What started out as a crazy idea, over one too many glasses of wine, quickly escalated into 3 months of training and a hike to the top of the tallest mountain in Africa. Let me honest and say I was not completely aware what I had signed up for, but it is an accomplishment I will always be proud of.
This was the view from my hotel in Moshi, Tanzania. I look at it now and think it is pretty daunting, but then again, I am fully aware that in bite size pieces, any mammoth task can be overcome.
I chose the Marangu route, also known as the “Coca-Cola” trail which is one or the oldest and more established route on Kilimanjaro, offering overnight huts over camping.
The Route approaches Kili from the southeast. It is considered one of the easiest routes, as you hike along a gradual slope, but the shorter time frame makes acclimatization quite difficult.
Day one started with a beautiful walk through dense forest. As we ascended and the oxygen level grow thinner, so does the bush. Eventually, the trees fall away to be replaces with sparse vegetation, covered in a strange moss called Old Man Beard. This gives the scene a ghostly air. From this elevated position, you can see for miles over the plains into neighboring Kenya.
Camp on the second night was at the Horombo Huts. It is magical to be positioned above the clouds. The sensation of being so isolated and free is empowering and despite the desert like environment, it is incredibly beautiful.
Having climbed in a group of 8 people for the past two days, we quickly became a connected family. The communal dining hall brought many different teams together. Descending teams on the same route, who had summited the night before, offered great encouragement and added more excitement than nerves to our final climb.
The social dynamic added so much to the experience, despite the low oxygen levels, spirits remained high. The guides were amazingly supportive. Having completed this climb many times before, they offer tried and tested advise.
I found pacing myself to be one of the best tips, the repeatedly emphasized “Pole, pole.” These Swahili words mean “Slowly, slowly”, and I heard them constantly, everyday of the climb.
Although being fit is essential, making it to the top of Kilimanjaro is not based on strength. Just making it to Kibo Hut is very much reliant on how well your body adjusts to the altitude.
Reaching the Summit
The final assent was from Kibo Hut. The goal was to arrive at the peak by sun rise, so we left camp and start out 6 km hike in the middle of the night. Destination 19,341 feet, Uhuru Peak.
The climb took about 6 hours. We had chosen full moon for the climb so the path was pretty well lit. The terrain was arctic and rocky and although I don’t remember many details, I do remember it was a definite challenge.
We made it by sun rise, took in as much of the view as our oxygen deprived brains could absorb and began the return hike of 16 km back to Horombo Hut. The full weight of my accomplish only hit me the following day when I was back at the hotel enjoying a well deserved drink.
I began to feel the best I had ever felt for pushing myself to feel the worst I had ever felt. Would I do it again, maybe. And for the next time, at least I’d have a clue what I’d be getting myself into.
How To Train For Kilimanjaro
Training for Kilimanjaro meant being walking fit so I did plenty walking. About 4 times a week, I was in the gym walking on an inclined treadmill in my hiking books and with a backpack, loaded with 15 pound weights. I knew my pack was going to be light but I wanted to compensate for any extra challenge.
Weekends, I took to the mountains, hills and roads and would hike for several hours, again, with loaded backpacks. The only challenge we could not prepare ourselves for was the Altitude and its effects on our bodies but I feel our training was essential in making the climb the success that it was.
If you are training for a challenge or just want to improve you fitness, check out Confessions of a Fitness Instructor for some awesome tips and advice to get you motivated and moving.