mind over matter or climbing kilimanjaro (5,895m)

I’ve been meaning to climb Kili for some time now. I’d read it was the most accessible out of the Seven Summits (highest on each continent) and it seemed like a good starting point to going well over 5,000m and tackling some of the other Seven down the line 😉 For a couple of years I’d been looking into a trip down to Tanzania, but the prices I’d found for Kili had been in excess of $2k or even $2.5k which put me off. So the initial plan when we flew in was actually to going for Mt. Meru, which is often cited as a tougher climb despite its 4,565m altitude, quite a lot less than the 5,895m of Uhuru (highest peak of Kilimanjaro).

But as soon as I saw the latter in the distance, I knew I’d set my heart on reaching the top of Africa long ago and started looking into options. A few days into the trip it quickly became apparent that you could negotiate just about anything in this place so I managed to scoop out some cheaper alternatives and get the price down to a little over $1.2k (tips included) — I was going to Kili! 🙂 It’s a shame that my buddy couldn’t come with me as he really wanted to go to Meru, which a lot of people were telling us was a more scenic climb, but in the end I think we both did what was right for us and were happy with our choices.

I’ve sectioned the post into days to make it easier to navigate, though I should say not all photos were taken sequentially as you see them here — in the first day and a half we kept getting pouring rains (and snow after that) which made me keep the camera safely tucked in. So a lot of those shots I took on the way down. Also, most of the photos near the top are super dark so it’s best to view them in a very dark setting.

Day 1: Marangu Gate to Horombo Hut

Looking at what’s ahead 🙂 The Marangu trek is what’s knows as the “Coca-Cola Route” since it’s the most touristy and beaten path, as well as the only one with huts. It’s also the only one you could do in 5 days — technically you’re supposed to do it in 6 with an extra day at Horombo to acclimate for the altitude, but 5 is all I had at the end of the trip.


Seeing the porters come back from the top made it seem doable as they didn’t seem exhausted, despite carrying quite a lot of stuff to accommodate us silly tourists 😉


Guess grayish black isn’t in this guy’s arsenal of colors 😀


I call this the Gateway to Kili; you go through it quite early on in the day.


The trek to the first hut is all through the forest, which is welcomed since you start the climb at noon and it can get quite hot.


Feeling rather well and finding a good rhythm, I reached Mandara hut in an hour and forty minutes instead of the suggested 3 hours. Seeing that we still had quite a lot daylight left, I asked my guide to push on and not sleep here as you’re supposed to even with the 5 day trek to the top. He was actually quite happy with the idea and my pace so after a quick lunch, we continued up.


After Mandara, you still go through the forest for some time, but the path now is now slightly steeper than in the first leg.


Soon you’re out of the trees and into the moorland where for the most part you see shrubs and low vegetation, outside of the occasional funky plant like this one (apparently called Dendrosenecio) 😉 Actually there were quiet a few of them as you got higher.


It wasn’t very scenic or colorful around so the few shots that I did take were of flowers near the path.


The last three hours of the trek to Horombo were in pouring rain. It wasn’t until later in the evening that it stopped and I was able to take some long exposure shots around the camp. On this one you see some tents and people walking around with their headlamps, with Moshi town (where you normally stay before climbing Kili) in the distance.


Those were the two dining halls where your cook (you have to have one along with two porters to carry your supplies, it’s part of the reason why prices are not cheap) served you meals. They were pretty basic, but warm food was welcomed since at 3,700m it got quite chilly at night.


The little hut you and three others sleep in. Quite cozy really, especially with a good sleeping bag 😉 I met two Americans on their way down who told me some crazy stories from reaching the top which got me excited!


Day 2: Horombo Hut to Kibo Hut

Despite raining most of the night, including when I woke up, the rains cleared up just before we were about to leave which provided for some excellent scenery around 7am 🙂


There was excitement in the camp with a ton of people around. This large group kept singing Swahili traditional songs and taking photos; I think they were on their way down as I didn’t seem them again.


Even at this altitude, you have to be ready for rains so most of the gear you see is either waterproof or wrapped in large, thick nylon bags.


This goes to all my Bulgarian friends 😉 It was inscribed in one of the toilet doors and literally made me laugh out loud! 😀 Naturally, I only used this one from then on…


My guide, Freddie, was often trailing slightly behind. I don’t think it was because he couldn’t keep up, perhaps he wanted me to have some alone / reflection time 😉 Btw, don’t be fooled by the light — this was one of the few times on the way up the thick cloud cover was penetrated by the sun.


Looking ahead, you could see where the snow was starting somewhere around the 4,000m line. I liked the patches of light that were darting across this field, though they were moving quite fast as the wind was picking up.


One of the first times we saw a glimpse of Mawenzi peak (5,149m) through the clouds


Naturally soon after that the clouds caught up and the sky took on an extremely dark and ominous grey color.


Even the generally lightly dressed porters (who must be so accustomed to this climb) started wearing more layers 😉 We’re at close to 4,200m at this point.


