I conquered Kilimanjaro in early February of 2012. The following is my trip diary and some pictures.

To find information about the places I stayed and the travel companies that I used, and other things from the logistics side, please see my travel page.

If you would like to see additional pictures taken during the eight days of the climb, more can be found by entering kill in the search window.

Just a bit of info before I start: Mount Kilimanjaro has three dormant volcanic cone peaks, Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira. The highest peak is Kibo and that is what one climbs when they climb Kilimanjaro.

Day 6 Kibo

Kilimanjaro’s Kibo summit

Day one:

I arrived at Kilimanjaro Airport after twenty-four hours of sleepless travel and I was herded into a long, very slow line to get a visa. It was worth it just to listen to the loud, drawling voice complaining at the next window; “How come she only had to pay fifty dollars and we have to pay a hundred dollars each?” I’m not sure how they come up with the different prices that different countries have to pay for the visa but ah luv lissnin tah Texans tawk.

Collected my bags (two; one for the climb, one for the rest of my trip), which I thought was pretty miraculous since I last saw them on the other side of the world, and headed right out into my first African night because there was no one at the customs desk. I was met and loaded into a Land Cruiser.

They drive on the wrong side of the road (to a North American mind) with lots of honks and light-flashing and over many speed bumps. The people who create the bumps seem to be given creative licence to design them any way they feel like on a given day because they were all different; one big one, two or three little ones, a ditch..

An hour later, a few bumpy, dirt miles off the main road, I arrived at the first lodgings at around ten. It was run by a very sweet, young couple from Liverpool who had only been in charge for a couple of weeks and they were still trying to make sense of it. I reminded them of an old friend so we got along well from the start.

I had missed the climb briefing and was told that I would get an abbreviated version in the morning so I went off to bed. The room had a wonderful big key that had to be used from each side of the door to turn the deadbolt but the bolt didn’t actually catch the door to lock it. The bathroom had cool, old gravity-fed plumbing, which is the only kind that makes sense to me, but plumbing has always baffled me a bit. Remembered to use bottled water to brush my teeth with then collapsed in the king-size bed without drawing the nets and slept off and on till morning.

Day two:

I awoke to birdsong, but you know that because I took the time to tap out a short note to you on the manager’s laptop.

I had gotten to the common area before any of the other climbers, so I had had coffee and breakfast before I had to meet them. You were right about Norwegians being a rather insular people, but they were friendly enough for my liking. It was only during my briefing from the guide that I learned that there had been a change in plans that had been resolved the night before.

An extra couple from Norway had joined the group at the last minute putting the total number to thirteen. The park only allows eleven in any one group so it had to be split in two. Quite logically, it was divided into one group of eleven Norwegians and one group of two non-Norwegians, each with it’s own porters (theirs with fifty and ours with sixteen) and dining tent and guides and waiter and cook and portable toilet.

Day 1 Kili sign

Sign at Kili entrance

All was loaded into two trucks and we were driven to our starting gate. The first pic is a sign at that gate, where we had to sign in and fees had to be paid and documents had to be issued to the guides. A further drive up the hill took us to the porter staging area where we would begin our epic journey after meeting our crew and enjoying an outdoor lunch.

Our head guide’s name was Onesphory Mtui though he said that most people called him Honest. During the climb, he was to eat with us and pitch his tent in the midst of ours and he was friendly, knowledgeable and helpful at all times. Really, a perfect guide.

After lunch, the porters packed up everything very quickly and scampered off up the trail. They are only supposed to carry a set amount of weight per person, and that doesn’t include their personal belongings but they all passed us very quickly and disappeared in the distance to set up the next camp.

Assistant guide Pendael, started us off at a very slow pace, slower than a saunter, which we would maintain for the most of the hike. It was very hard for me to walk that slowly, but you didn’t get ahead of the guide in front and someone was always behind the last hiker.

The two groups (the group of two I was in and the Norwegian group) stayed together for the first very short hiking day and entered Shira camp one together. Everyone had to sign in at this and several other campsites; a nice effort to make sure that everyone who sets out makes it back. The guides weren’t allowed to talk about anyone who died on the mountain although it is believed that there have been many of them.

