AFRICA! WE DID IT!
Where do I even begin. Talk about a dream trip. Words can’t express how truly amazing this entire experience was. From start to finish, everything was perfect — transportation, weather, accommodations, food, our group and guides — it was complete perfection.
That being said, I’m happy to report WE SUCCESSFULLY SUMMITED MT. KILIMANJARO!!! What an insane accomplishment – A HUGE bucket list check.
If you want to do this too, here are the deets:
COMPANY & ROUTE | We booked through a company called Peak Planet and chose the 8 day Lemosho Route. There are shorter treks, but if you’re paying a small fortune, and training for months on end, you want to give yourself the best chance of summiting and that’s by giving your body the most time to acclimatize. Our route was slow and steady, and because of that, I’m happy to report that we had a 100% success rate in our group, which our guide told us is incredibly rare. The average success rate across all routes and all companies is 65%. Peak Planet’s success rate is 85%.
For those thinking about hiking Kili on the Lemosho Route, here’s what you can expect…
Twas the Night Before our Trek… We met our guide at our lodge – Moivaro Coffee Village – along with the rest of our group for our briefing. This really got me excited. We were a group of 8 (instead of the original total of 15 which would have been way too big). Our group was myself & Michael, our friends that we traveled with Matt & Renee, an older couple from Florida, Marty & Kathy (he’s a pilot for American Airlines, originally from Austria, they’ve been married for 27 years and say the key to a successful marriage is “space”), and Jeff & Lily, newlyweds on their honeymoon from Baltimore (she’s originally from Colombia). After we met and were briefed, it was off to bed for our last night sleeping in a real bed for 8 days.
The nerves were riding high and sleep didn’t come easy. I woke up at 11:50pm, 12:50am, and 1:50am telling Michael to turn off his alarm, only to find out it was an animal outside. Welcome to Africa! Then wide awake from 4:00am on with a mix of nerves, jet lag, and excitement. A beautiful call to prayer at 5:00am and finally an 8:00am departure.
And we’re off! Loaded in the van, we’re driving through the countryside, passing little towns, watching the women in their colorful clothes carrying baskets on their heads, and soaking in the incredible surroundings. There were lots of people just standing around the sides of roads and hundreds of motorbike taxis. You can definitely feel the poverty. Although, everyone here is so beautiful and kind despite their economic status. I completely understand why my parents are so enchanted with Africa. It really is magical.
Off the smooth pavement and onto the bumpy dirt road (aka “free massage”), we continue our four-hour drive to the trail head, and what do we see on the side of the road? A giraffe! That’s right, not even on safari, just three giraffe hanging out walking along the road. So amazing! The landscape continues to change as we drive to the base of Kilimanjaro – from wide open plains to planted trees and rain forests – we finally arrive at the entrance gate.
Starting elevation: 6,889 ft.
For a group of 8, we had 32 porters. Insane, I know. You’re only allowed 30 lbs in your bag for the porter to carry which includes all of your clothes, toiletries, sleeping bag, etc. You’re responsible for your day pack with a rain jacket, snacks, water, camera, and anything else you may need to get from one camp to the next. Before we begin, all of the bags must be weighed to ensure they’re not over the limit. Once we’re cleared and signed into the registration book, we are off!
The trail starts straight up. But we walk pole pole (which means “slowly”). We found that’s the hardest part… it’s a painstakingly slow pace, but the guides are the experts and know the keys to success on this trail are to go slow and allow the body to get acclimated.
Our hike began through the rainforest.
When I think of Africa, I don’t usually imagine rainforests, but we saw black and white monkeys, enjoyed the sounds of beautiful birds, and all the life that rainforests bring.
Today was 4 hours of walking until we made it to our first camp, Big Tree.
Camp was small and there were tents everywhere. It was not quite what I was expecting and definitely a little overwhelming. But it is what it is. After a dinner of fried fish, we were off to bed at 8:00pm to get ready for Day 2.
First Camp: Mti Mkubwa (aka Big Tree) | 4 hours, 8,694 ft, 4.5 miles.
