I was never a serious hiker. I have done my fair share of day hikes and multi day hikes, and a couple of high altitude hikes in the Himalayas. Climbing Kilimanjaro was never on my bucket list. That is until I started selling Kilimanjaro.
First time I found out about Kilimanjaro was when my friend Arul asked if he can book a Kilimanjaro hike. And 3 years later, I was standing on the summit of Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa, 5895 meters above sea level.
Assistant Guide Innocent was sent to my hotel to pick me up at 8am. I was already packed and eager to get on. From the hotel, I was driven to meet the rest of the group and buy some snacks, batteries, toilet paper and other items from the nearby supermarket.
I bought a lot of snickers, chocolates and dry fruits. A quick photo and we were off to Kilimanjaro.
The drive from Moshi to Londorosi Gate takes about 3 hours including a stop in between for lunch for the crew. It was drizzling the whole way and we were stopped twice by cops. Kilimanjaro was not visible and was hidden under a heavy cloud cover. It would remain like this until the morning of Day 3 of our trek, where we would get our first glipmse of the mountain.
Finally after the long drive, we reached Londorosi Gate to get started with the paperwork and to get the park permits. While Eric was dealing with the park authorities to get the permit in order, we were served packed lunch.
I planned to pay the park fees with my credit card, and after all the payments, I was called into the park office to swipe the card on their machine. Everything went smoothly as I was not sure if my card would work.
The whole process took about 90 minutes. After this, we loaded up into the van again and headed to Lemosho Gate. The drive from Londorosi Gate to Lemosho Gate took about 30mins.
And finally we had arrived to the start point of the trek. The weather was cloudy so we were expecting some rain. It was around 3pm when we finally started to hike.
We started trekking at 3pm. It was thick rainforest but the path was wide and not very steep. It was a comfortable hike. And it was drizzling the whole way through.
We saw a lot of wildlife including tons of monkeys and many exotic birds.
We reached Mti Mkubwa camp at 5:30pm. Mti Mkubwa means "Big Tree" in Swahili and it's a literal name of the camp, dominated by a huge treee right at the center.
The day started early, as it tends to on hikes. I was up at 6am and spent time loitering around the camp. Just outside camp there was a group of monkeys playing around in the trees.
Soon breakfast was served and with some pancakes and hot tea it was time to set off to Shira 1 Camp. It was 8am when our group set off.
At the start it we were still trekking through rainforest. But that was about to change. Two hours into the trek, the trees gave way and were were in the moorland.
The views were breaktaking. But Uhuru peak was still hidden in the clouds. But it's presense was felt in every step.
And just like that, we were at Shira 1 Camp. Time was 1pm, which means we hiked for 5 hours today with plenty of breaks in between.
It was 2pm and time for some hot lunch and a nap. Post time, decided to spend some time walking around camp and saw the weighing hook. Got my backpack out to weigh it and it was exactly 5kgs. Perfect!
The shortest day awaited us today. When I woke, I was finally greeted by the first clear look at Kilimanjaro.
We decided to have breakfast under the sky and not in the mess tent. It was a glorious view where we could see the mountain looming ahead of us. A quick affair and we were ready to start the hike.
Today the hike is only for around 3 hours to Shira 2 camp. Halfway through the hike, we came across a road. And a water truck. Which was hilarous and completely unexpected. Maybe we were not really that far away from civilisation as lack of cell coverage would indicate.
We reached camp at 12:30pm and were greeted by this glorous view. First time above the clouds. After lunch, I sat on the rock for what felt like hours taking in the view.
A short hike in the evening to compensate for the lack of mileage for the day, and it was ready to turn in for the night. Tomorrow, we would be at Lava tower, 4600m above sea level.
For now, Kilimanjaro looked much closer than in the morning.
The morning came with one of the best sunrises of my life. High above the clouds, it was a clear day. You can see Mt. Meru in the distance.
With breakfast done, we started the hike with today's camp being Barranco Camp.
Today's hike is also short and easy, with one exception. We were heading to Lava Tower. Lava tower is at an altitude of 4600m, the same altitude as Baranfu camp. The last camp before the summit. So this would be a good test to see how your body would react to the altitude.
At Lava tower, we were served with hot lunch and there was enough time to take a short nap as well. I was feeling great and my confidence was through the roof.
