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Kilimanjaro journal

For Bonnie:


Arrived at Kilimanjaro International airport minus P C’s entire backpack and my little Canadian bag.  Took ages at the airport to try and sort out.  Bags probably gone to Dar-es-Salem.  Finally got to Moshu after ¾ hour rather ‘hairy’ drive in a bus. Met with orange juice. Had a briefing, then had supper and went to bed under mosquito netting full of gaps!


First sighting of Kili this am sitting in the landrover filling up with fuel – quite relaxed about the ‘hike’. Suddenly glimpsed the snow clad peak standing up above the clouds.  Very imposing – very scary! Suddenly everyone in the landrover was extremely quiet.

Walked into Machame Camp just after 5pm.  Hiked all day in shorts and t-shirts but mist came down as we walked in and it got rather cold.  B and I walked very slowly but steadily only stopping twice for a quick food break.  Some serious up hills but took little strain until about 1 ½ hours from camp – then started to feel the affect of the thinning air and got very tired of walking.

Approaching Machame Camp

A long day, compensated for by an ‘enchanted forest’ – more a jungle than a forest.  Tents a welcome sight – lovely just to lie down and do nothing.  Supper in the mess tent (stew) preceded by popcorn and hot milo.  B and I started nodding off – the Amarula perhaps? and climbed into bed to be served supper there by P.


Slept well and warm, waking intermittently during the night.  Started the morning with a ‘spadewalk’ and came back to coffee served by the guides. P C got stung by a bee but seemed to suffer no ill effects.   Quite cold this morning.

Breakfast consisted of fruit, toast and honey or peanut butter, porridge and scrambled egg, the last of which I didn’t eat.

We left at around 8.45am, facing about 2 hours of steep climbing and then a more gradual ascent.  Trying to go ‘pole-pole’ again as it worked well the day before.  Our ‘short descent’ was probably about 10m after which we climbed and climbed and climbed for about 4 ½ hours. Stopped for lunch on a ridge.  The scenery was spectacular.  Unfortunately I don’t think that any photos could do it justice.

A short rest on the way to Shira

Our trusty guide, Tobias, informed us that there were no more climbs after lunch but up we went again!  The vegetation became sparser and finding places for the famous ‘spade walk’ became increasingly difficult.

On the way B ‘heroically with little concern for her own safety’ pulled a heavily laden porter from sure (almost) death, or at least a sprained ankle as he almost plummeted over a rock.

After climbing some more and, for variety, a bit of rock scrambling, (at one stage Tobias – who led from the back most of the time – went ahead to show us where to put our hands and feet and the drop was disquieting to say the least!), the path did, in fact, level out a bit and the last ½ hour was a fairly easy hike into camp.  Again coffee, popcorn and roasted peanuts were put out for us in the mess tent and B and I climbed into our tent for a well-earned rest while the porters and guides prepared our food.  Still no sign of AMS. Breathing steady except on exertion when it is obvious that there is less oxygen in the atmosphere.

My eyes quite sore and watering though, probably a combination of the intense rays of the sun and the wind.  I was very sorry that my peak was lost on the ‘plane. Sinuses also playing up a bit and started running a temp. so took a couple of panados with my diamox and used the nasal spray.

Shira campsite

Supper was good – soup, chops, rice, a kind of hot coleslaw and chicken which was a bit too crunchy to eat!  Didn’t sleep as well as the night before and lay awake a lot, mind very active – also moved around a lot in the tent – my daypack somehow ended up behind B’s head.  No spadework here – fairly reasonable long drops.


Our tent faced west and had a tremendous view of some of the ‘lesser’ peaks. Sitting in the tent after packing away sleeping bags, etc, sipping a cup of coffee the next morning.  it was bitterly cold outside and the ground was covered with frost.  We were just below 4000m.  Tobias informed us the day before that we were booked for the Arrow Glacier route so from today our itinerary differed from the one which we were originally  given.

Breakfast done, lunch handed out and we would soon be on our way.  Aside from my tummy which was playing up a bit I was still feeling fine but a bit apprehensive about the day’s climb.

