About a year ago, a few of us were taking a short walk across a coffee plantation in Kerala, India, and came upon the idea to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. This week, that idea came to life – 9 of us decided to climb kili via the Lemosho route. We did this climb to support Finca Tanzania, specifically providing financial services to low-income entrepreneurs in Tanzania – overall, we raised about 12,000 GBP for this cause. We arrived at Kilimanjaro International Airport on Sunday, August 26, and spent the evening at Weru Weru Lodge, just outside Moshi. This day gave us chance to regroup after a long flight, and also meet with our tour leaders, William and Eric, who helped ensure we were ready for the climb (e.g. did we have the necessary kit, etc).
Day 1: Monday, August 27
While day 1 was a short day, and everyone had said this was going to be an easy day, it made me question what I had signed up for. The trek started in the rainforest and of course, it was raining. It immediately required us to pull out all our rain gear, eat lunch in the rain, and deal with slippery mud for about 4 hours. I was worried – it wasn’t difficult, but I had to watch every step I took to avoid slipping and falling, and I didn’t find the rain the least bit enjoyable.
We arrived at Big Tree Camp (2780 meters) and spent the evening there. Upon arrival at camp each day, we were greeted with warm popcorn, ginger cookies and tea – a nice welcome prior to getting ready for dinner.
I was pleased to dry off and regroup for dinner, but saddened to find that Prachi and Adriana were both feeling sick – Prachi suffering from dehydration and Adriana had a bad headache. This was also the night that we were still low enough that there were bugs – enormous ants that would just stick to your skin and bite you. My skin is crawling just thinking about this.
We tried hard to help Prachi and Adriana, but really only food, water and sleep (and ibuprofen) were the solution. While they went to sleep, the rest of us remained in the mess tent chatting away until late (on the mountain, that is about 9-9:30pm).
Day 2: Tuesday, August 28
Each morning, we were woken up around 6am with tea or coffee brought to our tent. We had about 45 minutes to get dressed and packed before breakfast, and then all met in the mess tent for breakfast (porridge, omelets, sausage and toast). Following breakfast, we set off for the day’s trek.
Today was a full day’s trek, going up and down for about 10km. We crossed the high desert plateau and camped at Shira 1 (3500m). Fortunately, we had sunshine, making this a much better day – the terrain was not too difficult and gave me hope, once again.
Upon arrival at camp, our crew decided to have a welcome party for us. In order for the 9 of us to get up the mountain, we needed 32 crew members: 2 guides, 1 solider carrying oxygen, tent crew, water crew, toilet crew, kitchen crew, etc.
Needless to say, with this many people, it was easy to create a great party. Introductions were made across the board – everyone was in a circle singing and dancing.
While we brought kindles and card games, we didn’t seem to need them – we had so much fun together, just chatting away. I also started a game, “Ask William” in order to get to know our guide.
Also, that evening we celebrated our 2 year SEMBA anniversary! Once again, we spent the evening in the mess tent, chatting away, and reminiscing on our 2 years together.
Day 3: Wednesday, August 29
The routine was always the same – morning wakeup, breakfast, get ready. The only difference was that we were getting more efficient at packing each day, putting the next day’s clothes inside our sleeping bags the night before to warm them up, etc.
Today, we headed across the Shira plateau and climbed up to Moir Hut (4175m).
It was our first day where we walked all afternoon, got to camp, and then did a acclimatization walk in the late afternoon. While the afternoon hikes were optional, they were really needed to be successful at the summit. This one was particularly fun, as we got to climb to a beautiful peak (e.g. Raj’s Peak) with amazing views. It required scrambling, but we all seemed to like to play spiderman/women, so we didn’t complain. It was also our first real summit on the trip, so we all had a sense of achievement.
Day 4: Thursday, August 30
Today was filed with panoramic views, walking on the lava ridges beneath the glaciers. While the terrain always required some up and down, we were gradually ascending to Lava Tower (4575), our highest and coldest campsite on the trek (apart from basecamp).
We arrived at Lava Tower mid-afternoon, and once again, would undertake acclimatization hike to Arrow Glacier (4830m). Arrow Glacier was a strenuous walk, with great views and also a chance to see another route to the summit (e.g. you could climb from Arrow Glacier, but it requires ice climbing skills and is a very dangerous route). At the top of Arrow Glacier, Adriana, Raj and I joined Eric to ascend another 50 meters for a great view off a small peak.
This night was tough – many people had headaches (which was typical since that was the purpose of climbing so high) and it was freezing. We all just really wanted to bundle up in our tents and sleep with as many clothes on as possible.
Day 5: Friday, August 31
Waking up at Lava Tower was painful – the tent was cold and ice covered, clothes were cold, and it was an early morning.
The day started with a descent to Barranco Valley (3960m) – particularly challenging since we couldn’t feel our fingers and toes. Given our boots were freezing all night, there was little we could do to keep our feet warm.
After about an hour, the day got better. The sun started to come out and we all started to warm up. While the descent wasn’t too bad, the climb up Barranco Wall was difficult. The scrambling was fun, but it was literally a wall that required climbing and it was exhausting. Once at the top, it was worth it – gorgeous place to stop for lunch.
Following lunch, we descended back down to Karanga Valley, and then climbed back up to Karanga Camp (4035m), where we spent the night.
Day 6/7: Saturday, September 1 – Sunday, September 2
We were all scared – we had survived thus far, but it was hard to know what to expect next. All you could do is take things once step at a time.
