Kyle in Lake Assal, Djbouti

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mount Kilimanjaro

Day 64 - Kilimanjaro Day 1:  Marangu Gate to Mandara Huts
9km, 1970 meters to 2720 meters / 6,463 feet to 8,924 feet above sea level

My guide, Alex, came to pick me up from my hostel at 9am. He is a big, intimidating dude. I had made all the arrangements through a woman named Caroline back at the office in Arusha, so there was a bit of confusion. I told him I wanted to carry my own bag. Porters were hired to meet the minimum requirements of the park, but I still insisted on carrying all my supplies and water up the mountain. Alex was skeptical at first, but I told him that if I get tired I'll hand it off to one of the 2 porters. He agreed, and we hopped into a car heading up the hill to Marangu Gate.

Started hiking where I finished biking

Alex took care of the paperwork while I waited and rented a raincover for my pack. I went over to the sign I had cycled to the other day and took a photo. I wasn't sure if I was at the spot we'd start trekking from because the road continues behind the sign. I really didn't want to skip any segments. The road, it turns out, is for the ambulance and employees. The trailhead is to the left, and we started trekking up into the forest that wraps around the lower slopes of Kilimanjaro. I was happy to know I'd cycled far enough.

Hiking with my guide, Alex

The trek was slow and easy. We walked through thick forest with clouds in the canopy. We arrived at Mandara Huts before any other groups. I checked into my hut - no tents on this route. I know, what a pansy. Alex and I then went for a short acclimatization hike to Maundi Crater which is now overgrown with vegetation. Back at camp, my dinner was waiting for me. Other hikers were trickling in. I ate a hardy meal and went to sleep.

Maundi Crater

Day 65 - Kilimanjaro Day 2:  Mandara Huts to Horombo
12km, 2720 meters to 3720 meters / 8,924 feet to 12,205 feet

Today was a really foggy day. We hiked out of the forest and into low scrub brush. Clouds were blowing up the slopes and over the trail, engulfing us in white. I always love being in and above clouds on mountain treks. Some girls were coming down from the summit. We chatted for a minute, and I couldn't help but think that they were kind of cute. I then realized that I'm probably still wearing 'expedition goggles', and told Alex we should get moving.

Kibo Summit from Horombo Camp

We were the first group into camp again. The weather was much more clear at 3700 meters. We could see Mawenzi Peak behind the huts, and to the northwest, for the first time, I could see Kibo which supports Uhuru Peak, the highest peak in Africa. I was motivated again!

I spent the night chatting less with other climbers, and more with their guides. One guide used to guide for Kilimanjaro, then moved to Alaska to guide for Mt. McKinley for a few years. Now he was back with a large youth group from South Africa. Another guide was telling me about his tribe's marriage traditions, where the groom would have to kill a lion and present the head to the bride's father as a show of worthiness.

He went on to tell me stories of nights spent sleeping in caves. In the night, snakes would crawl into his sleeping bag for warmth. He'd wake up with a spitting cobra stretched end-to-end along his body. The cobra would know when he woke up, and calmly slither away. All I could think was 'M.A.N!'

Moshi town at night from Horombo Camp

I was intrigued by all these bushmen. What great stories. But I had to go to bed. Below the dining hut where we were talking, Moshi's evening lights were coming on below. I reviewed my notes before going to sleep and realized I had cycled 2,980 km total, and in the last 2 days had trekked 21 km, so I officially crossed the 3,000 km distance. I celebrated by eating a power bar and passing out.

Day 66 - Kilimanjaro Day 3: Acclimatization day at Horombo Camp

I had only taken one day off between my last day of cycling and my first day trekking up Kilimanjaro. To have a rest day in Horombo was not only nice, but I believe necessary. My legs were strained from carrying my 18kg pack up to Horombo. My insistence on being as self-sufficient as possible is sometimes borderline masochism. Either way, today was just a pleasant walk up to Zebra Rocks with no pack.

