Kilimanjaro Trip Report

I successfully summited Mt.Kilimanjaro over the break with my father (Jim Clifton, 63 years old). Here is a trip report for those that may be interested (as always, I am a long winded story teller)... My father and I arrived in Tanzania Africa after 29 hours of travel. We had taken a plane from Denver to Minneapolis to Amsterdam and then to Kilimanjaro airport which is located right at the base of Mt.Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. We started our trip by taking a 6 day safari through Lake Manyara, Ngorogoro crater, Oldavi Gorge and the Serengeti. We saw many animals including Elephant, Rhino, Cheetah, Leopard, Lion, Wildebeest, Zebra, Divide, Impala, Grants gazelle, hippo, alligator, etc. There are many great stories I can tell you about the safari, but for this trip report, I will move right onto the climbing portion.

Following the safari section, we had a day to sort or collect ourselves and pack our gear for the climb. We would each carry a pack with essentials for the day, food, clothing, first aid, camera gear etc. We would each have a duffle
bag that weighed around 30 pounds that would be carried by a porter (see below).

There are many routes on Mt.Kilimanjaro that range in difficulty and time. The shortest route is done in 5 days, where very few people summit due to the fact that you go up about 14,000 feet hiking in 4 days, only to descend 14,000 in
one day (yes, people do this, it is really stupid). On the more difficult side there are routes such as the western breach which involves scrambling and sections of ice. The hardest route is the Great Breach climbed by Reinhold Messner. It involves difficult sections of rock, long free hanging ice pillars, topped off by a long section of glacier travel. Upon summiting, Reinhold called it the most dangerous route he had ever done, which is saying a lot for someone that used to free solo in the Dolomites in Italy and has climbed all 14 of the 8000 meter peaks.

My father and I opted for neither the hardest nor the shortest routes, but rather a longer and less popular route called the Lemosho route. We would take 8 days to summit and descend. The trail is not difficult except for one particular section that contains some class III and IV sections on an exposed cliff face. The advantage of the Lemosho route is that it allows ample time for acclimatization, it is less crowded than other routes, and it almost traverses the mountain, starting in the west and ending on the south east side. To avoid erosion on Klimanjaro, you do not come down the same route you go up. So although we were going up the Lemosho route, we would be descending one of the very popular routes called the Mweka route. Due to its popularity, the descent section of the climb was a nice, wide trail, with dirt stairs built into it.

The first day we were met by our driver that would take us on the 5 hour journey to the start of the route. We first drove for about 3.5 hours to get to the Londorossi gate where people that are climbing routes that start on the west of Kilimanjaro must register their climb. Climbing Kilimanjaro comes a quite a price. Permits alone cost $70 per day. Not to mention that you are
required to hire a Tanzanian guide, and if you want to have food or some of your extra gear carried, you have to go through a trekking company. We hired a company called African Walking Company. They would supply us with a head guide, an assistant guide, and 9 porters that would carry food, stoves, tents, etc.

That is right, for two people, there were 11 people helping us. Initially I had some concerns about whether or not I was climbing the mountain, or whether I was buying my way to the summit (this is a big debate in the mountaineering world). I was reminded however, that although we may be buying help to get us up the mountain, we are really helping the local people obtain jobs. It is hard to argue with that logic when the annual income is $240 per year. There will be plenty of time to prove myself as an independent mountaineer on future mountains, for this trip, hiring porters makes a great deal of sense.

Following the permit process, we drove another 1.5 hours over a terrible 4WD road. We got stuck at one point in the mud, but the driver managed to get us out of the situation. At the trail head, we met our 11 person crew, who were inthe final stages of preparation. Our head guide was named Naimen, and the assistant guide was named Abraham. Abraham stayed to finish the arrangements with the porters, and Naimen started us on our hike.

When climbing Mt.Kilimanjaro, you hear the phrase over and over, "pole pole" which means slowly slowly. That is exactly how we started. Naimen started hiking at a pace so slow, that I thought I could crawl faster. I would soon learn that this was the pace at which they would climb the entire mountain. By going slowly but surely, you were never out of breath, and you acclimatized
better. It also gave you a chance to take a look around and see Tanzania (which is a beautiful country).

The first days hike went through the rain forest to the big tree camp (3 hours, 2100 ft. elevation gain, 9022 ft.). The ground was a really slick clay that cause both of us to slip around quit a bit. We saw monkeys in the surrounding trees, jumping from tree to tree. Near the end of the hike, it started to rain on us. We arrived in camp (surrounded by really big trees, hence the name) and
climbed into our tent to eat the boxed lunch that we had learned to loathe on safari. We met several other teams that were starting on our route and moving onto other routes further up. Several were already thinking about quitting, stating that they hadn't trained, and they thought it would be easier. Holy cow! This was the first day! This would be a theme that we would see repeated for the entire climb.

