One Does Not Simply CLIMB Kilimanjaro!!!: The Tanzania Chronicles #7

It had all started so optimistically.

We settled our bill at Imani, which included a free ride to the Zanzibar airport (which was amazing after all the taxi-related debacles). After getting through customs (where the customs officer gave me quite the strange look when she saw my tripod — I think she thought it was something else), we’d take a 20-minute flight, where we’d reunite with Trevor and Sakshi!!!

We had to make sure to pick Trevor and Sakshi up for the ride in STYLE….

It’s funny how you can be so happy to see someone one day and so bewildered with them another — but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Another couple of hours in our 12-seater bush plane and we were picked up by our driver (and new best friend), Muba from Maasai Wanderings, who would take us to Ahadi Lodge in Arusha to rest and prepare for what could very well have been the most challenging week of our lives.

My mission, should I choose to accept it (and my friends didn’t give me much choice in the matter, here), was the following:


Hike: 8.2 km
5-6 hours

“We depart after breakfast for the transfer to the National Park Gate at Machame where we fulfil [sic] the registration formalities before entering the Park. We make our way through the heavily rooted forest area parallel to a flowing stream. We eat lunch along the way and by mid-afternoon we are able to recognise our first camp.”


Sounds simple enough, but from the first day of climbing, we realised that reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro would be far more of a challenge that we’d thought. Between Sarah and I, anyway, she’d idealised what kind of adventure it’d be, realised how much of a life-changing experience it’d be, but not factoring in how hard it would be to do it. Me on the other hand — I chose not to think about it very much beforehand — bad move since the Kili climb is as much mental as it is physical, if not more so.

But I digress — let me tell you about the madness that was 7 Days of Kili!!!

So like I said, the first day would already set the tone for a week that none of us would ever forget.

After the belated arrival of our guide on the first day (both ironic and an omen, since he gave us flack for being “late” the night before — when in fact, our flight time had been given to him incorrectly), we packed our gear into Muba’s Toyota Land Cruiser and started the 2-hour drive to the mountain!

But not before stopping at the Shop-Rite supermarket! Did you know that they don’t sell dental floss in Tanzania?! Seriously, it’s the little things you miss the most. But moving on…

Some of the sights we’d see on the way there included:

The Clock Tower — in the Central Business district of Arusha, they call this “the centre of Africa” as it’s allegedly halfway between Cape Town, South Africa and Egypt

The Arushan International Conference Centre — where they were holding tribunals for criminal involved in 1994’s Rwandan Genocide

Tanzanite Mines — where we learned about Tanzanite, the stone said to be a thousand times rarer than diamonds (back in 1967, you could find Tanzanite 6 or 7 feet into the ground, but now they’re searching 400-600m deep and coming up with squat) and accordingly ridiculously expensive

The sightseeing tour would be brief, though — through the clouds and on the horizon loomed the beast that we (read: I) were sure was out to destroy us — Mt. Kilimanjaro!

Theoretically, we should have been more than prepared to deal with this:

  • for our group of 4, we were given a team of 17 to get us up, including guides, a chef, waiters, a tent-master, and an army of porters to carry everything (our bags, our tents, the food, everyone else’s crap, and so on)

    While it was initially surprising that we needed 17 crew to get up Kili, as the week went on, it made more and more sense….

  • our guide, Julius, was made out to be a legendary figure:
    • one tale had him carrying a woman (who’d given up) on his back up the last leg of the climb to make sure that she saw the summit
    • in 17 years, he’d climbed the mountain over 500 times
  • we’d brought all the right gear, got in shape and were young and positive enough to get this done!

This video should help to give you an idea of our initial attitude toward the mountain:

Kili had plans for us, though — plans indeed.

“Muba, come back! Come back! I don’t know if I want to do this!!!”

We would enter Machame Gate at 1800m, and while we waited for Julius to get our registration complete, men descended upon us to rent us gear (of which Trevor and Sakshi wisely partook for that which they lacked); we were provided with nicely gift-wrapped lunch boxes for the day (more on that later); we would watch as Muba drove off into the distance, marking that as the point of no return; and 45 minutes later, we were on our way!

On day one, we thought this was an amazing gesture! By Day 14, though…

Here’s what we looked like right then:

Ready to take on the WORLD.

And on we would go. The first temperate zone of Kili is farmland (800m-1800m). Not much of a climb, so they skip you forward right to the second zone: rainforest (1800m-2800m)! With majestic trees and rugged paths, it made for quite the hike!

Montane Forest looms well over you as you make your way through the first stage of Kili’s Machame route

But as long as we took it pole pole (remember, Swahili for “slowly, slowly”), we could do it!


Rainforests also bring something else — TORRENTIAL TROPICAL RAIN! We should’ve known we were in for trouble when our guides started suiting up in rain jackets, waterproof pants and gaiters for their boots and we only had our raincoats with us, but it was a lesson that wouldn’t soon be forgotten after TWO HOURS OF RAIN and pants that were SOAKED THROUGH. (I, for one, also learned that Canadian passports AREN’T WATERPROOF.)

