Africa,  Travel,  Wellness

Kilimanjaro

 

I’ve been wanting to hike Kili for years. I lived in a township in South Africa for a few months and really thought I would climb it then, but I never made it. So, when someone asked if I would be up for hiking, I jumped at the chance. My friend Diana got us together and planned it through Pristine Trails. Pristine was amazing – and I recommend you using them! They made us all feel completely taken care of and safe. The guides and porters were incredibly welcoming and knowledgeable. I can confidently say the experience would not have been the same without the great team at Pristine.

I flew from London to Kilimanjaro. When I landed, I took a car to Moshi for the night before we started hiking. Pristine put us up at the Leopard Hotel, which was fine. We weren’t looking for something fancy, so it was perfect for our needs. There are a few really nice hotels around Moshi if you are looking for something a bit higher end.

That first night our guides met us at the hotel to give us more information about the hike and also did a gear check to make sure we had everything we would need for the hike.

The next morning it all began! We took the Machame route because it has the highest success rate of people summitting. It is a good route if you are worried about altitude sickness, because you climb hike, but sleep low, which allows you to really acclimate to the altitude. Pristine picked us up from the hotel, and we took us to the gate. It takes a bit of time for everyone to sign in with the park, the porters to take your stuff, etc. So after about an hour at the gate park, we started hiking. The first day is mostly in a rain forest, so it’s hot and humid, and we encountered an intense rain storm for about an hour. We hiked for a few hours that day and then camped at Machame Hut. The second day was more hiking, a lot of stair-like hiking, and we camped at Shira caves. The third day was a bit more fun, it was a rockier and boulder filled hike. It was one of my favorite days, we hiked up what’s called Lava Tower, had lunch up high to help us acclimate, and then we camped a bit lower at Barranco camp. Day four was fairly intense, but a lot of fun. In the morning we climb the Barrranco wall, which when you look at it appears to be pretty much straight up. The guides help you a lot this day, but seeing the porters dash up that wall was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen. They’re carrying about 20kg plus their backpacks, and they just shoot up the wall. And that night we camped at Karanga Valley.

The terrain really starts to change here, and it almost looks like you’re on another planet. The sun makes it really warm, but if you’re under a cloud, it can get pretty cold.

The fifth day we hiked to Barafu camp, which is base camp! I was pretty nervous, and to be honest, wasn’t sure if I’d be able to summit. It was more the idea of it that seemed so crazy and out of my league.

Once we got to Barafu camp, we had some food, took naps, because that night we summit! We had a really early dinner, tried to get some rest, and then they woke us around 10pm, so we could have a snack and start our ascend. You’re hiking in the complete darkness, which I actually think helped us. Not being able to see how far we were from the top, definitely helped me quite a bit. After a little over six hours we got to Stella point, which is almost the top. After a quick break there, we hiked another thirty minutes or so to Uhuru (5896m) – the highest point! Uhuru means freedom in Swahili, and that’s all that you can feel up there – completely free.

It was absolutely freezing up there, so I didn’t spend much time up there, but it was incredible to know that I actually made it to the top.

It’s funny, you think you’ve made it past the hardest part once you summit, but there is still a challenge after that. To get back to base camp, we take a slightly different route, that’s just sand. You basically ski down about two hours back to base camp. It sounds easier than it is, I thought my knees and thighs were going to give in at any point, but I just kept going because I was ready to sit!

When I got back to base camp, I decided that I wanted to run down the rest of the mountain that day so I could do a day safari the next day. I’m not sure it was the smartest decision, but the first half was quite fun. It’s at least an eight hour hike from base camp to the gate, but the gate closes at 6pm, so we literally had to run down the mountain in order to get out in time. I was so lucky to have a wonderful guide and porter with me the whole way. (That night the others camped at Mweka, and then hiked down the rest of the mountain the next day).

