Kilimanjaro:The highs and lows of an adventure that started in the worst possible way…

Read this piece by WW guide Anita Grey and get a real taste of what trekking on Mount Kilimanjaro is really like.

Our great Walking Women Kilimanjaro adventure!
“I wonder what adventures we will encounter this time?” were the first words at the airport, from one of our loyal High Level women, who has encountered more than her fair share of memorable incidents up high! It wasn’t long after landing, that things got interesting! For not the first time on holidays, her suitcase didn’t arrive on the carousel, and the realization that her bag could be playing catch up on the entire trek up the mountain dawned!
However, there was more to come, when our in country rep didn’t appear to pick us up at the airport, and couldn’t be contacted on the emergency helpline! I have to say though, even with the stress of the missing bag, and the impending sense of doubt about our “hosts”, we were met with so many genuine smiles and welcomes from all the airport staff and taxi drivers. We knew that we had entered a country where nothing was going to be a hassle, and good humor abounds. After some considerable time waiting, and lots of helpful locals trying to get hold of our rep on the phone for us, we made our way to the fabulous Rivertrees Hotel, where the realization dawned that our “hosts” had done a runner with all the money paid out by Walking Women. No hotel room, no way of contacting, and late on a Saturday night…
Luckily, Raphael and Delphine, the managers of Rivertrees, were sympathetic to our plight, and pledged to help us arrange the whole trek through a reliable company, from scratch, at no charge for their time. By the end of the next day, during which time our team had gone on a guided walk through local villages and markets, hopefully to take their minds off the worry about whether dreams of a lifetime were to be shattered, we had 26 porters, guides, cooks and waiters ready to go, and paid for by poor Sue having to dig deep in her own pockets to raise enough dollars on credit card to pay for the whole expedition again from scratch, and all on a Sunday at that! So our second, unscheduled night at the Rivertrees was turned around to one of celebration, anticipation, and pleasure in our gorgeous surroundings; we were staying in paradise; amongst the birds and monkeys, in our own jungle lodges; divine food, and drinking “Killimanjaro” beers.
For some of us, this was our first experience of having porters to carry our stuff, but it became apparent from the outset that this mountain provides great employment, as well as career progression, for those who want to become cooks, waiters, summit porters, and eventually, guides. For the past 3 years, all loads are weighed in at every camp each day, to ensure that no one is carrying more than their 20 kg limit, and we got used to fit, strong, porters overtaking us with a smile and a greeting, regardless of which company they were working for. They all seem to know each other, even though they are from different tribes and religions, and have a high degree of banter. Our first slow paced afternoon walk to the forest camp was lush, with sightings of monkeys along the way. The forest camp felt more like being at a festival, with all the tents crowded in, but somehow our team of porters and guides made us feel like we were being taken care of, bringing each of us hot water to wash, and showing us to our own “dining tent” complete with comfy chairs!
Day 2 of the Lemosho route took us up through beautiful forest trails, eventually leaving the jungle behind to reach the moorland zone. We were starting to feel the altitude, reaching Shira 1 camp at 3,500metres, where we had a wonderful cooked lunch. This was a long and challenging day, but by the time we had arrived for lunch, our porters and cooks had overtaken us, and the dining tent was waiting for us, with freshly made soup; everyday the food was freshly cooked, and absolutely delicious. Continuing through the Shira Plateau, we began to appreciate the enormity of the mountain, and the extraordinary climactic zones that you travel through. We kept catching glimpses behind us of the magnificent Mount Meru, sometimes climbed to aid acclimatization for Kili, but a stunning mountain in it s own right.
Shira 2 camp at 3900m was possibly our most challenging camp, as our bodies were still adjusting to the altitude. We had passed the emergency track, where people who are suffering from Acute Altitude Sickness can be driven down quickly, but headaches and feeling nauseous are considered to be quite normal at this height.
Day 3 veered us due east into stunning lunar semi desert landscape, with our first views of the high range of the Kilimanjaro mountain opening up and inspiring us. Our stiff ascent to Lava Tower at 4,630 metres, went remarkably well.
We seemed to have got the “pole pole” (slowly slowly) approach down to a fine art; many parties raced past us, but we gained in the sure confidence that we were all acclimatizing really well, by going at a steady snail’s pace.
