~ THOUGHTS ~
I CLIMBED MT. KILIMANJARO!!!! HOLY SHIT!!!!! It feels pretty cool being able to say that. I have officially climbed the highest mountain in the African continent, and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world! There is so much more to it then just that though. It was an amazing trip that took me outside of my normal routine, opened my eyes, and gave me some much needed mental clarity and motivation. I think it is so important to continually do things outside of your comfort zone- that challenge you and give you fresh perspectives, and this trip did exactly that. It is imperative that you continue to challenge yourself in life or you will not grow and evolve as a person. NEVER STOP CHALLENGING YOURSELF, NEVER STOP LEARNING.
I went into this trip without reading one article about the climb, and no training outside of my normal fitness routine. All I knew was the little information that my friend Max Samis (who convinced me to go on the trip with him) had told me. I knew it was a very tall mountain, I would be climbing for 8 days with no internet connection or showers, and that it was likely we could suffer from altitude sickness (whatever that is?). I quickly found out that this trip was A LOT more challenging then I had thought. It put me to the test both physically and even more so mentally. You learn a lot about yourself when there is no technology and you must get through something like this with only you, your mind and thoughts, and the people you are climbing with.
I am going to give you a day-by-day breakdown of my experience, and information that will help you if you have any interest in climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro one day. I will be posting a vlog on my YouTube channel of this trip, so make sure to subscribe! I will also be doing another blog post and vlog summarizing my time in Tanzania outside of the climb (waterfalls, safari, cultural experiences). A massive thank you goes out to MISTER SPOILS. Without their team this trip and none of the amazing experiences I had would be possible. They are an all-encompassing media company that sends out a daily newsletter with inspiration for the cool kids, produces badass expeditions (like this one), and should be your new source for travel and lifestyle inspiration. Check them out, subscribe to their newsletter, follow them on the gram, and stay tuned for their rad website that is launching very very soon.
Thank you for checking out my blog and this post, it means the world to me. Please comment below if you have any additional questions and I will get back to you!
TRIP INTRO/INFORMATION SNIPPETS
When you climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, you are legally required to have a company guide you up the mountain. There are guide services for all wants, needs, and prices. I would not recommend going with a budget service. Something serious like climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is not something you want to skimp on, I also don't see what some of the more expensive companies can offer that is above and beyond what I received. I climbed with what I would consider a mid-tier priced guide service. I used Peak Planet. They were wonderful guides and porters, had great energy and personality, good food (lots of bread, eggs, rice, pasta, soup, chicken curry, fried chicken, stew, e.t.c), and were more than accommodating for any want or need I had. I highly recommend them, I had a great experience. You can choose several different climbing plans and routes up the mountain ranging in price, length, and the number of people in your group. You can do a group climb or private climb, private is more expensive. I climbed in a group of 7 on the 10 day Lemosho trip and it cost about $2,800 for all services, food, and accommodation included. Check out their website for any information you may need on climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro including additional preparation tips, a packing list, etc.
I did the 10 Day Lemosho trip which is 2 days off the mountain and 8 days of actual climbing. It is regarded as one of the most scenic routes up the mountain. It was absolutely beautiful and we ventured through 5 different climate zones along the way. Personally, I thought that the route over 8 days was a little long, if I went back I would do a shorter route. However, most people choose the longer route because it ensures a higher success rate for reaching the peak. More days means you have more time to acclimate along the way. Altitude sickness and related problems are the #1 reason people do not reach the top.
Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is a huge feat and it is demanding, but please don't think you can't do it. I believe anyone can do this if they take the proper preparation. I saw people of all ages and fitness levels on the mountain - from teens all the way to people in their seventies. Also, most of the routes up the mountain do not require any technical climbing, so you do not need to be an experienced mountain climber.
