Here are my unedited Kilimanjaro diaries climbing the Lemosho Route in August.
The group was led by Amy and Eddie Frank who run Tusker – a long-standing operator on Kilimanjaro with an excellent reputation. I used my trip to raise money for a charity based in Nairobi called S.A.F.E.
The group was 14-strong, with people from USA, Canada, UK and Europe.
Kilimanjaro Diaries: All the way to the Ash Pit!
Day 1 – Moshi
Arrived after a short flight with Air Kenya from Nairobi. Not a very good view of Kilimanjaro on the way in. After a 45 minute drive from the airport I arrived at my hotel – Bristol Cottages. Nice room, quite big, a BATH (yay!) tons of hot water and a ceiling fan. Big enough to spread out my 35kgs of kit. I’ll need to figure out how to pare this down over the next couple of days.
Lots of brass band noise coming from the street outside!
After mooching around on the internet, I went to find supper. Forgot insect repellent – big mistake! And forgot my book – also a mistake as food took so long. Very nice chicken curry and rice. After a bath (lovely!) and reading a few lines of my book, I went to sleep – a good sleep in spite of competing faiths and their early morning noisy starts!
Day 2 – Moshi
Breakfast took ages to be served, but I was armed with computer to keep me occupied. Spent the morning looking at my gear rather half-heartedly, I will really have to decide what to leave behind as I have far too much stuff!
Took a leisurely walk through Moshi to an Indian restaurant for lunch – Deli Chez.
I’m not nervous about the climb, I’m nervous about my kit!
Spent the afternoon packing my duffel bag and weighing it. 16kg. Hmm. I ended up giving away some of the huge quantity of snacks I’ve got, so wound up at just over 15kg in the end. Phew!
Day 3 – Mti Mkubwa
First day of the hike!
Woke early and took my bags down to be put on the truck that will take us to the gate. Had a huge breakfast before boarding the truck and driving for ages to reach the gate. Londorossi gate is pretty far from Moshi it would seem. Roads were poor but it gave the group a chance to chat and get to know each other.
We waited ages at the gate. Loads of people “checking in” and “checking out”, bags being weighed and general chaos. Had a packed lunch which was OK, but mainly just got bored waiting to get GOING.
This is known as Africa Time…
Finally we boarded the bus again to take us to the trailhead. Oh what an awful road! I’ll have sore muscles just from that tomorrow!
At about 2pm we finally had our daypacks on, our porters had taken our duffels and we were ready to go.
We started out through the forest, a bit noisy being with the group, hopefully people will get tired and shut up a bit later so we can enjoy the environment.
After about three hours hiking we arrived at Mti Mkubwa campsite. I knew from last time that this was going to be pretty grim as it’s always full and very small. Lots of shouting porters and tents too close to each other. Thankfully I know that from here it gets a lot nicer!
Very cold tonight. But I’m warm and toasty in my sleeping bag. I need to get better at Tent Admin as it seems like all my stuff is just everywhere. Packing things confuses me at the best of times without altitude to fry my brain as well!
SpO2 at 9200ft is 89/90%.
Physically I feel well, upper back a bit achy from the pack but nothing to worry about.
Day 4 – Shira Camp
After some industrial level snoring last night from some of the group, I woke around 5-ish and started packing (again!). It seemed much more straightforward as I didn’t have to worry about what weight my duffel would be!
We had a great breakfast – oats, eggs, toast, fruit, yoghurt, cereals, milo, coffee, tea – plenty of food for all different preferences.
We set off at around 8am and even in the rainforest it got hot pretty quickly. I was rapidly shedding the layers. The morning was through the forest and it was beautiful! Lots of Old Man’s Beard, and little red flowers. Whenever I felt hot/humid I reminded myself that this won’t last and I’lll be longing for a bit of heat as we get further up!
A couple of members of the group were struggling a bit – mostly being tired from lack of sleep last night.
We broke for lunch which was fried chicken and salad and it was delicious! I ate a cookie and a Naked bar around mid-afternoon. I did notice that I was the only one who kept needing to pee.
