Sunday, January 11, 2015

Mount Kilimanjaro

During my long school break in December I traveled to Tanzania with a few Peace Corps friends to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Mt. Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa at a height of 5,895 m (19,341 ft).  We booked a 7 day trip--5 days up, 2 days down.  Our group consisted of 7 Peace Corps volunteers from Mozambique and one volunteer's brother from Chicago, three people from Japan, a man from Syria, two women from Australia, a woman from Russia/London, another man from Chicago, and a couple from Italy who have been doing humanitarian work in Angola and Somalia for the past 5 years.  We were a very diverse group of 18 and I'm proud to say we all made it to the summit on day 6.  Before getting to the mountain I wasn't sure if there would be other people in our group besides the 8 of us from Mozambique, but I'm glad we were joined by other people.  It was fun to hear all the languages being spoken as we hiked: English, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Arabic, Russian, and Swahili.

In addition to the 18 hikers in our group we were also accompanied by eight guides, two waiters, three cooks, and 54 porters.  In total, we were a group of over 80 people.  The company we went with was called Nyange Adventures and I was completely surprised by the level of service we received on the mountain.  We had booked one of the least expensive trip options so I wasn't expecting much from the food or other services while we were hiking, but I was pleasantly surprised.  We received three large meals every day, tea and snack time in the afternoon, coffee delivered to our tents in the morning, and warm water to wash with twice a day.  It was amazing.  I barely ate any of the snacks I had brought during the trip because I was so well taken care of.  I would definitely recommend Nyange Adventures to anyone who is thinking of climbing Mt. Kili.

Overall, the hike was gorgeous.  We hiked through rainforests, heath and moorland, and alpine desert.  With every passing day we gained more altitude and lost more oxygen.  By the time we reached base camp at 15,000 ft, I could barely walk without my heart racing.  We all felt giddy from lack of oxygen and didn't have much of an appetite.  Drinking water left me breathless.  The summit at 19,000 ft was the hardest of all.  We all walked so slowly it took us 30 minutes to go .5 km.

The only downside to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is the crowds.  I usually like to camp and backpack because it is a chance to get away from people and spend time in the quiet of nature, but that was impossible on Kili.  On our route there is no quota for the number of hikers allowed so an unlimited number of groups can be hiking at the same time.  There were at least 10 other groups of 80 people at each campsite with us.  And that was just on our route, Machame.  Once we met up with some of the other routes there were even more people.  On the narrow sections of trail traffic jams were common and the path up to the summit was just a continuous line of people.  Fighting the crowds is definitely worth it, but it's not something I would want to do again.  I think that if Tanzania wants to preserve the ecosystem of Kilimanjaro for future generations they need to impose quotas for how many people can climb the mountain at a time.

There were man more adventures to our trip that I will describe in another blog post, but here I'd just like to take you day-by-day up the mountain and back down again.

Day 1: Machame gate (1800m) to Machame Camp (3000m)
The first day of hiking was primarily through the rainforest.  We were antsy to get moving and the pace seemed agonizingly slow.  When we got to camp, we were surprised by popcorn and tea, warm wash water, and a delicious dinner of fish, potatoes, and fruit.

Peace Corps Mozambique is ready to hike! (photo courtesy of Sam Krueger)

While we waited to start hiking we had to be careful not to lose our snacks to the monkeys.

A member of our group, Sam, lost his sandwich to one of the monkeys.
photo courtesy of Sam Krueger

The porters carried 20kg in addition to their own gear.
Day 1 hiking

Porters carried the bulk of the weight on their heads, but would switch it to their shoulders when they got tired.
At 3000m, it's chilly enough to put on layers--very exciting.
Our first campsite at the edge of the rainforest.

Morning coffee in the tent.

Day 2: Machame camp (3000m) to Shira Camp (3850m)

Our group hiking on day 2.  Nick and I spent a long time practicing counting in Swahili: moja, mbili, tatu, nne, tano, etc.

Day 2 views

Just before getting to camp on day 2 we were hit by a huge rain/hailstorm.  I got completely soaked, including my boots and was freezing cold.  I was worried because I didn't think my boots would ever dry and was afraid I wouldn't be able to summit with frozen boots.  Luckily, the guides dried my boots in the kitchen tent overnight and the next day I was able to hike.

The remnants of the hail

Many, many tents

Morning view from my tent at Shira Camp.  Life above the clouds with Mt. Meru in the distance.

With my dry boots, I'm ready to hike on day 3! 

A sneak peek of the peak!
Day 3: Shira Camp (3850m) to Barranco Camp (3940m) via Lava Tower (4600m) for acclimitization

Braced against the incoming hail.

Waiting to sign in at Barranco Camp

Our guides and porters greeted us with a Swahili welcome song as we arrived at camp on day 3. 

Barranco camp was my favorite--it had the best view.

Day 4: Barranco Camp (3940m) to Karanga Camp (4000m) via Barranco Walls (4250m)

Day 4 hiking was great--we hiked up the Barranco walls and then back down to Karanga camp.  There was a major traffic jam going up, but that's what happens when 800 people are all trying to go to the same place.
See the line of people heading up the walls? So many people!

Waiting for the traffic jam to clear...
At the top of the Barranco walls (photo thanks to Sam K.)
Day 5: Karanga Camp (4000m) to Barafu Camp (4600m)

Day 5 was a big day.  We hiked to base camp (Barafu), had a hot lunch, then napped for a few hours before being woken up again at 6 pm for dinner.  Then we slept for a few more hours before being woken up at 11 pm to get ready for the summit.  We briefly celebrated the beginning of 2015 (it was new year's eve) before setting out for the summit.  After 5 hours of inching up the mountain we reached Stella Point right before sunrise.  

Stella Point: 18,885 ft
The first sunrise of 2015

Glaciers of Kili.

After a few pictures and warm tea we continued on to Uhuru peak, just 30 minutes away.  Uhuru is the tallest point on the mountain and of course we had to get there. 

ALASKA flag on Kili!

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Day 6: Barafu camp (4600m) to Mweka Hut (3100m)

After the summit we went back down to base camp, rested for a few hours, and then packed up and headed down to Mweka Camp.  For me, the downhill was harder than any of the uphill.  My toes hurt from being slammed into my boots and my legs were tired from having to control them so much on the downhill.  Once we got to Mweka Camp we were exhausted and ready to get off the mountain.  Only one more day!  AND we could breathe again without struggle--amazing!

Me and my main porter, Andrew.  He was one of the three porters who came with us up to the summit.  His strength is amazing. I gave him my gloves and hat at the end of the trip.

Day 7: Mweka Camp (3100m) to Mweka Gate (1800m)

On the last day we woke up and hiked out to the Mweka Gate.  We had made it!  After receiving our certificates and signing out we went back to the hostel, took showers, and drank masala chai.  Yum yum.

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro has been a goal of mine since high school and I still can't quite believe I've actually done it.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to complete the climb and to do it with such amazing friends.  I can't wait for the next adventure.

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