October 2007



The Mountain. 2

The Trip. 3

Preparation & Logistics. 3

The Expedition Crew.. 3

The Climb. 5

Machame Gate to Machame Hut (Monday, 22-Oct) 5

Machame Hut to Shira Camp (Tuesday, 23-Oct) 14

Shira Camp to Barranco (Wednesday, 24-Oct) 25

Barranco to Karanga Valley (Thursday, 25-Oct) 34

Karanga Valley to Barrafu (Friday, 26-Oct) 41

Barrafu to Summit and Descent to Mweka Hut (Saturday, 27-Oct) 49

Descent to Mweka Gate (Sunday, 28-Oct) 66


The Mountain

Much has been written about Mount Kilimanjaro. It has an almost mystical quality. From a mountaineering point of view, Kilimanjaro offers several superlatives:

  • At 5,895m it is the highest point of the African continent.
    Hence it is one of the “Seven Summits”.
  • It is the world’s highest free-standing mountain,
    towering 5000m above the Tanzanian plains.
  • It is one of the world’s largest volcanoes.
  • It can be reached without technical difficulties or mountaineering experience.
  • It covers 4 climate zones – it is said you walk through four seasons in four days; you literally walk “from the tropics to the poles”:
    • Cultivated zone and forest (800m – 2800m)
    • Heath and moorland (2800m – 4000m)
    • Alpine desert (4000m – 5000m)
    • Ice Cap (5000m – 5895m)

Kilimanjaro was first climbed in 1889 by German Hans Meyer and Austrian Ludwig Purtscheller. Back then it took 20 years for the next person to reach the summit; today there are upwards of 200 people per day attempting the summit – success rate is around 75%. On the Millennium New Year’s Eve in 2000 there were some 1300 people on the summit! So hiking up Mount Kilimanjaro is not a solitary affair, far from it actually: I have never seen lines of porters anywhere near as long as up & down the main routes. At a ratio of 6 – 10 porters per client you can expect about 1000 – 2000 porters per day going up & down the mountain!


Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro may seem comparatively easy – but it is definitely strenuous and requires good preparation, physical strength and will power. A quote from one book puts it this way:

“It is your attitude, not your aptitude, which determines your altitude.”

The Trip

We had booked a combined 2-week adventure trip with which also included other National Park visits and safari trips after the climb. IExplore in turn aggregates the services of several local travel providers and subcontracts for guides, drivers, etc. – in our case of Akorn and Abercrombie & Kent travel services.

Preparation & Logistics

One really good source of information on the mountain is Henry Stedman’s book “Kilimanjaro” and its companion website There you can learn almost anything about Kilimanjaro, about various routes, what to expect, how to organize trips, where to stay, current weather conditions, etc.

We had received a checklist for equipment from IExplore, which can be found here. We completed our equipment mostly by Internet shopping from the REI store at Some really useful items include the hiking poles (especially for the long descent) as well as the CamelBak integrated backpack (very useful as it is important to drink frequently to stay hydrated). We also bought a new photo camera (Olympus 560 UZ) and a new Camcorder (Sony DCR-SR82) from Amazon. Finally we bought two new altimeter wrist watches – for one, to not travel with a more expensive wrist watch, and of course to take advantage of the barometric and altimeter readings available on these devices.

Then there are the Visa for Kenya (our flight was via Nairobi) and Tanzania, which required sending our passports to Washington, D.C. Our flight was from Miami to London and then on to Nairobi (both with British Airways), then one night in Nairobi and another final flight to Kilimanjaro International Airport. The return trip was a lengthy affair, from the Serengeti Sopa lodge via Jeep to a dirt airstrip, then a series of five flights to get back home:

  • Flight with Excel Air from Serengeti airstrip to Arusha
  • Flight with Regional Air from Arusha to Kilimanjaro airport
  • Flight with Air Kenya from Kilimanjaro to Nairobi Wilson airport
  • Bus transfer to Nairobi International airport – dinner at the Carnivores
  • Flight with British Airways from Nariobi to London (Heathrow)
  • Flight with British Airways from London to Miami

Our only complaint here was that different airlines have different restrictions on maximum baggage weight, so we had to pay for some overweight flying to Nairobi.

