Although I enjoy being in the mountains or hiking through the woods, climbing a mountain had never been a part of any ambition. However the idea of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was different, there had been a desire to experience this particular mountain for some reason.
The intrigue to climb Mount Kilimanjaro may have been spawned by the idea that it is the tallest mountain in Africa or maybe it was inspired by the mystique from the movies and novels like the “Snows of Kilimanjaro.”
I love nature and the natural wonders of the world. I always have, and the natural wonders are priorities on my bucket list. My commitment to climb Mount Kilimanjaro was solidified when I discovered that it would be declared one of the 7 Natural Wonders of Africa.
The Seven Natural Wonders of Africa were declared 11 February 2013, with Kilimanjaro being named a pinnacle wonder of nature. My inaugural climb would begin the next day.
The day started with a morning orientation at Zara Tours followed by an organization of gear along with securing equipment that we rented to make our outfitting complete. My wife and I partnered up with our guides Winford and Jackson and a team of eight other men as we started the journey in the middle of the day.
We cleared the gate to the national park and made our way to the base of the mountain where we checked in, registered, visited the facilities and made a last minute purchase. After a picture at the base to document the start, we were officially on our way up Kilimanjaro using the Marangu route.
Immediately after entering the trailhead gate, we were welcomed into the rainforest of Kilimanjaro. The serenity of the rainforest was spectacular and would serve as the first of many highlights. The trail followed and crossed a mountain stream, which delivered both tranquil sounds and a couple different waterfalls.
The rainforest escorted us all the way to the huts of Mandara 2,743 meters (8,999 feet). This was not a hard day, but we were glad to reach the stop. We settled in before launching into a short hike higher up the mountain to a small crater. Along the way we encountered a few Black and white Colobus monkeys.
The Colobus monkeys scampered from tree to tree providing a good 20 minutes of entertainment. On two different occasions we captured them on video leaping from one tree to another. This encounter would serve as a second highlight for our Kilimanjaro journey.
Marangu Route Day 2
Day 2 would take us out of the rainforest and into the moorland area. Although we thoroughly enjoyed the rainforest, the moorland scenery was a welcomed change. Along the way we discovered the importance of packing rain gear as a sudden shower surprised us.
We reached Horombo at 3,799 meters (12,463 feet) and settled in where we would spend two nights. The first night provided an opportunity to witness a lightening storm occurring down below. Later in the evening it was an intimate encounter with the stars. I don’t believe I have ever experienced the stars with such brilliance and completely across the sky from horizon to horizon. The stormy sky followed by the star lit heavens would both add to my collection of highlights.
Marangu Route Day 3 – Acclimation
Day 3 was called the acclimation day. This involved climbing up to a point called Zebra Rock and then making our way back down for another nights sleep. Zebra Rock was a pretty intriguing rock cropping which actually seemed out of place on Kilimanjaro. I guess it was God’s way of providing something intriguing as you acclimated and waited for your next days trek. The evening would be capped off with another night of brilliant stars.
Marangu Route Day 4
Day 4 was the journey between Horombo and Kibo Hut 4,709 meters (15,500 feet). This six-hour endeavor took us across the highland desert. One of the fortunate parts of this journey was that the peak of Kilimanjaro was out of the clouds for most of the way. I enjoyed having the opportunity to capture a number of images of the peak. I loved seeing the summit of Kilimanjaro all along the way. This would be another highlight.
About an hour outside of Kibo, I started experienced some nausea and a little dizziness. We could see Kibo Hut but with every step, it did not seem to get any closer. This last hour was a hard trek. Little did I know at the time, it was serving as a prelude of what was to come.
We settled into Kibo Hut, rested a bit and then ate dinner at 5:00. We attempted to lie down at 6:00 in the evening with the hope for 4 good hours of sleep before waking to start the ascent. The noise impeded any good sleep and 10:00 in the evening arrived before we were ready.
Marangu Route Day 5 (Actually the night of Day 4)
We got up, ate dinner and started piling on the layers of clothes. We were cozy and ready to go and I was feeling surprisingly good. With our headlamps lit we started up the ascent and all was going well.
We made it up to a rest point at 4,900 meters (16,097 feet) and it hit me. The nausea came back with a vengeance and the dizziness was there too. I was questioning with whether I was going to throw up, but I wanted to go on. My friend and guide Winford was encouraging me and challenging me to press on to the next milestone of 5,000 meters.
I wanted to keep going and I liked the idea of the milestone. At that moment I was leaning on and resting on my hiking poles. I leaned up and said, “Let’s go.” The problem was my steps went sideways and not forwards. Both the guides and my wife said, “No, we are done.”
My ascent of Kilimanjaro was over. My team escorted me back down to Kibo and helped me crawl into bed for rest. A few hours later I was up but feeling nowhere near 100%. We packed up and took steps to start our journey back down to Horombo.
The rest of this day was really hard as the altitude sickness had me looking for a rock or bush every 20 to 30 minutes. Although it was uncomfortable it was also quite comical. My guides were really helpful doing all they could to make my journey down as easy as possible.
When I reached Horombo the caretaker asked me if we had made the top. My response was no. My disappointment slipped right in as I provided that response, but then it was immediately escorted away. I started reflecting on the various highlights and the experiences we had gone through. I was reliving the things we had seen and the accomplishment we had actually achieved.
I had climbed higher than anywhere possible in the contiguous 48 states and higher than anyone I had ever known. I had also seen and experienced some incredible things throughout this climb of Kilimanjaro. I had just spent 5 intimate days climbing on Africa’s tallest mountain.
Without question I discovered that Kilimanjaro is so much more than a summit. Looking at Kilimanjaro as a summit versus as experience is selling this mountain short.
Kilimanjaro is calling. Please accept this invitation to experience the rainforest, the waterfalls, the serenity, the flowers and foliage, the wildlife, the heavens, and the sceneries that are truly captivating. If the opportunity permits you can add the summit too.