So LESSON #1: Carry ALL of your rain gear with you! Not just your rain coat — your bottom half will thank you.

After this, we were obviously miserable, and still had far to go. Trevor — who I was none too impressed with at this point, as I unfairly blamed the entire idea of the trip on his adventurous self — decided to look at the situation optimistically with a dose of “Trevor Zen”:

Trevor: I look at it with Trevor Zen.

Casey: Whaddya mean?

T: Well, each step we take is one that we’ll never need to take again!

C: …Trevor Zen sucks.

But he was right — if we kept moving forward, we’d eventually get thee. This is something we’d need to constantly remind ourselves over and over with each passing day!

Plus, part of my misery was my own damn fault — I hadn’t thought to unpack the unnecessary junk out of my day pack before climbing, so I walked 6 hours like I was carrying my bag to work in Toronto, including:

  • my iPad
  • the Joby Gorillapod Ballhead X tripod I’d brought
  • our entire supply of snacks
  • two camera lenses

on top of the stuff I was going to need:

  • my digital SLR camera (yes, with a third lens)
  • 3 litres of water
  • raincoat

So, LESSON #2: Only carry what you need! This applies from the morning before you drive out to the afternoon when you get back — make sure your bag is light and filled with things you’ll actually use while constantly on the move. (And trust me, you won’t need snacks!)

Climb time: 12:35 pm – 6:15 pm (5h 40m)

2 tents for us (foreground), the cook’s tent, the mess hall (far right) and the guide’s tent (not visible). Our home for the next week!

We’d eventually make it to Machame camp, where we would strip the wet stuff off, rest our weary bodies, and dine on a voluminous dinner! (Note: between the amounts of food for every meal plus the lunch boxes they have you carry per day, there is no way humanly possible to finish all of the food they give you, ergo snacks are useless. Don’t pack too many!) We felt terrible that first night as we didn’t want to be wasteful, but our stomachs weren’t big enough to handle it all! This feeling, too, would eventually wane….

With one day down and six to go, we’d already learned a few lessons, and surely we could make the next day better than the first — right?

Just in case we needed a reminder, the summit of Kili is ever-visible from every camp you stay at…

Next time in the Tanzania Chronicles — it’s called “uphill” for a reason!

–case p.

By Casey E. Palmer

Calling the Great White North his home, Casey‘s spent the last few decades in pursuit of creating killer content. From novels as a kid, comics as a teen, to blogs and photos once he could grow a beard, he’ll use whatever’s around him to create amazing stuff.

When he’s not creating, he’s parenting, exploring and trying to make life as awesome as possible for everyone around him.

Because a boring life’s not a life worth living!

9 replies on “One Does Not Simply CLIMB Kilimanjaro!!!: The Tanzania Chronicles #7”

Day 1 was full of so much FAIL, Clare D: I mean, I learn from my mistakes. I’m good at that. But I end up needing to make SO MANY of them to get really good at something!

Just you wait. There’s more. Oh yes. There’s DEFINITELY more.

No surprise at the amount of food given considering how many calories your body would need for the trek. You probably burned anywhere between 4000 – 5000 calories on each leg if not more. Were you carbo loaded in most of your meals?

There were only 4 of you making the trek but had a 17 person crew? Are they just on stand by for when people want to make this mountain mission?

No, the team generally works together and does something like a week on the mountain and a couple of weeks off in the low season. If we’d went during HIGH season, it’d have been more like one on, one off. They’re pretty hardcore!

I’m pretty sure that’s part of the reason why you need to give a decent amount of advance notice before attempting the mountain — so you can get all those sorts of details sorted out.

And yeah, you got it right in one — huge plates of rice, huge bowls of oatmeal, chapati pancakes… SO MANY CARBS…

(I missed my protein 🙁 )

LOL! I’m surprised KILI didn’t KILL you! What an ADVENTURE!!! I thought of doing Kili after our upcoming Machu Picchu hike (as a “warm up”)! But 7 days of torture, not so sure anymore! Hahaha

It almost did, though! I finally wrapped up my Kilimanjaro portion of the blog posts, and I think I’ll take a page from your book and do a photo montage for the safari part. Your Morocco ones were VERY INSPIRING 😀

But yeah, if you guys are fit and up to it — hey, by all means; enjoy the mountain! LOL.

Hi Casey, I am a fan! How is the GWN? Did you guys steal all the snow from Kilimanjaro? Absolutely LOVE your post! Re: your bottom half will thank you. You made me LOL. I haven’t read a Kilimanjaro blog that is quite as entertaining as this. Thanks, man!

Thanks for the comment 🙂

I tried to make it as honest as possible about the crazy adventure that climbing Kili is!

I hope to revisit these posts one day — the three weeks I spent in Tanzania were an experience I’ll never forget!

Here’s to many more adventures 🙂

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