Dinner in the dining tent wasn’t as bad as could have been considering that I didn’t really care for my hiking companion. His personality gave me a fingernails-on-chalkboard-feeling and I had to speak very firmly with myself to keep up an aura of civility. It helped that the guide was very impressed with my smattering of Swahili and spent most meals adding new words to it.

Dinner, and all the meals on the mountain were heavy, hot and calorific. The altitude and the effort required a lot of energy and I was repeatedly told that success depended on eating all I could and the chef would be horribly disappointed if I didn’t. Success also depended on drinking gallons every day.

Day 2 frost

My frosty tent

Pic two is my very own tent the next morning and yes; that is frost on it. It was a very cold and somewhat uncomfortable night. I kept thinking about how warm it would be sleeping in my nice warm bed at home and it helped, but the next night I took to taking a hot water bottle to my sleeping bag with me.

It was actually one of my Nalgene water bottles that the waiter filled up with boiling water before I went to bed. It worked perfectly to keep my feet warm and also, it was right handy if I needed a drink in the night.

The clouds move in to obscure the mountain every afternoon but I got my first look at it in the moonlight when I had to crawl out of my tent to pee in the middle of the night; that and billions of bright, beautiful stars that I could almost reach out and touch. Impressive.

Day three:

Each morning would start the same way. From my tent I would hear the camp begin to wake up around five thirty and I would be out in toque and gloves wandering around by six. I wandered to the toilet tent first, of course, but the pre-dawn light is beautiful to me and it was especially so in that place.

Day 1 biffy

The biffy tent

At six-thirty, Goodluck, the waiter, would come to the tent and say ‘hellooo’ very sweetly and deliver a cup of coffee. I packed up most of my stuff as I drank it and at seven Goodluck returned with another ‘hellooo’ and a plastic basin of warm water to wash in. This was a bit of an awkward, exhibitionist task, even with the outer fly closed, on account of the little plastic window at the front of it, but clean was important. Much more important than any small sense of modesty I might have and plus, the water was warm.

By seven thirty, my bag was packed and breakfast was served in the dining tent. More coffee, hot porridge with dark brown sugar, toast, fruit, eggs, and sausages. Honest, always drank tea with meals and he put about six spoons of sugar in it. Shudder.

At the end of breakfast, Goodluck would always give the lunch menu, reciting it very carefully and making sure we understood.

Day 2 Shira cone

Shira cone

There was an option that day to take a side trip to the Shira cone (thats a pic of it above) but the other hiker was dead set against it and the guide suggested that there wasn’t much to see for a lot more effort. We started off at around eight; pole-pole (slowly-slowly). I would hear that a lot.

Day 2 sign

A sign post

The hike was easy, over an interesting landscape and the mountain stayed in sight until we reached the next camp and the clouds rolled in. There was a break half way but everyone preferred the bushes to the nasty old pit latrine that was there. The two groups didn’t stay together on this leg and we wouldn’t for most of the rest of the climb. There were lots of Lobelia deckenii and Senecio Kilimanjari (that’s what’s attached) on that day.

Day 2 Senecio Kilimanjari

Senecio Kilimanjari

Day 2 Lobelia deckenii1

Lobelia Deckenii

I realized later that it was a good decision to go directly to the next camp because the gods that take an interest in those people who ‘climb’ mountains with an eight to one porter ratio, obviously figured that jetlag wasn’t a sufficient handicap so they sent me a cold.

Fortunately, days two and three were relatively easy, aside from the altitude considerations but I went through my tissue supply very quickly and was forced to commit grand larceny toilet paper theft. This was ruinous to my nose so I went from thief to beggar and managed to score enough tissue packet donations to get me through the next few days.

Day 2 Shira camp2 1

Shira Camp 2

Lunch was at the next camp, Shira two, after about a three hour walk and the camp was completely set up when we got there. The porters that carried our personal belongings always walked a ways back along the trail to relieve us of our packs and lead us to our tent.

Hands had to be washed outside the dinner tent in a canvas basin with hot water that Goodluck poured out of a kettle. A hot, thin soup was always served as a starter to assist with liquid intake and it was usually very good. Seconds were always encouraged but ‘a bit more’ was deliberately never understood, or rather, it was understood as ‘a lot more’. Sandwiches or pasta and salad followed and dessert.

