Memo of my Kilimanjaro Climb
20 July 2004
I finally left Cape town
on my way to Kilimanjaro, after having a nice half chicken at the airport
with the kids and my wife.
Finally I am on my Way!!.
Arriving at Johannesburg,
Uncle Jorge was waiting for me. I had a very good laugh when we were
driving out of the airport, and we were asked to switch the engine off.
This they do to ensure that one has not stolen the car. Yep, This is Jhb
21 July 2004
I am at the airport and
ready to leave. I booked in very early, so I have no worries. Just had a
breakfast and my stomach is doing the butterfly thing, but it will be ok.
I can’t believe I am
actually and finally doing it!!
Dar Es Salaam
Airplane landed and door
opens: whooshhhh!! Heat wave welcome the oven 33Degrees, I almost lost my
I got to the custom
officer who was moving very slow and after ½ hour I realized that I had
left my sleeping bags on the plane (sudden panic). I ran back to the tube
that we came in and it was closed already and they were towing the
airplane away. In panic I spoke to an officer and explained to him that I
had to get the sleeping bags, as it was all I had to go up Kilimanjaro
with. The officer said no problem, he opened the door of the extending
tube and he started to whistle to the person towing the plane away,
screaming is Swahili. The man smiled and started to tow the plane back
towards the tube. To my relief, they opened the plane; I ran in and got my
bag. This is a land of no problems for anyone and this was the first taste
of it I got. Try to do this stunt anywhere else, you would probably have
to fill forms for Africa in petitions and pass them through some
high-ranking officer for him or her to just say no. Here, it took a
whistle, a good laugh and it was done.
Bags recovered, I
proceeded to customs. Slow, Slow, Slow, Super slow process. Standing in
the queue, let my eyes wonder at the beauty of the women around. Women
here are WOW!!!; pitch black, slender and very beautiful.
Once out of the airport I
met with a nice guy who was a freelance tour operator (Norman Shayo) who
seems very nice and told me he would try to organize me a ride to
He took me to flamingo
restaurant at Dar es Salaam airport where I had a nice salad and rested
waiting for my connecting flight.
The place is very nice
and decent. The owner told me that I could stay as long as I whished. He
has Internet facilities at the restaurant, which I tried to use with no
luck. Nothing worked!!.
I left for Kilimanjaro
airport at 8:00 pm. If you thought the arrival was slow, the departure was
even worse. Nobody seems in any kind of a hurry here; everything is slow.
By the way, the owner of
the restaurant is also the owner of 3 other shops at the airport. Wherever
you go, there he is. He seems to own the airport (I would not be
I arrived at Kilimanjaro
Airport and all was fine there. Emmanuel (my guide) was waiting. Very nice
guy. He took me to the hotel (mountain inn), which is 45 km from there, in
an old battered Suzuki jeep. This gave a very nice raw first impression to
At he hotel we had supper
at 10:30pm and we talked for a long time. I fell asleep eventually in my
room like sleeping beauty, hoping that a princess would wake me up with a
kiss (dream on!!).
23 July 2004
Today I woke up late. I
had a very small breakfast and took a bus/kombi into moshi.
What a ride!, 26 people
fitted in this bus. A lady had to put half her bum on top of my leg to fit
next to me; everyone was hanging onto each other so I did same by getting
hold of this big woman’s love handles!!. She looked at me and smiled. It
was a nice ride. The people here are so natural, simple and fun.
In town I met a guy who I
became friends with almost instantly (Rosmin). He took me for a walking
tour around the place. We went especially to the real places. We went to
the market where you can buy just about anything.
Spices from and for Africa. Colourful place full of life and
beautiful people. Elegant women always working hard at something. I saw
many stalls selling mountains of 5 cm long dried fish. This apparently you
cook or steam and eat it with rice. People buy it by the Kilo. The shops
and stalls are of beautiful colours and full of life.
The butchery was a shock
to my system. It is an open stall with pieces of meat (raw) hanging from
dirty walls, no fridge, no salt, just flies. People actually buy cuts of
meat. The stench of rawness is quite something but here it is a way of
We walked through the
back streets of moshi, and passed Swahili street where houses are made of
mud and are about to fall, but people live there.
