Day 1: Marangu Gate 1860m to Mandara Hut 2720m
We accessed the Kilimanjaro National park at about 9 a.m which gave us adequate time to hire walking sticks “snow poles” and all other amenities we discovered we didn’t have as well. We got to meet the rest of the team that composed of porters, cooks and an extra guide. I highly recommend getting the snow poles because they assisted me greatly during the whole hike, especially on non-snow areas. One then heads to the registration office where you have to present your original passport and yellow fever certificate to pay for entrance fee. Thereafter, we were ready to officially start our “Conquering Mt. Kilimanjaro” quest, where I ended up hiking with James who had also signed up with the tour firm as a solo hiker.
The route is pretty scenic with most of the cover being montane forest. There are numerous trees and I was impressed by the huge size of some of them. The whole route was green all round and one had to be careful when walking as some of the paths were covered with protruding roots. We also got to enjoy a spring along the way that some people used to refill their water bottles.The terrain is fairly easy and I did not feel like we were actually already climbing the mountain.
It was great when we finally arrived at Mandara hut after having covered 8kms in about 4 hours and were greatly suprised that the accomodation referred to as huts are actually quite spacious, clean and really nice rooms. We registered arrival with the rangers and soon after, were fed a sumptious meal by the Lobelia team.
Day 2: Mandara Hut 2720m to Horombo Hut 3720m
The route is generally flat with one getting to enjoy the moorland habitat and thus it wasn’t too taxing. The weather was warm and we hardly wore our jackets prefering to stay in our thermal tops.
Arriving at Horombo was quite exciting and the feeling of accomplishment continued to grow. The distance we covered is 11 km and we took about 6 hours. Here we met several other hikers and soon people were trading life stories and encouraging each other.
Day 3: Horombo Hut (3720m) to Zebra rocks (4020m)
This day is referred to as the acclimatization day and the place is called zebra rocks due to the white streaks of white on the black rocks. This is the first day I would say I felt like I was hiking and no, it wasn’t a nice feeling. That walk/hike is tiring, I actually felt the ascent and there after descent on the walk back. My muscles complained seriously, I was out of breath, I was exhausted and that day I criticized myself for not having physically prepared for the hike. My good genes were working but would have greatly appreciated some keep fit regiment. When we returned back to base about 5 hours later, I slept immediately, I was that bust.
Day 4: Horombo Hut (3720m) to Kibo Hut 4745m
The date with Mt.Kilimanjaro started feeling more real . The terrain is generally moorland though became alpine desert as we got closer to Kibo hut. The challenges then begun, we were getting tired faster, we were losing our breath faster, our muscles were complaining, we were getting hungrier more and the trail started being rocky and unfriendly. The 9 km was covered in about 7 hours and felt much longer and more like a punishment. The carry on bags even started feeling like a burden even though all they had was our snacks and sweaters.
When we finally arrived at Kibo, we were super elated as the peak was getting closer. The huts here are bigger and more like dormitories in order to hold larger numbers.
Then it started to snow, like really snow and I was not only shocked, but greatly disappointed about all the false great stories about snow falling. No one told me when it snows its like icicles slapping your face. No one ever told me that as snow hits your face, it feels like your skin gets mini tears due to the scratch like effect. All those times I watched people enjoying the snow falling had lied, it is not enjoyable. No, I was not going to dance in the falling snow as I had always dreamed of doing and neither was I going to make a snow man. It was really cold and I therefore opted to stay indoors both because I feared for my health as well as being very disappointed. We had hot drinks to keep warm, supper was served at 5.30pm and we were instructed to be in bed by 6.00p.m. This to me did not make any sense because, who sleeps at 6.00p.m? We were to start our hike at midnight which again was not very welcome by my body. Honestly, this is one of the most ridiculous things I had ever heard or attempted. We were really exhausted and I was sure that would not be adequate time to rest our bodies let alone get a good night sleep. I tossed and turned, tossed and turned, counted sheep on the roof, analysed my whole life up to that point and still, no sleep was forthcoming up untill about 10.30p.m.
Day 5: Kibo Hut 4720m-Uhuru Peak 5895m-Kibo Hut 4720m-Horombo Hut 3720m
This is officially the toughest and the longest day of the entire Mount Kilimanjaro hiking. This day will see you cover about 21km and take about 16hours to complete, as was my case. I believe the success of this phase is more psychological than physical, your willpower will be pushed to the limit and so too your physical.