I didn’t do much that afternoon but sneeze and deal with sneezing. Tea consisting of tea or coffee and nuts, popcorn and cookies was at three or four. Dinner was at six-thirty.

After dinner, a little hand-held, battery powered, heart-rate and oxygen sensor was brought out and we all took turns sticking our index finger in it and Honest recorded the results. My oxygen level was always fine and my heart rate was about ninety on average; it’s fifty to sixty here at sea level. It was a fair bit higher when I was moving so I didn’t need to fret about how many calories I was consuming.

Also after dinner, the next day’s hike was explained with length and difficulty discussed and clothing and water recommendations made. Immediately after that dinner, I took my water bottle full of hot water and went to bed with my tissues.

There was a fair amount of noise about, as there were several climbing groups at this camp, but everything usually quieted down by nine. The unnecessarily loud sounds of people throwing up didn’t start until after midnight as several people succumbed to the altitude. I managed to get a lot of rest but only a bit of sleep that night.

Day four:

The weather was pretty much perfect for the entire climb. Clouds would develop every afternoon but they would clear in the night and dawn would bring bright blue sunshine.

Morning happened according to schedule and the camp at Shira two was packed up in bright sunshine as seen in the first picture.

Day 3 am

Shira Camp 2-am

It was a very easy, hour and a half, pole-pole walk to Moir hut camp. That is the next picture. It isn’t used by too many people and so there were only our two groups there that day. If you look on the left side of the ridge past the camp, you can see the trail that I followed the next day.

Day 3 Moir camp

Moir hut camp

The hut is pretty old and looks very picturesque from a distance, but it is a ratty, garbage strewn, vandalized thing up close. I was a bit disgusted by the amount of garbage that littered the trails and was strewn about the campsites. That kind of behaviour feeds the fat little misanthrope that lives inside me.

Day 3 Moir hut

Moir hut

I explored the hut and walked a ways up the watercourse, which is where I took the lobelia pic, I believe. But I was feeling pretty rough, so didn’t go too high or too long before returning to camp and seeking out a quiet piece of rock that was out of the wind and wasn’t next to a midden heap to read.

Day 3 Lobelia deckenii

Lobelia Deckenii

I liked listening to the chatter of the porters in the camp; they always sounded so happy, but I need no noise, no people every once in a while and I would try to get away from the camp for a bit every day. I was always followed, of course. Sometimes discretely, sometimes not so much so.

I learned at supper that evening that Honest had been kept apprised of my wanderings but I wasn’t really surprised. The porters referred to me as mama which I thought was especially funny because Honest had taken to calling me dada, which means sister in Swahili. I had never had these kinds of gender identity issues before. I couldn’t bring myself to call him kaka (brother) and rafiki (friend) will always be a baboon so I just called him by name.

Three of the Norwegians were culled from the climb that night due to altitude sickness and would descend the next day. One of them was a woman who celebrated her sixtieth birthday that day.

I had been told that someone in the group would be turning sixty on the mountain and had brought a pair of Olympic mittens from the 2010 games that were held in Vancouver as a present. I do have these erratic fits of thoughtfulness. Her children insisted that I give them to her personally. She was as gracious as a very sick and barely coherent person could be, but when she met the group at the end of the trip and she thanked me profusely.

It was a nice, restful day in a neat place. At the briefing that night we were warned that the next day would be long and hard and that taking three litres of water was recommended. I went to bed right after supper again, which was before eight, still fighting the cold.

Day five:

Woke as usual, breakfasted and loaded up with three litres of water, in one of which I put a Nuun tablet in strawberry lemonade flavour. It fizzles very satisfactorily until it dissolves and provides added electrolytes and energy.

Day 4 dawn

Dawn at Moir hut camp

This would be the first day that I took along a walking pole figuring that I would need them for the summit so I should get used to them a bit in advance. The other climber used two and he swung them around wildly when he walked. I had to keep him in front of me because I couldn’t relax when I couldn’t see them. This disrupted the natural order of things a bit since I kept a minimum of four metres in between us and the guides liked an arms length separation.

