MOUNT KILIMANJARO, TANZANIA – In February 2015, Ellie, Kat, our long time friend Steph and I conquered one of the greatest things we’ll ever imagine doing in our lives. We climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. It is Africa’s highest mountain and is also the highest free-standing mountain in the World at 19,341 ft. (5,835 meters) above sea level. While I’m glad I did it, I will say it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically and mentally. Since it’s the anniversary month, I thought this would be the best time to recollect on my experience and share some tips with anyone thinking about climbing Kili.
Flying into JRO – Kilimanjaro International Airport:
Prior to leaving Toronto, I read a lot of blogs about flying into Kilimanjaro International Airport and a common note I always read were warnings about the airline losing people’s luggage. I knew I had terrible luck, so I decided to take precaution and pack all my trekking essentials in my carry on backpack. Sure enough when I arrived at Kilimanjaro Airport, my luggage did not… However it did arrive next day and I was able to get it the night before we began our 7-day trek.
*TIP: Wear or pack in your carry on some essential clothes you want on your trek. Unless you are willing to wait for your bag to arrive and postpone your start date, my recommendation is to be prepared for your luggage to get lost.
Finding a Trekking Company:
We researched online how much it would cost to climb Kilimanjaro and the prices ranged from $2,500 to $3,300 CDN. Prices seemed really high so we had decided to hold off from booking with a trekking company until we arrived in Moshi. We’re definitely glad that we did, as we found a great local company called Kilimanjaro Heroes. They were significantly cheaper, as we only paid $1,600 CDN each for the 7-day Machame route. While price was definitely a big factor for us, we also chose Kili Heroes because we felt the staff were really friendly and also very professional. Evarist one of the staff members there gave us a thorough run down of what to expect each day. He even came to our accommodations later in the afternoon to do a formal briefing and inspect all our clothes to ensure we had the proper layers required for the various climates. If there was something we were missing or if he felt we needed another layer, he provided it to us for free, where other companies charged extra. Here’s a list of what’s included when booking with Kili Heroes:
- National Park gate fees
- Camping fees
- Transport from Moshi to Machame gate and return trip back to Moshi
- Certified English speaking guides
- Salaries for all staff (Guides & Porters)
- Rescue fees
- 3 meals a day on the mountain
- Tents, foam pads and sleeping bags
- Boiled and filtered water throughout the trek
- Extra used clothing if required
*TIP: We spoke to other climbers that booked in advance and many of them paid significantly more than what we paid. My recommendation is to wait until you arrive and then find a trekking company in Moshi or Arusha. Some smaller companies may not have a fancy website, but the quality of service is just as great, if not better!
The Machame Route:
There are different routes you can take to climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro. The girls and I decided to take the 7-day Machame Route, also known as the ‘Whiskey Route’ to get to Uhuru Peak. Each day consisted of anywhere from 5 to 7 hours of trekking. None of us had done any sort of extensive climbing or trekking experience before, so we had no idea what to expect. We were all nervous about the idea of getting altitude sickness and not being able to make it to the summit but within an hour of starting, we realized at that point there was no turning back.
Eating on Kili:
Our trekking group consisted of us 4-girls (Ellie, Kat, our friend Steph and I) and a crew of 15 Porters, 2 Guides and 1 cook. Yes it took that many of them to climb up the mountain with all our stuff including everything we needed for camping. Each morning we would get a bowl of hot water for us to wash up before eating breakfast in the food tent. While we ate breakfast, the porters would fill up our water bottles with 3 – 4 liters of boiled water and give us our lunch boxes to pack in our day bags. Although we always left camp first, somehow the Porters would pass us along the way and make it to the next camp spot before us. Here are a list of the different types of food we ate throughout the trip:
- Coffee or tea
- Toast with butter
- Hot dogs
- Dried chicken
- Juice box
- Soup to start (Always)
- Fish & chips
- Spaghetti or macaroni
- Vegetable stew
*TIP: While the food was really good, I recommend you bring some snacks from home with you. When you’re mentally and physically exhausted, sometimes having something from home will make you feel better. The best thing Kat and I brought were these mini Jif peanut butter to go containers that you would get at a hotel. Around day 4 we started having peanut butter on our toast for breakfast and I can honestly say peanut butter never tasted better! I also brought my own trail mix and crackers for when we stopped for breaks on our trek.
Camping on Kili:
When the girls and I would arrive at camp, we would often dive right into our tents to lie down after walking for 7-hours most days. There was usually one to two hours of downtime between when you arrived at camp until dinner, so most often than not we napped. Once we finished dinner, our Guide Dismas or Wilfred would come into our tents and brief us on what terrain to expect the next day, what clothing layers to wear/pack and do a quick health check. The health check consisted of a series of questions, followed by checking our oxygen level and heart rate. Our guides would look for Altitude Sickness symptoms including:
- Loss of appetite
I was very lucky because I wasn’t affected at all by altitude sickness. Ellie on the other hand was sick almost every day and had one or more of the above symptoms. Our Guides informed us that it’s normal to have these symptoms and monitored all of us throughout the climb to ensure we didn’t get progressively worse.
