Tomorrow morning, I will begin what will be a, 49.8 mile (80.2 km), 7 day trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro. At 19,341 feet (5,895 meters), it is the highest peak in Africa, the tallest free-standing mountain in the world and will be the tallest mountain I’ve ever climbed — that is, if I succeed.
According to the National Park Service only 30% of climbers reach the peak. And keep in mind, some estimates suggest that more people die on Kilimanjaro each year than Mt. Everest. Of course, that’s entirely misleading given how many people climb Kilimanjaro and how few climb Everest. On top of that, Kilimanjaro is only a hike — it doesn’t require any technical mountain climbing skills.
So what’s the big deal?
Kilimanjaro does require people to be pretty fit, but the reason less than a third of people make it to the summit is almost always because of the altitude. At the peak, there is only 50% of the oxygen as there is at sea level, which can make even an easy hike incredibly difficult. There is a little big of genetic lottery at play and losers have the potential to experience pounding headaches, nausea, loss of appetite or an inability to sleep. And the really big losers get to experience acronyms that aren’t any fun: HACE and HAPE. Don’t Google them, neither are pleasant.
The other challenge to the climb is how the weather. The first day we’ll experience hot, equatorial temperatures. But near the top, not including wind chill, it is 20 degrees Fahrenheit on a good day and -13 degrees Fahrenheit on a bad day. Not exactly ideal camping or hiking weather. I’ve been told that not wearing sunglasses near the top will result in snow blindness in just an hour or two. Fun, right?
I’ve rented a slew of gear to protect me from the elements. In short, I will be cloaked in down (see picture above).
Sasha has opted to go on safari during this time, because this isn’t “her cup of tea”. The next seven days will represent the longest time we’ve been apart since we got married.
So why am I doing this?
About 20 years ago, my aunt and uncle presented a slideshow to the family detailing the trials and tribulations of their climb. I still remember them telling stories about the ferocity of the cold. Ever since, it’s always been a challenge I wanted to overcome. Never underestimate the power of a slideshow.
As with any of these mountains, the most impressive work is done by the porters who carry food, tents, etc that weigh many times as much as any hiker carries. They also walk faster, do more work in camp, and they make the trek many times a year sometimes even back to back. In the past, like when I hiked Machu Pichu, I’ve always been quite humbled by their abilities and I expect that to be no different this time around. I am quite confident that I wouldn’t be able to summit Kilimanjaro without their assistance or a lot more time.
There are six routes up the mountain, but I will be following the Rongai route which approaches from the Kenyan side of the mountain. I chose it largely because it is supposed to be the most scenic (fewest people) and is a favorite among porters and guides.
My itinerary is below and I will do a quick update to this post each day and share a couple my thoughts and pictures if cell service allows (it’s supposed to be pretty good). I’ll also try and update my location during the climb, so if you’re interested in tracking my progress you can see where I am on the mountain.
Sorry for the delayed updates. Service wasn’t what I heard it would be on the mountain. You can find pictures and info on the trip here.