The day started with a near vertical climb that wasn’t too high but it was an effort. And then there was another climb that took us up another thousand feet. That was an effort too that was done very slowly. Pic one is a view from almost the top down towards Moir camp. Those porters didn’t stay in sight for long.

Day 4 porters

Porters on hill after Moir camp

I was still sneezing and sniffling but I tried very hard to stifle my sneezes because every time I did, I got ‘bless you’ in triplicate and that can get a silly after a while.

While it was freezing overnight, the daytime temperatures were quite pleasant for walking. I wore light pants with thermal pants underneath and a fleece shirt over a t-shirt with a thin wind and waterproof shell over top.

The path we were on would eventually lead to Pofu (eland) camp at a slightly lower altitude than Moir camp but it would take us over a series of hills and valleys so there was a lot of climbing and descending that day. The trail for the first half was over broken pieces of rock like slate that made a sound of clanking metal when stuck one another. There is a trail in the second picture and that is what we were following. Kibo is behind the ridge.

Day 4 trail

Trial to Pufu camp w Kibo in background

I usually wore my camera bag in front over my shoulder but I hitched it around my waist and below my backpack for this hike. There were a couple of sections that required climbing up and down steep gullies and sometimes rock faces and I couldn’t have it in front of me. But there were also a series of steep downhill sections that were gravel and sand covered and it moved underfoot as you slid down it. I was a bit worried about landing on my camera bag covered ass and wrecking my other lens at several points but everything made it through okay.

Lunch was served at about noon in the dining tent that was all set up with attendant cooking tent and outhouse. After lunch, the whole thing was taken down and we headed off for the last hour and a half hike over the same kinds of hills and gullies that we had covered in the last hour. At the start of each hike the porters that hadn’t set out before us would come up behind us on the trail and if there was room, they would jog around but usually, we stepped off the trail and let them pass. This was the only time it happened twice in one day.

We made it to Pofu camp just as the clouds moved in so it was cold and damp. Our porters came about a kilometre back from the camp so we didn’t have to carry our packs for the last little rock climb and gully scramble. Nice. That was also the place that the water was drawn from for drinking and washing. A lot of work went into this climb and we didn’t do most of it.

From this camp, we could see down the mountain into the plains of Tanzania and Kenya but there wasn’t much to see that afternoon. It had been a good physical workout and tiring for a sick person so I went to bed right after supper again. The last pic is of Kibo and the biffy in the morning. All scenery pictures today.

Day 5 Kibo

Kibo from Pufu camp

Day six:

First, I’ll answer your questions. The first picture shows the camps at Rongai Caves 3. The camp on the right was mine with the dining tent and a single toilet tent for the two of us. One of the green tents was the kitchen and the other was to accommodate the porters.

Day 5 Rongai camp

Rongai camp

The Norwegian camp had two toilet tents, one dining tent, a kitchen tent and a tent for the porters. I’m not sure how the fifty porters fit in one tent, but I don’t know how all those clowns fit in the tiny, little car either. I’m pretty sure the porters were divided fairy evenly between the two sleeping tents. And they were warm too, I’ll bet.

The guides and the rest of the crew used what pit latrines that were on site or the bushes.

Day 4 plains

The plains

Picture 103, which I included in the stalling note while I finish this, is one hundred eighty degrees from the picture of the iffy that you like and was taken at sunrise at Pofu camp. Through that bit of haze were the plains of Tanzania and Kenya. The guides said that Kenya had had the lion’s share of the Kilimanjaro tours for years before Tanzania got into the act after realizing that the mountain is completely in TZ, after all and there is a lot of money to be made.

That day’s walk was a series of ups and downs much like the latter half of the previous day. 110 is looking back at the Norwegians along the trail that day. It wasn’t supposed to be too long a day and lunch was going to be at the next camp.

Day 5 trail

The trail back with climbers

After walking for about three hours we took a water break at the top of a longish hill. The terrain offered a rare amount of privacy for a person with female plumbing and I took advantage of it for a quick pee. A little shovel and toilet paper were part of the supplies one is to bring for the climb.