The spirit of Africa is
most present in this area.
All people are some kind
of entrepreneurs and I still have to find a house without a stall or a
person sitting outside selling something.
Sewing seems to be a big
thing here, as every second shop has a peon outside (on the streets) with
a sewing machine sewing some colourful garment.
Women wear beautiful
African colour clothes complemented with a turban in their heads.
We had a snack at a place
where a very nice lady, her two daughters and 2 sons serve very nice
Samoosas. Very cosy place, where she personally attends you.
One of her boys had an
obsession with cleanness, as he kept on wiping the floor during the whole
duration of our lunch.
I went to an Internet
cafe and what a joke!. Maximum speed of 14400 if you’re lucky. It took
me 45 minutes to write a 1-page email. Apparently all service providers
have only wireless connections to offer, and this makes them very slow and
unreliable. Anyway, most people here do not know of any faster browsing so
they do not complain.
We then visited the
outskirts of town, which is where life really is. Saw no luxuries; plain
simple living. People here have a beautiful spirit and I enjoyed this from
I took another kombi back
to my hotel and now I am resting and eating a tomato, cucumber and carrot
salad, which took me quite sometime to explain to the chef.
This is a beautiful
place, but most important; with beautiful people.
First day at kilimanjaro
We drove to Kilmanjano
national park in a kombi through rough terrain. I did not realize that the
vehicle took us already to an altitude of 1800 mt above sea level.
The park warden did not
want to believe that I was going to do the climb without porters. No one
climbs without porters.
The climb on the first
day was tough and long. 5hrs through rain forest. Magnificent green that
hurts your eyes. But it was very steep walking in some places. My pack was
too heavy (+- 18 kg) so I am going to leave some stuff tomorrow.
We arrived at first camp
(Machame) and prepared masala tea. Then I cooked noodles with sardines and
had some coffee at the end of the day. We watched an amazing view of
Kilimanjaro lit by the moon. It was fantastic, the stars were beautiful.
I must say that the
toilet here: an experience. It is a pit hole inside a wooden structure for
privacy, but the hole is not so big so aiming is a major problem for
While walking through the
forest I saw a variety of delicate beautiful flowers. Deep red with yellow
against a curtain of green leaves. Some pink and white with shiny glossy
hairs that covered the whole stem. The flora is amazing and one is
overwhelmed by the lavishness of the green landscape.
This was one of the
longest walking days.
day at Kilimanjaro.
We got up at 7:30 am and
were very cold. I made scrambled eggs with tomato, bread and had porridge
afterwards. As we were in no hurry we took it easy and were the last ones
to leave the camp. By now it was obvious that we would be sharing the
climb with at least 40 or 50 other people.
The climb to Shira camp
was very steep the whole day. We walked at a gradient of 45 to 50 degrees
the entire day. The sun shone its warmth on us while we walked. The
climbing was slow and very trying. The views fantastic and the vegetation
is amazing. The hills where covered by beautiful evergreen flowers and
beautiful lobelia stumps stared at us as we passed, greeting us.
My guide seems to be
struggling with his bag, so he walks unbalanced all the time.
Anyway, we got to Shira
camp, which sits on a lava flow bed and has an amazing view of kilimanjaro
summit and Mount meru in the far horizon.
My head is hurting a bit
but not too much. I started taking the altitude tablets. I feel ok
I prepared a tomato and
cucumber salad for lunch (which was a real treat). I made rice and pesto
sauce and a soup for dinner.
We have had ½ moon at
night and the summit looks awesome at night. We can also see millions of
stars tinkling in the sky, and to our luck we saw a beautiful shooting
star today. We walked for 5hrs.
Third day at
What a day!!, Very trying
and very intensive. We got up early and left camp for Lava Tower which
sits half way to today’ destination. It is a long, long gentle uphill
but the altitude started to take a toll. We walked slowly at a pace of 1
step a second. One cannot go any faster. We arrived at lava tower for
lunch. Most of the landscape was a mixture of dust and low vegetation with
massive black boulders that looked as if someone had just dropped them
there in the middle of nowhere.
