It has almost been two months since I reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and although my legs still ache when I think about it, I have no idea where the time has gone! Climbing Kilimanjaro was such an amazing experience and is something I will never forget, but it wasn’t as simple as packing a rucksack and putting one foot in front of the other.
It is hard to summarise the journey to the top and the route that we took as a lot happened in the space of week, but here goes. Our group took the 6 day Machame route to the summit which was decided by Dig Deep (www.digdeep.org.uk) and Trek 2 Kili (www.trek2kili.com) prior to the trip.
Facts about the Machame route:
- It is the most popular and successful of the six different routes to the summit.
- The route is 62km / 37 miles in total.
- Most people complete the route in 6 days but it can be done in 7 days.
- Unlike on other routes, climbers camp in tents.
- The route crosses 5 different climate zones (rain-forest, heath, moorlands, alpine desert and arctic).
- It is one of the most scenic routes up Kilimanjaro.
- The route encourages time for acclimatization.
Day 1: Machame Gate to Machame Camp
5,718 ft / 1,743 m to 9,927 ft / 3,026 m
11 km, 5-7 hours
After assembling at the gate, we set off through the rain forest on a winding and surprisingly steep path which had logs and rocks as steps. In parts it was muddy and damp but was also really sunny so the roof of the rain forest looked like a jigsaw puzzle. We didn’t see any monkeys or any rain.
Day 2: Machame Camp to Shira Cave Camp
9,927 ft / 3,026 m to 12,355 ft / 3,766 m
5 km, 4-6 hours
The hike from Machame Camp was steep and really busy so we walked in single file for the most part through the clouds into heather and moorlands. Altitude sickness hit a lot of people on this day including myself as well as sunburn. Exhaustion hit once we reached the camp.
Day 3: Shira Cave Camp to Lava Tower to Barranco Camp
12,355 ft / 3,766m to 15, 170 ft / 4,624 m to 13,066 ft / 3,983 m
10 km, 6-8 hours
Acclimatization and preparing your body for summit day was the main aim of the third day. The climate zone could be described as semi-desert however there were still many boulders around. We climbed high up to Lava Tower (what a relief it was to get there) and then down to the Bottom of the Barranco Wall where we slept for the night. It was challenging in a number of ways as we had two places to reach and it was a long day.
Day 4: Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp
13,066 ft / 3,983 m to 13,000 ft / 3,963 m to 15,239 ft / 4,645 m
9 km, 8-10 hours
The different climate zones became really obvious on the fourth day. Scaling the Barranco Wall was strenuous and was definitely a scramble (not to mention the bright, early and freezing start to the day). However, the view at the top of the wall was amazing! We made our way through the alpine desert to Karanga Camp for lunch (this is where the extra day can be added) and then slowly up to Barafu Camp just before sun down.
Day 5: Barafu Camp to Stella Point to Uhuru Peak to Mweka Camp
15,239 ft / 4645 m to 18,885 ft / 5,756 m to 19,341 ft / 5,895 m to 10,204 ft / 3,110 m
5 km up and 10 km down, 7-8 hours up and 4-5 hours down
Hell. Well that’s what it felt like. We woke up at midnight (?!) and started walking in the pitch black and freezing cold for what felt like an eternity. The guidebooks say you reach Stella Point around sunrise, but we were no where near and a few of our group didn’t make it due to altitude. A combination of sliding scree, freezing cold temperatures, glaring sun and falling asleep made for one of the hardest days ever but one hour after reaching Stella Point it was all worth it as at snail pace we reached the summit and it was so flat it was amazing! Due to the cold and altitude we didn’t stay for long and had to scree slide for hours back down to camp. Knee pain kicked in for almost everyone. After reaching camp headed down further to Mweka Camp and hallucinated along the way.
Day 6: Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate
10,204 ft / 3,110 m to 5,423 ft / 1,653 m
10 km, 4-5 hours
After celebrating in the morning, our last day on the mountain was quite tough as it was all downhill. The rain forest was slippy and muddy and we had to layer our clothes one last time. There was a mix of emotions all the way down which changed when we saw the monkeys, the ‘congratulations’ sign, the food and the chairs to sit down knowing that showers and toilets were close by.
Negative aspects of the Machame route:
- As one of the busiest routes the high number of hikers sometimes causes traffic along the way
- The hikes tend to be longer and steeper than on other routes
- The route is physically demanding in certain parts
However each of these could easily be turned into a positive if you look at them from a different view point. Firstly there are more people to meet who are also in the same boat, secondly you are exercising all day so weight loss and toning just happens and thirdly nothing good ever comes easy.
Since coming home many people have asked would I do it again and each time I have said definitely not, but I am so glad that I did, plus making it to the top once is good enough for me!!
Also I finally got around to making a GoPro video of the climb and our trip afterwards as mentioned in my previous posts about Africa! The first half shows the Machame Route to the summit if you want to see what it was like. (www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFx04PDtDVU)