Our first night in the tent was not very restful, but we survived off adrenaline. Up at 6:30am to tea and “wash-wash” (a bowl of warm water outside your tent), packed up, ate breakfast at 7:30am then headed out of camp at 8:15am. Today was long with a lot of up hill. We hiked through the rest of the rainforest, then entered the high elevation forest which has shorter, drier trees and foliage. The group split today with a couple people starting to feel the effects of altitude, which is normal as your body adjusts. The guides are great, always saying “I am here for you” and making sure we’re all feeling healthy and strong. They carry oxygen and altitude medication in case we need it.
I asked one of our guides what his favorite day of the hike is and he replied, “Summit night because that is when I really get to do my job of keeping you all safe. This makes me happy.” Great answer.
After seven hours, and threatening weather, we finally made it to Shira Valley. This camp is better than Big Tree as it’s more spread out so you don’t feel cramped from all the other hikers and porters. As the clouds parted right before sunset, we had our first view of Kili. What a sight! Feeling strong and ready for Day 3.
Second Camp: Shira I | 7 hours, 11,843 ft, 8.9 miles.
6:00am wake up to wash-wash, with a delicious hot breakfast complete with bacon and eggs. Our head guide, Henri, officially introduced the 32 porters who carry all of our gear. They lined up and sang traditional songs, pumped us up, and away we went onto Day 3. Today was supposedly the “short” day. Six hours later with no lunch and only 3 liters of water, we finally made it to camp. The guides apologized for our late arrival as this was unexpected.
The hike itself was beautiful, across the Crater Valley with a view of Kili to our left the entire time. That’s enough to keep anyone’s spirits up.
We took a quick acclimatization detour and hiked to the top of Cathedral Rock at 12,000 ft which had stunning views above the clouds. We even caught a glimpse of the top of Mount Meru at 14,977 ft, the second highest mountain in Tanzania. I felt great up there. It wasn’t until we were descending and walking to our next camp that there was a 10 minute period that I wasn’t feeling well, my eyes were watering and I felt quite dizzy. But thankfully it passed. I think I was just hungry.
By the time we made it to camp it was 2:45pm and we were famished (aka hangry). My head and lungs felt great, just my legs and feet were very sore. Lunch was amazing with more delicious soup, french toast, cheese, avocado salad, and chili. We were supposed to do another short hike, but our guide told us the Cathedral was good acclimatization and insisted it’s better we rest instead. This was the hardest day for me yet. I felt quite nauseas after dinner, but got the best night sleep so far and felt much better in the morning.
We had the most incredible sunset view over the plains with Mount Meru to the west and Kili in the east. The winds can be quite strong here as the camp is very exposed on the mountain; I was woken up by a large wind storm, but thankfully it died down quickly.
Third Camp: Shira II | 6 hours, 12,631 ft, 6.2 miles.
This was another long day, but at least we were prepared and kept a more steady pace to get us to camp on time. The hike started slow and I didn’t feel great after the first uphill section, but once I got my rhythm back I felt strong again. The terrain changes so quickly up here — we’re still in the Moorland, but quickly approaching the Alpine Zone. Lava rocks scatter the hillside, up to our lunch spot at Lava Tower at our highest elevation yet – 15,000 ft. Our guide said we couldn’t climb the tower because it’s too dangerous, even though other groups were. But I trust him.
We ate a boxed lunch of fried chicken and a delicious empanada, then started our two-hour hike down to camp.
Lava Tower Camp is littered with trash and rats, and I’m very glad we didn’t stay there. The hike down felt endless, but the landscape was beautiful. Crossing old glacial fingers that have been dry for 15 years, walking through a forest of trees that look like they have giant succulents sprouting from the top. Everything is stunning.
We spotted our camp in a valley at 12,800 ft. Everyone felt much better coming down. The benefit of the Lemosho Route is that you hike high and sleep low, which is very helpful in allowing the body to acclimatize. Lava Tower is the height of base camp and a great way to help us feel better and gear up for the days to come. I love our guides and trust them completely.
