The pandemic was unprecedented and had upended our lives in numerous ways. Many people, myself included, had hoped and prayed for the pandemic to end and for our lives to be normal again.
Indeed, the world cannot be shuttered forever and in early mid-2022, world travel resumed. This was music to my fellow travel mates and me. We opted to fly thousands of miles to visit Tanzania, to climb Mount Kilimanjaro which is also known as the “Roof Of Africa”, and embark on a safari thereafter.
Being avid hikers, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro seemed “doable” but we still had to increase our training in preparation for the trip as we had not experienced being on an altitude of 5,895m (the highest point on the mountain).
Our trip was in early July. After landing at Kilimanjaro International Airport, we stayed at Moshi town for a night before starting our climbing adventure the next morning. We had opted to go on the Lemosho route, considered a “premium trail” in which one traverses through different climate zones. Climbers also get to acclimatise to the altitude and surroundings easier. It is the most scenic route too.
Before we began, we had to have our climbing essentials (clothes, footwear, etc) scrutinised by our chief guide so that we would be prepared to face the different climate zones of the Montane Rainforest, Moorland and Alpine Dessert. If you had forgotten anything or didn’t pack enough, you could rent them from the tour company.
After a hearty breakfast, our guides, porters, the cook and all the climbers scrambled into a surprisingly comfortable bus to head to Londorosi Gate, the starting point. During the journey, we had views of village homes, coffee and pine tree plantations, and the occasional troop of monkeys swinging on trees.
Once we got to our destination, everyone worked swiftly to get things organised. We had a light lunch, before we proceeded with our hike.
We learnt our first Swahili phrase, pole pole which means slowly, and this was the pace that we maintained throughout our hike. It was not difficult as we had guides walking in front, in the middle and back, to make sure everyone was safe. We were also advised to drink at least 2l of water to ease the acclimatisation process.
Water was provided for us daily, while meals consisted of breakfast, lunch and dinner, and we ate in our sit-down dining tent. We stayed in big, comfortable tents and even had a clean “toilet tent” to ourselves – a luxury! After two hours of climbing that day, we reached our first camp, Mkubwa (2,650m) in Montane Forest.
On the second day, we experienced the three climatic zones along our hike, which consisted of five hours of ascent, one hour of descent, and a one-hour lunch stopover at the Shira 1 (3,610m) in Moorland. Post lunch, it was another five-hour hike to Shira II (3,850m), our camp for the day.
The total distance covered was a whopping 16km!
Well, 16km might not seem like too long a distance but walking at a snail’s pace under the hot afternoon sun on rocks, gravel, undulating terrain and the occasional breeze blowing volcanic dust onto our faces was very challenging for us. However, the scenery that changes with the climatic zones along the way was breathtaking and a feast for the eyes. We saw interesting plants and some small animals too.
The highlight was the sea cloud that shrouded the campsite at dusk, making the campsite seem so surreal.
The third day was uneventful. We walked for six hours to Baranco camp (3,900m),with a lunch stopover at Lava Tower camp (4,600m). At a higher elevation, the climatic zone was “Alpine desert”, basically arid with very sparse vegetation. The process of climbing up to an elevation of 4,600m and descending to 3,900m for the night sleepover was an excellent acclimatisation process.
I loved our hike on the fourth day. From afar, the Barranco wall looked imposing with an almost 90° angle. However, upon reaching the actual climb ascent, the place was easy to traverse with proper foothold. We reached the peak in about two hours.
The descent and the remaining trek to Karanga Camp (3,995m) was easy and in total , it was a 6km trek. Still, we were told to rest well in preparation for summit day.
The next day, we trekked to Barafu Camp (4,670m) and then Kosovo Camp (4,900m). The air was thin, but somehow we were comfortable with it. It was a short and easy trek, designed that way so as not to strain us too much for later that night, when we start our final ascent to the summit.
After some light refreshments at 11pm, we began our hike to Uhuru at midnight. It was freezing cold but we steadily kept to our slow pace, stopping occasionally for snacks and hot ginger tea to warm us up. The ground consisted of loose soil and pebbles but was not slippery.
After six hours, we reached Stella Point (5,756m) – it was still dark. We proceeded from here along the crater rim and after about an hour, we spotted the Uhuru Peak signage. My heart leapt with joy. At this time too, the sun’s first rays penetrated the sky, illuminating this magnificent place. Cameras clicked and tears flowed. We made it!
During our descent from Uhuru Peak to Stella Point, we took pictures of the Rebmann glacier, said to be a remnant of a large ice cap which once crowned Kilimanjaro. Sadly, our guide told us that he has noticed the glacier shrinking over the years. Global warming is very real and should be taken seriously.
Summitting any mountain is not easy. You need to be prepared, both physically and mentally, as well as have all the necessary gear too. The true mountain warriors during our trip were the guides and porters who provided the impetus for us to stand on the Roof Of Africa.
Pole pole and steadily, we will embrace life moving forward and rise above the pandemic!
The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.