Climbing to the Roof of Africa-Kilimanjaro
When your goal is to travel to every country in Africa, it is inevitable that you will eventually feel a beckoning to climb Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. For many years I wanted to climb the mountain but I was put off by reports of the mountain being overcrowded and littered with trash and human waste. It wasn’t until the pandemic came and the crowds disappeared that I decided to answer the  call of the mountain.
The Route
I chose the 7 day Lemosho route because it was not as popular as the other other routes, it was more remote increasing the likelyhood of observing wildlife and because the terrain is more varied and beautiful. The 7 days was also planned to provide adequate time to acclimitize. Friends of mine that climbed the mountain in fewer days all complained that they suffered altitude sickness and either couldn’t summit or did summit and couldn’t enjoy it.
Map of Shira Route
Pre-Climb Exploration at Tarangire National Park
Before starting our Kilimanjaro climb, we needed to acclimitize to Tanzania and recover from our trip to Chad. To do so we spent two nights in Tarangire National Park in safari tents. I chose Tarangire because it is only 1/2 a day from Arusha, has all of the big cats you would hope to find in the Serengetti and it is far less frequented than the Serengetti and Ngorngoro Parks. Plus it has a lot of Boabab trees which I love.

We arrived at our tent camp at night, checked in to the lodge and had dinner with a few adult beverages, much needed after our long journey from Ethiopia, while overlooking a river valley.  As we ate dinner we watched a lightning storm crackling in the distance and listened to the roraring of a wandering lion from somehwere nearby below.  After dinner we were escorted by park guards to our tents for our protection  in case of encountering any lions or leopards along the way. Sadly, only a few years ago a young buy was killed by a leopard at night at this same lodge. My safari tent, which had a bed, toilet, shower and patio, was at the base of a boabab tree and overlooked the river canyon. I tried to stay up and read but the light in my tent attracted swarms of bugs from nats to giant beetles. They would all come to the light and crawl on my bed and on me.  I also learned to never walk barefoot in my tent. On my floor I would catch an occasional  glimpse of a giant hand sized spider with two giant fangs that would race across my room. This wasn’t a typical spider that seemed to lay in wait for its prey, instead it was actively running back and forth hastily hunting for anything that came across it’s path. essentially my safari tent was a house of horrors but I loved it.

 

Angry Lioness Tarangire NP
During the next few days, we saw lots of lions, leopards, elephants and many more animals while we explored the park by jeep, which we had mostly to ourselves.
Bull Elephant Tarangire NP
Lion Tarangire NP
The Heavenly Lodge
We departed Tarangire to a lodge located at a working coffee plantation in the hills outside of Arusha. The place called the Heavenly Lodge and is probably the nicest place I have ever stayed. I would rate it 6 star accomodation. 

The Heavenly Lodge was owned and operated by the same family since the 1800s as a coffee planation until recently when it was sold to a Saudi Prince. It is commonly booked out by celebrities and has all of the feeling of old, colonial British Africa. Everywhere my friend and I went, we had 5-6 staff waiting on us. During our first night, we were the only guests in the entire establishment. I had a huge bungalow, with a prepared bubble bath, un-corked champagne bottle and lit fireplace waiting for me when I arrived to my room. The lodge truly was heavenly. 

 

My room at the Heavenly Lodge
My favorite part of the day at the Heavenly Lodge was waking up, drinking coffee with a cinnamon roll in the patio out front of my room watching the wildlife-dik-diks, monkeys, and birds. This monkey was aggresive and just came to my closed door staring at my basket full of bananas. Maybe I was being a mean and did taunt him a little with the bananas. And maybe I was scolded by one of the house ladies at the hotel.
Chamelion in the bush outside of my room
Day 1- Londorossi Gate to Mti Mkubwa Forest Camp

Me in the Cloud forest

Elevation: 7,742 ft to 9,498 ft Distance: 6 km | 4 miles

Today we left the heavenlyness of the Heavenly Lodge for Kilimanjaro.  The van transfer was 3.5 hours from Arusha to Moshi and from there it was another  hour to Londorossi Gate, our starting point for the Lemosho trek. We met our porters, cooks, guides-all 28 of them for two people( Richard and I) and we began our climb. My friend Jimmie went with a different company and he had his own crew. Despite being in different companies we hiked and camped side by side throught out the trip.