As I started dozing off, as my sleep finally decided to peep from its hiding place, people started getting up. At 11:00pm, James and I were awoken to start preparing for the last ascent. I was unimpressed, how, why, are they serious?, I had just started sleeping. The rationale for this is that one, the darkness prohibits hikers from seeing the steepness and distance and thus get cold feet and two, seeing the peak at sunrise is highly recommended. Oh well, we all woke up, had some hot soft drinks and some snacks, got prepped/advise, dressed-I was in three trousers, three thermal tops, three sweaters/jumpers, two pairs of socks, two pairs of gloves, head lamp, day pack or in this case night pack and at midnight our journey begun. I officially started my final trek as an exhausted individual, but the will to accomplish my mission urged me on. Each hiking cluster left the huts as per instruction with a difference of about 15minutes between each.
The air was freezing cold, but our determination was enough to keep us warm and going. We had been advised to walk in a single file, each behind their guide and it was a sight to behold – small flashlights littering the path. It was pitch black all around and safest to just concentrate on lighting the path where I would place my foot. I was exhausted and more so sleepy, but I was excited and determined to succeed.
At first the hike was alright, the pace steady and all we could hear was the wind whistling. No one was talking as it seemed everyone was in deep thought. However, as the hike progressed, the Mighty Mountain showed off why it is respected. Soon, the ground beneath our feet felt like sand, sand that shifted as I walked, making me feel like for every one step I took, I retreated three steps back. This went on for the longest time and was really annoying as it felt likeI wasn’t moving an inch.
This went on until a place I later learnt is called Hans Meyer cave 5150m. The pace of the walk slowed even more and as my guide would say in Kiswahili “pole pole”, slowly, slowly. Along the way, the order of the hikers would shift as others would take time to rest, like myself. The air was freezing cold and even the balaclava didn’t help. Breathing started becoming harder and for the first time, I was breathing in and out consciously. The air became so cold that I kept my eyes staring at the ground , to avoid it getting into my eyes.
And then we got to a place called Jamaica and let me warn you, Jamaica point to Gilmans Point was the hardest part of the whole hike for me. It was the worst I tell you, the worst. The soft sand beneath our feet changed to rock, hard solid rock. The hike started getting real as we started ascending over boulders of rock and at times I had to pull myself up over the boulders of rock with my hands.The temperatures dropped even lower, the air got even thinner and my body started to react. Breathing became a gruesome task, my fingertips became frozen, my face a block of ice, my muscles screamed out, my energy levels dipped and my feet were on riot. However, we trudged on as giving up was not an option, onward we soldiered on at a pace slower than that of a snail. I believe the lack of sleep and exhaustion of the previous day also started catching up and I was not only tired, I was finished.
We all had chocolate bars that we were advised to take for energy, my taste buds could not stand it. Imagine, my taste buds rejecting chocolate. But slowly we trudged on, slowly we climbed over rocks, slowly we dragged our feet to a point it actually felt like I was standing. The mantra of one foot in front of the other changed to one foot next to the other and soon it felt like they weren’t moving. However, I was determined, I had to accomplish this mission.My guide was very encouraging, giving me morale, urging me on, cheering me on even with my slow movements. He told me not to worry as other hikers passed us, told me not to worry when I just wanted to sit down, crawl into a ball and sleep, he urged me on. I could honestly feel the energy ebb out of my body, feel my muscles searching for oxygen, my nose was running, my fingertips felt numb, my tongue numb in my mouth but onward we kept moving.
Finally as the sun started to rise we arrived at Gillmans point 5681 m/18640 ft and I almost cried with joy as the worst was over. I could not believe that we had only covered about 5km in 6hrs, I felt like I had just finished a full marathon.There we sat, excited to have reached this far. As I looked ahead of me, I could see the snow capped Uhuru Peak and I was determined to make it, even if it meant I had to crawl there. We met other hikers here and shared what was left of everyone’s warm drinks and we breathed. It was sad to see some hikers actually quit at this point, their bodies giving up. It was funny to have other hikers returning from Uhuru Peak and finding us there like James, who had gone ahead with the other guide. Ahead of us we could see Uhuru Peak and all we needed to do was walk around the crater mouth on the path created on the snow. Seeing lots of snow around us was also a beauty to behold, forget my rant about snow falling. I was elated, I was excited that I slept on the snow, wrote my name on it and just enjoyed this rare spectacle before me.
I cannot explain where my energy came from, I felt like running to the peak, it was so near yet so far. When we got to a place called Stella Point almost an hour later, the place had super black rock but we could also now see glaciers, things I had only learnt of as a young girl . By now, my body was moving on auto pilot, exhausted yet undeterred.