Finally, we had to take care of certain immunizations, some of them mandatory, others recommended. We contacted Passport Health and decided on the following vaccinations: Hepatitis A and B, Yellow Fever, Typhoid Fever, Tetanus (refresher) and Malaria (pills). Some of these have to be started at least 1 month prior to the trip, so it really pays to start early with the preparations.

The Expedition Crew

After arriving in Tanzania we met our head guide Abel Louwa briefly on Sunday after spending the afternoon at a local village of Tanzanian farmers. Abel didn’t look like I had expected of a mountain guide, sort of a Luis Trenker style Alpinist. But he is very experienced. As he would later tell us, after guiding this mountain for 16 years this would be his 471st time on the summit! So Abel definitely knew what he was doing. Another interesting historical fact is that Abel’s grandfather was the guide Hans Meyer had used in 1889 on his successful first climb of Kilimanjaro. He was still alive 100 years later at the centennial in 1989, and finally passed away in 1996 at the age of 125 years. (I personally find this hard to believe, but it is rendered like this also in various books, so I’m going to give Abel the benefit of the doubt.)

One of the big surprises for us was the number of porters. We had been told to expect 4 porters per client, in our case 8 porters total for Jill and I. Abel, however, told us that he had 19 porters for just the two of us – quite an army, actually! Abel is the 3rd from the left in this group photo.

This comes from the fact that they carried 3 liters of bottled water per client per day and a lot of fresh food (fruit, vegetables, meat, etc.). Each porter has a carrying weight limit of 20 kg plus his personal belongings, so most porters carry about 25 kg on their backs, shoulders and heads. The weight limit is enforced at the gates by weighing all carried items, which creates a bit of a logistical challenge – good thing you’re not in a hurry on any of these days (your body always needs the time to acclimatize, so no need to hurry anywhere).

The large number of porters not withstanding, this was a very efficiently run and organized crew. Every camp we arrived at had the kitchen tent, dining tent and our personal client tent already set up, typically with tea waiting in the dining tent. Later in the evening we would have dinner, which was extraordinary by all standards, but especially considering the circumstances and the fact that all ingredients had to be carried along by the porters. As Abel told us, he sometimes has as many as 10 clients and upwards of 70 porters to coordinate on the mountain, so compared to that our tour was a small undertaking for him.

The Climb

There are several routes up the mountain. Perhaps the most popular one is the Marangu route departing near the town of Moshi. It takes 6 days and is the only route where you have huts at every camp. If you make reservations many months ahead of time, you can use this route to ascend without tents; most teams, however, use tents expedition-style on all other and even on this route. Due to the popularity the Marangu is also called the “Coca-Cola Route”.

We had decided for a slightly longer and more scenic ascent along the Machame route (also called the “Whiskey Route”). It takes 7 days and as such provides one extra day at altitude for better acclimatization.

Henry Stedman provides a great route map in PDF format on his website. The Machame route on the ascent is the orange route, the Mweka route on the descent the purple line.

The following account provides the impressions and views of these 7 days.

Machame Gate to Machame Hut (Monday, 22-Oct)

We stay at the AMEG lodge in Moshi overnight. When we step out of our cabin in the morning at 6:00am, we are greeted with a nice view of Mount Kilimanjaro at sunrise:

We are picked up in the morning at 8:00am for about a 1 hr drive to the beginning of the Machame route. During this drive we get a feel for the scope of the mountain, which seems to fill the entire horizon.

The road ascends the gentle slopes at the bottom of the mountain. The road passes several villages with schools and markets, so there’s lots of activity. Many small vans seem to operate as buses and are stuffed with 10-15 people, often with some standing in open doors or otherwise hanging on from the outside.

The road becomes a small dirt road for the last couple of kms to the Machame gate – at 1800m the start of our trek. Here it feels like a market place with porters offering their services to guides who are organizing their teams. Inside the gate it is a more organized scene with waiting areas for tourists and staging areas for porters and jeeps unloading gear and provisions.

It takes a long time before Abel has all the paperwork completed and we can start the actual hike at around 11:30am. For the next week, we won’t see any roads or vehicles, and we won’t have electricity or amenities like showers or water toilets.