The second day we hiked through the rain forest some more to come out to the Shira Plateau (6 hours, 2750 ft. elevation gain, 11483 ft.). The rain forest section was again very slick, and we left it by hiking a very long ridge through large sets of bushes. This was arguably the hardest day (except for summit day). We were both pretty tired at the end, but we got to enjoy some
spectacular views of the Shira Plateau (which is the remaining crater after one of the smaller volcanoes on the west side of Kilimanjaro erupted around 350,000 years ago).

The third day we moved up a little higher to the Shira Hut camp (3 hours, 1000 ft. elevation gain, 12467 ft.) Along the way we climbed another small rock out cropping called the Cathedral. When getting on to the top of the Cathedral, we were delighted to see spectacular views down a sheer cliff to the rain forest several thousands of feet below us. From here we headed into camp where there was a hot meal waiting for us. Very nice indeed! (I wish that I had that on Rainier last year!)

At this point in the trip, we had become accustom to several things:
1) The weather was very predictable: sunny and clear in the morning, cloudy by 10 or so, and it may clear some in the evening, it may not, nights were perfectly clear, and you could see more stars than I have ever seen (very little light pollution).
2) As the weather was cloudy, cold, and sometimes sprinkling rain, when you arrived in camp, you often would climb in your tent and spend the next 3-5 hours reading, writing in your diary or playing cards. You would then eat dinner, and head straight back to your tent, as the cook tent was the also the sleeping tent for the porters and guides.
3) The food was great! We were having much better food on the mountain than we had on safari. This definitely made the climb much more enjoyable.

The fourth day, we went from the Shira hut camp and moved to the Barranco valley. This was a very long day as we crossed over a ridge at 16,000 ft. and dropped back down (6 hours, elevation gain 3530 ft., elevation descent 3333 ft., net gain 197 ft., 12,664 ft.). The initial parts of the hike were somewhat monotonous, but the descent into the Barranco valley was spectacular. From the
Lava tower at the top of the hike, you descend 3333 ft. through a valley surrounded by large rock walls on all sides. As we descended, the clouds cleared, and we could see the western breach and great breach routes on Kilimanjaro. Very pretty! The camp was also very nice. We were directly below Rienhold Messner's route, and we had a chance to look up at it all morning. It
was a spectacular line, but in listening the all the rock fall coming off it, it was easy to see why Rienhold had said it was so dangerous.

The fifth day was the most interesting section of the hike from a technical stand point (3 hours, 1115 ft. elevation gain, 13779 ft.). We were to leave the Barranco valley, climbing a snakey trail up to the ridge line above. This portion of the climb contained class III and class IV sections of climbing (meaning that you are scrabbling and often using your hands). At some points a
fall would have meant that you were going all the way to valley below (and you would get to explore the great Tanzanian health care system!). We had a short day to hike (many teams were going to a higher camp that day), so we waited while the streams of people hiked up the cliff face. Barranco is one of the most commonly used camps, and approximately 100 clients and 300-400 porters and guides went up the face within an hour of each other. The people moved like ants up the face, while we relaxed and drank tea. After the route cleared out, we hiked up the face and moved onto the Karranga camp. At this elevation, we were no longer warm, and you actually looked forward to climbing into your tent and your sleeping bag. When we arrived, the camp was essentially inside of a cloud making it humid and cold. The Karranga camp was very cold, and we were not looking forward to the lower temperatures that we would experience later that night. But as typical, the weather had cleared over night, and we awoke to a perfectly sunny morning. We decided to have breakfast outside in the sun, seeing the glaciers of Kilimanjaro baking in the sunlight. We were hopeful that we would have as nice of a summit day.

The sixth day we moved from the Karranga camp to the Barafu camp (3 hours, 1312 ft. elevation gain, 15091 ft.). Barafu means ice in swahili, and that is exactly what it was. Cold. The camp had another couple problems as well: it was located on a hillside, it was very rocky, and the bathrooms were very dirty.
The entire camp smelled of urine, which we realized was because the bathroom was down a rocky slope that promised to break your ankle if you tried to hike it in the dark. The wind didn't help the situation either, and we dove into our tent to prepare for the summit day which was to begin at midnight. We decided to pack with all the warm gear that we had. We had heard horror stories from people when we arrived that had encountered as much as three feet of snow during their summit day, and no one made it to the top. We ate an early dinner, and tried to get some sleep, which never works when you are excited for summit day. Most the night we lay there, tossing and turning. I got about 2 hours of sleep, and my dad got about 1. At 11PM, we woke up to get geared up, stretch out, and have some oatmeal. From our camp, we could already see a string of headlamps bouncing through the darkness, on their way to the summit. We started hiking around 12AM.