Zebra Rocks, near Horombo

The idea is to get up higher, and then return. Hiking up to Zebra Rocks got Alex and I up to 4000 meters. You go high and you breathe. Your body reacts to the high altitude by acclimatizing - making more red blood cells and more blood capillaries. Going high starts the process, and coming back lower again makes it easier for your body to do so. In my mind, we had just ascended 2000 meters in 2 days. We were going too fast, regardless. If the acclimatization benefits of the extra day were a bit moot, just having a rest and not hauling the pack was a welcome break for my legs and back.

Back to Horombo

I returned to Horombo and to my hut. While away, some Aussies had moved in. There were 4 bunks, so we had plenty of room. They told me stories of Koala Bears having chlamydia and Steve Irwin's daughter turning into an eccentric copy of her father. They were on their way down from the summit and had some trouble on the ascent. They had been vomiting on the way up, struggling to breathe, and developed bad coughs. They summited, but it seemed like it was a real struggle. This made me a bit nervous. I asked what they had done to train for the trek, and they said 'nothing'. This made me feel a little better since I was in better shape. If they can do it, I can do it!

The rest day brought new teams to Horombo. Most were only spending the night and continuing to Kibo Camp, skipping the acclimatization day. An extra day on the mountain costs roughly $300 USD, but I can't imagine moving that fast up to nearly 6000 meters. I was happy with the decision I'd made, even if it costs more.

Day 67 - Kilimanjaro Day 4: Horombo Camp to Kibo Camp
9km, 3720 meters to 4700 meters / 12,205 feet to 15,420 feet

Kibo is a stand-alone volcanic cone. The mountain has several cones that were all active at one point or another. Kibo is the highest, even though one side of the cone has collapsed. On our 4th day, we moved to Kibo Camp at the base of the cone.

Me and Alex bearing down on the summit

As we got closer, I got more excited. The cone was huge, and we were already above 4000 meters. It was covered in ice and snow, which was still hard to imagine from the relative warmth below. As we rolled into Kibo Camp, another 1000 meters above Horombo, the weather changed. It was cold, less humid, and then it began to snow. It got me psyched for what was about to come next.

Snowfall below the summit

I ate an early dinner went to sleep. The plan was to get up at midnight, eat some food, and start hiking. I couldn't fall asleep, a problem I'd been having for the entire trek. I wonder if it's part of being at high altitude. I slept only 30 minutes when the guides for all the other groups came in and woke us all up at 11pm, a full hour before I was supposed to awaken. I was annoyed, to say the least. I contemplated stabbing people, pushing their limp corpses down the frozen hill toward Mawenzi Peak. That extra hour wouldn't have just been a lovely extra hour of sleep, it would have TRIPLED the amount of sleep I had gotten.

Snowing on Kibo

Day 68 - Kilimanjaro Day 5: Kibo Camp to Uhuru Peak
8km, 4700 meters to 5895 meters / 15,420 feet to 19,340 feet

No stabbing.

I had planned ahead for bad weather. It's currently the rainy season in northern Tanzania, so weather on the summit can get bad. Ice, wind, and blinding snow can all cause problems for trekkers on Kibo this time of year. My guide and I went outside to find the world calm and relatively warm. We decided to go for the summit.

We started hiking at about 12:15 am, a bit later than everyone else, but we weren't worried. We soon caught up to, and then passed just about every group. We were walking over the snow and rocks in darkness, using our headlamps for light. At one point, I turned around as the half moon was rising over Mawenzi peak behind us. The other hikers were moving slowly, their headlamps giving away their locations from miles away. The large groups tended to move slower. Anytime someone needed to get into their pack, have a drink, or go to the bathroom, the whole group would have to stop. Alex and I were strong and fast. Soon there was a big gap between us and them.

