Kilimanjaro(5,895m) is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Additionally, it is a dormant volcano and located in the heart of Tanzania. Everest might be the ‘holy grail’ of all mountains, but Kilimanjaro is the ‘holy grail’ of trekking mountains.
Firstly, its location is in a continent known to as the cradle of mankind due to being near (relatively) South African and Ethiopia. Africa is a pretty mythical region due to the lack of knowledge and information for most tourists. I know I am stretching it, but Holy Grail, Africa, Cradle of Mankind, Kilimanjaro, all these do add up to sound like some ignorant Indiana Jones movie.
Secondly, Kilimanjaro is also one of the easiest high altitude peaks and can be completed by beginners because it can be done with little hiking experience and without any fixed ropes or serious climbing equipment. Only perseverance, fitness and a prayer that one would have no AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) are needed to get you up there.
Mount Kilimanjaro has 3 distinct volcanic cones: “Kibo”, “Mawenzi”, and “Shira” and there are 7 official routes to climb Kilimanjaro. For more information on the routes and how to plan your trip to Kilimanjaro, please read my other post on all you need to know about the routes and Kilimanjaro.
This post is a recap of my detailed 7-day Lemosho Trip for people who wish to understand more of what the Kilimanjaro trek is like. It provides pictures on the trail to the best of my ability and details such as distance, altitude and GPS route to provide a better understanding.
I had decided on the 7-day Lemosho Route based on my initial research. It would give me and my friends enough time to acclimatize, supposedly good scenery and avoiding most of the crowds. The 8-day Lemosho Route felt like it didn’t give much more value and honestly, one extra day in Kilimanjaro was really costly.
To put into context, Kilimanjaro was the last stop of my 5 weeks Southern-Central African trip. Kilimanjaro was also supposed to be my saving grace. I had not managed to summit for the two previous years on twp separate peaks due to weather. SanFeng in China and Larkya Peak in Nepal were the two peaks I had failed. As those were more technical treks, I decided on an easier, more commercial trekking peak just to hopefully obtain some success finally. If I failed Kilimanjaro this time, I would seriously consider just giving up on trekking as it seemed as though my fate isn’t intertwined with the mountains.
However, scaling Kilimanjaro for the sake of the summit was not so important for me. Over the years of trekking, I figured out that going to the summit with friends lent more meaning to the trip. Helping others reach the summit and sharing the mountain experience with people you care for would make my trip more enjoyable. Therefore, I managed to convince some friends. It would be the very first mountain for YJ and a trip with Daniel which we had discussed for a long time.
We did this trip from 6th January to 11th January 2018 ( if you are wondering why only 6 days, read on). I decided to trek in January instead of December because it was supposed to be better weather with lesser crowds. I had chosen the Lemosho Route as it allows better acclimatization for everyone.
After preparing everything, I was confident it was going to turn out well.
Brief Lemosho Itinerary
This is the standard brief itinerary for a 7-day Lemosho route.
Day 1: Londorossi Gate(2250m) – Mti Mkubwa Camp (2750m)
Day 2: Mti Mkubwa Camp (2750m) – Shira 2 Camp (3850m)
Day 3: Shira 2 Camp (3850m) – Lava Tower (4630m) – Barranco Camp (3950m)
Day 4: Barranco Camp (3950m) – Karanga Camp (3995m)
Day 5: Karanga Camp (3995m) – Barafu Hut (4600m)
Day 6: Barafu Camp (4600m) – Uhuru Peak (5895m) – Mweka Camp (3100m)
Day 7: Mweka Camp (3100m) – Mweka Gate (1800m)
Detailed Lemosho Itinerary
Day 0: Moshi
- Pick up from airport to accommodation (Central Paris Hotel)
- Meet the guide and check the equipment
*Suggested: Add another day in Moshi to relax and prepare for the trip after a long flight
Day 0 was supposed to be a relaxing day. I had purposely reached Moshi 2 days earlier to wait for YJ and Daniel to fly in from Singapore.
This was the start of the foreshadowing of the events. After walking around the market and checking out the various agencies, everybody had informed me that December had no rain (which was an anomaly) and that January was going to rain for sure.
Wait, I thought I had chosen January to escape the rain? Why does the weather always follow me? It had snowed on the past two peaks too which stopped me from continuing.
Previously, I had heard some stories in the market (like some spy snooping around for gossip at the tavern) that the Ethiopian Airlines were infamous for extra flights. There were cases where instead of landing in Moshi from Adis Ababa, they flew to Zanzibar, Nairobi etc before landing in Moshi. The story I heard had 3 stops. I dismissed it in my head thinking that we couldn’t be so unlucky.
Guess what! There was a flight delay for YJ and Daniel. They were slated to arrive in Moshi from Singapore at 1 pm. Apparently, they were delayed by an hour at the airport and the plane decided to pick up passengers from Zanzibar but didn’t inform their passengers. My guess is Ethiopian airlines actually decides on which route to take based on how many passengers were going to Moshi or Zanzibar.
That is crazy, that is like an Uber for planes. Well, since they have a reputation for doing that, they are most likely not remorseful. Afterall, it is a business and they simply wish to make sure every route is cost-efficient.
I had to stand nervously biting my nails, fearing for the worst at the airport for around 5 hours waiting for them before the plane finally arrived. In that time, it started to rain too, like a little tease of what was to come.
