"I believe that the ascent of mountains forms an essential chapter in the complete duty of man and that it is wrong to leave any district without setting foot on its highest peak." - Sir Leslie Stephen
5,895 meters or 19,341 feet above sea level, the highest mountain in Kenya, the highest mountain in Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa. That's what should come to mind when thinking of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, but not for me. In life, there are two types of people the realists and the dreamers. I fall into the latter group. When I think of summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, I see the tears of joy once at the top, the feeling of accomplishment and the pride of achieving what most people view as a daunting task. So yes I undertook the endeavor of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to challenge myself and to feed my ever growing ego, little did I know how much I would need it in those seven days of climbing.
Like any 21st century traveler, I start with Google (I probably google everything), then youtube and finally Instagram. Nothing can ever prepare you for the real thing. My first clear view of the mountain was at Moshi in Tanzania. It stands tall, free, immovable and proud, its majestic snow peaks touching the clouds. Its three volcanic cones Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira, remind me of the famous Greek gods sitting on their high thrones staring haughtily at us mortals.
There are various routes to climb this majestic mountain, and I had to choose between Marangu route which is the oldest, Machame route which in spite of being the most popular is considered severe and the Lemosho route which although being the newest is deemed to give the most beautiful par anomic sites of the mountain. So Lemosho route it is.
I could barely contain my excitement. The proprietor of the words "the creator of heaven and earth "must have had Mount Kilimanjaro in mind. We start the day early with a four-hour drive from Moshi to Londorossi gate where all the formalities are dealt with. After a 12 km drive to the Lemoroshi trailhead, the trek begins. This route is at the western side of the mountain, and we are surrounded by thick forest. We hike for about three and a half hours in the silence of the undisturbed forest and an occasional sighting of antelopes then wind up in the first campsite.
The second-day trek was to cover 8km taking 5 to 6 hours. We had covered the rainforest on the previous day and were now surrounded by tall grasses of the savannah, volcanic rock and heather. We were traveling in a group of seven with three guides, one at the lead another in the middle and the last rearing the troupe. The lush rolling hills and streams of Shira ridge captivated me, and I did not mind walking at the back just to take it all in. We then set camp at Shira 1, and the sight of Kibo across the plateau was breathtaking. I remember asking one of the guides which is the best way to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and he said "haraka haraka haina baraka" meaning "hurry has no blessing."
By the third day, my feet had begun to ache, but this did not discourage me as I had prepared well. I firmly believed in the famous saying by Benjamin Franklin "'by failing to prepare; you are preparing to fail." I had done three back to back 5-hours hiking before the trip to prepare my body physically as well as to wear in my hiking boots. Day 3 was an 11km, 5-7 hours walk. It's all about the Shira plateau which is said to be one of the highest on earth. The walk is gentle as we head east on the moorland meadows and set camp at Shira 2. According to the guide, we were resting at a similar elevation as the night before. This was to help in acclimatizing the body by climbing high and sleeping low.
This was an 8 to 10-hour hike. We are woken in the dark to start the journey, and the previous advice we were given about keeping our gear close and organized was much appreciated. This majestic mountain had a climate of its own. The below zero degrees weather in the night and the changing climate during the day made me appreciate three layer clothing advice I had followed. The first was a next to skin pants and top; the second was a jumper and third a waterproof jacket. The day begins with a climb up a ridge in all fours. We then take a south-east direction towards a 300ft tall volcanic rock formation which is the Lava Tower. To get to the Barranco camp, we make a decent through the beautiful yet queer Senecio Forest.
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is not a joke. With about 24 hours trek since we started mental and physical fitness keeps me going. I had already gone through my motivational playlist about ten times and could not take hearing it anymore. The day starts as we descend to the base of the great Barranco wall, then up a 900ft cliff then across hills and valleys. The four to five hours trek of day five is shorter for acclimatization, and we end the day with a sharp descent into Karanga valley and a steep ascent to the Karanga camp.
Three days to go. Am working on fluids, proper nutrition, physical and mental motivation. This is the day before the summit day, and it's a 4 to 5-hour trek. Leaving Karanga, we head to the junction that connects with Mweka trail which is a walk through a barren desert landscape and a stop at Barafu camp. After an early dinner, we all prepare to rest for the summit day. As the sun set, I see the snowy peaks of Mawenzi and Kibo from this position; the view was a painters dream come true.
The summit day is here. We arise at midnight for a hot cup of tea and biscuits and begin the torturous climb to the summit. We were hiking up a mountain, in the darkness, with freezing weather and wind. The climb was slow yet mentally and physically challenging. "You never know what's around the corner. It could be everything. Or it could be nothing. You keep putting one foot in front of the other, and then one day you look back, and you've climbed a mountain." Tom Hiddleston. For sure at some point, I closed my eyes with exhaustion and leaned on the guide for support. All that kept me going was my pride and determination. I had to get to the top. The reward starts at the near Stella point at 18,900 ft with a breathtaking sunrise view over mawenzi peak. Then finally at the top, at last, we arrive at Uhuru peak. I am at the highest point on Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point on the continent of Africa (we humans and our superlatives). I made it.
Summit high is the hardest thing I have ever done. At the top tears streamed down my face, I was not sad, definitely exhausted and overwhelmed. At some point during the climb, we had started singing the famous "khumbaya" song just to keep us going. At the beginning of the trek all I had was a cocky I can do anything attitude, but at the top, I discovered a strength in myself I did not know existed and was humbled by the sheer greatness of Mount Kilimanjaro. This is a climb worth taking.
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