Prior to the evening summit planned, we still needed to get to Barafu Camp. The morning was spent on a short, but steep climb from Karanga Valley to Barafu Camp (4685m), our basecamp. Once at basecamp, we basically needed to eat and sleep: sleep 1 hour – lunch – sleep 3 hours – dinner – sleep 3 hours – climb!
At dinner, we were given a briefing for summit. We were divided into 2 groups: one setting off at 10:30pm, to allow for more time to climb and the other setting off at midnight. We would wake up 1 hour before in order to get dressed and have a snack before setting off.
Summit night required more clothes than you could imagine – I had 7 layers on top (and there was no need to remove any of them throughout the climb) and 4 on the bottom.
It is nearly impossible to describe the feeling of summit night. All I can say is keep warm and have the right mental attitude. It is completely dark – we had a full moon, so that provided some light, and headlamps. It looked like there were little fireflies everywhere – just headlamps in a line, climbing to the top.
I literally started walking, and was just looking down at William’s feet and following them. The winds were blowing 20 km/hour and it was cold – so cold that you didn’t want to remove anything to even have a sip of water. I barely drank anything, and did not eat a single snack through this climb.
Breaks were difficult – we were out of breathe but stopping meant we would get cold, so we couldn’t take long breaks. The first few hours weren’t bad, but then time started to stop. The last 200 meters felt impossible – we could see the top but it seemed so far away. The strongest people in our group were breaking down – tears and feeling of defeat. We really had to rally everyone and stay together to get to the top.
Upon arrival at Stella Point, everyone was excited and the crew awaited us with warm sweet tea. But we are not done. While the walk to the summit (Uhuru Point, 5895m) is not difficult, it still requires 30 minutes of walking. It feels painful, despite the amazing sunrise on one side and the moon and glacier on the other side of the crater.
The walk was worth it. We achieved our goal – all 9 of us arrived at this point and took our photo with the LBS flag. Bogdan also managed to carry up a little bottle of champagne for the top (despite the guide advocating against it!)
We were quickly encouraged to get down since staying at the top was dangerous (due to lack of oxygen). Trang was not feeling well, and went down quickly with Richard. Others scattered. For me, I was scared of going down – it was extremely steep, so William grabbed a hold of me and we ran, or should I say,
flew, down the mountain. While exhausting, I had a blast “flying” down the mountain with him. We descended back to basecamp in about 2 hours, and were greeted by the crew with welcome drinks and hugs – everyone was excited for us.
Once down, I was still filled with adrenaline and couldn’t get any sleep. It was an amazing day – so much emotion and still hardly believing that we had just climbed to the top of kili!
We were all ready for the day to be over, but we knew it was not. Following lunch, we still had 2-3 hours of climbing to descend down to Millennium Camp (3790m), where we would spend the night.
The walk wasn’t fun, but once there, the sun was shining, we had great views of the summit that we had just conquered and it was a perfect place for a nap. The tent felt so warm with the sun beaming down, and it seemed like there was so much oxygen – it was the first time I got descent sleep on the mountain – I napped for 2-3 hours, had dinner, and went right back to sleep.
8: Monday, September 3
We were all ready to be done, but there was still 10km to get down to Mweka Gate (1680m). It was our last night of the rituals – tea in the tent, breakfast in the mess tent, and walking. The staff celebrated with some songs, and we also dolled out the tips (which felt strange for us, but apparently, that is
Then we set off on our walk down. It started out okay – great views of kili, changing terrain and walking above the clouds and eventually getting below them and back into the forest, seeing monkeys, etc.
That only lasted for a few hours – the long walk may have been easy, but it felt like it was never ending. I just wanted to be done so I could take my boots off and shower!
Around 2pm, we finally arrived at Mweka Gate. We were greeted with samosas and mango juice, whih were readily welcomed, and then we signed out of the national park and headed back to Moshi for lunch at Glacier Bar.
We were done. It was time to shower and enjoy a Kilimanjaro Beer. For me, this was the end (I’m sitting on a flight to New York as I type) – for everyone
else, there was still a celebration dinner and a long weekend in Zanzibar.
Highs and Lows
Every evening, we went around the group and discussed our highs and lows. I haven’t captured all of them, but here’s a flavor. It shows even simple things can make you happy on the mountain.
Mangos, Spaghetti (Kamila), successfully completing the day, lunch on top of Barranco Wall, learning how to go downhill (Shivani), getting a peak named after me (Raj), Climbing Adriana’s Peak (Raj, Adriana, Shivani, Eric) after reaching Arrow Glacier, all 9 of us summiting kili, running down the summit with William (Shivani), showers!
Adriana and Prachi feeling sick, Not having the right sleeping bags (-2 instead of -22) and having a very cold night, losing 3 porters to altitude sickness, not feeling well, mud, rain, having to climb down just to climb back up again
This is really for Team Kili as the quotes won’t be funny to anyoneelse.
“Adriana is sleeping with someone else” – William, pre-briefing
“Prachi has 2 sleeping bags”. “and I have William” – Adriana
“Lets sacrifice Raj to the rain god” – Running joke
“Swiss duvets. Once you have them, you wont go back” – Kamila
“I have ants in my pants” – Bogdan
“I need a rock” – All
“I’m a tiny guy” – Bogdan
“Easy Peazy Lemon Squeazy” – Eric
“Almost there”, “Almost Almost there”, etc – William
Swahili On the Mountain
Jambo – Hello
Mambo/Poa – How are you?/Cool
Pole Pole – Slowly, slowly
Haraka Haraka – Fast, Fast
Chumvi/Pilli pilli- Salt/Pepper
Asante – thank you
Karibu – welcome