If you climb up, so must you climb back down into the clouds. From Lava tower to Barranco camp was the hardest section for me till now. Constant downhill really put a lot of stress of my legs.
And finally, after a long downhill section, we reached Barranco camp. Home of the infamous Barranco Wall. In the night you could see all the lights of Moshi.
Wake up in the morning and the summit so close you could also reach out and touch it. 2 more days to go. The highlight of today's trek is the infamous Barranco Wall. It's a scramble up the mountain where you need to use both your hands, so no trekking poles here.
It has features such as kissing rock which sounds more exciting than it really is. Overall it's fairly straightforward section. It takes about 45mins to an hour to get through it, and you are rewarded with some amazing views at the top.
A quick break and we are off towards Karanga Camp.
The section from top of Barranco Wall to Karanaga Camp is simple with no major steep sections or descents. On the way we cross a stream, which Eric tells me the last stream where water can be collected from. Water at Barafu is collected at this stream and brought back to Barafu by the porters. We make camp by 1pm.
A nap and a short hike in the evening and we are all set for the next day - Barafu Camp and the last camp before the summit.
Waking up at 7am for a very short day to Barafu camp, I had no idea that this would be my last time I would sleep for the next 36 hours. The summit looks closer than ever.
Today is a very short day to Barafu camp. We started at 9am and would reach Barafu by 12pm. The terrain also posed no challenges and was fairly even the whole way.
Uhuru peak was looming on the left as we walked. And just like that, we reach Barafu. The plan was to have lunch and try to sleep.
As much as I tried to sleep, I just coudn't. Lying there awake, staring at the top of the tent of what felt like hours, listening to music, I was stuck between being fully awake or asleep, in a state of limbo. Soon it was time for a quick and light dinner.
Nothing heavy to eat explained Eric, as you want to be light and fit for the summit. Back into the tent, and again no sleep while I waited for the mid-night knock on the tent.
And the knock came at 11:30pm. "Time to get ready" called Innocent.
It was 12:00am and I was in the mess tent with others having some hot water mixed with honey. I was doing a final check of the gear I wanted to carry - crampons, snacks, water, phone and camera. I put in fresh batteries in the head torch.
At 12:30am we set off for the summit of Kilimanjaro. It was not very cold, but it was expected to get much colder. Eric has given me some hand warmers and it was a great start. I was feeling quite warm and was feeling fantastic, even though I coudn't sleep at all.
It was pitch dark and intially I couldn't see any other trekkers. But soon I could make out moving lights on the mountain. There are lights moving above us. And there were many lights slowly coming up below us.
After about an hour we reached Kosovo Camp at 4800 meters. We took our first break here. I drank my water and had a bite of snickers. The pipe of my hydration bladder hadn't frozen yet.
Eric set a great pace. The mantra to keep in mind is "Pole, Pole", which means "Slowly, Slowly" in Swahili. We decided to take breaks only after 45mins. So we would walk slow but steady. We would continously catch up with other groups who were faster than us but were taking more frequent breaks.
I saw many taking longer breaks as well, with some choosing to sleep for 15mins to 30mins at a time before continuing. At first I shocked to see people just laying on the ground and was fearing the worst. But later I found out that they were just napping their way to the summit.
The trek at this point was just a simple affair. Follow the guy in front of you, one step at a time. I was feeling great and was warm. All that was left was to wait for the sun to rise so that you could see where you were.
We took a break after another one hour of walking. At this point, we were well above 5000m and we were in deep snow. Had more snacks and were were ready to go.
The final 1 hour walk would put us around 300 meters short of stella point. Eric explained that the last 300 meters to Stella point was the steepest and we would be taking breaks every 20mins from that point onwards. Somewhere between the last break and now, the pipe from my hydration pack had frozen over. So from now onwards, I started drinking from my water bottle.
Finally, around 4:30 we reached that point. Here, the team had a surprise for us - ginger tea. The hot ginger tea freshned up the mind and I was ready to go. The team wanted to take longer breaks, but I wanted to keeping moving. I knew that I would get cold very quickly if I don't keep moving, so I decided to trek ahead with the assistant guide - Innocent.
During the final push to Stella point, the sun started rising and it was a welcome sight. I have never seen a more beautiful sunrise. I had to take my phone out to capture this photo.
At this point, we were almost to stella point and people were already starting to feel the effects of the altitude and the cold. I could see many doubled over, vommiting. The scariest was one person being carried down by two porters or guides. He was uncouncious and his nose and mouth was foaming.
