Into the Clouds of Mount Kilimanjaro
From the Beginning
In summer, 2012, I boarded the KLM plane destined for Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. With a pack full of camping gear, I was ready to tackle the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. After meeting the rest of the group at the airport, I stepped out into the Tanzanian heat. Intoxicating aromas of roasted plantains and ndizi nyama, green banana with meat or fish, tortured my taste buds. Flashes of khanga, brightly patterned cloth, danced in the evening breeze. Dalla-dallas (minibuses) whizzed past a raucous group of teenagers. Navigating the hustle of Tanzania's capital, we made our way to food and lodgings. The next day we climbed.
Our journey started at Marangu Gate and lasted five days.
The first day was spent trekking from Marangu Gate to Mandara Hut. We passed tree limbs of bearded moss and miles of vibrant green rain forest. We heard the cacophony of blue monkeys as we ascended above the clouds. After a full meal of carbohydrates and liters of water, our heads hit the pillows.
The next leg of the journey was Mandara Hut to Horumbo hut. At Horumbo, we completed an acclimation hike to Zebra Rocks.
The final summit walk started at midnight. In inky darkness, we fumbled for long underwear, hats, gloves, scarfs, jackets, windbreakers, Nalgenes and headlamps. Bleary-eyed but determined, we started climbing the ice-tinted scree. After five hours of darkness, the unmistakable glimmer on the horizon announced the return of the sun. As the burning orb chased away the shadows, Furtwangler Glacier emerged in front of us. We had arrived.
Phases of the Trek
Marangu Gate to Mandara Hut. The first leg of the journey is 8.1 km through montane forest. The slope is gradual and fairly flat. It takes one day for this trek.
Mandara Jut to Horumbo Hut. The second day is spent climbing from Mandara Hut to Horumbo Hut. Moorland stretches for 11.6 km as you start making a slight ascent. Once you are at Horumbo, you spend two days there. One of these days is dedicated to an acclimation hike to Zebra Rocks.
Horumbo Hut to Kibo Hut. 9.6 km of alpine desert await the fearless hiker. It takes one day for this trek.
Kibo Hut to Uhuru Peak and back to Horumbo Hut. The summit climb begins at midnight. The ascent is 5.4 km of stone scree, ice, and glaciers. Most hikers reach the top at sunrise, get their pictures, and head back dwon to Horumbo hut.
Horumbo Hut to Marangu Gate. An easy 19.7 km of trail back to the base awaits hikers.
What to Pack?
It's all about layers. Make sure you bring a lot of them. Also remember you will be going through seven different climate zones so don't forget the t-shirts!
- Long underwear
- Sleeping bag (for -20 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Shorts (quick-drying shorts are recommended)
- Hiking boots
- Smart wool socks
- Fleece pants
- Long-sleeved shirts
Do's and Don'ts
- Listen to your guides. They have been climbing Kilimanjaro much longer than you.
- Listen to your body. If you begin to feel altitude sickness, then take it slow and return to the nearest hut.
- Place your warm clothes in the bottom of your sleeping bag when you go to sleep at Kibo Hut. When you wake up at midnight, you will have a set of warm clothes waiting for you.
- Respect the trail. It is there for a reason.
- Try to race up the mountain. You won't win.
- When climbing, never go off on your own—especially if you are suffering from altitude sickness.
- Forget to drink liters of water.
- Forget to eat. As you climb, your appetite decreases. Eat even if you don't feel hungry.
Not Just the Mountain
Tanzania is a gorgeous country. True, it is home to the highest peak in Africa, but it offers so much more. During your visit, don't forget to hitch a ride to the Serengeti or explore the pristine beaches of Pemba Island. Maybe pick up some Swahili as you travel to Arusha, a city in eastern Tanzania.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.