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Climbing Kilimanjaro

Mt. Kilimanjaro is a majestic temptress. She is not a mountain that one conquers. Rather, she submits herself only after one has laboured through a number of hardships and proven their devotion to her. In exchange for her sweet embrace, she requires a portion of your spirit and soul.

We started our climb 5 days ago, with the intention of moving initially up the Machame (Whisky) route and then branching off on day 3 to summit via the Western Breach, the most demanding of summit approaches.

The first two days were pleasant, a 5 hour stroll through the rainforest of her lower slopes on day one, and then a 6 hour hike through the moon land. This is an area dominated by large boulders and the bizarre Sinecia and Lobela trees which resemble creations of Dr. Seus. It is a very strange landscape, especially when shrouded in mist.

The third day was supposed to be the day that we parted for the Western Breach. We started from our camp, at 3100 meters and pushed to Lava Tower, a high tower that sits on a thin shoulder of land at 4600 meters. It was here that we were supposed to make our third night’s camp, but the altitude took a toll on John. He had symptoms of nausea and dizziness and was pretty disoriented. We had to descend to another camp on the southern slope at 3500 meters to give our bodies the ability to acclimatize more effectively. Kilimanjaro had denied us passage via the western breach, so we set back out on the Machame route.

This was a blessing in disguise. We set up camp at Shera hut, where a team from France and an Ex-Pat American who now lives in Namibia, were also spending the night. We decided to team up with them for the rest of the Machame route, and this resulted in some solid friendships and support on the mountain.

On the fourth day we pushed up to a poorly sheltered ridge at 4800 meters, from where we planned to approach the summit. This was a very difficult day, up and down three ridges of 1000m meters each. John’s symptoms were subsiding, though he had spent the previous night shivering uncontrollably and unable to keep down food.

We arrived at camp four at 6pm, completely exhausted. After a warm cup of tea, and some hard, stale bread, we bundled up in our tent to try to get a couple hours of shut eye before the summit push. The wind was howling outside and freezing rain pelted our tent, but we, or at least I, somehow managed to get a good 4 hours of sleep.

We woke at 11:30pm to begin the summit push. The wind had subsided and the clouds had passed, leaving a bright 3/4 full moon. The night was as calm as a Hindu cow. We were all in good spirits, except for John, who could not keep down the tea that we drank before setting off. But he is stubborn and determined in all he does so this was of little concern. We began the climb to the summit at 5pm. At about 5300meters things began getting ugly. The altitude, which had so far only tested me with a mild headache, began to indulge in my body first with nausea, then dizziness, and finally with an attack on my consciousness that made everything seem like a dreamscape. Every step then became a very very difficult step, and all the while, new clouds had swallowed the peak and snow began to fall. The temperature was a balmy -7, it was dark, and the wind resumed its lashings.

At about 5600 meters delirium too over and my mind began playing tricks. I saw a Swedish snow princess clad in a white fur bikini with white fur knee-high boots. She remained about 10 paces ahead of me and urged me forward with a soft, sweet voice. At 5900 meters she vanished into the clouds and confusion, and suddenly there I was on the summit with John and Scott and a man from North Ireland. It was all very surreal, my level of consciousness was fleeting. It was 5:30 am and we were supposed to be watching the sun rise with all of Africa at our feet. Instead, we were all quite sick, wind was howling, and it was solid cloud all around. But I would never trade that feeling for anything.

So now I am back in Moshi, tomorrow we leave for the Island of Zanzibar for some rest and relaxation, before flying to Addis Abbaba in three days and searching for the Lost Arc of the Covenant.

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