With that, we quickly went straight to our hotel, did a quick check on the equipment to figure out if anything was lacking before having a quick dinner and sleep.
Seriously, what a start. Surely it couldn’t get any worse?
Day 1: Moshi – Londorossi Gate (2250m) – Mti Mkubwa camp (2750m)
Habitat: Montane forest
Elevation (m): 2250m to 2750m
Distance: 6 km
Time: 3-4 hours
*A variation can be done here to drive to Morum Barrier Gate and sleep at Shira 1 Camp (3500m). On hindsight, that is actually the Shira route.
We started off pretty late in the morning after meeting the crew. We were told that there was wifi connectivity in the mountains so we decided to get a sim-card for Daniel. I already had mine because I was in Tanzania for a week.
The sim card process was extremely tedious as it involved choosing the type of sim card, registering, taking a picture, activating etc but it took an inordinately long time for Daniel to get his sim card.
By the time we finally set off from Moshi, it was almost noon. There was still another 2-hour car ride to Londrossi Gate which was the starting gate for the Lemosho Route. The crew had to stop by to stock up on supplies which took another 1 hour. This was the time to request for any special food or drinks you wished for them to buy for the mountain.
There were some interesting murals at the petrol station which we stopped at. I was pretty restless and couldn’t wait to start walking. Afterall it was a 3-4h hike through the forest later and I wondered what it would be like.
I knew we were reaching Londrossi Gate once the road started getting bumpy.
Upon reaching, there was some registration and payment which the guide would handle on behalf of the whole team. We had the option of paying by credit card which I didn’t take up the offer as I had already paid the agency. All the charges to the national park could be seen clearly on the board. For more explanation on this, please refer to my other blog post on planning a trip to Kilimanjaro.
We had our own registration to do. We had register our names in the book. This would be a common sight and routine in all the camps we passed by.
I was looking through the book to see how many other Singaporeans or Asians come to Kilimanjaro, but very few do. I couldn’t find many names as I tried to trace back. There were a few Malaysians, Koreans and Japanese usually.
The porters had to weigh their luggage as each of them couldn’t bring more than 20kg. They also had to decide on the number of Porters based on the load. There was a weighing scale beside and it had to be confirmed with the national park. We saw other vehicles around and other groups which gave me an odd sense of comfort.
I assumed we were to have lunch on the way as it was quite late but we had a packaged lunch while waiting for the porters and guides to settle the registration. It was quite a delicious feast. There were sandwiches, banana, the best part was the samosa. It was already 3 pm and I was wondering how we were going to make it before sunset.
I was ready to start trekking but we were not starting from the gate. We got into the car and travelled another half an hour on the bumpy unpaved ground.
Instead of heading towards Mti Mkubwa camp, Kevin our guide explained to us that there was a better way. It was quite late and he explained that everyone goes to this different starting point by Londrossi Gate during this season.
We ended up at Morum Picnic Site, at 3,407m without having walked a single step. I saw the other groups at Londrossi Gate start from this point too, which meant that he wasn’t lying. Well, instead of walking we took a short-cut! This sort of made sense because the sign at Londrossi Gate clearly shows Morum Picnic Site, but not Mti Mkubwa Camp.
*On hindsight, I would have preferred to go via Mti Mkubwa Camp. (if you read my whole post, you would understand) Morum Picnic Site is, in fact, a mix between the Shira and Lemosho routes.
Perhaps we had reached Londrossi gate too late in the afternoon and they did not want to trek for 3hours through the forest or risk trekking at night. Perhaps because of the rainy weather, they did not wish to walk through the forest. Or maybe they just wished to catch a break and walk less, therefore taking the car to as high as possible. They were all possible reasons now that I looked back. I should have insisted on the route but I did not wish to argue with the head guide Kevin as he insisted this was the normal route. This lack of acclimatization bit us in the end, so it was a bad mistake looking back.
Having said that, with all the euphoria and excitement of starting a trek, it felt like a good option to take the car to 3,400m and skip the first day of a 7-day trek to conserve energy for the summit.
The rest of the crew systematically unloaded everything from the vehicle and got ready.
I was starting to feel slightly light-headed and experience some early symptoms of AMS though while I was in the car. Stepping out of the car and breathing some fresh mountain air made me feel better. This was my domain and this was what I was missing. Hello Kilimanjaro!
We were finally starting for real, at 4 pm.
There were many signboards and explanations of the area. We were supposed to be able to see Shira Plateau and the Shira peak but we never saw due to the clouds. This was definitely a pretty chill area and I could imagine people coming here for a picnic, except for the fact it would be an extremely out of the way and costly picnic. I mean a day in the national park was at least 70 USD! Travelling all the way here and paying that amount of money for a picnic?
Just do the trek and you can picnic for many days!
The route from the Morum picnic site was extremely flat. There were some signposts along the way to demarcate the various trails. We missed out visiting the Shira Cathedral due to the weather. Our guide Kevin said it would be all swamp.
It was just an hour from this point to Shira Camp 1 so we could take our time. In fact, I highly doubted that it was an hour away from Shira. I believed that timing was given to give the porters time to set up the camp. If I had walked at my normal pace, it would have taken us half an hour.
It felt like I was walking in a shopping mall, at an extremely leisurely pace which I was totally unaccustomed to.
