I’m not really sure who’s bright idea it was originally, but for Christmas this year, Adam and Hussam (my travel partners to Ethiopia last year) and I decided that this year we would climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. Luckily, Chris was able to get a week off and climb with us.
We arrived in Moshi, Tanzania, and went to our rooms at the local YMCA. We met with our tour guide later that day to get a few last minute items such as heavy coats and sleeping bags. Since we had been living in Khartoum, we didn’t actually own any of those items, so we rented them for the hike. We paid the rest of our money owed on our trip and we were ready to go!
We began our climb on Sunday, December 19th. The first day we started out at about 1800 meters above sea level, at the gates to the Kilimanjaro National Park. Below that level is cultivated land, and above 1800 m is a rainforest. Our first day’s walk, about 5 hours, was 9 km long and we rose about 900 meters to a height of 2700 meters. The weather was hot and humid and it rained a bit. The climb was not too bad and we were tired but not exhausted when we reached our first camp, Mandara camp. We had a snack of tea and popcorn, got our cabin ready, ate dinner, and went to sleep…. wondering what the next day would be like.
On Monday we hiked from Mandara camp to Homboro camp, another 9 or 10 km and another 900 meters up in altitude. Again, about 5 or 6 hours of hiking, although the altitude was noticeably thinner and breathing was more difficult. The rain forest behind us, we hiked through moorlands, with strange trees and little animal life. By the time we got to Homboro we all had headaches, were pretty tired, and glad of an acclimatization day the next day.
Day three we stayed at Homboro camp and took a short walk up to the Zebra Rocks, a strange rock formation made of naturally occuring black and white striped rocks. Our headaches were better but we were still dreading the following day as we were to climb to Kibo Camp.
Day four we climbed through the alpine desert to Kibo Camp, an altitude of 4700 meters. It took us maybe 4 or 5 hours, but we were all definitely suffering by the end of it. The weather was much colder, we had some rain and hail, although periodically the sun would come out and the fleece sweaters would come off. By the time we reached Kibo my head was killing me and my vision was blurry and seeing double. I could keep my head down and watch the trail in front of me but if I tried to raise my eyes I would see a bright corona around everything and it hurt like hell. I hoped a nap and some food would help me recover enough to attempt the summit at midnight.
Kibo camp was freezing cold (literally) and we slept a bit and ate some dinner- pasta- trying to carb up for the final ascent. After dinner we slept some more and were awoken at midnight. We were already wearing most of our clothes so we just put on our gloves and jackets and started off for the final 1200 meters up.
After 2 hours and having only made it 200 or 300 meters, I knew I couldn’t go on. I really wanted Adam and Hussam and Chris to be able to summit and I was holding them back with my slow pace. I thought I could maybe eke out another hour or two max, but I knew I’d never reach Gilman’s Point at 5700 meters or the top of Uhuru Peak at 5895 meters. So finally I decided to cut my losses and head back to Kibo. I convinced Chris that it was okay to go on without me, and I headed back down. I was sad that I couldn’t finish but frankly was in too much pain to really care that much. All I wanted was a bed and (more) headache medicine.
I sat at Kibo camp and watched the stars and the summit for a while. Finally it was too cold to stay out any longer so I went in and went to sleep in my bunk. Around noon, the guys returned, having successfully summited. They rested at Kibo for a couple of hours and then we returned down to Homboro camp for our final night on the mountain.
The last day we walked down the 20 km from Homboro to Mandara camp, to the park gate. Even going down was not exactly easy. Our knees and toes were screaming from the downward motion. But the breathing was much easier and our headaches were gone. At last we reached the bottom, 2 pm on Christmas Eve day. We celebrated with a Kilimanjaro beer, and the guys collected their certificates. We shuffled off back to our hotel, looking forward to a hot shower and a warm bed.
A great adventure! Did I fail at climbing Mt Kilimanjaro? I prefer instead to think of the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said: “To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.” .