Now for the ladies that are wondering how we went to the bathroom… We made the best decision of adding on a toilet tent to our trek. What does that mean? We paid $150 USD extra to hire another Porter to carry our toilet tent up the mountain. I know that sounds ridiculous but it really was the best investment for our climb. The reason being is that when you arrive at camp, all the toilet huts are pretty far from where all the tents are set-up. Knowing that the Diamox (altitude sickness prevention medicine) would make us have to pee a lot in the middle of the night, we invested in a toilet tent that could be set-up right by our camping area. While that probably sounds disgusting, our Porter in fact kept it clean the entire time! We felt bad and definitely made sure we tipped him extra.
Overall camping on Kili wasn’t bad except when the sun went down and it got really windy. Every night I dreaded going to bed because I knew how cold I would feel. After two nights of barely sleeping, we started asking one of the Porters to fill our Nalgene water bottles up with hot water. We would all then cuddle with our own bottles in our sleeping bags to keep us warm… For at least a couple of hours.
- Purchase the toilet tent, you won’t regret it!
- Ask your Porter to fill your water bottle up with hot water before bed
- Bring a fleece lining or emergency blanket for your sleeping bag
- Sleep with your electronics in your sleeping bag to prevent the batteries from dying, you’ll need your iPod for Summit night
I will never forget telling the girls during dinner at Barafu Camp (Base Camp) that I would consider doing this again. They all looked at me like I was crazy but in all honestly, I was the only one that didn’t really get affected by altitude sickness and overall felt great! Meanwhile Ellie had been sick the entire climb. All of us were a little concerned that our guides wouldn’t clear Ellie to climb summit night but our guides Dismas and Wilfred said with confidence that everything she was feeling was nothing to be alarmed about. With the final stamp of approval from our guides, we all left the food tent to mentally preparing for summit night.
Summit night is nothing like any of the other days you experience. It’s 10 times harder and 10 times colder! We knew that this was the only night we needed to wear the winter coats we borrowed from Kili Heroes, but we had no idea it would be as cold as it was. We were told that we would start our climb at midnight for the purpose of reaching the summit at 7:00am and then shortly after taking pictures we would descend before the afternoon when the sun would be really close and hot. I thought every other night was bad but this was hell for me. It was extremely windy and snow was blowing in our faces. You couldn’t see very far ahead except the long trail of people single filed with their headlamps on. I remember thinking that I had to keep my head down and not get discouraged at how far I was, so instead I focused on the person’s feet ahead of me. The times we stopped and took a break, I wanted to turn around and go back to Base Camp. At one point, I remember Kat asking our Guides if she had frostbite because she couldn’t feel her hands or toes. I felt the same way but had no energy to talk. Ellie was worst and in rough shape. She was puking the whole way up from Base Camp and Dismas our guide told us we had to continue with Wilfred, while they held back. The three of us didn’t want to leave her but knew that we would freeze if we stopped for too long. Somewhere along the way when we took another break, Ellie appeared! The group was back together!
Flash forward a few hours, Ellie and I became delirious and started laughing and crying at the same time. What we thought was the famous weathered wooden sign at the summit was in fact just a sign to indicate that we were at Stella Point. We were told by our guides it was another hour to the summit. At that point, I contemplated telling everyone to leave me but since everyone else got up on their feet to push themselves for the last hour, I knew I couldn’t give up as well.
We successfully summited at 7:50am!
While I could go on and talk more about my experience down, I’ll just leave with you this one last piece of advice. Take it all in when you’re up there because your time will be short. Once you reach the top, all you’ll want to do is take a few photos and start running down the mountain to get more oxygen. It’s true! It was so cold at the peak, I barely took any photos because taking off my gloves felt like instant frostbite. Thankfully our amazing guides Dismas, Wilfred and our favourite porter Peter captured the pain and smiles on our faces. Thank you guys for capturing one of our greatest accomplishments. We couldn’t have done it without you!
Tipping Your Guides & Porters:
Before you start your final descent on the last day, there will be a tipping ceremony held by the Porters and Guides. They often sing a song congratulating you for completing the trek and then you distribute tips to each of them. That being said, make sure you bring some money with you on the trek in order to tip your Guides and Porters. I also recommend you bring little envelopes in order to divide the money, that way Porters don’t see how much you tip each of them. Here’s a guide on how to tip your Guides and Porters:
- Main Guide – $20 USD – $25 USD per day
- Assistant Guide – $15 USD – $20 USD per day
- Cook – $15 USD per day
- Porters – $15 USD per porter per day
This is just a guide and you can tip more or less if you choose but keep in mind, Porters would race ahead of you to make sure they get to the camp sites before you in order to have everything set-up for your arrival (tent assembled and food prepared). We couldn’t have made it without the help and support of our crew. Thank you Kilimanjaro Heroes for an incredible experience!
If you’re thinking of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and have questions, reach out to us! We’ll happily give you more details on our experience.
Here are some additional photos each day from our climb.
Day 1: Climb to Machame Camp
Altitude: 3020 meters (Machame Camp)
Habitat: Rain forest
Day 2: Climb to Shira Camp
Altitude: 3,810 meters (Shira Camp)
Habitat: Rain forest & Moorland
Day 3: Climb to Lava Tower and then Barranco Camp
Altitude: 4,642 meters (Lava Tower) and 4,000 meters (Barranco Camp)
Day 4: Climb to Karanga Camp
Altitude: 4,000 meters
Habitat: Alpine desert
Day 4: Climb to Barafu Camp (Base Camp)
Altitude: 4,673 meters
Habitat: Alpine desert
Day 5: Climb to Uhuru Peak (The Summit)
Altitude: 5,895 meters
Habitat: Alpine desert1