Climbing mount Kilimanjaro is quite an adventure and without a doubt one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I did quite a bit of research prior to getting on the plane and starting the climb as I wanted to be as ready as I can when I get to the starting line (a.k.a Machame Gate).
In the coming post I’ll share all I learned from the research I did prior to embarking on my journey but mostly from the first hand experiences I gained during my 7 day climb to the roof of Africa.
There are seven different routes you can take in order to climb mount Kilimanjaro. Each route is different and since I don’t plan on climbing all of them I can only share my thoughts about the route i’ve taken which is the Machame Route.
The route that I took is the Machame route, also known as the Whiskey route. Machame is the second most popular route on the mountain, after the Marangu (Coca Cola) route.
As you can see in the map, the route starts at the south-west area of the mountain at Machame Gate. The route can take six days minimum to complete, although seven days is recommended as it allows for better acclimation to the altitude and it will increase the chances of making it all the way to Uhuru Peak.
I did it in 7 days.
The descent is down Mweka, on the south-east side of the mountain. Because of the ascent in the west and descent down the south, Machame offers great views of Kilimanjaro and additionally, Machame route visits stunning places such as Shira Plateau, Barranco, and Lava Tower among others.
Day One / MACHAME GATE TO MACHAME CAMP
The first day of the climb starts at Machame Gate. Here you will sign into the climbers book, have a little lunch and basically pass the time until the porters will get everything weighted and ready to go. We were supposed to go out with 23 porters, 4 guides and 1 cook but ended up going out with 24 porters.
That’s 29 crew members for 9 climbers. There is ALOT to carry up that mountain and you simply can’t believe how much the porters take on and how easy they make it look.
Once all the bureaucracy is done the climb starts in the rain forest. The first day is an 11km walk through the forest. It begins with a wide trail that narrows and gets steeper as you advance.
During the walk you’ll see the mountain peak through the trees and although it looks much closer than it did from the hotel balcony, it still seems far far away. Also, be sure to keep you eyes open for monkeys.
After walking for just under 6 hours, we made it to Machame Camp. We got there just before the sunset and overall, the first day was pretty much a walk in the park 🙂
When we got to the camp, all was ready for us. We got into the Mess tent for dinner. Food was actually pretty good. We got our oxygen and pulse checked (this is done every night to make sure you can continue the climb) and than we were sent to sleep.
When I got out of the tent it was the first time I saw the night sky over the mountain. When we got into the tent it was just after sunset so it wasn’t fully night out but after 2 hours, the sky lit up with thousands of stars.
Seeing the night sky at a very dark spot with no light pollution is simply amazing and it was one of the sights I was most waiting for. It was also the first time I could actually see the milky way in the sky with my own eyes.
It was time to take out the camera and start shooting 🙂
Not great, ah?
I know, that’s what happens when you forget your polariser filter on the camera, and that wasn’t the only problem that night…
After 10 minutes an armed Tanzanian guard decided we should all go to sleep. There was no reasoning with him as English wasn’t his preferred language of choice and after talking with our guides we realised there isn’t much we can do. Apparently the first camp is being guarded by the National Park so we just packed up and got to bed.
Luckily for me (and them) these guards aren’t guarding any of the other camps and i’m not planning to forget the fucking filter on the camera in the coming nights 🙂
Day Two / MACHAME CAMP TO SHIRA 2 CAMP
The second day starts when the porters wake you up, you eat breakfast and get your stuff ready for the climb. There was a great sunrise during the morning with clouds strikes over the mountain peak so I had to take some shots.
The climb to Shira 2 camp is very different from the climb to Machame Camp. It’s a much steeper climb and you’re no longer in the rain forest so you have much better views of what’s around you which is great but you’re also exposed to the sun so covering your head and wearing sunscreen is pretty much a must.
During the climb you can see Shira peak to your left and the Uhuru peak to your right. Quite amazing views when you take the time to break from climbing and really understand where you are and what’s around you.
There are also 2 great hidden spots during the climb that provide you with some AMAZING views and I hope your guides will let you know about them.
Oh, and don’t forget to take a look behind you as that might surprise you as well 😉
The second day takes you from an altitude of 2,850 to 3,810 so you’re climbing just about 1,000 meters in height and the overall distance is only 5km. When you compare it to the first day that takes you from 1,640 to 2,850 and overall distance of 11km (more than double) and when you do the math you understand that the 2nd day is much steeper than the first day and this is no longer such a walk in the park 😉
You can also see it took less than half the steps and the main thing that shows how hard it was in comparison to the first day is the active time. I’m not sure how the app makes this calculations but the pace was much much slower with a lot more resting breaks than the first day and I assume that has much to do with the active time.