The porters that carry our large bags greeted us outside of camp to grab our day packs and walk us in. They arrived early and snagged us a fantastic camp spot on a secluded area for just our group. This is another reason why you want to make sure you book your tour with the right outfit… They work so hard for you, putting it extra effort to ensure you have the best camp site, which usually means they pack up and head out before you wake up.
Camp 4 was Baranco, at the base of the infamous Baranco Wall. We will conquer this tomorrow even though it looks terrifying at the moment. Our guides will show us the best way.
Another delicious meal and off to bed.
Fourth Camp: Baranco Wall | 7.5 hours, up to 15,000 ft, slept at 12,800 ft, 13 miles.
I woke feeling quite nervous about the Baranco Wall, given it’s size and sheer vertical force, it felt impossible. I situated myself right behind our guide, Henri. As we started the hike, I was quickly relieved as it was much easier than I envisioned, and dare I say, fun?! It was! A welcomed change from our usual walking, nice to do some bouldering to switch things up a bit.
Once we reached the top about an hour later, we were above the clouds. It was serene. I’ve never seen that view except in an airplane. We took a short break to soak it in and then we were off, trying to stick to our schedule. We hiked up, down, up, down, and up again. At the last down portion, we passed a stream at which Henri pointed to explain that it’s the last running water until our final camp, two days from now. This means the porters will have to fill all water for base camp from that stream before we leave and then come back an hour each way if we need more water. This blows my mind. They work so hard, for so little, of which we’re immensely grateful.
When we arrived at camp, there was quite the commotion. A fight had broken out between two groups of porters over a spot for their tents and who got their first. One of our guides, Saidi, said fighting isn’t allowed on Kilimanjaro and they will get in “big trouble” for causing such a scene in front of their hikers. (Yes, they’re wearing Deer Valley Ski Resort Ski School jackets. Fun fact: A number of ski resorts donate their old company uniforms to the porters to keep them warm with the latest gear).
Camp was cold and the fog was moving in. After a quick rest, we took a 45 minute acclimatization hike where Marty and Cathy tried out their oxygen, which they paid extra for ahead of time knowing they would want to use it for Summit night. After our hike, wash-wash, and dinner, Henri tested our oxygen levels, which he had been doing every night (mine was 94, which is great at that altitude!) then we were off to bed.
Fifth Camp: Karanga | 4 hours, 13,107 ft, 3.7 miles.
We opened our tent door to the best campsite view in the world. Kilimanjaro was perfectly framed as we enjoyed our last proper wash-wash until after Summit since the porters can only carry enough water for drinking and cooking from this point on.
This was a true “short” day. With only 3.5 hours, we arrived at base camp at 12:15pm. The terrain continues to be incredible; barren with lava rocks and large crevasses. I continue to feel strong and healthy and I pray this continues through summit.
Barafu is our base camp and the porters once again secured a great camp site overlooking Mawenzi, a stunning mountain that looks like the Minarets from Mammoth Mountain’s view. This camp is Michael’s favorite, with different rock levels and tents scattered throughout. We’re now at 15,000 ft, the highest we’ve been so far. We’ll eat, rest, try to sleep / nap and begin the climb to summit at 11:00pm. The nerves are running high…
Sixth Camp: Barafu – Base Camp | 3.5 hours, 15,331 ft, 2.5 miles.
Day 7 | SUMMIT DAY:
And so it begins… Our wake up call came at 11:30pm, after trying to “nap” for 5 hours. At 12:00am we were served porridge, and then finished gearing up and departed at 12:30am in 10 degree weather with only the glow of our headlamps to light the way. Henri was our guiding light. Unfortunately, Renee immediately felt the altitude. It was a sharp cold, and with the nerves, if one thing isn’t perfect, it can easily push you into a snowball effect. Henri carried Renee’s backpack, and she kept pushing through, one foot in front of the other. Pole Pole.
