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Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

At 19,341 feet (5,895 meters) Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, making it one of the seven summits. It is located in Tanzania, Africa, near the Kenyan border. Mt. Kilimanjaro is a volcano and the landscape surrounding the mountain consists of far reaching plains dotted with a few volcanos that rise high above their surroundings.

1995 Trip Report

I did this trip with my wife Diane and a friend from university named Allan Derry. We planned 6 days for the climb in order to provide sufficient time for acclimatization to the altitude.

Training for the trip consisted primarily of running and stair climbing for about three months prior to the start of the trip. For anyone who is considering this climb I recommend doing a fair bit of running or cycling to be in shape for it. While it is considered beginner level by most mountaineering standards it still requires very good physical fitness if you plan to enjoy yourself at all.

No technical gear was required for the climb. A layered clothing system comprised of thin and thick wool sweaters and a light wind resistant jacket were used. The most important piece of gear for this trip is a comfortable pair of hiking boots.

Saturday August 26, 1995

Our plane left Jeddah at around 1:30am. It was very late. The plane did not have pre-assigned seats and since some people who had been traveling from Nairobi stayed on board, the best seats were taken by the time we got on. The plane was quite cramped. We had a 1 hour stopover in Khartoum, Sudan where a few people got off and some others got on. Our plane arrived in Nairobi around 7am and we stopped to change a bit of money before going to collect our baggage.

Once we had our bags we walked out into the exit area of the airport looking for a taxi. There were many people trying to quickly sell us a taxi ride into town and we did our best to ignore them. There were a few booths along the inside front wall of the airport and a lady from one of these booths offered us a ride. She quoted us 830Ksh (US$17) and I asked her if I could use the phone. I called the Boulevard Hotel and asked if they had a shuttle service. They didn't have a shuttle service but confirmed that the taxi would be 830Ksh based on government published rates per km. The lady drove us to the Hotel but with our permission stopped along the way at the office of Come To Africa Safaris Ltd. They had a fairly large office on the fourth floor of an office building in downtown Nairobi. We discussed our plans with a man at the office and haggled out a deal. I left a small deposit and the lady drove us to the Boulevard Hotel. We slept most of the afternoon and had dinner at the restaurant of the Hotel.

In the evening a guy from Come to Africa came and drove me to the airport to pick up Allan. His plane was about 20 minutes late and his luggage was near the last to come off the conveyor belt so we had a long wait. After a brief meeting we push started the truck and drove back to the hotel. We sat in our room and talked while going over the plans and checking equipment for the mountain trek. Allan and I went to the restaurant since Allan was hungry but the grill had been shut down already so we just had a couple of beers instead.

Sunday August 27th, 1995

We packed our things away in the morning and went for breakfast. After breakfast we gathered our stuff in the lobby and checked out of the room. While we were checking out a guy from DHL courier showed up and asked me if I was going to Tanzania. I had earlier called DHL and booked a ride on their shuttle bus. They had told me I would have to reconfirm it when I got to Nairobi, which I hadn't done, so I was a little surprised when they showed up. When the guy first approached me he simply said "Are you Mr. Dyck?" ... yes ... "Are you waiting for the shuttle to Tanzania?" ... yes ... oops, wrong shuttle! After some confusion I explained to the guy that we had booked a package which included transportation so we would not need the DHL shuttle.

A few minutes later a range rover from Come to Africa arrived and we loaded up our stuff and got in. It drove us to a parking lot where we transferred our stuff into another minibus and after much confusion about who was going on which bus (there were 2) we headed out of Nairobi towards Tanzania. Just past the airport turnoff the minibus pulled over and we were instructed that we had to change to a larger bus because we had too much stuff and the smaller bus was not stable. So we switched busses and then continued along towards Tanzania. About an hour later along the highway we stopped again when the bus met another Come To Africa bus which was on its way back from Tanzania. Again we had to switch busses, this time the reason being because the bus we were on did not have a permit to travel to Tanzania but the other bus did. So we swapped buses with the people coming from Tanzania and again continued on our way.

Crossing the border at Namanga was easy but the Masai women selling hand made jewelry, pottery and T-shirts are extremely agressive. With about 20 Masai women competing for a sale we were bombarded with arms reaching into our van. Eventually we succeeded in closing the windows of the van and moving ahead. We went into the Kenyan immigration office, had our passports stamped, drove ahead to the Tanzanian immigration office, went in and had our passports stamped again and then drove on into Tanzania.

