I found most of the week’s climbing Kilimanjaro really enjoyable and not too taxing, although breathing got hard at times and the hours of walking seemed to go up each day, it was still relatively easy (you can read my post about what to expect on the Machame route here). The worst thing was the bitter cold at night, having to sit and eat dinner whilst shivering in a windy tent was not a pleasant experience, as soon as we’d finished it was straight into the sleeping bags and off to sleep. And then as soon as the sun came up and we started climbing again it would get really hot, on the second day although I was wearing some sunscreen it obviously wasn’t enough as I got really burnt and was in agony for the next day, so make sure you get some factor 50 and slip slop slap it on…
The final summit climb however was far from enjoyable or easy, in fact its probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Setting off at midnight after just 2 hours sleep into the pitch black and -20 degrees, you begin to zigzag your way up a steep icy slope and that’s pretty much the next 7 hours of climbing. Going back and forth, back and forth across patches of ice in the pitch black, slowly getting colder and more tired as you go, I’m not gonna lie its sole destroying! I was dead cert we’d got so high up we’d entered a parallel dimension where time virtually stopped it was going so slowly. I had also been saving my iPod battery all week for the final few hours of climbing when I knew I would need some really motivational music (Cue, Eye of the tiger!), the time came and I struggled with my useless frozen hands to get my iPod out, struggled to wire the headphones through all my layers and pressed play… nothing! Turns out iPods don’t work at -20 degrees, gutted doesn’t even begin to describe it! When we finally reached Stella point, the last thing I wanted to do was trek another hour through thick snow to Uhuru Peak, but we’d come this far so after a brief rest we trudged on, when we reached the top I cant say that I felt a massive rush of achievement, I think my brain was frozen to be honest it was all I could do to stay standing up, I couldn’t process the thought that I’d actually made it. It wasn’t until we started the descent with the sun coming up and starting to beat down on us, thawing us out that I started to feel a bit better and a bit less like a walking iceberg. The descent back to camp is a horrendously steep gravel slope, which you basically just attempt to ski/slide/slip down as best you can.
At the top, I was still thinking, ‘why am I here?’ and ‘This is not worth it’ and I don’t think it’s until a few days later I began to appreciate that it was worth it, it was soooo worth it, because except for the final ascent I actually had an amazing time and because I made it and if you can climb Kiliman-bloody-jaro, what can’t you do!
5 Tips to ensue you reach the summit:
Kilimanjaro Explorers – Book with my amazing new agency providing Kilimanjaro Climbs for backpackers at budget prices, they’ll make sure you have a good time and give you everything you need to give you the best shot at getting to the top!
Diamox, Diamox, Diamox – It stops altitude sickness and when you battling a near vertical slope in -20 degrees the last thing you need is to be throwing up. You can get a prescription from your GP or buy it from a chemist in Moshi, take ½ a pill with breakfast and ½ a pill with dinner everyday and an extra ½ before you start your summit climb.
Pole Pole – You’ll hear it a hundred times but you really can’t go slow enough, especially on the summit day, keep going even if at a snail’s pace because as soon as you stop you start to get colder and colder.
Stay Warm – Pile on as many layers as you can physically fit on you and you’ll still be freezing cold, particularly on your hands and feet. Wear as many pairs of socks as you can without making it uncomfortable, and wear glove liners inside your gloves/mittens. I’d recommend mittens, as inside gloves your fingers are separated out and its harder to keep them warm. You can buy heat pads from most walking shops which slip inside your gloves, these were an absolute life saver, activate them at the start of the summit trek and by the time you start getting cold they’ll be toasty warm. (Read my Kilimanjaro Kit List here)
Energy – Energy powder, Dextrose tablets and chocolate! You will be running on empty by half way up and you will be starving, even if you don’t feel like eating, mixing energy powder into your water is a great way to get an extra boost, trust me you’ll need it!