Kilimanjaro Trek – Machame Route – June/July 2012

My Cape Town to Johannesburg flight was smooth sailing all the way and was followed by a very noisy Ethiopian flight which connected at Addis Ababa.

I flew this route mainly because the flights were cheaper. From Addis we made a quick transit flight to Mombasa to collect more guests on the way to Mount Kilimanjaro. On arrival in Mombasa and after about a 4 hour wait we were told that there were technical difficulties with the aeroplane, which resulted in them driving us to a local hotel to get some well deserved sleep until we could catch the next flight out.

We were booked into a lovely hotel called The Voyager, and I would recommend this hotel to anyone passing through Mombasa. The hotel is situated on the beach, with lovely air-conditioned rooms and loads to do and see. We were also allowed to take advantage of the delicious breakfast and lunch buffets while we were there.

Six hours later, our airport transfer arrived for our next flight. There was much excitement as we made our way to our final destination… Tanzania, Mount Kilimanjaro!

The arrival at Kilimanjaro Airport was amazing, Mount Kilimanjaro was standing high and proud above the clouds showing off for everyone to see! A sparkling white capped summit awaited our arrival!

The weather was perfect, not too hot and not too cold. I was met at the airport and was taken to a beautiful and quaint little hotel called The Keys Hotel. With a very friendly welcome and a fresh glass of watermelon juice, I felt right at home. I made it just in time for the briefing, so I quickly took my bags to the room and met my group for the first time.

The briefing was excellent, so well put together, very thorough and very educational. After the briefing they asked us to set out all our luggage on our bed and they came around and inspected it. This may have seemed like a tedious process, but trust me, it was so worthwhile and helped me to get to the summit! They checked everything and made suggestions to those who needed something more or different or instead of. I found this very helpful, I am sure I would have had some very cold fingers had they not done this check!

We were collected after breakfast at 09:00am and we headed for the supermarket, followed by the bank and then on to Machame gate. This was an incredible morning, everyone getting to know each other, we were 7 in my group and that to me was a wonderful number, just right! We got to know each other very quickly and the energy was tangible!

Spirits were high with no rain in sight. On arrival at the Machame gate we had to sign in on a register and we collected our lunch box and our 3 liters of water which we got used to carrying with us each day.

Time to face the mountain, at a height of 1790 meters we left Machame Gate and headed into the rain forest.

Day 1 on Kilimanjaro:

Machame Gate to Machame Camp (1790m to 3010m)

We started our ascent through a beautiful rainforest where we saw a few of the cute Thumbless Colobus Monkeys. The vegetation was very dense in the forest and although it seemed like it wanted to rain, it never did, it was just very humid. We started climbing immediately, up and up deeper into the rain forest. Giant ferns and thick tropical vegetation made the forest feel like it was alive with amazing creatures. For the duration of our climb we were strictly climbing “pole pole” which means slowly, our guides encouraged us to do so, as we were climbing at altitude from the beginning. This way of walking helped us to acclimatise for the altitude in the days ahead and it also meant that we stopped for fewer breaks. We worked up a fantastic rhythm and our heart rate stayed consistent.

We walked for five and a half hours and we camped at the Machame Camp

Thumbless Colobus Monkey
Walking Deeper into the rain forest

Day 2 on Kilimanjaro:

Machame Camp to Shira Camp (3010m to 3845m)

We set off in high spirits as we departed on a beautifully sunny morning. The air was still very crisp and we were mainly wearing a thin fleece at all times, but the sun on our faces and hands were very welcoming. Sunscreen is extremely important, especially on your hands, neck, ears and face.

The rain forest slowly started thinning out and turned into beautiful wooded surroundings. Everywhere we walked the mighty Kilimanjaro was staring at us, luring us in and mesmerizing us as we took each step closer. As we walked, we couldn’t help but notice a new beauty in the mountain and our surroundings. We were very lucky to have had the mountain so clear, some people don’t see the mountain until they are nearly at the summit.

The trees parted and the mountain opened up, intriguing rock formations seemed to be placed in peculiar locations and still, we kept climbing. Frustrations of the monotonous climb started setting in as we all wondered what the mountain had in store for us.

We walked for six and a half hours and we camped at the Shira Camp.