When I came back, the other fellow had wandered off to do some business of his own. We were sitting there for about half an hour waiting for him. When he was finally seen coming back, the assistant guide got up and started walking down the trail and I followed him, which was unusual for me because my place wasn’t behind him. We had gone about a hundred metres to the other edge of the ridge and he said ‘surprise!’. The camp was just below, about a ten minute walk away. I burst out laughing and Pendael decided that I might not be such a bad person after that. He hadn’t spoken to me much until that point.

Rongai Caves 3 camp is the place where our trail met the Rongai trail and it was the third camp on the Rongai trail; there weren’t three caves. There was one little cave though, and there were quite a few along most of the trails but they weren’t allowed to be used for camping anymore after several had collapsed.

I had wanted to take the Rongai route since it was only six days but there wasn’t anyone signed up for it when I booked so I agreed to take the eight day Shira route. I’m glad I did even though I would have been fine with a shorter time frame. The last pic is the trail that we were going to take the next morning to the last camp before the summit.

Day 5 Rongai trail

The Rongai trail

After lunch, I took my book, climbed up above the camp and found a lovely rock to sit on with a back rest rock and foot rest rock, all out of the wind and very quiet. I spent some time watching dozens of white butterflies fluttering about and I wondered why, every once in a while, they would all fall to the ground at once. They would sit there for a bit and then, one by one they would all take off and flutter around again. I’m guessing either temperature or the wind, which was brisk and erratic.

I knew my keeper was somewhere above me but I had a nice hour of reading before he was joined by someone. They spoke in whispers at first until they were joined by another few, and then a few more and pretty soon there was a happy, raucous gabfest going on. I only had a few pages left by that point and I managed to finish them before going back to the relative quiet of the camp.

Seventh day:

The morning went as usual and we started up the trail at 0800. Today would be a steady uphill climb of about eight hundred metres that would take us about two hours. It was scheduled to take four, but even going very slowly, the guides had us moving faster than other groups, probably because there were only the two of us to herd.

Mawenza had been in sight off and on for the last day but it was in full view after we got a kilometer up the trail. There are several trails that meet at School Hut camp to make the final ascent, including the coca cola route, and you can see a couple of them in pic 123.

Day 6 Mawenzi trails

Mawenzi and trails

Pic 124 is a look down the trail. School Hut (or Outbound) camp doesn’t have any water available so the water required for cooking, drinking and washing had to be hauled up from the last camp. I felt very guilty about the second cup of coffee I had that night.

Day 6 looking back

Looking back to Rongai

The walk itself wasn’t too bad but towards the end, there was a hint of the struggle for breath that I would feel during the steep climb to the first summit that night.

Day 6 school hut

The school hut

This was a very busy camp and it had to be signed into before we could go to the tents. It was called school hut because the stone building looked like one, not because it had ever been used as one. The last pic is a look from just above our camp up the mountain. The trail we would follow that night disappears in the clouds.

Schoolhouse camp

Kibo Hut or School Hut camp with the trail to the summit in the background.

Lunch was fantastic. They served a stew that was made using bananas and I had never had that before. It was very good, but I had to really work my taste buds to get any banana flavour out of it. For the last two camps, one of the two thermoses of hot water had been devoted to ginger tea which was simply hot water steeped in fresh ginger and it was very strong. It was supposed to help the respiratory system so we were encouraged to drink lots. It took a bit of getting used to. And a bit of honey too.

I napped after lunch after I explored the camp, and there wouldn’t be any tea that day. Supper had to be eaten through the cloud of tension emanating from the other side of the table. He had been working himself into a frenzy over the thought of the climb that night and the snow that had started sent him into a bit of a panic. I really can be very sympathetic but there may have been a bit of anxiety on my side of the table too…

We would be woken up at 2300 that night so we could start out at midnight and we were encouraged to sleep or at least rest after supper. I did sleep a bit; the wind blowing the grainy snow against the tent was quite lulling. At about nine, I had to pee and this would be the start of an adventure for me that I probably shouldn’t tell you about, but I will.

