The Kilimanjaro Challenge
When a friend stated that he was going to climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Uhuru Peak (5895m), which is the highest point in Africa when he was 50 the challenge was laid down. Fiona had said ten years previously that if our friend could do the climb then so could she and, once Fiona committed, I decided to show these two youngsters that they had nothing to prove. The preparations for the trip then began, including upping the exercise regime, buying some kit and abandoning alcohol for three weeks before setting off in January 2014 to climb that ‘hill’. There are a number of different routes that can be taken to reach the top of Kilimanjaro and we selected the little-used and scenic Lemosho Route that takes a total of eight days, providing the opportunity to acclimatise and thus optimising the chance of reaching the summit. The trek took us through the mountain’s different climatic regions, where we could admire the changing plant and animal life, starting with the rainforests of the Shira plain, the ice fields of Kibo, the daunting Barranco Wall and stunning views from the summit itself.
What was it like?
Like all treks of this nature there are no 5* hotels half way up the mountain so we had to get used to camping in small and not too comfortable tents – nature does not realise that humans like flat and comfortable surfaces to sleep on. Although the camping was basic we had a team of approximately 40 guides, porters, cooks and general camp staff. The support team were excellent as they set-up camp each day, carried the majority of our gear and made sure we were well fed (lots of carbohydrate) and watered (lots of homemade ginger tea). Washing was a challenge in a little bowl of hot water so we learnt how useful Baby wipes could be!
The weather ranged from pleasant sunny days to very cold nights and mornings. This did present a challenge as each morning we had to wear lots of layers, hats, scarves and gloves and by mid-day generally we were stripped off to our base layers. Sleeping was interesting and for the last three nights we did not even get the thermals off.
The walking itself was relatively straight forward for the first four days as we were forced to walk at a very slow pace, which helped us later on when the oxygen levels were less as we increased in height. After doing some training walks at speed on Tegg’s Nose/Macclesfield Forest/Shuttingsloe it literally did seemed like a walk in the park. The second half was definitely harder as we clambered and climbed up to the summit camp to start the ascent itself. The ascent to the summit took place overnight and seeing the route on the way down in daylight we realised that we would probably have given up before we started if we had seen what we had to climb in daylight!
The Lemosho Route Outline
The Lemosho route is approximately 70 km/ 42 miles from gate to gate, which might not sound a lot but hopefully our description below will show that it was not as easy as it might appear.
On Day 1 we drove to Londorossi Park Gate (2,250m) where we registered with the park rangers for the climb and then set off on a pleasant forest track for about 3 hours until we reached the first camp site Mti Mkubwa (big tree) at 2750m. Day 2, the route took us through a heather moorland zone surrounded by volcanic rock formations and after 7 hours walking we reached Shira 1 camp (3500m) , which is located on the Shira Plateau. From there, on Day 3, we passed under the Northern ice-fields from the western side of Kilimanjaro and the terrain during the climb changed to the broad upland desert beneath the Lent Hills. We camped at Moir Hut (4175m) and in the afternoon did an acclimatisation walk to 4300m and were able to experience some lovely panoramic views. The morning of Day 4 was cold and we had ascended on to the lava ridges beneath the glaciers of the western breach of the mountain until we reached our camp at the Lava Tower (4640m). In the afternoon we did another (more strenuous) acclimatisation walk where we were really starting to appreciate the slow pace as we tried to breathe normally. Day 5 was a killer as we had a steep descent into the base of the Great Barranco Valley (3960m), which is sheltered by towering cliffs, and then climbed the Barranco Wall that is essentially a 200 – 300m rock face.
The terrain ranged from volcanic scree to pockets of lush vegetation as we ascended to our camp at Karanga (4035m), which means ‘peanut’ and relates to the shape of the Karnaga valley. This camp was the last water point until we got back down from the summit so water started to become precious. We now approached the big day, on Day 6 we had a steep climb out of the Karanga Valley following a path on compacted scree, constantly gaining altitude until we reached our camp at Barafu (4640m) at lunchtime.
The next part of our climb was probably the most strenuous thing either of us have ever done and the high altitude and extreme cold made it even more challenging. We set off on the summit trek at 10pm and the only thing that helped at that point was the amazing night sky. You felt as though you could touch the stars. Our path to the summit zigzagged up the scree until we reached Stella Point (5750m) on the crater rim as the sun was rising. By this point we were walking no more than 5 minutes or so before having to stop and rest. From Stella Point we continue around the crater rim to Uhuru Peak, the highest point in Africa at 5895m where the views and the sunrise were amazing. After the photo opportunities, we descended back down the scree to Barafu camp and after a short rest we walked down to the Millennium camp (3790m). So a total of about 16 hours walking and no sleep.
On Day 7 we trekked down through the rainforest enjoying increasing warmth (and oxygen) until we reached Mweka Gate (1630m) where we collapsed on to a bus to be taken to civilisation i.e. hotel with hot water and a shower. Needless to say once we got there we had a celebratory drink or two!
Would we do it again? That question will be left pending we think!
Keith & Fiona.