The afternoon took us into the Heather/Moorland zone and there was a lot of uphill. My feet seemed to hurt a lot and I thought I was getting blisters – but not so! (Thank goodness!). We traversed the ridge and descended into the Shira Caldera.
After a long and quite tiring day we arrived at Shira 1 camp. A beautiful camp with an amazing view of the mountain if it’s clear.
My knees seem a bit swollen today, although they don’t hurt. I’m assuming it’s just from the long day’s hike over uneven terrain. Hopefully they’ll be better by the morning.
After such a long day’s hiking, it feels like we don’t have much time at this camp, I wished there was more time to just soak in the environment. But no, we’ve got to get going!
Day 5 – Moir Camp
Last night was pretty cold. I was very comfortable in my cosy sleeping bag and only went out once to the loo. I left my socks hanging from the side of my tent and this morning they are frozen! What an idiot. Thankfully I wasn’t planning to wear them today.
We hiked across the rest of the Heather/Moorland zone, with many lovely Lobellias to see. Then across all the black lava rocks – some parts were quite steep.
We stopped for lunch and I felt a bit tired. My feet are fine, and nothing actually hurts, which is good news!
After lunch the hike was quite short – it’s getting very bleak around here. When we arrived at Moir camp the porters all sang songs and danced for us – it was lovely! I really like Moir camp, in spite of it being surrounded by rocks, it really feels as though we are in the wilderness. Very few other campers here. Amazing views of the mountain and of the Western Breach. I went for a peaceful walk after a cup of tea, though as the sun went down it started to get cold again – so I scurried back to my tent to put on more layers.
Day 6 – Barranco Camp
Slept erratically. Alarm was set for 5.30am and when it went off I wanted to sleep some more, I was cosy in my sleeping bag & liner. After a hearty breakfast it was a long steep walk to Lava Tower. I enjoyed the trek but felt a bit miserable as it got mighty cold and I couldn’t seem to get warmed up.
After layering-up a bit, and a snack from my daypack, I felt better. Lunch stop at Lava was very cold and after lunch I had no idea what to wear. We got going and passed a lot of the Lobellia that I like so much and Senecio and I got to see the giant senecio forest that I had read about. Amazing plant-life up here.
At one point I climbed up a ridge to go to the loo, and the altitude definitely hit me! I felt slightly “drunk” but not too bad, and no nasty headache (yet?)
This route has a good acclimatization protocol. My resting heart rate is quite high 107/108. I am wondering whether it is just that I am a bit too cold.
We arrived at Barranco Camp and there are quite a lot of people here. It’s a big camp so it doesn’t feel cramped like at Mti Mkubwa. It’s cold.
I had a quick wash and changed into warmer clothes. A mobile phone signal here meant that most of us were checking emails and letting family know that we are still alive!
Dinner was the best so far – tons of fabulous food – delicious stew and pasta and plenty of rice. The group is in great spirits with lots of mountain banter. Whatever mountain sickness people are feeling, it is making them feel in very good and funny moods!
Tomorrow we have a short day ahead so it’s a late start to avoid the crowds on the Barranco Wall. It’s a short, steep day, though should be lots of fun (if I don’t feel scared of heights!).
Whilst I was looking at the Western Breach and remembering my previous climb of that mammoth, our guide told a story of someone falling off the breach and ending up in this campsite. I’m not sure if that’s just a Tall Tale or what.
I have slight chest pain, so I’m hoping that no lung sounds transpire. My knees are a bit swollen again but not sore.
One of our group is really suffering with her asthma. She’s been on oxygen for two hours since arriving in camp. We are feeling very sad for her as there is talk that she may not be able to continue.
Day 7 – Karranga Valley
We left later than we had wanted to, after it was announced that Michelle would be leaving us by helicopter as her asthma was very bad, even after most of the night on oxygen.
The dust and the cold is really getting to her. We all filed into her tent and said our goodbyes. She was very sad and so were we. The disappointment that she must feel is awful, but safety has to come first and I’m very impressed that the decision was made promptly before she deteriorates.
We left camp after the helicopter had been and gone, and immediately went up the Barranco Wall. A fairly tough rock scramble with some rather vertiginous drops.
