One Does Not Simply CLIMB Kilimanjaro!!!

Last updated on April 17th, 2021 at 02:27 am

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!!!

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:

DAY ONE

Arusha-Machame
Hike: 8.2 km
1840m-3022m
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.”

End: MACHAME 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)
  • 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.

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!

Here’s what we looked like right then:

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!

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

Yeah RIGHT.

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)

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?

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

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