My dad was twice refused to travel to Tanzania by travel agencies due to lack of interest, so he approached me with a request to organize a trip to Tanzania to climb the highest mountain in Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro. After few days researching local tour operators in Moshi, I have decided to go for Kilimanjaro Heroes Adventures and our dream was just about to begin.
After landing at Kilimanjaro airport our taxi driver was already waiting for us. It took around 35 minutes to get to Moshi where our tour operator office and our hostel was based. Once we were greeted by Frank and his team we headed to our local hostel where our main guide Paulo took a good look on our hiking clothes and gear. This step was really essential before the climb itself. We found out that we had way too many things. But definitely the saddest was to leave our Slovak moonshine in hostel.
How it works?
Mt. Kilimanjaro is possible to climb only via tour operator. We used local company which I preferred since beginning rather than large foreign operators. Our team consisted from main guide, assistant guide, chef and 8 porters. Number of porters depends on number of hikers and gear they take as well as equipment they choose to take like dining tent, toilet, etc. You get fresh and tasty meal for every breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hikers leave the camp first but once they arrive to another camp their tents are already set up and their big bags are there as well. It is pretty comfortable hike due to the fact that hikers are treated like on all-inclusive holidays but you still have to hike many kilometers in very high altitude.
DAY 1 – Machame gate 1.640 to Machame camp 2.835
Our first day started according to TFT – Tanzanian flexible time as locals like to joke and we were picked up by our team 1 hour later. It took us 45 minutes to get to the starting point – Machame gate. We registered ourselves and waited for our guide Paulo to manage all the porters. Before 1 pm we finally started to walk towards our big adventure and even bigger challenge. Soon after our first meters in rain forest it started to rain a lot. But it didn’t change the fact that me and my dad Pavol were walking pretty fast and overtaking all the porters. After 3 hours and 15 minutes we got to Machame camp. First day and already quite a big problem occurred.
We arrived to Machame camp earlier than all our porters and had to wait for them in clothes soaking wet. Thankfully after 30 minutes our tents were ready and we were excited to change for dry clothes. But then there was a second major problem. Porters’ duffel bags were not that waterproof or my backpack wasn’t packed inside properly and many of my things got wet. Most importantly a sleeping bag. But our guide Paulo took good care of it and made it dry very fast in the kitchen tent. Later we had a tasty dinner and after Paulo came to check our heart rate and oxygen in blood we discussed the hike for upcoming day. Then we had to pack our carry-on backpacks for next day and try to get some sleep.
Place: Machame gate 1.640 to Machame camp 2.835
Distance: 11 km
Trekking time: 5-7 hours
Our trekking time: 3 hours 15 minutes
DAY 2 – Machame camp 2.835 to Shira camp 3.750
Our second morning started with beautiful sunrise and tasty breakfast. For this day we got dressed better. Just in case of rain we also put gaiters and long pants. Today’s trek started off pretty steep and we had to crawl between many slower tourists but at the same time let hordes of faster porters pass. During this trek we already got out of rain forest zone into moorland. This day was much better than first day because we had an amazing weather and stunning views of Mt. Meru and surroundings.
To Shira camp we arrived just before lunch time and once our stomach engineer – Chef Nixon took amazing care of us we went to meet the whole team for the first time. Even after meeting all our porters it was pretty difficult to recognize all of them because all the porters from each camp looked alike to me.
To get started with acclimatization we hiked some 15 minutes to higher point at 3.900 meters above sea level where we got very good cover to make some calls and send some messages home and to work. It was just end of second day but I already started to feel the power of high altitude. My head started to hurt and it wouldn’t stop until 3 days later…
Place: Machame camp 2.835 to Shira camp 3.750
Distance: 5 km
Trekking time: 4-5 hours
Our trekking time: 4 hours
DAY 3 – Shira camp 3.750 via Lava tower 4.600 to Baranco camp 3.900
After another basically sleepless night we woke up and I didn’t feel exactly perfect. Maybe it was lack of sleep or fever or just my slightly negative thinking regarding health issues or combination of all. Like every day around 8 am we left the camp and headed towards second acclimatization point Lava tower at decent altitude 4.600 meters above sea level. During all the way up we had a spectacular views of valley covered by clouds with just Mt. Meru sticking out. After approx. 30 minutes of hiking my head started to hurt a lot and I started to feel dizzy and everything felt slower. I felt like tipsy. There were crazy things on my mind and in some parts I thought I will not be able to make it. Then my dad intervened and because he had already experience with high altitude he explained me what was going on and that everything is going to be OK “just keep walking”. After our short high altitude sickness talk he started to talk about life and it was one of the greatest and most inspirational moments I have ever had with my dad and definitely one of the most valuable. Thanks to him I got enough power to overcome headache, stop to think about pain, feel more positive and just focus on making it to the top.