The packing list for the climb was very specific, but it included recommended optional items and one of those was a personal urinal system. The logic being that a full bladder was not only uncomfortable, it takes a lot of energy to heat but having to out in the freezing cold to empty it, might not make any of that seem very important, so having the option to pee in the relative warmth of the tent would increase comfort and rest.

I did go to the trouble of getting one but I hadn’t felt a need to use it to that point, mainly because I liked looking at the stars, but there was the weird factor too. At nine that night, it was snowing and blowing and cold and there would be no stars so I figured this was the opportunity to put the Shewee to the test. There was a moment, kneeling in the dark of my tent with my sleeping bag and belongings spread around me, when I questioned myself as to whether this was the time to do the inaugural testing of the device but…..it worked like a charm, the pee being funnelled into a sealable bag that turned it to nice warm gel, and I crawled back into my bag for another couple of hours.

Day eight:

After the 2300 wake-up call, I dressed in full midnight, mountain expedition regalia. Sock liners and wool blend socks, two pairs of thermal bottoms under light rain and wind-proof pants, two fleece tops, a mid-weight jacket and a light, rain and wind-proof shell. I also had light gloves, a merino wool balaclava, a toque and a headlamp as well as my walking poles.

I packed up my stuff, including my camera bag because I couldn’t carry that for the last bit. I wrapped my camera up and put it in my backpack along with a pair of heavy mittens and an extra top layer.

I wasn’t hungry, but I ate some porridge and fruit anyway ’cause it would be a long strenuous time before I ate again. One bottle was filled with hot water and I would carry it on a hook on a strap of my pack, the other two I was bringing with me needed to be carried upside down because they would start to freeze from the top down before we made it to the summit.

The snow had stopped and the sky was clear but it was cold and windy when we started out. The trail made the nine hundred and thirty metre climb (3050 feet) in altitude, in a series of short switch-backs for the first half. The slope for the first bit was gravelly and even though the whole climb from camp to Gillman’s peak was done pretty much heel to toe, we were moving faster than groups that started out ahead of us and we passed them by cutting vertically to the path above.

Breathing was hard to the halfway point at Hans Meyer Cave, and I don’t know if it was mostly from the exertion or the altitude. It was very chilly, but I had to take off one jacket at a break before this because I was warm from the effort. The cave wasn’t very exciting but having a pee there was complicated by the extra layers and icy fingers and because I wasn’t so much an exhibitionist to leave my headlamp on.

The last half of that climb was very steep and there was a lot of scrambling over rocks and breathing was definitely heavy and laboured, but I was well hydrated and nourished and altitude tolerant so it wasn’t a problem, just an effort. The other hiker wasn’t quite as conscientious as to eating and drinking per recommendations and it hit him here; he had to be physically assisted from this point to the summit. The last few hundred metres to Gillman’s were a serious vertical obstacle course, but all of a sudden, there was the sign and I had officially conquered Kili.

Day 7 Gilmans

Gilman’s Point

I was congratulated and given some ginger tea that Pendael had carried up and I was also given some disappointing news. This was a brand new sign that had been erected on January 09, 2012 when all the signs had been replaced in honour of the Tanzanian Independence anniversary.

I had been seriously looking forward to seeing the ratty old sign at Uhura Peak and this was the first time that I had heard that it wasn’t there anymore. Somewhat disappointing.

We got to Gillman’s at 0500 and after a short break, we headed along the glacier lined ridge to Uhura via Stella Point. The wind picked up and it was much colder so I put my jacket back on and I was fine for warmth, but I took off my heavy mittens after only a little while because they were too clumsy. It was tres slow since the other fellow kept stumbling and wanting to stop, but I had an interesting conversation with Pendael about the mountain while we waited.

It seems that his (great?) grandfather was the one who guided the first European to the peak of Kili. It seems odd that no one ever mentions him, and locals had climbed the mountain countless times before that and no one ever mentioned that either.

I thought that the people who lived and worked on the mountain did a good job at humouring the tourists. They accepted the work and the money that they brought in with an admirable lack of overt condescension.

The trip to Stella Point was icy with steep drop-offs and I had to step very carefully, especially through the parts where you had to put your foot in a frozen footprint, but after Stella it was just a gradual climb of maybe a kilometer around the crater to Uhura. Again it was a few dozen steps and then wait, until finally, Honest sent me ahead to the summit with Pendael.

