So much to think about!
When you have decided Kilimanjaro is for you, the next step is to be honest with yourself about your fitness. You don't have to be a marathon runner to complete the trek, but you should be able to walk 10 miles in five hours.
There is no point choosing a hard route to prove something to yourself, especially if you haven't trained. Treat it as a holiday, pick a route that sounds realistic and includes some great scenery, although you will only have lush rain forest for the first couple of days, it then gets more and more barren. I won't include the routes here, below is what I decided on and why.
Having completed a 100km challenge trek, which was almost non-stop, I wanted something tough, yet also had a good success rate. The altitude was my only concern. The routes ranged from 5 to 9 days. I made the decision to go with the seven day Lemosho route, because it had a 90% success rate, was quite tough and started day one walking through the rain forest. So it had the promise of wild life, which to me sounded great. I was tempted with the 6 day Umbwe route, because it was one of the toughest routes, but with a 50- 60% success rate, I saw no point in spending $2,000 to risk not completing the trek because of altitude sickness!
Which Trek Company?
When I first searched for, 'Kilimanjaro trekking holidays', many suppliers come up, including Mohji.com, who is an agent for local guides, which is who I used in the end. However this was after reviewing all the different UK and African providers.
I had thought I'd to go with a UK company because I would be ATOL protected. The UK companies included everything as well, such as flights, good hotels and transport etc. It would also be a more social experience because they only have set dates for groups. However I was not able to make the dates available and wanted to see what else was out there. There are loads of companies advertising their own special benefits why you should go with them. The agent recommended to me Popoteafrica.com, because of their flexibility with dates, cost and experience. My only concern was because they were based in Africa and not the UK, therefore not ATOL protected. I had concerns it was not 100% legit because they were so helpful, not pushy, yet it was $2,000 less than a UK company, silly I know to be so suspicious, but better to be safe than sorry.
So I did some background checks on them, which is always a sensible thing to do if you are at all unsure! This means, seeing how long the website has been live for, reviews only check the negative ones, some companies pay people to write glowing reviews and they normally stick out! Just type in the company name into the different social networks and search engines to see what comes up. If you are at all doubtful, make sure you can pay by credit card, even call your credit card issuer to check you are covered, they may even have information not seen on the net!
After my checks I found many unhappy customer complaints about companies based in Africa that did not honour the holiday and ran off with the money! So I was very glad I did the checks......
HOWEVER, Popoteafrica.com, came out clean, had no bad reviews and because they were only asking for a 10% deposit, and the balance on arrival, which I could pay by card it was worth the tiny doubt I had, after all I was saving $2,000 and going when I wanted. The price covered a guide, cook, waiter and four mountain soldiers (Sherpas), I would discover when they picked me up! The price included all transfers and hotels, so all I need to do was find a flight.
I used SkyScanner for the best price and airline, which happened to be Ethiopian Airlines. There were others but they didn't offer an Airbus 350, which has more leg room, "good meals" comfy seats and loads of films to watch.
A nice touch is the airline send you an email asking if you'd like to make a bid to upgrade to business class, I think it started from $400 each way. I liked this because normally its at least £1,000 to fly business class and airlines (from my experience) don't do this.
Arrival in Tanzania
Having been collected and dropped off at the hotel I met 'Stan' the guide, who speaks good English, he checked I had the right gear for the journey and briefed me on what was coming up, which would start with leaving at 6am...
Day One - Big Tree Camp - Altitude 2,780m
Left the hotel on-time, followed by a long drive to the start line, which was broken up by a short break for the team to have breakfast, which is where the introductions took place. The first day is super easy underfoot, walking through the rain forest was a joy, monkeys in the trees, beautiful birds, lizards, the forest was singing with joy. Great wildlife photo opportunities.
Slept well, no altitude sickness.
Day Two - Shira 2 Camp - Altitude 3,900m
Up at 6am, breakfast at 6.30, which was porridge, followed by loads of pancakes with honey and a good cup of Kilimanjaro tea. Carb load done!
I didn't mentioned that my normal diet is plant based, but if I didn't compromise to have milk in porridge, eggs and milk, 2/3 main ingredients for pancakes, I would literally have toast or rice each morning, and no they didn't have non dairy milk, I did ask. I told them this before the holiday so they had bought alternatives for me. I had to go through the usual process of, my diet is plant based, you know, vegetarian but without dairy and eggs; "oh! but you eat fish yes"! no I replied, and this is not a language barrier I get asked this in the UK all the time...SO, yesterday's dinner was cucumber soup, salad with fried potatoes, bread and a cuppa. I won't go on about food for the rest of the days, but surfice to say I had loads to eat and drink. Fresh Kilimanjaro water, was in plentiful supply!
After a couple of hours walking the rain forest was behind me, the terrain was getting more rocky and uneven, welcome to reality, this is what its going to be like from here on. Not long after, the warm weather was ebbing away as well. When we got to our rest point the terrain was quite barren, cold mist was being blown amongst us, jacket on, oh how things change.