There was fantastic view
of kilimanjaro and we are so close to it that one can almost touch the
We climbed the lava tower
and the view from it’s top is WOW!!!!!.With Kilimanjaro in the one side
and the plains of Tanzania in the opposite, with mount meru protruding
from these flat plains.
We left after lunch and
walked to barranco camp. We went from 4600 mt down to 3800 mt. through
very rough terrain, passing a forest of magnificent Cecinio trees. These
trees are very eerie as they look like overgrown aloes that are about to
topple over. We arrived exhausted with a headache and hungry. We made
soup, which helped us to recover. It got cold very quickly (-2degrees). I
cooked rice with a tomato and cucumber salad. We had some coffee and went
straight to bed. Watching the top of kilimanjaro change colours with the
sunset was amazing. The road today was hard, dusty and long. We walked fro
8:30 am to 16:45. What a day!. To top it all There was a couple of French
guys camping next to us, one of which developed altitude sickness
breathing problems and their guide did not know what to do with him. I
helped them by showing them some exercises to get some extra oxygen into
their lungs and told them that they must get down the next day. I am Zat!!
So I am going to sleep, Good night.....
day at kilimanjaro
We got up early and
decided to try to get to barafu camp today (this is the last camp before
the summit). The start of the walk was what they call “the breakfast
climb”. What a climb!!. You climb a hill at 70 to 80 degrees gradient
through rocky terrain for the first 1 ½ hour. It was cold and exhausting.
We then carried on for another 3hrs until we reached the second last camp
(we were supposed to camp here for the night). We had lunch here and wet
our feet in freezing cold water. The walk to this point was long and
tiring. We decided to carry on to barafu camp instead of staying here as I
felt strong and the weather looked good.
We had to carry all the
water we will need for the next 2 days from this point. So a 5-lt drum
plus 2 times 2 litres bottles, and 2 one-litre bottles, this makes extra
10 kg all of a sudden. WOW!! My back.
We started climbing
slowly at a pace of 1 step per second, and it was up and up and up. It
took us another 3 ½ hours. My guide got sick and luckily a porter passed
by and we paid him 5000 tsh to carry his bag to barafu. I went slowly
ahead and when I got there, it was cold and very crowded. (5:30 Pm). We
prepared a noodle masamora and ate it without complaining. Too tired, too
hungry and with a headache. Went to rest at 8:00 Pm. It was so cold that
we had to cook inside the tent. I was not sure that this was a wise
decision to get to this camp so soon.
climb to the sumit
It was 11:30 pm on the
night of the 4th day. We decided to start getting ready for the
climb. We made porridge, coffee, packed the bags and the tent (you don’t
normally do this if you come with porters) and we left it all with the
Head torch on, dressed
almost like an astronaut we started the ascent.
My guide and I walked
very nice together as we both can keep a slow but constant pace for long
The climb was steep, slow
The first ½ hour your
heart is pounding at light speed rate and you feel short of breath.
It got Cold, very cold.
The air that you breathe in is so cold that it hurts the lungs and dries
your throat. I had to put my balaclava over my mouth and make a pouch in
front of it so that my breath out would warm my breath in. The cold comes
from the sides and from your back.
2 hrs into slow painful
climbing, now adjusted to the harsh conditions, it got even colder and
heavier. We were now climbing at a pace of 1 step every 2 seconds (short
steps). This was faster than most people that we passed along the climb.
Everyone is panting,
ladies complaining of the cold and tiredness, someone in the back shouted
a big fu......! in frustration.
We slowly carried on and
painfully on. You don’t care if anyone is in trouble, as you are focused
solely on the climb.
My right buttock
developed a needle pain and I got worried as it stated to travel down my
leg. It was the cold.
I told my guide please no
more overtaking, because I spent 5 times the energy of a normal step in a
longer step needed to overtake, and it took me about 20 mins to recover.
