Dear Natural Beauties,
Our intrepid International Consultant, Karin Hollerbach, has just returned from a journey to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro! Here is what she had to say….
Kilimanjaro, which actually consists of two different peaks (Kibo – or Uhuru Peak – and Mawenzi) and three volcanoes), is Africa’s tallest mountain. It’s very close to the equator and has a rainforest at its base, conjuring up images of tropical heat. At the same time, it also has glaciers near the summit – the famous snows of Kilimanjaro. This photo is of the glaciers near the summit.
Our trek led us up the western side, across the Shira plateau, then around the northern side of the mountain, up to near Mawenzi, across the saddle between the two peaks, and finally up Kibo itself. Happily, all 5 trekkers in our group made it to the summit. Even after a long climb, we were smiling at the top! Here I am, sitting a couple of feet away from the summit post, with plenty of rocks, volcanic dust, sand, and a tiny portion of the glaciers in the background.
You don’t have to be a fit super-hero in order to make this trek. Depending on whom you trek with, and how many porters there are to support your group, you can carry as little (or as much) of your personal gear as you want. We had two “never been backpacking before” members of our group. The key to getting to the top is going slowly.
We were incredibly lucky with the weather. Although clouds came in and out every day creating fascinating and sometimes eerie views, we generally remained dry and warm. We had a couple of hours of real rainfall where we had to dig out our heavy-duty rain gear. It was cold only at night or early morning. Sadly, the heaviest burden often falls on the porters who may not be able to afford more protection against weather.
Kilimanjaro is a benign mountain in that it does not require technical climbing skills to reach Uhuru. Still, at over 19,300 feet/close to 6,000 meters, its altitude is no joking matter. All of the trekkers brought medication to help treat mild altitude sickness. Even so, I ended up with a headache and several bouts of intense nausea close to the summit. Even our head guide and one of the porters got sick! What many trekkers forget is that, while the guides go up and down the mountain frequently, most of them live at fairly low altitudes. No one is immune.
For me, getting altitude sickness was a very small price to pay to be able to enjoy the inspiring time near the top of the mountain. What also helped was the smiling and always-helpful attitude of the guides and porters! Even though they had the hardest jobs of all – carrying heavy loads up and down the mountain, well ahead of our own schedule so as to be able to have camp set up by the time we got there – they were always looking out for us, friendly, and helping to ensure we were enjoying ourselves. I found it kept us humble!
Here’s a view of the famous peak, from the saddle between Mawenzi and Kibo.
What about basics, like the bathroom? Our support crew brought a chemical toilet, complete with a little privacy tent – much appreciated. They also provided bowls of warm water every morning and afternoon, so that we could wash. I really enjoyed having a clean, volcanic-dust-free face at least briefly twice a day – never mind that I would immediately thereafter have to slather on more sunscreen. In addition, I brought some antibacterial wipes and lots of sanitizer. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy myself a lot more when I can get clean!
Some of my favorite spots on the mountain included camp near the base of the steep final rocky ascent of Mawenzi,
I enjoyed every minute of every day on the mountain.
Last but not least: Most of us are very fortunate and have a little something extra to share with those who are less fortunate. Some of you may want to know about the non-profit organization International Mountain Explorers Connection, with proceeds benefiting porters in Tanzania.
Stay safe and be well.