The sun came out and it warmed up rapidly.  Hard to believe it was so cold only an hour or so before.

The rocky path to Lava Tower

However, the sun didn’t last too long and we walked most of the day through cloud, mist and sleet.  Starting where we were camped at the edge of the moorland, we climbed steadily into a surrealistic landscape consisting of large boulders of lava rock, then up, up, up, into the Alpine desert, black, stony and uninviting.  Although there were no really steep climbs we continued upwards for almost a kilometre and felt very weary when we at last trudged into camp at the foot of the Lava Tower – which P C immediately climbed!)

Our tents at the bottom of Lava Tower

After hot chocolate and climbing into our sleeping bags for a while I attempted to read and B fell asleep.  After I’d warmed up I wandered out to take a few photos of the camp site and the mountain looming above us, the mist having just about cleared.

B’s comment – “my worst day – the last hour or so did really drag.  The barrenness, the bleakness, the black lava rocks – dark and dismal.  Very tired and very cold.  If I had to give up I would have given up today.  Got into bed wearing wet clothes and passed out”.

By supper time we had perked up and enjoyed the soup, pancakes, rice pilaf and steak, although I avoided the steak.  My appetite has been OK throughout but I’ve not been eating a great deal.

Got up soon after the sun to visit the long drop.  Ground covered with ice.  Felt quite fresh although I had tossed and turned a lot during the night – I didn’t feel as if I got much sleep at all.

P started a headache yesterday – nothing too serious – and he was very tired this morning.  K also not feeling too good.  We gave some decoran to someone from another camp who was nauseous and throwing up.  P C, obviously OK, headed up the mountain for an impromptu climb before breakfast!

Not really looking forward to today’s walk although it should be a short one – 2 – 3 hours.  Then hopefully a sleep when we reach Arrow Glacier camp.  We will be woken at 11pm to start our attempt at the summit.

Recorded sometime during the night:

“I have no idea what the time is.  B and I have just dressed in preparation for our final assault on the summit.  The wind is howling outside, shaking the tent and it is freezing cold.”

B’s comments: “Lying there – dark outside, howling wind, tent getting buffered around, the high mountain waiting for us.”

A frozen waterfall on the way to Arrow Glacier

We arrived at Arrow Glacier camp at 10.45 am, after less than 2 hours walking from Lava Tower and about 200m to 300m higher.  The hike was quick but included two steep climbs, one over loose rocks and stones, presumably left there by an avalanche which destroyed the hut at this camping spot some years ago. The men folk went to have a close up look at the glacier and ‘Super C’ tried out his ice-pick to enable the porters to collect water.  B and I sensibly declined to join them and climbed into our tent as soon as it was erected to try for some sleep.

B managed almost immediately but I had no luck. Lunch was served at 2pm – again a futile attempt at sleeping – and then supper at 5pmn.  Tobias promised to wake us at 10.30 with tea and biscuits  to start climbing at 11pm.

I was exhausted by suppertime and managed to grab an hour or two of sleep afterwards.

The mountain loomed above us – we were now fully committed to our climb. (Joan’s hot pads between our inner and outer gloves – bliss!)

A hot drink before our attempt to summit

Woken at about 11pm and went to the mess tent for coffee and biscuits.  The wind had died down but it was bitterly cold.  We sleepily gathered in the tent, wearing layers of clothing topped by windproof jackets and waterproof pants.  2 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of gloves.  I had a balaclava and a beanie and, of course, my hood and our headlights.

We trooped out after Tobias and followed the pathway to the bottom of the rock fall. From then on it was all uphill.  Started off quite confidently but the rock face was extremely dangerous.  We climbed on rocks with a sheer fall of rocks beneath us (and the occasional rock hurtling past).  It was impossible to stay upright and sticks were abandoned in favour of hands and feet as we literally crawled up the mountain.

