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Mini Version

(In less than 100 words if you can’t be bothered reading the 1000 word novel!):

Ascended 1500 m on day one, or 18km in 4 hours, to reach an altitude of 3,000m.  Climbed through rainforest and camped in the desert.  Very grateful for climbing boots…should have done more physical fitness training before coming!  That being said, made excellent time and even though exhausted was in good spirits at the end of day 1 from a challenging but not unbearable climb.  Have an excellent group of climbing buddies and we’re now all fantastic friends.  Glad I don’t have to carry the port-a-loo!

Des (17)

Every single time I travel, without fail, I am always predictable.  I always wake up way earlier than I actually need to in order to finish the packing that I didn’t do from the night before.

On waking up at 6.30am I packed three bags.  The first was my day pack.  The second was my pack.  The third was my suitcase which I was putting into storage at the hotel.  The weight limit for our packs was 15k, and, after the shocking amount of luggage that I brought over to Africa, I was extremely proud of myself with my ability to have packed the bare minimum.  Away for 6 days I packed thermals, 3 tops and 3 pairs of trousers…and a ski jacket just in case!  When I went to pack my aloe vera after-sun gel I was trying to figure out why my backpack was disgustingly sticky.  All of my bottles passed the leak check, until I realised the aloe vera was split slightly at the bottom and if any pressure was applied the bottle would start oozing.  Duct tape is good for everything!

Headed to the breakfast buffet where the fried eggs were as big as the dinner plate they were delivered on and then straight for the equipment rental to rent a head torch (on looking back should have purchased one of the $100 bat light head torches from Nairobi) and two waterproof plastic bags for my pack.  Using all of the common sense I could muster that early in the morning I realized that the plastic bags were actually tarps so I emptied my bag, lined it with the tarps and put my clothes back inside.  Really didn’t make all that sense as if it rained the exterior of my bag was still going to get wet.  Clever Megan had failed to realise that the tarps WERE actually large waterproof bags which opened, and were meant for putting your pack inside. It was a quick repack before jumping on the bus with the other 6.

My climbing buddies comprised of British honeymooners; Kelly and Nige; two Austrian cousins: Sonja and Cornelia; and a Canadian couple; Trish and Mike.  Before boarding the bus the 7 of us posed for a group photo, all clean and full of energy; full of naïve excitement and hope for what lay ahead.   We stopped briefly at a supermarket to stock up on chocolate, digestive biscuits and cakes and then headed for the mountain.  We were slightly confused by the fact that even after we arrived at the gate to Machame Route: the base of Kilimanjaro: we still couldn’t actually see the mountain!  For supposedly the tallest mountain in Africa we spent the whole bus trip to the base peering intently out the window looking at sky.  Maybe it’s a scam!!

There are 6 routes available to take for the Kilimajaro climb, and time frames for the climb vary.  We were attempting Machame route, and doing the climb in 6 days.  Others on our route were taking an extra day to acclimatize and completing the climb in 7, some groups were doing 8 days, and others on different routes could have the whole climb done in 4 or 5 days. The quickest climb up the mountain is rumored to have been done in 8 hours…that being said I haven’t fact checked that.

Our route wasn’t the most direct, however promised a more diverse range of landscapes and views.  It also wasn’t the most luxurious; while we chose a camping route, other routes offered hut accommodation with coke stands dotted throughout the climb.  That being said, having some-one set up and take down my tent for me each night and morning, carry my bag and cook me dinner and follow up with the washing up was luxury enough for me after spending two weeks in Nairobi doing every-thing yourself!…better than a well trained man!!  Only 500 people are permitted to climb the mountain per day, and only 182 of them are tourists.

You know how when you’re a little kid and scared of the dark you tell ghost stories to freak each other out even more?  The 45 minute drive from the hotel to Machame Gate was made up sharing horror stories from people who had climbed some of the world’s highest mountains.  Like the guy who summated Everest and was left to die by his group because his eyes popped due to the pressure and there’s simply no way of getting a blind man down from the summit.  That story was lovely…bring on this mountain, who needs eyes any-way?!  It was also slightly disconcerting looking out the window seeing 5 year olds walking up the street casually swinging machetes back and forth…as you do.

We waited for 2 hours at the base of the gate before climbing.  During the wait we explored our lunchboxes which consisted of a hamburger, the world’s smallest banana (but it’s not about size right?!) a boiled egg, orange juice box and some lemon cake. We set off at mid-day and slowly started our ascent to 3000 metres, watching in awe as the porters passed us carrying massive weights on their heads.  One porter who passed us was carrying a table on his head, nearly wiping me out with a leg while overtaking!  The porters had every right to laugh at the weak white people who were huffing and puffing for air, kneeling over with stitches after a few hours of walking while they were carrying weights of up to 20k if not more on their heads and still overtaking us!  There was a very big emphasis to climb ‘pole pole’ (po-lay) which translates from Swahili into ‘slowly, slowly’.

