Roof of Africa

Who walks slowly and with assurance goes far – Tanzanian Proverb

It was a challenge that couldn’t be avoided. I was already travelling through Africa, ready to embrace the Serengeti on a safari. Mount Kilimanjaro stood proud at over 19,000 feet (5895m) and the thought to climb the roof of Africa was enticing. And so I did it, over a period of five days. It wasn’t always easy but I love it. So much so, that I went back for more adventure two years later to climb Mount Kenya. This blog post is dedicated to International Mountain Day, 11 December.

Mandara Hut 2720m

As it would happen, I teamed up with a couple from Dubai, a city we all called home then. It was early September and I was making my way towards Mandara Hut, walking through a rainforest trail of 8km from 1840 to 2720 metres. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about hiking is the people you meet along the journey and the discussions that unravel. One of my favourite memories was arriving at Mandara hut and seeing these striking black and white Columbus monkeys frolicking about. They looked like they had just stepped out of salon with their distinctive hairstyles.

Horombo Hut 3720m

I was greeted with a cup of tea and bowl of hot water to start the day. It took me the best part of seven hours to walk slowly 12 kilometres to 3750 metres in height. ‘Polo polo’ in Swahli means slowly and we often heard our guides chime these words. The sun was smiling and the scenery was grand. I could see a wide expanse of land that was forever stretching in front of my eyes. Along the way our guide educated us about various plant species, including the everlasting flower and impassion Kilimanjaro flower.

Acclimatisation

This was one day where I felt I could relax a little more. We had a five-hour walk ahead, climbing another 500 metres over 8 kilometres. Walking downhill was faster yet harder on the knees. The shrubs were becoming shorter in height, and soon they were hugging the ground. It certainly didn’t make impromptu toilet stops easy. At 4000 metres we stood at zebra point, famous for its striped appearance. The limestone was white and black where the water had trickled down with dissolved salts and minerals. Some ionization also meant the there were shades of red colour. We climbed further to the Saddle at 4300 metres to score amazing vistas of what was yet to come. I had a relaxing evening and made sure to have a few good laughs before the endurance to the summit.

Kibo Hut 4703m

I started off early today for a 12-kilometre walk to Kibo Hut. I surprised myself as I felt relatively good and there were no real signs and symptoms of altitude sickness. The landscape had changed dramatically from low scrubland to tundra. By the time we reached Kibo Hut at 4703 metres it looked barren with a few isolated low-lying plants and massive boulders dominating the surface. I had a good meal and tried to get a few hours rest before the final big climb.

Mt Kilimanjaro Summit

This was the big day starting off on our forgettable trek at midnight. It was frightfully cold – I had five layers of clothing on, which included two hats and two pairs of gloves. For the most part of the trek (particularly through the night) I could not feel my toes or hands and it was a painful experience. Since the cold was seeping into my bones, I joined another group who were moving at a steadier pace. I initially felt nauseous but after a hot tea break I soon felt strong again. By the time I reached Gilligon’s point I knew I would be fine to reach the summit. I walked around the crater rim until we reach Uhuru Peak at 5895 metres. I took a few photographs to mark the achievement before starting the descent to Kibo Hut. After a two-hour break at Kibo Hut we further descended to Horombo Hut at 3720 metres. I managed to stay awake for dinner and slept very well that evening.

My final day on the mountain and I found myself feeling tinges of sentimentality. I was going to miss this mountain landscape – the fresh air, the communal dinners and most importantly the friendships I had made through this experience. It was a relaxing descent down the mountain. I enjoyed one last porter lunch at Mandara Hut before snaking my way down through the rainforest. We indulged in a few celebratory drinks that evening.

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