The Hobo Guide To Mount Kilimanjaro
It was when he mentioned the German girls that I made my decision. I had been in Tanzania for about three weeks and I had not had one conversation with anyone at the office without hearing about the German girls. German girls playing soccer with the kids teams, German girls teaching the whole office sign language to expand education to deaf kids, German girls charming the hell out of everyone so much that they couldn’t be mentioned without someone clapping their hands in pure excitement. The only time I got applause around here was when I ate a whole grilled chicken with my bare hands the second day at the office. So when he told me the German girls had made an attempt to climb the mountain but had failed, I knew I had to do it. This was my chance to make up for my complete lack of other useful skills. I am Norwegian, I thought, I have climbed some hills before, how hard can it be?
Really fucking hard.
Things people will tell you about Mount Kilimanjaro:
- With its 5895 metres above sea level, it is Africa’s highest mountain, the world’s highest freestanding mountain, and one of the seven summits.
- As it is a volcanic mountain, it offers a spectacular view of the once boiling crater when you’ve reached the summit.
- You can also see the savannahs, rainforest and volcanic landscape surrounding the mountain.
- It is a challenging climb, however if you start preparing around six months ahead, tackle altitude well, and are relatively physically fit you should be sweet.
- It is by far the most approachable of the seven summits, as you will most likely not need oxygen, explicit climbing gear, and no former trekking experienced is required (though recommended).
- If you consider yourself a potential mountaineer, Kilimanjaro is the perfect mountain to start with, test your limits and see how you go with the altitude.
- It is beautiful and everyone should do it before they die.
Things I will tell you about Mount Kilimanjaro:
- It is a nightmare.
My initial excitement and determination was weakened when I got off the bus in Moshi, a tiny village on the foot of the mountain, and met my fellow trekkers. A group consisting of highly equipped, well prepared, protein shake filled Scandinavians. They were discussing what sort of weight training they had done to prepare, what brand of high-end climbing clothes was the lightest to pack, and how they had done hill runs since May. This was October. I once snuck into this luxury hotel back in Dar es Salaam, went on the treadmill as a joke, ran for 15 seconds, and then went to the bar. That’s the most intense workout I had since I arrived in Tanzania. And as far as equipment goes – my mum had sent me some clothes, boots, and wool hats, though far from enough. I read online that I could rent equipment in Moshi, so I wasn’t too worried. While this was true, the rental shop was old and the standard poor. I scrambled together a sleeping bag and some walking sticks and felt ready to go.
Note: bring your own equipment. Climbing the mountain is already expensive as you will need to get your ass on a tour with guides, cooks and carriers, so investing in a good backpack, warm and smart clothes, and a proper sleeping bag suitable for cold nights will increase your chances of succeeding and it won’t all be for nothing. You don’t want your downfall to be frostbite at camp 1. Also, just go for a run once in a while.
The first day of walking went like a breeze. We all got to know each other and enjoyed a relatively flat terrain. However, the altitude really got to me on camp 1. I puked behind a tent and got pooped on by a bird at the same time, which I saw as a clear omen that I had better stop this crazy experiment and go home. But no one was gonna walk me back in the dark, so there was no other choice than staying.
Altitude sickness hits everyone differently. Some will go all the way to summit without any reactions at all, whilst others (me) will experience symptoms from the very start and can look forward to seven more days in a puke filled haze (me).
Note: there is no way of knowing how you will react to the altitude if you haven’t been exposed to it before. However, when signing up for a tour, choose one that goes over seven days, the alternative is five, as that will give your body more time to acclimatize and it won’t hit you 500 meters from the top resulting in you being carried down by your guide (witnessed it).
The second and third day was horrible. I was still struggling with the altitude, and as an acclimatizing technique, they make you go far up and then descent back down to the next camp. It has been shown that this is a great way for your body to adjust, but it also means the physical challenge during the day is quite demanding, at least for me as I hadn’t moved my muscles this much in like ever. It was also a problem keeping food down, so I pretty much only ate popcorn and cashew nuts for three days. To add to my already miserable state, I had unsurprisingly brought way to little clothes and the shitty sleeping bag was meant for summer nights, so I was freezing every time I stopped walking and in my dreams I was standing inside a fireplace burning to death. They were really happy dreams.
Note: CLOTHES. BRING THEM.
Day 4 was the day of the infamous Breakfast Wall. It is 500 meters straight up, and the only time on the trek that you will need to use a rope. It is dubbed Breakfast Wall because many a breakfast has made its way back up during the climb. This wasn’t a problem for me as I had already puked twice that morning. What was a problem, however, was how steep the wall is. I’m super scared of heights. This meant I had two guides helping me, one holding my hands and the other holding my butt and they literally dragged/pushed me up while my eyes were fixed on my shoes. I felt undeservingly good about myself at the top, and made my way to summit camp in good spirits.
Note: bring some cash and buy yourself a well-deserved Coke at summit camp. Drink it while creeping on the sexy mountaineers getting ready for the nights last trek to the summit.
We started walking in the middle of the night. This way we were scheduled to reach the summit by sunrise if everything went well. Thinking that I had already had my share of bad luck on the trip, I was pretty confident when we started walking. But after about 30 meters I realized we were trotting along in deep lava sand, making the already challenging walk unbearable. Also, if you think you will be able to breath this high up you are mistaken. Imagine there is a wall in the back of your throat preventing the oxygen reaching your lungs, making your breath super shallow. Now imagine only breathing like this for 6 straight hours whilst walking a steep uphill in sand. Now imagine all of that in -15 degrees in the middle of the night. It was hell. It is hard to explain what was happening to me at this stage, but it resembled a coma, but with tears, vomit and, unfortunately, consciousness. With every step I took I was sure that I would have to turn around soon, that this was my limit, that I couldn’t possibly go any further. But before I knew it, the guide turned around, shook my shoulder and pointed at a sign. We were at Stella Point. It was 500 metres left to the top. I was going to make it. I collapsed crying on the ground, out of relief, pain and pride. And then the red African sun started rising over the savannahs, the dark path was suddenly filled with sunshine, and I can honestly say that to this day I have never felt so overwhelmed by happiness. Tears ran down my cheeks all the way to the top, I snapped a picture with the sign and then got the hell down.
The next two days were a blur. No one will tell you, but what sucks about walking a free standing mountain is that the way down is long, and walking downhill for a long time makes your gait resemble a penguin, or potentially a human being with shit in their pants. But nothing mattered. Cause I had made it, achieved something great, something I will humble brag about till the day I die, and something I will never ever have to do again.
Note: if you have the chance, climb the mountain. If not for the overwhelming beauty you will find on your way, do it because the German girls didn’t.