Here we see Jill beginning the walk with our guide Abel amidst several porters. We walk through a dense rain forest with lush greens, moss on the tree branches and misty clouds creating a somewhat mystical mood.

Many times we are passed by porters of our or other groups. Some of them are singing, others are carrying radios which blurt out music at more or less recognizable reception quality – somewhat surreal. I can only marvel at their strength, carrying up to 25 kg on their backs, shoulders and/or heads, yet walking often twice as fast as we do. They also often have poor quality equipment, tennis shoes or even flip flops (for the camps), torn backpacks or even just plastic bags, or they just simply wrap a string of packing cord around their load and then balance the whole thing on their heads. If they had our equipment and just a daypack to carry, they would probably go five times as fast…

After about 3 hrs of slow but steady hiking we reach the upper end of the forest zone, which gives way fairly abruptly to the moorland zone at around 3000m. Here you have smaller bushes and tall grasses.

At around 3000m we reach the Machame hut, the place where we (and all other teams) will pitch our tents. The hut is actually not used for accommodating guests. There are just some offices and facilities there. Here Abel motions me to come into the hut to sign in to the books which are kept at all camps.

All clients and porters sleep in tents, which are sprinkled throughout the surrounding area.

We are treated to our first evening meal in the dining tent, which will set the tone for the next days to come: Lots of fresh and delicious food served steaming hot!

Speaking of food: Unfortunately I develop a severe form of Diarrhea this evening! This I believe can be traced back to a dubious-looking egg from my lunch packet – the only thing Jill didn’t eat. That turned out to be a very smart move, as this is the worst Diarrhea I’ve ever had. So I have frequent and very unpleasant trips to the outhouse this evening and next morning.

Jill gives me Imodium tablets and later also antibiotics to fend off whatever got into my digestive system and doesn’t sit well with me. Together with the CoQ10 and Diamox both as preparation for better acclimatization as well as the Malaron against Malaria (required for us prior to and after our mountain expedition) I feel like I’m swallowing more pills this week than in the last 10 years combined.

We each get two thermos bottles with hot water for our sleeping bags every night. Those thermos bottles keep us nice and warm for many hours and are certainly a nice comfort for us. The air cools off very quickly once the sun sets and so we reduce the time outside the tent to a minimum. The first night on the mountain…

Machame Hut to Shira Camp (Tuesday, 23-Oct)

I need to get up early (for the above stated reason). Outside there is a bit of frost on the tents. The temperature is just around the freezing point.

One needs to keep moving in order to stay warm until the first rays of sun come out. The sun usually warms up the place quickly, as the radiation is quite intense at altitude. This will become even more pronounced the next couple of days at higher altitudes; as a result, at high altitudes it is almost always either too hot or too cold, something we will experience plenty of over the next few days.

Once the sun is out and we have breakfast in the dining tent the porters start breaking down the kitchen tent and the few other tents they’re using to sleep in. This is the first morning on the mountain and we can start to see their routine.

All we need to do is to pack our two big duffel bags (which will be carried by the porters) and our own small day-packs (with clothing, camera and the water in the Camelbak). We then take off with our two guides Abel and Canali – the porters take care of everything else. As they’re walking much faster than we are, they will arrive at our next camp site well ahead of us and set everything up for us – quite the luxury actually.

We set off under a clear sky and warming sun. The view with the Machame hut just below reaches down the slopes of Kilimanjaro and over to Mount Meru (4556m) in the distance.

Luckily my indigestion is getting a bit better so I can enjoy the hike. Here Jill is following our guide Abel with Canali walking right behind.

Maybe one hour into the hike some clouds are forming and start to shroud the mountain in mist. This seems to be fairly typical as Mount Kilimanjaro is tall enough to create its own weather, reaching almost 6 km up into the atmosphere and raising moist air streaming in from the Indian Ocean.

We continue our climb through these somewhat mystical clouds, along boulders with lichens and moss on them.

After about 3 hrs of hiking we reach a small plateau which will serve as a lunch spot.

Much to my surprise, our porters have set up both their kitchen tent as well as our dining tent so we can eat a hot meal for lunch in the comfort of our dining tent! This means that they have to set up all these tents twice per day!

What a luxury – we didn’t expect this, but we could get used to this… The scenery is really interesting, with dense clouds rolling in and casting the boulders and few remaining trees in ghostly light and shadows.

