Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
The start to the day was made even more glorious with an oat porridge breakfast. The past few days, we, instead, had millet porridge which tasted fine on day 1, but started to taste sour in the days after. We literally rejoiced out loud at the sight of it, probably the only time people were this excited about oat porridge.
Then, we set out for the Barranco Wall above. If you look really closely, you’ll see the bright colors of the hiking gear of very tiny people.
The wall was probably our favorite part of the entire Lemosho route because it was a really fun rock climb. Nothing technical but still really cool. The above was the view of our last camp from the wall, becoming more and more empty as other hikers packed up their stuff and headed towards the wall.
About 45 min later, we were at the top of the wall and I immediately went into mermaid pose. An air mermaid, because I make sense.
With this incredible view, a Chinese couple engaged in a shouting match. Correction: the girl was yelling at her significant other who was failing horribly at trying to appease her. Jeffrey spoke Cantonese but he was able to translate the major theme of the couple’s very loud Mandarin. “How could you abandon me! You left me behind!” It appeared that she expected to be handheld throughout the Barranco Wall climb.
We made it to our next camp 3-4 hr of uphills and downhills later. On our last hill, though, Tom and Allie (brother and sister duo) devised a plan to build a bridge from the last hill to the campsite, all in the name of exhaustion, laziness…and tourism profits. They then came up with an even better, lower cost idea – a zip line. That idea occupied our minds for that last leg and helped pass the excruciating time. We estimated foot traffic to reach 25K people per year. With a per person charge of about $10-15, perhaps we could breakeven in the first year and start making profits the second. On what basis did we estimate building costs, I have no idea.
Karanga Camp – Elevation: 3,995m (13,107 ft); Vegetation zone: Alpine desert.
After a quick nap, we acclimatized with another hike up 100m to about 4,100m in elevation, about an hour’s worth. Our teeny tiny camp is in the middle of the photo above.
Back at camp, it was popcorn and dinner time before the CEO’s went into a brief history of Kilimanjaro, a name that, among others, stuck after being butchered by the Europeans. The current name was thought to derive from a saying in local dialect that meant “unconquered journey,” which was mistaken for its name rather than its description. Hm, foreboding.
Before heading to bed, I made sure to make a bathroom stop, which seemed to be everybody else’s plan as well. While waiting in line, Marilyn walked out of the bathroom enclosure and simply said, “I did not do whatever you see in there,” and walked away. I braced myself, took a deep breath and did my business as fast as possible. I walked out quickly, with Catherine and Allie as the next two in line, and planted myself by a rock a short distance away to take this night shot. A few minutes later, I heard Allie yell, “HEATHENS!!”
It took about 3-4 hr to reach base camp. Gerald told us not to ask returning summitters how they felt during their ascent and we all laughed. After all, he wanted us to believe that it was all “easy peezy lemon squeezy.” The real struggle came at 5:30pm, when we were given a local dish of potatoes & plantains for dinner. The plantains just had a very odd texture and it was so starchy that it made us not want to eat it. It was the only dish that we collectively didn’t like, by the way.
By 7pm, we were in bed.
Barafu Camp – Elevation: 4,673m (15,331 ft); Vegetation zone: Alpine desert.
Day 7 – Summit Day
We woke up at 11pm for the midnight ascent. H and I probably managed to sleep only 1 hour. I had on 6 layers on top and 2 layers on the bottom and I still felt chilled to the bone. Apparently, it was about -12°C (about 10°F). I started to warm up as we zigzagged up the mountain but, my toes remained frozen the entire way.
Walking up a mountain with nothing but the light of the stars and head torches was a magical experience. I could only describe it as “like walking on the moon.” The only downside to the head torches, though, was that every so often, I would look up to see how much further we had to go. When I saw head torches wayyyy up there, it made my heart sink a little. The altitude and really cold winds started to take its toll on me so, I would walk up a zig, take a breather, then proceed up the zag before taking another breather. This, unfortunately, translated into “I’m having great difficulty” to the CEO’s and they insisted on carrying my daypack. I was stubborn about it for a bit but, finally agreed to it to get them off my back (pun maybe intended). Around 2am, I saw my first moonrise.
My hydration pack eventually froze but, luckily, the water in my Nalgene was only half frozen. At one of our short breaks, Jeffrey asked Tom to play a song that had high energy and when Queen’s We Are The Champions came out of his phone’s speakers, all of us started shouting along to the song, now fully pumped. “WEEE ARE THE CHAAAAMMPIONS! NOOO TIMEE FOR LOOOSERS ‘CAUSE WEEEE ARE THE CHAAAAMMPIONS!” Next up: Bohemian Rhapsody.
