A trip report of our Kilimanjaro expedition in February 2010 by Marangu Route. We want to thank everyone who sponsored our fundraiser and helped us raise money for he Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation.
warmest thanks to all supporters & sponsors of our fundraiser
we want to share with you our journey to the roof of Africa 2 years ago Sasha’s mum passed away from an ovarian cancer. She was diagnosed just 9 months earlier. It is very hard to want a person you love dying and not being able to help. In Australia alone one women dies every 10 hours from an ovarian cancer! It is one of most common & most lethal cancers. There is no test to diagnose it. Its symptoms are very mild & can be a part of everyday life. It is usually found on later stages when a cancer has spread to the other organs and survival chances are very low. We decided to help getting a test & a cure quicker. So in February 2010 two of us set to climb Mt Kilimanjaro to raise money for the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation. Sasha & Oleksandra warmest thanks to all supporters & sponsors of our fundraiser
At 5,896m (19,344ft), Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest pick in Africa and the world highest free-standing mountain. Situated just 3 degrees of the Equator it is permanently snow-capped. The local Chagga people believed that Kili’s summit is covered in piles of silver & precious stones, and is jealously guarded by spirits. Anybody trying to reach the spirit would be punished with illness (altitude sickness) & severe cold (-20C). The ‘silver’ would mysteriously turn into water if taken from the mountain.
We were staring down from the plane windows hoping to catch a glance of Mt Kilimanjaro from the top. How bad can it be? We’ll just walk up for few days, get to the top, take photos, then turn back & walk down. Wrong! Kili was not even below us. It was on a same level with our airplane. Never seen nothing like this! And we have only 6 days to climb it up and down. It’s going to be a problem. day 1 – the cloud forest
After meeting our guides Denis & Thomas, we checked gear, packed daypacks and left. For two of us they arranged a supporting crew of seven! We got two guides, a cook, and four porters -one for each of us & for each of porters. Victor, one of porters, doubles as a waiter (!) – this is apparently a position of a status and he is the only one who is bringing us a food during a climb.
Permits & porter organisation at Managru Gate took over hour, and we are on our way, up through the forest. It looked quite ordinary at first. But the air quickly became misty and forest became denser the further we went.
In few hours a landscape changed to an amazing could forest. We were surrounded by huge trees, ferns and hanging moss that covered everything it can attach itself to. Few times we even saw blue monkeys up in the trees.
And the further we went the denser the forest became.
This is Impatiens Kilimanjari – a tiny flower that grows only in cloud forests of Mt Kilimanjaro.
After about 5 hours we reached a forest opening were our camp was, just on time before the rain began. The friendly porters, some from our team, some form others welcomed us with this song. We obviously do not understand all words in Swahili. But guess “ Kilimanjaro hakuna matata ” must pretty much sums it up.
Feeling quite energetic after the diner, we set for a side trip to nearby Maundi Crater. We are quite proud of ourselves and think we are climbed high already (little did we know!) But we have not seen Kilimanjaro since we were on a plane. It is completely hidden behind the clouds. “ Are you sure we are climbing the right mountain?” we kept asking our guides
Maundi Crater is like a little cute miniature volcano on a hill of Kili. It has a cone shape, a ream and it deeps inside to form a crater. Everything inside Maundi Crater is covered by the softest grasses. It feels like your vision is out of focus. A gorgeous little world on its own!
Night was rainy & cold, just +8C. But morning was gorgeous. The cloud forest ended soon & our trek continued through moorlands covered in grasses and heathers. We met few climbers returning from the earlier climb. We tried to guess who made to the summit & who did not. Statistically only 10% reach it here. Some climbers looked glorious & happy – they must have made it. Some looked exhausted and miserable – we guess they must have straggled with an altitude sickness and dropped off. One exhausted guy said to us: “Do you realise this is your last good day?” day 2 – the moorlands
Few times we witness evacuation. Those hit by an altitude sickness must be descended rapidly. Any delay can be fatal. This is a very disturbing sight. These people were all seriously sick, half-conscious, doesn't seem to know where they are, and it is very scary, most of all for them.
