lready at the beginning of our hiking adventures at high school we’ve talked about summiting Kilimanjaro. One of the highest if not the highest “walkable” mountain peaks in the world. That means you don’t have to have tons of climbing experience and technical equipment. You can literally “walk” the whole route. This idea became real around the middle of 2019, when we bought flight tickets to Tanzania and started planning. Hiking on Kilimanjaro on your own is forbidden, you need to hire an agency for the trip. You can read about that and some other things in our separate article. Now we jump half a year ahead to January 2020 ( at the time we didn’t know what a year it would turn out to be) when our African adventure began.
Unlike most other trips, this time I prepared all the equipment a little bit earlier and on the last day before the flight I just packed them inside a 100 l backpack. The bus to Vienna was scheduled to depart at 3:00 am. I took one more small bag, prepared some food and went to sleep.
Lax’s father took us (him and me) to the bus station. It was closed until 4 am so we went directly to the platform. There we met other members of our expedition, Mato and Pali. Apparently there were a lot of people going to Vienna airport because they prepared a second bus. Around 3:45 we arrived at the airport. We waited for more friends to join us – Naty, aMixo, MrJany. At least those who were supposed to join us here, in Austria. Last two were supposed to join us in Tanzania. We wrapped the bags with foil. More than for security, it was to not get our bags dirty and we needed our bags in a functional state in Africa. After that some of us went straight to the airport lounge to enjoy some morning coffee and snacks. They were enjoying it for quite a while but made it back in time to get on the plane.
After takeoff we received sandwiches and drinks. After a moment, one of the stewardesses came to us and asked which one is Palo. He raised his hand like a little boy caught in school who did something bad. But this was a happier scenario. She wanted to congratulate him on his birthday and gifted him a bottle of champagne.
In Amsterdam we had one hour to transfer. It was just enough time for walking across the whole airport. Pali was stopped by passport control. No gifts this time. We waited for him and came to the gate right on time. We could go directly into the second airplane. This one was our last and the duration of flight should be 8,5 hours. Our destination was Arusha, an international airport only a few kilometers away from Mount Kilimanjaro. Another airplane lunch. To kill time we played some games, watched several movies, read or slept.
After landing we had to deal with a visa check. Some of us had visas approved electronically beforehand so we had a separate line, but the time waiting was the same in both cases. Pali had bad luck once again. His visa application was not yet approved so he had to fill a new form and pay a new fee. One other country except Slovakia where you can’t count on state offices. But you can count on that here you are welcomed by swarms of flies and mosquitoes.
Last two adventurers joined us here in Arusha – Meri and Hurbik. When our fellowship was whole we went outside. Our driver was already there. We recognized him by the cardboard sigh he was holding. He took us to our accommodation – White house of Tanzania, which we had booked from home. After greetings and dinner we went straight to our beds guarded by mosquito nets.
In the morning we prepared our bags outside and went to have breakfast. After a short moment two cars were honking in front of the gate. But nothing could interrupt us at eating, especially with breakfast this generous. After we finished we greeted our guides and some porters. Main guide was called Bon. He told us some basic information about our trip and approved our bags as suitable for other porters to carry them. Later they packed them inside bigger bags and carried it on their head anyway. We got into the cars and started our journey. First we had to drive 2,5 hours to Machame gate.
In front of Machame gate we needed to register into some forms. Bon introduced us to other guides and gave us lunch boxes. For a hot meal we had to wait until dinner. For now we waited in front of the entrance to the park. We waited for several hours and thought about what was taking so long. Maybe it was an unusually huge amount of tourists this season. Maybe it was because porters from our agency were scheduled to go last. Or combination of both.
We decided to kill some time eating. We ate almost everything from our lunch boxes. Inside there were chicken, boiled egg, biscuits, an orange and juice. After we ate everything and explored the whole area twice we finally started moving.
It was around 2 o’clock pm and we took our first steps towards the Uhuru peak. Today we should ascend approx. 1 200 meters to the camp. One of our guides set a surprisingly slow pace. But he’s the boss. Path was nice and broad, better than in High Tatras. Surroundings and nature were amazing to see for us Europeans and we even met some animals.
In the end the pace was set well. Before dark we came to the camp. Pali had a bit of bad luck also today when one of the porters was late and he carried Pali’s bag. He finally got his bag just when we got served dinner. It was diverse- with soup, vegetables, potatoes, fruits and tea.
After dinner we had a short briefing about the next day and went to our tents. We came last so we were like 500 metres from the centre of the camp, but it had some positives, for example fewer people in front of toilets. Alarm clock was set for 6:30 am.
