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Mt. Kilimanjaro Expedition Log 2018

Follow along from home as we share photos and updates from the field on our trek up the world’s tallest freestanding mountain. Our climb up Kilimanjaro is an 8-day, 65 km walk on the Lemosho-Mweka route. This scenic route takes us through five different ecosystems; rainforest, heather, moorland, alpine desert and glacial terrain. The route we have chosen is longer, the extra nights/days aid acclimatization and allow our climbers more time to recover and prepare for the final push to the top. Updates from the field provided by our instructor Colin Bunge.

Angus, Colin, Ami, Seb and David departing Toronto Pearson International Airport

January 14: Up, up, and away! Our Reach Beyond Expedition Coordinator, Angus Murray (left), sees off our instructors Colin and Amy, as well as participants Seb and David Cole as they depart for Tanzania from Toronto Pearson International Airport. Bon voyage!

January 15: We have all made it to Kilemakyaro Mt. Lodge with all luggage too! We have had a meal and are off to bed. (At midnight!) We had a bit of an incident at the airport when another passenger tripped and fell and hit his head and proceeded to have a cardiac arrest. So everyone sprung into action with CPR and such before we even entered the airport. It was quite tragic and a good indication of how we can help even when you least expect it. Devon was key player with her ER room nursing skills. We are looking forward to our shake down hike tomorrow and seeing Kilimanjaro in the daylight.

Kilimanjaro Day 1

January 16: We have just wrapped up a great day. We started with a lovely breakfast on the lawn with a view of the mountain (see above!). We met the guides from Chagga Tours and they shared more details about the coming days. After that we went for a “training hike” around the surrounding coffee plantation. The sun was hot but there was a nice breeze and quite a few shady trees to rest under. It was cool to see coffee beans on the plants, a few avocado trees and a couple banana trees too.

On the way back from the hike Ken and I (Colin) stopped in at a school to see if we could arrange a tour or a visit. They were extremely hospitable and gave us a lovely tour complete with rice and beans for lunch! This was amazing to see and learn about. The school feeds all 450 students breakfast and lunch every day, and they dont even have a kitchen! They have a humongous pot (or cauldron) that is about 3 ft across and 2 ft deep and sits over a small charcoal fire. The fill this pot with oatmeal for breakfast and beans for lunch. If we are feeling up to it we will have a soccer game with some of the classes when we return from the mountain. While we were there the principal also got news that a line for drinking water for the school may be installed soon. He was overjoyed. After a lovely visit we returned to our group for the gear packing and dinner.

We had a lovely dinner followed by an evening meeting where we shared some hopes and fears of the trip. We are all excited about the challenges to come and looking forward to helping each other achieve our goals. Tomorrow morning we have a 3-4 hour drive to the start of the Lemosho trail where we will start our climb! Off we go!

Colobus monkey tails hanging from the tree canopy

January 17: Had an amazing start today. We travelled by bus for 4 hours ro the park gate where we registered for the trip and watched all of our porters size up our gear and food and dining tents, tables… all sorts of things they will carry up the mountain for us. We also saw a few Colobus monkeys that look like huge skunks jumping around in the trees. They have a long and bushy white tail that below them making them very easy to see. We had another short ride to our trailhead and started hiking about 4:00. We walked through the forest for two hours up and down hills (mostly up!) until we arrived at big tree campsite. We found a sea of tents and friendly porters to help us deliver our bags to our tents. To arrive to our tents set up, and be greeted with a personal bowl of warm washing water is complete luxury. We had a lovely dinner at which Amy learned her name in swahili. She said it was something something amy! We laughed our heads off. Had a lovely dinner and debriefed the day before heading off to bed.

Scrubby moorland vegetation on Mount Kilimanjaro

January 18: Today we have made great progress towards our second camp, Shira 1. We started in the trees and moved into moorland, which is mostly 6ft tall scrub. We have walked up a ridge which has given us fantastic views back and around the shoulder of kilimanjaro. It is amazing to see where we have walked from off in the distance. The weather has been perfect for hiking. Cool air, warm sun, partial shade in the forest and partly cloudy on the ridge so not too hot or scorchy! We will be in camp in less than an hour for another great evening. Everyone is feeling great, and loving life. We will be out of range for the next couple days so it may be a bit before the next update. We have caught on to the slogan “One team, one dream” Thank you all for your support, we feel it!