We finally arrived in Arusha at around 3pm and were taken to a bed and breakfast house called "The Outpost". It was in a fairly quiet residential district a short way out of town. This was a disappointment since we had been told we would be staying at either the Marangu Hotel or Kibo Hotel in Marangu. Not only was the outpost much cheaper (US$9 for a single vs. about US$100 for a double at either of the hotels), but it meant that we would not get to the Kilimanjaro trail head until mid afternoon instead of having an early morning start. We argued with the driver of the van but he informed us that both the hotels in Marangu had no vacancy and there was not enough time to drive to Marangu anyway. So we made the best of it and spent the night at The Outpost. We were beginning to get a little suspicious as to the reliability of the company we had chosen.

Dinner was ok and afterwards I sat around the table with Diane and talked with a Jewish couple from Israel who were on there way to begin a safari in the Serengetti. We showed them a copy of the "Arab News" that we had with us and shared some stories. They were very interested in our experiences in Saudi Arabia and we talked about Arab-Israeli relations for some time.

Allan, Diane and I shared a large bedroom on the second floor of the house. The room had about 5 beds arranged around the sides of the room with a large mosquito net hanging over each one tied in a big knot. We untied the nets, draped them over our beds and went to sleep.

Monday August 28th, 1995

We woke up early and packed our things for the trip. There wasn't much hot water available and it quickly ran out so he had rather cold showers. The minibus arrived around 9am and we went into Arusha to pick up a few supplies before heading out for Marangu. We stopped in Moshi along the way and picked up box lunches to eat on the road. As we were driving along the highway we could see Mount Kilimanjaro far off to our left. The base of the mountain rose up some distance behind us and disappeared behind the clouds. Up ahead and still to the left you could see the other side of the mountain reappear beneath the clouds in the viscinity of Marangu.

When we arrived at Marangu around 2pm we wandered around the park entry gate while our guide, Sared, talked with the porters and the cook who would be assisting in the trek. After some paper work had been completed at the park gate and the porters had sorted out the gear we headed up the trail. It was now almost 3pm. The first few kilometers were actually more like a small road than a trail. The porters made off at a much quicker pace and had soon disappeared up the trail ahead of us. The first part of the trail climbs through heath forests to the Mandara huts. We arrived at the huts around 5:30pm, just before dark.

Fog and smoke from the cooking huts were circling around the huts when we arrived. We found a couple of bunks in the upstairs section of the main hut. The site consisted of one main hut and a dozen or more small huts, all A-frame wooden construction with solar panels on the roofs to charge the large batteries which powered small fluorescent lights inside the huts at night. Some of the smaller huts were used by the porters, cooks and guides for preparing meals and as sleeping quarters. There was also a small washroom building and two concrete sinks with spring water taps standing near by. Once we had settled in and washed up we found a place at a picnic table on the main floor of the main hut and dinner was served. The food was quite plain but ok. The batteries in the main hut were not working so we ate by candle light instead.

Mandara Hut

Shortly after dinner we went to sleep but it was very difficult to sleep because we were sharing the room with about 20 other people. Every time somebody got up to go to the washroom you would wake up from the loud clunking of hiking boots on the wooden floor, the flickering of a flashlight and the squeaking of the door. It seemed like there was a constant stream of people going in and out of the room. To make matters worse, the woman sleeping in the bunk next to mine had a bad cold and was blowing her nose for most of the night.

Tuesday August 29th, 1995

Sometime before my alarm went off I decided to get up and see what this place looked like. I could already see that a fair bit of light was coming into the small window at the end of the hut past the long narrow line of bunks. The Mandara Huts run along the top edge of a sloped grassy clearing with short trees below and tall trees above. We had breakfast at a picnic table in the main cabin and then gathered our things together in front of the main cabin for the porters to collect. We were probably the last group to get started and the area around the Mandara huts seemed deserted when we left.

