Kilimanjaro Conquered - Tim Hazell

Sunday the 14th of August saw 11 very keen (some tired) trekkers arrive at the Melbourne Airport physically & mentally ready for Kilimanjaro. We had one very stressed trekker in Sydney which made our group for Kilimanjaro 12 (women). In Doha we all met up (except Ange & Mel) & our last leg of the massive 28+ hour flight over was all smooth sailing. The feeling amongst the group had everything - nerves, anticipation & excitement were at an all time high! 

Kilimanjaro dishes up everything from forest to desert from dust to chill, the walk itself is a thoroughfare that runs around 69 kilometers return on the Lomosho Route. The ‘roof of Africa’ sits at 5920m, and is the highest mountain in Africa. We arrived at the Kilimanjaro airport & were greeted by the Marangu Boys with huge smiles. Couple of quick hellos & we were whisked out of there in this massive truck. 2 hours later we had arrived at our destination for the next 3 nights.

Day 1 was a real highlight. We were picked up by the Future Warrior Project guys at 6.30am, 5 hours later & we arrived at the FWP school. A good mate of mine had been volunteering at the school as a sports teacher for the past 6 months. The school was remote & small, the teachers were fantastic & they showcased their skills by playing games with the kids in front of us. The English was very very impressive, you could tell these teachers were very proud of the kids. The most amazing thing I took out of it was kids aged 4+ walked up to 7ks one way to school by themselves, imagine that happening here in Melbourne. The parents would be on the front page of the news! After a few games of duck duck goose & the girls singing songs to the kids we said our goodbyes & left for the Maassi village. Our first intro to the bomber (which is code for ‘our village’) was seeing a dead goat cut up with pieces of flesh on sticks waiting to be cooked on the fire. You could tell straight away they were excited to have us, we were invited into a singing & dancing festival with about 30 maassi, the smiles, the energy, the happiness of that experience goes down as one of my favourite travelling highlights for me. So raw & authentic, the whole experience was way more than I ever thought possible. We said our goodbyes & headed back to the hotel for some rest. What an awesome day!

Day 2 was a later start to the day. Grabbing a walking pole, we went for a local tour of the village we were staying in. This involved a coffee plantation and a local school. This school was better resourced than the day before and the kids were excited to see us. I thought Helen D was taking one home at one stage. After the school we finished off the day trip with a walk down to the local waterfall. It was a tough trek going down to the fall but the trek back out was even tougher. This was a great warm up for the next 8 days of trekking. Home for dinner, tomorrow it is game on!

The morning came around really quickly & with an 8 month build up of outdoor walks, hours in the altitude chamber, strength sessions, yoga sessions & lots and lots of questions. The time had arrived to meet the team that was going to lead us up to the top of Kilimanjaro. 43 was the total size of the group, with us we were a team of 56. That’s massive! Our head guide was Geoffrey (he has lead me before so I was excited to reunite with him) his lead guides were Goodluck, Lionel & Bonnie. Our chief was & our waiters were Nathan & Barrco.

We all boarded the trucks & before we knew we were on the way to the start line!

Here is a day-to-day recap of the trek.

Day 1: Londorossi gate to Mti Mkubwa Camp (2,800m) (4 hours)

We were transported via trucks to the starting gate, which is 2000m and then further to Lomosho Glades (2,200m). Roughly a 5hr drive from our accommodation, which included gate formalities. Once at the trailhead, we had a 4hr walk into camp which included some ascending through the forest until we reached  Mti Mkubwa camp (2,800m). This is a forest clearing, dominated by large trees. It was busy & it was dark by the time we reached camp. What a first day.