The trek itself was quite enjoyable, especially for beginners. It was a flat plain with endless views, a pleasant respite from the skyscrapers Singaporeans are used to. The only variation in this part of the trek was the need to cross some rivers as we neared Shira 1 Camp. We had to descend slightly, cross the river by jumping over rocks and ascend again.
It was at this point, where I decided to jump straight to the opposite bank instead of the slanted rock. I thought I would slip on the slanted rock and was confident I could make it across in one leap. Shooing YJ aside, I took a leap with my left leg forward only to hear a ‘tak sound” and end up crumbling on the ground on the other side luckily. I had rolled over my ankle on the river bank because the ground was extremely soft and due to the water. My ankle instantly went numb and I feared that I had broken my ankle.
Luckily for me, it was just an extremely bad sprain. I was initially ambitious and hoped it was a slight sprain but I knew it was bad the moment I felt the swelling and numbness in my ankle. Shira Camp was in fact only just up the hill. Feeling foolish and extremely annoyed at myself, I channelled my anger and limped onwards, brushing aside everyone’s’ concerns.
Murphy’s law. It was only the first day and an incident just had to happen.
We had to register immediately at a central hut upon reaching Shira 1 Camp. It seems like at every campsite there would be an official hut for registration.
I started thinking this was it. This was the end of me climbing any mountains. This was the gods above giving me a sign, stop before it is too late. Even for a trek like Kilimanjaro and such an easy route, I just had to sprain my ankle. I still had 6 more days to go. People would laugh at me for only reaching Shira Camp 1 after paying so much money.
Maybe the unexpected changes the past 2 days had affected me. It could have been the ease of the route, the lack of pace which lulled me into carelessness. Whatever it was, I had made a silly mistake and sprained my ankle. Luckily for me, I hadn’t broken it. I could still limp, and it was the only bright spot in the depressing weather that followed us around.
I couldn’t feel my ankle anymore and I couldn’t put weight on it. It was a disaster.
I wanted to be able to summit with YJ and Daniel. This was a trek I had been waiting for so long to do it and I had brought all my equipment, my tripod, my camera for the past month in Africa while backpacking only to be foiled by an ankle sprain!
Surely I can’t just quit like this.
There was no use feeling sorry for myself. .As the porters were setting up the camp, I immediately put on my ankle guard. I had brought it just in case someone had sprained their ankle and I didn’t expect it to be me on the first day. What luck! But I could only blame myself.
Dismissing any negative thoughts, I decided to just focus on the trek and let whatever happens happens. I could only control what I can control.
Dinner was set up for us soon and we had a table just outside our sleeping tent. 3 of us shared one tent. We struggled to finish all the food as it was really too much. I certainly wasn’t used to this luxurious endless food on a mountain trip. It could also be because of the fact we only walked an hour.
Is this what recreational treks are like? Have I been missing out all these years? Is this why Kilimanjaro is so expensive?
The itinerary mentioned a full course and boy did they not disappoint. We were full after the soup and the first course, only to realize it was the appetizer and the main course hasn’t arrived. Needless to say, we stuffed ourselves until we couldn’t eat anymore and still didn’t manage finish.
It was a rare case of me not finishing my food, and that happened a lot during the trip.
YJ and Daniel had already taken diamox the night before. I wanted to wait until 4,000m+ to take diamox but decided to take it early tonight due to the sudden gain in altitude.
There was nothing else to do except rest early which was good for YJ and Daniel as they had a long journey from Singapore. I slept the whole night with my ankle guard on. In fact, my ankle had swollen to such an extent in the night that I felt it expanding against my ankle guard as if screaming to get out. Lucky my ankle guard was extremely tight and acted like a boa constrictor.
Day 2: Mti Mkubwa Camp (2750m) – Shira 2 Camp (3850m)
Elevation (m): 2750m to 3850m
Distance: 17 km
Time: 8-9 hours
*If you had done the variation and slept at Shira 1 Camp, today is just a 3-hour walk to Shira 2 Camp
Unlike the other hikers who had to walk a long way from Mti Mkubwa Camp, today was a short trek for us as it was only around 8km from Shira 1 Camp to Shira 2 Camp. We would reach the camp by noon.
We had a pretty heavy breakfast before setting off. I was hoping the sun graces us with its presence but nope! It was the same old dreary weather. It wasn’t really raining, but it was cloudy and drizzling from time to time. Is this what Londoners feel like every day?
The weather wasn’t the only thing without change. My ankle was a GG (Good Game, shame on you if you don’t know gaming lingo). I couldn’t put much weight on my left ankle so I used 1 hiking stick and slowly limped across. However, as long as it wasn’t broken, I was determined that I would struggle my way up to the summit somehow.
The route was pretty much similar to day 1 as we were still in Shira Plateau. It was a pretty much flat or gradual path. Thank god the route had no rocks. I was really glad we were only walking a short distance today. Walking so slowly on an easy terrain with no scenery really frustrates me. It does feel shitty being a burden as the most experienced member of the group.
One of the more common sights in Kilimanjaro was the indigenous plant of Kilimanjaro. Dendrosenecio or the groundsels as they call it. They look like giant deformed Sudowodoos. This picture was pretty cool because it was the 3 of us. Moreover, both Daniel and YJ are taller than me I think so it was quite funny.
