Friday, July 27, 2012

Arusha and Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

We arrived in Arusha almost a week before our climb was due to start. The drive from Morogoro to Arusha was surprisingly relaxed with only one hassle from the police which we managed to wrangle our way out of J

Crazy traffic.....glad Mike was driving here :-)
Heading off the main road in Arusha the roads were not so good...
Passing through Moshi we eagerly craned our necks for any sight of Mount Kilimanjaro, but unfortunately it was clouded over so we would just need to wait a bit longer. That didn’t stop me from getting totally confused and screaming “there it is” when Mount Meru came into sight, Kilimanjaro’s smaller cousin at around 4,500 metres.
Looking down over Arusha is Mount Meru
The lead up to Kilimanjaro was mostly spent running around Arusha, getting gear organised, having the car serviced, etc. As we’d been in Zambia for 18 months our cold weather gear was quite limited so we really needed to stock up and hire A LOT. We also did another preparation walk, only up to 2000 metres, but good practise and a good opportunity to wear in my hire shoes. Fortunately it all went well.

Mike looking pretty confident the day before our climb started
Not feeling quite so confident but the wine did help :-)
The last great meal @ Blue Heron
Chaos packing!

Mount Kilimanjaro: Machame Route

Day One: Ascend to 3021m; walk 10.75km
We had booked our climb through “Climb Mount Kilimanjaro”, who book people on behalf of Team Kilimanjaro. As most people probably already realise, doing this climb is not a cheap exercise and you really do get what you pay for. We probably paid a little above average at just over $2,000 each.

We were picked up from our hotel at around 8am and were finally able to meet our fellow climbers; a family from Memphis, Tennessee, with a 12 year old son (Tom, Kelly and Thomas). I was just happy to have another female on our tour as I was a bit concerned I may be the only one.

The morning was spent doing a lot of waiting around, with stops for supplies and then a lengthy wait at the Machame Gate (1811m) for registration. Finally at around 1pm we were on our way!

Mike at the starting line....
....and me before the big climb

The initial part of the track was pretty easy going as we walked into the rainforest; a bit of a hill but not too steep. Only a 45 minute walk or so and it was already time for lunch! And so the five of us sat down at a table with tablecloth and all ate soup and sandwiches before again heading off, this time for a much longer walk (and steeper in parts!) to get to our first camp and end day one. 

Our group sitting down together for our first lunch: (L-R) Kelly, Tom, Thomas
and Mike

We arrived at our first camp, Machame Huts (3021metres), to find our tents already set up, a bowl of warm water for washing and not long after, a dinner of soup, a main and fruit for dessert. Unfortunately we didn’t find the portable toilet we had requested and that had been promised “at no charge; it’s included in the package” and as a result began a week of using the foulest toilets I have ever come across. I was immediately insanely jealous of the other climbers and tour groups around us!

The slow walk up lead by our trusty guide, Leo
Our accommodation for the week

Day Two: Ascend to 3839m; walk 5.3km
The next morning began not too early, a bit after 8am, setting off towards our next camp, Shira Caves (3839 metres).

Amazing view looking back over the clouds at Mount Meru in the distance
This day was quite steep climbing, including many traffic jams for the first couple of hours as the climbers took on the porters in a race to the top (unsurprisingly the porters won). Interestingly a lot of climbers were using poles which I found a tad strange given we were going at a fairly steady pace up a hill and large rocks, but I guess each to their own.

Steep and rocky climb at the start of day two
The amazing porters who carry all of our stuff up in excellent time
Our group making our way up.....
...slowly but surely!
This day was quite enjoyable, a nice challenge right up until around lunchtime when we realised that why most of the groups had a lunch stop at Shira Plateau, we had to go on for another couple of hours till we actually reached the camp. Feeling a bit lightheaded and wishing we’d remembered to bring more snacks we continued, eventually reaching our overnight stop at around 2:30pm. Not a long day but one that required a lot of energy! Still, the sight of Kilimanjaro in the background spurred us on and gave us energy back in anticipation for the next day!

Arriving at our camp for the second night...pretty great view behind us too!

Day Three: Ascend to 4627m and back to 3986m; walk 10.75km

The third day didn’t begin so well with one of our group falling victim to altitude sickness and being unable to keep food down. Thomas, our 12 year old member however proved that age and a bit of altitude shouldn’t stop any of us, pushing on, amazing for someone so young (and I think putting a bit of pressure on the rest of us J).

