Ho, ho, ho: Kilimanjaro!

At Christmastime (“ho, ho, ho”), what better to do than… climb a volcano in Africa? That’s what I asked myself in November of last year… 

…Wind forward six weeks, and there I was, at the summit of Kilimanjaro!

“The first stage of altitude sickness is euphoria: the individual becomes animated, excited, amiable, chatty… almost ecstatic. The second stage is lethargy: the person becomes despondent, sad, bored, subdued and sluggish, with no wish to converse and no appetite.”

Those are the notes I wrote based on the talk our guide in Tanzania, O.R., gave us not long after our arrival in the country. But I think she left the next stage out (she didn’t want to frighten us, after all); so let me add it: The third stage is fatal: a swift worsening of one’s physical and mental state and… hmmm, like O.R., I’d prefer not to go into it. Let me just mention what you’d need if approaching this third stage: oxygen mask, injected medicine, and a call to an SOS medical helicopter service – all ASAP.



Actually, that talk by our guide wasn’t the usual useless pre-airplane-takeoff-like prattle, for our Kilimanjaro expedition posse looked decidedly… senior in years; senior and untrained in climbing volcanoes! This overall maturity of the group also led to us decide to take the longest (= least steep) route up the mountain (out of several). That route was the Lemosho route: Mti Mkubwa – Shira Hut (Shira-2) – Barranco – Karanga – Barafu – peak.



Oh my Google Maps. What an adventure we had…

Breathtaking African vistas, learning loads about Africa and Tanzania, and of course: volcanism! Not to mention getting to the top of the highest spot in Africa! And it turns out Kilimanjaro is one of the tallest volcanoes in the world – one of the Seven Summits, no less.

On hearing that, you’d be forgiven for thinking that getting to its peak would be extremely difficult; however, in actual fact it couldn’t be simpler. You simply stroll up it – right to the top, snapping away, along neat, signposted footpaths. No need for mountaineering skills or kit like ropes, pulleys, hooks and ice axes – just the two legs that carry you. Perfect for those in their sixth decade.

I mentioned the nice paths… Well there’s a bonus: they’re all one-way! You go up one, come down another, so there’s never anyone coming from the opposite direction to get in your way. Genius!

In choosing a path, it’s not how far you need to go to get to the top, it’s how difficult getting to the top will be; i.e., how up-and-down the path goes. To walk on flat ground for 20 kilometers, even with a backpack, and at a typical urban altitude – that ain’t that hard. But try walking 20 kilometers 4km+ above sea level on a path that goes up gorges and down valleys non-stop. Yes, you puff; yes, you pant; yes, you sweat. At times you want to give up and go back, but no – what’s started must be finished: no going back! So onwards we marched…

First of all we had to fill out some forms. All the tourists crossing the perimeter of the Kilimanjaro National Park need to give their names and a few other details. Then those names are checked off at every control point along the route. This is to make sure no one gets left behind, for example on quickly melting ice.

Then we were ferried to some other place in a minibus to have our backpacks weighed (to calculate how many porters would be needed – but more about that in a separate post). Then it was lunch! And we hadn’t even set off yet! I guess they realized we’d need the energy :).

Only then, finally, after lunch, did we set off…

One last thing (for now)…

For some reason I suddenly wanted to check the tour agency’s schedule of our planned movements along our chosen route, as I didn’t quite believe it (the schedule). And it was a good job did! For the figures given (kilometers, altitude…) just didn’t seem right, while the figures we came up with were different. But more on that – plus a day-by-day account of our Afro-volcanic Christmas adventure – coming up shortly in separate posts…

All the photos of our trek up Kilimanjaro are here.

Back soon folks!…

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