Kilimanjaro | by Alexandra Lindinger
We have anxiously been awaiting this day and now it is here – the beginning of our Tanzanian adventure. We say goodbye to the mother city and board our plane to Johannesburg O.R Tambo International Airport, one of the busiest airports in Africa. After a short stopover in Johannesburg, we continue to Dar es Salaam. It is almost midnight and we look forward to a little rest.
After approximately 4.5 hours, our Precision Air flight arrives in Tanzania’s biggest city, Dar es Salaam. The extremely humid climate hits us the minute we step out of the aircraft, which is why we quickly head to the air-conditioned terminal building. We have to complete two visa forms, pay 50 USD and have our fingerprints scanned in order to obtain a visa. The whole procedure takes about 20 minutes and thereafter we are handed back our passports, including a visa which is valid for 3 months. After a short night at the hotel we explore the city centre of Dar es Salaam and we quickly realize that the economical centre of Tanzania is a turbulent metropolis which is also very chaotic when it comes to traffic. Luckily we come across the small promenade, Slipway, on the coast where we can relax a bit. The passage consists of a small harbour, local souvenir stands, boutiques, bars, restaurants and the Slipway Hotel. We enjoy a sundowner cocktail followed by dinner at the “Waterfront Restaurant” before we head back to our hotel.
The next morning, we are happy to leave Dar es Salaam and continue our journey to Arusha. The city which has its name from the residential Masai Tribe rises at approximately 1.400 metres above sea level and is around 90 kilometres southwest of Mount Kilimanjaro’s peak. Within close proximity one also finds the relatively small Arusha National Park with the 4.565 metres high and dormant volcano Meru and the Ngurdoto Crater situated at its foot. Besides Dar es Salaam, Arusha is one of the most important industrial cities, mostly for coffee, grain, sisal, kapok and jute (textile) as well as coconut fibre but also serves as point of origin for safari tourists. Although Arusha itself does not really have sightseeing opportunities, the hustle and bustle of the markets and shops is nevertheless well worth seeing. Our journey continues to the small town of Moshi which is located on the southern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro and is therefore the main starting point for Kilimanjaro climbs. The region is dominated by lush mountain- and forest regions, lakes and waterfalls, offering great opportunities for walking-tours. Furthermore the history, tradition and culture of the native Chagga Tribe, which lives at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro is fascinating.
We enjoy some last laps in the pool before we have an early night. We are very nervous for tomorrow’s climb so that sleeping becomes a challenge and the rest that we so badly need, fails to appear. Finally, the big day is here and after our equipment has been checked by our mountain crew we depart for the Machame Gate. We will climb Mount Kilimanjaro on the “Machame-Route” (also known as Whiskey-Route), which is physically demanding but can definitely be recommended for its scenic beauty. Before we can begin with the hike, we register at KINAPA (national park authorities) and enter our names and personal details into their registration book. Thereafter we are given lunchboxes and three litres of water which we pack into our daypack. In the meantime our luggage and the mountain equipment have been distributed between the porters and as soon as everything has been arranged, the hike begins. Accompanied by humidity we immerge into the tropical rainforest and we are thankful for the huge trees and ferns with their cool shade. At the moment it is still easy-going on the forest path and although we are overtaken by the porters, we maintain our rather slow pace. After a short break, the path becomes more narrow and steeper and the silence of the forest is almost a bit scary. After approximately 5 hours we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel when emerging the rain forest and entering the moorlands. The moss draped “Erica Trees” seem almost unreal and give the landscape a mystical feel to it. At 3010 metres, we finally reach our destination for today, the Machame Camp.
The next morning, not long after our departure, we are unpleasantly surprised by rain and everybody quickly gets out their rain-gear. Despite the showers that keep coming down on us, the sun nevertheless manages to appear now and then. Colourful rainbows arise between the rocks and small brooks and waterfalls are awoken thanks to the passing showers. Over and over we get to see Senecias and Lobelias; a natural spectacle represents itself and we are astonished by the beauty of nature. Nevertheless we have to try and concentrate, as walking and climbing on the wet rocks becomes a bit of a challenge. After all, we arrive at the Shira Camp (3845 metres). It is still raining cats and dogs and by now we are cold and looking forward to a warm meal followed by snuggling up in our sleeping bags.