The walk took 10hrs, with an hour's break at Shira 1. Arrived at Shira Camp 2 around 6pm, come midnight it would be freezing. Today was the first tough day, mainly due to the terrain, you really have to pay attention to where you feet go at times. Stan insisted I take my time because of the altitude, although at times this was frustrating because I felt fine.
Day 3 - Baranco Camp - Altitude 3,960m
Needed the toilet at midnight, the tent had a light covering of ice on it, it was cold....whilst standing, I glance up at the night sky for the first time, it is the most beautiful I've ever seen, several shooting stars all in quick succession leave me stunned. Hello Milky Way I say, you're a stunner. Every night from here on, toilet or not, I stand outside for five minutes in the freezing cold, just starring at the sky. Not a night goes by where I don't see either a satellite or a shooting star.
Sleep was fine although only about 5hrs, due to waking early.
Trek – 6hrs, started with a 100m+ rock scramble, one you don’t need ropes for but also if you fall in the wrong place you’re fucked! Loved the climbing especially as I was overtaking everyone! The terrain after that was the same, was a really good day, got to camp quite early.
Day 4 - Karanga Camp - Altitude 3,963m
Last nights sleep, for the first time wasn't as good. Starting to feel a little congested, could be due to going from hot too cold quickly, thoughts got a little dark and had a light headache. The headaches always kick in around midnight, slept for 4hrs, felt crappy in the morning.
5hr walk, terrain as you’d expect walking up a volcano. Don’t forget you are gradually walking up hill for 7 days. Was a good day, very enjoyable.
Day 5 - Barafu Camp - Altitude 4,640m
Slept for only 3hrs due to headache and rather over active brain keeping me awake, with shit I really don't need..
Feeling a little nauseous at breakfast for the first time and can't eat everything but this has no impact on my energy levels, I just never ever eat as much as they're giving me.
A nice 3hr trek, the terrain is more like a moonscape, reason for the short walk is because at 11pm I will be getting ready for the final accent at 12am, its nearly over!
Sleep is pointless, although I try. I read my book, The Idiot Brain, which is brilliant, highly recommend it. Also I downloaded a load of Netflix films, documentaries and episodes to watch, it whiles away the time! Battery life isn't an issue.
Day 6 - Uhuru Peak - Altitude will peak at 5,895m then down to Millennium Camp 3,790m
Clothing was now critical, it was freezing cold.
- Bridgedale, waterproof socks and thin warm socks
- M&S, Marino wool leggings
- M&S, Marino wool long sleeve, top
- Breathable cycling long sleeve top
- Rab Microlight Alpine jacket
- Rab Mantra Pertex jacket, this is in case it rains, which it doesn't because its freezing!
- Black Diamond head-torch.
- 2 paracetamols take before leaving, an energy bar, strong cuppa
- Crappy M&S gloves, this is where I went tight with the funds, and my only mistake. Thank goodness for warm jacket pockets, but you can't steady yourself with your hands in your pockets, buy a decent pair!
- Merrell Vibram, Moab 2 walking boots
After 2.5hrs of walking the water in my bottle mostly frozen, the ground is frozen and covered in compacted snow. Stan said it was -25 but to be thankful that we had no strong side wind. It was definitely the coldest I've been, but I still couldn't resist stopping and starring at the Milky Way and falling back, because I'm now on a steep accent of course. This happened several times, the night sky like nothing you've ever seen before. I would go again just to see the stars, planets, Milky Way etc again, except I would bring a powerful pair of binoculars.
This was Stan’s 270th accent, despite me wanting to go quicker I was told 'pole pole' which means, slowly, you'll hear it all the time. To be honest, try and run up it, it is not easy with oxygen levels reducing from 70% to 50%.
We walked slowly up the mountain overtaking those that needed to rest.
With only about 30 minutes to go before we hit the peak, the sun started to rise. We were over 3 miles above sea level and now the 2nd treat, a spectacular sunrise, that would slowly highlight the curvature of Earth with deep reds and oranges, followed by yellows as it steadily rose. Thankfully, it also means you can start to see where you are walking and whats around you. We reached the peak, took some pics and started to head back, but not before taking in the surroundings of the volcano, the crater and glaciers, which are slowly melting due to global warming. The view here is mesmerising, 360 degrees of beautifulness.
Well, that's it really. Next was the decent, when I got back to camp, it all felt quite overwhelming and felt even a little teary. I mean very little sleep for 3 days and having walked for 9hrs (there and back), reaching the peak and knowledge that it was now the end, you've done it. Emotions can flow, so what.
After breakfast we then walked down to the Millennium camp, which was full of other trekkers. In the morning the team perform a traditional song and dance, really not my thing, followed by the tipping. I am really not into the big song and dance followed by handing over money. Seems a bit fake to me, but others love it, each to their own OK. The guys have been nothing but awesome, they've looked after my diet, cooked and kept me happy for 7 days. The Sherpas have been carrying 30kg of tents and food up at times extremely steep rock faces at a pace you will have trouble keeping up with just carrying your watch, so tippage is imminent, regardless.