We finally reach the Shira plateau at about 3900m and expect to see our tents set up there by our porters. We don’t immediately find the tents, as this is a fairly large plateau and distributed camp site with camping tents everywhere. Unfortunately it has started to drizzle and rain slightly, which makes for a rather unfriendly time to be searching for your tents…

Eventually we find them a bit lower down in a nicely secluded area a bit away from the mainstream campers. The same routine unfolds as yesterday, with hot tea after arrival and then hot dinner in the evening and hot thermos for the night in the sleeping bags. In between meals we take a few pictures in the rapidly cooling night air after the sky has cleared off the local clouds and the sun sets around 6:30pm, here again with Mount Meru in the distance.

The air cools off very quickly up here near 4000m and it is getting very cold. No time to linger, just getting dinner, brushing teeth and rolling into the sleeping bag. During expeditions like this bedtime is usually very soon after sundown…

Shira Camp to Barranco (Wednesday, 24-Oct)

The air is very crisp and there is a lot of frost on the outside of the tent. Prior to sunrise everything is a bit cold and stiff. On this picture you can see our tents below as well as those of other expeditions a bit higher up on the Shira plateau. Mount Kilimanjaro from the West side (opposite of normal ascend route) is in the background.

As soon as the sun climbs over the mountain to the East, it is warming up nicely. Here Jill is taking a picture of me with Mount Meru in the background and the plains 3000m below.

Today will be the first “test” to see how well our bodies are acclimatizing, as we will reach an altitude of 4500m during lunch time. The path is easy to find, and as usual there are literally hundreds of porters lined up along the way.

After about 2 hrs of hiking we are again engulfed by forming clouds and continue to hike in the clouds – but so far we feel very good and comfortable with the increasing altitude.

We continue until we reach an altitude of about 4500m. Both Jill and I feel a slight headache due to the lack of oxygen at this altitude, but nothing too worrisome.

Again we are treated to a hot meal for lunch in our dining tent, which looks a bit out of place at this altitude, but it certainly makes for a nice and warmer place to have lunch.

Soon after lunch we continue on directly towards our next destination, the Barranco hut. We take a shortcut to avoid having to climb any higher and bypass the lava tower. Soon after lunch we reach the highest point of the day and then descend down to Barranco hut, which has an elevation of ~3900m.

This descent is quite scenic, as the path is dotted with the famous Senecio flowers. These flowers are huge like trees and often grow to 5-6m or more. They are more like trees than like flowers.

We arrive at our camp at about 4:30pm. There is still some time to relax, lie in the tent, and drink some hot tea, etc. before dinner is served. Even the view from the tent is quite spectacular, as can be seen in this zoom picture of the sun-lit Senecio plants right through the open tent door.

After tea we walk around trying to capture some good shots with our new Olympus camera. Again there is a lot of activity on this camp area.

One very attractive photo opportunity comes up when the clouds of the day are lifting and clearing Mount Kilimanjaro for a direct view, still roughly 2000m higher than our current camp site. In addition, the almost full moon rises at this time and so we have another good reason to take some pictures.

The site of the summit still so much higher makes us a bit apprehensive; how well will we be able to cope with the high altitude? Will the Diamox we’re taking as a precaution do it’s magic and help our bodies obtain enough oxygen in the next few days? We have two more days on the mountain before attempting the summit – so there is still additional acclimatization time available for our bodies to adjust. Our resting heart rate is near normal, not the crazy 120 beats per minute I had some 20 years ago in 1984 when sleeping high (3800m) on Mt. Blanc (4807m) without any acclimatization period. At least today we climbed high, but then descended again all the way down to 3900m to sleep relatively low. That should help acclimatization.

I had been up near 6000m once before in 1993 in the Argentinean Andes in South America. My father and I had climbed the extinct volcano “San Miguel” expedition-style in the Salta region. We had spent about 7 days at elevation of 3000m and higher, which gave us sufficient acclimatization. My only complaint back then was to have developed a bad headache on the summit, which went away a few hours later after descending nearly 1000m down from the summit.

