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Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tanzania: Climbing Kilimanjaro

Having watched more nature documentaries than I can count as a kid, I have always thought of climbing Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa, as one of the great challenges of the continent. Tara, on the other hand, considers mountain climbing the worst form of torture. Luckily for me, it turned out that our travel friend, Andrew, whom we first met on the way to Venezuela last year, is volunteering in Tanzania and he was up for a nice mountain hike. So, I convinced him to climb Kilimanjaro while we left Tara at a nice hotel to finish her current writing project.

The first thing you need to know if you want to climb Kili is that it is expensive. Because a.) the country of Tanzania tries to squeeze every possible dime out of foreign tourists, and b.) it has apparently become very popular for Brits to climb Kilimanjaro "for charity" after some famous people did it, the cost to climb the mountain has skyrocketed in the last decade. You can now expect to pay about $1000 if you just show up in Moshi and book a trip or more if you book in advance. Over $600 of that goes straight to the national parks and you pay it separately by Visa credit or debit card.

This brings us to the pictures. Every person will have roughly one guide and three porters for them. What do the porters carry? Tents, tables, chairs, warm clothing, food, and any pet elephants you bring. Most people do not have any belongings carried by the porter, but all the stuff needed by the tour company for you must be carried. Here are porters carrying stuff up the mountain. Each porter is limited to 20 kilograms plus his own stuff (did not see any women porters), and many carry the load on their heads.
The mountain has many distinct ecosystems, which the first day mainly going through rainforest. These flowers are common up until about 3000 meters of elevation, but this one had a cute bug inside.
In our case, they sent a massive dining tent for just the two of us. Here is our friend, Andrew, in our huge eating tent about to have some tea and popcorn. I love popcorn, and was happy that it was so popular on the mountain. I do not care about tea, really, but Andrew does not have sugar in his, which meant that I could at least add tons of sugar to mine.
After the rainforest, it becomes what I might call scrubland, but which they call moorland. The trees become short with lots of lichen and small plants. This is that region.
Further up, the trees stop altogether and it just becomes rocky with the occasional green. This is when it is not covered by fog, which happens a lot.
We were not prepared for the massive number of hikers. On our route, the 6 day route, 170 hikers (each with 3 porters and a guide) started on the same day. This meant that huge tent cities spring up at night. This photo was taken early in the day, but three hours later, this entire area was covered in hundreds of tents.
Another view looking down the mountain. Really nice when not fogged over.
Our friend Andrew catches a quick nap when we stopped to rest. The hiking for the first three days is not all that difficult, but the uphill does become tiring at times.
As you get closer to the top, all that remains is rock and gravel. The last part of the hike is up a steep, gravel area much like this, though it is also in the middle of the night.
These are called Lava Towers and are at about 4600 meters. Kilimanjaro is an inactive volcano (our guide said that it last erupted about 20,000 years ago), and lava formations are common on the mountain.
All the way up to at least 5000 meters, lots of mice survive. They are helped by food from climbers, I am sure, but impressive at how high they go.
Between about 3000 and 4000 meters, these amazing tree like plants live. No idea what they are, but I really like them. These also had a nice waterfall in the background.
This is not the very top of the mountain, but is close. Towards the top, several glaciers exist all year round.
In this picture, I tried to set my camera timer to 2 seconds because it was a busy path and I thought I could make it. I almost made it into position. This was on day four, and Andrew and I were feeling really good. We were the fastest hikers around that day.
After getting to camp around 1pm on Day 4, we then got up at midnight to start hiking to the top. Many hikers leave at 11pm, but our guide thought that we should be fine if we left by 12:30 because we were fast hikers. Unfortunately, after a few hours, Andrew began to experience altitude problems in the form of terrible stomach pains. We agreed to split up so that I could make the top before sunrise. I then made my guide hike for the next three hours with one 3 minute break to pee. We reached the summit at 6:15am, just in time for the 6:21 sunrise. It was just me and 4 other tourists at the top at that point. I was tired, but otherwise in good shape.
Here is a picture from sunrise at Uhuru Peak, the top of Kilimanjaro.
Just off the peak is also a very nice glacier.
And a closer shot of the glacier.
After resting at the top, we started on our way back down. About 20 minutes down, we met Andrew and our other guide on the way up. So, despite the weird looks from the guides, I climbed back to the top for a second time. I am the one who Tara says looks like a girl in this picture.
We know a few people who have climbed Kilimanjaro and have met a few others on this trip. Most all have said it might be the hardest thing they have ever done. That is not the case for me, but I am still shocked by just how many people are able to make it up this very difficult mountain. No special tools or skills required, but you need a whole lot of drive and a bit of luck to make it all the way to the top. It was good to do, but I probably would not rush to do it again.


  1. That posting was worth it just to see Andy in a coat...


  2. I'm just the mother-in-law, glad you are safe, but also relieved that Tara did not join you.

  3. Congratulations, Andy! Very impressive climb! Out of curiosity, how do you feel Kilamanjaro compared to Waynapicchu (despite being a several-day climb rather than a few hours)? I felt like Wayna was pretty tough and I'd love to hear what you think. Keep up the great posts!

  4. Hi, Megan. I did not think Wayna was too bad, but that is mostly because it was short. It was the type of mountain I hate, which is almost like climbing stairs. No matter how steep, I prefer flat to step-like. I could not have done a multi-day hike up a bigger Wayna.

    For those who don't know Megan, she is what I would call a serious runner who could outrun me over any distance. But, running does not use the same muscles as hiking, and I saw some very fit runners with problems climbing Kili. Our guide on Kilimanjaro asked me if I had prepared for the climb by running a lot. Only if I see ice cream...

  5. SO cool!!! And yes, you do kinda look like a girl in that one pic.... ;o)