Mt Kilimanjaro: The Ultimate Hike
I want to give you all the details to one of the most challenging, and incredible events of my life. My SharePoint friends and I took on the largest free standing mountain in the world. Known as the top of Africa, Kilimanjaro is also known as the highest hike that you can do that an adventurer can do without ropes and oxygen. It’s the ultimate hike for normal people. I once sat on a plane next to a guy who told me it is a mental hike… one that someone in incredible shape may fail at, but an 80 year old may accomplish. I was fascinated and dreamed about. Our hike along with three speaking events was sponsored by Colligo. They’ve been incredible and great to work with. Colligo has an iOS SharePoint app called Colligo Briefcase that supported our interests in sharing our photos, videos, and files on and off the mountain.
L-R Gabriel assistant guide, Mark Miller (known on the trail as Babu or Grandfather in Swahili), Eric Harlan, Me, and Daudi in front our Guide, Paul Swider and Michael Noel
Above: At the beginning of Marangu Route: We are at the starting point here. 51 miles to go. We arrived at the Kilimonjaro airport, drove an hour to the hotel where we met our guide and moved around our gear. I rented hiking poles and a sleeping bag, they kept our gear in blue water proof bags that they brought to each stop.
I carried with me a hip carrier with about 1.5-2 liters of water in 3 bottles, a half roll of toilet paper, small bottle of baby powder, small bottle of IBU Profen, diarahea pills, SPF 50 sun block, lotion insect repellent with high % deet, mole skin, sunglasses, and 4 protein bars, and 1 candy bar. As well, I wore pants that could unzip the legs for shorts, and at times would carry my gloves. We were hiking outside the rainy season otherwise I would have wanted a rain cover. My phone which doubled as a camera, and solar charger. (Wish I would have just gone with big dense battery packs. My friend Michael had 3 full charges with one of his battery bricks.) There were no power outlets the entire 6 days. Camera with tons of batteries may have been a better option than assuming my phone would work well enough. All of this fit in my hip fanny pack designed with a couple of bottles on either side of it.
A couple of my friends had camel pack water carriers one on his hips and two on their backs. One thing to note is after you start hiking you won’t see any more places where you can buy something you’re missing. There is a little shop right across from checkin, where I could have bought something last minute for 4x the cost.
In my pack that the porters carried, I had a box of protein bars and some candy bars. I also had all my high elevation pills, high vitamin C, a couple of additional variety of headache medicine, snow boarding gloves, fleece, snow boarding coat, rain coat, and scarf. Underwear for the week, and variety of specialty hiking socks with varying thickness. Shirts not cotton. I brought another pair of shorts, but the pants I brought were very very dirty by the end, but I didn’t care. Some people would. All of this fit in a back pack. I do encourage you to bring a couple of special food items that you can spread throughout the trip. You burn a lot of calories, and even a little bag of chips and crackers I snagged from the airport tasted incredible after eating the same food day after day.
Our porters carried all of the food and cooking utensils. The porters are amazing. They carry huge bags on their heads and have their backs loaded up. They work for less than a dollar a day and hopefully get the tips that are left for them at the end. Tips is something I won’t address. I spent $130 in tips for money for guide, assistant guide, cook, assistant cook, and porters. I also gave some of my gear to the porters, like my gloves, a pair of socks, and hat.
Our route was the Marangu route. Read about all of the different routes on the Wikipedia Mt Kilimanjaro hiking routes page. Here’s what it says about this route…
- Nicknamed the ‘Coca-Cola’ route due to the tea huts where Coke can be bought along the way
- The shortest and cheapest route, but less time to acclimatize, therefore lower success rate
- Dormitory style accommodation
- Less scenic due to ascent and descent on same route
While it says it is the shortest and cheapest… it is designed to be a 5 day hike, but many do this route in 6 days by doing the Zebra rocks and staying at Horumbo for 2 nights. I didn’t see any coca colas being sold anywhere. As well our group was big enough we had our own room every night. I believe we were quite lucky on the last night where we staying in a room that had 16 beds. I’m sure Paul paid someone off on that night, but it really was nice.
The first day is the most scenic route. You’re hiking through jungle for the entire day. We joked that the first day feels like a scout hike. There’s nothing technical about it. Really really enjoy this day, take your time and stop and take lots of pictures. There isn’t anything strenuous about this day. Basically it gives you 5 miles to make sure your boots are working and your day pack isn’t too much. We saw monkeys, and heard lots of them at night. The foliage is dense. We saw a big blue monkey and a red winged monkey that reminded me of a squirrel monkey.
The first day of hiking from the bottom to Mandara huts from where we checked in is about 5 miles to the first hut. The first night we stayed next door to a group of Russians. When they refer to dormitory style… this was it. We were lucky, and I do mean lucky to have our own room. It was a room full of bunk beds and we again were lucky to each have our pick at top or bottom of our own set of beds. We did have to go through the Russian room to get to the outside of the cabin. This duplex only had one exit. The bathroom was outside. One western toilet and one turkish toilet. They both were lacking, but it gets worse. At least we had a choice. I felt lucky to have brought toilet paper, but our guide brought us each a roll at that first hut. I had less bargaining power with my team mates after we then had plenty of toilet paper.
