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Snows of Kilimanjaro

Snows of Kilimanjaro

Postby chrisandbex » Sat Feb 09, 2013 7:24 pm

Date walked: 21/06/2012

Time taken: 120

Distance: 34 km

Ascent: 5895m

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Ernest Hemingway I am not but given that Mr Hemingway never made it anywhere near Uhuru summit and I did makes me feel justified in blatantly pinching one of his book titles.

I think I must have been suffering with a touch of brain fever last February when I signed up with a charity challenge company as the team medic. The 20 trekkers’ challenge was to attempt the Machame route up to Uhuru peak, my challenge was to make sure they all made it up and back down again in one piece. The group were a real mix of ages from 19-53, varying degrees of fitness and a few had significant underlying medical conditions – more than enough to give me sleepless nights in the run up to trek. We had a fantastic British guide and were well supported by nearly 50 ground crew from the Tanzanian Travel Company who specialise in proving guides, porters and chefs on the mountain.

We set off from Machame gate mid morning and soon were climbing up through the sodden rainforest. The rain was fairly relentless and the only views were those of dense forest, creeping lianas and lichens punctuatedwith the bright colours of flowers such as red hot pokers.


Our first experience of “toileting” in the wild proved entertaining. The girls stayed true to form and retired en masse clutching our toilet rolls to the confines of the forest, look outs were duly posted and wet wipes and alcohol hand gel handed round. Needless to say as the trek progressed and the diuretic effects of Diamox too their effect, all attempts at modesty were discarded and squatting mid trail became habitual. The “she-wee” was quickly discarded when I discovered, the wet way, that drinking 4-5l of water a day equals a bladder that requires a tube considerably larger than half a centimetre in diameter to drain it! :crazy:
After 6 hours of walking through the jungle we emerged into a clearing boasting the name of Machame camp. The porters had already erected out tents and we were welcomed by the site of a chemical toilet tent. The trowel was not going to be needed thankfully.


Next morning we were up early and climbing steeply up out of camp, constantly overtaken by porters running up and down the hill carrying mind boggling amounts of gear. The landscape started changing dramatically and soon we cleared the clag of the forest and were met by blue skies and a hint of the views that were to come. Forest gave way to moorland and heathers.



A few group members started to feel the earl effects of altitude sickness as we had quickly ascended over the 3000m with little chance to acclimatise. I dropped back with one trekker who was struggling and with the help and encouragement of the Tanzanian guides we made it to our lunch spot just as the rain started again and the mist descended. After lunch saw us climbing up past the Shira Caves which housed exciting plants such as Senecios and giant phallic looking lobelias. :lol:


We then gained the plateau and enjoyed superb views from Shira Camp. As we settled into the mess tent for the evening, the clouds lifted and we were greeted with our first mind blowing view of the Uhuru peak summit and the true magnitude of what we were taking on became apparent.


It was an early and cold start the next morning with frost on the tents but we were rewarded with clear blue skies as dawn broke and stunning views over the clouds towards mount Meru.


Altitude sickness really started to kick in as we climbed over the 4000m mark and by lunch time at Lava Towers many of us were suffering. I was kept busy handing out anti-sickness and headache pills whilst feeling none too healthy myself. This day is an acclimatization day and we descended from our lunch spot at Lava towers which were shrouded in mist, down the Barranco valley to camp. Our heads cleared as we descended towards Barranco camp passing through rocky terrain scattered with the fascinating senecio plants.


This was a tough night with many people now suffering with mild altitude sickness and fatigue due to having to rise to pee constantly due to the effects of diamox. Our guides showed us no mercy however and it was another dawn start in order to tackle the mighty Barranco wall which blocked the onwards route. The wall looms behind Barranco camp, a solid impenetrable looking bastion of rock above which the summit sits like a castle. There is a good route up however with minor scrambling on good rock and certainly no difficulties for anyone at home in the Scottish hills. The reward is an unbroken view across Africa, well worth the effort!