Without nice lighting, there was not much point for pictures in the Shira plateau.
Usually, it would take me at most 2 hours for the 8km walk on a pretty flat surface from Shira 1 to Shira 2 Camp. With my sprained ankle, it took us almost 3.5 hours. After an hour or so, YJ started feeling some altitude sickness.
Shira 2 Camp looked extremely similar to Shira 1 camp, but it felt like a nicer and more well-established place.
The good news was the toilet huts. There were these newly constructed toilets for both users and porters. It was interesting because they split it into 2 toilets, one for the tourists and one for the porters. If you thought they had a flush and shower cubicles, do continue dreaming.
The toilets were simply open holes. The construction was just to protect you from the wind and maybe make the place more bearable as the sewage would be diverted properly ( I hoped). I guessed a portion of the national park fees goes into all these constructions.
The bad news was that YJ and Daniel started getting altitude sickness. I was feeling fine though except for my ankle. They couldn’t eat much for lunch due to feeling nauseous. I could clearly see their discomfort.
From my experience and knowledge, AMS was quite common above 3,000m but usually closer to 4,000m. However, I was confident that as we were at 3,500m+, they would acclimatize by tomorrow and all would be well.
Feeding on my optimism, the sky prompting cleared up and it was our first embrace of the sunlight. We had the whole afternoon ahead and YJ wanted to sleep but we encouraged him to do an acclimatization walk, where we would walk to a higher ground and sleep at the lower altitude to aid acclimatization. It would be the same path in which we would walk tomorrow, but YJ really struggled.
I looked at the itinerary. Although we were at 3,500m on the 1st day, we had 3 more days at around 3500m+. There should be more than enough days to acclimatize. He tried to find the answers to AMS (and maybe to life) in the mountain.
The good weather brought song and music too! The crew greeted us with the “Kilimanjaro songs” when we reached back to Shira 2 Camp after the acclimatization walk. I was pretty sure this wasn’t a special or additional service by my agency.
This was a standard Kilimanjaro tradition where they will start singing as a way of showing their culture and introducing all the crew members. We danced together and sang to the summits of Kilimanjaro, praying for the mountain gods to bless us with good health and a safe journey ahead.
For once, I was able to see a sunset in Tanzania. My whole week in Tanzania had been almost besieged by rain and this was the first clear sky I had in sometime.
Kibo Peak (the summit of Kilimanjaro) was like a shy goddess hiding behind the veil of clouds. At least I had a glimpse of her.
I had even brought my tripod along for this Lemosho Trek in an attempt to take some night shots and star-filled skies. On my previous trips, I was either too tired or focused on summiting that I wanted better sleep.
However, due to my ankle, it was too troublesome for me to set up the tripod. It was tough enough hoping on one leg trying to pee at night hoping on one leg.
I could only admire the cloudless night sky and burn it within my memory.
Day 3: Shira 2 (3850m) – Lava Tower (4630m) – Barranco Camp (3950m)
Elevation (m): 3850m to 4630m
Distance: 15 km
Time: 8-9 hours
Today was the day to get past 4,000m. It was also the day where the Lemosho Route joins the Shira Route and Machame Route. Therefore, the only difference between these 3 routes were the first 2 days.
For a first-timer like YJ, I thought it was pretty cool he slept at 3,500m+ the past 2 nights. It was almost the height of Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia! However, YJ and Daniel both woke up with headaches and they both were not feeling any better. In fact, they had started to puke.
But still, we had to move. I hope that by going to 4000m+ and coming down to 3000m plus, maybe this would be THE acclimatization trek.
I woke up hoping that the sky would continue staying clear, like yesterday evening’s weather. The fog/mist immediately scoffed at my wishes. It was only 6km to Lava Tower. The overall terrain was pretty much similar to Shira Plateau, just drier and steeper. It starts off with more vegetation, before being more desolate.
It was a more pleasant walk as it was a sand and small rocks, therefore semi-desert. The incline was relatively gradual, nothing too steep or needing hands.
We could only imagine what the Lava tower looked like from far because the fog kept covering any view above the horizon. It also started raining intermittently, as if mocking us.
We took close to 6 hours for just a 6km trek, up to Lava tower due to the effect of AMS. We were moving like snails. It was almost 2 pm when we reached Lava Tower.
However, in the mountains, there was nothing wrong with a snail’s pace. Although I would have wished to go faster, all that mattered was that we got to the end safely. It was not about how fast we were to do it.
The good thing about being slow was that we had the whole place to ourselves. We did not encouter the crowd of people at Lava Tower because 3 routes worth of hikers were supposed to be there.
When we reached the Lava Tower, the last group was in the midst of packing up and leaving. Everyone else seemed to have descended an hour + ago, according to the guides. It started getting really cold too at the altitude of 4600m.
It was the first time I had to put on a jacket in Kilimanjaro. My watch showed 10 degrees but with the wind, I was sure it was below that.
We had a short lunch, because they couldn’t eat anything. I practically ate most of it. It was really painful for me seeing YJ and Daniel wretching away. Kilimanjaro was supposed to be a happy experience, where we could experience the joy of trekking together. Yet, here they were as though they had 3 days of massive hangovers.
I was amazed at how they could still continue on without much food.
I wanted to celebrate YJ’s and Daniel personal best because they had ascended to an altitude they had never done before but the mood was too dour. We descended from Lava Tower, where the route was a straight descent before a flat trail once more.
