 45km from Moshi to Park Headquarters at Marangu Gate on the eastern side of Kilimanjaro - the start point for the climb.  Sherrie would wait in Moshi.

After weighing packs (clients are limited to 15kg each), a final check of supplies and equipment is made and then porters, cook and assistant guide move out. Felix, Terry and Michael complete the necessary paperwork, present passports and shortly after 11:00 they too are underway.

Spirits are high ... the adrenalin is pumping ... we’re full of nervous anticipation ... with just a touch of apprehension.

The trail is wide and climbs gradually through a lush forest of towering eucalyptus trees. Bonus - few flies and even fewer mosquitoes.

Stopped for a bagged lunch break around 13:30 - what we don’t eat is distributed by Felix to support people we meet who are descending the mountain.

Although porters are carrying most of Terry and Michael’s gear, Felix is carrying his own.

 
 

Terry and Michael drink more than their usual amount of water as dehydration at high altitude can be most dangerous.

They are also taking altitude sickness medication (which acts like a diuretic) so the two combined make for frequent "pee" breaks.

 

Arrived Mandara Hut, elevation 2720m, at approximately 15:30 under partially overcast skies.

Although the A-frame sleeps four, Michael and Terry will have it to themselves tonight.

 

 
 
 
 
'Jacabo' a Travel Photo by Michael Thorne 

Unpack. Abraham, our waiter/porter, delivers a basin of warm water which is well received.  This is followed by a bit of relaxing over coffee, tea and popcorn before Jacabo, the assistant guide, arrives to take Michael and Terry up to Maundi Crater.

 

It’s a 15 minute hike above camp and offers great views of Northern Tanzania and Kenya.

   
 
 

On the way back, we see numerous Colubus monkeys. They are beautiful black monkeys with long white hair around the face, white from the shoulders back and bushy white tails.

 
 

Back at camp, Abraham calls Michael and Terry to supper just before 19:00 and it is attacked with vigour. It’s been a good day.

 

June 3 - Day 2 on the mountain.

The seemingly constant need to urinate makes for a fitful night, but Terry and Michael are up and packed by 7:00, the basin of warm water is again welcomed and short work is made of breakfast. Underway before 8:30.

 

The roughly 13km climb to Horombo Huts should take 6-7 hours.

It’s a bright, clear, warm, morning as the rainforest is slowly giving way to heathland shrubs. We were feeling fantastic but the effects of the thinning air were beginning to be felt and Felix was insistent that a slow pace was adhered to. "Pole, pole" which is Swahili for "slowly, slowly" is heard often on the mountain.

The intimidating peaks of Kilimanjaro and Mawenzi are visible ahead and the challenge they pose begins to hit home.

 
 
 

Appetites can’t match the size of lunch and what is left, like yesterday, is distributed to others.

 
'Felix' a Travel Tales photo by Michael Thorne 

The shrubs are getting smaller and open grasslands are beginning to dominate. Although the sunshine is intense, air temperature is cool.

We note, with interest, that about one third of the climbers we met are female.

Giant senecio and lobelias begin appearing.

 

 
By mid afternoon mist and fog roll in obscuring the peaks ahead and by 15:00 Horombo Huts are shrouded in fog. Checked in, rested and before dinner met with Felix who proposed a change in plan - rather than spend tomorrow at Horombo Huts acclimatising, push on to Kibo Hut which will shorten our time on the mountain by 24 hours. We told him we would discuss it over dinner.

   

Dinner is picked at, rather than eaten, we talked over Felix’s suggestion and advised him we wish to stay with our original plan.

A rather restless night’s sleep.

June 4 - Day 3 on the mountain.

Horombo Huts (3720m/12,205ft).  Acclimatization day.

Spent early morning relaxing and visiting with other climbers both on their way up and way down. The challenge of our adventure becomes increasingly apparent as we chat - not everyone makes it to the summit.