I didn’t even know how but suddenly we got to the top of Lava tower. I saw many people throwing up due to high altitude but thankfully it was not our case. We ate our pack-lunch and just after 30 minutes went down to our third camp. In the camp as always we had to make mandatory pics and videos of camp sign and surroundings as well as make registration in the book after arrival. Our camp routine was awaiting us in our own tent territory. First to get dressed for night and next day because basically we tried to sleep in the clothes we would use for next day’s hike. Then we had another incredibly tasty dinner which as always was impossible to eat all. Lastly, we had to take the good-night piss and go to bed. But as night before my head was constantly suffering and I couldn’t wait till next morning.
Place: Shira camp 3.750 via Lava tower 4.600 to Baranco camp 3.900
Distance: 11 km
Trekking time: 6-8 hours
Our trekking time: 6 hours 30 minutes
Zone: Semi desert
DAY 4 – Baranco camp 3.900 via Karanga camp 3.960 to Barafu camp 4.673
This morning I felt much better than last day and I was way more positive and excited to get to another camp and continue our journey. After our morning routine and just before we left the camp we looked around once again to enjoy one of the greatest surroundings so far. On one side there was a part of Mt. Kilimanjaro from behind and on the other side there was a great valley. At our usual time we headed to our first obstacle, Baranco wall also called as “breakfast wall” because all calories you get from breakfast you loose on this wall climbing. Definitely the worst thing was the huge number of hikers and porters trying to get to the top. I took us approx. 35 minutes till we passed all the slower hikers and got some decent space just for us. Thankfully it wasn’t raining or too cold because most of the first 35 minutes we were standing and waiting. Once we reached the top of Baranco wall we were at 4.200 meters.
Just before getting to Karanga camp for lunch we had to hike another steep wall which in pole-pole style was not big of a problem. At Karanga camp at 3.960 meters above sea level we had time for lunch. I also managed to make some video lapse of camp and went to toilet to lighten myself before second hike of the day.
The way to our base camp was pretty decent until the last part. As before, we had to hike very steep wall to get to the camp and even it looked like it might take just 20 minutes it took us almost 45 minutes. In that high altitude it is a key to breathe a lot, inhale and exhale as much as you can and go very slow. It looked like I was in slow motion but eventually we made it to Barafu camp. I was feeling revealed and very very happy to be there. But the main part of our trip was just hours away…
As agreed by Paulo, we would get up at 3 am instead of midnight as both me and my dad preferred to climb to the top during sun and enjoy the sunrise on the mountain rather than climbing through the night in much colder conditions just to be on the top before sunrise. Another great thing about daylight summit would be less people on the top. For the rest of evening of our 4th day we just packed necessary things for summit day and had light dinner. At 8 pm we were in our sleeping bags trying to get at least some sleep before the big day.
Place: Baranco camp 3.900 via Karanga camp 3.960 to Barafu camp 4.673
Distance: 9 km
Trekking time: 7-9 hours
Our trekking time: 6 hours 30 minutes
Zone: Alpine desert
DAY 5 – Barafu camp 4.673 to Uhuru Peak 5.895 to High camp 3.950
After sleepless 4 hours from 9 pm to 1 am I decided to take a phone and watch The Simpsons which usually makes me more tired and easier to fall asleep. I guess it did work but just for an hour. At 3 am we were woken up by David. We had very fast and light breakfast, basically just some tea and cookies. At 4 am we were the only ones and for sure the last ones to leave the camp because all the hikers left at midnight. Surprisingly it was not that cold outside as I expected. We started to walk towards our goal – Uhuru Peak. My head hurt very much but I tried not to think about it and follow Paulo in front of me. He didn’t carry any backpack and offered to help me with mine since he saw I wasn’t feeling 100%. I know it was a bit cheating, not to carry a backpack up, but it helped me a lot and I could focus on trek. Around 6 am we were blessed with magnificent sunrise over Mawenzi peak. During our water break I managed to take some nice photos and videos before my hands went freezing. That was the last time I took camera until the top.
On our way up we could see many lights getting to top but we also witnessed 2 hikers coming down with their guides. Poor guys didn’t make it. I tried not to look at them and focus on my goal. Pole-pole style and heavy breathing was the best I could do. My dad Pavol was doing pretty good, joking with guides and enjoying the time on the mountain. 3 hours into trek our guide Paulo told us we are doing very good and might be on the top 1 hour earlier and that made me pretty motivated.
