Kilimanjaro: Leading for 360

Kilimanjaro Lemosho Route

Dominic Porter

I arrived at Heathrow and quickly met up with 2 of the group who were already in departures. A further 2 had flown out to Kenya the night earlier on in the day, in order to spend a night in Nairobi. That just left 2 members, a father and daughter who were travelling together. I called her mobile and was told “Sorry, we are in the business class lounge… we aren’t allowed to invite you all in, but couldn’t resist the free food. See you on the plane.”. So our team got off to a great start!

On arrival in Kilimajaro International Airport, we were met by Musa from Pristine Trails and taken to our hotel in the centre of Moshi, arriving mid morning. After a shower and a change from October-UK clothing into Equatorial clothing, we assembled for a chat about what was to come, followed by lunch and the obligatory couple of Kilimanjaro beers. Some confusion followed when the waiter insisted that there were 250 shillings to the US$, making a beer about US$10. After some persistence we established that it was actually $2500 and we would not have to share one beer between 7 of us. The number 7 occurred again when it turned out that was how many pints of Kilimanjaro one member of the group throughout the first day in the hotel. We ended the evening with an excellent meal in the Indo-Italiano Restaurant and got an early night before heading up to the mountain the next day.

Our minibus arrived just after breakfast and our bags, recently re-packed and weighed were loaded onto the roof. The National Park places strict rules on how much each porter can carry so excess baggage is kept to a minimum. After a quick stop to pick up last minute snacks we drove 2 or 3 hours round the East side of Kilimanjaro, to the Rongai Gate, just by the Kenyan border. A large packed lunch awaited, which we ate whilst our local guides organised 21 porters and we signed into the National Park. The walk on day 1 was short and progressed from the re-planted pine forest, through some native jungle and then into smaller trees and bushes.

Before setting off on day 2 we were treated to a hearty song by our 26 strong ground crew, singing a number of Swahili songs including the famous Kilimanjaro song which most people know by heart by the time they leave the mountain. This was accompanied by much dancing and dragging members of the group up to demonstrate their moves. Luckily we had had an excellent cooked breakfast so still had the energy reserves to carry on walking through the day. As the day progressed, we crossed the 3000m contour, where altitude sickness often starts to occur. Luckily, no-one showed the slightest symptoms and there was even some beer drunk that night…

Day 3 is almost all uphill, walking towards the imposing jagged peak of Mawenze and arriving mid afternoon at Mawenze Tarn, our acclimatisation camp.  We arrived to see a massive dining tent in the camp, for Brian Robson’s party and his 100 porters. Our head guide Patrick walked straight into the tent, up to Brian Robson and said “Go Manchester United!”. He was rewarded with a Man U T-shirt, despite admitting later that he supports another team…

After being woken up at 0530 by Robson’s mob on their way up to Base camp, we had a lie in followed by a fried breakfast. We then walked us towards Mawenze peak by way of acclimatisation and spend a few hours well above the 4000m mark, following the old adage of ‘Climb high, sleep low’. This also gave us the opportunity to practise scree running, something which is very useful on the descent from Kili summit. Finishing the day with a walk up to the ridge above Mawenze Tarn to see sunset on Kilimanjaro, we were all set for the long walk up to Kibo huts the following day.

Day 5 is a long one across the saddle, a long open rocky plain with Kenya off to the right and Tanzania to the left. It was a perfectly clear day so we could see the huts at our destination for 3 or 4 hours as we walked towards it. We could also see the track behind Kibo Huts, leading up to Gillmans point and the summit ridge. It looks very steep…

Arriving in early afternoon, we had tea and popcorn followed by a siesta before dinner. Surprisingly everyone was still felling quite well and most people had seconds. We then went back to bed for 3 or 4 hours before setting off for the summit at about midnight. Summit night on Kili is hard. You spend about 6 hours walking steeply uphill in the dark and cold, counting the hours before dawn. It is mostly a mental challenge though and most people who put their minds to it can achieve it. We had a bright moon and hardly had to use our headtorches at all. The first part of the night was made particularly hard by a large Dutch group whose porters were singing loudly and always seemed to be just behind us. You would think this would be a welcome distraction but somehow it detracted from the serenity and tranquillity of the night. They also only knew one song. So, we arrived at Gillmans point on the summit ridge around 6am, just as the sun was about to rise. Sun rises from this height are always impressive but especially so on Kilimanjaro, which is a lone mountain on a large plain with practically nothing for many miles to the East. A warm cup of tea was very welcome and helped prepare us for the final hour or so up to the highest point, Uhuru Peak. By this stage, everyone without exception was feeling the effects of altitude but with some encouragement from our local guides the whole group made it to the summit, took a team photo by the sign then set off back down the way we had come.

In total we were walking for 9 or 10 hours so we were all very glad to make it back to the tents at Kibo for a short sleep before lunch and another 4 hour walk down to our final camp at the Horombo Huts. There is often the option to celebrate with a few beers here but unfortunately Brian Robson’s group had been through the night before and cleaned the place out. Probably for the best, after walking from midnight until 1700 with 3 hours rest, we were ready for an early night.

The final day is quite long at 18km, but all down hill and with the feeling of success to drive us along this was no problem. This was especially helped by the champagne (and Kilimanjaro beer!) reception at the park gate, where we received our certificates. From there we went straight on to our hotel where we celebrated with drinks by the pool, a barbecue dinner and a bit of dancing at the Glacier Bar in Moshi.

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