Way back at the start of 2018 we decided to put together a Kilimanjaro trip and started recruiting friends for this idea and looking into the logistics behind it.
You have many options when you look into a trip up Kilimanjaro. You can do it all yourself (expensive and guide still required from what I understand) or go with one of the many tour companies who are both foreign and local.
We had took the advice from a good friend of ours who had used a local company and decided to go with them as well. And we are glad we did.
We went with the local company Kilimanjaro Brothers, who were able to help us with both the climb and the safari after. This is a local company who pays fair wages, the workers seem to be very happy working for them and the owner started off as a porter before starting his own company.
The planning process was helped by the fact that they have a detailed website that includes the different routes you can take, the pricing structure and options.
Of course, this still leaves plenty of planning to be done. Dates that both suit the mountain and our work schedules, flights to Africa, details of the safari trip and the all-important packing lists.
Thankfully the guys at Kilimanjaro Brothers were very helpful, and were in constant communication with us via email and whatsapp making it very easy to just ask them all kinds of questions as and when they came to mind. They also sent out packing lists, gear rental information and other useful information as needed.
So although in hindsight we had a great trip with Kilimanjaro Brothers, I had some worrying moments. At the time when we booked, there were some negative trip advisor reviews about the company, although I think it was still relatively new at the time and still working things out. Now there are many positive reviews and we will add ours as well. And there was also that time just after I sent the deposit to a bank account in Africa when their website shut down and I couldn't get through to anyone for a day. All I could think about was SCAM. This was resolved the next day as and explained as an IT issue with many appologies. But I am glad we trusted our friend who had used them before.
We decided to do the 7 day hike up the Rongai route. This was a really pleasant route, fairly unspoilt and I would say it would be more than reasonable to take a shorter trip up this route. Below are the details recorded on my Garmin from the hike.
Now as I was saying, the trip really starts before you even leave home. You need to start your packing. My wife says that I am bit OCD when it comes to packing but I know if I don't make a list like the one below then things will be forgotten and I will most likely either get the blame or have to listen to someone suffer about not having something important. (turn out it happened anyway when my wife had a go at me after she forgot HER ski gloves...)
This list was put together from my own personal experiences in the mountains and on other trips and from a lot of online recommendations, including the one located here at the Kilimanjaro Brothers website.
So with the packing out of the way it was off to the airport to fly. We decided on Qatar Airways as we would only need one connection and could fly directly to Kilimanjaro International Airport. What we didn't factor in was the 9 hour stopover in Doha airport not quite giving us enough time to leave the airport to sleep outside in a hotel. We also thought that with our lounge access we would get some sleep in there. We were so wrong! It was not a great lounge and there were a lot of people just like us trying to sleep in there. We really should have taken the hotel in the airport (which our travel companions did on the way home).
Next up you arrive in Africa. This alone can be a stressful experience if you let it. Africa time and inefficiency are something you will have to get used to. And at the airport after a long travel you just want to get through to the other side and get some rest at a proper hotel. Well, this will take some time. Forms need to be filled in by you, checked by 5 different people at 4 different windows and payment needs to be made for you visa in USD.
This is another theme for this trip. Bring plenty of USD to pay for stuff, shopping, hotels, tips for porters and drivers. And make sure you bring plenty of small change as everyone wants your USD by no one has change.
We finally made it through all of the above and found our driver waiting for us to take us to the hotel in Moshi for the night before we started the trek the next day. The lead guide came to visit us, talk a bit about the trip and to check all our gear.
Day 1: 4.42km Elevation gain 342m Start gate to Simba Camp 2671m
The Rongai route, unlike all the other routes, starts on the northern side of the mountain. This means an early start and a 4 hour bus ride around to the starting gate. On this ride you will see the many small villages on the side of the road and also many small holder farms and plantations of bananas. I would love to tell you more about what was on the long drive there but car journeys put me to sleep.
We arrived at the gate and the full team and all the gear was waiting there for us. We were not fully aware that we would have such a large crew supporting us. There were 18 people in all. All the bags need to be weighed and plenty of paperwork that appears to be as slow as the day before at the airport. But thankfully, we settled in for a nice hot cooked lunch (which I am unable to keep down and hope this is not a sign of things to come).
After lunch we start the walk eagerly. At the level where we start it is jungle rainforest, warm even in the shade. We see very little wildlife even though it seems like an area we should see plenty in. It is on this first day that we also get a glimpse into the gassiness that was to come. Apparently the high altitude, which was not even that high at this point by our standards, creates a buildup that only has one release.
