Note: I originally wrote this for the Sierra Designs website back in 2005, but thought I’d pop it into here for those who haven’t seen it. DL
When I began to plan my summer sabbatical, in honor of twenty years of service to Trinity Cathedral, I decided that it was time to stop “talking” about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and just do it! My friend and colleague Dr. David Deffner and I had talked about this in the past, and when I proposed actually doing it to him, he immediately said yes!
We hired Peter Mato, a highly experienced Kilimanjaro guide to take us up the mountain. Peter started climbing the mountain as a porter at the age of 14, and now, at the age of 40 he is one of the most experienced Kili guides around. He is reputed to have climbed the mountain over 400 times! Peter was fantastic… making all of the arrangements, hiring porters, arranging transportation. We had decided to climb the mountain via the Great Western Breach, using the Machame approach, which gave us maximum acclimatization time, on a less traveled route.
We arrived at Kilimanjaro International Airport on July 13th… unfortunately, our duffel bags did NOT arrive, so we spent the next day on a game drive in Arusha National Park, where we saw Cape Buffalo, Giraffe, Zebra, Warthog, Blue Monkeys, Colobus Monkeys, Waterbuck, and more incredible birds than you can imagine.
This baggage delay is evidently a fairly common occurrence on this Amsterdam to Kili flight, but fortunately, our gear did arrive that evening, so the next morning we were off. We were piled into a fairly vintage Land Rover, crammed with gear, porters, and food, and made our way up the rough dirt road to the trailhead.
Our trek started at the Machame trailhead (6000′), and our first day was mostly spent in the incredibly beautiful (and muddy) rainforest. Lush greenery, beautiful flowers, hanging mosses dominated this day. About twenty minutes from camp, we emerged from the rainforest into the Heath zone, were we spent our first night at Machame camp, at around 9000′.
Our second day we climbed higher… the plants and vegetation became more interesting and “Dr. Seuss-like.” Giant Senecio, Lobelia, and everlastings dominated the landscape. As is typical, mist covered the mountain from late morning to mid-afternoon. The hiking in this section was much more difficult than the first day… another 3000′ in vertical gain, over fewer miles. The route was much rougher, and included some class 2 scrambling in spots. Our second night’s camp was at New Shira camp (12,000′), overlooking the starkly beautiful Shira Plateau. And I was really tired and thinking… “what have I gotten myself into??”
Our third day took us through two more climate zones: the Grassy Moorland and into the Alpine Desert. The landscape grew rockier and more barren, taking on a otherworldly character. The day’s steep hiking took us to our third camp at Lava Tower (about 16,000′), a rocky promontory that dominates the area. From here, we’d make our climb up the Western Breach to the crater and summit!
My partner David had not been feeling well… a nagging headache and lack of sleep was taking its toll. We decided to spend our fourth day resting and re-hydrating at Lava Tower, and assess our readiness for the summit climb at dinner.
At midnight, we hoisted our packs, turned on our headlamps, and began the long climb to the summit. It was a completely clear night, the stars were brilliant at 18,000′. It was an eerie feeling climbing the Breach in the dark. This section was a combination of steep trail hiking, and class 3 scrambling. As we neared the crater rim at dawn, we could see DOWN the breach… we climbed that?? As the sun began to come up, it got very cold… so cold that our water bottles were pretty much the consistency of a Slurpee® by the time we got to the crater rim.
Reaching the summit crater was incredible. Even though the ice and snow are retreating at an alarming rate, the glaciers were still mind-blowing. We spent a few very cold minutes exploring the crater area, then surmounted the final scree slope to the top of Africa. At 8:00 am we found ourselves standing at the famous summit sign… we were both overwhelmed with emotion. The views across the massive volcano were incredible, and the feeling of accomplishment was something I’ll never forget.
However, our adventure was not over yet… we still had to descend 13,000′ vertical feet in two days. By the time we arrived at Mweka High Camp for our final night, our knees and quads were completely knackered! But we looked forward to the hot showers, cold beers, and clean beds that waited below.
Our Kilimanjaro trip was an incredible, life-changing experience, and one that I will never forget. Peter Mato and his guide/porter crew were amazing, and we couldn’t have done it without them. If you’ve ever thought about doing this trip… you should. The “snows of Kilimanjaro” aren’t going to be around much longer, so the time is right!
Kit: Osprey Eclipse 36 backpack; Mountain Hardwear X-country & Down Upgrade sleeping bags; Thermarest Pro-Lite 2 & Z-rest 3/4 length pads; Smartwool Versa t-shirts (2); Patagonia Baggies shorts (2); Smartwool merino/poly bottoms; Mountain Hardwear wind-pro fleece jacket; MHW 100 wt fleece shirt; MHW Chugach vest; Lowe Alpine wind pants; Lowe Alpine Triplepoint rain jacket; Smartwool Mountaineering socks; Mountrail Torre GTX boots; Chaco Z-1 sandals; MHW nylon sun hat; MHW Powerstretch balaclava; Lowe Alpine fleece gloves; OR Sympatex Shell mitts.