Acclimatising to Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and actually summiting the roof of Africa was a massive achievement for me, let me tell you about my journey. We took the Marangu route over 5 days, this is the only route where you get the luxury of sleeping in huts along the way, however, this didn’t shelter us from the cold on our December challenge of climbing Moubnt Kilimanjaro.
The first three days are all about acclimatising to the altitude, we are constantly told to walk ‘pole-pole’ (slowly, slowly in Swahili). We are not in a race, and in fact, there is really no need to rush anyway, you are only heading to a hut where you’ll be sat shivering. Best to take your time, enjoy your walk, take lots of photos and let your body adjust to the increase in altitude.
DAY 1: Marangu Gate (1879m) to Mandara Huts (2720m)
Trekking time: 4 hrs
Distance: Approximately 8 km
Habitat: Montane forest
We drove from Arusha through Marangu village to Kilimanjaro National Park Gate where we did all the necessary paperwork to sign into the park. The luggage was off-loaded from the bus and the porters took our main bags including the food and water needed for our trek. The heavens opened at this stage which wasn’t a great start but I was too excited to let that bother me.
Armed with our day packs, we headed into the rainforest along a clear trail. We passed by streams, mini waterfalls and over wooden bridges, it felt strangely like we were in the English countryside with the nettles, blackberries and ferns, and of course, the rain. Fortunately, the rain subsided, blue skies appeared and the glow of the sun shining through the trees certainly put a smile on my face. There was lots of bearded moss hanging off the trees, looked like some kind of Indiana Jones movie set.
We set off later than hoped so we were pushing on to get to Mandara huts placed in a forest clearing before sunset, we just made it ready for photos by our first board, the ones I’d only seen in photos before. Looking out over the huts, we were above the clouds with a peachy glow of the sunset, my first taste of feeling like you were going up in the world, literally.
The climb for the porters is like second nature and they were ready at Mandara huts with hot tea and coffee for the much slower hikers. The huts are A-framed huts at Mandara can house around 60 trekkers, there’s showers, toilets and running water… not to drink though! There is a main large hut where we joined together for dinner before adding more layers to keep warm for bed. Went to bed a little weary at 9.45pm to the loud shrieking sound of the monkeys in the trees.
DAY 2: Mandara Huts (2720m) to Horombo Huts (3720m)
Trekking time: 6 hrs
Distance: Approx 11 km
Waking up to blue skies, sunshine, birds tweeting and the Tanzanian ladies playing local tunes put me in a good mood for the day. A hot bowl of water and soap was placed on the steps by the porters for us to wash with before breakfast.
The first hour of the hike on day two was still in the rainforest habitat but then transitioned into moorland vegetation at the base of the Maundi Crater. It was more open with more grassy plants and many yellow flowers. You can see lots of Sage too, apparently if you boil this, it’s great for unsettled stomachs… I was hoping we would have no need for this. Across the open moorlands you can see some of Kilimanjaro’s most wonderful endemic plants such as the giant lobelia and the giant groundsel.
We passed many porters coming down after their climb, the bags they carry on their heads are just huge, some without hiking boots, and yet they still greet you with big smiles saying “jambo, caribou” (Hello, welcome in Swahili).
Three hours into the trek, the temperature dropped and the clouds started to drift along in front of the mountains, whilst this was pretty, I did start to pray that rain was not on its way. Unfortunately, no one up there was listening to me. The clouds got thicker and the rain started raining cats and dogs, as the English would say. We quickly put on our rain jackets, I was cursing that I had not brought my rain trousers with me on today! The wind was powering up too, the grasses that were stood still only the minutes previously were now dancing around.
The group were all getting a little peckish and there was a lovely picnic area with wooden benches and tables to enjoy our packed lunch. Well, it would’ve been if it wasn’t throwing it down. The white-necked ravens were scavenging around to catch and food that didn’t make it into our mouths.
Starting off in the sunshine, the change in the elements was speedy, it really pays to be prepared with the right clothing. My teeth were chattering, it was cold, lost feeling in my hands so it was definitely time for the gloves. We sang songs on the way to keep us motivated. The clouds we could see were white clouds as opposed to black which was encouraging, think we were free from more rain.
We made it to Horombo huts after drying off on the last stretch, we had been walking pole-pole as recommended so the trek took us around 7 hours. We stood on the platform drinking warm coffee with a few more layers on, some of the group were doing handstands against the board that highlighted our new altitude of 3720m. Watching the view above the clouds, gave you a new burst of energy, life was good right now!
DAY 3: Horombo hut (3720m) – Kibo hut (4720m)
Trekking time: 5 hrs
Distance: Approximately 9 km
Habitat: Alpine desert
Early wake up call to set out to Kibo huts through the alpine desert. Day three is a shorter trek which will allow us to rest before our midnight start to the summit that night.
The weather cold and fresh, few clouds but no cause for concern just yet but they were covering Mount Kilimanjaro and Mawenzi! We passed many giant Senacio trees which is Africa’s largest indigenous tree. The last watering point is 4130m where we filled our bottles up which will be boiled to purify. Most importantly, we need to ensure we have enough water for the challenge ahead.
After a steep hill, the land certainly did become more barren with volcanic rock terrain and the enormity of Kilimanjaro became apparent. Feeling nervous about the big black cloud following us, I kept looking ahead to the blue skies and white fluffy clouds. I could definitely feel the air was thinning out, my breath was getting a little shorter with the altitude, I honestly thought it would be worse though.
Arrived at Kibo Huts to sunshine and after a nice cup of tea, the weather took a dramatic change and a massive block of cloud shifted in and engulfed Kilimanjaro and we saw the peak of Mawenzi poking out the top. The change can happen that quick.
We prepared our equipment such as head torches, gloves and extra layers whilst it was daylight ready for the big summit. Water will freeze up in the pipes of a camel-bak so good to carry your water in a thermal flask.
Time for some sleep to conserve some energy, the big day was upon us. I struggled to sleep, too many emotions going round in my head, excitement, anticipation and simply praying that I make it. I was told summit day was tough but you never know how your body decides to react, you may have the mental stamina but just hoped the altitude didn’t get me.
Now let’s find out about the summit day of Kilimanjaro!
Preparations for Kilimanjaro
Always make travel insurance a priority and World Nomads will cover you for this altitude! I’ve partnered with World Nomads to offer you 5% discount for first time customers. I can’t recommend them enough, the contract is easy to understand and, most of all, they are responsive when you need to contact them from abroad to resolve an issue. Click to claim your World Nomads 5% travel insurance discount.
Our trip was organised by Trekkup which was a package including flights, accommodation, guides and food. A gear list is supplied by the company as well as joint training programme climbing the dizzy heights of the Dubai skyscrapers. We were advised not to consume alcohol 3 weeks before to give our bodies the best chance. Now, whilst being physically fit is a massive bonus, for me, it was more willpower and determination that you need bags of to get you to the roof of Africa.
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