We walked until early afternoon when we arrived at the first camp. A pleasant open area where we had to check in and register our arrival. All the porters had to have their bags weighed again and it was only after this that we really realised what all the porters were carrying for us. The camp was set up and we had the 2 tents for the 4 of us hiking, a portable toilet in tent set up for us, a dining tent with table and chairs, kitchen tent, tent for the guides, kitchen tent, gas stove and tents for the porters. A small portable city. We were one of 4 groups at this camp.
Dinner was served to us in our tent, as with each meal to follow, it was a full 3 courses and it was a lot of food. We were told we needed to eat everything we could to build up for the final day and to drink as much as we could. We had a briefing about the next day and they took our blood oxygen levels as they did each night after this. We were all healthy and played card games until it was both freezing outside and we were tired and ready to sleep.
Day 2: 7.77km Elevation gain 963m Simba camp to Second Cave 3450m
The mornings on the mountain are cold, bitterly cold, but as soon as the sun starts to come up it warms up fast.
We have hot water waiting to wash and a hot breakfast is served to us in our dining tent. We start to wake up and prepare to start out for the day.
The tents and camp are broken down quickly after we finish breakfast and pack our own bags. The team are very efficient and have obviously done this plenty of times before.
Today we hike out of the jungle and into an area full of low grassy shrubs and lots of rocks. We see the mountain plenty of times and it just reminds us that we still have a long way to go to get to our final destination which is the top. It is an uneventful day and we make it to our second camp by lunch where again there is a large hot lunch waiting for us.
After lounging about in camp for a bit we are told we are going to go for a little walk up to a higher altitude to acclimatise a bit before coming back to the camp and having another big dinner.
The clouds came in and the temperature dropped and we settled in for another long cold night.
Day 3: 6.25km Elevation gain 273m Second Cave to Kikelelwa Camp 3600m
Day three was not a memorable day, which is just me saying that I can't remember much about this day. The photos I took show nothing spectacular. Just more shrubs, lots of rocks and view views of the mountain. Plenty of time to just chat and walk.
We got into camp again in time for lunch which was again hot and too much food. (Vanessa would have written as much as I have and only just described one meal )
There was a cool little stream here and lots of bushes around the camp to help keep the window out. As with the previous days in the afternoon, the clouds came in and the temperature dropped very fast.
Day 4: 5.50km Elevation gain 736m Kikelelwa Camp to Mawenzi Tarn Hut 4315m
We woke up this morning and the water at the dispenser was frozen into an icicle. This day didn't feel like we did too much climbing. It was a gentle climb all the way to the camp. Plenty of good views of the mountain on this day and the terrain changed to be mostly rocky. The camp was in a nice little hollow out of the wind and under some very imposing peaks. There was a little lake here that you would not want to go into or drink from based on its colour.
I set my solar panel out here and charged my battery pack and the head torches. Even though the sun stayed out for a while, it was certainly getting colder up here and the shirts and shorts we were hiking in soon changed to warmer clothes even before the sun went down.
From here we also did another acclimatisation walk from this camp before dinner which gave us a great view of the mountain that we were getting closer and closer to our goal.
Day 5: 8.61km Elevation gain 567m Mawenzi Tarn Hut to Kibo Hut 4720m
The mornings are getting colder and it is harder to get ourselves out of the warm sleeping bags. Hot breakfasts are welcome but still too large. The little lake I mentioned up above was part frozen as we are leaving and it took longer this day until it warmed up even while walking.
The terrain today was looking a bit more alien and almost moon-like. We had the mountain in front of us all day and it didn't seem to get any closer as we walked.
As we got into the camp, the clouds had come in and we could barely see through the fog. We saw a number of people who were coming down from the top and everyone looked miserable. We joked about this and couldn't really work out why that was the case. We would soon find out.
We had lunch and we were told to have a sleep that afternoon as we would be getting up at 10pm to have dinner and start walking for the top close to midnight. It was hard work to sleep at this altitude, with the cold and the noisy camp around us. Well actually, I didn't struggle too much but a few others did. My struggles would come later that day.
Dinner was much like all the others, hot and too much but we were aware that we had a long day ahead of us.