Day 2: Mti Mkubwa Camp to Shira 1 Camp (3,500m) (6-7 hours)

Everyone slept well & we emerged as an excited group. Breakfast consisted of eggs, bacon, porridge, coffee & toast. This morning we headed off above the forest after roughly 1hr of trekking, detouring northwards to Shira ridge. We passed beautiful and rugged moorland with views to the west of the plains below Mt Kilimanjaro. At the north edge of the Shira ridge, the path turned eastwards and drops to the Shira plateau. Camp is located by a stream. It was dusty & isolated but the conversations were on song & the team all did well. We arrived at camp a little fragile, it’s been a huge 48 hours. This afternoon we connected with other groups from all around the world. One group that stands out was the boys from London. With 6 single girls in the group they were keen & very quick to say hello to the group of 18 men. They invited us over for what was one of the highlights of the trip – a sing along with their leader Jimmy (this guy could dance & sing) with over 70 people forming a circle, Shira 2 was rocking with everyone clapping, dancing & having a great time. Few mentions need to go out to Bianca, Karla, Mel, Helen D, Jules & Mil – the girls were in the thick of the action doing the ProSport group proud! After an hour Geoffrey came over & its safe to say cracked it because the girls were using too much energy (dancing at 3500m takes a fair bit out of our body) Dinner & everyone was ready for bed.

Day 3: Shira 1 Camp to Shira 2 Camp (3800m) (7hours)

The trail continues across the plateau towards Kibo. After 2 hours, the edge of the plateau is reached, we branched off to Shira Cathedral and Shira Needle for some acclimatizing. The imposing hills on the southern side of the plateau and spectacular views look down over Machame ridge we walked via Cone Place, the centre of the now dormant volcano, which allows us to see over Shira plateau. Today was an awesome day, everyone was feeling great & the energy amongst the group was at an all time high. We got into camp, had lunch & then headed off for an afternoon walk without backpacks. We headed up to Geoffreys rock (we think he has claimed it) Ange, Jules & Lynne climbed up this rock which looked challenging for a peak of a pretty cool view back over Moshi. Lynne turned on her phone & was quickly updated with sales back home (this rock is a place for great phone reception) We had an on going fine system (fines were given out for anything – falling over, talking during the night, bad jokes, bad stories, you name it – chances of getting a fine were high) Lynne got a fine for getting a text message with a flash sale back home. Another great day had by all.

Day 4: Shira 2 to Barranco Camp (3985m) (6-7 hours)

We are getting closer & everyone is going well. The path continues through the high altitude desert directly towards Kibo. After about 4 hours, we reached the Lava Tower (4,600m). We are now directly at the foot of the Great Western Breach of Kibo, which is where a pre-historic glacier has formed Umbwe Valley. We descend through the Umbwe Valley to Barranco for the night which always takes its toll on the legs. The last few hours of today’s walk was a real highlight. It’s a long day but the views are amazing! The Barranco camp looks right at the Barranco Wall, first thing in the morning we are climbing that. Tonight is pretty quiet, an early dinner & bed nice and early.

Day 5: Barranco to Karanga Valley (4000m) (4-5 hours)

As mentioned the path climbs out of the Barranco Valley to the Barranco Wall (also know as the kissing wall). This is a steep (1-2hr) climb, which ascends 300m. The path gently follows the undulating Kibo South Circuit. Amazing views over the Kibo’s southern glaciers. After 3-4 hours of trekking, we reach Karanga valley, which is a short but steep descent, with a small stream running through. Today challenged Mil, she was stuck with a virus over night & she dug really deep to get through the day on limited sleep & a grizzly stomach. Everyone was really proud of Mil’s efforts as today wasn’t an easy day of trekking. The afternoon saw a few opted out for some extra rest in the afternoon while the rest went for an afternoon trek (one hour up, 25 minutes back) These walks are great to get a taste of some higher altitude. The night was standard, an early dinner, everyone checking heart rates & sats, a few stories & our fines for the day. Everyone was in bed by around 8pm.

Day 6:Karanga Valley to Barafu (4600m) (4-5 hours) **Barafu camp is also known as base camp.

A steep section to start the day followed by a long (with small ascent) up to Barafu, which is also known as base camp. A chance to rest before getting up ready to summit tomorrow morning. We reached Barafu around 1pm, lunch & then straight to the tents for an afternoon sleep. Tonight we were leaving camp at midnight. Some slept, some laid thinking about what’s about to take place. We were woken around 5pm for dinner before heading back to bed around 7.30pm for some more sleep. This was the moment we were all waiting for!

