CoffeeCakesAndRunning Kilimanjaro | What it's like Climbing Kilimanjaro
Summit of Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro | What it’s like Climbing Kilimanjaro

I’ve made it to Kilimanjaro – well Moshi which is a small town beneath Kili.  I’m sat here in a typical trekking type of hotel which is fully of people preparing for their walk who are dressed relatively normally like me and those who have just returned from their trek – who look shattered, exhausted, are punch drunk on euphoria and are ordering large amounts of celebratory beers whilst receiving their summit certificates.

Their stories are good and great to listen to particularly as I start my trek in 3 days time.  There are storie of  great achievements, shared camaraderie and some disappointments, but in the main – everyone is happy to have been on Kilimanjaro.

Which got me thinking, I’ve wanted to climb Mt Kilimanjaro for a long time, and have done a lot of research on what it will actually be like from reading individual blogs, reading books and talking to others about it.

Once of the pieces that I particularly like and which resonates with me is taken from the book I’ve read the most and have in my backpack as I type – it’s Mark Savage‘s Kilimanjaro map and guide which provides the following glimpse into what a typical climb will do to an average climber :

When you’ve read it consider this – YES – I chose to do this, YES I am a sane adult (well not certified by a GP but I think I am sane !) , YES it’s costing me a lot of money and YES I may not reach the summit – But hey – I’m reaching towards the sky (literally) and trying very hard to fulfill one of my dreams – who could ask for more ?

So here’s the description in the words of Mark Savage whose book has become the ultimate Kili Bible to me.  Enjoy 🙂

“First. Don’t underestimate the mountain. Kilimanjaro is BIG and the whole exercise is HARD WORK! You will probably be cold at sometime. Worse, you may get soaking wet cold in the rain or sleet. At the higher altitudes you will almost certainly suffer a headache and may feel sick/vomit. But this is normal on a mountain of just under 20,000 ft. Console yourself with the thought that most of the others with you feel the same way and that it can’t go on forever. Below is a brief synopsis of how an average walker might expect to feel while ascending the mountain.

Park gate to 3000m. The first hour or so’s walk is a novel experience. The scenery is interesting and if you left early, it is still quite cool. Pulse rate is between 100-120 bpm and the breathing rate at about one cycle for every 3-4 steps. By 11.00 am it has started to warm up, so you are sweating a bit. The legs start to feel the strain of non stop uphill walking and the calf muscles ache. A sit-down breather every 30-40 minutes is welcome. Once reaching the first hut, a cup of tea/coffee revives you rapidly, and within an hour you feel almost normal.
3000m – 4000m. You should have slept very well and breakfast tasted great. You’re somewhat stiff all over, but this soon wears off after you get walking. Again the first hour or so up the moorland is very pleasant, though after that the walk becomes a bit of a drag as the scenery becomes more monotonous and unvarying. A couple of blisters are forming, one on the instep and another on the small toe, but what the hell! Pulse rate is similar to yesterday, but the pace of walking is definitely slower. Once at the hut, if you have not used sunglasses during the walk, a mild headache may occur. Appetite still OK for tasty food but not too fatty. Leg cramps in the evening.

4000m – 4800 m. You did not sleep as well as you might have expected. The headache got worse during the night but goes soon after breakfast. Fruit, bread and jam were fine, but the sausage and bacon were a definite no no! The blister that you should have attended to yesterday is now taped up and feels a lot better. Again the first hour or so of walking is great, thereafter it’s one step after the next. Around noon, the Kibo Hut comes into sight, briefly seen through the mists. However, when seen again, it never seems to have got any closer. Soon it starts to sleet and hail, and the feeling of “Why am I doing this?” now gets asked aloud. Pulse is steady between 130-150 and you’re taking a breath in as you put one foot down and breathing out on the next step and so it goes on and on and on…At the Kibo Hut a drink goes down OK, but the mere thought of food is Ugh! Your head throbs just behind the eyes, you’re cold, wet and miserable so to collapse into the sleeping bag, even though it’s only 3 pm seems a great idea.
4800m – Summit. Getting up at midnight isn’t so bad, after all you’ve not slept since some noisy sod woke you up by slamming the hut door at 8 that night. You’ve now put on all the clothes you have but are still half frozen with the cold. The tea and biscuits you forced down lower tasted foul, and after a half hour’s walking you bring them back up. Immediately you feel 100% better. Like the previous day, its again one foot after the next if its frozen scree, or 2 up, slide back 1, if it is not frozen. Just before dawn you reach Gillman’s point and your guide tells you that you’ve reached “the top” (not quite true), and you thank him for his assistance in pushing you up the last 200m. Now you have a choice. Either you lie down and contemplate the walk back down though preferably you wish you could just die, or there’s Uhuru Peak another hour and a half onwards. Decisions. Decisions. Should be illegal at this altitude.

Descending. The walk back to Gillman’s from Uhuru was pure hell, particularly the short sections of uphill, however once you leave the crater rim, you can noticeably feel the air getting thicker and heavier in the lungs with each meter of descent. Now that its daylight you can see the full horror of the scree slope, and you wonder how anybody, let alone yourself, ever made it up. You start to feel better, good even, particularly so as you pass several groups still struggling upwards. That night at Horombo you start to sleep the sleep of the grateful dead, though next morning its a struggle to get out of your bag as every muscle hurts. From here the walk down is…well enough here.