Seemingly healthy, fit individuals are going home with a dream unrealized - most the victims of altitude sickness. We changed our greeting to descending climbers from "Did you make it?" To "How was it?"
 

Prior to Terry, Michael and Jacabo climbing up past Zebra Rocks to the Mawezi Hut junction, we got together for a 'team' photo.

It’s a bright, clear, cool morning and the views of Mawenzi Peak are stunning.

   
 

Zebra Rocks is an exposed cliff face with zebra-like stripes caused by water trickling down the rock face leaving light deposits on the dark lava.

 
The grassland is slowly changing to alpine desert as water becomes scarce and soil thins.   
 
By the time we reach The Saddle lookout, high cloud has moved in obscuring the peak of Kilimanjaro but we can see across to Kibo Hut, our destination tomorrow. From there the climb gets much more serious.
As we headed back down to Horombo Huts, we were satisfied that we did the right thing by spending an extra day on the mountain. Climbing to 4350m and then returning to 3720m to sleep helped our bodies adjust to the thinning air as did the extra time on the mountain.
  
 

June 5 - day 4 on the mountain

Another night with little sleep. Day dons bright and clear with high wispy cloud. Intensity of the sun at this altitude has to be experienced to be appreciated.

Trail steepens and becomes a little more difficult to traverse.

"Pole, pole"

Once again the grassland thins as favourable conditions for plant life recede.

 


Alpine desert conditions are the order of the day as we broach the lip of The Saddle - a long, sweeping depression that connect Mawenzi and Kilimangaro peaks.  

 
 
 

Down and across The Saddle we go. Temperature drops 1°C for every 200m increase in altitude and although it’s early afternoon and we are working hard, we are really starting to feel the cold.

 

Arrive Kibo Hut (4750m/15,520ft) approximately 15:30.

"Man, is it cold!"

The clouds part - we see the challenge ahead to Gilman’s Point and glaciers near the summit.

Supper served around 17:30. We just stare at it - no appetite. Then it’s into our sleeping bags in an attempt to keep warm and hopefully to sleep.

   
 

  

Sleep alludes us and when rousted out around 23:00 we are depleted.

Decline food.

 

Getting dressed (layer upon layer) is a real chore and seems to take forever.

 
 
A Slovakian couple, who we had seen several times over the past few days, are the first to leave at 23:45, followed by a pair of Dutch climbers at midnight.  
 

June 6 - Day 5 on the mountain

 

Today is the day!

Michael, Terry, Felix and Jacabo step out into the cold and darkness at 00:15. Order is determined - Felix to lead, followed by Michael, Terry and Jacabo. Terry and Michael have made a pact. If one needs to turn back the other will continue on.

The clear night sky is full of stars; what a sight - no pollution at this elevation. Head lamps are switched on and we’re underway.

Focus for Michael and Terry is the lower leg and the feet of the climber in front - the area illuminated by the headlamp. Terry concentrates on a mantra to keep his mind positive ... "One less step, one less step" each time stepping into the spot just vacated by Michael’s foot.

We zig-zag up a steep field of shale and sand step by step for two to three hours. The loose footing is tiring. Felix only allows brief stops before urging us forward. Terry’s hands are very cold - wrong gloves. Around 03:00 we reach Hans Meyer Cave and find it occupied by the Slovakian couple and their guides ... we don’t see them again ... assume they turned back.

A point of light appears above us on the mountain ... it is coming down towards us.

Scree gives way to huge boulders and more solid footing, although the incline has noticeably steepened.

The single light is still moving down.

"Pole, pole."

The light moves even closer. Who could it be and why would they be coming down at this hour?

It nears. It is one of the two guides with the Dutch climbers.

If a guide has to turn back ...? Thoughts mess with our minds. Back to our mantras.

"One less step ... one less step ... one less ...." 

"Step into the circle [of light] ... step into the circle ... step ..."