In the morning we had zero responsibility. Porters came to each tent and woke us. They used a series of three questions which became iconic for us at the end of the trip: “How are you?”, “How are you doing? ”, “Water of washing?”. At 7 am we were ready in the mess tent. The core of a breakfast was some kind of porridge, fresh fruit and tea. But these were supplemented with omelette, sausages, and pancakes so it did not fall behind breakfast served a few thousand meters lower in the city.
Around 8 am we started hiking. There are 800 vertical meters to the Shira Cave camp in front of us. Along the way we drank a lot of water and ate some snacks. As first in a row went Emanuel. The pace was very slow once again. But we trusted him, it was not his first trip. In fact, as we discovered little later, he had been on top of Uhuru 71 times… Nature is still very amazing and we couldn’t stop taking pictures. The sun was rising. We applied sunscreen. In 30 minutes it started raining. At least we didn’t get sunburned.
Afternoon we arrived at Shira camp. For lunch we waited in our tents already built before we came here. We were next to the heliport so we hoped no one would need transport. Our lunch began with popcorn with tea. Yes, you read it right. On the table was a big plate full of popcorn. After eating all the popcorn in a flash our joy turned to panic for a short while, thinking if it was not the whole lunch for today It wasn’t. Although, the porter who was late yesterday with Pali’s bag was carrying food today. We had spaghetti with meat sauce.
For later we had planned short acclimatisation. But it started raining again so we rested in tents for now. At first it seemed that there would be no acclimatisation. “According to weather there is no acclimatisation” said our guide. But then we went on a short trip, approx. 50 meters above camp.
In the evening we had yet another meeting and went to sleep. Tomorrow it will be quite a difficult day with hiking through Lava Tower at an altitude above 4600 meters.
Slowly we got used to the morning routine. Three questions: waking up, cleaning yourself in a wash basin of warm water, packing your things and transferring to the kitchen tent. Porridge, fruit but also omelette and sausages. We started climbing to Lava Tower. First in line is Emanuel again and the pace is slow again. The surroundings became more and more rocky.
I tried to drink a lot and breathe deeply. So far it was working. I had no stomach ache or headache. Not even when we came to Lava Tower at 4600 meters. There we didn’t wait long because it was raining quite heavily. Rain was our frequent companion on this trip, despite the fact we were here in January which is the dry season. At least we didn’t have to fear sunstroke.
Today we had only descent to Barranco camp at a height of 4 000 meters. This was our highest point except for summit day. The descent was going straight through the waterfall so we were completely soaked.
At the camp there was an evening routine: tents, our bags, snacks and tea. Narrow window when the sun was not behind clouds we used to dry our clothes. Dinner was good as always, soup, toast, bread, vegetables, rice, fruit. Pali had a little headache so he stayed in the tent. A cook brought him soup to the tent. He didn’t want other foods so porters happily ate his portion.
Another briefing and we went to sleep. We chose a 7 days variant of this trip, thus the next two days will be an easy walk to base camp, again at an altitude of 4 600 meters.
This was a bonus day. In the normal itinerary it’s merged with the next one but we asked for one more day for ascent. Bonus day started with a bonus view. We saw for a while top of Kilimanjaro, snowy Uhuru peak. We had a topic to discuss during breakfast.
Today was only a 5 km walk to the next camp. So we could afford the luxury of a late start and even slower pace than usual. The pace was slow not only in comparison to our home hikes in Tatras but to our previous days. But we didn’t see a single reason to complain. The chain of tourists and porters got under the Barranco wall, the steepest section of the way up.
Don’t be afraid, no climbing was involved. The path was going up nice and slowly on the rocky face of the wall. There were a lot of porters on the way and they got ahead of us. We got around the Hugging rock and closed some distance to the “top” of the wall. Landscape reminded me of a volcanic area.
As it became a habit for the past few days, the second part of the day was usually descent to a camp. This time it was the Karanga camp. FIrst we ate lunch. Then we should have another acclimatisation. Once again it started raining. Once again our guides decided that we would not go anywhere. “According to weather there is no acclimatisation” they said. But this time it didn’t stop so we stayed chilling in our tents. Before dinner we had opportunity to wash ourself in warm water. It was supposed to be last warm water for the next two days because of lack of water source up in the base camp and the porters needed to carry water for cooking.
We enjoyed dinner as always. There was still some fruit as dessert. After the briefing we went to sleep. We needed to gain strength for the next two difficult days.
We already knew it by heart, waking us up, warm water, packing things, great breakfast, start. Like I said, thanks to yesterday’s bonus day, we now had only a short and light hike from Karanga camp to Barafu camp. It is the base camp for most expeditions. Unlike the past few days now we had plenty of views of the top.