Gullies on route to Horombo Huts

The first part of the hike up to Horombo huts was very steep, climbing through the last section of tropical rain forest onto the grassy moorlands above. As we passed through the last of the jungle there were several small black monkeys swinging around in the trees along the sides of the trail. The trail ran along the side of a very steep section of the mountain and we could look out across southern Tanzania through the trees. When the trail finally led us out across moorlands onto the slopes of Mawenzi, we got our first views of the summit, about 25 km away! To our left and a little below us was another smaller peak which looked like a volcano out of a dinosaur book. The last section of the walk took us up and down along the side of Mawenzi's slopes where small mountain streams had cut valleys into the sides of the mountain. It was a 14 km walk from Mandera to Horombo and we were exhausted by the time we arrived.

Horombo Huts

The Horombo huts lie amid short bushes and grasses on the southern slopes of Mawenzi, overlooking the clouds. After registering at a registration hut we were assigned a small hut to share with a guy from Spain who seemed quite experienced in mountaineering and trekking. He had climbed mountains in Chile, America, the Alps, and the Himalayas. It was much nicer being in a smaller hut because there was not nearly so much noise and people running in and out all the time. It also seemed a bit warmer in the smaller hut and the temperatures at night were starting to drop around freezing. One of the porters at Horombo gave Diane an extra sleeping bag to rent for the next 4 days. It was a crummy bag, dirty and with a few rips and a busted zipper but it worked ok as a blanket over top of the good sleeping bag.

Wednesday August 30th, 1995

This was a much needed day of rest. At least I thought so, and I'm sure that Diane did too. We basically just lazed around the hut, ate our meals, and took some photographs. In the morning we had a late breakfast as the majority of the treckers who had stayed at Horombo the night before left for Kibo. Allan had considered hiking up the 2 hour trail to Mawenzi for a closer look at this other peak of Kilimanjaro, but by mid morning some clouds had rolled in and the plan was canceled.

We had lunch in the rather deserted main cabin at Horombo (only a few people were staying an extra night here) and then shortly after lunch the trekers from Mandara started arriving. There were a few large black birds flying around the area and I took a few photographs of these. I also spent some time watching and photographing a smaller bird, a gerbil and a lizard. These were all living in the short bushes to the side of the huts.

Allan and I took a short hike up the trail to see if we could find the watering spring which was a short distance above the Horombo huts but we were not sure which of two trails to take and so of course we took the wrong one and after about 20 minutes of walking we gave up.

Since there was now a vacancy in our cabin it was assigned to one of the treckers who had just arrived from Mandara. Our new roommate was Rob McIntosh, an avid trecker and mountain climber from Lakewood Colorado. He had arrived quite early in the afternoon after a very fast walk from Mandara. We shared some stories and then had dinner in the main hut before going to sleep. Rob told us a little about some of the other trips he had been on including Denali, Annapurna I, and various other mountains in the Rockies and the Alps.

In the middle of the night I got up to go to the washroom and as I walked across the short path between the buildings, I could see the summit in the distance and wondered where the treckers were who were now making their way to the summit.

Thursday August 31st, 1995

We got up and had a quick breakfast before starting up the trail. It took us about an hour before we reached the last watering spot along the trail. It was a small spring trickling across the trail in many places across a wide patch of grassy meadow. Our guide walked down the stream a little ways to the point where the water bottles could be filled and we all rested while the water was collected.

The Saddle

It was several hours of walking before we emerged from the last of the grassy moorlands onto the desert moonscape of the saddle area between Mawenzi and Kibo. We could see the summit of Kibo ahead across the saddle with a huge wall of cloud pushed up against its southern slopes. On the saddle side the trail could be seen as a lighter colored line through the center and around a large rock outcrop up to Kibo hut which lay at the foot of the steep slopes leading up to Gilman's point. As we walked closer and closer we tried to guess where the trail was that led up to Gilman's point and eventually it became clearer, a zigzagging path on the outside wall of the crater.

It seemed to take forever to cross the saddle. A huge expanse of open gravel and dust spanning a few kilometers between the two peaks of the mountain. The Kibo huts were arranged in a small partially sheltered area amid some rock jebbels at the foot of Kibo's eastern slopes. By the time we arrived, Diane had a bad sunburn on the backs of her hands and on her face and was suffering from some sun stroke.

Sign Post by Kibo Huts

We found ourselves some bunks in a room of the main cabin. And got a few things organized for the upcoming ascent. The cabin had a hall that ran from the door at the front to a dining room at the back with a couple of bunk rooms on either side of the hall. The cabin was built partly into the side of a small slope. Our room had 10 bunks in it and it was quite noisy as people moved in and out of the room. By around 6 pm we had finished our dinner as had most of the others in the cabin and were ready to try grabbing a few hours of sleep.