The sign that says it's going to be a long day :-)

Mike and I went ahead with one the guides, Leo, as the rest of our group reorganised themselves. I headed off confidently, feeling strong; the hill ahead looked decent but nothing compared to the previous day, just barren. However it didn’t take me long to realise that this day was going to challenge me both physically and mentally.

The slow climb up on day three
Walking around rocks all the while trying to breath normally

The pace we initially set out at had to be slowed drastically as I found the air had thinned and breathing was not quite as easy as it usually was for me. I also began to question my fitness, that maybe I wasn’t prepared enough, however Leo kept telling that what I was feeling was “normal”.

Mike and I stopped for a quick rest 
And so we walked a slow walk till our lunch stop, which they had moved forward following the previous day’s events; not too long after the rest of our group re-joined us.

Lunch stop on the way to the Lava Tower
After an instant hit of energy via soup, sandwiches and fruit we walked another half an hour or so to get to the “Lava Tower”, where we had a planned brief stop at 4627 metres to help us acclimatise, before heading down again to our camp for the third night at 3986 metres.

Mike climbing the Lava Tower in the "Super Hat"
View of the Lava Tower
And view from the Lava Tower as taken by Mike
Again I started to feel short of breath, the lead guide Sam rushing me down to Barranco camp and boy did we move!  
Quick descent on our way to Barranco Huts Campsite
Barranco camp was probably my least favourite; it was freezing cold and windy due to it being placed on the edge of a cliff and completely open. It was also at this point that my problems with altitude started to set in L
Our accommodation and view at Barranco Huts Campsite

Day Four: Ascend to 4662m; walk 8.5km
Apart from starting the day feeling a little unwell, day four got off to a good and challenging start as we began with the steepest part of the trek, climbing the “Breakfast Wall”. Although steep and requiring precision stepping, I found this part to be actually quite fun and I was a bit disappointed to return to the boring steady uphill climb that once again followed.

Climbing the "Breakfast Wall". I actually really enjoyed this part
Not as scary as it looks
A steady, rocky climb....
...not to mention getting cold
Mike and I with Mount Meru just behind us
Being overtaken (again) by our porters

All of us arrived at lunch at Karanga Valley Camp starting to feel tired, none of particularly hungry. I suspect that the chef knew that, trying to entice us with chicken and chips, only sort of working J

After lunch we began the truly horrible climb to our next camp, Barafu Huts, or Base Camp. Many groups stayed on at Karanga Valley Camp for a night doing our afternoon climb the next day; in many ways I would have preferred this despite knowing that we had a day of rest the following day.

Relentless climb up the hill.....

The climb to Barafu Camp was steep and relentless. And just when we thought we must nearly be there we were taken over the ridge to find a long path taking us over yet another ridge. It was cold and windy and altitude really began to cause me problems. A very long and slow walk followed, not helped by the fact that our guides couldn’t find our tents; by the time we got there I felt ill and made the decision to skip dinner.

....only to find that there was more ahead of us

Our guides however had a different idea and later that night I was “force fed” dry toast and white rice with peas (yuck!) in an effort to see how sick I really was. I must have passed the test because they sent me to bed and allowed me to stay on. 

Day Five: N/A
Our rest day spent at Barafu Camp. Still feeling not 100% I spent most of the day sleeping and trying to feel well for the night ahead. The rest of the group went out for a one hour walk to help acclimatise further. It is worth noting that Barafu Camp had BY FAR the worst park toilets of all the camps, with the squat toilets covered in everything you can imagine. I thought about getting a photo just prove it but couldn’t bring myself to do it. 

Barafu Campsite

All feeling a tad nervous (or a lot!) we had our last meal before the summit climb at 5pm, all of us now well and truly sick of soup.

Day Six: Ascend to 5895m and descend back to 3106m; walk 16.32km
The big day (or night as it would have it); we got up at 11pm and prepared for the walk, leaving at midnight.

Once we started walking the cold air disappeared and we were all feeling a bit overdressed, most of us shedding layers.

