Kilimanjaro: meeting my limits!


I have wanted to climb Mt Kilimanjaro since I can’t remember when, and I have no idea why. Possibly something to do with the many documentaries on Africa I watched as a child. Long before I went trekking in Nepal or climbed in the Andes, Kili was on my list of things I really hoped to do one day. Well the day came!

It was an incredible journey through contrasting landscapes and it was tough! Each day of trekking we gained about 1km in altitude, and the final ascent was a battle of mind over body. I attribute out success to two main factors:

  1. having wonderfully inspiring people to trek with
  2. a guide who strictly controlled our pace

We took the Marangu Route.

Click for:IMG_1472

My Video

An Account of our Journey

On the last day of term at the International School of Tangayika in Dar Es Salaam, where I had been visiting and giving talks about Round Square, two of the teachers gave me their recommendation for climbing Kilimanjaro and I am so happy they did.

That very evening I rang the Marangu Hotel to ask if they had a group and Desmond, one of the directors, asked if I could get there tomorrow as a group of 3 was departing early Sunday. Wow!  Was a little bit taken aback as being the final week of term, I had been somewhat in party mode with the staff here – not the best preparation for climbing a mountain!

The Marangu Hotel is wonderful and there I met the other three solo climbers at the briefing. I could not have selected a better group of people to go with on my trek!

On the last day of term at the International School of Tangayika in Dar Es Salaam, where I had been visiting and giving talks about Round Square, two of the teachers gave me their recommendation to use Marangu Hotel for climbing Kilimanjaro, and I am so happy they did.

On Friday evening I rang the Marangu Hotel to enquire if they had a group I could join in the next week or so, because going solo would be too expensive. Desmond, one of the directors, asked if I could get there the next day! Wow!  I was a little bit taken aback as being the final week of term, I had been somewhat in party mode with the staff, going to the pub every night – not the best preparation for climbing a mountain!

IMG_1420The Marangu Hotel is wonderful and there I met the other three solo climbers at the briefing. I could not have selected a better group of people to go with on my trek! Milan, Sam & Fabian. Such interesting people!  I could write a book on the discussions we had.  Sam is a lawyer from Oz who just finished up a job in New York in order to take up a scholarship at Harvard to do her Masters. Milan is from Serbia and works for a telecommunications company in Nairobi and Fabian is an engineer from Lesmurdie! The general knowledge and political awareness amongst these young people was very inspiring.  Sam did an internship at the UN with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, in The Hague. She met and interviewed some of the antagonists, who to this day are still in the detention centre. Unbelievable that after 22 years this tribunal has still not resolved! Milan, being from Serbia had much to discuss with her and listening to them was an education.  We never had a dull moment. As well as politics, we discussed movies, books and solved many of the world’s problems. Having wonderful people to trek with is a big element towards success.

We took the Marangu Route.

My thoughts on the Marangu Route

The Marangu Route is nicknamed the “Coca-Cola” route or “Tourist” route, on account of it supposedly being the easiest.  Don’t let that fool you!  Nothing is easy at high altitude!!  This route really has a bad rap, which it seriously does not deserve!

  • The least success rate:  It is the route that inexperienced trekkers are more likely to take, because they stupidly believe what they read about it being “easy”. Hence the number of people not making it is high. I wasn’t at my fittest and I had been at sea level for a while, but I saw some people on that mountain who had no place being there. Nothing above 4ooom is a walk in the park, even if it’s flat! Altitude needs to be respected.
  • The least scenic.  I found the scenery mind blowing every step of the way! My photos will testify to that.
  • Not advised to do in 5 days. From my experience in the Andes, it takes a lot more than one extra day to acclimatise at these altitudes! You are just paying extra money for little gain. However I may be wrong.

My reasons for taking the Marangu Route were purely economic.  It is the cheapest!  It is the only route with huts so there is no need to take camping gear.  Camping gear means extra equipment necessitating extra porters resulting in a higher cost.

We began our trek at Marangu Gate, at 1860m. The first day was through beautiful montane forest where elves would be rightIMG_1449 at home. We walked about 4 ½ hours to the Mandara Huts at 2700m, on a fairly steep path, stopping for a picnic lunch on the way. Our lead guide set a slow and steady pace, perfect for soaking up the amazing flora. Near the huts the trees were covered in hanging lichen.