We arrived at Camp Shira 1 , to find a spacious and flat site. The tents were all set and the crew met us with hot drinks and warm roasted and salted peanuts and banana chips. From this site the mountain is sitting right in front of us, looking quite massive with fresh snow coming half way down. As the afternoon passed the temperature dropped reminding us of what we are walking into. Each day as we climb the temperatures will be cooler and cooler as we move from hot desert camping to winter camping in a matter of days. Each day being an important training opportunity for the next day. Tomorrow we will head to Moir Camp, which will be almost exactly the same elevation gain and distance as today but of course with less oxygen! So it will be a good indication of our decreasing capacity. Another great meal tonight of creamy squash soup, with crepes followed by bbq chicken and rice and veggies with fresh mango for dessert. Delicious. All off to bed now with hot water bottles and warm clothes for the frosty morning. Another great day!

January 19: Shira1 to Moir Camp. A great day. After a chilly night we woke to a warm sun heating us and our campsite up very quickly. We had breakfast, packed and were walking again at 9:30. Our Tanzanian guides remind us, “Pole, pole” which is Swahili for slowly, slowly. Our four guides from Chagga Tours are fantastic. Mike, Gerald, Benny and Appy. They keep us on track and tell us about the plants, the animals, the rock features and make sure we have breaks when we need them. When we arrived at camp today the guides and 30 porters greeted us with a rousing song and dance that we all clapped along too. We responded with a fun attempt to carry our duffle bags on our heads as they do all day! We were of course terrible at balancing our bags on our heads to show them our respect for their skills and to give them a good laugh. It is a great feeling to have the relationship grow between our working crew and us. They are a wonderful bunch. The porters earn $10 a day and carry their backpacks plus our luggage or tents or kitchen equipment up the mountain they pack up after we leave camp, pass us on the trail with huge loads balanced on their heads and then have camp set up when we get there. Not to mention greeting us with hot tea and snacks when we arrive. Amazing.

Along the trail today we passed some Simba cave, where people sometime camp or cook when they need shelter, and a nice little waterfall coming off the rocks of an unnamed creek. It was even big enough to have a refreshing rinse under! The rock features have become more dramatic as we have reached the bottom of the mountain now.

We also got to sample some traditional food tonight called Mugali. It is like mashed potatoes made from Maise with delicious meat or veggie sauce on top. So far all the dinners have started with a very tasty soup too. Tonights was pumpkin soup. After dinner Gerald and Benny came to tell us the meaning of the songs they sang us when they greeted us. It is a song of celebration and encouragement for the route we are doing and it has a great rhythm. Tomorrow we will hike to 4600 m our highest point so far and then sleep lower at Barranco Camp. So far everyone is adjusting very well to the altitude so the guides are optimistic that we will continue to do well. We shall see!!

Group at Baranco Camp Mt Kilimanjaro

January 20: We have made it to Baranca Wall Campsite. Great day today hiking to a new high of 4600m to get around the Lava Tower and then a couple hours of descending to get to camp. We hiked from 9:15 to 4:00 with just a couple short breaks. There are more groups on the trail now as we have joined a few other trails along the way. Everyone is still feeling good. Some feet got a bit sore today from the steep trail down to camp but no major problems. Some slight headaches from the altitude but a good sign that we are acclimatizing. If we do a little physical work around camp you feel short of breath quite quickly so there are lots of reminders that we are up high. The clouds have just cleared to reveal the Great Baranco Wall. Looks amazing and a little bit daunting to find our route up it tomorrow morning.

Group at Karanga Camp Mt Kilimanjaro

January 21: We have made it to Karanga Camp at 4035m. We started the day with a thick layer of ice on the tents at Barranco Camp. After breakfast the sun crested the walls around us and brought instant heat to the campsite. Groups were scurrying around us racing to get their place in line on the Great Barranco wall. We opted to beat the traffic by starting they day with a one hour solo overlooking the beautiful valley below us. With the campsite cleared out we could make our way up the great wall totally on our own. We went up and up and up finally topping out at 4200m. The climb up the wall was fun as were almost bouldering in some places.With the guides coaching and the team supporting we all made it up in good time. The vistas back to the campsite and rhe valley below were stunning in the late morning sun. We continues on up and down, up and down until we saw our next camp right in front of us! What we didn’t realize was that we would have to walk down a rocky ravine and then back up the otherside to get there!