We took around 2.5h for 3.7km, which could be done within an hour. In fact, we reached the camp when it was past sunset. It was quite alarming to me that we took so long. When we reached a campsite, it was like a clockwork routine. Register at the hut, go to our campsite, change out and wait for hot drinks and our meals.
The picture at Barranco Camp was taken the next morning because it was too dark to take any pictures by then.
Day 4: Barranco Camp (3950m) – Karanga Camp (3995m)
Habitat: Alpine desert
Elevation (m): 3950m to 3995m
Distance: 7 km
Time: 4 hours
It might seem surprising to some that the trail is 3,900m – 3,900m, as though it was a wasted altitude day. If you think about it, today was supposed to be the buffer acclimatization day. Most people would suffer from AMS upon encountering Lava Tower because it was at 4,600m.
However, as compared to the previous days, the terrain here is a lot more difficult and dangerous. In fact, I think this might be the most exciting part of the Kilimanjaro Trek. This was all due to the Barranco Wall, also dotingly referred to as the ‘Breakfast Wall‘.
To my delight, it was a bright morning which beckoned some pictures.
Our first trek after breakfast was the Barranco Wall, therefore aptly coined Breakfast Wall. We had to ascend and circumvent past the Barranco Wall, which is this imposing black mass of rocks and soil, apparently 247m.
The trail starts with a pretty steep ascent, at some points close to 40% incline. There would be some points you would have to use your hands for sure. It would be quite scary due to the narrow paths and the sheer drop on the sides but as long as you have steady steps and use your hands, it should be fine. The route zig-zags to the top so there are places to stop and rest.
Of course, the clouds had to chase us once we started trekking. The sky was only clear at points it doesn’t matter, in the early mornings and at night.
The Barranco wall was actually quite fun to me. It added some adrenaline fuel to me. Actually, it was like doing Gunung Datuk, just at a way higher altitude. To conquer the Barranco Wall, it usually takes around 2 hours. I was surprised my ankle held up.
Once you reach the top, the trail goes back to its norm, which is a gradual flat path like a scene in Mordor of LOTR.
The trail stretched out into the distance and with a slight ascent before a straight descent to Karanga Camp. At this point, it started to rain really heavily. The descent takes around an hour.
Before Karanga Camp, there was a whole area of groundsels. It would have been really beautiful if not for the weather.
We surprisingly didn’t take so long to reach Karanga Camp despite the AMS situation and the rain. My ankle was feeling slightly better as I didn’t struggle in the descent as much as I thought I would.
It seemed like our luck was finally turning the corner.
The weather started to clear up. We took the chance to attempt to dry our rain soaked clothes by spreading them out all over the campsite.
Remember the sim card we tried so hard to procure? We finally managed to find a use for it after the past few days of trying to get 3G. At every campsite, I would notice a handful of guides or porters staring at their phones, hoping for some reception. Those who do would happily be making calls and talking on their phones.
At Karanga Camp, there lies this famous reception rock. Most people would be seated or standing near it attempting to get a connection. Daniel finally managed to get a rare connection after many attempts and he was maximizing most of the connection he had.
You know, the 3G connection was like the weather, it comes and goes when it wants to. The guides do use the weather as a reason. They said that because it was cloudy/rainy/foggy, it would be hard to get a good connection.
We also finally managed to get a glimpse of Kibo Peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro. This was one of the best moments of the trek. I admired Kibo Peak as the clouds parted.
YJ also said that he was feeling better already and started walking around. Both Daniel and YJ could finally eat some dinner without retching immediately.
Everything was finally coming together. This should have been the first day! I had actually spent the past few days wondering when AMS was going to hit me, as if it was a flu virus going around.
As it was the last night before the summit attempt, I had to get my ass out at night and take the beautiful clear night sky. It was really cloudless at night.
Clearly, I am not so good at taking night shots and I am pretty clueless at which settings I should use. I used the smallest aperture and various ISO at around 30 seconds timing but it still didn’t turn out right. If there is anyone who can help me, please do comment!
Day 5: Karanga Camp (3995m) – Barafu Hut (4600m)
Habitat: Alpine desert
Elevation (m): 3995m to 4600m
Time: 3 hours
It was all not meant to be. I woke up to the sounds last night of YJ vomiting once more. He couldn’t sleep after that and that was it for him. He couldn’t continue. I could see there was no more spirit or energy left in him and he still had to make a long trek down with the help of our assistant guide.
I felt really sad, as I had brought a first-timer to the mountain only for him to have a horrible experience. Moreover, I was looking forward to celebrating this crazy adventure together at the summit.
We still had to continue. Daniel was feeling fine so it was good. We were just one more day away. The trail from Karanga to Barafu was relatively simple. Although the inclination was higher, it was a gradual incline and nothing as steep as the Barranco Wall. The trail was pretty much the same as the previous few days, a wide and clear path with little rocks.
The whole trail was practically barren and desolate. It reminded me a lot of Pamir highway in Tajikistan.
In fact, with the gloomy weather and YJ falling out, there was an added sense of melancholy.
The rocks started to get bigger as we inched closer to Barafu Hut. There were other hikers descending from Barafu. As the weather started to turn for the worst, we saw the porters and trekkers practically running down. These were the ones who did the summit today. Tomorrow, we would be them, hopefully, successful ones with our heads held high and proud.
