What Is it Like to Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro
The last leg was brutal and mountain sickness is real
Most Meaningful Experience: Jeremy’s helping hand to make sure I didn’t fall down the mountain
After a few days on my own in Nairobi, my buddy Jeremy flew into the Kenyan capital and we spent time exploring the city and visiting its museums. He was inspired to visit Africa as part of his own personal journey, having just left his job and dealing with the passing of his father. It was an emotional and deep time for him.
We’d booked a tour with Kibo Slopes (who I highly recommend), which not only included a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro but also safaris in Amboseli National Park, Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater. They were providing transport, guides, and hotel accommodation along the way. With one reservation, we had the whole package!
Leaving the bustle of Nairobi behind, we made the two-hour drive to Amboseli National Park for our first game drive, which was followed by a stop in the community of Manyatta to meet the Maasai. This unique tribe includes more than one million people, many of whom live within the game reserves of Kenya and Tanzania. While the governments of both countries have instituted programs to encourage the Maasai to abandon their traditional, semi-nomadic lifestyles, most have opted to retain their age-old customs.
Many Maasai tribes welcome visitors into their villages to experience their unique cultures, traditions and lifestyle, with a small fee paid in return. While I’d had similar experiences before, it was all new for Jeremy and it was interesting to see his emotional reaction. Jeremy is compassionate and wanted to help. But at the same time, he didn’t know where to start. After touring their houses and school, we captured a few pictures and gave them a tip in thanks.
Crossing the border into Tanzania, it was immediately apparent that it wasn’t as developed as Kenya, with the immigration building a simple structure. We continued driving to Loitokitok where we met our guide Deo who projected a big smile to welcome us. He showed us his home (which was quite impressive) and the three stores he owned where basic food and house supplies were sold.
The following day, we began our trek up Mount Kilimanjaro along the Rongai route, having opted to avoid the heavily trafficked Marangu or “Coca Cola” route. It was just Jeremy and I with 10 porters. I thought “why do we need this many people?” They were going to setup a really nice camp for us is what I found out!
We probably didn’t need all of the porters. But that’s what came with the package and we were happy to have some help and company along the way….not to mention some pretty good food too! Our guides kept encouraging us to eat more to ensure we had plenty of energy but with my stomach still not right, I couldn’t. My belly had started to visibly bloat and I wasn’t digesting food properly, so I just drank a lot of water instead.
The beauty of hiking the Rongai route is that it ascends the Mawenzi Peak before heading to Uhuru Peak, meaning it’s not as strenuous as some of the other routes. I didn’t find it to be really difficult, until the last day. A highlight was definitely seeing the antelopes and oryx roaming the mountain on the day before we summited. Deo told us that it was only the second time he’d seen them, we were particularly lucky.
But the last day of hiking was brutal, with a 1,200 meter increase in elevation. We started our hike around midnight to get to the summit in time for sunrise. I began experiencing altitude sickness as soon as we began the ascent. It was really cold and my water bottle had frozen completely, increasing the weight in my day pack. One of the guides carried what must have been 20 pounds of my gear to the summit as I was struggling so much. At times, Jeremy had to hold out his hand preventing me from falling down the edge of the switchbacks. As a triathlete, he was having no problems with the trek or issues due to altitude.
As we hiked the final stretch of the trail, I had an emotional breakout of uncontrollable tears mixed with laughter. I’ve never experienced anything like this before and it was interesting to feel the emotions surge through my body. Was this from the altitude or just thoughts and emotions from my entire journey flooding my mind? Townships, orphans, massacres, the Indian Ocean and Ghanaian slave castles. It was like flipping through scenes in a vintage film. It was so powerful that I couldn’t control myself and had to hold my head down for a few minutes to regain composure. I just couldn’t believe my journey was coming to an end.
Jeremy chuckled at me and asked if I was okay: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a grown man cry like that!” Trust good friends to always poke fun. Once at the peak, we took photos for about 15 minutes, then scampered down the slopes through sand and rock, going as fast as we could to reach the base.
From Kilimanjaro, we drove west to the Serengeti to wildlife spot on a game drive. One of the top highlights for me was chasing cheetahs. Their silky fur, the way they walk and stare at their prey – they must be the most elegant creatures on Earth! We also saw lions mating and another stalking a wildebeest, which to me looked like an oversized insect. Unfortunately, we didn’t see a rhino, so we’ll have to save that for next time.
After game driving through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which is home to a wildlife-filled crater, we ended our trip in Arusha. I had a great barbecue meal in this cool little city and visited a local gym, then spent a day visiting a non-profit that was introduced to me by a Japanese friend. Exclusively for girls, the Sakura Women’s Junior High School (https://www.sakura.vision/about) is helping to empower women through education, with funding coming from Japanese donors.
I had one last adventure up my sleeve before leaving the continent – the Horn of Africa – in the hope of reaching my milestone of visiting 20 African countries. But on return to Nairobi, I came down with a terrible cold that no medicine would help me shake. I eventually went to see a doctor who said I’d be fine, and I made plans to continue north for my last leg in Ethiopia and Djibouti.