2 years ago during Labor Day weekend in 2005 I tried climbing Mount Whitney in California (4400m) from sea-level in Florida all the way to the top in 2 days. There was no time for any acclimatization period at all and as a result I got AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) and had to turn around and abort the summit bid. So I have a general feel for what potentially to expect. I guess we’ll find out soon how well we’re doing.

Barranco to Karanga Valley (Thursday, 25-Oct)

We had a fairly good sleep but still wake up early. Prior to the sun reaching the campsite it is cold, slightly below freezing point. Hot tea and soup for breakfast is always good in the morning. We also walk around the camp site to take in the views and take some pictures as soon as the sun climbs above the ridge above the Barranco camp site.

This morning we need to climb the Barranco wall. If you look closely at the next picture, you can see the trail marked by hundreds of porters.

This looks quite steep and we certainly need to watch our step. The guide book also recommends packing away the trekking poles to have both hands free to hold on where necessary. Usually one may encounter rock or ice fall in the mountains, but here there may be the added danger of falling pieces of luggage. It is amazing how the porters climb up the steep trail with their 20kg weights on their heads or shoulders, some of them only in tennis shoes of even flip-flops!

Let’s hope that the movie section filmed here with the new camcorder comes out nice! Jill is quite happy after having negotiated this section – probably the most “technical” of the entire climb.

Our assistant guide Canali takes a quick 5 min powernap at the next rest. I never figured out quite how taxing this hike is for him; when asked he obviously always maintains that he’s fine, but his resting pose makes me think that he may be somewhat tired after all…

Today is a fairly short day with only about 3 hrs to hike and no substantial vertical gain. The next camp site is at the Karanga Valley at about the same altitude as Barranco (3900m).

Some people continue on towards the next camp, Barrafu, at 4600m, but we have one extra day and will do so tomorrow to allow for better acclimatization.

As a result we have plenty of time once at camp. We rest in the afternoon, have some hot tea, and take plenty of pictures in the warm light of the evening sun.

I actually hike up another 200m or so to see tomorrow’s route to the Barrafu camp. I also heard that going slightly higher than the camp helps your body adjust better to altitude (climb high, sleep low). Upon coming back down I hear some singing and dancing at the camp. One of the other tour groups celebrates coming into camp by dancing with the porters – they say it helps relax the muscles, it’s a unique experience I think you will only have in Africa J

Jill and I even see a small rainbow when the evening sun shines upon a small shower of a cloud above us. After dinner I then experiment with our new camera and its night shot feature. I take a 4 sec shot with the camera mounted on our Gorilla Pod mini tripod. In the foreground you can see the expedition tent of Summit Expeditions, which is owned by Tanzanian marathon runner Simon Mtuy. (Simon also holds the record of running up and down Mount Kilimanjaro from the Mweka Gate to Uhuru Peak and back in an unbelievable 8 hr 27 mins!). In the background the lights of Moshi town some 3000m below.

The last full night before we will start the summit bid in about 24 hrs.

Karanga Valley to Barrafu (Friday, 26-Oct)

Again getting up early is rewarded with brilliant light to take pictures. The sun warms a bit, but there is also a chilling wind, which requires me to put on the GoreTex wind-jacket.

The mountain presents itself in all its glory. The last 2000m are waiting for us.

Again, today will be a relatively short day, with only 700m vertical gain and about 3 hrs to go. But we will need all the rest we can get in order for the next day…

We definitely ascend up into the climate zone of the Alpine desert. Very few plants can live this high and dry. Consequently, the landscape begins to look more and more like on the moon.

On a clear day there are no path finding skills required, as the path hiked by hundreds if not thousands of porters a day is clearly visible. As so often in the morning, there are clouds brewing in the valleys below, but it stays mostly dry and sunny all morning up high.

We arrive at our camp site already at 12:00pm noon. The clear sky above makes us take many pictures. One can also for the first time see Mount Mawenzi, Kilimanjaro’s sister peak at 5149m. Another team is having lunch below. Note also the outhouse construction on the cliff!

Luckily neither Jill nor I have any signs of altitude sickness (headache, nausea, vomiting), so we’re hopeful for tomorrow. Like the day before I also climb a bit higher to a secondary plateau above the Barrafu camp site at about 4800m which is used by some teams as an advanced camp (to lessen the vertical gain of summit day). The view back down reveals the two green metal Barrafu huts as well as the extent of the camping all around.