Our next journey takes us through the rather sandy, black and rocky lava desert to the Lava Tower at 4600 metres. Compared to yesterday, today’s hike is supposed to be easier and more relaxed even though we will have to walk longer. Once again we are rewarded with different sceneries along the way. As far as our eyes can reach, there are heavy, big and small rocks and the “stone figurines” built by climbers. Unfortunately we are followed by fog, which keeps on robbing us of the beautiful views. Once we have arrived at the Lava Tower, we take some pictures before we continue downwards. On the rocky walls in the Barranco Valley, it goes up and down. The landscape changes quickly and soon we find ourselves in green thicket between huge Senecias, Lobelias and different ferns and grass. Although the hike up to the Lava Tower and now back down to the Barranco Camp was supposed to make it easier for us to acclimatize, I feel that my body is starting to take strain and the height seems to impact me a bit too much for my liking. Eventually we arrive at the Barranco Camp at 3960 metres and although today was supposed to be easier than yesterday, I feel like it was much, much harder and I cannot wait to hop into my sleeping bag for a well-deserved rest.
We awake to a beautiful sunny and for the circumstances “warm” day. The visibility is great and only now do we notice that we spent the night in a valley and that the camp is surrounded by a rocky landscape. We have breakfast before we pack away our trekking poles as we will need our hands when having to overcome the majestic Barranco Wall. When looking at the wall from far it is difficult to imagine where and how we will get up there but our head guide Batchi leads us safely and assists where needed. It takes us around 1.5 – 2 hours and our climbing skills are definitely tested. Although I thought the climb up here would be extremely tiring, I feel much better than yesterday and I am in good spirits. We enjoy the stunning view and take a short break before we continue in direction of the Karanga Camp, at which we arrive after approximately 3 hours. Our crew has already prepared a warm lunch and once again we are stunned by the delicious meals our mountain chef is able to come up with under these circumstances. By now my appetite has faded and eating becomes difficult. I eat what I can and for dessert I enjoy a piece of fresh watermelon. We then continue to our last camp on the way up, the Barafu Camp. It takes us another 3 hours to get there and on the last stretch I can once again feel that I am battling. After we have finally arrived at the camp, I just want to sleep but our guide urges me to have dinner to get some strength. We have dinner around 18h00 and by 19h00 we are in “bed”. I think I am the only one in group that can actually sleep through until we are woken up at 23h00. It seems unreal, it is cold and I am tired and exhausted. We get dressed and have some tea and coffee to warm up. We are told not to eat too much but we are encouraged to have some biscuits. And then we start walking, one behind the other in a very slow pace, which for me still seems much too fast. I cannot really remember if I was cold but since I couldn’t feel my fingers anymore I assume I was. It is not long and our group splits and each of us go our own pace. It is one foot in front of the other. It is unbelievable how much the altitude is affecting me. I am really suffering and although I struggle with sickness, headaches and dizziness I keep on walking. On my way up, part of my group is already coming back down and they encourage me that it is not far anymore, although they conceal that the toughest part is still ahead of me. The last 100 metres to Stella Point take me almost 2 hours and without the help of our guide Batchi, I would have never made it. He tries his best to get me up there, by pushing, pulling and encouraging words. I cannot do more than 10 steps before I have to sit down but nevertheless I keep going. Finally, at 11h15 I get to Stella Point. Most climbers are back in camp by now and the mountain seems deserted. Unfortunately I am not allowed to go any higher as it will just make me more sick. At the moment I can however also not walk down again as I am too exhausted. So the guide helps me to lie down and I sleep for about an hour. By the time I wake up, porters have arrived and they “assist” me to walk down again, in other words, they drag me down the mountain and although we have to stop several times along the way, we get back to Barafu Camp within 2 hours. After a short rest we continue to Millenium Camp for our last night on the mountain. All in all I have walked for 16 hours and I cannot wait to finally get in to my sleeping bag for a very well-deserved rest.
The sun greets us on our last day on the mountain and the visibility is great, so we get to see the snowy top of Kili. We have breakfast which is followed by the traditional “gratuity ceremony”. We start descending but I can hardly walk as my feet are so bruised from yesterdays decent from the peak. But even I make it down and although by now my hands have blisters from putting so much pressure on my trekking poles, to release the pain in my feet, and I can hardly walk, I am happy to have been able to experience this wonderful trek. Once we get back to the hotel, I enjoy a warm shower. Our guides then come to the hotel to say farewell and to hand over our well-earned certificates. Although I suffered quite a bit, I would recommend this fascinating experience to anyone and I hope I will someday be able to return to this wonderful mountain.