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Climb Mount Kilimanjaro

While backpacking through Tanzania, I decided to take the opportunity to climb Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.  The mountain is actually an old volcano which stands at 5895m high.  To arrange this trip I travelled to a town called Moshi, in the north of Tanzania near the base of the mountain.  Luckily the tour guides provided me with all the equipment needed for the climb, the clothes I had been wearing for the rest of Tanzania just aren’t suitable for the cold snowy conditions on top of the mountain.  I was travelling alone so I was joined up with another solo traveller and only 24 hours later we were driving out from the town with our guides heading to the entrance to the national park.

Tourists are not allowed onto the mountain without a licenced tour guide, so as you enter the park your papers are checked and registered before you can enter the first stage of the mountain, the forest.  We hiked through the forest for a few hours, following the muddy footpath as it wound its way up the steep incline to our first rest camp, located on the edge of the forest section.  The rest areas are simple but comfortable; they are made up of small huts with picnic benches out the front.  The huts are just large enough for a set of bunk beds, but after the hike I didn’t have the energy for anything other than sleeping.

On the morning of the second day we woke up early and stepped out of the hut to an awesome view.  The clouds were below us and the tips of the other smaller mountains were poking through the cloud looking like islands in a sea of cloud.  The guide had prepared our breakfast so we ate, packed up our equipment and set off into the second stage of the mountain, the moorland.  This stage was quite easy, as we were now walking along the shoulder of the mountain, so the incline wasn’t very steep.  We were following a rocky footpath through the dense shrubs and what looked like heather, the views were amazing, a clear blue cloudless sky above us, with clouds, smaller mountains and the landscapes of northern Tanzania below us.  We ended that day at our second rest spot, more small huts gathered together at the end of the moorland section; from here we could look down and see the lights from the towns below us, Tanzania on one side and Kenya on the other.

The third day we crossed the third section of the mountain, the alpine desert.  All the plant life stopped and we found ourselves in a vast empty area littered with small rocks and stones.  This was one of the shorter sections of the ascent; we arrived at our camp, ate a meal and went to sleep early.  Then at midnight we were woken up, drank some soup and set off for the last section, the peak.  It was dark as we left the camp so we stuck close together as we hiked up a small path that zigzagged up a steep slope.  The top of this slope is known as Gilman’s Point, many tourists reach this point and decide that they have climbed enough, but from there to the actual highest point; you have to hike along the rim of the volcano.

It was at this stage that I started to notice the effects of altitude sickness, I had a terrible stabbing headache, my legs were heavy, breathing wasn’t refreshing no matter how deeply I breathed and when I moved my eyes sharply I couldn’t see anything other than a flash of bright colours.  We slowly pushed on, along the rim of the volcano until we reached the large sign at the top which congratulates the climbers.  We arrived just before sunrise, so we sat on the top and watched as the darkness of night became a shadow and disappear into the foot of the mountain below us.  The total trip took five days, three days to climb up and two days to come back down the way we came.


Article written by Tony Gahegan.

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