Our rewarding descent of 680 metres lead us thankfully to Barranco Camp, passing many Senecio Kilimanjaro trees which only grow here and on Mount Kenya, and exotic Lobelia, which looked like giant pineapples. Our ability to enjoy our lovely food, and sleep at a relatively lower elevation that night, at 3,900m made us realize that we were all doing really well.
The “Great Barranco Wall”, a scramble up to a high ridge, proved to be a bottleneck for groups of trekkers and porters alike. By this time, we had merged with trekkers from the more popular Machame route. It was most impressive to see porters carrying their awkward loads up the “need to use both hands” territory.
One of our group, a WW newbie from Canada, had not heard of the word “faff” although I’m not sure if it is recognized in the Oxford English Dictionary. She enjoyed the use of the word, both as verb and adjective, and began to sign herself in at the camp visitor book, as “Trainee Faffer” next to our “Astronaut” “Brain surgeons” and other such occupations which we chose for ourselves each day. The other source of great amusement, was the ritual recording of our vitals by our head guide, using the pulse oxymeter, to ensure that we were all safe to continue.
Day 4 and 5 Our relatively short, but stunning hike, on day 4 to Karanga Camp ( 4035m ) enabled us to take an acclimatization walk after lunch. This was the routine for the next 2 days, allowing us to climb high, and sleep low.
Day 6 There’s no getting away from the fact that summit day, day 6 for us, was a long hard journey. Setting off at midnight, having tried to get to sleep at 4,640 metres, in sub zero temperatures; passing many “casualties” of the altitude, by headtorch.. Slowly slowly definitely worked well for us, as well as the fact that we had bonded really well as a team, and also with our 3 guides and 2 summit porters, who were always ready to help us with clothing, rucksacks, and any faffing which would have been much more difficult in those temperatures, and at that altitude. Just as things seemed to be reaching an almost grim point, the sun started to appear, and the high point of Stella started to become a realistic target.
Before we knew where we were, we had made it to 5 756meters, and hot tea was being passed around by our summit porters.
From here, Kilimanjaro summit is “only an hour”, but it is a struggle. One of our team was more than happy with her achievements, and after brief hugs all round, she started her long descent back down with one of our guides, down to easy breathing and the warm sunshine. The rest of us didn’t spend a lot of time on the summit, except to look in awe at the receding glacier, and vast lunar landscape of the crater, and to appreciate that we had made in onto the “Rooftop of Africa”
The long descent was rewarded with our wonderful camp porters at Barafu, taking off our rucksacks and boots, feeding us delicious food, and giving us a couple of hours back in our tents to powernap. The further challenge lay in getting going again at 4pm, to make further descent to Mweka camp (3080) The descent path is really beautiful, but quite surreal, after being on the move since midnight the night before. The final night’s camp really does feel like a celebration, albeit exhausted! The staff were all really happy and up and ready for the ritual Kilimanjaro song and celebration that we could hear ringing throughout the campsite. Our staff team seemed genuinely joyful with the success of our expedition, although I think it took us longer to fully appreciate what we had achieved.
Climbing Kilimanjaro is an incredible experience. We were guests of the mountain people of the area, which is a hugely important industry for them, and we knew that we couldn’t have done it without the wonderful team of porters, cooks and guides, who genuinely enjoyed helping us. Huge thumbs up to Sue, for ensuring that Walking Women got to the top, in spite of the rocky beginning! And don’t miss your chance in the future, as we will only build on this experience of a lifetime.
Feedback from KS:
Thank you so much for all the effort you put in to get the trip back up and running – and on a Sunday too. I was amazed that you/Anita and the Hotel were able to get it all back on track in such a short time frame – certainly above and beyond the call of duty. It just shows again what an exceptional company walking women is!
As for the trip – yes it was tough – not just the summit day and all the descent at the end, but living with the cold in the evenings and at night was also challenging. I think we were all a bit shell shocked when we had finished, but as time has gone on I, and those I am in contact with, remember more the good bits; the spectacular walking all the way to base camp, the views, the wonderful local team and of course the sense of achievement. Anita as always was the perfect guide, calm even through the first few problematical days.”
Although we are not offering the Kilimanjaro Trek in 2017, we ahve plenty of other holidays to choose from. So take a look and book your next adventure with WalkingWomen: http://walkingwomen.com/holidays/holiday-calendar/


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