I’m very excited to share with you all the details of my Africa (Kenya/Tanzania) trip, and hopefully it helps you plan your own trip, encourages you to visit these places, or at the very least teaches you about another culture in another part of the world. I loved my Africa experience. To catch you up on my trip, check out all my Africa posts:
Africa I: Planning Logistics + Budgets + Immunizations + Clothing/Gear + Getting There
Africa II: Kenya Stop1, Baby Elephants
Africa III: Kenya Giraffes, Karen Blixen and Artcaffe
Africa IV: Arriving in Moshi + The Good Hope School
Africa V: Kilimanjaro Details
Africa VI: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 1
Africa VII: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 2
Africa VIII: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 3
Africa IX: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 4
Africa X: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 5
Africa XI: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 6 and 7
I left off in my last post at the end of day 5 of our Kilimanjaro climb, with Erica and I camping out with Zara Tours at the Barafu Camp (14,930 ft). Now it’s 11pm that same night and it’s time to begin our ascent to the summit of Kilimanjaro (Uhuru Peak at 19,340 ft). This is the start of the climb I’ve been dreading. Assuming we don’t get too sick from the cold and altitude, we should arrive at Stella Point around 6/6:30a to see the sun start to rise and then it’s just a slow low-incline for the next 45 minutes to the actual highest point (Uhurhu Peak). Oh yea, and then we have to get down. Easy-peasy, right?
I should start by saying, my night photos really don’t come out so from the start of our climb at 11pm until about 6am I kept my camera packed away in my backpack. So I don’t have photos to share with you of those 7 hours of hell, but I can assure you the terrain is extremely steep and it goes on and on forever. Hiking without a watch in the dark meant I had no sense of time but the hours seemed to go by so slowly as we inched our way to the top.
When you hike this steepness in the dark, when you look down you see the headlamps of the people on the train below you and above you see the headlamps of the people ahead of you… although those lights seem to stretch all the way into the stars. You can’t tell where the land ends and the sky begins. This really is a marathon hike. The view at 2am and the view at 4am were identical- pitch black with just the headlamps above and below. This plays mindgames with you. How could we have been hiking for so many hours, but it feels like we haven’t moved!?
I would say around 3am I start crying. I’m so deflated, low on energy, cold (my water froze about halfway up), and it feels like we are making no progress. I’m so thankful my sister was there and started asking me questions to distract me from what we were doing. “Tell me your favorite Grandma story” (it was her 96th birthday when we began our summit trek), “who was your favorite teacher?”, “what are you going to have to celebrate when we finish the climb?” (beer and chocolate). This really helped. I also made a rule for myself that I was no longer allowed to look up, or look down. From then on I would only look at Thomas’ feet, and no more breaks. I would stop when I reached Stella Point. The best way to make it through is try to focus on one thing that can distract you all the way to the top.
After what felt like forever, Thomas said to me “turn around” and that’s when I took my camera out and took the photo above. We were so close to Stella Point and it must have been around 6/6:30am for us to see the sun rising. While hiking I was in such a trance to cope with it all that I didn’t even notice the sun was rising until Thomas pointed it out. We are so close. I’m so low on energy that I give my camera to Thomas and he takes nearly all the photos from Stella Point on to the summit of Uhuru Peak. I feel so lucky to have made it this far and the idea of even holding a camera is not an option, so Im grateful to Thomas for taking over.
When I got to Stella Point I immediately sat down and had a bite of one of my bars. I hadn’t sat down since halfway through the climb and I’m just so tired. One of the guides has a hot water thermos and we take sips of the water. Not long after sitting Erica comes up over the peak with our guide Bruce. We had separated mid-hike and I had no sense of how close or far behind me she was. She was crying at this point, which made me start crying again too. Once you make it to Stella Point, it means you’ll make it to the summit and it felt so good to do it together.
(Photo by As Her World Turns)
Here is a photo Erica took of us at Stella Point. On our way up I didn’t take photos of Stella Point, but when we start our descent I took some (later in this post). It this point I’d been resting for a little while and my hands started to shake from the cold. That’s the trick, once you stop hiking your body temperature starts to go down so you really do need to keep moving. Erica had just arrived, so she stayed longer at Stella Point with Bruce and Thomas and I kept moving on to Uhuru Peak.
Thomas took all of these photos for me. Look at those glaciers. I had no idea what they would look like from this angle. They look huge! Up until now when we looked up at them, they looked so flat against the mountain and it’s from this angle that you can see the depth.
It was just incredible. Even talking about it now takes me back to that feeling of awe as we slowly walked to the summit.