Day 3 on Kilimanjaro:

Shira Camp to Barranco Camp (3845m to 3960m)

The walk began on open ground and we could feel that it would be a very demanding trek as we climbed and dipped to acclimatise to the altitude. It was an extremely tiring day and felt extra long as the trail was clearly visible at most places. A lot of the group started getting their first real taste of altitude on this part of the trek.

At 4640 meters we passed Lava Rock , before we descended again towards our camp. This walk was quite incredible as we stumbled upon the most amazing Giant groundsel plants (senecio kilimanjari), Giant lobelia deckenii and the Helichrysum cymosum. Our descent then followed these plants all the way down a small, beautiful and icy waterfall.

Some of the group struggled on this day as it became more and more clear just how demanding this trek could be and how quickly it changes your emotions and wellbeing. As we descended towards our camp for the night we had our next morning’s challenge staring at us with very cold eyes, the Barranco Wall. The wall was clearly visible and edged out on the side of the mountain for us to really see what lay ahead. They called this “the breakfast wall”.

The scenery was beautiful with a full view of the mountain and as it was very close to full moon, the snow was lit up by the moon every night and really gave us one of the most beautiful natural scenes anyone could ever wish to see! There was no way to capture everything I experienced, not only physically but mentally and emotionally as well.

We had walked for eight hours and camped at the Barranco Camp.

Day 4 on Kilimanjaro:

Barranco Camp to Barafu Camp (3960m – 4640m)

Today’s trek started off on the very steep Barranco “breakfast” wall. This was an early and narrow climb so to avoid the traffic of the other climbers and porters; we set off a little earlier this morning. Needless to say, this day was “pole pole sana” (very, very slowly). Today’s climb was very demanding and intimidating, it was important that we stayed positive and happy and enjoyed our progress! The views which this climb offered were spectacular and took our minds off the height. We stopped for our daily en-route lunch, which was a wonderful and much needed break from the monotonous walking and breathing.

Everyone was feeling the pressure that this mountain had instantly placed upon us, and the mood was quiet and subdued. The nerves were starting to show in all our faces as the face of the summit stared down at us from our highest and most challenging overnight camp.

We had walked for eight hours and camped at the Barafu Camp.

Day 5 on Kilimanjaro:

Barafu Camp – Uhuru Peak – Mweka Camp (4640m to 5895m to 3080m)

We were woken up at 00H00 with a little soft voice singing the Kilimanjaro song and a brisk shake of the tent. It was time to wake up, gear up and get up that mountain! The mood was quiet and the cold dark moonlit night seemed very dreary – spirits were nowhere close to being “happy camper”. Brushing our teeth with ice cold water and putting sunscreen on in the middle of the night half resembled the actions of a crazy person.

After a very light breakfast, bags packed and snow kitted out, we set off on a dark, icy, quiet path only half lit by a trail of headlamps and the moonlight. As we followed our guides, step by step, climbing higher in altitude, yet walking at an incredibly slow pace, the cold started setting in. Disorientated by the dark and unknown path there were no words passed between the group. Quietly, everyone was feeling the night climb and the battle of mind over matter was very real. Each to our own, we moved on slowly, talking in our minds, keeping strong and focused and constantly reminding ourselves, one step at a time. It was no use thinking about the destination, we had to focus on our journey, on every single step, living in the present.

Nausea and headaches had by this time become normal and sadly after a few hours into the dark and dreary climb we lost a member of our group who had to return to camp, the altitude was just too much for her to bear. The rest of the group pushed on, praying for a ray of sunlight. Hours passed and finally we saw the horizon firing up and the sun rising, faint smiles replaced the stolid faces and the climb became more focused but never easier. Tired, faint, breathless and aching we reached Stella Point (5739m), and after a cup of tea and a well deserved stick of liquorice, we edged each other on, gaining new energy and confidence while getting ready for our final hurdle. We came this far and no one was going to be turning back!

