Written by our trip leader Lorcan McDonnell, who climbed Kilimanjaro in August, 2016.
My latest team to climb Kilimanjaro was a big one, 23 in total, with a great spread of ages and life experiences. Some were still in school at the beginning of their journey and others had retired and enjoying the rewards of their life’s work. Wherever we had come from, we were now all connected that morning in Dublin airport with a common goal; to reach the summit of the roof of Africa.
Our journey took us through Ethiopia and after a short stop in the organised chaos of Addis Ababa airport we were almost there. On arrival to Kilimanjaro airport at 04:00 hrs-ish, came the job of purchasing an entry visa for Tanzania. This is straight forward enough, but at this time of the morning can seem quite tiresome. Firstly you queue at window 1, pay $50 with your filled-in entry form to the lady who doesn’t smile or chat (can’t say I blame her), then on move to window 2 where they print the visa and stick it into your passport with an early morning selfie on it. Nearly there, now off to any other window to add your finger prints. On the plus side, your luggage has arrived by the time you get to the carousel.
Outside we met with Oscar, who would be our local guide for the duration. Bus loaded and on to the Outpost Lodge in Arusha. On arrival; check in, breakfast and then bed for a few hours. Later we all got to meet the last member of our team, Mohamad, who had joined from Morocco on the Earth’s Edge guide exchange programme. A team briefing followed by lunch before Oscar led a tour of Arusha which included the Co-operative market, Masai market and of course the Vodacom store.
Next morning the adventures really began, off to the mountain! Machame Gate was like a hive of activity with lots of guides looking for porters and vice versa. The team quickly got into the routine of camping life with the age old questions of “Where is the nearest loo to my tent?” and “I hope they don’t snore next door!”. We were treated to some early views of the mountain and the weather played ball for the most part, apart from the heavy frost at Machame camp next morning.
Each day passed with its own little events. At Shira camp we were joined in the afternoon by a young trekker from another team as he needed a break from all the 60-somethings in his party. The usual first world problems were evident as some needed to find the 3G and phone signal, others were happy to be without.
The climb to Lava Tower went quite smoothly, the team were all strong and everyone was happy at Barranco camp that evening as now everyone had phone signal if required. There was a missing pillow at camp that night which led to a meeting of all the camp carrying porters. This was soon rectified as one member of our team was lying on it (unknowns to themselves).
Next morning, we awoke to the Barranco or Breakfast wall. Not everyone in the team had breakfast as some had been members of what we later called the ‘Barranco quartet’.
Looking back now, the climb of the wall wasn’t the talking point of the day but the last down and up just before Karanga camp. The camping routine was in full swing now. Most of the illnesses had now passed and the team was getting strong again coming to Barafu camp (locals call it base camp sometimes). We arrived before lunch which was important as the team needed to rest before the night hike to the summit. Meanwhile we also went about increasing the knowledge of the local guides with some of the altitude equipment that we carry on the expedition.
Rest, eat and rest was the order of the rest of the day. The team were woken at 23:00 hrs to prepare for the night ahead. It was a beautiful night, little wind and clear skies. Leaving camp at 00:30 hrs seemed strange to some but later some commented at how fast the time was passing. Soon the sun was rising and we were arriving to the rim of the crater. Everything was white with a light dusting of snow as we rested with tea at Stella Point. Buoyed up by the sunrise and new found warmth in the morning sun the team’s spirits were high on the final trek to the summit.
At the summit were the obligatory photos, handshakes and pats on the back. Turning around, all of the snow was already gone and the descent back to camp would begin. The carrot to arriving back sooner was a longer rest before lunch and the afternoon departure to the lower camp and nearer Mweka Gate. Some got two hours rest, others only 18 minutes.
The journey to Millennium or High Camp took about two hours and brought the team back to the top of the Mountain forest.
Next morning, there was a great buzz around camp. Everyone from trekker’s to porters knew that this was the last day on the mountain. After breakfast the guides, cooks and porters all came together with ourselves to sing and dance and celebrate our journey over this mountain. For some team members this celebration was justification in itself to have made this journey, others were just gobsmacked.
The trek to Mweka Gate is one for those who may have a liking for steps. 10km of them. Enough said. Down to the gate, sign out of the park, load the bus and head for lunch just down the road.
Back at the hotel, different priorities came to the fore; shower, beer or internet? Dinner and bed as safari awaited in the early hours.
Celebration dinner for us was a night later than scheduled but brought us all together on our last evening in Tanzania. Between us we had shared a lot from personal stories, to just being ill in front of others.
Some last minute shopping before the chaos of Addis Ababa again then HOME….
This trip has been a pretty amazing one as 23 relative strangers became closer with a shared connection in that they had all helped each other on their journey to the roof of Africa.
If you are interested in joining us on one of our Kilimanjaro Climbs visit – https://www.earths-edge.com/expedition/kilimanjaro-climb/