At around 17,000 ft, a wave of nausea poured over me. Our guides repeatedly told us, “You must be honest with us about how you’re feeling and communicate immediately. We won’t tell you to turn around, we will try to help you. But if you wait to tell us, then that’s when you may find yourself in a situation where you’ll need to turn around.” Sticking to this, I called to Henri that I felt nauseous and sat down. He handed me two pills and 10 minutes later I felt relief. This hike is 90% mental. Michael still thinks Henri just gave me a placebo (sugar pill, aka skittle), but honestly, I don’t care. Whatever it was, it helped, and at that moment, that’s all that mattered.
We continued step-by-step, and at the time it felt like the sun would never rise. Following the path of what seemed like endless headlamps as we looked up, I knew for my spirit, I had to keep my head down and press on. I was singing Journey’s ’Don’t Stop Believing’ on repeat in my head (and for those that know me, know that’s my anthem), so it seems appropriate.
The first hour was boulders/rocky, then 3+ hours of switch backs and another hour up to Stella Point, which we were told by Rafael is the hardest portion — He said we’ll feel the altitude, but to push through and it’ll pass. He was right.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the sun rose around 18,000 ft for our final push to Stella Point. As the rays hit my face, I felt like I was reborn with new energy and knew I would make it. It was a spectacularly spiritual moment.
30 more minutes and we reached Stella Point at 18,885 ft! Some hikers will only go this far due to the altitude, which is still an incredible accomplishment. Our group enjoyed some hot tea to refuel and warm our spirits and then continued another hour to Uhuru Peak at 19,340 ft. It’s only about a mile away, but given the high elevation and lack of oxygen, you can’t move any faster. Slow and steady…
WE MADE IT! Seeing the Uhuru Peak sign was a surreal, unforgettable, emotional experience. Michael cried, I cried, we all cried and hugged each other. It was truly incredible. We stood in awe of the glaciers that will be gone in 20 years, sadly, but felt lucky to be there and see them for ourselves. I actually felt really good up there, but we were only allowed to stay for 15 minutes as the guides said it can be dangerous to stay longer.
After celebrating with our group and soaking in the moment, we started the trek back to camp. The way down was very difficult; it only took 2 hours but “skiing” the dust and rocks took a toll on our feet and knees – I actually think going down was harder than up.
Our porters met us above Kosovo Camp and took our bags; they treat us like Kings and Queens.
Sadly, we did see some people not make it to the summit, escorted back down to base camp by the porters. I can only imagine how heartbreaking that would be. You can train for months and there’s no guarantee. But again, such a wonderful experience overall to have a glimpse of even if you don’t make it to the top. It was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically and mentally.
The only thing that made it easier was the guides dancing and singing all the way up. They completely motivated us.
Once back at base camp, we were told to pack up and head to our last camp, Millennium. Only 2 hours away, but when you’ve already been hiking for 10+ hours, it feels like an eternity.
We finally made it down to Millenium and while signing into the registers (which we do at every camp), an older British woman sat down next to me. She asked if I summited. I said “yes”! She congratulated me and then very quietly, with tears in her eyes, explained that she got diarrhea and the guides didn’t think she would be able to gather her strength in time so her group is summiting tonight and she was taken straight to the final camp. My heart absolutely broke for her. I tried to console her and say she should be proud for everything that she’s done and for making it this far because most people don’t even have the courage to do that. She nodded and thanked me. I felt awful. I guess that happens though…
After our final dinner, our crew sang for us one more time and we soaked in these beautiful people. Last, it was “tip time”. It’s an awkward situation… when you hand out tips, you have to say the amounts for each person because there’s been some cases where the head guides keep it all for themselves. I know Henri wouldn’t do that, but we still had to verbally say what we tip each person. We were warned that sometimes the crew aren’t happy with their tips and it leaves a bad taste in your mouth at the end of your once in a lifetime trip. Thankfully, everyone seemed very happy with ours.
Uhuru Peak to Millenium | 19 hours, 19,341 ft summit to 12,467 ft, 18 miles.