Climbing the rock face – this photo was taken from a magazine as we climbed at night and were unable to get photo’s

We climbed as a group up to the rock formations and continued hiking and climbing – this section is a little vague – B and P dropped back, Pascoe stayed with them.  The rest of us continued up.  P later joined us and said that Pascoe was bringing B up to us.  We all huddled in a frozen exhausted little group and watched B and Pascoe ‘choo-chooing’ up the mountain. (B says: she remembers standing with her head on her stick saying she had to sit down.  She sat on a rock but thought it would be much more comfortable to curl up into a little ball under a rock and sleep there until sunrise.  Pascoe came down and asked if she was alright and she said she was freezing – she was shaking uncontrollably.  He checked her clothing, broke the ice off the top of the water bottle for her to drink and took off her gloves, rubbed her hands and smacked them between his.  Put the gloves on again but B kept trying to take them off.  Her ring finger was so cold it was painful.  He then added two pairs of his gloves to hers and told her to get up and start walking.  B told him to go and climb with everyone else and come back for her when the sun came up.  She said it got a bit hazy after that but she ended up holding onto his backpack as they made their way up to us.

The shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro reflected on the clouds as the sun rose behind us

We had hot chocolate sitting on our little ledge but it was too cold to sit still for long.  Tobias went on with the guys and I waited with B and Pascoe.  I’ll never forget seeing, as the sun started to rise behind the mountain, the reflection of Kilimanjaro on the clouds in front of us.  We continued climbing slowly and painfully (this is NOT a hike!!) with many short stops to regain our breath until we finally reached the ridge.  The only thing that kept me going at this stage was the knowledge that once we got there we would be in the sun.

A glacier on a desert of lava sand

Unfortunately the sun was accompanied by a nasty cold wind so didn’t really help to thaw us.  In front of us was Alpine desert and a glacier, to the right the Uhuru peak jutted up into the air, seemingly insurmountable.  We shuffled around the glacier, a long walk, and huddled up next to some large rocks where we each had a mug of hot chocolate.

Uhuru Peak

B immediately lay down on the lava dust in the sun.  I started heaving and charged off to find a private rock of my own.  Fortunately I hadn’t eaten anything since 5pm the previous day and it was all noise and no action.

Then we had to face the final obstacle.  It took some persuading to get B back onto her feet and coax her into starting the climb.  The pathway up was not particularly difficult but taking into account our physical state and the lack of oxygen it took every ounce of will power to keep going.  We started walking 10 steps, breathing 10 counts but soon dropped to walking 4 breathing 10.  If I had had to stop after each step I would have – nothing could have kept me from making the top at that stage.

As we made our way up we heard a shout and saw P way up at the top watching our progress.  It was an agonisingly slow process but finally we stepped onto the summit and made our way up the slope to sign the register and take photos of our party in front of the sign.  What a wonderful feeling of achievement!  The guys had arrived about 2 hours before us and had fallen asleep for a while in the sun.  Apparently a first which Tobias said would make a good comment for his report.  Because of the rarified air and the prospect of the long trek down to base camp most people only spend a few minutes at the summit.

Barbara and I at the summit

As we walked along the top of the mountain we passed ice fields on both sides of us – glaciers which were indescribably beautiful, mountains, rivers and waterfalls of ice.  Pascoe took our waterbottles and filled them with water from one of the glaciers.  P (Super C) used his video – I hope to good effect – because, although I took some photos there is no way  a photograph could give any indication of the beauty of that landscape.  At one stage we passed a section where the ice on the glacier wall was a beautiful shade of blue.

I would like to draw a curtain over the rest of the trek down.  Going up was difficult, dangerous, exhilarating and exhausting.  Going down was just totally exhausting.  K was very unwell so Tobias led him on ahead to get him down as soon as possible.  P and N followed, Super C, B and I brought up the rear.  We slipped and slithered through shale for hours – the route we took back took us through Barafu camp and was, in fact, the alternate route to the summit.  I think the one we took was far more interesting and exciting.

Slip-sliding away

It seemed to take forever to reach Barafu, we walked up through the camp, greeting those who were preparing to sleep prior to their attempt at the summit, across the top of the hill then down into another valley.  By the time we got back onto a level path it was beginning to get dark – we had to walk using our headlights.  I slipped a number of times on small rocks on the way down to the plain. My legs were so tired I seemed to have lost my co-ordination and balance.

