Conquering Africa’s Highest Peak; Mt. Kilimanjaro

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While many travelers may visit East African countries to go on safari, there are a plethora of unexplored experiences it comes bearing. We may brag about these all year long, but let’s not digress. Which experience is on your bucket list? If conquering Africa’s greatest summits is then we have a firsthand experience by our staff Peter Njuguna, Serena Hotels Tanzania, Lodges System Controller who hiked the highest peak in Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro. Rising above 5,895m above sea level, the fourth tallest mountain in the world, Mt. Kilimanjaro is undoubtedly one of the challenging summits to conquer. Only 60% of those who attempt, finish at the snow-capped peak.

Peter was mentally prepared to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro an idea he had incubated for approximately 2 years before he took the bold step. This year, he had listed conquering Mt. Kilimanjaro as one of his must-do bucket list items. However, as fate would have it, the Covid-19 pandemic happened and put most of the traveler’s plans on hold, including Peter’s dream to reach atop Africa’s highest mountain. Luckily, as things began to ease off with new-normal being adopted in our way of life, he came across an opportunity to go atop Mt. Kilimanjaro through an advertisement. The best guide in Tanzania Mr. Athumani who has a remarkable track record of summiting peaks in the last 15 years was eager to lead a team of individuals up the mountain.

During the preparatory stages, all Peter could ever dream and think about is being at the peak. He happened to take a flight from Arusha to Dar es Salaam and on his return, the pilot pointed out the peak and he took a picture and shared with the team members who were also pursuing the same goal. His message was full of excitement- “There she is, waiting for us”. He was enthusiastic about this experience despite being Asthmatic, affirmed himself that he could do it. The height and altitude scared him the most, but he still forged on to prepare for what he would call a life-changing experience.

The team had been advised to be in Arusha a few days prior to the hike by their guide Athumani. This was because they needed to get acclimatized as well as check that all of them had all the necessary climbing gear as he had prescribed. They bought things they required for the hike, however, had to hire most gear specific for hiking.

Hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro requires both physical and mental preparation and more so the latter. Prior to climbing, it is recommended that one has stretched body endurance through cardio and muscle exercises. For Peter, his preparation began by him having an exercise regime of running 20-25Kms at least three times a week.

Day 1

A total of 14 hikers and guides met the evening before the hike to be briefed on the journey ahead. The following morning, they met at 7:30 am where they would depart for Moshi in a 25 private seater bus.

They made a brief stop in Moshi to buy toiletries and snacks at a supermarket before heading to Marangu town and up to Marangu gate, the entrance of Kilimanjaro National Park, 1970M amsl. They didn’t waste much time there as the guides had already pre-booked them and all they did was to take their IDs/Passports for identification. Here they met the crew that was to take them through the six-day hike comprising of guides, porters, cooks, all about 34 in number. Peter wondered why they were so many and it turned out that they needed every one of them for carrying their duffel bags and ensuring they have hot meals along the way. This team fascinated Peter with how much each would carry their 20+kg bags and items hurriedly to the next stop before the team caught up with them.

By 10 am they had started their slow but steady trek through the rain forest and had their lunch (prepared and packed by the crew) at a designated place in this forest. They arrived at Mandara Hit at 1630hrs where they spent the first night. At 2720M amsl, the weather was cold, a taste of what was about to come. They were accommodated in huts made of timber elevated from the ground. Each hut had cubicles fitted with double-decker wooden beds. They were allocated the beds randomly gender notwithstanding. During dinner, Athumani took and recorded measurements of their oxygen and heart rate to monitor everyone’s physical state for the day ahead. This was done every other night until they made it to the summit.

Day 2

At 6 am on the second day, they were woken up by their guides with warm greetings, a cup of coffee and tea, and a basin of hot water to freshen up. After breakfast in the cafeteria, they were assembled by the potters who led them in a heartwarming dance through songs of encouragement. Soon they were headed northeast towards the mountain through the montane forest that later gave way to moorland vegetation. They had their hot packed lunch at a designated spot on their way and proceeded on slowly to the next hut, Horombo Hut, 3720M amsl, 11Kms from Mandara Hut. They arrived at 1700 hrs after a slow but steady climb. At this point, they could see the cloud cover and with this altitude also came cold weather. The warm clothing, they brought came in handy and they also could not wait to have dinner at 1900hrs as they retreated to their huts to sleep inside their sleeping bags.

Day 3

The wake-up call was at 6 am followed by a hot cup of coffee. Soon after breakfast, they began their trek towards the mountain whose snow cap they could see from a distance. This was, however, a special day as they were to walk four straight hours towards the mountain and have a rest at Zebra rock attraction, from where they would walk back another 4 hours to Horombo hut. This was for acclimatization. The distance from Horombo hut to Kibo hut, the base camp was exactly 1000m, 9km through the Alpine dessert. This would have proved to be a challenge but was necessary for the team to have an idea of what was ahead. The team members had slight headaches as a side effect of the acclimatization but everyone was looking forward to the climb the next day. On their way, they met a team of climbers who had unsuccessfully attempted to climb.