Once we settled in our little alpine hut for 4, we took a walk to the Maundi Crater where the change in vegetation became very noticeable. Our hut was cute, but small and the mattresses rather thin, bringing an awareness of ones hipbones to the fore. It was also a very cold night!

Day 2 was much longer. The vegetation is heath and moorlands with lots of everlastings and fascinating looking taller plants that look rather alien.  They stand out amongst the lower heather like giants and grow in small clumps as if in social groups.

IMG_1594The second night was at Horombo at 3700m and what a treat of scenery it was!  We looked down onto the top of clouds that spread like a flowing landscape of soft eiderdown, all fluffed up and ready to dive into.

Meeting Mr California at the second camp was a bit of a treat – (NOT!)  Sam & I said a friendly hello to an older fit looking man walking back down.  We congratulated him on his climb and asked him how it was. “Easy!” he said. “Just like another day for me”. He proceeded to tell us he was 66 and had been preparing for the climb by walking 20 to 30 kilometres a day. I really SO wanted to tell him he didn’t look a day over 67!

The third day we were walking noticeably slower. The path was not very steep but it was long and we were approaching 4000m above sea level.  The foliage thinned out as we progressed and by lunchtime we were in a grey alpine desert on the Saddle; the wide plane between the Uhuru Peak and the Mawenzi Peak, that looked very stark and beautiful in its own way.  We could now clearly make out the path up the side of the mountain to the summit and it looked frightfully steep!

After a lunch stop, with the spooky Mawenzi Peak to the right and our snow-topped goal to our left, we headed for Kibo Huts,IMG_1680 but they never seemed to get any closer. With no trees, distance was hard to gauge and what looked like a half hour walk took us over two.

Arriving in the mid afternoon, at Kibo, we were lucky to get a large room for just the 4 of us and we quickly scrambled into bed to get as much sleep as possible before our dinner at 5pm. We were at 4700m altitude and the effects were very noticeable. Sam could not eat and my appetite was pretty dead but I forced myself to eat a little before crawling back in my sleeping bag until the wake-up at 11pm. Fancy starting an ascent at midnight!  But that’s how it goes.  We layered up and headed out with our head torches, in single file with our guide setting a snail’s pace.

IMG_1715As we struggled up the scree during the night of the summit, there were many moments when I wanted to strangle Mr California, should I ever bump into him again.  Easy my arse!  It was sheer torture and at one moment, I was seriously considering giving up. I remember asking myself “you paid for this torture?” Then, as if my body wanted to emphasise this point further, I started getting hot flushes!  Talk about great timing!  The joys of being an aging woman! Damn!  I was all dressed for the cold and had to do a striptease after only an hour of walking because I felt like I had stepped into a furnace!

The fact that we stayed together as a group plus some well timed encouraging words from Fabian helped me to keep going.  About half way up Sam got really sick and began vomiting.  The guys also complained of headaches.  I was exhausted to the core and didn’t know where my next breath was coming from, but was lucky not to be having any other symptoms (other than the cursed recurring hot flushes). I really had nothing to complain about and gritted my teeth and kept going. It was never ending zigzagging up the steep gravelly scree at the pace of a slow IMG_1743crawl and I truly felt it was the most physically challenging few hours I had experienced to date. (I was beginning to wonder if perhaps an extra acclimatising day at Horombo might have made a difference.) It was a mental game.  Finally the scree ended and we clamboured up over rocks on the last section to Gilman’s Point.  I collapsed into an exhausted sobbing emotional girly wreck and George, the assistant guide, came and gave me a big hug.

Sam made the wise decision not to go any further and headed back down. Much to my surprise, I got my second wind after a few minutes of taking photos.  Remarkable, given how I had been feeling during the past long 6 ½ hours (or was it 7? -we were pretty slow!)  Perhaps my body had “altitude memory” from my climbing in the Andes. The three of us decided to proceed to the next two higher points along the crater rim, and excitement overtook my exhaustion.  It was simply exhilarating and somewhat surreal. The eiderdown of clouds stretched out beyond the ice burgs and we had a clear blue sky and no wind.

Getting to Stella Point was not too difficult but the next section to Uhuru suddenly seemed to get tougher!  The final 200m gain in altitude felt like a mountain on top of a mountain and our progress was so slow, you could probably crawl faster! Our guide set the pace the entire way, judging it perfectly to suit us all, and being slow had its advantages. As we approached Uhuru, the highest point at 5895m, we saw people milling around waiting to get a photo with the sign. By the time we got there we had the luxury of having it to ourselves.