It was definitely hard work in places. I felt strong – I enjoyed shimmying up the rocks. It was very much fun and we all felt we’d achieved something. We stopped for lunch and then headed on through the giant senecios – the forest near to Karranga is fascinating.
I like the camp except my tent is on a slope, but otherwise fine. We arrived and enjoyed settling in for two nights here. Tomorrow is an acclimatization hike. It feels good to have a lighter day tomorrow and to be able to be in one place and feel “settled” before the push to Barafu and the even bigger push to the summit.
Dinner was hilarious with much fun and banter. The group is getting on really well and most people are feeling good.
Day 8 – Karranga Valley
I slept wonderfully! Very cold last night but I was warm and cosy in my tent. I’ve got the hang of how to dress properly for these temperatures.
We had a leisurely breakfast then during our medical check all of us had conspired to complain of constipation! This made our guides very bemused, and us very amused.
We then all went off to get ready for our acclimatization hike. We all dressed in summit gear, with balaclavas, thick gloves & down jackets. A group photo was taken. Our guide then gently told us that today was not summit day and perhaps we should all change. At that altitude, everything seems extremely funny.
There was some minor anxiety as I had mooted the possibility of leaving at midnight from this camp and doing an epic summit attempt from here… this was (thankfully) vetoed as we would have needed an evacuation crew and that would leave less for the people left behind. Would have been the toughest thing I’d ever done!
Our hike took us to about 14,200 ft then we went down the same path which was a bit tough on the knees. I had knocked my knee on the Barranco Wall and the bruise is developing nicely around the little graze. A bit sore, but otherwise I’m feeling fit and enjoying the idea of having the afternoon to rest and reorganize my tent/gear.
After lunch the rain came so we all went to our tents and I read a little bit and slept for a few hours. Achieved nothing in terms of organizing my kit!
Had a bit of a late night after sleeping too much of the afternoon. Tomorrow we hike to Barafu. I feel like the “end” is coming closer now – we are all a bit nervous/excited but I have a sense of sadness that this period is over.
Now the serious business of the Summit starts. We were given a briefing that we would only be allowed to sleep in the crater if we were 10/10, no use of oxygen on the summit push and no use of painkillers. A sense of anticipation in the group but i’m looking forward to the crater. I really want to go to the Ash Pit as I didn’t see that last time.
Day 9 – Barafu Camp
So we packed our gear and said goodbye to the relative comfort of Karanga and started the fairly arduous hike up to Barafu.
There were some fairly exposed bits and a bit of scrambling, but nothing like the Barranco Wall. It didn’t take too long to arrive, but it was tiring and very bleak. We arrived to find our camp set some way away from the very busy part. It is horribly cold.
All very nervous about what’s to come tomorrow. Our summit push is in the morning – none of this horrible midnight attempt! The air is noticeably thinner and it’s exhausting just moving around in the tent.
I’m feeling quite excited and keen to see how this route differs from the Western Breach. It’s a much longer day, and in some ways harder than the Breach.
I’m keen to get to Crater Camp as I want to see the glaciers again and really want to get to the Ash Pit which I didn’t see last time. Lots of people asking me questions about the summit.
We had a very early night. No one wants to eat much (mostly due to the altitude I think).
Day 10 – SUMMIT DAY! And Crater Camp
After not much sleep – it was cold and I was a bit nervous – we were woken early. We all managed to force down some breakfast, with not much enthusiasm and left camp at 6.20am. It was freezing cold. The sunrise over Mawenzi was spectacular. There were lots of steep and difficult slippery rocky bits.
Even after sunrise it was still frozen. The trekking was quite nerve-wracking, and it’s all over 15,000 ft! I seemed to go into a bit of a trance – the steep scree, the frozen rocks, the amazing beauty of this place. This inhospitable place that wants no invasion.
All the nonsense of “real life” is gone up here above the clouds. The rugged beauty and the blissful exertion and excitement about the summit is all that I can think about. And one foot. In front. Of the other.