I underestimated how cold it would be most nights on the mountain. You can rent a pretty decent sleeping bag, but I would also recommend bringing a warm liner! You definitely need sweatpants and a sweatshirt for each night as well. Since you typically summit at night, that hike is freezing as well. I wore two pairs of leggings plus snow pants, two pairs of socks, three shirts plus a sweatshirt and light down jacket, gloves, and a winter hat. I would recommend bringing hand warmers and feet warmers. My toes and fingers were completely numb for the last few hours, which was not the most fun.

As for snacks, bring a wide array of options. I brought bars, nuts and dried fruit, and others brought snacks like goldfish and jerky. It was good to have a mix of savory and sweet, because at such a high altitude your body can’t handle everything, but you don’t know what will sound good until you’re up there.

Bring a wide range of medicines as well. Everything from Pepto to headache medicine. The best prepared people brought a bit of everything, which was really helpful when we started to feel the altitude. Other random and useful things we brought were band aids, body wipes, headlamp (you need this at night and when summiting), USB chargers, speakers, and hand sanitizer.

As for clothes, the first and last day are in the rain forest, so you’ll be hot but also need rain gear. The rest of the days you just need layers. Most days I wore a tank top with leggings, and then a long sleeve plus a sweatshirt or light jacket to layer. Depending on how clean you like to be and how many days you’re hiking, I’d recommend 3-4 tank tops, 4-5 leggings, 3-4 long sleeves, 1 sweatshirt, 1 pair of sweatpants, 6-8 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of liners for under your socks (these helped me a lot with blisters!), 1 pair of warm ski gloves, 1 pair of light gloves, comfy shoes for walking around camp, and a baseball cap.

If you have any questions or need other recommendations, let me know!

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16 Comments

  • Archana Singh

    I love hiking and have hiked around the world but Kilimanjaro is still eluding from my list. You are so lucky to have a friend who planned your trip with Pristine Trails. In my case, being a solo traveler, everything is to be taken care by me.

  • Abhinav Singh

    Whoa! I have done some high altitude treks like Roopkund trek in India and Everest base camp trek in Nepal. Kilimanjaro is on my wish list next! It sure looks like another planet. You gave some great tips for packing. From my experience in cold places like this, layering always works. Also, I always carry extra battery, just in case I run out of the original one.

  • Marcie

    Haha! I had no idea that Kili was the nickname for Kiilimanjaro! And who would have thought it would get harder AFTER you’ve made it to the summit! I don’t think I’d be able to handle skiing down sand for 2 hours. Yikes! Congrats on achieving this!

  • FS Page

    I am glad that Pristine helped you complete your long awaited trip. There are very few agencies these days that are trustworthy. Never knew that the trek to Kilimanjaro is a week long one. I loved your photographs and the way you have honestly described the whole route and what all preparations need to be made in terms of packing and other stuff. Thanks for a very informative description

  • Athi

    This was a very interesting read. I’m from South Africa and I’m sure you’ll know of the unfortunate incidents where we’ve lost people trying to summit Mt Kili – I’m glad you made it back safe ok – your post is very detailed in terms of what to do to prepare yourself and make the experience more comfortable, I’m not a fan of the cold and discomfort so your tips come in very handy. Congratulations! I hope to join you in this feat one day.

  • Yukti

    I am mountain lover and so would love to go for Kilimanjaro trek. You have described in detail about altitude sickness and taking precautions of them. And it is great that you have got a wonderful guide and porter to make the whole journey very comfortable and memorable. Thanks for sharing!

  • Medha Verma

    I recently read about someone else’s experience of climbing Kili in 7 days and they had a very different story to tell – they had a very hard time, fell sick on the first day, had nausea and tummy pain and what not and it freaked me out, because if I am ever to attempt this climb, although I know it is hard, I wouldn’t want to fall sick at the very beginning. However, I believe you need to firstly, be in REALLY good shape and like you mention, well prepared for the weather. I can imagine it must be really cold at night and thanks for the tip on being prepared with a warm liner along with the sleeping bag, I absolutely cannot sleep if I am slightly cold even. Kudos for completing this challenging task!

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