The Marangu Route
Mount Kilimanjaro, on the Tanzania side of the border between Kenya and Tanzania is the highest mountain in Africa. It is also the second highest volcano in the world with a height of 5895 metres above sea level.
As we approached Kilimanjaro International airport on the Tanzania airways (Air Malawi aircraft) flight from Johannesburg, the cabin crew told us to look out of windows. To our awe and amazement we could see the dark shape of Kilimanjaro poking its top above the clouds.
From the airport we transferred by bus to the Keys Hotel at Moshi. During this short trip we glimpsed the full might of Mount Kilimanjaro.
During the evening we were introduced to our guides who discussed the trip up the mountain. They would be responsible for our well-being for the next five days. They would make sure that we had enough food and that we walked at a slow enough pace so as to conserve oxygen. They also arranged the transport to take us to the Marangu gate at the foot of the mountain. Once at the Marangu gate, the guides choose the porters who will carry all the food, equipment and personal belongings that the hiking party need for the ascent.
Day 1- Marangu Gate to Mandara huts
The first day of the trail to the summit of the highest mountain in Africa consists of a fairly easy walk through the rainforest that skirts the lower reaches of the volcano. Porters with their heavy burdens perched on their heads, effortlessly passed us bye, carrying our baggage up to Mandara.
After 3 hours of ambling along at a leisurely pace we reached the hutted camp of Mandara. The trail guides informed us that the huts had been donated by the Norwegian government. They are comfortable but rather cramped. Our guides took great pride in the food that they provided for us. We had to take our turn for the tables in the dining-room with the other groups that were overnighting at the camp. When it came to our turn, our guides would lay our table with a tablecloth, crockery and cutlery that travels with them up the mountain.
Day 2 - Mandara huts to Horombo huts
Soon after leaving Mandara, the trail leaves the forest and continues through heather and open moorland. During the 5 hours scheduled for the walk, the hiker climbs just over 1000 metre.
Horombo Camp lies at an altitude of 3720 metres above sea level. At this altitude one is already beginning to feel the effect of the lack of oxygen and the cold. Most climbers spend an extra day at Horombo to acclimatize.
Day 3 - Horombo to Kibo Huts
For a while the trail continues across moorland but eventually this gives way to Alpine desert. From Horombo the trail ascends to 4706 metre above sea level. The peaks of Kibo and Mawenzi soon come into view. Kilimanjaro has 3 cones (Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira) of which Kibo is the highest and the one most hikers climb. The saddle is a vast expanse of grey/brown dirt in which nothing grows, that one has to cross to reach Kibo. As one crosses this plain a feeling of expectancy of the next 24 hours begins to set in. Kibo looms ahead with its glaciers plainly visible through the clouds that hug the peak.
Kibo hut lies under the shadow of Kibo itself and is at an altitude of 4706 metres above sea level. At this altitude nothing grows. In fact the guides have problems in producing enough heat to boil a kettle to make tea because of the low oxygen levels. Everyone was soon tucked up in their sleeping bags to try and get some sleep before the final ascent which starts at midnight. However, at this altitude even sleeping can be difficult.
The Final Ascent to the Summit
Our guides woke us at midnight. After a cup of tea and some biscuits we assembled together in line in front of the hut. Despite having dressed in all the different layers of clothing that we had brought along for the event, it was still indescribably cold. The climb to the summit takes about 6 hours. Climbing by the light of torches, we zigzaged backwards and forwards up a scree slope. Looking back as we climbed, we could see the yellow dots of the torches of others on the way up behind us. At first light we eventually reached Gillmans point on the rim of the crater. As the sun rose over Kilimanjaro, we walked around the edge of the volcano to Uhuru Peak, at a height of 5895 metres above sea level, the highest point in Africa.
The way back down
Having conquered the summit of Kilimanjaro, all that was left was the way down. By 10H30 am we were again back down at Kibo hut. We collected our belongings and walked down to Horombo for our last night on the mountain. At Horombo, our porters and guides treated us to a rendition of the Kilimajaro song. Next day we completed our trip back to Marangu gate.
For those with a sense of adventure, the walk up Kilimanjaro is a must. Whether one chooses to go up the Marangu (hutted route) or Machame (tented route) is a matter of choice. The Marangu route is less scenic but has better amenities for the confort of the hiker.
Kilimanjaro is climbed successfully throughout the year including during the rainy seasons. The rainy seasons are between March and May and between November and December. February and September are the driest months and the best periods to plan your climb.
Cape Union Mart organises regular presentations on climbing Kilimanjaro. For information on these presentation contact the staff at their Cresta branch. Telephone number 011-478-1913. Interested visitors to this page from outside South Africa are welcome to contact me for more information. Our group booked our trip to Kilimanjaro through Wild Frontiers. To view their website visit www.wildfrontiers.co.za
Footprint Hiking Club
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