After many hours, we finally saw the porters on a ridge. Our group was strong, apparently others were less so, and needed Oxygen and painkillers. We reached the crater rim and many of the group were in tears! Congratulations from our porters and a picnic lunch was served.
One hour from the summit, here at Stella Point. It was an amazing feeling to actually be there on the crater rim. Everything stripped away and only us and this mountain, the blue sky, the glaciers and the dark rocks.
We had our lunch, and set off for the Summit. When we arrived there, I felt a peaceful happiness – the blue sky reflecting our joy at having made it all the way here.
I have stomach cramps for some reason, but that does not marr the joy!
We all had photos taken, we sat around, just enjoying being there. After we’d rested, congratulated each other and much laughter, it was announced that not everyone would be able to camp in the Crater that night.
Anyone who had used Oxygen or painkillers on the way up would not be able to camp at 18,000 ft. For a moment I was scared that it wouldn’t be “worth” camping if there weren’t enough of us. And truth be told, the idea of going back down to Barafu camp filled me with dread.
It transpired to be two of our 14-strong group who were to camp along with our guide in the Crater.
We descended quickly to our little camp in front of the glacier and had tea. No one else was camping there. It felt like being on the moon. After tea, we went for a walk to look closely at the huge glaciers, and walk on the ice. I stood at the edge and looked down over the Western Breach, high above the clouds. It was a magical time.
Day 11 – Ash Pit then down to Mweka camp
Sleeping at this altitude is hard. Breathing is difficult and being jolted awake happens often. In the night one of our porters became ill with altitude sickness and had to be evacuated.
Evacuations from Crater Camp are very difficult, thankfully he was able to walk, with some assistance. He made it down safely and was singing and dancing when we next saw him!
As the sun came up we slowly emerged from our freezing tent, a little nauseous with the altitude, but mostly in high spirits! We had breakfast outside overlooking the glacier.
I went alone with our guide to see the Ash Pit. Revelling in the blue sky and harsh sunlight we made our way back up to 19,000 feet and the Ash Pit was amazing! Horrible smells of rotting eggs (sulphur), but I’d done it! It’s what I came back to Kilimanjaro for!
After seeing the Ash Pit, we veritably ran down the mountain, “skiing” on the scree slopes. I fell once, rolling over and was picked up by the scruff of my neck by our guide. It was exhilarating. We arrived back at Barafu camp and after a quick bite of some sandwiches we left for our next camp further down the mountain.
The others, who had not camped in the crater, had spent another night at Barafu and were already well on their way to our final camp on the mountain, at Mweka.
It was a slow trek down to Mweka and the knees were a bit sore by the end of it, but we arrived to much congratulation. The lower elevation was a welcome relief, being able to breathe almost normally again!
After sorting out our kit, we had a final dinner on the mountain. I went to bed happily exhausted with wonderful memories of this amazing mountain and it’s power to change everything in such a short time. As sleep enveloped me, I knew that nothing in my life would be the same. More mountains to come in my future.
Day 12 – Back to Moshi!
We all woke sad and thinking ahead of our “normal” lives, throwing off what we have become in the past 10 days. An awkward sadness and “transition” time. The porters sang us a song and I gave a speech half in Swahili and half in English to thank them. They seemed to enjoy it. We set off on a fast downhill muddy walk which lasted 3 hours.
Then – as fast as it had all happened we were in the bus and back at the hotel. It all seemed so speedy and chaotic after the past 10 days.
We all changed out of our mountain gear and now the group doesn’t really know how to respond to one another. After a lovely final dinner, we all said goodnight, we will be on our way back to our lives tomorrow.
Day 13 – Departure day
With a sad and heavy heart we all said our goodbyes. Our guides were getting ready to take the next trip, everyone had their eyes set forward and their stride purposeful towards “life”.
Promises of keeping in touch. Bonds forged on a rocky mountain.
I packed for the last time, ready to leave this magical place and ease softly from the reality of the past two weeks into the reality of life ahead.
It has changed me, the bleak and pared-down beauty of the mountain, those days of rocks and dust with the dawn chasing another night from our campsite.
Waking to happy camaraderie and another day of blissful exertion.