Climbers walking up Kibo with the rising moon behind them

The trail was long switchbacks up the cone. I was going strong until about 5500 meters and I nearly collapsed. I felt weak. I bent over with my head between my legs, having trouble breathing. I started seeing spots and getting dizzy. I thought I was having high-altitude sickness. Alex checked on me, following the usual sequence. My lips were not turning blue, my pupils were not dilated, and my fingernails were still turning pink after a quick squeeze (capillary refill). It wasn't high-altitude sickness, it was just exhaustion. I had hit my wall and had no energy left.

I sat down, squirted an electrolyte gel into my mouth and chased it with some water. I forced myself go get up  and push on.

The switchbacks up the cone go to Gilman's Point on the southeast edge of the volcano. My hands had been getting colder and colder, even though my body was overheating. I kept unzipping my layers to keep from sweating, but still my hands were going numb. By the time I reached Gilman's Point, I couldn't take it anymore. I sat down, ripped off my gloves and jammed my fingers into my armpits. As life came back into them, the pain was unbearable. I was rocking back and forth, moaning.

I don't know if my gloves were just crap, or if the months of cycling had left me with poor circulation in my arms, but my hands were hurting. Luckily there was one other hiker at Gilman's Point, a girl from Australia named Bernadette. She had overmittens that she wasn't using, so she let me put them on. They made all the difference as we headed toward Uhuru Peak.

The summit was on the other side of the volcanic cone, so we had to follow the ridge around the ash pit. This was easy compared to the switchbacks. The day's first sunlight was just breaking behind us, but I still couldn't see what I was looking for - the sign marking the summit.

Time seemed to stand still. We kept walking and walking, traversing small peaks that I swore must be the highest. We rounded one more corner and I saw it, the signpost marking Uhuru Peak! I walked up, exhausted, taking video. I swapped the video camera for my still camera, stood on the peak with Alex, and got a great summit photo.

The highest point in Africa!

I took another photo with my ridiculous bicycle seat cover that I had packed up. I figured it would be cool to bring some part of the bike up to the peak, and what better than that stand-out seat cover which only weighs a few ounces? I had also packed a small piece of salt that I took from the shores of Lac Assal, Djibouti where this whole trip started. I dropped it next to the sign, and it disappeared into the powder snow. Low2High: Africa was officially complete!

Bike seat cover on the summit

It took another 2 1/2 hours to get back to Kibo camp, where we rested for about an hour. From there we pushed on to Horombo for the night. The next morning, we left Horombo, passed Mandara and went out to the park entrance.

The whole trek took six days round trip. I had booked seven, so the tour company hooked me up with a posh hotel in Moshi including free dinner. We were all happy to be off the mountain.

I'm happy beyond words. The whole expedition threw a lot of curveballs at me, but I met great people along the way that helped me through the hard bits. I'm still processing and summarizing the whole experience, but it has certainly been better than I ever imagined. It's been great to meet people, and I have gained a lot of confidence to do other things in life. This has certainly been good for me.

I'll leave you with some photos from the descent.

Thank you all who have followed me on this journey. Double thanks to everyone who has donated money to the New Day Children's Centre in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. The fundraiser is still open, and only 225 Pounds to go! If you still want to donate, you can do so by clicking here.


View from the summit at dawn

On the descent

Above the clouds in Horombo Camp
Kilimanjaro from Moshi


  1. Kyle! Amazing to hear all this about your ride to TZ and the trek to Mt. Kilimanjaro! Sounds you had a wonderful expedition moment! Wow! I'm so happy for you! Glad to read all your updates and know that it was all a success! M

  2. so cool! I recently climbed Kili and it made a huge impression on me. Your trip sounds even more major. Congrats!

  3. The photo of people climbing at night on the summit morning with the sun behind them is great. Something that most people never get to see.

    Lemosho route is the most Scenic Climb up Mt Kilimanjaro Lemosho Route using different routes; the one that is most popular is the Mt Kilimanjaro Marangu Route Climb since it is the shortest, is easier and you get to sleep in bunker beds in the huts on the hiking trail with luxuries like beverages and beer. Marangu route up kili is the most popular and therefore the one with the highest traffic. Click here to see the Marangu Route Map