On Top of Africa: Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

by Emma Hackwood

Have you always dreamed about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro? Alistair McDonnell shares his experience fulfilling one of his lifelong dreams and what to expect when embarking on an adventure like this:

I recently embarked on my quest to climb the highest peak in Africa; Mt Kilimanjaro. I was excited to take on this adventure with Intrepid Travel seeing as though my last two travel experiences with them were so good.
Arriving at Kilimanjaro airport was quite relaxed; yellow fever certificate shown, a new full page visa in the passport stamped and I was set to go. I had seen Kilimanjaro through the clouds from the plane on the approach to the airport but seeing it from the taxi in the distance was when my first simple thought of ‘ that’s really high ‘ entered my head. You see, I did not necessarily train for my hike; I am a keen cyclist and if I can’t bike, I usually walk, so I feel that I am somewhat fit. After seeing the scale of the mountain, I started to doubt my fitness and wondered if this would be something that would be too much of a challenge for me (especially as I had never been up anything with such altitude before). But that’s the thing about travel; it challenges you to try new things and learn new things about yourself.
The Marangu Hotel was the setting for my 2 day acclimatization, a number of quaint cottages spread around beautiful gardens with Mt.Kilimanjaro’s two peaks Kibo and Mawenzi towering in the background. 1800m above sea level was the altitude at the hotel, (not very high but living in Toronto which is 105m above sea level this was a good start).
Marangu hotel Africa
Over 3 days the hike would see us climb to 5895m and take 2 days to come back down. After our induction meeting and a quick meet up with the group of 8, it was now all starting to feel real. Tomorrow we would depart, leaving me with a feeling of excitement mixed with butterflies; would the altitude get the better of me?
As the Porters ran in to grab our packs, I realized that these guys are carrying up to 25kg packed into a canvas sack, all so that I can achieve a life time goal; for that I take my hat of to these men.
We sign it at the Gate to Kilimanjaro National park, take lots of photos and set off up the Marangu trail. Dense forest is the scenery with monkeys flying above our heads. I walked with different members of the group to get to know them find out who they all where. We had two travellers over 60 years old in the group and I was immediately impressed by their determination to conquer such a feat.
Arriving at the first hut seemed rather quick, and I started to feel a little more confident (but we were still only at 2800m).
On route to Kibo hut Africa
The forest opened up and the scenery looked more like an Irish moorland. A rocky path and clouds rolling in; we walked for 7km this day ascending another 1km before we reached Horombo hut at 3720m. This is where the people coming down also stop for the night so it is like a small community of hikers; some with a tired look of relief and some with the look of knowing that the hard part was still to come. The clouds parted and we got our first glimpse of Uhuru peak since we started. The cameras were out in force and it started to feel a bit like a photo shoot. My first feeling that the altitude might be getting to me soon arrived as I woke in the middle of the night struggling to keep a steady breath. But I managed to get back to sleep and was fine in the morning.

The third day is the hardest day of all, waking up at 7am, hiking 7km and ascending another 1km to Kibo hut. We had a quick bite to eat and then headed straight to bed as we would have an early start the following morning. The terrain was what I imagine what it would be like to walk on Mars. Dry, rocky and not overly pretty. We would be going to bed at 6pm to be awakened at 11:30pm and would be starting our final ascent at midnight. I should add that Kibo hut is not a very nice place; it’s a cold, rocky building with wet floors and a misty exterior, so I was glad we didn’t have to spend much time here.
We start the final ascent in the dark, most with headlamps or a makeshift one with a flashlight and duck tape. Not only was this nearly a vertical climb, but a snow storm decided to join us with a temperature of -20. We walked single file zig zaging up the steep mountain to get to Gilmans Point, I will never forget how important each breath was, if you missed a breath it would take you 30+ sec to get back to your normal rhythm. Concentration was a must so it was pretty silent apart from the shout of Sawa Sawa (everybody ok in Swahili ) from our guide to which we shouted the same in return. Chocolate and candy was shared around to keep the energy up.
At 6:20am we arrived at Gilmans point which was at the 5689m mark. I was beating the altitude; my adrenaline kicked in and I was buzzing! Then the sun started to rise… I had never seen a sunrise like this, and it’s what I call a WOW moment in life; the colours when the suns rays hit the mountain were absolutely amazing. The snow stopped and I didn’t care that I might get frostbite; it was a picture perfect moment.

Epic sunrise in Africa

We got a cup of tea and all headed for Uhuru Peak, it took another hour but I didn’t care; I knew I was going to make it and nothing would stop me now.
Mt Killimanjaro Peak
I DID IT!! At 5895m I was at the top of Africa and the highest free standing mountain in the world. A feeling of sheer joy and excitement took over us as we reflected on what we had just achieved.

above clouds at Mt Killimanjaro
Looking for more information on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or travelling with Intrepid Travel? Contact Alistair McDonnell who is a Travel Expert at the Flight Centre Yorkville store in Toronto and can be reached online or by calling 1- 877-815-4929.