On a bright side, we spotted this chameleon by the road. We tried to put him on a green t-shirt hoping to see him turn green too. But a little guy was not in a hurry at all and only added a pint of colour. We could not wait can. Have to keep walking.
Heathers became shorter the further we went. We found out first Lobelia. They collect water in their leaves to survive up here and grow to 2m high max, then they die.
In an afternoon we climbed into clouds. This is a world of Senecio Kilimanjari. This remarkable plant remained almost unchanged since dinosaur times. It grows only on high hills of Mt Kilimanjaro & Mt Kenya. It’s well adapted to the high altitude and night frosts. Its leafs close like a bud every night and re-open in a morning. It’s dead leafs wrap the trunk to insulate it.
Senecio flowers about every 25 years. After this the trunk folks on two branches and continue growing. After next 25 years it flowers again and each trunk folks on two. You can estimate the edge on a plant by counting a number of folks. Those must be over 100 years old!
A heavy rain started when we were just few hundreds of meters from the camp. We settled in a loft above a noisy canteen. Someone with a great sense of humour called it “the Penthouse” – an empty room with 25 people slipping on mattresses on a floor and water poring from everywhere. The longer we stay here the more we feel an altitude. In an hour we are puffing heavily even from walking through the camp. The next 2,176m to the summit will not be easy!
The morning turned up glorious again. We climbed high already and a view from here is just breathtaking. day 3 – acclimatization
We finally got to see Kilimanjaro. Since we saw it from the plane Kili was always covered by clouds. We were joking that we could as well be “punked”, taken to the wrong place, told that this is Kili and been laughed at behind the hidden camera in front of a whole world.
Kili disappeared again in clouds in an hour. But at least we know we are in a right place! There are not other glaciers like this in a whole Africa?!
Today is acclimatisation day. We are spending nights at the same camp. But the day is not rest at all. We must walk 700m elevation to the Zebra Rock and back to allow our bodies to get use to altitude. We walk “pole pole”, very-very slowly. This suppose to help us to acclimatise. But still our pulse must be at least 120 even at rest, breezing is hard and we are tired.
There 10 other climbers who started the same day us. We organised our climbs separately. But we are walking the same route, camping and eating at the same place, it is a great company, so we stick together (despite our guides don’t really like it). There are two brothers from UK Nick & Chris who just can’t stop their jokes for a minute…
… Heinz, a charismatic German solder who was trekking with his son Marcel. Annika & Thimo, a couple from Netherlands who on a typical weekend back home run a marathon, do 8-hours bike ride, or some other superhero stuff. There also was a couple from Poland and a French couple from New Caledonia.
Zebra Rock was exactly what name would suggest – a striped white and black rock formation.
Much more impressive was a view of jugged picks of Mawenzi. This second Kilimanjaro peak of 5,149m is absolutely breathtaking! Mawenzi can not be reached by trekkers, only very rarely is visited, and requires a special government permit. Our guides said that few planes had crashed into it. This is not a surprise. It’s peak is on height of a flying plane and is covered in clouds most of the time.
We suppose to spend at least an hour here to acclimatise to altitude. But there’s not much to do. We chat with our guides Denis & Thomas…
… build even higher pyramid and compare it again. Still no match to Mawenzi!
An hour has pasted and we are allowed to continue walking. But we still have to get a bit higher over few ridges before we can get on the road back to the camp.
Those ridges are not that small. We’ve been climbing them for a third day now, it is hard to breeze at this altitude, and our harts pump at the smallest movement like if we were running a marathon. And the worse part – it started to rain!
The rain continued all afternoon and all night. We spend an evening chatting with climbers who just returned from the summit. Apparently this morning on a summit was a nice sunrise. But in 45 minutes it turned into a snow thunderstorm, wind and only few meters of visibility. I did not know that snow thunderstorms are even possible!
The following morning evacuations are getting frequent. It is a nerve breaking sight, as we all feel an altitude ourselves, and we are heading today where all these sick people are taken from. Kilimanjaro is considered a rather safe mountain and can be climbed without any ropes or special equipment. But it is a serious business. Every year few people due on a mountain mainly from altitude sickness. day 4 – the arctic desert
Today will be a very long day. We have 5-7 hours to reach the base camp - Kibo Huts. It is right were the snow on a horizon starts. It may look close on a photo, but it’s 12 km away and 1,000m higher. And this will only be our “first shift” today. We will only stop for a short rest at Kibo. At midnight will leave for a final accent to the summit and will walk all night. Tomorrow at sunrise we hopefully will be standing on Uluru peak.