During this day was the first time I started getting those negatives thoughts that creep into your head. It got quite hard during the last hour or so of the climb and I had to stop quite a bit to get some much needed rest.
One of the best feelings I had during the climb was seeing the camp and knowing the day is over. Shira 2 Camp is very different from Machame camp and it sits on a much larger area with great vistas to Shira peak on one side and the Uhuru peak on the other side, especially during sunset.
After we got to the camp we had a little get together with the team and our guides introduced us to all the porters that are going to accompany us through out the climb. This is defiantly among the highlights of the entire trip. The guides and porters sang and danced their asses off for 40 minutes!
The best part was at night as again, we went into the mess tent at sunset and got out after a couple of hours to see the sky full of stars. As I mentioned before, there are no guards here so no one could interrupt me from taking some shots of the night sky this time 🙂
Day Three / SHIRA 2 CAMP TO BARRANCO CAMP (THROUGH LAVA TOWER)
Third day has some great views when you walk out of your tent in the morning. The sun rising behind Uhuru peak is casting some great light in the sky and especially on Shira peak.
The third day is one of the most important days of the climb as far as height acclimatisation goes. We start the day leaving Shira 2 camp making our way to Lava tower which sits at an altitude of 4,630 meters and than going down to Barranco camp which sits at an altitude of 3,976 meters.
Climb high and sleep low.
Climbing up to a high altitude and than going down and sleeping at a lower altitude is very good for acclimatisation and helps to cope with the height and reduce the chances for altitude sickness.
As you can see from the daily stats this was a VERY LONG day and it felt like it. Walking 14.1km in almost 10.5 hours and recording 21,405 step. The good thing about it is that the final third of the day was going down so it’s much easier even though your knees might like climbing more than descending. I know mine did 😉
Although it was the longest day so far, it wasn’t as hard as the previous day. The climb is gradual and not very steep and the views are out of this world. You start with Shira Peak behind you and it gets further and further away as you progress through the day and in front you can see the Uhuru Peak and how its getting closer and closer.
You can’t climb Mount Kilimanjaro without hearing “Pole Pole” dozens of time a day. It’s pretty much official slogan of the climb and it means “Slowly, Slowly”.
How slow? I figured a video would make it more clear than any words 😉
The video was taken after the lunch break we had on our way to Lava Tower and as you can see Pole Pole is pretty damn slow and along with drinking plenty of water its the most important factor in acclimating to the high altitude.
After a short rest at Lava Tower and refilling our water supply (one of the porters took 10-15 liters of water and waited for us at Lava Tower so we can refill our empty water bottles. He made it there 2 hours ahead of us with triple the load we carry) we started our decent to Barranco camp.
Uhuru Peak was now on our left hand side and we were going down into a valley. About half way down clouds started rolling in and engulfing the valley.
It’s quite a view.
The day seemed to never end and there was no camp insight thanks to the fog. Some of the porters made their way up again to meet us and help us with our bags. These guys made it all the way to the camp after taking the previous camp down, build it back up again at a new campsite and than walked back to meet us in order to help carry our daily bags.
It’s pretty unreal how easy this all seems to them 🙂
We finally made it to camp and the first thing I wanted to do was change everything I had on me to a new set of cloths. And so I did and it felt pretty fucking awesome. The small things that can make your day on the mountain 😉
As usual, we had our dinner, oxygen and pulse testing and our briefing for what’s coming tomorrow. During this briefing we were told that the next day would start with climbing Barranco Wall. We had no idea what Barranco wall is since the clouds covered the camp when we got there so we didn’t have a chance to actually see our surroundings and by the time we got out of the tent, it was pitch dark and the stars filled the sky.
I got my camera out and took some shots before I got too cold and I called it a night.
Day Four / BARRANCO CAMP TO KARANGA CAMP
The forth day is here and the first thing I see when I get out of the tent is Barranco wall. The same wall we were told we are going to climb over to start the day.
Great way to start the day 🙂
It’s a 250 meter high rock face that is very steep and it’s the first time (and pretty much the only time) I needed to use my hands for climbing. It ain’t technical or complicated, it’s just too steep so you need to use your hands to assist you with climbing most of it.
Very early into our climb the clouds came back after giving us a break for the night and engulfed us completely so the entire time we were walking in the clouds. It was pretty exciting at first and for about 20 minutes or so but than it got pretty annoying.
