Mount Kilimanjaro 🏔
…is the highest mountain in Africa at 5,895m (19,341ft) above sea level and 4,900m (16,100ft) above its base. It is also a dormant volcano and is the highest free-standing mountain (not part of a larger range) in the world.
Seven Summits dream
Kili is one of the coveted Seven Summits, the highest mountains on each of Earth’s continents. It’s a mountaineer’s challenge - a dream - to conquer them all, and one of my most solid lifetime ambitions.
I could talk about the Seven Summits all day. I was just about to - I need to rein myself in, so I’ll write more about this in future articles.🇹🇿
I started planning for my Kili expedition 6 months in advance. I have a standard way of planning these things:
- When to go
- Time away from work
- Who to go with
- Route & itinerary
- Kit list
- Costs, financing, savings plan
When to go
The time of year to do one of these mountaineering trips depends on a weather window or the peak season to get to the summit. With mountains this high, this is usually the case - we’re at the mercy of it.
Due to the rainy seasons, Kilimanjaro is best climbed in January-February or July-August. I originally chose October 2019 but due to work commitments pushed it back to January 2020.
Time away from work
At the time I was self-employed so could take as much time off work as I needed. I chose to combine my Kili trek with a solo trip to Jordan and Egypt.
I took 3 weeks off in total which included Christmas with my family. The trip itself was 17 days.🤷♂️
Who to go with
Unless you’re very experienced in the mountains, the majority of the time a guided trek is the safest and most convenient option.
I bought the Cicerone book on Kilimanjaro to extensively research the routes and it had recommendations for trekking companies.
I did my research on 12 of the recommended companies, whittled it down to 3 that I contacted and went with Gladys Adventure.
I partly went with them due to their stellar reputation for their treatment of their porters and guides - they’re part of the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Program - and also because they are the only female-owned trekking company in Tanzania, and I had a lot of respect for Gladys’ story and how she built the company. I had a lot of respect for the lovely Gladys when I met her in person too.
One day after I published this article, Gladys sadly passed away.👉🏼
I hope that the businesses she built and the initiatives she supported continue to live on and continue to support the people of Tanzania.
She’ll be missed. Rest in peace, Gladys.
Which route & itinerary
After much research, I chose the 7 day Machame route, often called the “Whiskey Route” as it is tougher than the tourist “Coca-Cola Route” which is named so because of the sleeping huts along the way that sell candy and cola (pfft, I want the real experience, thank you).
The “Whiskey Route” is made of harder stuff, you see. It’s the second easiest route. 🥃
The Machame route itinerary:
- Machame Gate (1800m) - Machame Camp (3000m)
- Machame Camp (3000m) - Shira Camp (3800m)
- Shira Camp(3800m) - Barranco Camp(3950m)
- Barranco Camp (3950m)-Karanga Valley Camp (3995m)
- Karanga Valley (3995m) - Barafu Camp (4600m)
- Barafu Camp (4600m) - Uhuru Peak (5895m) - Mweka Camp (3100m)
- Mweka Camp (3100) – Mweka Gate (1640m)
I next do a quick search online and open around 100,000 tabs in my browser researching kit lists, dump them all in a document and refine it down to what seems reasonable to take.
Now it’s shopping time! I factor this into my initial budgeting, plus I don’t mind splashing out for items that I’ll use many times in the future.💰
Costs, financing and budgeting
The big one. This could make or break your trip. I usually save for 12 months to finance one of my trips. I’m very detailed and strict with my saving anyway, and this gives me a decent amount of time to set aside money each month and enough time to thoroughly research the trip and consider if it’s really what I want to do.
I estimated £3000 for the trip:
- Flights (3 countries & return): £750
- Trek + tips: £1500
- Extra accommodation (3 countries): £400
- Spending money: £200
- Extra kit: £150
This is quite a high budget because I spent time in Africa before the trek - you could do the Kili trek for about 2/3 of this in total.