With the sun rising, it was all just so beautiful. Also given that it’s sunrise, it’s the clearest (less foggy) time of the day. This is a big perk of climbing it from 11p-7a. If you climb it later in the day you risk getting up to the summit only to be covered in clouds (view-less). Also if you could see the terrain on the way up, I have a feeling most people would give up. In the dark at least we couldn’t see just how far we had to go.
The shadows in the photo above were crazy, so I had to photoshop it a bit so you could my face. I must have hiked faster than I thought, as there really weren’t many people around me until I reached the summit.
Did I really just climb Kilimanjaro?
Above is the view into the crater at the top of the mountain.
WE DID IT!! Here’s Thomas and I at the summit Uruhu Peak! We are on top of the world.
(Above) Oh, you know, just hanging out on Kili. Typical day.
As more people arrived they took photos by the sign and Thomas and I walked around to see each direction off the mountain.
We are trying to buy time, as I wanted to take photos at the summit with Erica, but she was still back by Stella Point. They say you really can’t be at the peak for more than 15 mintues due to the lack of oxygen due to the altitude. I read that for example, if each breath at sea level you take in 10 oxygen units, up here for each breath you only take in 3 units. Since your brain needs oxygen to function properly, up here you feel drunk if though you’re obviously not.
Thank goodness! Erica arrived and we took some fun photos and then I had to take off to head back down with Thomas.
Thomas and I looped back down to Stella Point where now I was feeling well enough to pose for photos. With the sun now out it started to get warmer too.
Here’s Thomas and I at Stella Point (18,885 ft).
It’s around here where I need to put my camera away and focus on getting down this crazy mountain. Up until now I had been so focused on getting up the mountain that I didn’t really think about how me we were getting down. I don’t have photos of the terrain, as my camera was away and I was just so exhausted. I felt not well the whole way down.
The terrain heading back is scree. Scree is loose rock and dirt that you basically ski/slide down with your feet. It’s not a solid path. Thankfully by sliding it means we can go down much faster than I thought… but it’s also like you’re sliding down Kilimanjaro. Scary for me as I’m so afraid of heights. You just don’t have a lot of control trying to slide down scree.
I arrived back to our campsite at Barafu Camp around 11a(?), where I immediately went to sleep. When Erica got back to camp we had lunch and then rested some more. At 2:30p we had to pack up and start our trek to our next campsite, Mweka Camp (3,100 ft). Yup in 1 day we will have gone to 19,300 ft back down to 3,100 ft, all on our two feet.
It takes 4 hours to hike down to the Mweka Camp, and after the insane night/day that we’ve had, that 4 hours feels very long. The terrain goes from dry and rocky to slippery/muddy, as you hike down in a riverbed and end up within the jungle layer again. Once I arrived at Mweka Camp (around 6:30/7pm), we ate dinner and went directly to sleep. Erica and I were both SO tired.
The following morning we hiked the 3-4 hours through the very wet rainy jungle layer to the end of the Machame Route. **Bring some type of rain jacket layer. Thomas said in this portion of the hike it’s always raining. After signing in at the station, a bus is packed up with all the porters, guides, chef, waiter etc. It’s at this point that you really get to see how many people it took for Erica and I to get up the mountain. Wow. That’s a lot of people.
We ride the bus back into Moshi to the Springlands Hotel. Here we get our room for the night, pick up our luggage that was being stored. Then we meet back with Thomas and Bruce out in the hotel courtyard where we figure out the tip for everyone and receive our certificate for having summited Kilimanjaro.
Now when it comes to tipping, it’s very confusing. Zara gave us a 2014 tipping guide when we booked the tour, which had conflicted information from with Bruce was telling us about the process of handing out tip. For example everything we read said give the money directly to the porters, but since it’s all kept away from us, it’s hard to tell who our porters are. Bruce said Zara doesn’t want people bringing money on the mountain (to prevent the threat of getting it stolen) so tip was to be figured out back at the hotel away from where the porters are. It was all a bit confusing, but Erica and I followed the tipping guide that Zara had sent to us. This worked out to being approximately $350 each? I have no clue if this was enough or too much, but it’s what Zara had recommended. Plus it was really all I could afford to do. I hope it was enough given how good our guides, chef, waiter and porters were.
Please contact me if you have any specific Kilimanjaro questions that I didn’t answer in my posts. I highly recommend Zara Tours and specifically Bruce and Thomas. They are really the only reason Erica and I made it to the summit.
This is the final post about Kilimanjaro, and next I’ll get into the safari portion of my trip with Nomad Tours!