We could hear the sounds of the rain and hail as it approached. The clouds were just behind us. The gods wanted to give us one final test before the summit, to deem us worthy.
The crazy weather wouldn’t stop. The registration book was wet and all the ink was smudged. What was I signing again? I didn’t care, I just scribbled as my fingers were freezing up.
We had to hop from rock to rock, with visibility being around 3-5m. There were many other tents already set up, all across. I had no idea how our guide Kevin managed to find our camp spot. I guess it must have been pre-arranged.
Like in true dramatic fashion, it started to hail just as we entered our tent. We literally jumped in as I heard the hail peppering our tents.
Great! It was snowing again at base camp, like my previous 2 years of going to the mountains. Wasn’t Kilimanjaro supposed to be snow-free due to climate change? What was all this??
The snow lasted for another 2 hours or so. I was slightly glad because I was really lazy to do an acclimatization walk due to the wet clothes. I had lent some of my extra clothes to YJ and Daniel so I was only left with the dry summit set.
The thing about snow or hail is that its aftermath often leaves nice pictures. However, the experience of it isn’t that pleasant, especially not with hails stones. Ironically, hail happened during my cycling trip with YJ many years back which he remembered.
What have I done to deserve this? I need to check my karma balance.
As we waited for lunch in our tent, a relapse of AMS struck Daniel. I have no idea if that was a correct phrase, but all I knew was that he started shivering for no reason even though he wasn’t feeling cold. He had every single layer on him. Perhaps it wasn’t AMS, but just his body going haywire due to the stress from the weather, the lack of food, AMS and puking, the trekking and the whole journey to Moshi.
Once again, I had to play the butler. Not that I mind, but I guess that is what Alfred feels when Batman goes out and fights villains. He feels helpless, and that was the exact feeling. I felt utterly helpless seeing my friend shivering and having no answer or help.
We had reached the camp at around 12.30pm, the summit attempt would be tomorrow 12 am. After an early dinner at 5 pm, we would try to rest up for the summit attempt.
Barafu Camp is a pretty hellish place. I think due to the crowd and the lack of flat ground, the tents are perched weirdly. When I lay down, I kept hearing the howling wind. In my attempt to sleep, the wind felt like the scuttling of rats or animals, racing back and forth behind my head. I felt like the tent was about to be blown off anytime, or that I was about to be buried under a sea of snow.
It was absolutely horrible. I felt as though I was in a living nightmare. I am pretty sure I would be less tired if I had just stayed awake the whole time. It was a relief to actually hear my alarm go off. But the relief didn’t last long, because Daniel hadn’t slept a wink too and he was still feeling sick.
He knew that his body was haywire and was in no shape to try. Of course, each of us knew our own bodies best and we could only make the decisions for ourselves because we all had invested money and time for this trek.
We were so close, just a few hours from the summit. I convinced him to get some fresh air, try to put on his clothes and try for a few minutes and see if he got better. At least try before deciding.
After 10 minutes, he told me to go on without him.
I was alone, again naturally.
Day 6: Summit attempt Barafu Camp (4600m) – Uhuru Peak (5895m) – Mweka (3100m)
Habitat: Stone scree and ice-capped summit
Elevation (m): 4600m to 5895m (and down to 3100m)
Distance: 7km ascent / 23km descent ,
Time: 6- 8 hours ascent /7-8 hours descent
GPS Summit Push and back: http://www.movescount.com/moves/move195082032
GPS Barafu – Mweka: http://www.movescount.com/moves/move195082010
I was obviously disappointed, but I felt more dispirited at the turn of events. This was meant to be a trip for all of us to get to the summit, but it was only left to me now. Should I forgo the summit? I couldn’t. I had my own selfish reasons, I had to do it for myself and for them now.
Once that fact had sunk in, I looked at my guide Kevin and I was ready to go. It was like a private 1 to 1 trip as if I had a personal sherpa. I was going to be able to walk at my own pace.
The trail was a straightforward zig-zag ascent up to Stella Point. It was similar in terms of inclination like Barranco but without the terrain difficulty. My trail was all snow so I am not sure what it would look like without snow, but I assumed it would be stone scree similar to most high altitude areas. There were many groups of people making their way to the summit, I estimated at least 30 different groups.
I had a fire burning within me now and an arrowed determination fixated on the summit. There were no other distractions this time, just me and the summit. I implored Kevin to go faster.
In fact, I was pretty quick as I overtook the big groups of people who started way earlier. For every group we passed by, I could see our guides conversing and they were surprised I was the only one. One of them even though I was doing it alone and asked where was my guide!
For the first 1.5h, I walked continuously without stopping. I had reached around 5050m before taking my first break. You can refer to my GPS!
After which, I continued at that pace until around 5200m. That was when the effects of AMS or the lack of sleep the past 2 days started to hit me. I started feeling extremely sleepy. My eyes were extremely heavy and I kept wanting to take a nap. My guide Kevin kept urging me on, saying it was the lack of oxygen which made me sleepy.
I secretly stole a few winks while hiking. It was pretty dangerous, akin to taking a few winks while driving I guess. I kept telling myself I could walk 3 steps before opening my eyes again. There were points I almost fell asleep on my hiking stick!
