To the roof of Africa – Climbing Kilimanjaro

Climbing Kilimanjaro has been on my bucket list for ages. I’ve always liked travelling on my own but it wasn’t necessarily by choice. Many times in the past I found myself admiring incredible landscapes and wildlife  thinking:  I wish I had someone to share this moment with. And this time that “someone” was there.

We chose the seven day Machame trek. It also goes by the name of Whiskey route as it’s considered tougher and steeper than the shorter and more direct Marangu “Coca Cola” route. The truth is that we knew Machame was more popular and had a higher success rate due to longer acclimatisation time. Even though Kili is often referred to as Everyone’s Everest as no mountaineering experience is required, only about 50% make it to the top. 

We decided to go with Absolute Africa. Their chief guide, Samson is apparently a grandson of Yohani Kinyala Lauwo, who in 1889 led the first Europeans Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller  to the summit of Kilimanjaro. Our trekking team consisted of two main guides: William and Salomon, a cook (or as he preferred to be called “stomach engineer”) and 7 porters. Quite an entourage for just the two of us. 

To reach a basecamp we hiked for 5 days through Kilimanjaro’s climate zones; the first so called cultivated zone is made up of farmland and small villages which soon becomes a rich and dense rainforest. The tall trees and mud then transform into giant heathers and wild grasses. As we climb higher the grasses gradually diminish to be finally replaced with an alpine desert. 

Toilets. Toilets on Kilimanjaro deserve a special note. They are revolting. We have noticed that after using it, the smell somehow sticks to you for a while, so it’s a good idea to go for a little wander before entering the tent. Furthermore, the trek broke a lot of taboos: taboo of poo, pee, sweat and dirt…

We made it to Barafu base camp. At this point we both felt the typical symptoms of high altitude: headache, dizziness and shortness of breath.  I was praying we can both make it to the top. We hadn’t really decided on what we  would do, if one of us couldn’t make it. 

The ascent started around midnight on the sixth day. I remember giving David a lot of grief for bringing his enormous woollen jumper hand knitted by his grandmother. Well, let’s just say I had to apologise, it was bloody cold. 

We plodded slowly in silence, breathing heavily. The rhythm imposed by our guides didn’t feel comfortable. I assumed it was because we were late leaving the camp. What happened to Pole Pole? (Swahili for slowly, slowly) I asked. I began to lose the sense of balance. At some point I confused stars for head-torches, which made David a bit worried. 

We made it to the roof of Africa! We reached the summit way before the sunrise.  It turned out we overtook all the other trekkers.  I was overwhelmed with joy.  At 5,895 meters Uhuru Point is the highest summit on the rim of Kibo volcanic cone at Mount Kilimanjaro.  Uhuru in Swahili means freedom. I wouldn’t be able to find a more adequate name. 

“Quickly, take some pictures, we need to get you down to lower altitude” – Salomon was rushing us. “What? No way! It’s pitch black. We can’t even see the glacier.” We replied. 

Apparently Salomon’s auntie died couple of days before and he was in a hurry to get back in time for funeral. But we climbed for 6 days and paid heaps of money to be here. Salomon left leaving us with William, who was very apologetic about the situation. Altitude didn’t feel too bad and  we insisted on waiting for the sun to rise. And Boy, I am so glad we did, because what we saw was beyond words: 

If climbing Kilimanjaro is on your bucket list or you want to learn more about Tanzania in general, check out our recommendations on books, movies and documentaries about the country.

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