Mt. Kilimanjaro, September 2017

At the time of writing this post I am still overflowing  with joy and wonder brought back home from the Kilimanjaro ascent. It was legendary, mentally and physically demanding… but so fulfilling, touching the core…I just can not find the words to describe it. Since the beginning of the year 2017 we had a black and white picture of Mt. Kilimanjaro  on our refrigerator waiting to see it in colors…and on September 8th when the plane took off heading for Istanbul and therefrom to Kilimanjaro International Airport we felt  excitement accompanied by some doubts, adrenaline and, to be honest, some fear too.  Mt. Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano in Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa and it rises 5895  meters above sea level.  It was first summited by Meyer and  Purtscheller way back in 1889…

It was 1.00 AM and warm night with light breeze at Kilimanjaro International Airport at the time of arrival. Despite the promising name of the airport it is actually a small building with 2 terminals…and a runway somewhere in between the fields, but obviously enough to land an extended version of Boeing 737. After bureaucratic procedures we left the building in hope to find our prearranged transportation to Moshi town where we should sleep for the rest of the night until our guide would come in the morning to pick us up. But there was no one waiting for us so we made a call and the guy said he would be a bit late. It turned out that a bit meant 1,5h. When he finally came we packed our things in a van and drove outside the airport facilities into the night. We got a first sense of Tanzania, no traffic lights by the road, bumpy roads and dangerous ultrafast drivers who like to overtake into scissors. But the overall energy felt in the air was somehow nostalgic,  like we had been there once before. And after all the inconvenience with the delay, the driver still had the guts to ask for a tip.

After two hours of sleeping we were prepared to meet our local guide. He was a professional with several years of experience in climbing Kilimanjaro. We collected the staff and made an one hour drive up to the rainy forest where the journey had started. The Marangu gate, an entry point into Kilimanjaro and the start of the Marangu hiking trail. We started walking through the rainy forest and the humidity was extreme. We were soaked and the nature was amazing as we passed many waterfalls. After 4-5 hours we reached the Mandara hut where we spent the first night.  Some pumpkin soup and popcorn for dinner. We unfolded the sleeping bags in the hut and went to sleep. The night was really cold and in the morning we woke up covered in morning dew. I undressed all the additional layers of clothes and we were ready to eat some breakfast (fruit soup). We started the journey towards 3700 m.a.s.l., the Horombo hut. The path lead us up through the habitat called moorland and is characterized by low-growing vegetation.  When getting to high altitudes you can see a plant called Dendrosenecio kilimanjari and can only be seen on Kilimanjaro-a pretty amazing plant to see.  We walked for 6-7 hours and the tropical sun was starting to get really strong so we got sunburned  on some forgotten exposed parts of the skin. The night at Horombo hut was cold and clear.  The hut we stayed in was small and had four mattresses and therefore we shared the room with a couple from South Korea. The morning came early and I got a weird nausea feeling in my stomach and I had no real appetite for breakfast. So we kept on walking for 8 hours through the Alpine desert in which we felt like Martians.

The previous evening we had a prolonged conversation with our guide who proposed that we skip the acclimatization day meaning we skip a day at high altitude 3700 m.a.s.l. and go directly to 4700 m.a.s.l. He said that our general condition is good and staying long at hight altitude might decrease the options for successful last ascent. We knew that that there was a lot at risk but we decided to go for it. So we reached the Kibo hut at 4700 m.a.s.l. in the evening and after a short dinner we had a few hours of sleep until 2 a.m. in the night. It was time to go for the final ascent.  I slept for one hour, again it was too cold to sleep and when waking up I felt my heart bumping at 100 beats per minute while adapting to altitude and low partial pressure of oxygen.  My stomach was not in the mood for eating so we started the ascent at -20°C as soon as possible. It was an incredible night and those memories have no value in money… while ascending up the steep mountain slope in slow zig-zag movement we had an opportunity to see the night sky over Equatorial Africa… billions of Milky Way stars. The most astonishing night sky ever. At the dawn the temperature was even lower and the strong wind started blowing uphill. At the sunrise we reached the Gilman`s point at 5700 m.a.s.l. And from there we had an app. 1 hour of ascent left to the Uhuru peah. So we kept on fighting. The sun was coming out of the night and as we passed the first glaciers we saw some people turning around and going back down… a young woman needed an oxygen supply and another one was lying on the ground vomiting. They were all headed back down… as they should. The helicopter rescue was available at 3700 m.a.s.l. and I had nothing to help with in that specific situation. The Uhuru peak was seen in distance together with glaciers and volcanic crater. After passing the Stella point there were only ten minutes to the top.  We walked slowly and when reaching the Uhuru peak there was an immense amount of adrenaline flushing through the veins. By getting too excited you could easily feel the lack of oxygen so we took the pictures in hypoxic euphoria and saved some last memories from the Uhuru peak… some paths in life will probably never be walked again.

It was time to get back down again and it took us about 5 hours to reach the 3700 m.a.s.l., the Horombo hut. It would be dangerous to sleep at Kibo hut because of the high altitude, so despite the tiredness we kept on walking. When reaching the Horombo we could get some sleep and despite the cold I did not wake up the whole night. The next day we did the last part of the descent back to the entry point… and it was time to board a plane for our next stop, Zanzibar…

Kilimanjaro… in one sentence…It was an experience of a lifetime!