IMG_1785We lingered a while on the top, taking our time and soaking up the moment.  Heading back down we were the last group, apart from a few solo trekkers being literally dragged up by their guides.  One lady became so weak she had to be carried all the way back to Marangu Gate.

Speaking of going down – it was a long, long way and sliding back down the gravelly scree was not a load of fun!  When we got back to Kibo Huts we climbed into bed for one hour of rest.  It was quite amazing what a difference that one hour made.  From there we headed back to Horombo where we spent the night.  From Horombo we descended the whole way to Marangu Gate, having lunch at Mandara.

Getting back to the hotel was like a heavenly treat with a warm shower, soft pillows and comfy bed, but not before sharing a few beers with our team.
My Photos


Marangu Gate

Montane Forest Day 1

Marandi Huts

Maundi Crater Rim

Day 2: Moorland

Horombo Huts

Looking down on the clouds at Horombo

Heading off for day 3

Day 3: alpine desert

Mawenzi from Kibo

Kibo Huts

summit night/morning

Gilman's Point

Heading along the crater rim

Flora & Fauna of Kilimanjaro

Recommendations & Costs

The Marangu Hotel is a beautiful place with a real history.  It was originally a coffee farm founded by a German family at the beginning of the 20th Century.  The rooms are in cottages scattered around the lovely gardens.  They have a long family tradition and were the first to offer tours to the mountain, in the early 1930s.  They also care for their staff very well, as evident by the many who have been with the hotel a long time. Our guide had been working for Marangu for over 20 years, as had his father before him.

As well as being a great place to stay, the Marangu Hotel is an excellent operator for climbing the mountain at a competitive price. I came at very short notice and did not have all the right gear.  Doris (who is pretty scary) checked all my stuff and provided me with the missing items such as a sleeping bag and warm coat plus extra water bottles.  She will give you a sack to pack your gear in. I suggest sorting your clothes into small, light bags.  Stuff you don’t need on the mountain you can leave at the hotel and they will lock it up.  You don’t need much. I wore the same light trekking pants every day. For the summit night I wore leggings underneath. You are unlikely to shower (unless you are a masochist).  Take baby wipes.  You will get a bowl of warm water each morning to wash your face and hands and freshen up.

The porters will add other stuff to the sack to make up their allotted weight.  There is no need to have a big fancy trekking backpack as they will not use it, so you could arrive with a suitcase.  The porters prefer to carry weight on their head, hence the sack.  All you need is a decent daypack for your layers and 3 litres of water.  A Camel Back is best.  I didn’t have one, but wish I had.  You must drink at least 3 litres of water each day in order to cope with the altitude. That means unfortunately you have to pee a lot – but that is a good sign.

Costs  $US

Marangu  Hotel: Includes all trekking costs, meals, equipment loan, 1 night accommodation before the trek and 1 night after, plus breakfast and dinner in the hotel $650
Kilimanjaro National Park Fee for 5 days, which includes camping fees(as of July, increases to $620) $525
Airport TransferIf arranged through the hotel, $70 each way for the vehicle, regardless of numbers.  (Cheaper than a taxi will charge you at the airport) $30
TipsIt is customary to tip the guides, cooks and porters between $70 – $100 US per person. Tips are shared by a set formula (eg: the lead guide gets more than the porters). The hotel will work this out and divide the money, but you give it personally to the team, after returning.This is not included in the quote from operators, so be prepared. $100
 Total Cost:    $1255
ExtrasMy bar bill!  I had plenty of beers, a couple of burgers, and bought some beers for the porters. Also includes my wifi bill – bargain!! $37
Flight Flew from Dar Es Salaam to Kilimanjaro Int Airport, one way $90
Return Bus Made the decision to bus back to Dar Es Salaam: 28000TSHMeridien Bus departs Marangu at 6:30 and arrives in Dar at 3:30pm.  It’s an adventure.  Book the day before. $17
 My total, including flight from Dar, tips and extras…… $1449


1 Comment

Filed under ADVENTURES, Tanzania

One Response to Kilimanjaro: meeting my limits!


    Wow! i am enjoying reading this.I ve discovered places i never knew existed.Stuff you wrote about is very much interesting.I enjoy reading about a person i have met and spent some time with ,spoken to and touched.Thanks Karen.

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