Day 7: (SUMMIT DAY) Barafu Camp to Uhuru Peak (5896m) (12 hours)

We were woken around 11pm. With a chance for a quick bite to eat and wearing our warmest layers, we trek off around midnight over the rocky ridges, which later turns to sandy footing. This surface was loose and hard going. On the steep sections, the path zig-zags and usually takes around 7 hours to reach Stella point, on the crater rim. Views of the sun rising over Mawenzi are spectacular. Stella Point is 5,750m. From here the path goes on the outskirts of the crater rim to the summit, Uhuru Peak. Everyone dug deep & supported each other, some were doing it harder than others. This climb is extreme, it takes everything out of your body & with limited hydration (our water bottles had frozen over because it was minus 10) the key is to think only about each step one after another. We couldn’t feel our fingers & toes for hours, this is one of those moments where thoughts of giving up kick in & you need to stay strong & dig deeper than you ever have before. Andrea & Ange were up the front leading us, the rest were all staying strong. A quick tea break (yep, the boys were carrying tea & cups up the mountain for us. I love my tea but never so more than that moment) With limited sleep, everyone pushed their bodies & minds to a new level. All the training & preparation doesn’t quiet prepare you for something like this. Watching Lynne, Helen G and Michela push through barriers like that was pretty impressive. Jules had her moments but the drive & determination that girl has allowed her to keep pushing. Mel was doing it tough but never looked like giving up. Bianca & Ange worked together & kept pushing each other to keep going. Helen D was in 2 minds, she was thinking a lot about her good mate Mil while trying to keep pushing hard herself to the top. Karla was doing it tough but I knew she could push through it, she’s tough. We had our Killy Mum Chris back down at Base camp waiting for us all to come back safely.

These kind of moments for a leader are always tense. You are consistently evaluating how everyone is tracking whilst trying to keep yourself in good order. Geoffrey & the boys were amazing, having such experienced leaders around you helps keep the group moving. Every stop Geoffrey would give me a look to say we are ok. He would always say ‘you ok?’ I would say yep, all good. You? He always looked at me after I asked him with a look of ‘are you serious?’ even though I was exhausted, I would laugh to myself.

The sun was coming & everyone was determined like never before to finish this. A few more hours & we reached Stella point. A few every low key high fives, smiles & pictures. We all drank some water, ate some food & re committed to the big picture - to reach the summit of the roof of Africa.  60 minutes later (to be honest it felt like 5 hours) we had made it. Smiles, fist pumps & huge hugs of celebrations were the first point of call. We quickly took some photos & agreed it was time to get out of there. It’s funny, 8 months of training for 10 minutes. You know what, it’s worth it. Not many people get to experience that 10 minutes. You get to have this amazing moment of thinking ‘holly molly’, I am standing on top of Kilimanjaro’ It’s pretty cool! We quickly descended back to Barafu which took about 3 hours. The round trip took us 11 hours! After a huge greeting by the team back at camp, we quickly rested and then had a meal and then left Barafu Camp for Millennium Camp, it’s pretty much 2 hours downhill which had us back at a decent altitude of 3800m for the night.  What a 24 hours! A very early night, it’s safe to say everyone slept well that night.

Day 8: Millennium Camp to Mweka Gate

It’s all over, everyone woke to the sight of Kilimanjaro behind us & the goal of reaching the top done. We were up early so we could get a jump on the day, the earlier the start the quicker we were back at the hotel for showers, beers & for some internet! 8 days of no showers, dust & sweat a feature of everyone’s bodies we were keen to hit the path.

The path descends for around 3 hours through the forest to Mweka gate, where our truck was waiting to take us back to the hotel. A few photos & a quick bite to eat & we were thanking Kilimanajro for having us. The mountain was kind to us, amazing weather, breathtaking sunrises & sunsets – we were very blessed & appreciative. A 2 hour truck ride & we were back to civilization. Showers & a change of clothes had everyone almost unrecognizable. We all sat around with our amazing team of porters for our awards ceremony. A couple of quick speeches, one 500ml beer which knocked the bejesus out of me & 43 hand shakes & it was time to say good bye to the team.

We headed to the bar for a few more celebration drinks while awaiting the arrival of Lynne, Andrea & Chris husbands Richard, Tim & Rick. Everyone was up & about, the drinks were flowing & the war stories were at a all time high. We headed down for our celebration dinner. A few more speeches & the night was over. Everyone was heading in all different directions the next morning so it was thank you & good byes.

What a great group, what a great trip!

 Thank you & congratulations team.