It didn’t take long for me to start to struggle yet again, feeling tired and short of breath. Our lead guide Sam decided to split the group, boys in one, leaving Kelly and I together. Kelly was doing extremely well and I felt bad that she got stuck with me. Still we continued on together with Sam and a porter and for a while I actually started to feel good…. Until I felt worse again. By the time the decision was made for me to turn around I felt super nauseous and dizzy and would have been quite happy to lay on the ground and sleep.

And so Sam continued on with Kelly and I headed back at 5100metres with our porter Levin.
Levin did a great job of getting me back down the mountain holding me up at times, and I was super glad to get back to our camp around 4:30am.

Kelly did very well pushing most of the way to Stella Point before she succumbed to altitude sickness, no longer being able to see out of one eye and according to Sam, not making a lot of sense anymore. So she was rushed down, getting back a couple of hours after me.

The boys in our group reach Stella Point 

Of course the boys all made it in what sounded like a very hard slog, making it to Uhuru Peak around 8am. A great effort all around and very impressive that Thomas our 12 year old team member made it (putting me to shame).

It looks cold, doesn't it?
The boys continuing their climb from Stella Point to the top, Uhuru Peak
A bit of man love at the top: Mike with one of our guides, Tom
The boys reach Uhuru Peak, a great effort all around, especially for 12 year old Thomas
"The" photo for MIke...excellent effort (and I'm a tad jealous)

However, the day didn’t end there. Once the team had regrouped at Barafu Camp, with a quick rest and food, we had around a 7km walk ahead of us, dropping back to 3106 metres at Mweka Camp. This walk was steep and footing on the rocks had to be good to avoid twisted knees and ankles. But we all made it, some of looking worse for wear than others J

Day Seven: Descend to 1633m; walk 9.1km
We started this day early, getting up at 6am with an anticipated 7am departure. The aim: to get to the Mweka gate and sign our before the masses, which for the most we were able to do.

The walk down was extremely muddy as we were back to forest and again had to be careful of ankles and knees. On the way down we actually saw a porter with an injured knee, looking to be in extreme pain and helped down.  Hopefully he was ok.

From the gate we did a bit of driving around which I didn’t feel that keen on given all I wanted was a shower and bed! Still, we had a nice lunch in Moshi and eventually we made it back to our hotel at around 4pm.

BUT, no hot shower and our hotel was a bit of a disaster really. Despite staying there before we left and encountering similar issues, for some reason we decided to go back to L’Oasis Lodge, only to come back to a hotel without power, no working generator and therefore no hot water. They’d also changed to a set menu so food options weren't much better than on the mountain. Still it was good to have a proper bed.

Permanent resident at L'Oasis: Henry

Final word
Don’t underestimate Mount Kilimanjaro. I can honestly say that I had expected it to be as hard as it was, although I didn’t think that I would have so many problems with altitude. I guess it’s something you can’t predict.

Despite not making it all the way to the top I don’t feel like I need to attempt it again, as I know some people do.

I have to say that I was very happy with our chosen route (Machame) as I do think it offers one of the highest chances of success. And from my understanding the unofficial estimate for success is around 60% or 3 out of every 5 climbers (spot on in the case of our group).

As for our chosen company, Team Kilimanjaro; for the most I was pretty happy with them. The guides were all good and had plenty of experience; they pushed us when needed but never ignoring signs of illness. The porters were amazing, all quick, strong and super-efficient. The food was okay, good given the situation although I’m not sure if I will ever eat soup again. I do think that sometimes our itinerary was not great, particularly on days 2 and 4, where I would have scheduled an earlier lunch for day 2 and stopped at the first camp on day 4 as opposed to pushing on. However my biggest groan was definitely the toilet situation. While I think some responsibility needs to be taken by Tanzanian Parks for the state of the public toilets, we were promised a private toilet by our company and we were prepared to pay for it (even though it was meant to be included free of charge). For me, the toilet situation was nearly a deal breaker and I would encourage others to check this out on the morning of their climb if it is something that has been promised. I wish we had!

And to our chosen hotel, L’Oasis Lodge, not worth the money! There are other hotels in town for the same price or cheaper that have better offerings. We chose this hotel at the slightly higher rate to guarantee a good bed and shower and while the bed was good, the shower is definitely a deal breaker for anyone returning from Kilimanjaro!


  1. Berkunjung kawan, salam perkenalan dara saya. Blog nya bagus, tulisannya juga bermanfaat. kalau ada waktu kunjungi blog saya ya obat herbal asam urat | obat stroke berat