Despite how tired we were it was difficult to sleep. I think I got a few hours of sleep although it was interrupted a few times by the noises of people in the cabin. One guy couldn't stop farting and a couple others were snoring loudly while another guy somehow managed to continuously snore and burp at the same time.

Friday September 1, 1995

Shortly after midnight the sound of footsteps came down the hall. Our guides had come to wake us up and say that tea and biscuits would be ready in a few minutes. We got dressed into our multi layered climbing outfits and packed up the few things that we had lying about. Diane had a bad headache and was suffering from the sunstroke she had the day before and decided that it would be better to go back to Horombo now rather than trying to continue to the summit. We made a few adjustments in our packing, dividing some of the stuff we had between bags. At around 1:30 we gathered outside the building with our flashlights and prepared to start the final ascent. The head guide would take Diane back down to Horombo huts while Allan and I would climb to the summit with the assistant guide Roman. We said good-bye, wished each other luck and began on our way.

As we started up the trail from Kibo there was already a trail of lights moving up the mountain ahead of us from the few groups that had left ahead of us. The trail climbed gradually for the first half hour and then abruptly started to climb steeply upwards. As the trail got steeper it began to zigzag back and forth across a wide strip of rock scree. We could see the lights on the trail ahead of us now getting further apart and another trail of lights dotted the trail below us back to the Kibo huts just below. After an hour or so of walking we were taking frequent breaks to catch our breath and some of the groups below us started to pass us. It was getting colder as we walked and a strong wind was coming across the slope from the north. My toes started to get that tingly cold feeling and I pulled the ski mask down over my balaclava to cover my eyes each time we turned back across the scree to the north.

After about two hours of walking we reached Hans Meyer's Cave. It was a wide but short opening in the side of the mountain which reached back about 15 feet into the rock. You could barely stand at the entrance and we each crouched down and scrambled a few feet into the cave and out of the wind. We had been stopping more frequently now as Allan was feeling exhausted and was having frequent dizzy spells. We spent about 15 minutes at the cave resting, drank some more water, and ate a bit more of the power bars that we had been nibbling on since the start of the climb. Standing up at the entrance to the cave the sky was clear and we could see the lights of a city across the Ambosseli game reserve in southern Kenya, and the lights of Moshi town just south of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

After the break we started out again up the rock scree which was starting to get a little steeper. We climbed for about another ten minutes taking a few short stops to catch our breath. Allan was having increasing trouble catching his breath and was still getting dizzy so he decided it would be best for him to turn back. We traded flashlights (I was carrying a smaller but more reliable one) so that Allan would be sure to get back to Kibo without having light problems. Roman went back with Allan as far as Hans Meyer's cave and Allan returned the rest of the way to Kibo on his own. Meanwhile I continued very slowly up the trail on my own. I hadn't gone more than two minutes before the faulty flashlight packed it in so I stopped for another break and watched the lights of another group of treckers slowly catch up. When they had caught up I let them pass and then followed, walking just behind them in their light and banging away at my flashlight hoping it would come back on. The bulb seemed to be loose inside the lens and every once in a while it would flicker a little. Eventually it came back on so I stopped for another break and when the group I had been walking with had gone a little way, I started out again. Two minutes later the light packed it in again so I stopped again and very shortly after I stopped Roman came running up the trail behind me. I let him catch his breath and then we started out together and I followed behind him in his light.

Now that we were alone and moving a little faster the tingling in my feet started to go away but it was still very cold and I continued to pull the ski goggles down every time we turned north across the scree. The water in my bottle which was hot when we left Kibo was now icy cold and I wondered if it would freeze before we reached the top. As we continued to walk polé polé up the scree an increasing number of people started to pass us making their way back down the slope. More and more people were succumbing to altitude sickness.

