My journey in Africa started about a week before Phi. I wanted to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro prior to our safari. Since Mt. Kilimanjaro is over 19,000 feet high, Phi made the smart decision to spend a week in Sri Lanka.
A little bit about our time in Africa: This trip is both of our first times visiting the African continent. In total, we’ll be in Africa about 1.5 months. The Tanzanian leg of the trip will cover a little bit over 2 weeks and includes the Kilimanjaro hike, a 3-day safari and 4 days on Zanzibar island. Africa has always been at the very top of my travel list, so coming here was finally fulfilling that dream.
Kilimanjaro: I’m going to go ahead and let the cat out of the bag. I didn’t reach the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro; however, I had an unforgettable experience on the mountain. If you’re interested in the journey, please read on.
My trek got off to a rocky start when my bag didn’t arrive in the Kilimanjaro Airport. My initial reaction was no big deal since I had 2 days until the hike. Later that same day, the Nairobi Airport found the bag and put it on a plane to Kilimanjaro (at least according to their system). Somehow, the bag was never received in the Kilimanjaro Airport. The bag basically disappeared into thin air. For the last 3 weeks we’ve worked with 2 airlines, travel insurance, Chase and I have personally checked lost property in the Kilimanjaro and Nairobi Airport. No luck. So, I didn’t have any of my own gear or shoes on the hike. (***Bag Update: On February 4th, the bag was found! We are currently in Namibia and have replaced everything, but hopefully the bag can be sent back to Seattle! ***2nd bag update: On February 7th, we were told the bag that was found was not mine. Precision sent a picture over and STILL NO BAG)
Thankfully, the company I was hiking with, Popote Africa, was really helpful in pulling together gear for me. With that said, I had 2 big concerns: 1.) not having shoes that I had worn before and 2.) having enough warm clothing (foreshadowing, I was not prepared for the cold). Based on the baggage delay and gear replacement, I started the hike 1 day later than expected. In the hotel, I met a wonderful father/daughter (Dave and Elise) from Seattle and ate dinner with them every night. They were also trekking Kilimanjaro, but on a different route with a different company.
So, I started the trek January 14th and was doing the Lemosho Route in 7 days. Normally, this is an 8 day route for an extra acclimatization day; however, I thought I’d be ok with less acclimatization. I got picked up by my crew around 9 AM. The crew consisted of my guide, Stanley; chef/porter, Mejor; waiter/porter, Mr. Clever (he was the man!!); porters, Mr. Traveler and Herman. These guys ended up being great friends by the end of the journey, especially Mr. Clever. We stopped on the way to the mountain for a traditional barbecue. I shared ugali and beef with everyone. It was a great experience and great way to start the hike.
Overall, the hiking was not extremely challenging. Most of the days were really only a 2-4 on the difficulty scale. I was usually the first person to arrive at camp as I am a pretty fast hiker. Since I was in a group by myself, this led to a lot of time spent in my tent. I ate in my tent, spent afternoons there, etc.. In the lower camps, I socialized but as we moved up the mountain it was too cold to walk around camp. Everyone stayed in their tents or in their mess tents.
Here is a rough overview of the hiking by day:
Day 1: Slept at 9,250 feet (2,820 meters). Easy hiking day, though steep it was a short day of hiking at about 3 miles. Most of the hiking was done in dense rainforest. I decided to hike in my running shoes as much as possible. Since I only had 1 pair of shorts, I also had to wear my non-athletic shorts to hike in.
Day 2: Slept at 12,700 feet (3,900 meters). This was the longest day of hiking at about 9 miles. We got out of the rainforest and had some incredible views where you felt like you could see for miles.
Day 3: Slept at 12,900 feet (3,950 meters). This was a great day of hiking as we crossed over the Lava Tower at 15,100 feet and then descended down into camp. This was my first time over 15,000 feet. I had no problems with the elevation and felt really strong. Hiking was done in the alpine desert. It was much colder and really windy this day.
Day 4: Slept at 13,100 feet (4,000 meters). This was another awesome day of hiking as we ascended over the Barranco Wall and then had a steep descent and then a steep ascent back up to our camps.
Day 5: Slept at 15,350 feet (4,680 meters). I was the first one to Base Camp, arriving at 10:20 AM. When arriving at camp, I saw many people coming down from the summit. Some were really struggling with dehydration or the altitude. Many people warned of the cold and how you really needed good gear. I also ran into Dave and Elise and they talked about the cold. Later, Elise walked around with a pile of gear for me, but could not find me!! I found this out once I arrived back at the hotel.
I spent the day at 15,300 feet just lounging in my tent. It was cold and the wind was really strong. Over time, I grew pretty anxious about the cold, wind and summiting with shoes that I had not worn (I had been hiking in my running shoes). As a result, I was unable to sleep during the afternoon. The plan was to leave just after midnight to ascend 4,000 feet and hopefully reach the summit around sunrise. After dinner, I was still unable to sleep. I made a difficult decision that because of my gear and the cold, I wasn’t comfortable attempting the summit. My lips were already incredibly windburnt (see picture) as most of the hiking was super windy. My guide pushed really hard for me to give it a shot, but I didn’t want to attempt anything “dangerous” if I wasn’t fully committed.
So, it’s hard to explain, but lying in the tent in the bitter cold and gear that I wasn’t comfortable with, my heart just wasn’t in it.
Day 6: Descended from 15,300 to 5,000 feet over about 10 miles. My hamstrings were feeling it over the next few days . I don’t think I’ve ever descended 10,000 feet all in one day. The walk down was really interesting because Stanley told me all about the rescue process on the mountain. It’s incredibly labor intensive and involves guides and porters carrying people on stretchers for almost the entire way down!
Who knows? Maybe someday, I’ll come back and try again. I’ll definitely make sure I don’t go alone and I’ll make sure I have my own gear!!