Luckily Kevin gave me some sweets from France which had this lemon burst inside them. They were a lifesaver. Sucking on them kept me more awake!
One of the more amazing thing that happened on my trek was that my waterbag FROZE! The water in the water bag was fine though and I was confused for awhile as I kept sucking and wondering why I couldn’t drink any water. Like in most of my other hikes, I leave the waterbag tube connected to my outside pouch or dangling on the side for an easy access but this meant that it was exposed and the water in it froze.
This was a miscalculation and I will learn from it. Luckily Kevin brought up the whole thermos flask of hot ginger tea.
I kept eating the snacks we had brought to give myself energy and hoped that eating more will keep me awake. I ended up taking a lot more breaks than I wanted to. I realised that talking more also kept me more awake and gave me more energy so I kept asking Kevin all sorts of questions. No idea for the science behind that!
I struggled on until I reached Stella Point. Initially, I had thought that Stella Point was at around 5,500m and I was pleading to Kevin to let me take a nap when I reached Stella Point. Little did I know it was at around 5,700m. Looking back at my timing, I realised I took like 3 hours to get from 5250m to Stella Point (5,750m). That was 3 hours for 500metres, that was insane! I had basically slowed down to half the speed.
My Stella Point picture was taken on the way down. I stopped for a slight break at Stella Point. Along the way, you could see the groups that would make it up fast. They would keep walking for a long time and take short breaks. There were others who had to shit along the way. It was funny because I had a headlight and was only concentrating on the path ahead and keeping myself awake, only to be greeted by someone squatting in the distance when I looked up.
After Stella Point, the trail becomes slightly different. It felt like I was walking along the crater rim, with a gradual ascent. I was really tired and exhausted by then. I kept having these burst of energy, only to find out I wasn’t there yet.
Daylight finally started to appear and I had no use for a headlight anymore. However, it was still foggy and the visibility was still only a few metres head. I couldn’t even see where I was walking because everything was white.
Only the figure of Kevin and his blue bag kept me going.
Finally, a couple walked past me and I knew I was close. They were descending in a hurry. They must be the first of today and they smiled as they raced past me. Well, seeing that they were moving really quickly. I guess there was nothing much at the summit seeing the weather. They didn’t have faith that the weather was going to change anytime soon.
Neither did I in fact. Kevin kept telling me, just 5 more minutes. It got to the point where the pointed at the sign in the distance. I saw it and I saw a small group who was just ahead of me gather.
I was definitely 5 minutes away this time. Instead of racing with euphoria, I slowed down my pace and looked around.
White, it was all white. There was nothing to see. The fog was still here, I was still alone. This whole trip felt futile, and reaching that sign was pointless. What was the difference if I stopped right here, right now, as opposed to reaching the sign? Honestly, no difference except bragging rights.
I was only doing this for the sake of completion. All my dreams of extra depth and meaning, of celebrating this moment with my friends eluded me like the scenery Kilimanjaro was supposed to offer.
I am not ashamed to say this, but at that point, a shudder of sobs overwhelmed me as I inched towards the sign.
The Kilimanjaro summit was my first successful peak in 3 years, but I felt almost no joy from it and left with only the feeling of futility and wicked bitter irony.
Most people took a picture with the sign and left immediately after. I tried to linger on awhile, hoping, hoping for something to change. However, nothing changed. The fog still stayed like the heaviness in my heart. I took more silly pictures with Kevin just to entertain ourselves before heading down.
Heading down was pretty fun.
Firstly, running down or sliding down in the snow was way faster than going up.
Secondly, it was fun to see all the other people struggling up like you did while you went past them and shouted the most blatant but useful lie ever, “Almost there! Just 5 more minutes! Keep going!” The sadistic part of me thoroughly enjoyed that as I skipped past their huffing delirious faces.
There were some people who were practically leaning on their guides as though they were dying. Each step they took felt like they moved an entire mountain as their body shuddered and swayed.
I wondered if I looked like that, but they sure looked bad. These people were usually in big groups and I wondered how the people behind could walk at such a slow pace. Well, I certainly can’t imagine being in a group of 20 people.
My sleepiness got better. I guess maybe AMS was real.
It took me only around half h to get back to Stella point.
From Stella Point, you could see the other hikers from Marangu Route.
This time, I could see the trail I took to Stella Point. I could also see the mass of crowds headed to the summit. It does pay to be fast as you would avoid all the crowds.
I took my time to descent as the sky cleared up for some moments. The pictures below would show the trail up if you imagine them in reverse. The view was pretty majestic due to the light rays and the clouds. I could only imagine what it was like in clear weather. Maybe I would be back again someday.
The snow made it really slippery at some points. One has to get used to slipping and just continuing. I wondered how the slower groups would fare. I took my time to descend as I wasn’t in a rush anymore.
Once I reached back Barafu Hut, it was 9.30am. This time, I could see how massive Barafu Camp was. There were so many tents. It stretched out across. At every turn I thought it would end, another stretch of tents appeared. Wow, I didn’t know there were so many people at Barafu.
It wasn’t the end of my ordeal. Expecting to see Daniel waiting for me in the tent, I imagined we would be enjoying breakfast together before heading down. Admittedly, I was slightly worried he would still be feeling sick.
The porters told me that he was not feeling well and headed down already. He had left not long ago.