For the rest of the day we hiked straight up through muddy trails of the Afromontane rain forest. Along the way see saw lots of monkeys and even some leopard tracks in the mud. Our guide mentioned the advantage of hiking when the mountain is devoid of tourists is that the animals are more likely to come out and we definitely saw and heard lots of monkey and birdlife along the trail.

 

We arrived to our campsite late afternoon as the sun was setting. Our campground had a few other groups but less than five. At the head of the campground was a group of shared bathrooms and a park ranger house.

Our camp had a dinner tent, with tables, chairs. Richard and I each had our own standing tent with a bed. We also had a toilet tent and shower tent.

At night, the melanistic black cats came out, and our mountain guide brought me over the dark edge of the forest to see one. They are highly elusive and were not easy to spot. Eventually,  my flash light found a bright red reflection of demon looking eyes glowing in the forest and the dark sleek outline of a half cat/half monkey looking creature. Then it disappeared into the forest. 

Blue Monkeys
Colobus monkey
Day 2 Mti Mkubwa to Shira 1 Camp
My friends Jimmie, Richard and I at Shura Camp.

Elevation: 9,498 ft to 11,500 ft Distance: 8 km | 5 miles, Hiking Time: 5-6 hours

On the second morning, we woke up to the squabbling of blue monkeys in the trees. They were very active and one naughty pot bellied miscreant, fat from stealing food from tourist camps,  kept sneaking into our kitchen tent and running off with food.

 

We broke camp and left the rain forest and into a savannah of tall grasses, heather and volcanic rock draped with lichen beards. We hiked to the top of the Shira Plateau where for the first time we could see Kilimanjaro looming in the distance. The clouds would roll in during the afternoon and sprinkle but nothing to heavy. We arrived in the afternoon and set up camp.

Our routine everyday was the same. Every night we had tea, snacks, and went walking and then had dinner. While exploring I came a cross a duiker quietly walking through our camp at night.

Day 3 Shira 1 Camp to Moir Hut

Elevation: 11,500 ft to 13,800 ft Distance: 11 km | 7 miles, Hiking Time: 5-7 hours

We hiked along the  Shira Plateau on the moorland meadows towards Shira 2 Camp. Then we divert from the main trail to Moir Hut, a little used site on the base of Lent Hills. A variety of walks are available on Lent Hills making this an excellent acclimatization opportunity. Shira Plateau is one of the highest plateaus on earth

We saw buffalo foot prints in the mud. Our guide mentioned buffalo live in the plateau and even the occasional elephant wanders up.

 

 

Altitude Sickness
We started to feel the altitude today and we really concentrated on taking slow steps-pole pole-slowly slowily in Swahili. This is to keep from over exerting yourself to allow your cardiovacular system to adapt. We also drank every minute to keep from becoming dehrated. In the mountains, your body consumes far more water than at sea level and easily becomes dehdrated.  Dehration leads to altutude sickness and that can lead to pulmary or cerebral edema. This leads to death. On Kilimanjaro on average 10 people die per year mostly from altitude sickness. Scores of others are evacuated. To keep from getting altitude sickness, we took diamox daily, followed our guides instructions and drank lots of water. Every night before bed, our guide would also check our oxygen blood levels and interview us to make sure we were not coming down with altude sickness. 

 

 

 

The Mighty Porters

One of our porters carrying a 45 pound toilet on his head
Our team of porters was about 20 strong. Not only were they strong but happy.  I always knew they were nearby because of their singing. Of course they rarely were nearby because they would race ahead to camp and be there hours before we arrived.

To say that I was humbled by the porters of Kilimanjaro is an understatement. I came to the mountain thinking I was in shape but in every possible way, I discovered that the porters outperformed me. Without hiking poles, they walked faster, carried far more, and did it all with an attitude of gratitude because in Tanzania, the wages for a porter are high in comparison to other jobs. I have nothing but respect to these men who made our visit to this majestic mountain possible.