Day 8 | FINAL DAY:
We had a 5:30am wake up to beat the rush of hikers down the mountain. Before breakfast, our server asked me personally to give him a donation for his hard work. That was another uncomfortable moment, but we gave him an extra $5, along with the porter that cleaned and carried the toilet (that man deserves ALL the money!). After breakfast, we were given the chance to donate clothes, gear, and snacks to the crew. I was very emotional during this because they need so much and have so little; it really puts it all into perspective. I wish I could give them everything and I vow to find a charity where I can donate regularly to these porters.
We had a 5 hour, 11 mile hike downhill. It was brutal, but we were happy to be on our way back to a shower and real bed.
Along the way, I chatted with one of our guides, Seraphine, and he told me about his traditional African wedding which was a big party with 300 people, his wife of 13 years, and 3 beautiful kids. Our other guide, Saidi invited us to his wedding next December. And Rafael, another guide, is the sweetest thing. I love them all.
The downhill took us through the Moorland with Kili in the background, another beautiful day. Still above the clouds then into the rainforest.
We made it to the gate and had our final sign out. From there, we walked our last 15 minutes through the village to our lunch spot where we said goodbye to the crew and had our first Kilimanjaro beer!! Saying goodbye to the porters was really hard. I cried. Seraphine houdini’d (which I would have done the same since I hate goodbyes), but saying goodbye to Saidi and Rafael was terrible. They’re best friends and just so kind to everyone. It was fun watching them interact with each other and with all of us. I’ll miss them dearly.
Mweka Gate – Final Gate | 5 hours, 5,380 ft, 11 miles.
I still can’t believe what an incredible trip this was and how extremely lucky we are. The weather was perfect, not a drop of rain, clear skies and stunning views, the perfect group of positive like-minded people, and no injuries. Cathy and Marty completely inspire me with their 27 years of marriage and so much respect, kindness, love, appreciation, and fun they have together.
This trip was a dream come true, I wouldn’t change a thing. #blessed.
- Positive thinking; “Slow is the motion, success is the target”, “Take your soul to the mountain”
- Hydration, hydration, hydration
- Slow – “Pole pole”
- Duffle can only be 33 lbs
- Bring a Buff or bandana to protect yourself from all the dust. Makes it hard to breath sometimes.
- My finger nails have never been so dirty, I don’t even want to touch my face. But just accept it. And bring plenty of hand sanitizer.
- You want to give the porters everything at the end of the hike. My biggest piece of advice is to only give your porter their choice of 2 items then add the rest to the pot for others to choose. I gave mine everything and I realized it was too much and I felt bad afterwards for the others.
- Panty liners are life savers for women when it comes to peeing on the trail instead of packing out your toilet paper
- Pee bottle will be your best friend in the middle of the night when you don’t want to get out of your warm tent
- Bring plenty of body wipes and baby wipes to give yourself a nightly “wash”
- Put sunscreen on the backs of your hands
- Handwarmers are a life saver on summit night
- Take ibuprofen, not Advil because that thins your blood
- Sock liners are key to keeping your feet dry and blister-free. Pack at least 3 pairs so you can rotate them
- Don’t bring anything white, it will be brown by the first day even inside your pack
- Wear two pairs of leggings on summit night under your pants
- If you don’t have a big warm jacket you can rent from Peak Planet and the quality is great. Otherwise, your layers should be 6… 1). sweat wicking T-shirt, 2). long sleeve with fleece, 3). sweater, 4). smaller Patagonia puffy, 5). bigger Patagonia puffy and 6). wind breaker. The wind breaker is key. My core was warm, legs were warm, just my fingers and toes were cold. Be prepared to have snot all over you though, my nose wouldn’t stop running from the cold
- Pack stuff you don’t need/want so you can give it away at the end
- Bring lots of candy to suck/chew on during hikes. It’s a good way to pass the time
- Bring extra hand sanitizer
- Pack chargers or solar chargers for your phone/camera/ipad/electronics
- Be sure to pack: camp shoes (I had my Nikes), clean clothes to sleep in, dark fleece, eye drops – my eyes wouldn’t stop watering from the dust
- Sync Fit Bit at the hotel before you leave so it works. Mine was on California time and it was way off.