3 hrs climbing and my
body feels sore all over. I started to stop every 10 steps for 5 seconds
to get my breath back. The ground is now loose gravel at a 65-degree
gradient and every step that you take, you slide ½ back. It is cold cold
I decided to take a photo
of the light of moshi town, which could be seen from this point, and my
hand almost froze when I touched the metal of the camera. I took a nice
shot, but also took another hour before I could feel my fingers again.
At 4 hrs and something,
we reached the rim of the crater (Stella point). The last 20 mins before
this point was a sadistic one-step at a time against your body’s will.
Now climbing at one step per 3 seconds and this step being ½ foot long,
plus your breath is long and painful. Your heart is pumping like a drum
set. The cold that touches your face is numbing. It is now getting light
and we are now able to see further than 3 mt without our torches.
We rested at a rock
outcrop. You feel finished but guess what!, it’s not over. We still have
another 1 ½ hr to the summit, and this is the worst news anyone can give
you now (my guide was in serious trouble of being dismantled right there).
When you sit on any rock,
you feel the cold travelling from your bum up, so you do not sit for
longer than 2 mins.
After a lot of convincing
to my body to carry on, we got going again.
It is now more or less
level walking but it makes NO DIFFERENCE!, you are finished and exhausted
and every step you take is a conscious effort still at a pace of 1 step
every 2 to 3 seconds. People’s faces look terrible, and you hope that
yours does not look also like you are bout to dye.
We carried on slowly,
wind from the inside of the crater, you can se UHURU peak in the distance
and it looks far. You also see the flashes of the cameras of people that
have already made it.
The sun started to show
beautiful colours on the clouds and it is an incredible spectacle of
nature; but you are so, so tired that one cannot appreciate it fully. You
are focused on the peak ahead.
The breathing is by
choice a long inhaling and a long exhaling and you try to keep it to 3
steps in 3 steps out.
Summit on the 5th day
The sun is almost out of
the clouds, 6:45 am and we are 5 mt from the summit. You see people
hugging each other; everyone is in tears men, women, old and young.
As I took my final steps
to the summit marker, a wave of emotions came to me: My mom, my family, my
wife, my children, my girlfriends, my pets, my childhood, my school and
friends; my entire life passed through my soul in les than 10 seconds. The
feeling is indescribable.
All the pain, exhaustion,
the aches are all present, you are still freezing cold, cramps all over
and yet; you don’t mind. It was worth it just for this moment. Even for
my guide who completed his 35th climb, I saw him sitting down
and crying a bit. It is a very emotional moment and you can definitely
feel the human spirit around you. Somehow we all become family as we all
shared the same pain and the same feelings to get to this incredible spot.
You look around you and you see people expressing themselves completely
openly, everyone shares the tears you feel like letting out. Your body
suddenly feels like jelly and your legs are shaking horribly but it is now
due to the emotions more than to the exercise.
After the initial
moments, you now start taking notice of your surrounds and also start
taking photos. You wait for your turn to stand at the summit marker.
Everyone wants this. Some people bring out banners, others some token;
like a man that took out 5 teddy bears out of his bag and placed them next
to him. A couple decided to give each other a scrumptious kiss while the
photo is being taken.
I, just went for the
photo, simple and straight, but I know what it means to me.
The sun is now starting
to come out of the clouds and it is awesome!. The shadow of Kilimanjaro
starts to extend over Tanzania and over Mount meru, which is 50km away in
the distance. This is quite a spectacle. People all around you are very
emotional and the landscape is absolutely incredible. You look in any
direction and you see space, plains of land covered by grass and some tiny
trees. Some of it covered with low clouds, some of it open. Clouds burn
like fire with the sun and the sky is deep blue.
Now I have to say that up
to this moment everything looked a bit fuzzy every now and then, and I
thought it must be the effect of altitude, but when I wiped my face after
sneezing, I discovered that my eyelashes were frozen with icicles and this
was what was making things look fuzzy. I had a good laugh when I
discovered this and I also discovered that my whole face was covered by a
thin layer of ice. My eyebrows were completely frozen too, and looking at
other people, they too were covered by ice all over their face.