 

Our Camp Shira 2 with Kilimanjaro behind us
Day 4 Muir Hut to Barranco Camp
Senecio Forest

Moir Hut to Lava Tower, Elevation: 13,800 ft to 15,190 ft Distance: 7 km | 4 miles
Hiking Time: 4-5 hours Habitat: Alpine Desert, Lava Tower to Barranco Camp
Elevation: 15,190 ft to 13,044 ft Distance: 3 km | 2 miles
Hiking Time: 2-3 hours, We begin the day climbing up a ridge and then head southeast towards the
Lava Tower – a 300 ft tall volcanic rock formation. 

Senecio Forest-250 Year Old Groundsel Trees

Jimmie started to display effects of altitude sickness  today at Lava Tower. Our guide was worried about him and began to observe him. Richard and I both were feeling alright but the oxygen deficient air was definitely noticeable.

We descend down to Barranco Camp through the strange but beautiful Senecio Forest to an altitude of 13,000 ft. Although you begin and end the day at the same elevation, the time spent at higher altitude was very beneficial for acclimatization

Barranco Camp, Senecio Forest before the summit of Kilimanjaro
Barranco Camp was one of my favorite camps. In the afternoon the rain clouds cleared, which was the case every day on the mountain. Mornings were always clear and beautiful. The mountain showed itself until early afternoon when the rain clouds would move in. Then sometimes rain would settle over us until the sun set and just like magic the mountain would clear up again providing us mind blowing displays of stars and of the glaciers and peak itself. 
Barranco Camp, before the summit of Kilimanjaro
Day 5 Barranco Camp to Karanga Campo Climb

Elevation: 13,044 ft to 13,106 ft Distance: 5 km | 3 miles
Hiking Time: 4-5 hours

We begin the day by descending into a ravine to the base of the Great Barranco Wall. Then we climb the non-technical but steep, nearly 900 ft cliff. From the top of the Barranco Wall we cross a series of hills and valleys until we descend sharply into Karanga Valley. One more steep climb up leads us to Karanga Camp. This is a shorter day meant for acclimatization

Top of the Barranco Wall
Day 6 Barranco to Kosovo Camp

13108 Ft-END: 16000 Ft

Today ‘s climb was about 5 hours. Along the way, I felt dizzy . It didn’t feel like altitude sickness. Instead I felt like I was becoming dehydrated or I had a electrolyte imbalance from taking Diamox for a week straight. I began to be seriously concerned that I wouldn’t be able to summit.  I stopped taking Diamox hoping that this would do the trick.

 

Richard, Jimmie and I at Barafu Camp

For the day, our plan was to hike to Barafu Camp, the main base camp for climbing to the summit. We would not camp at Barafu but instead climb up the Barafu wall, a 900 foot wall that takes an hour to climb to an even higher base camp-Kosovo Camp. The name Kosovo was given to the camp because of it’s barren, war torn desolate appearance.  Our group was the only one in Kosovo. A special permit is needed to camp at Kosovo and the permit is hard to obtain. At times strong winds riped over this camp; and a massive thunderstorm with crackling lightning rumbled on the other side of the mountain below us.

At Kosovo Camp, we took it easy since we would only have a few hours of sleep before waking up at mifnight to summit. We prepared our gear, tried to stay warm and consumed as many calories as possible. Then we went to bed early and tried to leep but sleep was hard to come by at this altitude-16,000 feet. 

Our Camp at Kosovo overlooking the 2nd but smaller peak of Kilimanjaro-Mawenzi Peak

Day 7 Uhuru Peak

Elevation: 13,106 ft to 19341 ft-14 hours

This was the most mentally and physically challenging portion of the trek. I set my alarm for midnight, awoke to a bad dream in freezing conditions.  I didn’t have to put much else on clothing wise because I went to sleep with almost all of the clothes I planned to wear for the summit already on.  Adrenaline started to take over. The moment had arrived. All of the hard work brought us this fr to the base of the summit. Now it was entirely up to us if we would make it to the top or not. I was excited by the physical and mental challenge that awaited me.  Our guides and crew were already awake and coffee and a warm meal was waiting for us in the dinner tent. While we were scarfing down much needed calories and carbs, Jimmie arrived from Barafu Camp, an hour below us. From here on out we planned to all hike together to the summit.