I knew I was missing on some great views and I really wanted to take some photos once I get to the top of the wall and i’m sure not being in inside a cloud would have made the following image very different.
After we finished the 2 hour climb we started our slow decent which took 3 hours after which we had another short climb to the Karanga Camp.
During the entire walk we were completely covered in clouds with visibility limited to just a few meters ahead. The only good thing about this was the cool mist we felt and I just wished that rain won’t start dropping on us. We did experience a few drops here and there but nothing major.
Once we got to the camp we went into the mess tent for some popcorn and tea. We were super lucky as 5 minutes after we entered the tent heavy rain started outside. It would be pretty bad if we were still on our way to the camp with such rain coming down on us.
That didn’t prevent me from feeling a little depressed. I hate winter, I hate rainy days and I hate it when it’s grey outside and during our forth day we had way too much grey.
When we got out of the tent the clouds started clearing a little and I could see the peak picking through the clouds.
We got back to the mess tent for dinner later and as always, once we got out, all the clouds cleared out and allowed for some great photos.
Day Five / Part 1 - KARANGA CAMP TO BARAFU CAMP
Day five is upon us. We get up, have breakfast and start our short walk to Barafu Camp which is also known as Base Camp since its the last camp before you start your summit attempt and the highest situated official camp on the mountain at 4,673 meters.
We were climbing almost 700 meters in height at a distance of only 4km and after 4 hours we made it to Barafu Camp.
We had lunch and than we took off to the tents for a short rest. You have great views of Mawenzi Peak from Barafu and I was able to get some nice shots since resting wasn’t really working for me.
Getting up at 5pm and going back to the mess tent for early dinner and briefing about the night that we had planned.
Day Five / Part 2 - BARAFU CAMP TO UHURU PEAK (SUMMIT)
After the early dinner and all the briefing we had which was mainly about what to wear for the summit attempt. We got up at 10pm after not really sleeping since it just doesn’t really work on the mountain. It’s more resting than sleeping but it didn’t really bother me up until this point.
We had something small to eat, got our shit together and started our climb to the summit at 11pm. We had 3 porters joining us for the summit attempt to go along with our regular 4 guides so they can help and assist along the way and carry our stuff.
It’s dark. It’s cold. You can’t see anything and when you look up you only see the headlamps of those ahead of you and some point looking up got pretty damn depressing so keep that in mind 😉
The first hour or so was just walking until we got to the base of the mountain were it got much steeper and the real deal began. Not long after that I noticed the guy ahead of me kind of tilting from side to side and it seemed like he was going to fall or something so I grabbed him. I mentioned the situation to our head guide and we had a stop to rest.
It was decided to split our group into 2. One group for those that can keep normal pace and the 2nd group for those that will take it a little slower.
I was in the first group together with 2 other guys and we had 2 guides and one porter with us.
Our pace was very slow as you can’t really go fast on this climb. It was pretty damn cold even with 5 layers on me (both on my legs and on my upper body) and I really felt the cold when we stopped for short rests. The main problem with the cold was in my feet so having good and warn socks is a must.
WHAT’S THE TIME?
I clearly remember during the climb one of the guys asking what’s the time and I told him that I don’t know and i’m afraid to ask. The reason was that it felt like I was walking forever and it was still pitch dark so I knew I had alot more to go. I thought that if the guides would say that time is only 2 or 3 am it might break me so I preferred not to know that time.
But than they said it.
It was 4:30am.
I started doing the math in my head. We started at 11pm, it’s 4:30am now, that means i’m walking for 5 and a half fucking hours so far which is actually pretty OK as I felt like I was walking for such a long time.
I also knew that sunrise is at 6:30am and at the altitude we’re in I would see first light much earlier than that, around 5:30, 5:45 so that actually gave me some new powers and helped me carry on.
DON’T LOOK UP!
At some point I just decided to stop looking up as seeing all those headlamps above me was depressing as hell. It seemed as if this mountain doesn’t end. Whenever my head decided to look up I convinced myself that those are not headlamps i’m seeing but stars and that the end is near 🙂
Not much after that we did start seeing first light and things got more clear and we could see further than just a few meters without the headlamp. Sunrise was pretty awesome and it was so damn hard to take out the camera to take some shots.
THANK GOD, IT’S STELLA!
To cut a long night short it took us 8 hours to make it to Stella Point and I felt drained. It really was the hardest thing I did physically and mentally. I wasn’t in any pain but I just felt extremely exhausted.