I have a word with Stan. We agree an amount, which is based on $10 per day per person, although its supposed to be more for the senior guys. They also appreciate, the little things like your old t-shirts, socks, sun cream, drugs, plasters, energy bars etc. I gave them all those things, which they really appreciated. FYI they are paid $10 a day so the tips is what gives them a living wage. And yes, if you pay much more for your trek, of course you will still be tipping but it will be less in a group.
In the morning was a brisk 4hr 30min walk down to the gate, get your certificate and back to the hotel, for that shower you've been dreaming of. Taking off those pants you've been wearing out for 3 or 4 days because, well after a while you don't give a shit, or at least I didn't. Lying on a proper bed and having a power nap until the masseuse comes to break you. I felt no aches or pains in my legs and no blisters. But when my calves were rubbed it was agony, wow they really were tight.
Finally a very well deserved beer and plate of chips. Over the next few hours I sit out on the balcony with Kilimanjaro in the distance, finish the book, and think to myself, I just walked up that.
Socks, so freaking important, I bought
Basic Bridgedale socks for the short treks.
Hilly twin skin for the long walks.
Bridgedale, waterproof socks in case it rains and for the last day. This was because I found my waterproof boots, weren't!
Bridgedale, marino socks for warmth
My choice of socks was well worth the money, I had no blisters, my feet were never wet or cold.
I chose the Rab Mantra because I wanted a jacket that's waterproof and breathable. Can be used as a general trekking, jogging and cycling as the hood is big enough to go over your helmet. I spent quite a bit of time reviewing them and their Pertex waterproof system had very good reviews. It was never tested on Kili, but it was the other day and not a drop got through.
Having worn many a 'waterproof' jacket, this actually did the trick and although not perfectly breathable its a lot better than the others I have had. In fact you have to make some compromise regards whats more important, breathable or water-tight, this performed very well although the pockets felt damp.
Rab Microlight, was super warm and cosy. It is fine in a light shower but I chose it because of how compact it is. You can squeeze it down to fit in your jean pocket if you wanted to. Looks good, really light and warm.
Merrell, Vibram Moab2 has a Gortex Waterproof system, which quite frankly didn't work. Now there is a chance that mine might have been faulty as the right boot was worse than the left, however, I found this out when walking in very light rain just before I left for Kili. My socks felt damp then, so when I got caught out in a thunderstorm the other day, which was a proper test of a waterproof boot, my socks were proper wet.
When I went to the specialist shop, I was advised these boots are waterproof, which is very important to me because I want to complete more 100km walks. The website, also says they're waterproof so it wasn't misinformation by the assistant.
On the plus side, during the trek, the grip and comfort was superb, like I said, no blisters.
Bridgedale waterproof socks, does exactly what it says.
Impossible I-1 Polaroid Camera
This was one camera I was so looking forward to buying for my trip, because it embraces old Polaroid coolness with modern gadgetry!
What does this mean? it means you can connect and take control of the camera via your phone using Bluetooth, amazing.....well I had some functionality issues with my old Samsung Note3, which would take a picture remotely and start the timer, but that was all. My Note3 was also on its last legs so when I upgraded to the S9+ I was really surprised to find it would not even connect at all. Reason being is that it only truly works with Apple phones (Oct 2018) I hope this is something they have fixed or working on fixing!
I took the Polaroid because I figured it would be great to have an actual photo to put in my diary each day, and because I love Polaroid.
The camera worked fine, for the first 3 days at less than 3900m
Day four at Karanga Camp, 3,963m it became a little temperamental because the shutter button didn't work straight away, but when it did, the photo was so over exposed, there was very little detail. No photo to show, binned them. Diary says it was a cold when it was taken, at around 4c.
On the way up, we stopped off at the Lava Tower 4,600m for lunch, the shutter worked first time but this time the photo had marks on it. Was slightly warmer that day, guess at 6c.
Day five at Barafu Camp, 4,673m, the camera has power issues and when it finally took a photo the chemical came out onto the Polaroid itself and over the camera rollers. The picture shown is the best of three taken.
Day 6 at the top, 5,895 it completely refused to work, it was -25c nothing from it at all, I thought it was done for. However when I was back down to around 3,800m it came back to life and took this of the peak.
When I get back to the UK I got in touch with Polaroid Original customer service, and without any fuss arrange for an exchange, everything was sorted out in a timely, speedy professional manner. The customer service is excellent, buy direct.
The Fuji XT20 worked perfectly at all times as did the Samsung S9+
The reason I could watch so much TV was because I had an Aukey 20,000mAh charger, which fully charged the phone 4 times. Also I had the phone on battery saver and airplane mode as there was next to no signal or Internet on the mountain anyway.
I think I've written enough. Here's some pics.
On route to Barafu camp
Glacier at the top