Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Conquering Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania 18-25 Sep 2015

Tanzania, Africa

Tanzania is my second country in Africa that I visited. This trip has been planned early in the year, it is a challenge that I set for myself every year. This year I will attempt to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro @ 5895m. It will be the highest mountain I ever hike. It was indeed a big challenge for me, having lived on an island at altitude , with the highest hill at an altitude of 163m. The training is only limited to physical and endurance. The training got started 3 months before the trip, which involved cycling, climbing stairs and gym. Seriously I was not ready for the trip, I didn't feel that I was fit enough to climb but I was determine to reach the peak!

Our journey took us 25hrs with 2 transits to arrive at Kilimanjaro. Bob, Winnie and me took off from Singapore and Marga and Inge from Holland. The 5 of us meet at the Lodge that we have book our trip from. We were excited to be there and to see each other again after one year.
The 5 of us and our lead guide
The first impression of Tanzania - dusty, hash and dry. From the airport to the lodge, we had a peek on the ice cover peak of Kilimanjaro, it was mostly covered by cloud. Our lodge is located 5 mins from Moshi town. We had big rooms, surrounded by garden, a swimming pool and a restaurant. The restaurant served delicious Indian cuisine. We were welcome with very friendly staff from the front desk and the restaurant. We were given a full briefing in the evening, our guide name was Robinson. He has more than 15 years experience hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro and his success rate is very high. That gave us more comfort and confident for the hike. In the evening we had to get ready to repack our stuff into a duffel bag and rent whatever gears that we need for the hike. The 4 core equipment to rent are the 4 season sleeping bag, thick mattress, gaiters and the duffel bag. You won't want to miss any of these items! The rest of the items more or less we have prepared like walking pole, lights, batteries, gloves, hats, sunglasses, hiking boots, thick socks, warm cloths, light backpack, water bottle, sun block, medicines, camera etc.

The maximum weight a porter is allow to carry is 15kg, a regulation set by the Kilimanjaro Park to protect the porters from over loaded. Those porters are carrying everything that we need for the next 6 days from food, pots, plates, cooking gas, stove, tents, table, chairs, our bags, and some group even have their portable toilet. Pufff! There goes all the comfort!

Kilimanjaro Route Map
There are many routes to hike to the top of Kilimanjaro, we have chosen the Machame Route - 6 Days 5 Nights Trek, this trek is more scenic and natural but more demanding. We have in someway prepare ourselves physically for this trip last few months. We run, we cycle, we climb stairs, we made long walk but nothing can prepare us for the real climb, all 5 of us lived in a country that doesn't have a mountain. :-(
On the 20 Sept, we left our comfortable hotel to Machame gate, we pick up 1 more guide so we have 3 guides for the 5 of us. At Machame gate, near the waiting area a few olive baboons and Blue Monkeys came to check everyone out, they even stole some food from us. Some of them are so used to human and fierce. 

Blue Monkey
The 5 of us!

We waited a long time for the administration and the porters team formation. The process took so long because the porters have to be selected by the Chief Guide and they have to sort out their load to ensure it is only 15kg for each of them. The porter will then need to queue to weight their goods before entering the gate. Finally we left around 11am with 3 guides and a big group of porters. We couldn't figure out how many as there is not like a tag on them nor they were being introduced but later we found out they were 17 of them which consist of 1 Chef, 1 assistant and 15 porters. An army!

Porters queuing to weight their pack
Only 15kg per proter

Machame Trek - Photo by Bob
20th Sep 2015
Trek start : Machame Gate (1800m)
Trek end : Machame Camp (3000m)
Duration : 5 hrs
Distance : 10.5km
Difficulties : Easy

We were all pump and ready to take off. We only carry a daypack that consist of our water, camera, battery, energy bar or snack, rain jacket, warm gloves, hats, sun glasses, sun block, first aid, lunch pack, etc. Adds up to about 5-8kg. The start is always exciting, we were chit chatting the whole way. The path is clear and wide, surrounded by rainforest. We stop for lunch break somewhere in the forest, lunch box was provided, it contains a fried chicken drumstick, a piece of potato, a cake, a pack of juice, an egg and something else that I don't remember. It was not fantastic but we ate it anyway!