- Originally aiming to go in Oct 2019, start planning 6 months prior: Apr 2019
- Start saving Apr 2019: £3000 / 12 = £250 per month
Although I save for 12 months to fund it, I base my trip schedule around when it’s convenient or safe to do it - so going in January 2020 I hadn’t saved the full amount, but I paid out of other savings and on credit for certain aspects of the trip, then on my return still kept to my monthly saving schedule.
- Trekked in Jan 2020: had £2250 saved
- Returned Jan 2020 paid myself back / paid off 0% credit £250 per month until April 2020
I’ve solo travelled a few times and enjoy my own company so didn’t mind doing this for the first part of my trip. When it came to the trek I knew I’d be put in a group, but was confident that I’d get on with the other people there - we were all there for similar reasons after all - to climb and conquer!
Meeting new people
It’s vital on an organised trek to get on with your team members. Because that’s what you are - a team.
You’ll be spending all day, every day with your team and guides for over a week. You’ll laugh together, cry together, eat together, sleep near each other. Share your sweets and toiletries, your jokes and stories.
team fam was made up of:
- Dave & Cass 🇨🇦 a Canadian couple trekking Kili and going on a safari for a late honeymoon.
- Jon and Betty, Nicole and Garry 🇨🇦 two Canadian couples celebrating Jonathan’s 50th (I think - sorry if I’m wrong!) birthday by trekking Kili.
- Taylor, Dayna, and Kat 🇺🇸🇬🇧 three friends from the US and UK bonding over the trek and a safari afterwards too.
Our guides Prosper, Kasenje (Kash-baby), Clarence, and Ignes absolutely made the trip. In fact, we couldn’t have done it at all without the entire village of porters, cooks, and guides that supported us the whole way through - 38 of them!
On the trek
We started in the coffee plantations, then trekked through the tropical rainforest (getting soaked through on the first day), moorland, lava fields, across scree, up snow and ice to the summit, and back down through the thick forest.
Stats from my logbook
I like stats.
|Day||Route||Time walking||Elevation change||Distance walked||Steps||Calories burned|
|1||Machame gate - Machame camp||5h 45m||+1225m||12km||20,387||3628|
|2||Machame camp - Shiva cave camp||5h 30m||+800m||10km||13,602||2843|
|3||Shiva cave camp - Lava Tower - Baranco camp||8h 45m||+1000m / -900m||13km||16,952||2954|
|4||Baranco camp - Baranco wall - Karanga camp||4h 45m||+140m||8km||10,649||1961|
|5||Karanga camp - Barafu camp||4h 15m||+620m||6km||7671||1966|
|6||Barafu camp - Uhuru peak (summit!) - Millennium camp||10h 30m||+1250m / - 2065m||16km||21,505||3136|
|7||Millennium camp - Mweka gate||6h 15m||-2190m||20km||25,717||3425|
|Totals||Machame gate - Mweka gate||45h 45m||+5035m / -5155m||85km||116,483||19,913|
Summit day photos📸
My main learning experience was around altitude sickness. I’d suffered it once before on my trek to Everest Base Camp but only to a minor degree.
This time it was relentless. For the first few days at least - until I sucked up my pride and asked for help. Dave and Cassie had a surplus of Diamox in their kit and were kind enough to share with me. Absolutely lifesavers.
The blinding headaches subsided. I could eat and drink properly without retching. I could sleep again without being feeling the synapses in my brain buzzing to each other! Remind me why we do this again?
- Don’t be too proud and stubborn to take medication when needed
- Drink more water (as always) to help with altitude sickness
Today marks the anniversary of the group’s summit of Kilimanjaro - we dubbed it the Kiliversary. One year later and so much in the world has changed, but that experience has stayed with each person from our team as one of the defining moments of 2020, and our lives.
This evening I’ll be having a video call to catch up with my Kili fam one year on. Maybe I’ll even coerce one or two of them to go to Russia with me. I’m sure it’ll be JD’s birthday again soon…🏔
Summiting Elbrus in Russia is next for me - travel restrictions pending.
I planned it for September 2020 but of course, it fell through. Fingers crossed for September 2021!
I share my planning process and thoughts on this next trip in the article “Planning Elbrus”.