The trek continues across the alpine desert zone, an area rich in brightly coloured alpine plants and then a steep descent down in the Karanga valley, our next lunch spot. A simple climb took us back out of the valley and once again into the realms of altitude sickness. :sick:


Many of the group were struggling with fatigue on this, the most strenuous day so far so we split the group allowing the fitter of us to plough on ahead to Barrafu camp.


The camp is perched at a precarious angle on broken shattered volcanic rock, offering an uncomfortable nights rest. Not that we got to spend a night there as we were woken at 11pm to begin our summit challenge. The temperature was, about 10 below, so I had slept in all my gear including gaiters so minimal exposure of flesh was required to get going. A welcome mug of strong black “bed tea” was thrust in my hands and we were off climbing up out of camp in the dark. As group doc I was always at the back and could see the steady stream of head torches winding up the slope in front of me as far as the eye could see. Our first casualty happened soon after we left camp with one trekker becoming too fatigued to continue, she was sadly followed promptly by 6 others as we neared the 5000m mark. The trekkers who couldn’t go on were sent back down to camp each supported by a guide, one chap fell multiple times but there were thankfully no serious injuries. The summit climb involves climbing over 1200m thats nearly the height of Ben Macdui. Not an inconsiderable feat at that altitude, in the dark, with temps starting to edge towards -20. Dawn breaking behind us was one of the most beautiful and awe inspiring sights I have ever seen. :D



The sun warmed us and lifted our jaded spirits, urging us on towards Stella point located on the volcanic rim. We reached there at breakfast time and were once again greeted with the wonderful welcome of “bed tea”, yes one of the porters had indeed carried a flask all the way – God bless that man! Feeling slightly revived and with the effects of the double dose of codeine I had given myself wearing off, I was ready to tackle the summit which lies further along the volcanic rim. Now we were into the snow line and it was a simple matter of head down and putting one foot in front of the other, “pole, pole”, Swahili for “slowly, slowly” our mantra. The skies were azure blue, the snows of the glacier blindingly white and the sense of achievement, joy and fatigue overwhelming. The greatest unbroken view in the world with the curvature of the earth clearly visible – awesome.


Sadly all too soon it was time to leave and head back down with only a brief pause at Stella point again before slithering down the loose scree back to Barrafu Camp. The day was far from over as once everyone had descended and after a brief meal we set off again down the trail to Millennium camp having walked for well over 15 hours. We were rewarded once again with lovely views of the mountain looking back and the porters and guides treated us with their now famous rendition of the Kilimanjaro song. :clap:


In the morning we handed out tips and gear that we no longer required to our guides and porters who had looked after us so carefully and headed back down the forest path towards Maweke gate. The knee crunching descent was too much for 2 group members and after hours of slow ligament stretching walking down through the rainforest we reached a point where I was able to radio for a 4x4 to come and pick them up. We met the rest of the group at the gate already celebrating with a well earned cold beer.
As we drove away we were again rewarded with view of the snowy summit and as we took off from the airport we saw the magnitude of the vast peak below us, the overwhelming sense of achievement can never be replicated. If you have ever harboured any thoughts about doing Kili, please don’t put it off, do it, you will never regret it.


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Re: Snows of Kilimanjaro

Postby Silverhill » Sat Feb 09, 2013 10:55 pm

Stunning and well done! :D
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Re: Snows of Kilimanjaro

Postby Phooooey » Sat Feb 09, 2013 11:14 pm

Awesome ! Great report and photos. Huge congratulations to you all and well done on the fund raising. :clap:
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Re: Snows of Kilimanjaro

Postby ChrisW » Sun Feb 10, 2013 6:18 am

Fantastic adventure with stunning pics all the way, though my friend would disagree with your sentiments, she did killi for charity 2 years ago and told me "never even consider it - its bloody ridiculous" :lol: :lol:
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Re: Snows of Kilimanjaro

Postby Avocetboy » Sun Feb 10, 2013 10:03 am

Fantastic read on a Sunday morning. Well done, inspired me to dream!
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Re: Snows of Kilimanjaro

Postby MattyAnderson » Sun Feb 10, 2013 12:02 pm

If I survive the Los Maribos in June, I am heading out to Tanzania in August to do this...and I can't wait especially after seeing the photos :D

Bit worried about the altitude sickness though - we are not doing it as a charity group so unlikely to have a doctor in our group - any advice?
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Re: Snows of Kilimanjaro

Postby chrisandbex » Sun Feb 10, 2013 3:00 pm

MattyAnderson wrote:If I survive the Los Maribos in June, I am heading out to Tanzania in August to do this...and I can't wait especially after seeing the photos :D

Bit worried about the altitude sickness though - we are not doing it as a charity group so unlikely to have a doctor in our group - any advice?