Minutes after this shot, it started snowing and the fog got so thick that you couldn’t see more than 5m ahead of you. We reached Kibo in a couple of hours and proceeded to rest for the remainder of the day as you start the climb to the top around 11pm/12am the same evening.


Day 3: Kibo Hut to Uhuru peak and back to Horombo Hut

You’re woken up around 11pm, given some tea and biscuits/cookies to munch on (nothing too heavy as you have quite a few hours of climbing at high altitudes ahead of you) before starting. The worst part is you’ve barely had enough time to sleep since you eat dinner at 6pm and immediately go to bed, but with all of the other 10+ people in the room rustling about you can’t really give in. So I basically was drifting in and out for 4 hours and “woke up” more exhausted than anything. Not the best start of the 10-12 hours of trekking ahead of you…

The photo was taken right outside Kibo Hut, looking up towards our goal. All of the shots are handheld so at extremely high ISO and thus not the best of quality, but I think they convey the message. The good news was that it was clear and it looked like it wouldn’t rain/snow on us during the ascent.


An hour or so into the climb I stopped and turned around to take this shot. The moon was almost full and provided some good light (I didn’t really use my headlamp much) and view of the surroundings. In the distance you see Mawenzi peak, which means we were close to 5,200m at this point. For some reason it doesn’t seem very steep, but in reality it was and very much so.


I didn’t have the opportunity to take many photos during the climb. For one, I was trying to keep a good pace and not stop often, but also it was starting to really get cold and hard to do so. At close to 5,700m you reach Gilman’s point, meaning the toughest part of the ascent is done and what remains is about an hour of trekking around the rim (as you can see in the photo below) to get to Uhuru and its 5,895m in the distance. I’m not gonna lie to you, that climb was not easy 😉 The photo I took on the way back, this group was way behind us.


We’re at Uhuru!! You can’t imagine how happy and relieved I was 🙂 This is actually the only shot I have of the top — you’re supposed to get here around 6.30am (starting at 12am), but we reached it a little before 5am so the sunrise was still at least an hour / hour and a half away and it wasn’t worth waiting for. Not to mention it was fairly cloudy so you couldn’t really see much even if there was light. The wind was quite strong, the snow was fairly deep at times and the temperatures were around -15C (wind excluded) so I literally stayed for no more than 5 mins and started down. My hands were so cold (despite wearing gloves and keeping them in my pockets most of the time) after the third attempt at taking this photo that I lost feeling in my two index fingers and genuinely thought I might lose them… fun times.


Around 6am I was already half-way down to Kibo when the sunrise finally came. Let me tell you, with the wind gone (we were sheltered on this side of the peak), the temperatures returning to the “normal” zero degrees, and me regaining feeling in my fingers, this amazing view was the best moment of the climb and I sat down watching it for a good 10 minutes 🙂


Almost back Kibo, I looked back towards the top and saw the moon going down… it was quite a beautiful moment, despite the photo not doing it enough justice.


With the toughest part behind me, I managed to change lenses and get this close-up B&W shot of Mawenzi with the interesting clouds that were swooping across it. This is the last shot of the day as I went to take a two-hour nap in Kibo Hut after not really sleeping for over 25 hours and then proceeded down to Horombo Hut, a generally uneventful trek that was spent thinking about the enterprises the previous night.


Day 4: Horombo Hut to Marangu Gate

It should be obvious why I slept like a baby that night. As a reward, at the start of my last day I was greeted with this incredible sunrise!


The camp was mostly empty for some reason (unlike on the way up), outside of the many and quite loud birds roaming around 😉


Looking back at where we were the previous day… it was a bit surreal even. I didn’t have any problem with the altitude (despite what the guide had told me that 95% of people come back with a headache), but it definitely was a tough climb and seemed like a dream almost. Still does, in fact 🙂


A look at what the last day had in store for us… Marangu Gate is somewhere beyond those hills in the far distance.


This was the sunniest day of all, giving me opportunity to look around now that we weren’t in a rush. Few people climb Mawenzi, by the way, as it’s too dangerous and rocks chip off and fall all the time. If you want to attempt it you’re apparently supposed to sign a waiver saying you know it’s a death wish basically 😉


We met only a few trekkers on the way down initially, though more towards the end of the day as people were beginning their climb. I knew then how the ones I had seen on the way up had felt and offered encouraging words to those who stopped me to ask.


We kept running into other guides and porters. Freddie stopped often and talked with them in Swahili, apparently explaining that we had climbed in 4 days instead of the planned 5 and suggested 6. I kept hearing words like Simba (lion) and getting pats on the back and handshakes 😉


The remainder of the day it was the familiar green and lush forest…


… and the easy to follow path.


Though now I had more time to stop and notice the details 😉


It was quite sunny and beautiful in fact 🙂


Victory photo at the end 😉


More stories from Africa coming in the following weeks.. stay tuned and share 🙂


26 thoughts

  1. The photos take one’s breath away – and mine too. My adventurer spirit wishes you luck with your adventures and wishes she could join in on the action. To climb one those mountainsides with the clouds as stepping stones would be a dream come true.

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