My tent and the toilet up the hill
We took about 5 hours to arrive to Machame Camp. Registered ourselves and found our tents ready setup, just need to dive into the sleeping bag. :-) We have 3 tents for us I am on my own, have all the space I need but just not warm enough. There is a dining tent where we have a table and chairs setup. It is candle light dinner from now on. The camp site was pack, you could easily step over someone.....no kidding. Our first challenge is to check out the toilet. I wonder why they put the toilet up on a hill? Like we like to hike so much :-( The first toilet visit was horrified, disgusted and decided not to go back. The bigger challenge is to hold it the entire night so we don't have to get out from our warm sleeping bag, put on layer of cloths and the hiking shoes, scramble over all the tents on our way up the hill to pee. Gee! maybe the portable toilet is a good idea. :-( But that night I saw the most beautiful sky ever, the camp site was light up with million of stars and Milky Way....breathtaking but freezing! Could not stay out long.

21st Sep 2015
Trek start : Machame Camp (3000m)
Trek end : Shira Camp (3845m)
Duration :  5 hrs
Distance : 7km
Difficulties : Moderate

Morning started with a pail of hot water delivered to our door/tent step. Then comes a cup of hot tea. :-D Not so bad to start the cold day eh! Everyday we asked for boiled water from the crew, we still drop in purifying pill just as precaution. We carry about 2 little of water with us. After breakfast and toilet we pack up to go. Everything is removed, nothing was left behind.

Mt. Meru at far
Mt Kilimanjaro
Big traffic ahead today as everyone was leaving around the same time. We also need to give way to the porters when they came in lightning speed. You don't want to get run down. :-) This trail is beautiful, we had more open view out from the rain forest we pass the day before. We had the view of Mt. Meru behind us and Kilimanjaro in front occasionally when she emerged from the cloud. Today the headache that was lingering in my head got worst. I could not eat my meals yet still needed the energy to hike. I stop to enjoy the view on the way to Shira Camp, as soon as we arrived, I headed straight into the tent, took some ibuprofen and slept. Just wanted to shut everything out at that moment, after the nap, it was slightly better, we were asked to go for a short hike to Shira cave nearby for acclimatization. It was windy and cold. As this camp site is open we get an amazing sunset from here. The feeling of floating in the cloud and watching the sun went beyond the cloud at the end of daylight was surreal. It was a cold cold night, thank god for a good sleeping bag. I do not know how the porters survived as some of them do not have warm clothes like us and sleeping bag. 

Sunset at Shira Camp
22nd Sep 2015
Trek start : Shira Camp (3845m)
High point : Lava Rock (4630m)
Trek end : Barranco Camp (3960m)
Duration :  6.5 hrs
Distance : 10km
Difficulties : Moderate

Woke up to blue sky and the majestic Kilimanjaro behind us. Damn! the headache is still there. Let's try to get pass the day. The plantation has changed from grassland or savannas to alpine desert. We see more rocks formation, rough and dry. 

Lava Rock ahead
The first half of the day we had to hike up to Lava Rock at 4630m (this helps in acclimatization) we stop for lunch to recharge ourselves but it was too cold with the wind, we were trying to hide behind the rocks but we loose the sun, which is the only heat we get at this altitude. We quickly eat and started moving again. From Lava Rock it was a bit of a challenge to descent down the steep wall. My legs were wobbly. :-( but after the scramble it was an easy walk towards Barranco Camp site, we pass thru a little oasis full of vegetation and stream of water. Here at Barranco Camp site, the Barranco Wall stood in front of us! Yes the famous Barranco Wall, Bob probably started to think maybe he should head back. This is the biggest obstacle for Bob as he is afraid of height. We all agreed for Bob to go first and all the gals stay behind him just in case. :-) Every night we slept early and start the next day early. The sub zero temperature outside doesn't keep us out long. Our guide will give us a briefing of what is going on the next day before we call it a day.

