I was never a big hiker: had no experience hiking mountain higher than 2000m; I even didn't have a hiking pants- cotton pants 7 days (if it was raining I would be screwed); had no mountaineering socks and the ones I borrowed from the company were just "longer socks"...(so I wore two layers of socks everyday and washed them at camp); I sort of trained myself for a month- working out 1 hr with BoHo Beautiful and walked 2 hrs (commute) everyday.
Obviously I was underprepared for this hiking trip. I'm glad I survived hahaha... I highly recommend to be well-prepared for climbing Kili in terms of equipment, physical and mental.
Everyone can do Kilimanjaro as long as you don't give up! (There's exception: if your body reacts strongly to high altitude). I've heard all range of people have successfully reached to the top: 12-year-old kid or 65 year-old man; tourists who were out of shape (Marangu route is your choice if you consider yourself in this category) or athletic hikers (only spent 3 days through difficult route).
Climbing Kilimanjaro is very expensive! The government increased the fee at July, 2016 and that's why I decided to go at the end of Jun. (I just went to the tourist company office and they said there would be a group at the next day. I said ok let's go.) As far as I know, Marangu is $50 per night for staying at huts; Machame is $60 for camping (before the price raised). Porter's entrance fee is around $2 per day. (I've been thinking about being a porter but I gave up after this climbing trip.) The reasonable price for Marangu / Machame route 6-7 days is around $1500 for group trip. Some companies provide luxury trip which includes private toilet. I joined a budget group and I was really satisfied by the service and even felt like a princess. (imo the whole trip was designed for tourists not hardcore climbers)
The first day I went really fast and that was the only day I could go fast- low altitude and not much ascending. Only spent 3 hrs to Machame camp- 2835m. We had a dining tent and the "waiter" would arrange the table before our meal and serve the food to the table. I was surprised by this kind service. (Thought we would just sit and ate around the stove.)
That night was cold and damp. My clothes kept wet all the time. I was worried that I wouldn't have enough clothes to change in the following days. Luckily there was no rain during the trip and it became dry once we reached above the cloud.
Second day was also a piece of cake (compared to the following days) - 3-4 hrs hike to Shira Cave Camp - 3750m. We were amazed by the vegetation change during the first two days- rain forest, needle-leave trees, bushes... We walked pole pole (slowly) because it's getting higher altitude (I did feel it). In the afternoon, the porter and assistant guide took us to a walk to another camp for acclimatization. The scene was so beautiful. It was like walking in the dream (except the fact that I was panting).
For maintaining the best physical state, I did yoga stretching everytime I reached the camp. I learned the benefit of yoga since I was crazy about snowboarding. I've practiced yoga constantly for more than 6 months - more like core-muscle training than meditation. (Once again, I like BoHo Beautiful and I highly recommend it to you.)
3rd day seemed intimidating: 6-7 hours hike to Baranco camp, 3900m. Actually it was not too bad since mild ascending and 2-hrs downhill. (Make sure to bring your poles if you don't like going downhill. Personally I don't walk well with poles so I just ran down with Alex the guide. But it was not a sustainable solution.)
I would suggest you bringing two pairs of gloves- one for cool weather, daily use and another one for snow, summit day. Although I borrowed some clothes and gears from the company, I didn't have gloves for daily use. My fingers were bleeding sometimes due to the dryness and coldness. (This might be a common sense for hikers. Well...lesson learned.)
We were getting so close to Kilimanjaro and the view was amazing! I would never get tired of looking at the mountains! The sunlight in different time made the color change on Kili. I was sitting there, appreciated it and thought why would I want to climb this gigantic mountain.
The next day is the real climbing - cha asubuhi ("breakfast" is the nickname of this wall).
I usually didn't sleep well at night because it was so cold. I hated to wake up and feel like peeing... But this night I woke up and felt like vomiting. I didn't throw up but I had no appetite at the 4th day. This day was really challenging for me- I needed to stop for breathing after climbing up few steps. High-altitude definitely played its role; not sure if my low blood pressure problem made things worse.
Luckily it was only 4-hrs hike this day. I didn't want to eat my sandwich so I asked for exchange the lunch - I had ugali daga (white dough and small fishes) instead! Ugali is Tanzanian traditional food and also porters/ guides' main meal everyday. Try it if you haven't tried it yet!
We had so much free time on the mountain but I didn't bring any book or entertainment. (Highly recommend to bring a thin book or something you can kill time) I chatted with porters, guides and learned some Swahili since I'm volunteering here for 3 months. It would be a practical skill for me.