Everything looks quite close now, with the glaciers of Kilimanjaro seemingly close enough to reach out and touch. I return to our camp site and Jill and I sit for about ½ hr in the entrance of our tent, overlooking the clouds several hundred meters below. We have a rare moment of temperature being just right, not too hot and not too cold. Then Jill notices the clouds coming up and closing in on our lofty perch. Within minutes we’re in clouds and it starts snowing. Coming back from the outhouse I’m getting blanketed with wet snow and need to dress more warmly. The view from our dining tent back to our sleeping tent reveals the snow shower. Everything here and higher up on the mountain is blanketed with a thin layer of snow, which won’t melt until we (hopefully) come back down from the summit tomorrow!

In the evening we prepare our backpack and clothing for the summit bid starting at midnight tonight. There is not a lot of sleep to be had between 8:00-11:00pm. We get up at 11:00pm and get dressed. 4-5 layers of clothing – pretty much everything we have brought with us. Then we meet at 11:30pm in the dining tent for some hot tea and a few biscuits.

Then it is midnight and time to go – summit day is here!

Barrafu to Summit and Descent to Mweka Hut (Saturday, 27-Oct)

When getting out of the tent I notice that the air isn’t extremely cold – maybe -10C, cold, yes, but not Fargo cold. When I take the gloves off to create a night shot of our tents at midnight, it is still bearable for several minutes. Note Moshi town in the distance below, some clouds below, but above it is fairly clear.

We start our ascent. Everything feels a bit surreal. The snow and ice cover makes the rock a bit slippery and we need to be careful in the dark. Thanks to the full moon and bits of snow we don’t need our head lamps – there is enough ambient light to show the way.

We start going very slowly. The 200m to the advanced camp take us about 1 hr 15 mins. Yesterday I walked the same distance in less than half the time, with warm dry rock, sunshine and no carrying bag. But as long as we keep going steadily and stay warm, but don’t sweat, we’re good. In fact, it is very important to find a good rhythm. Better going a bit too slow than too fast! At the advanced camp I take the time to setup another night shot – very tedious and cold, but I know the result is worth it: Mawenzi in the background, the kitchen tent on the left and some clients getting ready in the big expedition tent at 1:30am.

This is as much an extreme expedition environment as I had imagined. We are at 4800m – as high as you can go in West-Europe (Mt. Blanc, 4807m) – and yet we have another 1100m vertical gain ahead of us! Let’s hope we don’t suffer any problems of high altitude. In fact, both Jill and I are somewhat expecting a major headache to set in anytime now…

The next 4 hrs or so are dark and lonely. The major problem now is the wind, which had gained intensity at this altitude and is blowing at 30-50km/h, with gusts up to an estimated 70km/h. The wind-chill is definitely extreme, you could call it Fargo cold. We need our head masks with balaclavas. In the gusts we have trouble walking upright or standing still, they push us to the side and we’re staggering like drunken sailors through the night. In fact, I can see the stormy wind blasting the snow horizontally over the rocky slopes reflecting in the moon light. What a sight! I wish I could wear my skiing goggles, but their dark tainted sun cover is too dark for the moon light. So we have to face the wind with our eyes squinting as they get pounded with ice crystals by the wind.

For a while around 3:30am the wind is so intense and the climbing so slow, hard and cold that I harbor serious doubts about the success of our summit bid. If that wind continues to blow this hard or gets even worse I don’t see how we can make it. And it gets very cold and it is tiring. Perhaps there is some adrenaline that pushes us forward, or perhaps it’s the thought about how far we have come, and that giving up or turning around now should really only be a very last resort. The slow but steady pace of our guide provides the reassuring calm we need at this moment. The famous Swahili expression “Pole Pole” means “slowly, slowly”, and so we continue, Pole Pole.

I study the altimeter of my wrist watch. At the current rate of ascent (200m / hr) I figure we will get to the crater rim (at Stella’s point, 5725m) about ½ hr past sunrise. In fact, above 5400m the sky turns grey and later pink. Sunrise must be relatively near, and that brings new motivation. Also to my surprise, the wind does not get worse with altitude, if anything it seems to calm down a little bit. This picture of Jill and Canali is taken at 5:55am.

