Climbing Kilimanjaro – Africa’s Highest Mountain (Part 1)

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Climbing Kilimanjaro

Finally, it was time to climb Kilimanjaro. Something that was very high on my bucket list, and that I had been looking very much forward to do. Uhuru Peak at 5.895 m./19,341 ft above mean sea level was the destination. It’s Africa’s highest mountain and also the highest free-standing mountain in the world.

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So far, Tanzania had posed a lot of challenges and difficulties. But things had changed after I arrived in Moshi. It is funny how right the British guy, who I had asked for directions in Dar es Salaam, was. He had said, “Your African adventure won’t start until you get to Moshi. That is when all the fun will begin.” He was just a guy on the street I had asked for help. He was living and working in Dar es Salaam, yet he was spot on.

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When I arrived in Moshi it didn’t take long before I met Axel, a german guy, who was volunteering at the local hospital. (I met him on the Loshoto trip.) It was his final year before he could call himself a doctor. We talked about Kilimanjaro, and safari. He just needed one more for his group on Kilimanjaro. It turned out they wanted to do the same route that I wanted to do, and the same number of days.

We also wanted to do the same national parks for the safari. In general we had very similar ideas of what we wanted and how we wanted it. And he had already done all the research and arrangements, so I just had to jump on board. Excellent.

Here we were, ready for the ascend that would take us 6 days, and then one day to descend. We had chosen the Machame route, which was supposed to be the most scenic.

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Having recently finished the 930 km/578 miles hike, Camino de Santiago, in a quick pace, it was really strange and difficult for me to walk at the pace our guides set for us. From the very first step we walked so slow that even a turtle would outrun us. Andrea, from the Camino, who was the slowest moving object I had ever seen, would seem to be sprinting in comparison. It was so slow that you could feel you had aged for each step. But they explained that it was necessary for the acclimatization.

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We were 6 people in our group, Axel, Lauranne, a teacher, from Belgium, Linn, Inga and Anna from Norway (who were all volunteering as nurses at the same hospital as Axel) and myself. I was in really good hands. Even if I were to lose a leg they could quickly do a surgery and turn me into Robocop. Just with some duct tape, a few leaves and all their expertise.  (Except, I’m not a cop.)

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The rule on Kilimanjaro is that for every person climbing there has to be at least 3 porters, carrying stuff. For our group we had 1 main guide, August, 2 assistant guides, 1 cook and 20 porters. Yes, twenty porters. I was shocked when I saw how many people we were. It was like a whole village. Including ourselves we were a group of 30 people.

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Later, that first day it became clear why you need that many porters. The amount of stuff they bring is just mind blowing. The only thing they do not bring, is a jacuzzi. Three 2 person tents and a big main tent with room for all 6 of us, plus August, our main guide. In there, they would put 2 tables with chairs for all of us. And at every meal they would serve the most delicious food. And we always had soup or porridge as a starter for all the meals.

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Lightweight backpacking was clearly a foreign concept to them. Because they had brought tablecloths, steel utensils, mugs, plates, pots and pans, serving trays and so on. They even brought a 3 liter (.75 gallons) gas canister so we could see at night, and stay warm – or at least attempt to. When the canister ran out, on the last night, they replaced it with an 8 liter! (Approximately 2 gallons.)

On the first night when we saw all of this we were all completely surprised. We hadn’t expected this on a mountain slope in 3.100 m/10,170 ft AMSL (above mean sea level.)

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We had started around 900 m/2,950 ft AMSL, earlier that day. Kilimanjaro has 4 (or 5, depending on who you ask) climatic zones. According to our guide, it was like walking from the tropical areas at Equator, where we were, to the arctic climate of the North or South Pole. Just in a week, on one mountain.

On the first day we had walked through the first part, the tropical rainforest. Lush, green and beautiful, and stopped, for the night, in the beginning of the next zone – The heather. We were already above the clouds. There was something very special about looking down at the clouds, yet still standing on the ground.

Our camp was ready every time we arrived. Our tents was already set up, with our huge duffel bags next to it. The main tent was also ready so we could go get some tea or some food depending on the time of our arrival. It was way more luxurious than any of us had expected. But as it turned out later on, we all needed it.

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