With a short break, I finished up my chocolate and was ready for the final hundred meters to Stella point. This is the steepest part of the climb and after around 30mins I finally reached Stella point. I took a quick break while I waited for others in the group to catch up. From here view of the crater was absolutely phenomenal.
I also used this break to apply some sunscreen. Pro tip - apply sunscreen at Barafu camp in the comfort of your tent. The temperature was close to -10, and very windy. Last thing you want to do in such a situation is to take your hands out of the super warm and cozy gloves.
And the summit was within reach. A few hundred meters of walking along the crater, and you would be reach the highest point in Africa. The hard work was done, the steepest section behind me.
Finally, after 7 days of hiking, and not having slept for the last 24 hours, I summitted at 08:13am on June 18th, 2018.
We spent around 20mins at the summit, taking tons of photos. And finally it was time to head back to Barafu camp. I put on my crampons to have better grip while descneding the steep slopes. There were tons of people still on their way to the summit. And a few turning back as well.
The group had gone ahead, while I spent time making my way slowly down with Eric. We saw a girl having a really tough time. She had no crampons and no trekking poles. Eric helped her down along with her guide, while I lent her one of my trekking poles. I also offered her my juice pack as well as few of my snacks.
A few hours of walking, and we were out of the snow. And the camp was in sight. At this point, Juma, our waiter met up with us. He had hiked up from the camp with some hot tea and snacks. This was a sight for sore eyes and we took the oppurtunity to remove the crampons and have a nice break.
At this point, I was still full of energy and not sleepy at all. This would change as soon as we reached Barangu camp. We reached back to the camp at around 1pm. We had a quick lunch and decided to take a short nap. We were supposed to leave by 2:30pm but by the time we finally set-off it would be 3:30pm. This meant we couldn't make it to Mweka camp that day. So instead Eric decided we will camp at Millenium camp instead.
We reached Millenium camp at around 5:30pm. I was extremely tired. I skipped dinner and went straight to bed. I hadn't slept in the last 36 hours, since I woke up yesterday morning at Karanga camp.
A gentle tap on the tent woke me up from my deep slumber. Having slept through the night, without having dinner, I woke up hungrier than I have ever been at Millennium Camp. Thankfully, the team had already prepared a hot breakfast as been the case for the last 6 mornings. With the usual suspects in place.
The others in the team were already up and were already having breakfast. A quick affair and we were off. The day started cloudy with a good chance of rain. It was fitting and it looked exactly like the first day.
A couple of hours of hiking and we were at Mweka camp. Three more hours and we would be at the Mweka gate. It starts drizzling and the camera goes back into the bag and the poncho comes out.
The hike is uneventful, except one incident. We came across a porter who had twisted his ankle and Eric helped with the first aid. A quick ankle makeshift brace and we were off again.
The rest of the group was quicker and me and Eric hung back and spoke about life in general and life on the mountain. We spoke about his kids and his plans for them.
My final thoughts on the hike. And a short review of the main gear I was using.
Lemosho route is absolutely fantastic. It has everything from rainforest and wildlife in the first days to moorland and other features common to other routes. Also, this route can be done in 8 days which most other routes don't offer.
I have friends climb via Machame route as well, the sister route to Lemosho and they both look very similar.
If I were to climb again, I would look into two options. First would be to climb from Gilman's point, so Rongai or Northern Circuit. And second would be to see if crater camp is an option.
As menionted before, I had sat down with my friends who had climbed via Machame route in 6 days, to discuss my experience vs theirs. They are surpised by the amount of detail I remmember. For them it was a race from one camp to another. For e.g., they don't remmember any details from Lava tower.
Many days at camp gives an unique oppurtunity to spend time with the guides and porters as well. With the added benefit of stress free climbing and ample time for body to get acclimatised. I checked my oxygen level just after the climb at around 10am, and it was at 99%.
So I highly recommend choosing a longer duration than 6 days, even though you can "make" it in 6 days. It's a much richer experience.
I was using a Canon 1300D with a 24mm pancake lens. The camera worked very well, but there was a spot on the lens, on the top left, which I didn't relaize till I got back into town and viewed the photos on my laptop. The weight might be more than I want to carry in the future. I also couldn't use it during moderate rain and the bulk makes it awkard to carry.
I was using an Osprey Exos 38.