 

Snow appears among the boulders and soon it is almost constant underfoot. Felix is increasingly hesitant and looks around as if unsure of the trail.

"Is he lost," we wonder.

Suddenly, right in front of us is the Gilman’s Point sign ... "You are now at / GILMAN’S POINT, 5681m / Tanzania / Welcome and Congratulations" ... we literally walk right into it. Felix wasn’t lost.

It’s 05:45 - the sky is beginning to brighten in the east. Jacabo passes around a thermos of warm water he has brought with him.

   

Felix points out Uhuru Peak around the crater’s rim to our left - the very top of Kilimanjaro.

 

"Shit, we aren’t even close!" is our first thought. The summit is still 1½ hours away ... move out.

 

"Pole, pole."

 

We reach Stella Point at sunrise. It’s a beautiful, beautiful morning. Mawenzi Peak, which towered over us for much of the last three days is now below us. Is this for real?!

 

"Pole, pole."

 

Decken Glacier and Southern Icefield are on our left; the crater on our right.

 
 

Step by step. 

 

"Pole, pole."

 

Rest.

 

 
 

 

The summit is in sight.                      Gotta go.                      "Pole, pole."

 

 
 

We’ve arrived. Felix turns and faces Terry and Michael.             The summit sign is touched.

We made it ... the summit of Kilimanjaro ... 5895 metres, 19,340 feet.         "Can you believe this!"       Hugs and "thank you"s all around.

 
 
 
 
 

Michael, Terry, Felix, Jacabo ... and Ted (Terry had been carrying him in the day bag on his back) pose for pictures.

 

The only other people at the summit during the 30 minutes we spend there, are a young school teacher from Vernon, British Columbia and his guide.

 
 
 
 
 
The sun is incredibly bright and the air is starting to warm. At 8:00 we start back down. About 300m from the peak, we met a young man on his hands and knees being rather ill ... his eyes fixed on the summit sign.  
 
Adrenalin has subsided. We’re still layered up and are overcome with heat exhaustion ... the worse we’ve felt the entire climb.

When we reach Gilman’s Point Terry and Michael are totally spent.

Felix and Jacabo help to strip us down and the shedding of layers has an immediate positive effect.
 
 
   
Looking down from Gilman’s Point to Kibo Hut, helped us appreciate what we had accomplished earlier in the dark.  One of the reasons the summit is attempted at night, besides being at Uhuru for sunrise, is that the mountain is just too intimidating during the day.

Descending through the loose scree takes its toll on Michael’s knees and they are noticeable swollen when we reach Kibo Hut.

Short rest.  Light brunch offered.  Repack backpacks.

 
 
 
It’s pretty much all downhill from here.  

Reach Horombo Huts nearing 18:00 ... roughly 18 hours after setting out from Kibo Hut for the summit.

Haven’t slept or eaten for almost 2 days and we look ... and feel ... like we haven’t slept or eaten for 2 days. (Note: Michael lost 14 pounds in the first 5 days on the mountain.)

 

 
   
No energy to celebrate or reflect upon our accomplishment ... we’ll do that back at the hotel over a Kilimanjaro beer (or two).  
 
June 7  - Day 6 on the mountain.
Another bright sunny day - we’re up and away by 08:30.

Kilimanjaro and Mawenzi slowly recede from view as we descend from the moorland down into the forest above Mandara Hut.

Exit the park at Marangu Gate in early afternoon. Our van is waiting to return us to Springlands Hotel and Sherrie.

 
 

"The physically hardest thing I have done in my life ... bar none." - Michael.

"Without question." - Terry.

Now we get to put check marks beside "Climb Kilimanjaro" on our "Life’s Things To-Do" lists. 

 
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A READER'S NOTE:   
If you enjoyed this journal of 'Climbing Kilimanjaro' with Terry & Michael, you may also enjoy their account of hiking the West Coast Trail, in Canada. 
  
  
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