After about 45 more minutes of up and down we arrived to our camp. We just stepped onto the porch (under the roof) when the sky opened up with a mixture of rain and hail! We just made it! After a few minutes it passed and we went straight to the dining tent for a special hot lunch. Amazing carrot soup, cucumber and green pepper sandwiches, french fries and fried chicken. It was soooo good. Our feet were pretty sore from what was a very technical hike and we were pretty bushed so a big hot lunch was a huge treat. We have a couple hours for rest and washing and then a little pre-dinner workshop on the detailed plan for the rapidly approaching summit day. Tomorrow we will hike to Kosovo Camp. (unofficial campsite above Camp Barafu) So we will have a good day, then sleep for a couple hours, then get up at 11:00pm for a quick snack and start the summit push. We will hike through the night to hopefully be on the summit in the morning. Then we turn around for the long trip down 2100m to sleep at Millenium Camp. Wish us luck!!! Thanks, One Team, One Dream!

January 22: We have had another great day and have made it to our high camp (Camp Kosovo) at 4840 m! Only 1100 m to go to the summit. We had a beautiful sunny morning at camp Karanga with the city of Moshi way down below and the summit headwall and icefields as a backdrop. So we took lots of pictures before heading up the trail to Barafu. Once at Barafu we had a fabulous hot lunch and rest for an hour while Mike asked permission for us to go on to Kosovo. It was hot and sunny and the trail was very steep but by going “polé polé” we made it to our high camp. Now we have packed and are all set for our summit push tonight at midnight. We are having dinner at 5:30 pm and will then sleep for a few hours before we go. Yahoo!!

January 23: Wow!! What a long day!! We have made it to our next campsite called Millenium or High camp depending on the map. We staggered in at 5:00 under a hot sun. The temperature change as we have descended is amazing, with a little fog thrown in for good measure – this is definitely mountain weather – it changes so quickly from hot to cold and back again. This was an incredibly memorable day in so many ways, I will try and describe some of the highlights. We woke at 11:00 for some tea and cookies and final pack up. Started hiking in black night at midnight. With headlights aglow we made a snake of lights up the mountain in front of us. As we moved along other groups lengthened the chain of lights behind us. It was silent on the mountain with the light breeze except for the singing of our guides. We were all pretty quiet as we were focussing on breathing and keeping warm. The guides singing and the stars above made for a magical moment in the night. Slowly we made our way up the mountain. We would walk for an hour and take a 10 min break, then keep going.

It was a long hard 6 hours but around 5:30 a glow started to appear on the eastern horizon creating a stunning silhouette of Mt Mawenza. As the sky brightened so did our spirits and we were quickly closing in on Stella Peak. It was an amazing feeling to get there as that put us on the summit ridge. The views were spectacular and there wasn’t too much climbing left. We should reach the summit in an hour or so. But, it wasn’t easy. We were really feeling the altitude and struggling with exhaustion from climbing all night. We stuck together (one team, one dream) and we all arrived at the summit at 7:30am. There were a number of other people and groups there so we rested for a bit before organizing ourselves for our group photo with the summit sign. After about an hour we headed out to start our trek down. We moved very slowly at first but as the suns heat sunk in and we dropped altitude we all ended up boot skiing down the scree slopes. It was great fun and a fast way to get down. We got back to camp at 11:00 am to a rousing welcome back and celebration song put on by the porters. It was a very special welcome back to the camp. Then we could rest and repack for the trip down to our lower camp. We had another great lunch and then headed out on our 3 hr hike to camp. We are all completely shot, but happy to have had such a successful day. Tomorrow we will hike another 14km to the park gate where we will say goodbye to our amazing guides and porters.

Group in front of Mt Kilimanjaro

Learning some Swahili words from our guides was one of the most fun parts of the trip. Here are a few of the words we learned:

Jambo: Hi
Asante sana: thank-you very much
Team moja, ndoto moja: one team, one dream
Hakuna matata: no worries
Lala salama: sleep well
Karibu: welcome (you’re)
Polé, polé: slowly, slowly
Haraka haraka: quickly, quickly
Moja, moja: one by one or step by step
poa kacezi, kamadizi, ndani fridgi: crazy cool like a banana in the fridge!

Other great expressions:
Cool like a cucumber!
Easy peasy lemon squeezey


Check out the rest of the photos from our trek on Flickr!