Terrain was mostly rocky, almost without any vegetation. We walked in one line like gooses behind Emanuel. In a blink of an eye we were in the camp. It was our starting point for tomorrow’s summit push.
Our tents were at the end of camp, so we walked to them longer than I expected. But because of this the next day we had a little bit shorter walk from camp. Still I had no headache or stomach ache, which was a good sign.
After lunch, which this time consisted of chicken and bread in an egg, we went to lay down for a while. I felt a lack of appetite. It was a strange feeling. Nothing hurt me but I didn’t want to eat. I’ve not even touched the chicken. Like I saw around the table, almost every one of us ate only bread. Second course was spaghetti. I ate a little bit of those.
Partially full we went to tents. I prepared clothes for summit push which were carried on top of some porter’s head. Base layer, gore-tex pants with jacket and hiking boots. Everything was ready. Everyone had dry clothes and boots for summit day, wet boots would be very unpleasant at 6000 meters. Alarm was set to 11pm!
Day #6 – summit
Good morning! Actually, good evening! Yes, this day began at night. They woke us up around 11pm. We put all our clothes on and went to “breakfast”. I ate some porridge and drank tea. Then we packed some biscuits and were ready to go. Around 0:15 we started climbing to the top of Africa. It was 1200 vertical meters. We were accompanied only with four guides, no porters.
All groups from the base camp created a chain of headlamps towards the top of Kili. It looked like giant Christmas lights. In the front of the group was Bon for the first time. And we felt that. The pace was much quicker than the past couple of days. Maybe we left too good an impression during the previous week. I still tried to drink a lot of water and to breathe deeply. I had no pain so far. It was good. But I lacked energy. That wasn’t so good.
Pali slowed down first but he continued further with assistance from Emanuel. About one hour before reaching Stella point, the crisis hit me too. Every now and then I had to sit down to rest. I had zero energy. Joshua went with me. After a while he also took my bag. Nevertheless I walked very slowly. I experienced this feeling for the first time. I almost fell asleep while walking. At least no pain so far. In a while which felt like forever I’ve heard others very close. We made it to Stella point at 5756 meters and I was not so behind.
The most difficult part was completed, from here it should be easy enough walk to the highest peak. Everyone was happy and excited. We came to Uhuru peak right in time for sunrise. We could enjoy spectacular views of African landscape with an unconventional addition in the form of glaciers. Temperature was deep below zero.
We didn’t celebrate for long. After a few minutes spent taking pictures and videos we headed back down. We met Pali on his way up, cheered him on and continued our descent. This part was much easier. And we still had amazing views.
After 2 hours we saw our tents again. The porters were very happy to see our successful ascent. They knew you have to have respect for the mountains and only then you are able to summit them. We went to sleep for a short period. Around 11 am we had lunch. The day was not over yet. We had to descend even further to the other camp 1500 meters below us. We were exhausted but we should be able to walk downhill.
Just as we descended a few hundred meters, nature was once again green. It was a change after two days walking on rocky terrain with glacier passage. At Mweka camp everything was ready as usual, tents, kitchen tent, meal.
After dinner we discussed with Bon the amount of tips we should give our team. We had some information beforehand but wanted to confirm it. The agreement was to give it to him the next morning and he would divide money among others.
We woke up on the last day of hiking. After classic morning rituals it was time to celebrate. Before that we gave tips to our guides, cooks and porters. Pali read aloud the amount of money we designated to every member of our team. They seemed very pleased because they started smiling immediately.
Formalities were done so all of us started to dance and sing. There was happiness and a good mood. Still we had to descend to the gate. After 7 days we were exhausted but it was only a path down.
Next to the exit gate was the office where we got our certificates confirming our ascent. We got into cars and went for lunch to the local tourist center. It was a restaurant with a souvenir shop but we hadn’t much space left in our luggage.
With lunch eaten successfully we had to do one last thing. Get back to the White house. If you think it was the boring part you are mistaken. After a few kilometers one of the cars started to slow down. It had a flat tire. Drivers with the help of some porters were trying to repair it and after a few tries they walked triumphantly from the car.
We drove further but in a while we started to slow down again. You guessed right. Another flat tire. This time we at least drove to a repair shop. Drivers had a second try.
Also this time it was not a permanent solution. We had to stop at a gas station in the city to put some air inside this tire. But it was really close to White house so after this short stop we managed to get there in one piece.
We had successfully climbed the highest peak of Africa. Time to rest but our trip is not over.
See you at safari!