Even though it felt like we were walking painfully slowly we were apparently making great time.  After half an hour of walking we sauntered into the jungle.  Trekking upwards through mud I thanked God that I had purchased proper hiking boots before leaving Australia…an extremely good investment!  My blue boots were soon brown.  A good scout is always resourceful and thrifty…mud masks are good for the skin right?!  We hiked through the most amazing jungle scenery; and walking slowly gave us time to appreciate the stunning views.  The sun couldn’t be seen fully through the lush forest, so sunlight would instead appear in streaky beams illuminating the path and creating amazing shadows in-between trees which glistened from dew.  It was hard to comprehend that we would be camping in the desert tonight after reaching 3,000 metres…hard to imagine how the landscape was possibly going to change so drastically from a gorgeous lush rain forest into course, dry desert.

By 2pm we were stopped at our official lunch point, and the clouds had closed in on us, giving the forest an extremely eerie feel.  Walking through the clouds, through a very peaceful and serene rainforest felt like walking through a ghost story!  By 5pm we had made it to camp, made it through the wilderness, made it to 3,000 metres, and made it to the desert.  The transition period between desert and jungle wasn’t as drastic as I had thought…the ground slowly became drier and harder, the air was no longer wet, the mud slowly evaporated, clouds slowly disappeared below us, and what was once lush rainforest was slowly becoming drier and sparse.

Moss had transformed from a rich, damp green into a dry, light, whispy green which resembled the Grinch.  Originally not able to comprehend the change in terrain, when we arrived at camp we could see rainforest from where we were set up in the desert, and could see Mt Kilimanjaro towering behind us in the background, with glaciers sparkling in the last rays of sunlight left for the day.

We had ascended 1500m high (or 1486 if you want to get technical), and walked 18km in doing so. The biggest disappointment of the day was sprinting to the tents and falling into an exhausted heap only to realize that they weren’t actually ours, and our camp was another 5 minutes away.  Funny though how you can be absolutely exhausted but suddenly find a burst of energy from no-where when the end is in sight!  From where we were camped we had a clear view of the once elusive mountain.  The summit was absolutely breathtaking, especially at sunset when the mountain and glaciers turned red for a few brief moments.  At certain points throughout the day exhaustion would only let you think about putting one foot in front of the other.  That was the focus.  The jungle was so peaceful and quiet that at certain points my pulse was beating so fiercely I could actually feel and hear it in my head!

I collapsed on top of the 3,000 m rock, not caring that it was covered in dirt until I remembered I wouldn’t be showering for the next 6 days, and pulled out some celebratory oreos to share amongst the 7 of us.  We had made it to the end of day 1! Tents were already set up for us when we got to camp – I could definitely get used to this.  Originally having booked the tour with a friend, who had to pull out at the last minute, they obviously had still catered for 4 doubles, so I got a double tent to myself…total luxury!!!  The amount of space I had was unbelievable!!  Speaking of luxury the 7 of us had our own portable tent toilet which was also set up for us by the time we arrived at camp…fantastic for us…shitty job for the porter who has to carry it the whole way…pun intended!

Not only were our tents set up, but so was the dining tent – with popcorn and chocolate biscuits awaiting our arrival.  We mingled with other groups who were also climbing with us, and were extremely comforted by the fact that one of the groups was a family of Finnish doctors!

Nearly finished I promise!!

Having learnt to have absolutely no expectations whatsoever regarding food, I was pleasantly surprised when soup, fish, cabbage, vegetable stew and roast potatoes was bought out.  We all enjoyed a fantastic candlelit dinner and established that I’m the crazy Australian who raves about Milo…they provided MILO!!!!  We had a quick briefing over dinner; over-all we were all extremely happy with the day…tomorrow was going to be steep but short, and the hardest yet, the next day was supposedly worse still etc etc!

At the end of the day:

Not so impressed with:

  1. Portable toilet being blocked by 8pm
  2. Socks still not dry
  3. Blisters from my walking pole
  4. My lack of common sense in sleeping in my tent side-ways on a hill (went for a few night time rolls!)

Impressed with:

  1. The gorgeous view of the milky way
  2. MILO!!!
  3. No altitude sickness so far
  4. The amazing view of the mountain behind us
  5. That I’d made it through day 1 and was still raring to go!

    4 Comments

  1. Awesome, never want to do it… but loving reading about someone else doing it ;)

    • Lol it’s a bit like that sometimes :D

  2. Hi there! My husband and I are beginning to train for the climb in January of 2020. I wanted to know how to find a reputable tour guide company. I also wanted to know how it works with people who have dietary needs (my hubby and I are plant based) for meals? Any training info you also can provide would be appreciated. Thank you!

    • Hi Nichole thanks for reaching out. Re finding a reputable tour company, I would make a choice from one on this list: https://mountainexplorers.org/climb-with-a-partner-for-responsible-travel-company/

      This is a list of all tour operators who are partners of the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project, and have made a commitment to responsible travel (treating the porters fairly etc).

      Re dietary needs, that’s going to be something that will vary on a company by company basis. If you come up with a shortlist of companies from the above list, I would shoot them an email (or check if there’s an FAQ page that might answer it), and ask. Unfortunately I don’t have personal experience with dietary requirements so this didn’t factor into my trek.

      For training, you don’t have to go overboard, but anything that can improve your endurance I would recommend. It’s a slow and steady challenge to the top of Kilimanjaro, so you’ll require long distance endurance over speed. Swimming is a really good training exercise, as it gets your body used to operating on low oxygen :)

      I hope that helps, have a great trip! Feel free to reach out if you have any other questions.

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