Reflections by Trekker Ruwe (aka Beth, Kate, and the latest "your friend")
Apologies if this is long, I plan to cover off on my experience from all 7 days on the mountain.
The night before our ascent, the reality of the adventure we were about to embark upon set in. At dinner we sat with two fellow climbers who shared their experience with us. One gentleman successfully made the summit, while the other was evacuated after day one (only making it to 3000m). After listening to both their stories I started to psyche myself out, wondering what I had gotten myself into. However, I was somewhat put to ease after talking to some of the hotel staffers (we were obsessed with everyone we met!). Said, one of our favorites, said he would pray for "his sisters" (He also told us how to say sister and brother in swahili - dada is sister & kaka is brother) to make it to the top and back. After dinner we retreated to our rooms. Falling asleep was a struggle, due to nerves and excitement, as well as the heat (no air conditioning, & the fan didn't work due to a power outage - common in Africa).
Day 1 of our climb, we woke up, ate a decent breakfast, and did last minute packing. By 8:30/9am we set off with our guides & porters to the Machame Gates (about a 45 drive from the hotel). It was a clear day and we could see the mountain perfectly in the distance. Upon arriving at the gates (altitude 1828m), we signed in, while the porters gathered our gear. Once we were all set, we began the ascent with our assistant guide, Siaman. He told us not to be afraid of the mountain, that it was "easy," to listen to our bodies, and think positively. I liked his outlook and decided to tune out the stories from dinner! We hiked about 10-12km (1200m) through the rain forest, on a rennovated path to the campsite. Siaman let us take the lead on the trail, and Tom eventually caught up to us. With myself in the lead, we found ourselves stopping quite a bit to catch our breath, and drink water (this is very important! And we may have taken this advice to an extreme). The last hour or two of the hike, as it became steeper, Tom decided to take the lead and pace us. We then learned the importance of going slowly (Pole Pole in swahili). Tom maintained a slow and steady pace, with a rhythm in his step. Finally, we reached the Machame huts, our campsite for night 1 (3032m). We signed in and found our tents. The rest of the evening was spent, relaxing, enjoying tea time, eating dinner, and then off to bed. It dawned on me that this is the first time I have ever camped out, and I enjoyed it. It was also amazing to see a sky full of stars - you don't see that often in the city!
The next morning we set off for Shira camp. The sun was out and it was looking to be a
nice day to hike (March is typically low season because of rain). Kibo Peak, and Mt. Meru were in clear view, making for some great pictures. The plan for the day was a 4 hour hike/climb up a steep, rocky terrain. Tom led the way, and even stopped to point out snap some good picture. At one point we stopped at this rocky area for a break. Tom suggested a picture at the top of
the ledge. I quickly was reminded of my fear of heights and opted to stay put on my rock. There were many times when I thought my clumsiness, one wrong foot, and I'm going over this ledge. Not sure what I was thinking when I booked this trip. I obviously survived, and maybe overcame my fear a bit. After the break we trekked on. The vegetation began to diminish as we climbed higher. We finally made it to Shira camp (3847m) in time for lunch, and we also beat
the rain. I took a little nap, while Erika read. Our evening at camp was similar to the night before, signing in, tea time, dinner, briefing with Tom, and sleeping. We did manage to see a nice sunset.
Tom and the books warned that day 3 would be a long day, and they were right. Weboth suffered from headaches along the way. It was approximately a 6hr hike, but Erika and myself were pole pole, so it took us closer to 7hrs. The plan for the day was to climb to 4600m to Lava Rock (pictured),
where we would stop for lunch, then trek down hill to the Barranco camp at 3985m. To better acclimate, it is better to climb high and sleep low. Hence, going downhill to camp. The downhill portion of the climb was a little tough on the knees and my ankle. I was relieved when we finally arrived at camp. Upon arrival we washed up, changed clothes and prepared for tea time and dinner. After dinner, the clouds were shifting and
we were able to get a couple of good shots of our goal. We also made a new friend from Denmark at this campsite. He has was pretty entertaining and liked to drop the f bomb. He even renamed the Barranco wall that we would be tackling the next day.
The next morning, we were awakened to begin our 3-4
hr climb up the Barranco Wall to the Karanga Campsite (3940m). I woke up feeling nauseous and weak, a bit worried about being evacuated if I got sick. Apparently, it is common to feel this way and there wasn't much cause for concern. I forced myself to eat breakfast and drink some water. Tom and Siaman preached to us from day 1 the importance of drinking plenty of water and getting enough food. I felt a little better after breakfast, but not 100% (as Siaman would say). We finally set off to tackle the rock wall. This was a bit challenging considering how I felt that morning, and my fear of heights. There were a couple of points, where I was like one wrong step and I'm falling off this mountain. Erika said she really enjoyed this part of the climb. Looking back now, it was pretty fun! At the top of the wall we had a great view of Peak! We stopped for a short break and took in the sight! We then continued on to Karanga camp, where we settled in for the night. Had we not added an extra day for acclimatization, we would have continued to Barafu camp post lunch. I'm glad we took the extra day and settled, it allowed us to take the remainder of the afternoon to rest. I took the best nap. Also, that night was one of the best nights of sleep for me.