Day 7 Uhura

Uhura Peak

I was there!!! New sign or not, I was cold, tired, could barely breath and it was pretty damned cool. I took the picture and Pendael took one of me and then I released a bit of Rod, picked up a pebble to replace him and did a circle of the summit with my camera. It was just after sunrise. I like the one with the lemon yellow sky.

Day 7 summit1

View from summit

Day 7 summit3

View from summit

It’s all downhill from here.

Day eight continued:

We did pass everyone on the Gilman’s Point climb but there is more than one way to get to the summit, including spending the last night in the crater itself, so there were a few people around and more were arriving as the sun came up. But there wasn’t a problem getting the sign to myself for a few minutes and no, you don’t get that picture me where I’m cold, tired, unwashed and slightly hypoxic.

I was up there for about twenty minutes as we waited for Honest to drag his charge the last little bit. Honest does take pride in getting all his hikers to the top. There would be a complaint later about how unfair it was that I got to the summit before him when we were supposed to be a single group, but I don’t think he was serious about it.

There was a brief conference between the guides, after which Pendael gestured me to come and the two of us started down alone. He kept a brisk pace, a jog actually, back to Stella Point. We would be descending the mountain from here instead of going back to Gilman’s. The sun was up and it was warming up so we stripped off a couple of layers here and I sun-screened up and we set off.

Day 7 stella

Stella Point


The slope here was very steep, covered in rock and scree and sandy gravel that my boots sank to the ankle in and they would just continue to slide down because of the slope. It could be taken very slowly and carefully or you could run down it, trusting balance and momentum (and luck) and bringing a bit of the trail down with every step.

Pendael started off at a run and then looked back for me, but I had stayed with him. He gave me this big grin and just carried on and that was how we came down the mountain. It was like a very dusty version of skiing and we got to the bottom of this slope very quickly.

Day 7 Mawenza


The trail changed to rockiness after a while but it was still steep and we kept the pace up. 154 is a view of Mawenzi and 155 is a huge campsite that we had to go through on our way down. We stopped briefly on the other side of this to de-layer a bit more and drink something. My water was still mostly frozen, but I got enough liquid to keep me going.

Day 7 big camp

Barufu camp

We had one more short break during which Pendael made a very happy radio call that was full of giggles. He told me that he had called the porters and warned them that we were close, but they didn’t believe him. We made it to the camp before most of them got there and had to wait for them to arrive and set up the tents. The porters didn’t climb to the summit, but they had to walk a fair ways around and down the mountain to get to this camp and they mosied a bit because no one was supposed to arrive until noon.

Day 7 Kibo from Millenium

Kibo from Millennium camp

I was sitting for a little while, rubbing my sore legs and trying to get my bottles of ice to melt in the sun when I thought to take picture 160. I later looked at the time between the sign, which is right on top of the mountain and that one. We made very good time. It would be three hours before the Norwegians arrived and Honest lugged the other hiker in. I went to sleep as soon as my tent was set up.

Last day on the mountain. This will end up being Day nine but it’s still a continuation of Day eight to start. That day kinda went on forever.

I woke up when the rest of the group started to come in at lunchtime. I had managed a couple of hours of sleep that had been interrupted twice by Goodluck’s stubborn solicitude. He felt that I needed some juice and that I would feel better if I washed and I couldn’t risk hurting his feelings by refusing.

I was the sole guest for lunch because the other hiker was sick in his tent and Goodluck brought lunch to him there. Apparently, he came down most of the way with Honest and the porter who carried the emergency gear holding him up from either side.

The emergency pack consisted of an oxygen tank, a stretcher and a decompression bag, which was like a body bag with a little window in it, and it could take someone down thousands of feet in altitude just by pumping the bag up every five minutes. There was also a fairly comprehensive first aid kit and an emergency radio, which was just a satellite phone. The porter was an amiable ghost who rarely talked and always brought up the rear of our little party. He was paid a bit extra for having to climb the summit.