Preparing and packing is one of the most important parts of this trip. The guide service you end up choosing should have a packing list on their website that if you follow, you should be set. If not, use this packing list by Peak Planet. I also highly recommend packing everything in waterproof or plastic bags. The weather on the mountain is "like a chameleon", as the guides say. I thought this was a funny saying until I experienced the ever-changing weather on the mountain first hand. It can change from sunny and 80 degrees fahrenheit one moment to cloudy and 50 degrees the next, then rain and go back to 80 degrees and sunny all within 10 minutes. When climbing the mountain, the bulk of your gear will be carried by a porter, but you are responsible for carrying your day pack- the lighter the better. This is by far the most time and consideration I have ever put into a trip. I highly recommend getting diamox which is a medicine for altitude sickness - it saved my ass. Th most important items in my mind are a good pair of hiking boots, diamox, warm gloves, warm socks, a change of socks and underwear for everyday, a very warm and comfortable sleeping outfit, sunscreen, lots of body and face wipes, and a camelbak. And of course a camera! I actually ended up taking most of the camera equipment in the picture above out of my bag to lighten my load. I pretty much only used my Canon G7x for my photography and video on this trip because it is so small and compact, but shoots in RAW and takes great photos and video. You can fit this thing in your pocket! I also shot with my Canon 5D Mark 3 and 50mm lens and my friends wide angle.
DAY 1 (rainforest zone / 2-3 hours / 2.9 miles / +1,700 ft.)
Day 1 is all fun and games. Morale is high and everyone is telling jokes and getting to know one another. I climbed with two friends - Max Samis and Brecht Van't hof, and we were a part of a group of 7. You are required to have 2-3 porters per climber, so our total team with climbers, porters, and guides was about 35. The porters can climb the mountain in their sleep though so they race past you and you are just hiking with your group and 2-3 guides. It's so crazy, everyday this is the case and the porters are so fast that by the time you arrive to your next camp, they already have everything set up. During our first day I blabbered on about way to many personal stories, so much that I think my group now knows more about me then my family. This was the easy day. We had a nice 3 hour hike to the first camp, arrived well before dark, and just chilled out and got to know each other.
DAY 2 (rainforest zone into the moorland zone / 6-7 hours / 4.9 miles / +3,000 ft.)
Every morning we rose with the sun. You are up super early, get a small breakfast, and are on your way. Day 2 started easy as we continued in the jungle for a couple of hours. The terrain then slowly changed, the trees became shorter, and the vegetation less dense and lush as you entered into the moorland climate zone. Once we entered this zone, the terrain got much steeper and our day was pretty much straight up. This day was a leg burner and the realness of this experience started to set in. We arrived to camp with some nice weather and sunshine left in the day. Many of us ventured out into the wilderness to find our own rock to sunbath on and read a book. The night then fell upon us and we were blessed with one of the best nighttime skies I have ever seen. I could clearly see the entire milky way!
DAY 3 (mooreland zone / 4-5 hours / 9.9 miles / +1,000 ft.)
Day 3 is when shit got real. The initial hiking is starting to catch up to you with soreness, you are also feeling a mix of sunburn, exhaustion, and filth. I woke up with a raging headache- a sign of altitude sickness. I was very adamant about staying hydrated, eating all of my food, and taking the other precautions to avoid altitude sickness, but sometimes altitude sickness and all of its symptoms just happen and you can't control it. Everyone reacts to altitude differently. Luckily this was a pretty easy hike day, and my headache didn't make me want to quit.
DAY 4 (moorland zone into the alpine desert / 5-7 hours / 6.3 miles / +200 ft.)
At this point I have now had a headache for a day. It felt like my head was going to explode. I couldn't think about anything else. It killed the vibe of the trip and I wanted to climb back down the mountain and go find a beach to lay on and dissolve all of these mountain caused problems and worries. This was my second most miserable day on the mountain. We started with sunny skies and beautiful weather, but as we climbed higher this gradually changed. The temperatures dropped and the sun slowly faded away behind the clouds. We experienced rain, hail, and then fog. Eventually we were so high up that we walked through clouds. They were rolling in off the side of the mountain and through the path we were walking. It was such a crazy experience!