Day 4

On the fourth day, they started their trek at 8 AM towards Kibo Hut. This is a 9 Km trek through the Alpine desert with nothing but sand and rocks and the break taking a wide view of the Kibo summit itself. At this point, they were leaving the craggy Mawenzi on the right. They arrived at Kibo base Hut at about 1400Hrs where they had lunch and the guides took them to their huts and advised them to sleep as much as they could because they would wake up no later than 2000hrs have breakfast, yes, breakfast! They would then wear their warmest gear in readiness for the midnight climb to the summit. The climb is 6kms and an elevation of about 1200M in 6hrs. Instead of 6 hours, they managed to pull off 7 hours of trekking. Peter attempted to sleep but could hardly catch any. The anxiety, the cold, and the need for oxygen also made sure they would all stay awake. They all kept counting the minutes and the hours until their 10 pm wake up call. Hurriedly they changed into warmer clothes- three warm pants and then the summit pant, 3 warm long-sleeved T-shirts, one woolen sweater and a jacket, a head warmer, a balaclava, glove liners and summit gloves, two pairs of woolen socks, and a headlight. They had to keep their backpacks as light as possible carrying only a bottle of water and some bitings.

Day 5

At midnight they set out in the dark towards the real mountain climb. They had approximately eight guides with them. The climb from Kibo hut to the first summit point, Gilman’s point which took 4 hours, proved the hardest and this is where men were separated from the boys. They were walking at a snail speed, climbing through the rocks and meandering to lessen the climb. Peter was glad he couldn’t see where he was going because if he did, he would have given up early. They walked in line looking down and placing one leg where the person ahead had just lifted his from. They could stop for a break every few minutes and slowly the gaps between them widened. They could hear complaints from those who were behind and by the time they arrived at Gilman’s point at around 0430hrs, five from the group thrown had thrown in the towel and escorted back to Kibo Hut. This was done so quietly and tactfully by the guides that they didn’t learn about it until they got to the summit and realized on only nine of them made it. The air became thinner and thinner, panting became louder and louder, the climb tougher and tougher, they got sleepy walking, thirsty and exhausted. The next stop was Stella Point 5685M amsl and at this point, almost close to their lifelong goal to reach the summit. They were now walking on ice, some sharp-edged glaciers of ice that one had to be careful walking on lest one falls and gets hurt. The sky had started getting bright, welcoming the dawn of the new day. The clouds below produced captivating colors as the sun rose above them. There was a sign of relief when they saw the signage a few hundred meters ahead. They all knew they made it. There were tears, tears of joy, tears of achieving what seemed like a mirage. Peter was so grateful to have made it and said a prayer of thanksgiving waving his Serena Hotels flag with him to the top.

Unfortunately, they could not spend as much time as they would have loved up the mountain as the exposure to the unfavorable atmosphere. It was so cold, they had challenges taking photographs at the same time, most of their devices could not work because of the cold. Luckily, the cameraman by the company providing the experience-Solo Adventures Company took a few pictures with his camera before his hands started freezing. They took a few individual and group photos before they headed back through the ice. By this time the sun was up and the ice cover blinding that they had to put on their UV goggles as we walked back having a once a lifetime goal. As they were walking back, the only lady who had made it to the top collapsed. She had achieved her goal and after a few lazy pictures, her body had given in. She was quickly put on oxygen. The idea was to get her down to Kibo hut as quickly as possible, as the loss of altitude would revive her. She was later met by a group of porters in with a stretcher and by the time they got to Kibo hut, she was up as fit as a fiddle.

Everyone was still struggling to walk because of the exhaustion, but they trekked slowly to walk back to Kibo Hut. They took a straighter steep descent through sand and let gravity pull them down as we slid through the sand towards that world below. This was also quite challenging.

At Kibo Hut, they had their lunch amid congratulatory messages from the group. They got reunited with the five that did not make it. The same afternoon they walked down to Horombo Hut where they spent their 5th night. Three members of the team could not go beyond this point owing to leg injuries and exhaustion that arrangements were made to have them evacuated. They all later reunited at the exit gate in Marangu the next day over dinner where they shared their success stories, challenges, and the experience as a whole. That was the first night of many days, most of them had quality sleep.

Day 6

This was the final day, they were up for breakfast and had a small gathering outside the hut to exchange vote of thanks with Guide Athumani commending the team for their resilience to achieve the goal to get to the top. At 0900hrs they started their trek through the moorland vegetation and onto the rain forest to the main gate. The walk down to the Marangu gate was 20km far but the adventure and stories they had to tell made it less challenging. By the time they got to the gate, they had hatched a plan to have the whole team have a farewell party. They arrived at the gate at around 1630Hrs took final pictures  as the guide went to check the group out at the Park’s office while collecting their certificates. Thereafter, they headed to a hotel in Marangu where they had their party. After the party, they made their way to Arusha where they would say goodbye and part ways.

We could not be more proud to have our own, take on one of the most exhilarating experiences on most traveler’s bucket list items. We can’t wait to take you on the next adventure. Visit our website for this and many more experiences you can explore.

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