Further up, our morale started to droop again. Saddam and the other G Fighters broke out into their local songs, the main one being the Kilimanjaro song, and brought it right back up.
“…Jambo! Jambo bwana! (Hello! Hello sir!)
Habari gani? (How are you?)
Nzuri sana. (Very fine.)
Wageni, mwakaribishwa (Guests, you are welcome.)
Kilimanjaro? Hakuna matata! (Kilimanjaro? No worries!)
Tembea pole pole. Hakuna ma-ta-ta! (Walk slowly, slowly. No worries!)
Utafika salama. Hakuna ma-ta-ta! (You’ll get there safely. No worries!)
Kunywa maji mengi. Hakuna ma-ta-ta! (Drink lots of water. No worries!)…”
By 5:45am, we reached Stella Point right before sunrise.
I never expected the top to be THIS beautiful. For some reason, I pictured barren land and more dirt. Instead, it was a sea of clouds broken up by a giant glacier that seemed to come out of nowhere.
It was another 45 min before reaching Uhuru Peak in time for sunrise. I lagged behind H a bit but, by the time I caught up to him, I gave him a dumbfounded high five which came out looking like an unenthusiastic, super exhausted gesture on his GoPro video.
The sun making its way up over Kibo’s crater rim…
…and over Rebmann Glacier and Mt. Meru in the back.
HELL FREAKIN’ YEA. Uhuru Peak – Elevation: 5,895m (19,341 ft).
The queue to take this photo, though, was mayhem. A bunch of Spaniards dumped their cameras into Tom’s hands before he even agreed to take photos, then proceeded to spend a good 5 minutes trying out various poses. They even had the nerve to tell Tom to take off his gloves so that he could take better photos. Um, the wind chill made the -10°C (14°F) feel like -30°C (-22°F). After that, H and I then pushed through and went up to the sign for just ONE quick photo but, when the porter lifted my camera, a Korean lady crawled under his lifted arm and walked into our space while gesturing to her posse of other Korean ladies. Ruthless.
After one last look, we began our descent, 2 full hours of running down scree (small loose rock and soil) with our trembling legs. We bumped into the slower half of the group still making their way up. But, in the end, everyone had made it. It was an emotional moment particularly for Floyd who, at age 70, decided to grab life by the balls and attempt Kili without much previous hiking experience.
By 9am, we were back at base camp and the G Fighters had set up a mini station where they gave us very enthusiastic high fives and glasses of the tastiest mango juice EVER. After lunch, we packed up our stuff and headed to a lower camp, High Camp at 3,950m, back in the moorland.
Gerald: “So, do you guys have any complaints?”
Everyone but Tom: “No, everything was great!”
Tom: “I agree that everything was great! Well, except that meal with the potatoes & plantains…”
Before heading back to Moshi, the 30 or so G Fighters and CEO’s sang and danced for us again. Things got emotional. Saddam led the group once more and got so much into it that he kicked up a dust storm with his dancing. Gerald had to walk over and calm him down a little as people started to cough. They’re probably the most hardworking, enthusiastic group of people I’ve ever met.
5-6 hr later, we reached Mweka Gate and ran into blue monkeys en route who aren’t obviously blue until you see their testicles.
At the gate, the G Fighters prepared one last lunch for us.
“It’s an African dish…”
Tom’s face dropped.
“…beef with plantains!”
To make matters worse, the tables were set up with various soda bottles for people to choose from. I saw a bright yellow bottle labeled “Sparletta” and, never having heard of it, I decided to try it. Catherine warned me, though. She tried a green Sparletta once that ended up being an odd cream soda. That should’ve given me the hint. So, I took a sip. Bubblegum flavor. Gross! Now curious, everyone else wanted to try it. H thought it tasted like Malibu and Tom described it as “all the jellybean flavors at once.” We then discovered that the bottle cap said “Pine-Nut,” a misleading abbreviation for pineapple coconut.
Finally, we arrived at the hotel where we took excessively long showers and shampooed everything at least 5 times. For our last dinner, we decided to eat at Indoitaliano which Tom and Allie had been raving about for the past week. It was worth alllll the hype. We also proved that mosquitoes loved Asians because in the dim lighting of the restaurant, swarms of them appeared only on top of my and Jeffrey’s heads. This is even after we both sprayed copious amounts of bug repellant. Seriously?
Travel tip: The neighborhood around Moshi isn’t the safest so, even in broad daylight, the 11 of us split up into 3 cabs to go the short distance to the restaurant. All of us managed to squeeze into one minivan (the “clown car”) on the way back.