- Thisle is the national Scottish flower and can be found on Kili
- 2,000 people try out to be porters each year, only 60 are chosen
- The guides have to work their way up from porter to assistant chef to assistant guide all the way to main guide. Some have been doing this for 9 years and have summited over 500 times. The guides are trained on all treks not just one. Sometimes they get a day or two off or maybe a week. We are the 9th trip this year and should be the last but they won’t know until they get down if they have another tour booked after us
- Fun fact: men hold hands to show friendship affection in Tanzania
- My porters called me “dada” which means sister. A term of endearment 🙂
- Henri started in mountain rescue for 9 years then was sponsored to go to school and become a guide. He didn’t have to be a porter first because he already had so much experience
- Every night the chef made us soup, and it was delicious. We joked about making a AWC Soup Cook Book: zucchini, carrot, Mushroom, tomato, onion, leek (all the ones we ate)
- Trash isn’t bad except for the toilet paper which is so sad. Pack it out, wear pants liners, or bring a pee rag
- I want to sponsor my porter, Justy, who has been a porter for 3 years and has a goal of becoming a guide. When I get home I’ll research how much it costs.
- Fit Bits aren’t accurate at all. We all had them and they were all different.
- Embrace the dirt and smell
- The African people are the nicest and most welcoming I’ve ever met
- Just for fun, we all used the scales the porters used to weigh our bags to weigh ourselves just to see how much we might lose over the 8 days. Once we finished the hike, we realized I lost 8 pounds, Renee lost 7, Matt lost 6 and Michael stayed the same. Lol.
- The guides and porters love to joke with you and their laughs are infectious
- The average success rate across all routes is 65%. Peak Planet’s success rate is 85%.
- Buy your Visa upon arrival at the airport in Tanzania; the line is much shorter than if you buy before
- Wait to go to the bathroom after the Visa line in the airport, otherwise you’ll be stuck for a while
- Sleep on the first leg of the flight so you’ll be awake on the second leg and ready to sleep again when you land at 8:00pm
- Be prepared for TONS of people waiting for you outside the airport in Tanzania, that’s where you’ll find your guide / group
- The design of the Serengeti Beer bottle is better, but Kilimanjaro beer tastes better; Safari beer is OK
- Language: Jambo – hello, Hapana – no, Ahsanta (sana) – thanks (very much), Karibu – welcome
- The people here are just the sweetest, always saying “yes please” when you order or ask for anything
- Fly in two days before your trek starts so you have a full day to recover and to give yourself a chance to explore Arusha. I.e. arrive Saturday, sleep and visit Arusha Sunday, start hike Monday (Just be prepared to be hustled in the market. They mean well and they’re very nice, but can be ruthless.)
- If you’re considering booking this trek, don’t get discouraged when researching companies. There are literally dozens and it is very overwhelming. The top ones are Peak Planet and Tusker. Keep in mind, you get what you pay for and in these elements, at this altitude, you want the best. Also splurge for the portable toilet in camp. Trust me.
- The day before the trek and the night after we finished we stayed at Moivaro Coffee Village and it was amazing!! Private cabins, beautiful rose petals on the beds and elegant mosquito nets draped over the beds, stunning lodge. This place is a dream. Highly recommend.
Hours/Miles from camps:
- Start to Big Tree: 4 hours, 4.5 miles
- Big Tree to Shira 1: 7 hours, 8.9 miles
- Shira 1 to Shira 2: 6 hours, 6.2 miles
- Shira 2 to Baranco: 7.5 hours, 13 miles
- Baranco to Karango: 4 hours, 3.7 miles
- Karango to Barafu: 4 hours, 2.5 miles
- Barafu to Uhuru Peak and back to Barafu: 10 hours, 6.2 miles
- Barafu to Millenium (total including summit and back): 19 hours, 18 miles
- Millenium to end point: 5 hours, 11 miles