Summit day was to be the most challenging day of all, lasting about 12 hours, with large elevation gain and descent (12 hours, 4249 ft. elevation gain, ~7000 ft. elevation decent (OUCH my knees!), highpoint 19340 ft, camp at ~12500 ft.). The first part of the hike takes about 6 hours, where you first go through a tricky rock band, and then move into a set of switch backs that seem to never end until you hit the crater rim. About one hour into the hike, the winds started to pick up. Our guide assured us that this was atypical, and that they would go away soon. The winds stayed, and it got colder and colder. After about 2 hours, we had started to add layer after layer of clothing and shell gear to keep warm. After about 3 hours, the snow started. There were now about 20 to 30 mph winds, blowing snow and ice, not to mention the temperature. The wind was coming from our left side which meant as we went up the switch backs, half the time our face was freezing and being pelted by pieces of ice and snow. I was
plenty warm hiking, but when we stopped, even for a minute, I was instantly cold. The simple solution? Don't stop. The problem, every time you needed more clothing or a drink of water, you had to stop. The remainder of the hike was a series of freeze and thaw cycles, where the feeling in my hands and feet would come and go.
After about 4 hours, we started to have a problem; my dad was stumbling. He was doing very well with the altitude, but he just couldn't stay awake. As he started to sleep, the wind gusts would kick up and knock him around. Abraham (the assistant guide) took his pack, and I started talking to him to keep him awake. It seemed only like a few minutes, but before we knew it, we were on the crater rim at around 19,000 ft. It was 5:30 AM, still dark, and really really cold (wind chill was around -25 to -35 F).
From the crater rim, there is another 45 minutes of essentially flat hiking to the summit, Uhuru peak (19340 ft.). We continued on, seeing little bits of the mountain through the blowing snow and ice. It started getting light around 6 AM, and we could turn off our ice incrusted headlamps. We finally saw the heavenly site that we were looking for, the large wooden Kilimanjaro summit
sign, off at the edge of the crater rim. We arrived at the summit sign with a few other teams, where we patiently waited in line to get a photo or two taken before you were too cold to hold your camera or worse yet, it stopped working (this happened to several teams). We took our pictures in about 5 minutes, and then left the summit for warmer temperatures below. We had known that it was very cold, but we started to realize that other teams were ill prepared for the weather. We saw several teams wrapped in space blankets, shivering, in the early stages of hypothermia. We had some extra heat packs that we offered to someone who was obviously not doing well. While stopping to take a drink of warm tea, we saw a girl being assisted by two guides. Then she hit the ground, passed out completely. Immediately, everyone rushed over to help her, and one of the guides had brought an oxygen cylinder to the summit. After about 5 minutes, she regained consciousness (we later learned that she had to be carried down for several thousand feet until she could continue on her own). Scary stuff. We dropped off the crater rim very fast, and within an hour, we had dropped below the storm. All four of us were caked in a thin layer of ice that didn't thaw out for several more hours after we descended. After another hour, we had dropped below the snow line, and finally enjoyed some of the scree fields that lead back to the Barafu camp. At the Barafu camp, we rested for an hour, ate a small lunch, and then continued to descend for another 3000+ ft. My knees were already hurting, and the anti-inflammatories were not really helping.
We arrived at the Millennium camp to one of the best sites someone could see (at least the best after being on the trail for 7 days). The ranger had cold beer for sale. The beer cost $3, but they really could have charged about $30, and we would have paid it. We were very happy that we had been able to summit, and we purchased beers for the entire crew as well. The Millennium camp was surrounded by trees, and offered us our last glimpse of Kilimanjaro and its sister peak Mallindi before we descended to the trail head in the morning.

The last day started with a tipping ceremony with the guides and porters. To avoid any confusion, all tips are given out at once, so that everyone can see that tips are distributed evenly. They also sang a traditional song about Kilimanjaro. After the ceremony, we had another long hike to the car (5 hours, ~7500 ft. elevation decent, 6004 ft. at finish). The hike started by going though some of the low lying bushes and trees, but after a while we were back in the rain forest. The descent was relentless! At one point there was a set of long stairs that had been constructed that went on for over 2 hours straight! (no flat sections at all!) My knees were killing me by the time we hit the dirt road at the bottom of the hill. On top of this, the rain forest was quite hot, especially in comparison to the cold temperatures we had experienced just a day before. We arrived at the end of the Mweka descent route, filled out more paper work, and enjoyed a beer with lunch.

After the climb, we headed back to the lodge, took long showers, and had a feast of Indian food.
Overall, I had a good time climbing Mt.Kilimanjaro, but I would offer some advice for people thinking about climbing the mountain in the future:
-Take at least 7 days or longer. This will allow you plenty of time to acclimate (without using Diamox)
-Train for the climb. It was unbelievable how many people thought that they could go from the couch to 19,000+ ft. with no training. Stairmaster, running, swimming, etc. will make it a much more enjoyable experience for you.
Kilimanjaro is an expensive mountain to climb, so do yourself a favor and prepare.
-Although the weather on the summit is normally good, having the proper gear can make the difference in the off chance that you have a freak storm.

Pictures from this trip


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