The little Oasis
23rd Sep 2015
Trek start : Barranco Camp (3976m)
Trek end : Barafu Camp (4673m)
Duration : 8 hrs
Distance : 8km
Difficulties : Difficult

Today we have to conquer the Barranco wall, rising 800ft above the valley. Steep and narrow path cut back and forth along the rock surface. Hikers have to keep their hands free to hold on to the rocks and maintain their weight close to the wall. Do not look down above where we can step. It was a scramble but it wasn't as bad as we thought. I actually was thrilled that I get to experience it. Bob was the one who really deserved a big thumbs up! He managed to overcome his fear and conquer the wall. We were all happy for him. On top of the Barranco wall, we had a beautiful photo taken with Kilimanjaro behind us. We forgot about the peak for a moment and just be happy :-)
The Barranco Wall - Photo by Bob
The scramble up Barranco Wall
Above Barranco Wall
The trek still have a long way to go after Barranco, it was too early to be happy. We arrived at Karanga campsite but here it is for 7 days trek package to stay an extra night to acclimatize. We are skipping this site continue to Barafu. The last 500m struggle towards Barafu Camp was exhausting! My legs were all jelly when I reached the camp. The campsite was rocky, it was packed with tents everywhere in between the rocks, we were setup at the edge of the slope. Had an amazing view over the valley. I sat in front of my tent for the longest time, can't move myself anymore. Good thing is my headache was gone. I could finally eat a proper meal. But Winnie was down, she was shivering badly. It was a sign of altitude sickness. She could hardly eat any food. 

Barafu Camp
We all tried to get some rest before the big night. We were very nervous. The tiredness also has affected us. At 11pm we have to get ready to hike to the peak. We packed up some energy bar, chocolates, water, warm clothes, camera, batteries but trying to keep it as light as possible. We also put on our gaiter as advised by our guide so they kept the stones away from getting into our shoes. Layered ourselves with thick clothes, gloves and hood as it will be sub-zero. We received bad news from Winnie, she was still sick and can't make it to the summit and Bob decided to stay with her. Only the 3 of us left! We were sad that Winnie and Bob were left behind but there is nothing we could do. We were determined to try our best to reach the peak. At midnight we set off. Winnie and Bob will head down during the day to our next camp site.

Torch light towards Stella Point
24th Sep 2015
Trek start : Barafu Camp (4673m)
High point : Uhuru Peak (5895m)
Trek end : Mweka Camp (3068m)
Duration :  16 hrs
Distance : 19km
Difficulties : Extreme

Leaving the camp site in darkness, we can already see the line of torch light going up the mountain. People were already halfway to the summit. We just got started but is ok, we are going to do it "pole pole" (means slowly). The way up was zing zang thru the rocks and slope. We have 2 guides with us, one lead and one tail us so no one will be left behind. Our torches shine on the path where we would put our next steps. We walk half a step every time, "pole pole" and breath. We stop every now and then but it gets cold if we do it too often. Our guide insist that we continue to walk "pole pole" instead of stopping too many times. On the way up, we encountered several hikers turning back with their guide, they were in really bad shape! Some were literally drag down by their guide. Altitude sickness can be fatal. The fatality in Kilimanjaro hike is not exactly known but there were estimated 3-7 a year. The success rate on a 6 days hike is only 40%. We were hoping to be in this category.

It was the longest ever slope I ever attempted, we have been told too many times that we were almost there but we still could not see nothing at end of the wall on top of us. Here is the time where you do not thrust your guide anymore. The sun rises behind our back while we see some light at the end of the tunnel far away. The Stella Point is there waiting for us! We push and push and push, the only words that came thru my mine was "I can do it I can do it! One step closer every time I take a baby step!" The last scramble over the top of the slope was dreadful. We have no more expression, we couldn't smile, we just hug each other and pad each other for job well done. Sat down and stared at the view of the crater. Exhaustion kicks in, we didn't even take any photo. We stared at the Uhuru Peak at the end of the crater ring. That is our final destination, this is not. Our guide asked if we want to continue. The 3 of us were determined thank god no one gave up yet! To the TOP we said! We just need to keep in mine only 500m (I guess) more we will be at the top of Africa.

Stella Point
The 500m length of almost flat path with only 139m elevation took us 1 hr to complete. We walked like a grandma. There were time when we walk pass a couple of elderly trekkers that gave us a kick in our butt, in our mind we thought if they can do it sure can we! The record of the oldest person to climb Mount Kilimanjaro is at age 85 and 201 days. Robert Wheeler reached the summit on 2nd October 2014.