That night at dinner we met a Swiss guy who had come down the mountain by himself. He had summited the night before. He told us stories about how crazy cold it was and about how he had got to the summit before sunrise and did the whole ascent in 3 hours. (something that would take us 6-8 hours.) The cold was what we would hear over and over. How his water froze, how his gloves were no good, and his face mask froze, and he had to just power through. He warned us to wear everything we had. It was great to hear someone who had made it, and it gave us some confidence while also a wake up call.
Day 2 Mandara: we woke up early about 6:30am to wash, and get ready then went over for breakfast. We had our first millet, and drinks we had coffee, tea, and milo (hot chocolate.) As a non coffee, non tea drinker (yep LDS.) I would drink a whole can of milo myself in the first few days. It wasn’t just breakfast, it was breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I started making up drinks with the honey, and hot water provided. As a soft drink guy, I wasn’t use to the hot drinks every meal. There wasn’t any cold water unless you had yours left over from the previous day. We would get fresh water that had been boiled the night before after breakfast every day to fill up our containers. Drinking is something you have to do a lot of. We had tang or some orange drink after our summit, but wished I had seen that as an option. Mix ins, is something we’d see quite often. For breakfast we had toast, egg, and yes the millet, a warm porridge that we’d see every breakfast from then on. It was a novelty the first day. We also would some times see hot dog style sausage every so often. We didn’t see much meat. We later speculate that it was because we had a vegan with us that kept us from seeing any variety of meat or meat that took time to cook. We had cold chicken once. I bring up the food because really, three of us were so sick of the food that we veto’d the food after the summit and elected to go to bed after eating protein bars and try again in the morning. We were so sick of cucumber soup, the same soup we’d seen every night.
The day 2 hike was interesting. In the morning you’re still in the dense forest, and half way through that hike you start seeing mossy trees and they become more and more sparse until even they start to change.
At the end of day 2 we would arrive at Horombo after about 7.5 miles. Horombo huts really became home. We’d end up ultimately spending 3 nights in these A frame huts. We had the entire cabin to ourselves. The first night we stayed in a small one and a bigger one became available the next night. Each morning we’d wake up and watch the sun rise and each night we’d look over the clouds until they parted and we could see all the way to Kenya. Michael would venture off to find a cell service and data to see if he could get our tweets, pictures, and status updates. I admit it was nice to get a quick call in from Horombo huts. Yep, I’m still alive.
Day 3 – When we woke up I was feeling great. I had been contemplating pushing the group from our original plan of a 6 day hike and pushing for a 5 day hike… yeah I was feeling great. I knew that we’d hike to zebra rocks and be able to see the Kebo huts our next destination and it seemed so defeatest to turn around and come back to Horombo. The same guys who were pushing for 5 day originally didn’t give in, and we kept with the plan. Zebra rocks it was. Beautiful naturally white and black striped rocks were the next destination.
One of the activities of the day was stacking rocks. The plan was to acclimatize and relaxing and taking in the fresh air and relaxing was on the agenda. We’d play an advanced version of jenga with these rocks. You have to add a rock, on your turn but can’t let any fall.
We got our first glimpse of the top of the mountain that morning. Our ultimate destination was in sight.
Day 4 We’d wake up at Horombo huts and set off. As we climbed it looked like 15000 feet was ultimately a lot of rock and liken. Not much foliage and that was for sure. We left behind the last cactus and larger plants for much smaller shubbery.
At Kibo Huts we ran into a Microsoft Windows 8 group from the Netherlands! Can you believe it. Small world. Group of 50 Microsofties had just attempted the summit to better understand our odds… 9 of them did not make it and had to head down the mountain.
I was feeling the pressure. Not just of the climb, but the elevation. Feeling head pain, headaches, and I’m sure I was also feeling soreness that was working it’s way in. After arriving at Kibo we were told we would be fed dinner at 5pm and then sleep until 11pm when they’d wake us up to start hiking at midnight. I was seriously worried that the headache I had wouldn’t go away, and it was interfering with my ability to get any sleep. For the first time doubts started creeping in. I started thinking what if my head explodes. I start using diving techniques and try to “equalize” as if under water by plugging my nose and pushing forcing air. I do this a few times and do feel a little relief. I’m taking a large does of pills and I’m freezing. The toilets at Kebo are the worst. There is a section of toilets denoted for “tourists” and they are all turkish toilets and no running water. Just a hole and these ones STINK. They must be making people ill. There’s a lot of foul smells from vomit and diarrhea. Some people here are not doing well at all. Word is that a Russian here has a device to check the oxygen content in the blood by simply inserting your finger. When Michael says he may be able to arrange it, I’m interested. Paul, myself, and Michael all pass the Russian’s test. Apparently they sent one of theirs back to Horombo. After feeling some better we get a pep talk from our guide. He lays out the details for the night. We are leaving at midnight, and we are to have all our gear on and leave our stuff at our beds. We’ll be back soon enough.
Below: 5 Hours to GILMANS Point (Welcome to Kibo Hut 4700 Meters)
To be continued…