Pendael joined us for lunch that day which was unusual, but I had wondered if eating with the clients was more of a punishment than a reward for the head guides. Honest just smiled when I asked him that and invited me to join the porters for their lunch one day. It usually consisted of a doughy maize porridge that was taken up by hand in pieces and rolled into a hollow ball which was used to scoop a sauce of sorts out of a communal bowl. I remembered something similar from my last trip to Africa but he wasn’t serious about the offer.

I was amazed, approaching the camp, at how the vegetation just sprang up. It went from rock to scrub to trees in the space of about a kilometer. I was also thrilled that there was a helipad just outside this camp complete with tatty old windsock. Most helicopters can get to ten thousand feet and as long as they can hover out of ground effect, they should be able to take off again too.

This was Millenium camp, not Mweka camp as was in the itinerary. It was a little higher, but the guides preferred it because the lower camp was too hot and too busy and had bugs.

Some pretty impressive thunderstorms rolled through after lunch and into the evening, complete with lightning and hail. I love thunderstorms but it was hard to watch from my little tent without getting soaked, so I just listened.

I used my veto this one time to request an early supper and warned the cook that I wasn’t eating for mountain climbing anymore. It was a lovely supper with good company (even though I don’t remember what I ate) and I went to bed right afterwards and slept right through ‘til morning.

Day 8 going down

Going down

It was to be a five hour hike to the gate and it would be downhill all the way. Pic 170 is the trail shortly after we started. My knees and legs were none the worse for wear after a night of rest and I really enjoyed the trail and the view of the valley and the changing vegetation.

Day 8 trail2

The trail further down

The other fellow’s knees were not so good and he went slower and slower and slower. Everyone passed us but I was having a good time. Two hours later, we had to sign in again at Mweka camp where we caught up with the Norwegians and our guides had another conference.

So Pendael and I set off alone a little while after the Norwegians and we soon passed them. We weren’t going the quite the pace we did the day before, but we still moved quickly, usually side by side as the trail improved and this is where I learned of his son and his family and his work and his dreams for the future. We joined up with porters going down at some points for a little while and I met his roommate in Arusha who walked with us for a bit and spoke to me completely in Swahili although Pendael said that he could speak English better than him.

Pendael pointed things out to me as we went like the huge sugar cane fields in the valley and how this was a new trail that followed the path that the porters made instead of the switchbacks of the old one which could still be seen in places. He pointed to a tree that the bark was illegally harvested from for traditional medicine but, sadly, I forget what he called it. He said that the tree came in male and female form like a papaya and only the female bark was used.

He showed where the water ran off during the rainy season and he identified a hornbill from its call, though we couldn’t see it (and I would never see one this trip) and he found me some monkeys. Blue monkeys and vervets and black and white colobus but I had left my zoom lens with Honest so I didn’t get any good pictures. It was an interesting and educational walk.

Day 8 stretcher


The trail turned into a drivable road for the last couple of kilometres and the stretcher was at the top of it. We made the gate an hour and a half after we separated from the group. The culled Norwegians were there and one was wearing an ‘if you can’t climb it, drink it’ Kilimanjaro Beer shirt which I thought was hilarious.

Day 8 gate

The gate at the bottom

I like Kilimanjaro Beer and I enjoyed one while I waited for the rest of the climbers to arrive. My beer of choice when I’m in that part of the world, however, is Tusker Lager. I’ve got that t-shirt.

Arusha Tusker sign

Tusker Lager ad

It was almost an hour before the Norwegians got in and it was two hours before Honest got there. I had signed in and ran the gauntlet of trinket sellers and had lunch and waited.

There was a certificate presentation during which the porters sang and danced and that was fun and then the tips were to be presented. I had never discussed with my fellow climber how we were working the tips so it had to be sorted right there with an attentive audience.

The climbing guide came with advise of all sorts, including appropriate tip amounts for guides, and porters so it was just a matter of dividing up our contributions. I extra tipped the guides and Goodluck and the porter who looked after my stuff as most climbers do.

And we were done. The bus that would transport us back to the lodge was down the hill a ways, past fields of banana trees and little children skipping school so they could beg from the tourists.

It was a ninety minute drive to the lodge with a short stop at a bank machine, one speeding ticket and one pit latrine break.