We began our descent at 1am in the darkness for several hours while taking frequent, but short, breaks. We made sure to never sit down. The full moon illuminated the mountain, so we didn’t need to use our flashlights except for in really rocky areas. At approx. 4am, the moon set and we were left in complete darkness. But with the absence of the moon, the stars kept us company as we struggled to put every step forward in the extreme cold and physical pain.

I stopped paying attention, when our guide said we were almost to the rim-Stella Point (18,900 ft). I turned around and saw the most beautiful horizon I had ever seen. The sun was starting to rise casting pink and orange hues across the land. Even though we were freezing, the sunrise gave us extra motivation and at this point we were confident we would summit.

Glacier on summit
Ascent

Summit Looking Out Over Glaciers

Ascent Above the Clouds to the Summit

Richard and I with our guides at the summit

Once we arrived at Stella Point, we still had an hour and 500 feet left to go before reaching the summit. We put on our crampons so that we could walk on ice. The path ahead would be mostly through snow and ice. Time was of the essence at this altitude.

Finally, we arrive at Uhuru Peak- the highest point on Mount Kilimanjaro and the continent of Africa. We didn’t linger at the top because at the extreme elevation, it was only a matter of time before sickness would set in.

 

The Amazing and World of the Summit of Kilimanjaro

Map of Summit Area

The summit area is a whole different world. Up here you are in a world by yourself. it is almost like having VIP seating at a concert. In this case nature is the performer. You are one of the privileged few who gets to stand on the summit and look out over natural splendors of the mountain. When you stand at the summit-Uhuru Peak, you are above the clouds, surrounded by ancient glaciers of ice that line the ridges that encircle a volcanic crater-Kibo crater. These glaciers although spectacular now, in a few decades, may sadly be a thing of the past. Inside the crater, fumaroles belch up smoke and heat, that has melted all of the snow inside the crater. Although Kibo crater is dormant, it isn’t dead and someday the crater may erupt again. To reach the bottom of Kibo crater you need more time to descent hundreds of feet into the crater and you will need to sleep on top of the Kilimanjaro and be extremely acclimatized. 

 

 

At the summit, the sun was extremely strong and even though very little of my skin was exposed and what little was bare was covered in sun block, I still managed to get a sun burn that later made me feel feverish.From the summit, we made our descent straight down to the Melenium Hut camp site, stopping at Barafu for lunch. The trail is very rocky and can be quite hard on the knees; trekking poles are helpful. Melenium Camp is situated in the upper forest and mist or rain can be expected in the late afternoon. Later in the evening, we enjoy our last dinner on the mountain and a well-earned sleep.

Day 8: Melenium Camp to Mweka Gate

Rare duiker 

Elevation: 10,065 ft to 5,380 ft

On our last day, we continue the descent to Mweka Gate. The beginning of the hike was in really sharp and treacherous volcanic rock. Once we entered the rainforest, the rain started to pummel us and the conditions were slippery.

Zanzibar Island

After the climb was over, we spend one last night at the Legendary Lodge outside of Arusha, and then we flew to Zanzibar for two nights of RnR at the Zuri 5 Star hotel on a white sand beach. The highlight was visiting Fukuchani Cave, and swimming in its clear waters. The main pool of the cave was lit by sun light but off to the sides the cave extended onwards into darkness. I didn’t have a light and tried to swim as far into the darkness as I could but there were too many sharp rocks. One of the local guides mentioned that approx. 50 feet to the back of one of the dark chambers is the remains of a calcified noose that was used by the Portuguese to punish and execute slaves.

Old Portuguese Ruins-Fukuchani Ruins

Swimming in Fukuchani Ruins

Zanzibar Village Life

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