This was a serious acclimatization day. Every day the routine was to hike high and then come back down a little bit to sleep. This helps adjust your body to the altitude and reduce sickness. We hiked up to over 15,000ft. to a place called lava tower, had lunch, and then continued down the mountain to our camp for the night. Lava tower was a depressing place on this day- no sun, freezing, and the clouds made it look like a scene from World War II. As we started going back down the mountain to our camp, an amazing thing happened. My headache started fading away, I was super energized, and I had a great time going back down. This is because I was decreasing my elevation. The weather cleared up and it turned into a beautiful day.
During this trip, our guides performed medical checks on us everyday- pulse, oxygen levels, temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, etc. Throughout this trip all of my vitals were amazing, besides one- my blood oxygen level. It was slowly decreasing since the first day, and this is a serious sign of altitude sickness. Even though I was feeling better, my oxygen levels were on track to be at a bad place by the end of the trip. The guides recommended that I take diamox which is an altitude sickness medicine that helps increase your blood oxygen level. Unfortunately when my friends and I got our medical check up before the trip, we thought we were to cool for school- and didn't get the medicine. Luckily I was able to borrow one from a fellow climber in our group, or else I may not have been able to summit. Diamox 100% saved my ass and I highly recommend taking it if you go. From this point on in the trip I never experienced another headache, and everything felt good.
DAY 5 (alpine desert / 4-5 hours / 3.2 miles / +300 ft.)
Day 5 was where things got interesting. We started the day by scaling a huge cliff face. There were a ton of sketchy places along the way, especially one part they call "the kissing rock" because you have to shuffle your body so close to the mountain in order to get across this ledge that you basically kiss it. When we reached the top we had a nice snack break with one of the best views all trip. Beautiful blue skies, cliffs, and crazy clouds- it looked like we were on top of the world. After enjoying these views, we had a tough second half of the day where we went down, then back up, then down again, and back up one last time. When we reached camp we had our first real view of the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro and it was truly breathtaking. We took it all in and greatly enjoyed it- our goal of reaching the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro was now more than 50% complete.
DAY 6 (alpine desert / 3-5 hours / 3.4 miles / +1,700 ft.)
The schedule for day 6 was different then the previous days. We woke up at the normal time- a little after sunrise, but it was a short day. This was the day before summit day so we had to set ourselves up for that. We arrived to camp in the early afternoon, had an early dinner around 5, and then did our best to rest for a few hours. We had a wake up call at 11PM, so we did our best to deal with the drastic schedule change before our hardest climb day. Before going to sleep early, we caught the best sunset we saw all trip. It was breathtaking and we could see the sun set over the neighboring Mt. Meru.
DAY 7 (alpine desert and arctic zone / 11-15 hours / 8.2 miles / +4,545 ft. gain / -6,645 ft. loss)
This was the day we had all been so restlessly waiting for. It was the day we would finally attempt to reach the top of the mountain, and the climax of our trip. We woke up at 11PM, had a quick tea and biscuit breakfast, and then we were ushered into the darkness and up the mountain with nothing to light the way but our tiny headlamps. It was already cold- around 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit, but the temperature dropped with every step we took. I don't know the exact temperatures that we experienced along the way to the summit this day, but what I do know is that I lost the feeling in my hands and feet within the first two hours of climbing, and then all of the water in my bottle and Camelbak froze shortly thereafter. I think the temperature was close to 0º F or lower.
This day was by far the hardest day both mentally and physically. The average climber will make it to the peak in 9 hours, and then back down the mountain to base camp in 4, with little to no breaks. Up until this point on the trip, breaks for water, snacks, and rest were highly encouraged and enforced, but not on this day. On the summit day, the temperatures are too cold, the altitude too high, and the conditions too brutal, so they try to minimize breaks and stop time. If you take a break for too long you face the risk of your body temperature dropping too low and your body growing tired and slowing down. If you wait too long, you may not be able to continue on. Our group was fast, and we passed many people struggling along the way up. People crying, people groaning in pain, people sitting down and having to get woken up and picked up so they didn't freeze- it was pretty heavy.
