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Climbing Kilimanjaro

Friday Morning January 14th: "Okay let's just do it and climb Kilimanjaro".

Sunday afternoon January 16th: "Let's go buy hiking shoes and walk as much as I can in them in the next 3 weeks!"

Thursday 3rd of February: Flight to Kilimanjaro

Saturday 5th of February: Start of the hike, taking the Machame route

That being said, you can figure out that my Kilimanjaro trip was a spontaneous decision. So let's take you through my journey!

A few facts about the Machame route:

The Machame route is the busiest of the seven Kilimanjaro routes, with about 50% of Kilimanjaro climbers using it each year. It's also one of the most scenic Kilimanjaro routes. It offers breathtaking views and a rich variety of terrain throughout. The route approaches from south and has a high success rate, especially for climbers who choose the seven-day option. (That is the option we chose)

The Machame route is 7 days of camping outside in tents without a shower. A toilet is optional.

Difficulty: Medium

Distance: 62 km / 39 miles

Duration: 6-7 days

Success rate: High

The start:

May I present to you our team:

Day 1 – Machame Gate (1,640 meters) to Machame Camp (2,835 meters)

  • Distance: ~11km / 7 miles

  • Trekking time: 5-7 hours

  • Zone: Rainforest

The first day of trekking begins at Machame Gate (1,640 meters). We drove from the town of Moshi to the gate. On the way, we got to see subsistence farming and the town of Machame. At the Gate, there was a flurry of activity as porters assemble gear for the trek; weighing packs to ensure they don’t exceed 20 kilograms.

The first hike was tough for me. Since it was in the rainforest, it was hot and humid. (hence I was sweating a lot) That was the first time I realised what I have gotten myself into.

Finally arriving at the first gate: (very relieved)

Day 2 – Machame Camp (2,835 meters) to Shira Camp 2 (3,850 meters)

  • Distance: ~5km / 3 miles

  • Trekking time: 4-6 hours

  • Zone: Rainforest / Low Alpine Zone

On day two we rose early, packed our gear and prepared for the trek from Machame Camp to Shira Camp 2 (3,850 meters). The trek is very steep as you enter the low alpine zone which is characterised by moorlands and grasslands.

I was quite nervous, because our guides told us it would be a lot steeper than the first day. To my surprise, the climbing was easier for me than the first day. I do not know why, but there was a huge difference (thank god).

We also learned an important lesson for the whole trip: POLE POLE which means slowly slowly. Walk slow!

Shira Camp 2 sits on a plateau which provides you with the first views of Kibo in the North-West and Mount Meru in the East.

And we got to see the peak of Kilimanjaro:

Day 3 – Shira Camp 2 (3,850 meters) to Lava Tower (4,600 meters) and then Barranco Camp (3,900 meters)

  • Distance: ~11km / 7 miles

  • Trekking time: 5-7 hours

  • Zone: Low alpine zone / High alpine zone

Day three is a long and tough trek East off the Shira Plateau through the ‘Garden of the Senecios’, up to Lava Tower and the Shark’s Tooth rock formation at 4,600 meters and then back down via the Southern Circuit to Barranco Camp (3,900 meters).

We started the day with a traditional motivation song from our team:

The route is approximately 11km / 7 miles in length and takes 5-7 hours to complete.

Although you end the day at a very similar elevation to when you started from Shira Camp, it is arguably one of the most important days on your trek as it gives you a chance to climb high and sleep low which is important for proper acclimatisation.

Lots of people start to feel the altitude at this point and may loose their appetite or have headaches. The guides measure your oxygen each evening and keep an eye on your health.

Arrival at Barranco Camp with lovely fog:

Day 4 – Barranco Camp (3,900 meters) to Karanga Camp (3,960 meters)

  • Distance: ~7km / 5 miles

  • Trekking time: 7 hours

  • Zone: High alpine zone

Day four on the Machame Route begins with a steep traverse up the Barranco wall; a 300 meter rock face that requires basic scrambling skills to the top of the Karanga Valley. The path then follows a series of inclines and declines to Karanga Camp (3,960 meters).

When I first saw the Barranco wall, I felt intimidated. Actually it turned out to be one of the most fun parts of the whole trip. I takes about 1 hour to get to the top.

Since we were on a 7- day hike, we spend the night at Karanga Camp before continuing on to Barafu on day 5. This additional day is beneficial in terms of acclimatisation.

On a side note: It is absolutely normal to experience sun, hail, a storm, mist, rain and snow within one or two hours from up there. Kilimanjaro has its own microclimate!

Day 5 – Karanga Camp (3,960 meters) to Barafu Camp (4,680m)

  • Distance: ~6km / 4 miles

  • Trekking time: 3 hours

  • Zone: High alpine zone

Day five is a short and fairly easy day. (except the last hour) Our guides told me the last part would be steep, and let me tell you if they say steep, IT IS VERY STEEP.

The trail starts at Karanga Camp and joins the Mweka trail up to base camp, Barafu at 4,680m.

After lunch, you relax and try to sleep till the evening (till 10 pm approx.), and then it's time to wake up and prepare yourself for the summit push.