We fixed our rain jackets, secured our face scarves and tightened our gloves. We formed a neat little line of energy and followed our guide. I was first in line and I could not look left or right, without taking my eyes off our guide’s shoes. I followed them step by step, left, right, left, right. The ground started to change from gravel and lava rocks to beautiful white picturesque snow with only a very small narrow path to fit your feet in, one in front of the other. Still, I could not look up. My head was aching like I had ten migraines going at the same time, I felt faint and nauseous and exhausted. Some fellow summiters came past wishing us well, edging us on, letting us know that the summit was in sight. I could not let my mind get to it; all I could think of were the hiking shoes I was watching step by step, those boots were going to get me to my goal!

Our guide suddenly stopped dead! With a small sense of fear and total exhaustion I looked up to find Uhuru Peak staring directly at me. There was snow everywhere! Beautiful white glaciers, cliff edges and sides covered in ghostly white snow, snow followed by clouds followed by a huge white mountain range, followed by the sunrise. It could not have been any more perfect!

Some tears of joy followed along with the urgency of getting my Nomad Flag out for a photo before the group headed back down to a lower altitude to breathe in some oxygen and regain some energy. I wish I could have stayed up there for longer but we could only stay for approximately 5 minutes before the altitude made it impossible to stay any longer. As the adrenalin of summiting wore off briskly, we could feel the icy wind blowing on us and we realized how cold it really was up there, our exhaustion seemed to double, along with the migraine. No amount of water would help for this although we had to keep drinking.

The descent back down to Barafu camp for a rest was really something I was looking forward to, what a pleasure to be able to descend after all the climbing and hiking and crazy altitude. But this was the biggest surprise of them all, the path was littered with loose stone, small rocks, and gravel type textures, all we could do was pretend we were skiing down the mountain slope in order to get back to camp as quickly as our legs would carry us. At that stage, I was praying for my bed and extra energy! This descent was very challenging and extremely tiring after our already 7.5 hour climb to the summit. This descent took approximately 4 – 5 hours.

We managed to squeeze in some much needed rest back at the Barafu camp until we got woken for lunch. I was not able to eat anything this day and slept another hour before been woken to descend again to our last night’s campsite. With no energy, the shakes, nausea and no way of being able to get food and hardly any water into my body, we started our next 4.5 hour descent to our last camp. This was again, a very tiring and aching trek, going downhill really does push your body to the limit. Your toes, your knees and your lower back take on the most strain at this stage. Although this descent took us back into the wooden forest area and the views were still spectacular, I could not take in these beauties on this day. On reaching our final campsite for the night, I washed and headed for the dinner table. Once again, I could not eat and could not even keep my eyes open. I headed straight for bed and could not wait to wake up on a fresh new day! The air even felt better when I was falling asleep.

We had walked for 15.5 hours and we camped at Mweka camp.

Day 6 on Kilimanjaro:

Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate (3080m – 1630m)

We woke up a little later and everybody’s appetites had returned just in time for breakfast! After a tasty and hearty meal, we were in high spirits for our homebound journey. We geared up for the last time and set off back into the rain forest for our last stretch.

Needless to say that great feeling did not last for too long, the final and never ending descent towards the gate was extremely challenging, tiring and difficult. As you walk you lean forwards going downhill and it creates a pressure which you cannot change in any way. Everything started to ache from the previous day, especially knees and toes, after only a short walk it felt like I had blisters on each toe on each side, along with bruising on the tips of my toes.

The rain forest was so beautiful and dense and lush and I couldn’t help but get caught up in its beauty, it is truly something to behold, especially when you catch a glimpse of those precious little Colobus monkeys.

Exploring Africa is the Ultimate Adventure!

Notes

Every morning before, and every day after your trek, you are given a lovely big bowl of hot water to have a wash with. There are basic toilet facilities at each campsite.

You are given freshly boiled drinking water every morning before your trek, and you are able to ask the guides for more at anytime, they will always provide for you.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided and let me tell you something, the food is amazing! Hats off to our cook Hamis, he was a true chef and gave us food that I am still thinking about. For breakfast we had porridge, omelets, sausages, toast, jams, cheese and fruit. Along with coffee, the infamous Milo (which we still believe gave us all our vitamins to reach the summit) Coffee and Kilimanjaro tea. Lunches ranged from freshly made vegetable pies and fries, to egg noodle salads and fresh wholesome sandwiches, chicken and fruit. Dinners were made up of beef stir fry, vegetable stews, rice, chicken pieces, potato wedges, soups (to die for), salads, pancakes and popcorn. Mango juice is also the favored juice of the trip, packed with loads of energy, we loved it!