Climbing and hiking had lost much of its lust at this point of the trip. You are 7 days in, climbed over 30 miles, are tired and worn out, and have pretty much run through every thought and memory in your entire lifetime, 3 times over. I think I blacked out half of the climb up to the summit. I don't remember much of it. Everyone was in robot mode - we were all hiking slowly, step-by-step in unison. All you could see was where your headlamp was pointing - which was at the persons feet in front of you. We all started getting pretty worn out and delusional - we were kinda angry and short tempered.
We ended up reaching the first peak of the mountain after 6-7 hours of hiking. While hiking we saw the moon both rise and fall, and then the sun rose just as we reached the first peak. Even just reaching the first peak was super surreal and emotional. The combination of reaching your goal after a week of treacherous hiking and climbing combined with one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen and the environment we were in, was incredible. There were 20 ft. glaciers covering parts of the mountain, as well as a crater. Much of the landscape looked as if you were on mars.
Stella Point is the first peak that you reach at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Technically this counts as summitting the mountain, but the goal of everyone is to make the additional hour or so hike up to the actual highest point of Mt. Kilimanjaro which is the Uhuru Peak. At this point the air is so thin that even the gradual hike to Uhuru Peak is challenging. This last part of the climb seems never-ending because you can see the final peak in the distance, but it is much further then it looks. When you finally arrive to the Uhuru peak which is marked by a wooden sign- it is pretty emotional. I think at least half of us got a little teary eyed. I 100% did- due to a combination of being so happy to have accomplished something that I worked towards for so long and so hard, and also because It now meant that I didn't have to fucking hike up anymore! It was all down hill and easy from here.
When you get to the final peak with the sign, that is the moment that everyone is waiting for. It's the ultimate photo op and everyone is waiting for their picture. However because the conditions at the top are so extreme, the guides only allow you to take a handful of pictures. NOT I! Hahahahah. I made sure that I got my fill of pictures at the top. I had to ignore the guide who was telling us to hurry up and start back down the mountain. I am always one for celebrations, even if it means sneaking a 3 pound bottle of champagne in your bag and having to hike it all the way up to the top by yourself. I went through 7 days of hiking hell and I made sure that I popped that baby at the top!
After my few minutes of celebration, we swiftly made our descent back down the mountain. Everything was easy from here on out. The hike that had just taken us 7-8 hours up only took 3 to get back down. When we made it back to camp, we were greeted by the most energetic and stoked group of porters ever. It was such an amazing feeling to all high five each other and celebrate. We then ate lunch and fell into the biggest food and sleep coma ever. All of the hiking and climbing, and elevation change we had just packed into the final day definitely took its toll on us- we were all hit pretty hard with exhaustion. We awoke from our naps and had another 3 hour hike down to the final camp we would sleep at. Luckily only one more easy day stood between us and our return to civilization... and showers.
DAY 8 (lets get out of here / 4-6 hours / 6.7 miles / -7,100 ft.)
At this point I'm pretty much over everything. I have hiked and climbed enough, taken enough pictures and videos, and now written enough in this damn blog post. We woke up to a beautiful sunrise on our last day, then ecstatically began our final descent. Perfect weather, blue skies, and we once again entered the luscious jungle to finish out our hike. We caught one last glimpse of the mountain through the canopy of the jungle on our way out. And I happily waved goodbye. CONGRATULATIONS! BON VOYAGE!
~ THINGS ~
Media Team: MISTER SPOILS
Guide Service: Peak Planet
Celebratory Champagne: Mumm
~ PHOTOGRAPHY ~
Landscape images shot by me on a Canon G7x and Canon 5D Mark 3 with a Canon 24-70mm lens
Images of me shot by Max Samis on a Canon 5D Mark 3 with a Canon 24-70mm lens
Images of me shot by Brecht Van't hof on a Canon 5D Mark 4
All imagery created while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, East Africa
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