We walked through the dark for ages with no sign of our camp.  Pascoe didn’t make us feel any better by darting ahead every now and again and shining his torch around as if trying to decide where we were!

Eventually in the distance we saw a light coming towards us.  What a welcome sight!  P, worrying about us, had asked Tobias to send someone to look for us and they arrived armed with hot tea and boiled eggs! and then walked us into camp (perhaps another hour?)  I was really stumbling at that stage – if one of the porters – Gasper – had not held my hand all the way in, would probably have walked into a bush.

We made High Camp at 10pm having been on our feet for 22 hours.  Our last meal, but for tea and hot chocolate, was 29 hours before (we didn’t eat the eggs!)

Despite this I only had a bowl of soup – delicious!! before stumbling back to the tent, hauling out my sleeping bag and falling asleep on the mattress with my bag thrown over me.

Barbara at High Camp with the mountain in the background

We made an early start the next morning.  After coffee and breakfast, B and I abandoned our ‘pole, pole’ in favour of  ‘haraka!’ and set off down the path at a brisk pace.  We took just under 1 ½ hours to reach the last camp – Mweka – then climbed down into the rain forest.  The slippery pathway did not appear to deter B much but the mud slowed me down quite a bit and I fell a couple of times, at one time twisting my ankle – although fortunately this only started hurting me once we were back at the hotel.

The forest is beautiful – more a jungle then a forest – and B and I were fortunate enough to see some black monkeys in the tree tops as well as a number of birds (the Sisiwe?)  Pascoe was explaining how it built its nest but I couldn’t quite follow.  By this time the down hills had taken its toll on my knees and I was having trouble controlling them.  It was quite amusing and I kept chuckling quietly to myself as I put my foot down and my knee seemed to shoot off in the wrong direction as if totally double-jointed.

We made it to Machame gate at about 1pm then down to the bus stop to the welcome and totally unexpected sight of our stools set out in a circle and our cook presiding over a full meal – meat and veggies – absolutely delicious and so appreciated.

Another hair-raising bus ride back to the hotel for a shower (cold) and change – my little bag had not turned up – and then to a table under the trees where we had drinks with Tobias and Pascoe and P sorted out ‘tips’ with Tobias and handed items of clothing and snacks to be distributed to the porters.  Then our certificate ceremony – certificates handed out by Tobias and the Kilimanjaro song by our whole band of guides and porters.  P, K and, to a degree, N responded with ‘Zulu Warrior’ including the appropriate dance steps!

We will miss them all, especially Tobias with his serious responsible mien, Pascoe with his enormous smile and his ‘three more hours’ or ‘close – 5 minutes or 40’ and Richard’s ‘hullo – coffee (or water, or breakfast) – what an attentive waiter!

Supper – soup and a buffet of various veggies and all kinds of meat, including buffalo, which I was just too tired to appreciate – and then to bed, sore feet, sore ankle, sore muscles, but carrying a certificate worth as much to me as any academic degree I have achieved.

November 6, 2009 - Posted by | Hiking, Travels |


  1. Dawn,

    Thank you sooo much for sharing this with me. An awesome read. I am currently doing as much walking as I possibly can. Walking every day now which I’ve never done before. Used to cycle perhaps once or twice a week!! So, with a good eight months to go, have enough time to at least get my legs used to hours and hours of walking if nothng else.
    This is a massive personal challenge for me as have never had to overcome any challenge (except maybe the daily challenges of motherhood)… so the journey began the day I made the decision to go…
    now, it’s time to walk, walk, walk, walk & walk some more and of course raise funds for the charity The Sunflower Fund.
    We’re taking the long route as our group is going to be pretty large and I guess the idea is to ensure that as many of us reach the summit as possible. with a 98% success rate, it’s the best route for our group.

    Thanks again for sharing… look forward to sharing my journey with you too. 🙂

    Comment by Bonnie | November 9, 2009 | Reply

  2. Ah, really enjoyed reading that! Maybe oneday the next generation will follow in your footsteps…

    Comment by zivor | November 9, 2009 | Reply

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