Okay, maybe I would see him at Mweka Camp because that was our supposed plan.
Anxious, I didn’t want to take that long a break but they insisted on me eating first. If he wasn’t feeling well, surely I could catch up. It was 11 am before I finally started my descent, exhausted.
Lo and behold! It started raining heavily.
If I thought Barafu was the final test, I was wrong again. It rained heavily, the skies pouring out their sorrows like no tomorrow. My socks were wet and I was starting to get blisters. I pushed on and the first step was Millenium Camp. Millenium Camp lies 2 hours away and is seldom mentioned in itineraries because everyone only mentions Mweka Camp.
He wasn’t there, it didn’t make sense. Most people after the Summit would stop at Millenium Camp. I had a feeling he descended all the way. Kevin kept saying other people had seen him.
The route down was the path we saw people take on the way up to Barafu Camp. It was a gradual descent, with small rocks that were annoying. Along the way, you can see these ‘stretchers’ which were basically trolleys use to wheelbarrow the injured down. So, if you were ever injured in Kilimanjaro, your only way out was through this route I was descending. I can’t imagine having a fracture and screaming in pain while you bounce up and down the trolley.
I had burnt out most of my energy and the rain didn’t just sour my mood, it made it absolutely rotten. The trail from Millenium Camp to Mweka Camp, was something I can’t describe as I really have not much memory of it except hating it.
Still, I descended to Mweka Camp which was another 2 hours away, tired and sodden without respite.
Day 7: Mweka Camp (3100m) – Mweka Gate (1800m)
Elevation (m): 3100m to 1800m,
Distance: 10 km,
Hiking Time: 3-4 hour
If you had read until this point, I hoped the story was captivating enough for you. This is usually people’s day 7, but for me, it was day 6. I had reached Mweka Camp, and Daniel wasn’t there. The hunt for Daniel hasn’t ended. This was like an RPG game. I hadn’t cleared the quest. There was another checkpoint I had to clear.
Mweka Camp was pretty well paved, it felt like a national garden or like a national park within a city.
I checked the registration book and found that YJ took the rescue vehicle. I thought the rescue vehicle would come to Mweka Camp, but I was wrong, I had to walk to Mweka Gate, which was another 2.5h away.
Sullenly, I trekked down another 2.5h of painful descent. It was never-ending and invoked memories of my Stok Kangri Trek.
In fact, if you count the number of hours I have been hiking, I started at 12 am and it was 6 pm when I reached Mweka Gate. That was a grand total of 18 hours the Kilimanjaro Summit day. In fact, I had been awake for almost 34 hours! Now that explains my sleepiness.
The trail from Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate was through the forest. It might have been a pleasant descent if I was actually doing it on the 7th day after a solid night rest instead of after the summit. There were a lot of rocks and it was more slippery and harder than most of the trail in Kilimanjaro which was ironic.
The rescue vehicle was like an ambulance. I was all drenched and felt guilty entering the vehicle but no way I was going to walk all the way. It drove me for another 10 minutes before reaching the Gate. Ah, I was finally done. I had to do one final registration and acknowledgement from the guide to state that I had completed.
Looking at the book, I realised all those who signed off were people who had started earlier. I was the only silly person trekking down all the way from the summit to the bottom.
I might as well have done Kilimanjaro in a day. Just kidding, maybe 3 days.
And guess what? I found out that Daniel was actually back in the hotel a few hours back. There was no way I could have caught up to him.
Well, at least I had my certificate and a really swollen ankle to boot.
PS: After meeting back up in the hotel, I found out that Daniel was okay after resting the night. It seemed that there was a no re-attempt policy on Kilimanjaro (can anyone confirm this?) as technically he could have climbed in the morning and come back down by evening. However, the head porter in charge of him just said that it was not good for him to stay at this high altitude, which made sense except that he felt fine and fast marched him all the way down, not even stopping at any of the camps.
I guess they just wanted to go home. We got punked by them.
Kilimanjaro was in terms of terrain, really easy. I had heard many stories while backpacking about these backpackers who had summited. They certainly didn’t look like serious trekkers. Although Daniel and YJ didn’t make it, it wasn’t because of terrain or difficulty.
The main concern for Kilimanjaro would be AMS.
I was prepared for AMS with diamox and other preparation, but I didn’t account for the lack of rest and flight from Singapore. So on hindsight, the best would be to get proper rest in Moshi before setting off. I had never seen such severe AMS and lasting over so many days before. This experience was excruciating for me.
In terms of difficulty, the harder parts of the treks would be the Barranco Wall (2 hours) and summit push (due to length and altitude).
Weather plays a good part in your trekking experience. So pray for good weather. Also, I think it is a fine line to tread concerning pushing your rights as a customer to the guide. I am usually free and easy, but I feel that if one were to come from a low altitude region like Singapore, it would be best to start from Mti Mkubwa Camp if you are inexperienced.
As for understanding Kilimanjaro, there were many signs along the way which pointed at the various routes. I realised how Kilimanjaro works and why they call it a free-standing mountain. There were so many trails and variations atop this huge mountain.
Honestly, all you need to know is how many days so that you can plan which route you wish to go. All the different names can get pretty confusing, like Morum Picnic Site. you just need to understand the different landmarks and areas to understand Kilimanjaro.
All these will be discussed more in my other post on how to plan your trip there.