Day 6 Summit day: 21.24km Elevation gain 1,223m Kibo Hut to Horombo Hut 3720m
As this day really started the night before it was a long day. We put on all our layers and both felt and looked a bit like marshmallows, but warm marshmallows. We got a briefing from our guide as were eating and found that we would have our two guides and one of the porters would join us to the summit. His role was to carry the ginger tea and the oxygen tank.
Head torches on, we headed off into the darkness to climb the summit. Single file and no idea how far we had or how much further to we walked up the scree slope which never felt truly stable underneath and was much harder walking than the days before. The altitude started to kick in on this part of the walk and we stopped regularly but never for long. We were reminded constantly to drink the water we had with us and soon all our water bladders were frozen and we had to use the bottles we also took. Tea was often offered as well.
The guides did a great job looking after us. They carried the girls' bags from the start and offered to take the guys' ones when we needed it (Andy never needed it). I wish I had given my bag over earlier. As I had my stupidly large camera with me it was way too heavy and I was really struggling at one point. And giving over my bag made all the difference.
We got to the first point on the crater rim. I was feeling a bit sick and when they told us this was not the top and we still had ages to go it was a bit disheartening. We were also a little confused why we still did not see many other people but the masses were not too far away. We walked around the rim to Stella Point, which is where the main trails joins onto the rim. So now we saw the long line of people still coming to the top. It was still dark but the sunrise was on the way.
We saw many people struggling and looking about as miserable as us. There was an annoying group of Americans who were running back and forth and doing really pointless push-ups at the top and just being well, American. There was also one lady being carried between two guides to the top. We all got to the top under our own steam and were very happy to be there right at the sunrise and before the large crowds got there.
Andy and I had some whiskey, it was as bad as we were warned it would be. We drank it anyway and then almost vomited straight away. And then came the walk down. At least at first we got to see everyone else who was struggling and smile at the fact that we had been to the top and they still had time to go.
We walked back down from the crater the same path we walked up, passing one hiker who was unable to make it to the top and was waiting for a team to come and help her down. The walk down from here was still hard but it was a lot easier to bounce down the scree than it was to walk up it.
When we got back to the camp, we had a little nap and some food before we started the long walk down to our final camp. The clouds started to come in and we walked in the fog for a long time. Our feet were sore, muscles as well. None of us were enjoying this part of the walk, we all just wanted to get to the camp and have a proper rest as it had been along day. Even though we were on the way down, there were still moments of uphill and every single one of these little uphills hurt our legs and feet. On a number of occasions we joked about getting an injury and getting the helicopter down. I think all of us would have even considered paying for this as an option. But at the end of the long walk, it did feel so good to finally walk into camp.
At dinner this night the team made us a cake in addition to the normal food and also sang a few songs for us. It was a very happy time celebrating our successful walk to the top.
Day 7: 20.86km Elevation gain 24m Horombo Hut to Marangu Gate 1887m
The last day is finally here. They are not as strict with us today about our start time. It is still going to be a long day but it is our final day. We feel a lot better after our sleep and have recovered from the day before. Breakfast is served, no more forced eating but the food is good and we are all used to large breakfasts and eating it all anyway.
Then the whole team comes together and again sing songs and do a dance for us. It is a song that will be in your head for weeks as you will hear it a number of times, it is quite repetitive and all the other campsites will have the same song sung for them. It is still a fun time and there were smiles all round.
After breakfast we head off into the jungle again. It is a hard day with uneven trails and a lot of rocks and tree roots to trip over or stub your toe on.
But we made it to the finish gate and there was once again, a nice hot meal waiting for us there before the long drive back to Moshi.
There was only one more awkward thing to do. The tip ceremony. We had been provided beforehand with a tipping guide. For all of us we found this a bit difficult, we would all have just preferred the price of the trip included all of this and paid more from the start. We calculated what we wanted to pay based on this guide and then ran into the problem of change; we did not have enough small change to do the tipping as we wanted to. So in the end, our tips were driven by the guide but also the availability of change. Then we had to stand in front of everyone and individually give them their tips. This didn't feel right to any of us and later we found from our friend who had used the company before that we could have just put it all one envelope and written on the front who should get what. This would have been much easier.
Tips I would give:
- There is a lot of down time, take a book, cards/games
- Take Diamox. Anything you can do to reduce chance of altitude sickness is worth is
- Music. You won't be able to talk the whole trip so some music is nice
- Solar Panel. I had a small portable solar panel that helped to keep my phone (for music) torch and other things charged
- Give the guide your pack on the final ascent as soon as you can. It makes so much difference.