By the way, it is now
freezing, freezing cold. The sun 1/2 out of the clouds made no difference
at all. Wind blowing at about 15km /hr from inside the crater.
After all the photos and
the moment of glory ( which lasts altogether no more than 10 mins) we
decided to start down. It is too cold for sightseeing.
Now walking became a
pleasure, going down no more painful steps. You feel like in the clouds
(and you indeed are). We stopped to look at the inside of the crater. It
is enormous. You look into an ice-covered valley about 3 km across. On the
other side of this op, you see a large hill covered by ice, and this is
the actual crater where the fumarole is located, but it is far away. A
steep way down first ad then a flat walk for about 1.5 km and then another
climb to the top of the other side. This looks far and uninviting. The sun
shines on the glacier bed making an enormous orange mirror of it. On our
way back to Stella point, we stopped at various points to look at the
incredible glaciers. They are massive. If you stand next to the glacier
walls, you reach about 1/10th of its height. I decided to go
down to one of them for a photo (about 20 mt down from the path), took the
photo and to my surprise, every step trying to get back up was an
incredible effort, as if someone had put a ton of lead on my feet and
legs. It took me 9 mins to climb the 20 mt back to the path and I was
exhausted. I decided then, no more close ups!.
I enjoyed the wonderful
views that kilimanjaro was giving me, the beauty and power of it, the
majesty and grandeur of it. I thanked Kilimanjaro for letting me reach its
top, and for allowing me to share it’s splendour.
One starts to see what
you have really accomplished on your way down n back to Stella point
(which is still the rim of the crater 5700 mt). You see people still
coming up at an incredibly slow pace (you did the same just now). One man
could hardly walk, was wrapped in an emergency blanket and was being aided
by his guide. He looked ready to die but kept going. A Japanese lady was
going around in circles and the guide had to turn her body in the
direction of the summit so that she could unconsciously carry on towards
it. We also saw an old lady that looked real sick being held by the arms
by her guide and assistant. She cold hardly breathe but kept going. One
man would give 3 steps, and stop panting for about a minute before another
set of steps.
Everyone feels the pain
of getting to the top; Young, old, fit and non-fit. It does not matter. It
is hard and testing of your innermost strength to get there. Kilimanjaro
is a mountain you have to respect and not to take for granted.
On our way up, we saw a
number of people young and old turning back, some of them as early as the
first 200 mt after the start of the climb. As you see them pass you get
worried whether you will make it or not.
makes all equal: Men, women, young and old. there is no distinction.
Everyone is fighting their own battle against their will.
After reaching Stella
point, I said good-bye to kilimanjaro. We decided we cannot sty any
longer; too cold, too exhausted.
We started the descent
and it was much easier and much more fun. You go down a route 50 mt to the
left of the ascending one. 80% of it is loose gravel, so you grab speed
and each step becomes a 1 to 2-mt descent because the ground slides under
your feet. You must just keep your balance and watch out for large stones.
We kept going like this
for almost 2hrs until we reached hard ground. We were by now so tired that
many times we stopped to rest and almost fell asleep on the spot.
2 ½ hours later we were
back at Barafu camp.
Your body so tired that
there are no words to describe it.
We collected our bags,
found a spot, took our sleeping mats out and just lied down to try and
sleep. We were very hungry but all we could muster in the form of food,
was to open a tin of peaches and cream and gulped it down in seconds. We
fell asleep for about 1 hour but I was too tired to carry on sleeping.
The bad news was that we
could not stay at this camp, as there is no water. So after resting for
about 3 hrs, we forced ourselves to leave for millennium camp, which is 1
½ hour away of steep downhill all the way to it.