Finally around 9am we reached Africa highest point-The Uhuru Peak @ 5895m! The Uhuru Peak makes up one of the Seven Summits in the world. Higher than both South and North Everest Base Camp. We were overwhelm by emotion and exhaustion, finally we smile and tears fell thru our eyes. We were so proud of ourselves to make it there. We took a few photos and enjoy the moment of victory. Hurray! There were happy faces everywhere. We saw the Southern Icefield and the Eastern Icefield on both side on the way down. I took as much photos as I can because I will only be here once in my life time, and to share this with all my family and friends who will never be here. 

Our next challenge awaits, which is even more dreadful then reaching the peak. We need to descent down 2827m of altitude with our weak knees and legs. Now I wish for a helicopter to pick us and bring us down. :-(

Stella Point
Uhuru Peak

Descent from Uhuru Peak
Barafu Campsite - Photo by Bob
We descent on a different path from where we came up. The down slope was scary! Just like skiing on a winter mountain of snow but without the ski and the snow. We used our legs to half run and half glide down the rocks and sands slope and our pole as ski pole to balance. I swear my legs were not with my body anymore, they were doing their own thing and I am just keeping my eyes open not to stumble on sharp rocks. We reached back to Barafu Camp around 12:30pm. We had walk for almost 12 hours by now! Our legs were completely death! The guide told us to have a rest, take our lunch and we have to pack up to head to Mweka Camp. This is insane! We need a few days to recover, not 30 mins! By 1:30pm we push ourselves to move, "pole pole" we hike down to Mweka Camp. We pass Millenium Campsite where we wish this could be our campsite for the night. It will be more logical to camp here then to camp at Mweka Camp as we were extremely tired. 

We finally arrived to Mweka around 5:30pm. We were so happy to see Winnie and Bob and shared our achievement with them. We were glad that Winnie has recovered, and we were all safe from any fatalities. 

Mweka Campsite
25th Sep 2015
Trek start : Mweka Camp (3068m)
Trek end : Mweka Gate (1640m)
Duration :  2 hrs
Distance : 10km
Difficulties : Easy

The last day was the easiest compare to what we had been thru. We took our time to enjoy the last bit of the hike. Unfortunately our guide was in a hurry they kept pushing us to go. I can't be bother, just took my time with all the flowers by the road side. We saw a few long hair Colobus monkeys close up, what a beauty!

Colobus Monkey - Photo by Em
Arrived at the Mweka Gate, we received our certificates of achievement to reach the Uhuru Peak and we finally met the entire crew. They sang us the African song and we join in for a dance with them. The ritual is completed with a token of appreciation to the entire team.

The Crew

That ends our 6 days hike to Mt Kilimanjaro. I felt content and proud of myself for achieving it. I swear not to hike anymore but you never know when the hiking bugs will bite again. I would not have made it without everyone in the team. The experience was priceless. The only regret I had was not having Bob and Winnie with us at the summit. We probably could have made it with a 7 days trek.

Link to Kilimanjaro Album -> https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10153670757148126.1073741854.614428125&type=1&l=0a1c787fd6

Mountain Inn (10 mins from Moshi Town) Bungalow room/night with attached toilet, hot shower, TV. Breakfast, WIFI.

Ethiopian Airlines - SG-BKK-ADD-KIL return S$1630 pp
Airport Transfer to/from Kili airport to Mountain Inn one way- $80 per car

Machame Route 8D7N (6 Days trek) package - US$1485 pp incl:-
- 2 Nights’ accommodation at Mountain Inn on half board basis sharing
 - All meals on the mountain on full board basis prepared by our trained chef /cook and eating utensils
 - Kilimanjaro National Park conservation (entry) fees
 - Kilimanjaro National Park Rescue fees /Camping fees or hut fees
 - Four or Three seasons Light dome tent per two personal sharing on camping based route
 - Camping chair, table, 1 dinning tent for the camping route
 - Kilimanjaro National Park trained and certified English speaking Mountain guide/s
 - Kilimanjaro National Park trained Porters
 - Boiled drinking water on the trek
 - 1 transfers to/from Moshi to Park gates per group

 - Safe and luggage storage room at Mountain Inn while on the trek

Rental equipments:-
- Duffel Bag -$10
- Mattresses -$10
- 4 season sleeping bags - $30

Tipping Guide :-
- Each mountain guide: USD $70 per guide, from the whole group per trip
- Each mountain porter: USD $30 per porter, from the whole group per trip
- Each mountain cook: USD $10 extra compared to normal porters