One can see the crater rim already very close, maybe another 15 mins of ascending ahead. Some other clients can be seen up on the ridge already, where the Marangu route converges with our ascent route.

Within minutes there is enough light to see colors. Now we can turn our head lamps off for good. Full of excitement I run ahead a few meters, stop, unload my backpack, finger out my new camcorder, and try to capture the rest of the party ascending against the pink morning sky – what a scenery, what a shot! But oh, the camera display shows that the hard disk is not operational and the camcorder is turning off! It is too cold for my camcorder to work L That’s disappointing given the grandiose views, but then we still have the photo cameras. We are now almost 5 km higher than the plains below – a view only very few mountains have to offer.

At 6:10am we reach the crater rim at 5725m. The view extends to the crater plateau and suddenly we all feel like we have made it. Well, not quite, as the highest point is still 150m higher and about 45 min along the ridge line. Jill takes a brilliant zoom photo from Stella’s point towards Uhuru Peak (left) and the full moon.

Of course we still want to reach the highest point at Uhuru Peak – and that turns out to be a real slog. Incredibly tiring and windy, these last 45 mins are an exercise in patience and will power. We are helped along by incredible views of the glaciers near the top ridge.

Descending clients tell us that it isn’t far anymore. Among others I chat with Peter, an Austrian who I met yesterday at the advanced camp. He was already at the top and encourages us to keep going. Soon we have the Uhuru Peak in sight.

I walk right next to Jill, and we are holding hands for those last final steps towards the summit. Then a big bear hug – WE MADE IT. At 7:20am Jill and I pose next to the summit sign on top of Kilimanjaro, at the highest point of the African Continent.

Uhuru Peak means Freedom Peak in Tanzanian. What a joy to have made it! We look around, take some pictures and have others take our summit shot. Also, neither Jill nor I suffer any form of altitude sickness – the acclimatization time and the Diamox pills have worked their magic, no headache, what a relief!

But it is definitely not time to linger. The still strong wind makes it very cold just to take the gloves off for a few pictures. Only 10 mins at the summit, at 7:30am I take another shot back down to Stella’s point right in front of Mawenzi, which is now 700m below us.

The blowing snow in the picture gives an idea about the wind and cold at the summit! We start the descent. I take a picture of Abel waiting for me against the glacier with a 5000m view towards the plains to the South.

This glacier will not be there anymore in 20-30 yrs, if current trends continue. The ice apparently sublimates due to the intense radiation of the sun here near the equator, and there isn’t enough fresh snow accumulating to compensate for the loss. If you too want to see the glaciers of Kilimanjaro, you have to come here soon, before 2030 or so…

The descent is somewhat anti-climactic. We are very tired, but we know that the sooner we get down, the better. Higher temperatures and more oxygen await down below. So we trudge along. Luckily the now soft snow and rubble makes it easy to descend, as you slide another foot or two with every step you take. Almost like the glissade I experienced when climbing the volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest back in 1999, including Mt. Adams, Mt. Baker, and Mt. Rainier.

One can actually recognize a group of three just ahead of me in this picture. Two porters are helping down a client who is suffering from altitude sickness. We can see a few more such cases, but nothing too severe. We are now extremely tired, something I have often experienced at high altitude. I have to stop every now and then just to sit for a few minutes or support myself with my trekking poles. The huge slope takes us quite some time to descend, and I can only think of lying down in our tent to catch some much needed sleep.

I can vividly imagine the perils of extreme high altitude climbing. You put so much effort into getting up that you are very tired and exhausted. Then the desire of just sitting down and resting may become overwhelming. Add to this the extreme cold and possibly worsening weather conditions, and I can clearly see how high altitude climbing can become very dangerous, especially on the way down. As they say: “If you don’t push hard enough, you don’t get up. But if you push too hard, you don’t get down!” And it is hard to imagine that Mount Everest is still almost 3000m (10000 ft) higher than Kilimanjaro…

At 10:15am we’re back at Barrafu camp – 7 hrs to climb, 3 hrs to get down. Jill and I collapse into our tent. The snow is just now about to melt off our tent at this altitude. Without the tent doors open it is unbearably hot inside the tent, like a microwave oven. With the tent door open the wind is still chilly…

Another expedition group has set up camp very close to our tents and they actually seem to wait until we leave in the early afternoon. Outside the tent there is mayhem, it feels like porter central. So not much quiet, but still some rest and sleep. After 2 hrs of snoozing we’re getting ready to continue our descent. We still need to go down for another 3 hrs and descend another 1600m to the Mweka hut camp at 3000m.