Before getting to Stella point, I thought that just behind that horizon must be already Uhuru peak. But I was wrong. It was just Stella point at 5.752 which is also called front office of Mt. Kilimanjaro. While arriving we saw a young guy in my age who passed out due to altitude sickness. Many guides went to help and check his oxygen levels etc. It was just a strong reminder that getting to the top of Africa’s highest point is not that easy as many people may think. We carried on to our final destination which was only 40 minutes away. Slightly uphill it took forever to finish the last part of hike. We could see the famous Mt. Kilimanjaro sign in the distance but we were getting there slowly. Finally on Sunday, February 5th at 9:32 am we reached Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa, world’s highest free-standing mountain and one of the largest volcanos on the planet.
It was very magical moment. I almost couldn’t believe we were already on the top. There was nobody else except for 4 of us. We had the whole mountain to ourselves and could calmly enjoy one of the most impressive views I have ever seen. I tried to take as many pictures and videos as possible. I totally forgot about my headache or the upcoming way down. We were just enjoying the moment and smiling all the time. But after approx. 20 minutes we had to head back to camp and loose altitude as soon as possible.
It was exactly that moment when I started to feel the worst and the strangest. For both me and my dad the worst part was to go down. I was dizzy and felt like tipsy and couldn’t control it. I was seriously scared that I am going to fall down because there were moments when I basically didn’t control my legs. Thankfully I had hiking poles and could coordinate my movements. Going down was pretty fast yet tiring as hell. It was the first time during the whole trip that my legs hurt and felt burning. It was difficult also because of sandy and dusty conditions. While walking down I remembered an article where somebody was talking about the fact that nobody ever mentioned the way down from Mt. Kilimanjaro and that it was probably the most difficult part.
Just before arriving back to Barafu camp there were our porters already waiting to greet us with some great mango juice. The juice was even cold and they also had glasses. 5 stars to them. When we got back to our tent I fell asleep even before sitting down. I took amazing 20-minutes power nap which helped me a lot. Now I know that most of my suffering on our summit day was due to lack of sleep and not enough power because we didn’t drink neither eat enough. After my short siesta I ate hot soup and packed everything once again for another trek lower to High camp. We made it in less than 2 hours and could enjoy our last night on the mountain. Too bad we left our Slovakian home-made alcohol in the hostel.
Place: Barafu camp 4.673 to Uhuru Peak 5.895 to High camp 3.950
Distance: 5 km ascent / 8 km descent
Trekking time: 6-7 hours ascent / 5-6 hours descent
Our trekking time: 5 hours 20 minutes ascent / 4 hours
Zone: Alpine desert / Arctic
DAY 6 – High camp 3.950 to Mweka gate 1.640
Our last night on Mt. Kilimanjaro was by far the best ever spent in the tent and sleeping bag. As happy as we possibly could be we fell asleep like babies last night. I literally slept like 9 hours straight without waking up. No matter it was our last day and we only had approx. 4 hours to hike down to Mweka gate we had to wake up at 6:30 like always.
Our last morning was beautiful as all the others but with more special feeling. On one side we were both very happy to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and fulfil our goal but on the other side we were kind of sad that our big adventure will be over soon. Way down is always harder on legs and I felt mine a little bit but all I could think about was final signature to the book, beer and shower.
Just before noon we safely arrived to our last station, Mweka gate where we signed for the last time and finished Machame route in 6 days instead of 7. We were given Mt. Kilimanjaro beers to celebrate. When porters packed all our stuff it was time to give them tips. I am not sure if it is mandatory but definitely highly recommended to give an extra tips for your team members. We were pretty generous and gave away around 900 $ just in tips for 11 crew members. We could see they were very happy and satisfied and so were we. And since we made it all the way to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro our team members sang a Mt. Kilimanjaro song for us.
As difficult as it was on the top to imagine we had done it, it was difficult to imagine that we were already down, sitting in the minivan going back to hostel. The ride back to Moshi town was really relaxed and everyone seemed very happy. At that time I made up the best way to say thanks and good bye to all porters. Once we arrived to our hostel we asked all our team members to go with us. I found our almost 2-liter bottle full of Slovakian home-made alcohol and started to pour shots for everyone. I and my dad were a bit uncertain if guys will like our Slovak liquid gold but just after few sips we knew they loved it. It didn’t take long and some of the guys were already pouring their own shots and others were passing their glasses towards me. I guess our apple moonshine 59% at 1 pm was the best good-bye gift we could possibly think about.
Place: High camp 3.950 to Mweka gate 1.640
Distance: 14 km
Trekking time: 5-6 hours
Our trekking time: 3 hours 35 minutes
Zone: Rain forest
I WOULD LIKE ONCE AGAIN TO THANK TO:
- Mt. Kilimanjaro to let us climb it
- My dad Pavol for huge support and great company during our trek
- Our funny and helpful guide Paulo and assistant guide Abdala
- Our great chef and all the supporting porters
- Frank, helping us managing things in Moshi
- Kilimanjaro Heroes Adventures for unforgettable trip in Tanzania