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Kilimanjaro - My Adventure

Our Destination Manager, Helen, got to experience our new Kilimanjaro trek earlier on this year. Here's her story of her climb to success...


‘Jambo’ calls one of the porters as he walks past, loaded up with bags and equipment, balanced perfectly on his head.   The mountain creates the major source of employment for people living in the towns surrounding Mt Kilimanjaro and the porters, cooks and guides that work here, make the most of it.  Around camp they joke, banter and dance around as they put up tents and prepare food, there’s a great atmosphere here.



Mt Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest mountain, an extinct volcano standing at 5895m, it's one of the world’s most accessible highest mountains, requiring no technical equipment or climbing skills.

The biggest challenge facing hikers on Kilimanjaro is the altitude, despite the fact that Uhuru peak is actually higher than Everest Base Camp, people aim to reach the summit in a much faster time period (some as little as 3 days) than they would attempt Everest BC (typically 8 days or more), which leads to a number of failed summits each year.  However reliable operators and knowledgeable guides have developed the routes in order to maximise the chances of success. The first task for climbers is decide which route is right for them. For those with a tighter budget and timescale, the Marangu route (also known as the Coco-Cola route) is the fastest and cheapest option - following the same return route and staying in Mountain huts along the way, this route takes 5 days, but has the highest failure rate.



In more recent years, the Machame Route has taken over as the most popular route, with around 50% of climbers following this route (also known as the Whiskey route) climbers will spend the nights camping and will climb high, sleep low.  The route can be tackled in 6 or 7 days. The summit route is shared with climbers on the Lemosho and Shira routes. For climbers looking for the path less travelled, the Rongai and Lemosho routes are quieter and offer good acclimatisation, on camping routes from 6 to 8 days.

I opted for the 6 day Rongai route for my climb, its the only route to start on the northern side of Kilimanjaro, offering views of both Kenya and Tanzania, it is the least travelled of all the routes because of its remote starting location, allowing you to have the trails much to yourself.  The other big bonus for me was the chance to view wildlife on the first day.  Once in the rainforest, it didn’t take long for us to be amongst a group of Colobus monkeys - with their long white ‘capes’, they were quite happy to pose for some photographs.  The camps are all located relatively low - allowing for steady acclimatisation in preparation for the final ascent.  Generally we would have a 4hr hike after breakfast, arrive at camp ready for lunch and in the afternoon take a circular walk to get to know the area, have time for photos and enjoy being on the mountain. 



What I hadn’t expected from Kilimanjaro was the variety of landscapes each day, we started our first day in pine forest and farmland,continued into pristine rainforest and camped just on the edge of the forest.  On our second day we were amongst tall shrubs and plants, following a small creek, I had time to go for a paddle in the stream and clamber over the huge boulders in the river bed.  By day 3 and 4 we were much higher, and climbed above the tree line, the route changed dramatically to dry, rocky, almost lunar landscapes, with big views, often above the clouds - simply stunning!



Lets talk about food; I’m a vegetarian and wasn’t sure how Richard, our cook, would cope with this. However there was no need to worry, he was adept at handling the menus for vegetarians, vegans, gluten free, dairy free, or full on meat eaters.  Between Richard and Steven, our ‘waiter’ I felt like a prize cow being fattened up for market.  Steven would take my water container off to be refilled at every opportunity he got, and if he felt that I hadn’t been drinking enough, he’d give me a few stern words and return with a flask of hot water and instructions to finish it off.  On one particular morning, I think in an effort to get me to sit down for breakfast, Steven dragged my table outside so I could enjoy breakfast with Mountain views!



The trekking team that was responsible for taking me up the mountain were amazing throughout and it was a truly humbling experience to see how much care, attention and effort they put into making each ascent a success.  I was trekking alone and was supported by Victor, my Guide, age 39, first climbed the mountain at 17 and had since submitted over 300 times (though apparently you stop counting after 200!.  Along with Richard and Steven, we also had two porters, Rama and Nicholas, these guys didn’t speak as much English, but were always cheerful and friendly. 

A word on tipping - An important element to consider is that that your team may only trek the mountain once a month and they rely heavily upon tipping from these climbs.  In general Porters aim to make 7usd per day in tips (which almost doubles their earnings for a day - not a lot really, given their hard work), Cooks maybe earn 10usd per day and Guides maybe 15usd per day.  I had a team of 5 with me, I met a family group of 3, who had a team of 19!!  To make life easier, a guideline is that if you are trekking in a group of over 3 people, you should budget around 200USD per hiker for tips.  One thing I really wished I’d taken with me, were some second hand warm clothes and hiking gear for the porters, who would be most grateful for any donations. The local team that I travelled with have set up a Porter Welfare foundation, porters carry a maximum of 15kg per person - and this is checked at each camp.



Summit Day! Whichever route you have chosen, you will most likely follow the summit route to either Gilmans Point (Marangu and Rongai) or Stella Point (Machame, Lemosho, Shira) Guides have decided that the best way to ensure your success is to shield you from the reality of the climb by setting off in the dark, around midnight (for me this was Day 5) after having a few hours rest at Kibo camp.  You then quietly and determinedly trudge the switch back route up the mountain, the path is often loose scree and sometimes big boulders, which give you something to clamber over and distract you from the trudging!  Part way we stopped for a large cup of hot Ginger tea - bliss - whilst we enjoyed the dark silhouetted views of Mawanzi peak, standing at 5150m! By 5.30am I was pulling myself up over the ridge to Gillman’s point (the first certificate worthy point) feeling really quite pleased, relieved and exhausted! ‘I’m not sure if I can make it to Uhuru peak’ I tell Victor, who pours another Ginger tea and tells me we’re gonna do it anyway. 

After an all too short break, we continue the steady trudge to Uhuru Peak, another 200m climb and around 3hrs return journey.  All along the way to Uhuru, I started meeting the people I’d met the previous day at base camp, there’s a strong sense of camaraderie, lots of encouraging words, pats on the shoulder and finally there it was - the summit - 5895m and after 7 hours I was standing at the highest point of Africa!



Things to remember - there's always things in your bag that you wished you'd never brought, and other things you wished you'd prioritised.  For me, the number 1 thing was that water 'bladders' freeze on summit night - so I should've taken an additional water bottle. This is closely followed by some light weight or even fingerless gloves to wear under your mountain gloves - this would've made the occasional photo / loo / drinks stop much easier and without your hands freezing.  One girl I was chatting to swore by have her power bank with her, so that she could listen to audio books on the way up on her phone - I managed a bit of a digital detox which i quite enjoyed, but I can imagine the book / music would've been a welcome distraction. Camera batteries lose their charge fast in the cold, so take a spare with you (and keep it well wrapped up).  I took a lightweight down jacket, but in hindsight I wished it has been warmer.


Helen did the climb which is now included in our YNK trip and also includes safaris in the Maasai Mara and Serengeti. Check out the website for full details of the tour, if you have any questions about the climb or the whole YNK tour then please contact a member of the team!