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Climbing Kilimanjaro

In October Mark and Jackie took on the challenge of climbing the mighty Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain on the African continent. We thought we’d share the experience with you, including some tips on how best to tackle this behemoth.

Mark and Jackie climbing Kilimanjaro

Mark and Jackie climbing Kilimanjaro

Kili fast facts:

  • This mountain was formed from 2 extinct and one dormant volcanoes and its lofted peak reaches 19,340 ft (5,895 m).
    Kilimanjaro Park contains some of the most breathtaking beautiful scenery in Tanzania. There is the variety of landscapes which range from rainforest through moorland to desert and to snow covered peaks. The weather conditions are very unpredictable varying from extremely warm and dry and windy to below freezing temperatures.
  • Climbers can choose from marked routes that range from as short as two days to as long as seven days.

Climbing Kilimanjaro, by Jackie

Rongai route, 17th to 23rd of October 2010

17 October 2010: 1,800 metres, 2-3 hours

After early morning breakfast, we met our guides for the climb briefing, which took approximately one hour.

We were driven to Marangu Gate for the signing in with the National Park. We then proceeded to Rongai Gate. By that time it was just after 13h00. The vehicle that was with porters broke down so we ended up waiting for them till quite late. We started our ascent to the first cave at approximately 16h00 by which time it was getting dark. Thank goodness we had our headlamps.

The climb took approximately two to three hours although it seemed like a lifetime because it was so dark. We went past villages and through fields of maize before we entered into pine forest. The track then starts to climb upwards, but gently through the forest.

By the time we got to camp the porters had set up our tents already. We had our dinner and went to bed straight away.

Overnight at Simba Camp

View of Mawenzi Peak _ Simba Camp

View of Mawenzi Peak from Simba Camp

18 October 2010: 3,800 metres, 6-7 hours

After breakfast we got ready and we begin trekking past the second cave and on to the third cave. We went through forest and moorland.

The guides told us that it is going to be one of the most difficult trails but to our surprise Mark and I handled it well. It took between six to seven hours to Kikelelwa Camp. We met other climbers and we all walked as a group.

This was my favourite campsite. It had spectacular views of Mawenzi peak and Kibo peak.

Overnight at Kikelelwa camp

19 October 2010: 4,330 metres, 7 hours

After breakfast we ascended to Mawenzi Tarn Hut. This route took us approximately seven hours. Our guides kept on encouraging us to drink lots of water and also to walk slowly (pole pole). This route had a steep climb from Kikelewa caves camp. This camp is situated in steep sided hollow directly beneath Mawenzi peak.

Overnight at Mawenzi Tarn Hut

20 October 2010: 5,000 metres

We walked up to Mawenzi peak and this was approximately 5,000 metres. It was wonderful to see how Mark and I were coping with the altitude.

Overnight at Mawenzi Tarn Hut

21 October 2010: 4,703 metres, 5 hours

After breakfast we ascended to Kibo Hut which took us approximately five hours. It seemed like it took ages to get there. By the time we got to camp it was drizzling and later on snowing. It was like being in England!

We had our dinner and went to bed early.

I hardly slept that night. My mind was full of what was going to happen the next day.

Overnight at Kibo Hut

22 October 2010 – the Big Day! – 5,895 metres, 9 hours up, 7 hours down

We woke up at 23h00 and set off at 24h00.

Today was the day for us to head for the highest point in Africa the Uhuru Peak. It is 5,895 metres above sea level.

The first part of the walk takes seven hours to Gillman’s Point which is 5,686 metres above sea level. We were walking in the dark with our headlamps.

Out of all the days I was on the mountain this was by far the steepest and most demanding part of our climb. We walked very slowly in the darkness. On some of the parts of the route the ground was stable and whilst others had loose volcanic scree. I am so pleased that we had our guides who knew the best way to conquer the mountain is to go slowly.

Whilst we were walking we could see the Gillman’s Point but it took ages to get there. The temperature was below 10 degrees (I think) but I was sweating so much that I had to remove some of my layers. I think it was a mixture of nerves and excitement! Our guides were with us all the way through – they never stopped encouraging us!

When we finally got there it was unbelievable! I could not believe that I had done it and only to be told you have another one to two hours walk around the crater to Uhuru Peak.

I was gutted!!! Heyho it had to be done!!!


On top of the world

I am glad I carried on to the Uhuru Peak. The views were spectacular and the glacier too. Words cannot explain how I was feeling. I remember getting to Uhuru Peak and I started sobbing. I was so overwhelmed with what I had achieved. All the paper rounds and walking in the Peak district – paid off for sure. Thanks to Mark too because he was the one who organised all the training. For the first time in my life I did not care how I looked. There was no shower, mirror and makeup!!!

Coming down was much easier than going up. It was more “skiing” down the scree and was fun!!!

After lunch we walked to Horombo Hut for our overnight. You would think I would have been exhausted by then but I wasn’t. Everything was a bit like a dream.

Overnight at Horombo Hut

23 October 2010: Descent, 6 hours

After breakfast we left Horombo Hut just after 07h30 and descended to Marangu Gate.

Today I couldn’t believe I had actually reached Uhuru Peak and I was going back to civilization.

It was a six hour walk to Marangu Gate. When we got to the gate I got Mark a cold beer and a coke for myself to celebrate.

I went from being an ‘African Girl’ who hated walking long distance to someone who walked more than five miles a day without complaining!!! Camping was not my favourite at all but I also surprised myself.

Climbing Kilimanjaro was an amazing experience that I will not forget too soon.


Climbing Kili

Top tips:

  • It’s important to prepare for the climb. Mark and I spent weeks beforehand walking in the Peak district to get ourselves ‘match fit’.
    Everything is available to hire at the shop in Moshi, from sleeping bags, poles and gaiters to down jackets and kit bags. It’s essential to pre book hire equipment. You can pay on arrival in US$.
  • We chose to do this route because we had been told it was less crowded and offered spectacular views of Kenya and was relatively easy. However it does have a very hard last day, considered by the guides to be THE hardest. Decide what’s the best option for you.
    Don’t forget you need your passport number to sign in with the National Parks.
  • Drink plenty of water – Mark and I had each about three litres per day. Two litres was in a camelbak and the rest in bottles. Our camelback had a tube so we could keep on drinking all the time. Make sure you have Chlorine tablets for the water.
  • Listen to the guides and walk slowly – Rome wasn’t conquered in a day!
  • To say that the bush toilets aren’t great is an understatement. I’d recommend adding a porter loo into the cost of a Kilimanjaro climb – at just $100 for the whole duration of the trip it’s well worth it.
  • You are fed really well but do take sweets, Mint Kendal cake, energy bars, and energy powder to put in water for snacks on the way. Eat well and as much as you can.
  • Take extra foam mattress to supplement those supplied. We’d also recommend taking a pillow as these aren’t supplied.
  • The right equipment is essential: It does drop down to -15 so base layers are a must as are waterproof trousers and coats. We rarely used our down jackets (other than for pillows) but they are essential for the last climb when you start at midnight. Ski gloves are also vital. You’ll need sunglasses for the top as the sun is very bright, and sunscreen is a must.
  • We had been training for a quite a while so our waterproof hiking boots were well worn in which resulted in no blisters or sore feet. Poles we thought were for old timers but so glad we took them!
  • Don’t forget a headlamp for night time and your final climb. And spare batteries.
  • We had two guides, one chef, one waiter and six porters. The guides were brilliant and took us at the right pace all the way and were always positive that we would make it. They only get paid when they’re on trips – so the more people who climb Kili, the better off their lives will be.