Glaciers are very beautiful, you need to see them for yourself. The galciers here were in several blocks covering large areas, they were so white that they reflected the blue skies above and ended up looking blue.They are a sight to behold and I took time to enjoy them. Pity we couldn’t touch them but only see them in the yonder. It is also sad to note that global warming is quickly eroding this beauty so hurry and hike Mt.Kilimanjaro. Humanity also needs to do more to reduce global warming.
I arrived at Uhuru Peak 5895m, 19341ft AMSL,The Highest Point in Africa, the Worlds Highest free standing mountain, one of the worlds largest volcano at exactly 9.00 a.m, 9 hours after I embarked on this last ascent and three hours later than the normal expected time. I was however not worried by the timing, my mission was to successfully summit and time for me was never a factor. I was elated, I was over the moon, I was shocked, I was excited and I was proud of my achievement. The feeling of being atop Mount Kilimanjaro superseded my expectations, it was surreal, it was overwhelming, it was life changing, it was honorable. We had come, we had seen and we had conquered Mt. Kilimanjaro. Thank You Mt.Kilimanjaro, it was an honor to hike you.
Looking around the snow capped peak, the volcanic mountain crater rim, I could only sit, smile and look at all this beauty that is the creation of God. I jumped, I smiled, I hugged, I took pictures and just took enough time to enjoy my date with Mt.Kilimanjaro. it was just perfect.
We there after started the descent down to Kibi hut which only took about 3hrs, yet it took us 9 hours to ascent. We had our lunch and soon after started the descent from Kibo Hut to Horombo Hut as it isn’t recommended to stay at that altitude for long, especially after having hiked Uhuru Peak.The walk back was quite enjoyable and I was actually walking with a spring in my walk as I was super proud of my achievement. I also confirm that it was wise to start the hike in the middle of the night, seeing the terrain by day, I believe most people would have given up at Kibo hut.
I however, ended up hitting a rock en route that somehow ended up damaging my nail bed. The toe became swollen, it started bleeding, it became distorted and the pain was almost unbearable. However, the journey had to be completed even with the new walking style-limping. My face also bore the brunt of the climate changes and I now had a very swollen face that left many people wondering where and with whom I had gotten into a major fight with, mother nature is to blame.
The snow also decided to show off and let me assure you, there is nothing graceful about being slapped by ice/snow and having no where to shelter. When we arrived at Horombo, there was jubilation all round from majority of the hikers who had made it to the top with the new groups ascending the next day being given tips by us “the pros”.
Day 6:Horombo Hut-Mandara hut-Marangu Gate
Yes, this was our final day and I had mixed feelings about having to trek over 20km, with a toe injury and my whole body facing a coup. There was no way I was going to walk all the way to the gate in that state and I guess my adrenaline had also decreased now that the mission was accomplished. They have rescue vehicles and ambulances to assist people and I willingly asked for help and thus rode all the way down in their ambulance. We were then rewarded with certificates confirming that we had actually made it to Uhuru Peak.
Trekking team I hiked with
There are many options for trekking tour companies but my successful hike to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro was aided by Lobelia Trekking Tours. The team is owned by Emmanuel who is also the lead guide. I first contacted them when I was almost giving up on the prospect of hiking it, my main challenge being that all tour firms required a team of minimum 14 to hike. When I stumbled across their website as I googled (Thanks Google), I contacted them and Emmanuel not only responded soon after, but offered great customer service as he answered my million questions. I was immediately sold when he confirmed that yes, he would take me to the top even if I was a solo hiker, as well as having fair prices. His whole team went over and above their call of duty pre-climb, during and post climb.
Everyone needs to have “Hiking Mt.Kilimanjaro” on their Must Do List. It is a difficult affair but not an impossible mission. Getting to Uhuru Peak, realizing you are at the Highest Peak in Africa at 5895 M, looking back at where you have come from and having overcome, standing to be counted as part of the few who have achieved this feat , is no easy achievement. This trip also taught me that I am stronger than I sometimes give myself credit for, that sometimes challenges are there to empower us and that we need to step out of our comfort zones and try new things, you will be amazed. Mt.Kilimanjaro, it was indeed a pleasure to meet and hike you, and to also inscribe my name on your beautiful white surface. Check out my tips on conquering Mount Kilimanjaro and more about Tanzania here:
Tips for conquering Mt. Kilimanjaro: http://wangechigitahi.co.ke/tips-for-conquering-mt-kilimanjaro/