How did I end up here???
2016. I was organizing a short holiday to add to a volunteering trip to Tanzania. I had few days left and I was wondering if it would be better to lay down on a beach in Zanzibar, getting tanned till boredom killed me, or to go for a safari and shoot those 3000 pictures to the big5, saving maybe a dozen as good photos.
I was telling my options to some colleagues, and one of them told me how he always regretted not to do a road trip with some friends, because they bailed on him. “These are occasion that you can’t miss!” Come on, we work to be able to spend that money, right?”.
And so it happened that between the beach and the animals, I ended up climbing the Kilimanjaro Mountain
Why go climbing the Kilimanjaro when the seaside is so nice?
7 days, Machame Route, and here I am on the top of Africa. 5895 metres high, short of breath, headache, adrenaline abandoned me 7 hours ago, 1000m lower and I’m tired as I can’t even explain. But I did it. I climbed the highest free standing mountain* on Earth, the highest point of the African continent.
I had thousands questions and few answers (some of which I can now share in this Q&A section). It took me weeks to decide which way to choose and which agency to hire. I tried to exercise, to walk several hours in a row, even though back then I was leaving in one of the flattest country in Europe. I bought some gear, some more I’ve recycled from other adventures and eventually I found myself sharing the path, the tiredness and “toilets” that you-people-wouldn’t-believe with amazing strangers for an entire week. Some of them I’ve left behind, when they decided they couldn’t make it, others I’ve met at the very top or celebrating after the summit.
The climb is difficult and it becomes harder and harder with every new day, maybe because of the lack of sleep, or the long walking hours without enough time of rest. But the scenery is stunning, with nature around changing from a rich rain forest to a dead alpine desert. The guides, the cooks but especially the porters (those guys that bring up tents, food, the clients’ backpacks, their own backpacks; the same ones that in the morning, after you start your hike, dismount the camp, pack up everything, climb fast up overtaking you, mount the camp again and wait for you to arrive, ready to serve you pop corn and tea) do an incredibly tough job and deserve all my respect.
Summit: 5895 metres of exhaustion
The last bit of the climb, the summit, starts around midnight with the goal to reach the top at 5895 metres at sunrise, for a beautiful 360 view on the glacier and the valleys at the feet of the mountain.
But walking by night is hard, tiring, cold, windy and you can’t see a thing 20cm away from your boots. I followed the guide step by step for several hours in a long queue, like sheep with their shepherd, to avoid to get lost in the dark or to fall somewhere. There are actually silly fears, because most of the way is a wide sandy slope without cliff nor dangerous rocks. But while walking in the night, it’s impossible to know what’s around, you see literally nothing.
Climbing in these conditions is not only not fun at all, but also pretty boring. There’s no beautiful view to enjoy, only a great tiredness that needs to be fought with a strong willpower, the one that tells you “hey, you’ve been walking for the past 5 days, you’re not going to give up now, are you???”.
After few hours people don’t talk anymore, weariness reigns. You start seen some smile back on the faces of others only when getting closer to the top, when the light lets you recognize some of those around you and the first successful climbers to reach Uhuru Peak are already coming down. They encourage you with great pats on the shoulders and happy “it’s not far!”. But hey, it’s easy to laugh when you’re walking downhill, man… And Willpower comes again whispering “Look! He did it! He’s the one that you overtook yesterday morning! If he succeeded… Come on!” How did he even managed to get there so fast???
After 6 hours I was thinking back to that lady that about 12 hours earlier was telling me she managed the summit thanks to the oxygen FLASK that her guide had in his backpack. My guide was not even wearing a backpack…. not a single liter of water, my mountain freak, my Urio. A kind freak, though, that took my own backpack half way through, with all the thousands liters of water he forced me to bring along.
I was walking staring at the points of my boots, counting 10 steps and 10 more before catching my breath again. But up here catching breath is not easy, you’re always out of it. It’s a weird feeling. And while I was kind of talking to myself trying to convince Willpower to give up, Urio had to stop me and make me notice it was sunrise, there, behind my back, above the far mountain tops. And few minutes later I’m at Stella Point, a hundred metres lower than the summit, the second highest top of the Kilimanjaro.
Climb the Kilimanjaro between satisfaction and epic tiredness
And if you manage to get here, it’s almost done! Not even an hour later I see a big bunch of happy shiny dead-tired people celebrating and queuing to take a triumphant picture with the famous sign “you’ve reached the highest African point”: Uhuru Peak.
Half an hour to enjoy the victory, take pictures and then fast downhill, sliding on the sand that I now can see, to reach the camp, have lunch and the off to the lower camp at 3500 metres. The headache magically disappeared, breathing is easy, there’s a party atmosphere not only between the successful climbers, but also within the guide tents, because there’s a football match they are following at the radio, sure enough, but also because tomorrow they will leave the clients and go back to their family with some good dollars to spend.
Before leaving the Kilimanjaro Natural Park there’s a last step at the exit office, where I pick up my trophies! Pictures of the summit and diploma! After all this hard walk, if you managed to reach at least Stella Point, you receive a certificate! Great satisfaction….
Would I suggest it? Absolutely!
Would I do it again? No, once is enough!
There are many other mounts out there. Which one will be the next one?
* Free standing mountain, meaning not part of a mountain range. Mount Everest is the highest point on Earth, 8850m, while Mauna Kea, in Hawaii, reaches 4205 above sea levels, but continues for another 6000m below the waters.