At 4,200 most of plants were gone and we entered an arctic desert. The place in front of us is called the Saddle. It is a plato between Kilimanjaro 2 picks – Uhuru & Mawenzi. The Saddle is wast & empty beyond description. People say it’s like a moon landscape. To me it’s more like “Alice in Wonderland”- it has no scale, you walk, and walk for hours, without any visible progress at all. The only difference - it is getting much harder to breeze and move with each step.
Eventually we got to Kibo Hut – sort of a base camp before the final ascend. It is a very basic crowded stone building. But it’s a shelter from a rain & a wind. The altitude feels really bad here. We can not eat or slip. Moving is very difficult. Now even during a rest we breeze heavily and have a heartbeat as if we were running. We are very tired. Few hours of rest does little to recover from the today’s walk. And we still have another 1,200m elevation to make until sunrise.
We packed and pull on everything that could keep us warm. At midnight we left for the final accent to the summit. We are down 2 people. Marta, the Polish girl felt bad and was urgently send down with her partner. At least she was well enough to walk by herself. Nick, an English guy, is also not well. His guide gave him another half an hour and will then decide if he can continue his climb. But he’s determined and actually made it to the Gilman's Point, 200m below the summit.
All night we zigzagged along a steep hill between rocks and snow. We have no photos to show you. We tried not to stop, so we keep our tempo. We also did not want to risk our camera batteries before the summit – cold temperature can kill them quickly. We keep them warm & safe in internal pockets. day 5 – the summit
It’s -20C, but no wind. The skies are glowing with stars. Being almost on an equator you can see from here a Milky way, the Pole Star and the Southern Cross at the same time! Wicked! But it’s a moonless night. The only light is from our torches and we can’t see more then few steps away. As our guides promised, we reached the edge on the crater, Gilman's Point when first light appeared on a horizon.
Sunrise was just spectacular! It lighten up beneath the clouds first then rose through the clouds growing into a bright new day. The sunrise photos we must borrow from the web. We were exhausted to the edge when we could not even turn a head to look at it, so we watched it through a side vision! We worried that if we take a smallest brake we will not have an energy and willpower to continue. Source: http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov
Mountaineering standards recommend to limit daily climb to 500m in elevation a day. In a past 36 hours we climbed 2,200m. Three previous days we did 1,000m a day. So an altitude is simply killing us now! Walking is very hard. This has almost nothing to do with a physical strength. Up here the air is thin and has only 1/4 of a usual oxygen. Without enough oxygen muscles can not move. It is like truing to run a car with ¾ of water in your petrol tank. Source: http://wanderlustandlipstick.com/wander-tales/africa/
We walk very slowly, in foot-long steps. Still, after each 5-7 steps you collapse on you walking poles, your hart jumping out of a chest and you breeze like you just run for your life from a pack of lions. You rest a minute, take the next 5 steps, and collapse on your poles again. We need to walk like this few kilometres along the crater ream to the summit. And it’s getting harder to move the further we go. Source: http://traveldestinationintheworld.blogspot.com
Few hundred meters from the summit Sasha started having hallucinations. Imagine, we are among glaciers and snows, up high were planes fly, it’s freezing, we are exhausted to an absolute edge, he falls on knees and sais dreamily - “I see Avatar birds!” Whatever it means, it’s not good! It’s actually rather very-very bad! Guess his mind really wanted to be somewhere else right now… Source: http://traveldestinationintheworld.blogspot.com
Last hundred meters the summit are almost flat. But it is so hard to walk, we are seriously doubt we can make. “ Avatar birds” still follow Sasha. I’m feeling on an thin edge from an altitude sickness. Have no idea how would they evacuate me from here if I do. My hands got frozen, turned a scary purple colour, and hurt a lot. Source: http://www.vytautas.com/gallery/2004/01kilimanjaro/01kilimanjaro.htm
Just before 9am we got to the summit. Not the best record in a book. But thanks God we made it! First things first - a photo for all our charity sponsors. If it was not for you, we would drop of at Gilman's point, like a wise 90% of climbers do. It may sounds like a cliché, but the only thing that kept us going was our promise and your support. Thanks everyone for helping a good cause and giving us this extra motivation!
