Located on the Eastern part of still untouched Africa, Tanzania is indeed a land of mesmerizing landscapes and abundant wildlife.
I traveled to Tanzania in the month of February 2016 with plans to climb Kilimanjaro and go on a safari ride to Serengiti. With the zeal of adventure, I went out with this plan as Kilimanjaro is evidently the highest self-standing peak in the world and the top most point in Africa.
Unlike travelling in Asia pacific, travelling to Tanzania might demand more from your pockets-whether it is climbing Kilimanjaro or going on safari rides. Due to government policies to help improve local tour operators, the traveler has to use one of them to book their tours. Having said that, every shilling that you spend is far more worth than you can actually imagine.
I booked a local tour operator called Popote Africa Adventures for my complete itinerary. Although I was quite reluctant about Popote Africa adventures as they were new to the business, I did not have much budget to go with a substantially bigger global tour operators. It did not take much time for me to realize that I made the right decision by choosing the local tour operator who may not be as fancy as a global operator but they weren’t bad either.
With a plan of 10 days in Tanzania, I chose to climb Kilimanjaro via Machame route for 6 days and use 3 more days for the Serengiti Safari. I must admit that its a tight schedule but I had my own constraints of getting additional leaves approved from office. We stayed that night at Moshi city to start the trek from machame gate in the morning.
We started to trek Kilimanjaro with our squad of 2 guides, 7 porters, a chef and a waiter. The first day wasn’t really hard, we trekked through the rain forests of Kilimanjaro. The trail has been maintained well and it is nothing more than a walk. There were hardly any scenic views along way as the entire trail goes within the dense forest. By the time we reached our first camp-machame hut, our tents were ready and the crew was waiting for us to welcome. Tea, snacks and dinner were all served and as a routine we were briefed about the next day’s schedule.
Start Elevation: 1800 mts
End Elevation: 3000 mts
The second day however was different. We started early and trekked through the moorlands. We hadn’t seen anything of that kind before. Everything looked so different and enthralling. The trail was getting harder with few steep rocks to climb on the way. It was a challenging trek until we reached our second camp of Shira hut. The crew this time had something special for us, we were welcomed with their traditional dance. This welcome was so motivational, that it became an everyday ritual for rest of the Trek . Later in the evening, we went up to shira caves for about 200 mts to acclimatize. This cave once used to be the popular camping sight but now it was banned to camp there due to weakened cave rocks.
Start Elevation: 2800 mts
End Elevation: 3850 mts
The third day was more like an acclimatizing day where we trekked till LavaTava at 4530 mts with an elevation gain of 650 mts to finally descent and reach Barranco hut at 3950 mts. It was a long walk till Lavatava where we rested for lunch. Few of our fellow hikers had already developed mountain sickness due to the high altitude of Lavatava. But it was expected as the day’s hike was meant to acclimatize. We were so close to the peak of Kilimanjaro from lavatava, but we had to wait for another day to make a summit. Although there is a way to directly summit uhuru peak from Lavatava, it is only for the professionals. They said there is still an active volcano on the top and often huge rocks keep falling down. We started to descent through the barren landscape and alpine desert which looked extremely dramatic. We reached Barranco hut and the routine dance awaited us.
Start Elevation: 3850 mts
End Elevation: 3950 mts
The fourth day was the toughest of all, we had to trek for nearly 8 hours a day. We started early to climb the Barranco wall, which did take great efforts and no room for mistakes. We were told that once the climb completes, we can literally find ourselves on top of clouds. It was true, with the Peak on our background, everything in front of us was breath taking. We were truly on top of clouds and everything beneath looked negligibly small.
We continued on the plane lands to reach Karanga valley for the afternoon meal. The weather by now was stormy but we did not have an option to stop but to continue to trek with our Ponchos on until we reached Barafu hut – Base camp of Mount Kilimanjaro. There were already many tents pitched in at the camp and I think ours was at the perfect location, facing mwenzi peak. Needless to say, the view was worth all the efforts and hardships.
It was the most tiring day of all and we had to sleep early as the summit was about to start by midnight. By now we had all kind of Altitude problems but the motivation of our squad kept us going. We hardly had 2 hours to nap and woke up at 11.30 PM to start the summit.
Start Elevation: 3950 mts
End Elevation: 4600 mts
The final Summit:
We woke up to see a wonderful moon rise by Mawenzi peak right in front of our tent. We packed a lot of snacks to have them on the way. We started to trek the steep peaks in the night with our head torches on. It all started well and after 2 hours into climbing, things started to hit us hard. We barely were able to open our eyes due to lack of sleep, our legs refused to take any step further, our heads were heavy and we started feeling nauseated.
We had to take multiple breaks but weather was so freezing that even a small break froze our legs. We kept going with what we call a Zombie walk. We knew we could make it to the top but what bothered us was that did we have energy to come down. We reached the Stella Point at 5700 mts. The view was mesmerizing but I must admit, we weren’t in a situation to really enjoy it. We had to take a long break and a lot of motivational talks from our guides. Our concern was genuine, we had no energy to spare for the descent. We even gave a thought of returning without doing it to the top.
If not for the guides, we wouldn’t have gone further. We quickly started going towards the Uhuru peak as the storm was forecasted. We finally reached the peak at around 6 am. Our eyes filled with joy and our hearts with pride but we hardly had any energy to let out our feelings.
What goes up has to come down! With just a short stay of 5 mins on the peak, we started coming down. Holding our celebrations for later we quickly descended and our entire focus was to come down as quickly as possible. By 9 AM we reached the base camp and without a second thought, we went to sleep and slept for 2 hours.
Start Elevation: 4600 mts
End Elevation: 5895 mts
It was only after we woke up, that we rejoiced the moment of Pride. We had done it.
The altitude sickness was still bad so we decided to directly descent to Mweka hut which is the last point on Kilimanjaro hike. To reach Mweka hut by 6 PM we had walked for almost 7 hours. Descent wasn’t easy either. We fell many times and the Storm had made things worse. While descending, we had to walk in snow flurries, rains and hailstorms. What more could we have asked as an adventure ?
We couldn’t be more happier and proud to have climbed the highest peak of Africa in 5 days. We were honored with a Government Certificate for climbing Kilimjaro at the Mweka gate.
We went back to our hotel at Moshi to have the much needed shower and a relaxing sleep.
While we slept at the hotel , Mt Kilimanjaro stood beside Moshi as it has always been. There is a popular saying in Kili “Never Challenge the Mountain, it is the beauty, it is the beast”. We saw it’s beauty and we also experienced the beast in it. It was one true adventure.
With thoughts and souls still on Kilimanjaro, it was time for us to say “Asante Sana Kili”