Alpine desert. No vegetation. Dry and cold @base camp- Barafu camp, 4673m. We all got a little nervous before the big day- summit day.
We had delicious dinner early and went to sleep around 6pm. We had to wake up around midnight (for me, 11:30pm since I walked slower than Canadian teammates) and climbed for 7 hours to uhuru peak. Alex the guide came to my tent and checked if I had enough clothes for the summit. I came to Tanzania with no warm clothes since I didn't plan climbing Kili at that time. I was wrapped by the clothes from myself, borrowed from the company, and Alex the guide. I felt like a bear while walking.
Lots of people mentioned this night would be the most physically and mentally challenging in your life. I didn't think it would be that HARD until I experienced it. The first hour I just felt extremely sleepy. Sometimes I looked at the fabulous star sky to keep myself up. The second hour I had hallucination. I think I was the only one who had this experience - I was really happy! (I'm pretty sure it's not the side effect of diamox) I looked at the rocks and thought that was really beautiful and they were happy! I thought I was going up to a farm and there would be a fence at my left side so I felt quite safe. OF COURSE THERE WAS NO FENCE! Anyway I had more weird imagination at that time and I didn't want to talk more about it...
After having an energy bar, I came back to the reality- infinite torture.
"I can't breathe..." I had to ask for stop to breathe after climbing up three rocks. We went really really slow but steadily forward. Alex the guide told me so many times that we almost reached to Stellar Point and there would be no ascending afterwards. It was so close, and so far. It was there. I saw the silhouette of the top of the mountain. I wanted to get there but it was so hard... There's no way I would give up tho. Clenched my teeth, kept moving and finally reached to the Stellar Point. (You won't go to Stellar Point if you go Marangu route)
There was another hour to Uhuru Point - 5895m. For me that was the time when real high-altitude sick started to kick in- I felt like throwing up and diarhea at the same time. I still managed to reach to Uhuru peak before sunrise. Almost cried when I got there and my Canadian teammates hugged me. The top of Kili was absolutely beautiful - glacier, cloud and sunrise. The view was totally worth the suffering.
But I got serious stomachache when I was heading back. I used to have serious stomach problem and would crawl on the ground when it happened. (But I had no problem for more than a year until then) Swallowed two pills and still felt terrible - vomit, diarhea and stomachache. Alex the guide pulled me up saying I needed to get down asap.
I finally saw how the slopes looked like after sunrise- it was terrifying to get down! It was covered by small stones. I don't know how I even walked up...Thanks Alex the guide unique skiing style we only spent 3 hrs to get down. (I asked for more breaks or he could spend only 2 hrs.) I would suffer more if he didn’t carry me down.
After reaching base camp, we had a short break and a lunch, and then kept going down. That day was a LONG day- 15 hours hike in total. My knees were burnt out when I reached Mweka camp, 3100m. My stomach problem got a little improved while going down but I had serious diarhea afterwards...
I was the only one who had stomach problem. Everyone reacted to high-altitude differently - my Canadian teammate had serious headache when we reached base camp. Luckily we had problems after reaching summit and felt better after descending.
Lovely last day of the hiking trip. The team sang Kilimanjaro song for us. I really love this crew especially our porters. I have so much respect to them! It was crazy that they carried all sorts of things while climbing the wall and walked faster than us!
The maximum of goods that porters carry is 20 kg- the government is pretty strict on this so you can see them weight bags at the entrance gate. Their minimum salary was raised from $15,000 shillings to $22,000 shillings per day (like USD $10). Some companies paid better like $40,000 shillings.
There was something bizarre about the tip.
We got a secret message from our porter that asking us to give them tips one by one instead of giving to the guide. We did it. However, the guide said there were extra 3 porters we needed to pay whom we never saw during the 7-day trip. The number of porters was shown on the park registration paper so we decided to tip them (gave to the guide) eventually. But he was mad about the amount we tipped ghost porters was slightly less than other porters. I didn't know how he knew how much we gave to other porters and how dare he vented to us. It was not cool.
I want to write this down because I hope you will also do the same - tip them one by one. They work really hard and they deserve the right amount of tip.
"Climbers, as well as porters, can be cheated out of tip money by guides claiming that there are extra porters on the climb – a cultural practice know as kirunje."
**Currently I'm doing volunteer project about design education in Tanzania. For project details, please visit: liatanzania.com