Waking up the next morning, I felt better, back to 100%. I think all the sleep helped, as well as eating and drinking plenty of water. We packed up and set off for another 3-4 hour hike. Upon arriving to the Barafu Huts (4681m), Tom was pointing out climbers who were coming down from the summit. We were almost to our goal. We arrived to camp at about noon. We were encouraged to rest between meals since we would begin our summit at 11:30pm that evening. We packed our bag, put on our summit clothes and tried to go to sleep after dinner, only to be woken by an angry, rude, German climber. Of course, his tent was right next to ours, so we had to listen to his ridiculousness. Erika popped her head out once to give the stink eye. I then popped out and told him to quiet down....didn't really help. Then it started to thunder and lightning. Every time the thunder roared the mountain shook a little. The lightning had me a little worried, wondering if we would still be able to summit. Eventually, I fell asleep to the rain (snow).
Finally, we were woken up for the big summit! The rain and thunder had stopped and it was dark out. Neither Erika nor I had flashlights or head torches. We both managed to overlook this piece of suggested equipment. Fortunately, Erika had a book light and I had my ipod to provide a source of light. I have to wonder what Tom was thinking when he saw me
coming from the toilets using my ipod as light. He flashed his head torch towards me, and directed me to the dining tent. We had a cup of tea and set off. Not having a head torch wasn't a hindrance, we were able to see the path using Tom and Siamans'. Tom led with a steady, slow, and rhythmic pace. We closely followed, with Siaman bringing up the rear. The route to Stella Point is a zig zagged 6 hour trail. It was a challenging climb, as we both felt weak at certain points and rest breaks were discouraged (better to keep your muscles moving). My head was pounding during the summit. We finally reached Stella Point (5752m), where we took a short break. From here, its another 45 minutes to Uhuru Peak (5895m). We witnessed the sun setting while hiking from Stella to Uhuru. It was another clear and beautiful day (we really lucked out with weather). Those last 45 minutes were tough for me, my feet were dragging, but with the groups encouragement I pushed through and we finally made it to Uhuru. It
was a very satisfying feeling, though at the same time I felt a bit delirious. The views from the top were amazing! We snapped pictures and were quickly rushed back down the mountain. It took us about 2-3 hours to go down through the scree. Again, my knees are not a fan of downhill! Our campsite was like a mirage...it seemed so close, yet so far away. I was exhausted, but felt a bit high from what we just accomplished. We tried to take a quick nap before lunch, yet it was tough to sleep with the excitement of our success.
After lunch we began our descent down the Mwenka trail. It was supposed to be a 3-4 hour hike down. Erika and I were now the guides down hill, leading the way and pointing out sites Tom and Siaman. We crossed paths with another group of Americans on the way down. Turns out Tom trained their guide, Bruce. We also learned he has trained several other guides, and has been a guide for 10 years. The fastest he made up and down mountain was in 15hrs. We dubbed Tom and Siaman the "Kings of the Mountain."
Aside from my knees and ankles hurting, I enjoyed the last 2-3 hours to the Mwenka camp. We were walking in what appeared to be a creek at some point. It was kind of muddy/rocky terrain, and vegetation was starting to make an appearance. I managed to slip in the mud about 5 times. Too bad Erika didn't have her camera out for one of those falls. I imagine it was a pretty funny site! We finally made it to the campsite. Our cook, Saleem, made us a traditional Chagga Tribe meal. Siaman revealed to us that he comes from the Chagga tribe. It was a spicy beef stew dish that had bananas. And it was very good. I would love to try it again sometime. After dinner, I quickly fell into a sound sleep.
We woke early the next day to complete the final 3 hour descent. On the way down, we learned that many of the trees are Cedar trees or in the Cedar Family (CF as Siaman said). He also explained that the moss growing on the trees keep them warm. You can tell which way the wind blows based on how the moss grows. Once reaching the Mwenka Gates, we were greeted by several street vendors selling Kili t-shirts, paintings, bracelets, beer, coke, and shoe cleaners. We signed our final book and received our certificate!
It was an unbelievable experience, challenging both mentally and physically! While on the mountain, Erika said she wanted to climb every route. At the time I wasn't as gung ho on the idea. However, days later, while on the safari I found I missed the mountain. I, too, would like to go back and experience the Kili again. Tom and Siaman were great guides, and I was extremely pleased with the organization of Zara!