We reached the camp at
about 1:30 pm. We made a good meal, prepared coffee and got into our
sleeping bags to rest. I cannot describe with words how absolutely
finished I felt. We had been awake since the beginning of the 4th
day, so it is for 30 hrs that we have not slept, plus a little climb in
between. This was not just us, but for every one that attempts the summit
in a 6 day hike. Everyone you see at this camp is finished, exhausted and
just wants to rest. We fell asleep almost instantly.
day at Kilimanjaro
We woke up at 8 am,
rested, sore but with a nice sense of achievement. As I got out of the
tent, Kilimanjaro greeted me wit the sun on its side; asking me “how do
you feel”. I subconsciously replied: “like a new person, thanks my
friend”. We readied ourselves for the last walk to mweka gate. This is a
4 ½ hour walk going down, down, down. Initially through low bushes which
45 minutes later are replaced by a splendorous rain forest. Beauty all
around. Green so strong that looks like someone had dropped a bucket of
green paint all over.
I enjoyed taking photos
of small ferns lit by faint sunrays that made it through the canopy of the
Beautiful and delicate
red flowers (impatiences) and 10 mt tall tree ferns. Wherever you look it
is filled with wonders of nature. We even saw a few black loeries as we
After walking 4 hrs we
reached the gate. There they give you your certificate (if you made it to
the top) and you can buy cool drinks and t-shirts that say, “I just made
it” (I of course got me one) for US15. I bargained the price of one down
I felt sad to leave such
incredible place, but at the same time happy that I will have a bit of a
I stank from head to toe
so did my guide. But this is the case with everyone arriving at this
point. There are no big rivers to wash up in Kilimanjaro. Just little
streams that you have to sit patiently for it to fill your bottles to
People that do the climb
with porters have it a bit easier as they do not carry their weight. But
they still have to walk it all. Porters spend hours collecting water for
the people. They are strong and incredibly fast. Some of them carrying up
to 25 kg all the way to Barafu camp. They get paid almost nothing by their
companies (+- US10 a day if they are lucky). 90% of them are not geared by
their companies, so they walk in talkies and tracksuits. Talking to some
of them I found that some companies provide them with food only every
second day; something which I found disgusting. Companies charge an
average of US1500 per person for a climb. They pay the guides US50 per day
and US 10 per day to their porters who do ALL the work. They get up at
first light, prepare breakfast for the clients, pack and leave the camp
after the clients. They ALLWAYS overtake the clients and get to the next
camp long before them. When the clients get to the camps, everything is
ready for them; tents, food etc. They are hard working people and I really
feel that government should step in to stop the companies that are abusing
In any case, this was a
sad note to y climb, but one, which I feel, must be expressed.
Something I forgot to
mention on my Climb day was that I had planed to phone my wife from top of
Kilimanjaro as there is cell reception up there. My guide took his cell
especially for this purpose. We loaded it with US 10 of prepaid voucher.
When we got to the top and took the phone out (which was wrapped in a
thick sock), we found that it was frozen solid. My guide was carrying it
in his pocket and because he kept his hand in it too, the sweat from his
hand was collected by the sock and froze instantly. We could not get it
defrosted up there, as the temperature was +- -15 degrees. The water that
we took for drinking in bottles was also frozen solid, even the one
carried by him on his pocket close to his body (is it cold enough for
you?). We had to shake the bottles and break the ice inside to try to
drink a few sips.
All in all, the
experience was one, which I shan’t forget. I will certainly be back, but
this first climb I wanted it to be my way. I carried my rough sack and
food supplies for 7 days together with my guide (who had never done it
like this before), as I wanted to feel Kilimanjaro. I wanted to remember
every step, all the pain and every wonder. I wanted to be able to say with
conviction “I HAVE CLIMBED KILIMANJARO” with it’s full meaning.
I am apparently one of 3
that have done it so. The rest al do it using the porter system, which
basically takes the weight off your shoulders while you walk, but everyone
goes through the “CLIMB DAY”, perhaps a bit more rested than us
carrying our own goods for 4 to 5 days. But the pain is the same, the
achievement is the same, the wonder of kilimanjaro is the same to all of
us who have visited it.
Kilimanjaro is a wonder
that teases people into attempting the summit, and I think that nature has
placed it there with a purpose.
It is a call that if you
take, it will fill your life with something indescribable, it will leave
you wondering how ridiculously small we are in not acknowledging that we
have only this earth to leave on, and that by spoiling it and not caring
for it, will one day end all it’s wonder (like kilimanjaro) and with it