Tips

– Pack a small medical aid kit for headaches, stomach ache, diarrhea, and nausea
– Heartburn tabs as they cook with pepper and mainly use oil
– Blister plasters for just in case, no better way to explain: prevention is better than cure
– Toilet paper, travel tissues and anti bacterial wipes 2 – 3 of each
– Apply sunscreen every morning on hands, face, ears and neck even when cloudy
– Peppermints help with breathing on those tough days, but could make you nauseous
– Candy bars and snack bars will save your life on summit day eat them even when you think you can’t. 10 is a good number to have with you
– Fresh fruit rolls which also contain sugar is a good alternative to candy and snack bars
– Your backpack should have two side pockets big enough to fit 2 x 750ml bottles of water, this saves you a lot of space and is very convenient. Also, some backpacks – have little pockets on the waist strap which makes it easy to access things like lip balm, a snack and sunscreen while you’re on the move.
– I also took eucalyptus essential oil with me to rub on my nose during the day as it can get quiet dusty and cold and this prevents a runny nose.
– I took all small travel bottles with me, an important note is that the higher you go the more they expand, so be careful when opening them at camp.

Words of Wisdom

Words that helped me on the mountain:

Jambo – Hello
Karibu – Welcome
Pole pole – Slowly
Sana – Very
Ashante – Thank you
Poa – I feel good
Mambo – How are you feeling?
So if someone says Mambo? You can shout Poa!

Nomad Tours

A gigantic Thank You to everyone at Nomad Tours who made my dream a reality. I am so proud of my first summit and taking Nomad to the Roof of Africa!

The “Pole Pole sana” Group

A special thank you goes out to Tae, Sine, Tille, Matt, Elise and Bart. Thank you for being the most amazing group, I could not have hand picked a better group of travelers to have met and shared in this very special and emotional quest.

Elise and Bart

Special congratulations to Elise and Bart who got engaged on the very summit of Kilimanjaro on the 2nd July 2012. May you both be blessed with a life full of love and happiness.

Booking Your Kilimanjaro Climb

Nomad Africa Adventure Tours offers three routes for you to get to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro:

The Marangu Route: Marangu is one of the easiest routes and the ony one that offers sleeping huts in basic dormitory style accommodation. It approaches Mt Kilimanjaro from the South-East and is the oldest and most estabished route. Many favour the Marangu Route due to the gradual slope and direct path

The Machame Route: This is one of the most popular routes at the moment, but aso one of the more difficut ones. Compared with Marangu, the days are longer and the hikes are steeper. You will sleep in supplied tents at designated campsites, and meals are enjoyed outdoors or in large dining tents. Machame is a rewarding route as the scenery is very beautiful and varied. Climbers are rewarded with beautiful views of Shira Plateau and Barranco Wal.

The Rongai Route: The Rongai Route is the ony route that approaches Kilimanjaro from the North, cose to the Kenyan border. Rongai is moderatey difficut and one of the most scenic routes as it passes through true widerness areas. You wil sleep in suppied tents at designated campsites and meals are mostly enjoyed outdoors.

Click here to read about Nomad’s Cape Town Sales Manager, Claire Muzelle’s Kilimanjaro experience.

Do you want to continue travelling?

You’ve conquered Kilimanjaro and are excited about exporing more of what Africa has to offer! Or, you’ve booked your Kili trek but you want to do some adventure touring beforehand. We can combine your Kilimanjaro trip with a tour to the Mountain Gorillas in Uganda, the world class game viewing areas of the Serengeti and the Masai Mara and whisk you away to the white sandy beaches of Zanzibar. Below are a few options for you to combine with your Kilimanjaro adventure:

Cape Town to Nairobi: This tour can be done in the opposite direction, camping or accommodated
Johannesburg to Nairobi: This tour can be done in the opposite direction, camping or accommodated
Vic Falls to Nairobi: This tour can be done in the opposite direction, camping or accommodated
Dar es Salaam to Nairobi: This tour can be done in the opposite direction, camping or accommodated
Masai Mara and Gorillas: This tour can also be started in Kampala – Gorilla Encounter Tour

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