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What it's like to Climb Mount Kilimanjaro

When I decided to climb Mt Kilimanjaro I had a month to prepare for the trip that would be in early Feb 2020. Initially I was nervous about training and whether I was physically able to do the climb in my current shape (I was a 39 year old office worker and mom of 2, active but not a gym rat). The best thing I did was research the route, the lodges along that route and the weather during the time you I would be climbing. I took the Marangu Route and was surprised how most of the route was fairly simple and not much different from the hikes I would take my kids on in the Pacific Northwest.

The majority of the trek is an easy walk. My group got lucky and never experienced rain. The scenery was beautiful and ever changing. We started and the weather was in the mid 70's and the hike looked like the Olympic Peninsula- ferns and lots of moss covered trees. Many people in my group wore shorts for the first day. I wore yoga pants or hiking pants the whole trip- which I think was better because some people got sun burned and complained of chafing from the shorts. I found that while hiking I was very comfortable and when I stopped walking I needed to add a layer.

As we got higher in elevation the temperature came down but the trees also became smaller and there were fewer. Several people in our group got sun burned on their necks and backs and the tops of their hands due to using trekking poles. The trails are very well maintained and there are even restrooms and sitting areas along the route. I was pleasantly surprised at the restrooms throughout my trip. They start off as normal toilets that you would find anywhere in the US. As you get higher they are well made physical structures with walls and doors but the restroom was a hole in the ground. I recommend bringing wipes. I only had to "go behind a bush" a couple times on my trip.

The most important thing to bring on your trip is layers, give yourself options as far as clothing because even during the day you will need multiple options. I was never cold, even as we were reaching the top. You may get warm while walking, but as soon as you rest for a bit you cool off quickly.

Abdul and his team took very great care of us. They were always making sure we were eating and drinking enough water. The food that his team prepared for us was incredible. We ate curries and delicious rice dishes and the soups they prepared were amazing. Every meal left me impressed at how they could possibly prepare food like that on the mountain.

I was also very impressed by the lodges we stayed at. They were all real wood structures, not tents. The beds were bunk beds with mattresses and even a pillow. They had doors and windows and separate toilet facilities. There was running water in the sinks and the ability to flush toilets. All of the lodges except the last had toilets that you could sit on. The last had a tiled hole but there were multiple stalls with walls and doors. It was a little chilly, but you have privacy. The toilets are surprisingly clean and well maintained.

There is photo below of the toilets you will see along the hike. Once you get to each camp there are separate buildings with toilets. The lodges have locks on the door and feel safe, even when you are preparing to sleep.

Fun fact! An interesting thing I noticed during the hike is that there are gurneys on wheels on the side of the trails. Its for safety so that in case someone slips or falls has difficult walking down, they can have assistance and another person can push them down. You will see that past certain elevations there is no easy way to get vehicles there. Even planes and helicopters have difficulty getting to these areas. The porters will regularly discuss where these gurneys are in case they need them quickly.

The hardest part of the hike is the last day. This is for a lot of reasons. There is a large elevation change and once you reach the last base camp you are so high up that many people begin feeling the effects of the altitude. You may have a little headache or not feel like eating. You are so excited that the headache doesn't really bother you, but I did start to feel a little nervous and had to tell myself to eat. All the other days I was hungry and ready to eat.

So after hiking all day to get to the last base camp you will eat dinner, rest and then start the last part of your trek around midnight. The hike begins very slowly and you wind your way through a lot of switchbacks. The goal is to reach the first summit point around sunrise. I felt tired but exhilarated. Especially when you start seeing the sun come up- the views are breath taking.

When you get to the summit you are feeling so many things. A sense of accomplishment and happiness is definitely the main feelings I felt. People choose to climb this mountain for a lot of reasons- I saw people crying with gratitude and exhaustion- you need to prepare yourself for the impact- it brings up a lot of emotions. But once you get to the first summit the brunt of the elevation change is done. Now you just have to be careful walking in the deep snow to get to other 2 summits.

The most difficult part for me was feeling very tired and winded as I approached the summit. I felt as though walking 10 steps required me to sit for a few minutes and catch my breath. I was not able to take altitude sickness medication due to being allergic to it. I can say it is not necessary since I did it without the medication, but about half of the people I was traveling with were taking altitude sickness medication. I would recommend talking to your doctor before climbing and researching your options to make the best decision for yourself. When I felt as though I could not walk far without stopping to catch my breath, a positive attitude and some perseverance is what gets you to put one foot in front of the other. It is totally worth it. Press on.

Once you make it down you can rest a little while everyone gets back. You will have been awake more than 24 hours but your day is not over. Once you have dinner you will have to hike another 3 hours to the camp where you can sleep. Because of the altitude we needed to press on to the last camp we stayed before summit day. It’s a flat walk but it seems very long- you will be grateful to get to this lodge. The toilets are normal and the accommodations are very good. You will sleep like a rock.

Having Abdul as a guide is the differentiator from using other groups. The professionalism and preparedness of his team is obvious when you get to some camps. He only uses trusted team members from his village that have climbed Kilimanjaro their whole lives. There are groups that are much less prepared, and do not have the provisions and lodgings that we did. I am not sure how people did not get cold in the tents. I feel like the major reason our group was so successful is that the lodging, food and trip was so well planned. Abdul and his team were trying to give you the best possible setup for success. We had a medic constantly checking with all of us as well as the guides constantly registering the group morale. A positive attitude is so important on the climb, like running a marathon and having people at mile 18 cheering you on- the group dynamics play into everyone’s success. Every morning after breakfast we sang and danced to get excited and ready for the days hike. He takes everyone's morale very seriously

If you are thinking about climbing Kilimanjaro do it. Don’t wait. It’s an amazing experience that I will never forget. You will see flora and fauna that you will never see anywhere else on the planet. I learned so much about myself during the climb and got to experience the genuine kindness of the the Tanzanian Porters and guides. In today’s world- I really needed to see that kind of human still existed. Having had an incredible experience with Abdul, I can say without a doubt he is the reason I had a safe, enjoyable trip. He made this expedition a highlight of my life that I will never forget. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out.

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