Hi Matty

Regarding the altitude. I would first check out the routes. There are many ways to climb Kili so try and get on a route that takes at least 5 days i.e. lemosho or machame, any less than that might be cheaper but you'll suffer. Rongai is too short to acclimatize in my opinion unless you consider climbing mount Meru first in preparation. Also I would probably take Diamox. Try it before leaving as it has some interesting side effects :crazy: It certainly helped me as I suffered quite bad AMS due to having a bad cold (don't attempt to do Kili with a cold - I didn't have a lot of choice being the medic! LOL)

Good luck
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Re: Snows of Kilimanjaro

Postby garyhortop » Sun Feb 10, 2013 5:57 pm

Awesome!! I have only seen Killi from ground level during a camping safari about 20 years ago - have always thought about giving it a go....... :shock: Not so sure now!! :D
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Re: Snows of Kilimanjaro

Postby skuk007 » Mon Feb 11, 2013 10:32 pm

Great report, well done :clap: :clap:
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Re: Snows of Kilimanjaro

Postby Benjaminnevis » Wed Feb 13, 2013 12:39 am

Great stuff. Would love a crack at this ma self.
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Re: Snows of Kilimanjaro

Postby findhornloon » Sat Feb 16, 2013 4:17 pm

I climbed Kili back in 1992 and remember writing on my website at the time:
Climb Kilimanjaro and meet Heaven and Hell in five days you will never forget.
Even 20 years on details of the trip is still very vivid and clear in my memory. Unfortunately all my photos are colour slides, must get them scanned in sometime.

I was working on a mapping project in Tanzania and drove up from Dar es Salaam with two Norwegian colleagues, with nothing booked we arrived at the Marangu Hotel at 7pm and asked if it was possible to climb Kilimanjaro, they replied yes no problem, you can leave at 7am next day if you wish - and we did. It was a lot easier and cheaper to climb Kili back then - however I am sure the experience today is still the same, a fabulous demanding one supported by fantastic people - the Chagga guides and porters. For our group of 3 the hotel hired 9 guides/porters for our trip, strangley though we only ever saw 8 of them during the climb.

It's all about will power more than physical fitness and of course how your body reacts to the altitude. I recall two Americans yomping past us en route, both young and fit with lots of hicking experience - they never made it to the top, also met a guy aged 60 in the trip, he was from Holland the flattest country in the world, he made it no problem - Kili can be full of surprises.

I am still involved in several mapping projects in Tanzania and may just surprise the sleeping giant one more time with a visit to Uhuru Peak !!!
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Re: Snows of Kilimanjaro

Postby Huff_n_Puff » Fri Mar 01, 2013 11:16 pm

Great report and stunning pics - lots to ponder here about the route and preparedness for the trip. My kids did one of the longer routes about 7 years ago - and your report has certainly increased my respect for them making it (although one suffered altitude sickness going up the other coming down, but neither was prepared to give in in front of the other :lol: :crazy: )
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Re: Snows of Kilimanjaro

Postby findhornloon » Mon Mar 04, 2013 9:15 am

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Re: Snows of Kilimanjaro

Postby Mountainlove » Mon Mar 04, 2013 7:37 pm

Great report! It must have been a fantastic experience!! :clap: :clap: :clap:

What I will never understand is, why they do not do the climb in more days to help with acclimatisation. Everything else in Africa is done really slowly, but on Kili they charge people for every day they spend on the mountain, so that people end up rushing and sadly many fail to reach the top.
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