This is were all those sleepless nights kicked it. I was too damn tired and moving each leg seemed like moving a house or something.
BUT, I made it all the way to Stella Point and it’s only 1km to Uhuru Peak and there’s no way i’m stopping here. The guides didn’t stop encouraging us and they actually sang their songs all the way here.
The most depressing thing about going from Stella Point to Uhuru Peak was seeing all those people that are coming down from the peak. They all had huge fucking smiles on their faces and it seemed as if it was very easy for them while I was struggling quite a bit 🙂
We had a stop mid point and I really felt 110% drained. The guides really pushed me and I somehow got up and just started walking. I didn’t look up. I just focused on every step. One step at a time.
And than I saw it. The final destination.
It ain’t something spectacular.
Just 2 big signs at the end of the trail with lots of snow on both sides.
And when I got there I immediately felt 10 times better. In a matter of a second.
It’s taking pictures time 🙂
I had so many photo ideas for the peak but when I was there I just forgot most of them. I also remember trying to take a video with my GoPRO but for some reason it didn’t work. All I had to do was to change something in the settings but I just didn’t think about it.
I guess the lack of oxygen up there and the effort it took to get there also contributed.
If you’re planning on doing this than i’d suggest you write down all the photos you want to take and check that list once your up there. Problem is you’ll have to remember to check the list and I don’t have a fix for that 😉
Day Six / Part 1 - UHURU PEAK (SUMMIT) TO BARAFU CAMP
After the picture taking was over we started making our way down. I guess we were at the peak for 10-15 minutes.
Going down was much easier.
I really felt refreshed as if I had a great night sleep.
On the way down to Stella Point I could enjoy where I was and the amazing views around me.
Once we got to Stella Point the way we go down changed. Instead of regular walking we transferred into a sort of sliding which was great since its fun and its fast so if we could keep that up all the way we would be in camp in no time.
But we had a new problem now. The sun was already up. It was around 9am and it wasn’t as cold as it was at night so having all those layers started to be a big issue. I could only get rid of the heavy coat I had on since there was no where to put all those layers and it was really fucking hot on the way down.
I wish I could have thought about that in advance 🙂
Not to far down we met our second group. Those that decided to go up at a slower pace. We said our hellos and wished them the best and told them they are pretty close. Now I was the fucker that’s going down with a smile on his face while others look like they are about to die or something going up 😉
We just kept sliding down and after 3 hours we were back in Barafu Camp. What took us 9 hours to go up, took only 3 hours to come down and once you turn around to look at what you climbed during the night it really left me speechless for a while.
Now it made sense why the climb to the top is taking place during the night. If you will see what you need to climb than I guess many would just give up before even starting.
It is a really big climb.
Back at camp. Time to take off all those freaking layers and its a good thing that all the thermal clothing is also quick drying 😉
Time to get some rest until the others get back.
Day Six / Part 2 - BARAFU CAMP TO MILLENIUM CAMP
Once the rest of the group got back to camp we had lunch and we had to make it down to a lower camp. You can’t stay at Barafu camp after summit since you need to go down and sleep at a lower altitude so even so we were all pretty fucking tired we didn’t have many options.
Off to Millenium Camp.
A short one and a half hours later we were at Millenium Camp and our tents were already waiting for us. They managed to take the camp apart, walk down ahead of us and built it back up before we got there.
These guys are fast 🙂
We had dinner and although the skies were clear I was too damn tired to take any photos.
Got in my tent, and went to sleep.
Day Seven / MILLENIUM CAMP TO MWEKA GATE
I woke up 10 minutes before the porters were supposed to wake us up and realised I just slept for the entire night without any interruptions. That was the first full night sleep I had on the mountain without waking up in the middle of the night.
Best sleep I had on the mountain, by far.
I guess climbing to the summit that’s all I needed to do in order to have a good night sleep 😉
We got up, had breakfast, got our shit together and than said our goodbyes to the porters and the team with some singing and dancing with the summit in the background.
After all the dancing and singing was over, we all signed our names on our an Israel Flag we had with us and gave it to the guides as a present and something to remember us by.
Now all that is left is to walk for 13.5 km to Mweka Gate.
Going down we could see a blanket of clouds covering the forest that lies beneath.
We past Mweka Camp and got into the forest. At some point we got into the clouds that we saw before and walking through the foggy forest was pretty amazing.
The pictures just don’t do it justice. It really felt like wonderland or something.
After nearly 5 hours we made it to Mweka Gate and the climb has is now officially over 🙂