It is gorgeously beautiful here! Would you believe we are almost on equator?! You would think standing on a roof of the Africa after all the effort one must be overwhelmed with own achievement. In reality it’s nothing like this. It all seems like a very stupid idea right now... But other mountaineers had warned us this would happened, and that a pride and happiness will come latter. So for now we just try to smile for the camera.
Our guides carried an oxygen bottle. I was asking for it for the past hour. But they just asked “Why? Do you feel sick?” Are you kidding? I certainly do! Don’t I look like I need some oxygen?! They did not give it to me, but helped me with my backpack in a last 100m. Thanks at least for this! I would not make it otherwise. In fact if this mountain was just 1 meter higher I would collapse sick! I was at my absolute limit!
Few quick photos (see Sasha? no birds here!) and we must hit the road again.
It’s funny how much easier it is to walk down. On almost flat plato were we so straggled on our way up, we can now walk quite easily making the whole 50m before we need to rest!
We have a very long way back ahead of us. Most injuries happen on a way down. So we can not relax yet. First, we have walk back to Gilman's point going along a round crater edge to were the left edge of the photo is.
From here it is a long, steep & slippery way down to the Kibo huts – little light dots in the middle of a photo, just were snow ends, 1,000m below us. We will rest here for about an hour and must keep going to reach the next camp before darkness - another 12km away and 1,000m in elevation. It is about were clouds in the right top corner are. They were right – walking down is much harder then up!
By an afternoon we reached our camp. We climbed 26 hours out of last 36, did not sleep and had very little food. We collapsed on a matrass, but were so exhausted we cold not fall asleep (as strange as it sounds). I had a hypothermia, everything I touched, even warm closing felt like a block of ice. But my hands did not turned black as I feared and it’s already very good. After resting for few hours we feel much-much better!
In a canteen everyone had a story to tell. Don’t we all look just terrible?! Only Annika & Thimo, a superhero Netherlands couple, and two of us got to the summit. They also straggled. Annika was unwell and guides carried her last 50m to the summit. But they are the absolute winners - they bit us by good half an hour to the summit! Everyone else turned back at Gilman's point.
Mountain spirits were very kind to us with the weather! The next morning was a glorious weather again. Actually mornings were always good. It was raining each afternoon, but we were close to the camp every time. The only clear night was during our summit climb – when we needed it the most. day 6 – the final descent
We are still high above clouds. Today we have to get to the bottom of a mountain – about 2,000m below us and 17km away. Someone advised us not to get too attached to our toes as we are going to lose them from walking down for a long time. Nice!
Few days ago on our way up we were watching descending climbers and tried to guess who made it to the summit. We thought that those locking sick and exhausting were drop offs and happy people were winners. We were wrong! Those looking like they are about to collapse and nothing in the world can cheer them up were actually those who reached to the top! Now passing the new climbers we can not help but guessing who will make it and who will not!
By the time we got gown to the cloud forest it started to rain. But it is warm here and we are so tired it can not bother us anymore. In fact nothing can bother us now more then pain in knees and toes! We would prefer to walk this mountain again up (only to the Kibo base camp!), then to walk it down!
I don’t know how we managed it and don’t remember how long it took, but we got down eventually. It took as some time to recover though. I was down with pneumonia. But we kept our toe nails! We could not see Kilimanjaro from the ground – it was always hidden in clouds. But as we were on a way to the airport it show it’s snow cup a bit. Mountain spirits were kind to us to the last! a return home
Look how high we had climbed! They don’t call it “the roof of Africa” for nothing!
As few days passed and we recovered the trip started to feel as a great achievement and an amazing adventure. We are quite proud of ourselves and so happy we went all the way to the summit. Thanks everyone for supporting our charity cause and giving us this extra motivation we needed so much! We would not make it without you!