Towards the top of the scree the trail started getting harder to follow and broke up into multiple paths as some larger rocks divided the slope here and there. The crater rim started to become visible, black against the dark navy blue sky above us and shortly before sunrise we climbed up the final bit of scree and onto the rim at Gilman's point. To the west we could see down into the shadow filled crater where a huge glacier sat on the smooth lava rock floor. To the north the crater rim continued along slightly lower for a few hundred meters before dropping off to a much lower section of the rim near the glacier. To the south there was a large rock sticking up above Gilman's point with a single ski pole on the top pointing up to the sky. Beyond this rock the rim continued slowly upwards to Uhuru peak which was visible about two kilometers away across the crater to the west. To the east looking out across the saddle the sun was now casting a great red glow behind Mawenzi peak. Roman hugged me and began dancing around the small flat area that was Gilman's point singing "Kilimanjaro, Kilimanjaro" in Swahili. There was a small sign on the ground which identified the point and congratulated all those who climbed the mountain. I looked down and could see the Kibo huts at the edge of the saddle below us. Allan was probably there by now. Looking past the saddle I could see the slopes of Mawenzi where the trail came up from the Horombo huts and wondered where Diane was. Asleep in one of the huts at Horombo or maybe still walking down the slope.

Shortly after arriving at Gilman's point, another small group of treckers joined us and we all watched as the sun came up behind Mawenzi. Behind us the light was casting incredible shadows across the crater. We took a few photographs and then continued on. The trail continued around the inside of the rocky outcropping to the south of Gilman's point and around the crater rim to the south west. Most of the trail here was relatively flat and smooth. Occasionally the trail would dip down a few meters and then begin to gradually climb up again. Although I wasn't working as hard now, the air was so thin that I was continually running out of breath and having to take short breaks to catch my breath. After a couple hours we had come around the rim and up the final gradual slope to Uhuru peak. The summit itself was like a large flat hill on a very wide section of the crater rim. Below the summit to the south and south-west was the huge glacier that hung on the side of the mountain and had been visible from the trail since the day we left the Mandara huts. Closer to the summit on the north and north-east the slope came to high vertical walls which dropped off into the crater.

Glacier Near the SummitOn the Summit

We took a few more photographs at the summit and rested for about 15 minutes before turning around and starting back down the trail. We continued down the trail taking short rest breaks all the way and at about 10:30 am we were back at Gilman's point and with the sun now well overhead we could see clearly down the slope to the Kibo huts. A light gray line identified the trail zigzagging up the steep slope towards us. After a short climb down some rocks to the top of the scree we stood linked with our arms around each others shoulders and kind of half trotted half slid down the slope. We did this in sections. We would identify a spot on the slope about a hundred meters below us and then trot down to that spot and sit down for a minute to catch our breath. My thighs were getting tired and felt like rubber as we mad our way down but we hurried as much as we could to beat the wind and sun which were beating down on us.

View from Gilman's Point back down across the saddle

When we finally got back to the Kibo huts, I met up with Allan and chatted for a bit before hopping onto a bunk to grab a short nap, but despite how exhausted I was, I could not sleep. After about an hour and a half Roman came in and gave us some biscuits, peanuts and tea to snack on and we packed up our things and got ready to leave. It was two o'clock by the time we left the Kibo huts and although we were walking much faster now, it was a long way down to the Horombo huts so it took us about 2˝ hours of walking. When we finally came over the final rise in the path, the Horombo huts were nestled below us buzzing with treckers, guides and porters, smoke rising from the cook hut chimneys. We went to the registration hut, found our hut number and walked over to our hut. Diane was there and it appeared that we would have a hut for just the three of us. Rob was in another hut with three Australians.

We had dinner in our hut and after dinner another trecker who had arrived late in the day was assigned to the extra bunk in our hut. After some confusion he ended up being assigned to another hut so we got the hut to ourselves after all.

Saturday September 2, 1995

After breakfast we started back down the trail to the Mandara huts. Along the way we stopped frequently to take short rest breaks. We took more photographs of the scenery and unusual plants. In the forest area above Mandara we looked for more of the black monkey's but didn't see any this time. We were walking quite slowly by the time we got to Mandara. It was about 11:00 when we arrived and we sat inside the deserted cabin to eat lunch and lounged around on the grass outside for a while before leaving.

Diane's knees were getting quite sore from all the walking and we both had blisters starting on our feet, so the pace slowed even more on the last bit of trail back to the trail head. When we were finally back at the gate our guide registered our accomplishments and I got a certificate for reaching the summit. Our driver had been waiting for a couple of hours already. We gave tips to the guides, cooks and porters and then started on our way back to Arusha.