Even though we don’t feel like walking again, we get ready around 2:30pm. The 2 hr nap and some more tea has refreshed us sufficiently to continue our descent. At no other time is it so apparent that you’re dealing with so many different climate zones on this mountain than when you descend some 3000m in one day. We are now coming back from the ice cap and walking through the alpine desert, and we’re slowly seeing vegetation come back.

The tree line below marks our goal for the day. This will be at the lower end of the moorland region and just at the beginning of the forest region. We enjoy the green plants coming back and signaling life and warmth.

Jill takes a short rest at this overlook and enjoys the view.

Soon we’re back down in the forest region. The clouds come in and actually give us a bit of rain for the last 15 minutes of our descent. This creates a bit of a damp and cold evening, with not much to do other than to have dinner and again get the hot thermos for one more night in the sleeping bag on the mountain. It is, however, already much milder than at Barrafu last night and certainly than the very cold ascent in the pre-dawn hours of this morning.

Descent to Mweka Gate (Sunday, 28-Oct)

We need to get up early due to the schedule and the porters all want to get down the mountain. Early morning tea and breakfast – by now a nice routine for us! After that the kitchen tent and dining tent are brought down, and we pack our bags so the porters can also put down our tent.

Everything is still cold and wet, but the morning sun brings warmth and starts drying the tents. One more look back up to the top of the mountain with a zoom lens reveals the ice cap in all its morning glory.

We start descending the final leg of our journey, back through the lush greens of the forest. At the beginning, bright sunlight marks our way.

There are endless photo opportunities here, especially if you like plants and flowers. Occasionally there is a gap in the forest canopy which reveals a view, such as in this example to neighboring Mount Meru.

There are huge trees here. It is a stark contrast to the alpine desert landscape we come from just yesterday. We see monkeys in the trees and marvel at all the abundance of flowers and plants, trees and ferns, mosses and lichens.

Soon we’re back in the clouds and the light changes to a mix of green and grey. Again fantastic light effects for photos, which makes me stop frequently to capture this otherworldly environment in images.

Several other clients come down this route, as well as many other porters. It may sound strange, but even though we are tired of hiking and especially of descending, we still don’t really want this hike to be over. So we really enjoy those last couple of hours down to the gate.

Before we know it we are back down at the road at the Mweka gate. Both Jill and I sign out the books provided by the rangers. We also receive our official certificates here – as a formal sign that we were successful at the summit. We also tip our guide and his porters, as most of them will part ways here and we will not see them again. Tipping guidelines vary widely and sometimes even contradict each other, so Jill and I spent quite some time during the last days figuring out the right amount and how to distribute it. While this is by no means a cheap trip, it is very important to the porters, who really deserve this tip well. They contributed in a huge way to making this a successful and enjoyable experience!

Our two guides Abel and Canali join us in the Toyota Landcruiser vehicle for our return trip back to civilization, i.e. a 2 hr drive to Arusha. (Our local operator, Akorn, has about 200 of these sturdy vehicles, and we will get to appreciate it’s features and sturdiness much over the next week during our Safari trip to Lake Manyara, NgoroNgoro crater and the Serengeti National Park.) I nap during much of the drive, the warmth and rocking motion of the car just lull me to sleep. No more walking…

We have a room in the Arusha hotel and will stay there for the night prior to going on to the Safari part of our Tanzania vacation. The first hot shower after 7 days of dust and sweat on the mountain feels terrific…

In fact, as I finish writing these lines at the Nairobi airport during our return trip to Florida this expedition already seems very far away. Good thing we brought cameras and took lots of pictures. This will keep the memory of this expedition fresh in our minds. We’re glad that everything worked out so well: We had a good group of guides and porters, great food and guidance along the way, and fairly good weather (except the strong winds); we didn’t get altitude sickness and we reached the summit as planned. An experience I wouldn’t want to miss!