This is it! The day I’ve been waiting for for over a year. We start climbing Kilimanjaro today! I have been awake since 3 am, too excited to go back to sleep.
After breakfast, it took a couple of hours to organize all of our gear. We each have our own backpacks to carry, filled with extra clothes, rain gear, snacks, water, and camera gear. We were each assigned a porter to carry our big duffel bags, containing our personal gear, clothing, sleeping bags, Thermarest, etc. The duffel bags were weighed to ensure that the porters don’t carry more than the weight limit. Then the porter team organized all the tents, cooking gear, and food for the next 7 days.
Finally, we got everything loaded on two trucks, and started the 3-hour drive on really bad pavement to the Rongai route. The unpaved winding road was filled with potholes and rocks, covered in volcanic dust. We spent half the time being bounced into the air, and the other half the time landing on the hard seats. By the time we arrived at the Rongai route entrace, I think all my internal organs have been thoroughly massaged, and I was covered in a film of red volcanic dust.
Kilimanjaro is an ancient volcano, and the biggest free-standing mountain in the world. The volcano is now dormant. The hills and the area around it are covered in very fine volcanic dust. The dust is sometimes red, sometimes dark brown. It gets into every fold of the skin, under your nails, in your hair, and in your nose as you breathe. Once in the air, the dust takes a long time to settle. If you walk behind someone, you are literally eating their dust the whole time. We discovered that there is just no way around it, and you must put up with being dirty for 7 days.
We had a quick picnic lunch before starting the hike at 2 pm. The beginning of the trail took us through some corn fields at roughly 6,000 ft. Locals use the trail to commute from their village to the plot they work on. The trail is about 3 ft wide at most places, not quite enough for two people with big back packs to walk side-by-side. The temperature was a comfortable 25 C, and the sky had patches of blue. Everyone on the team was in good spirits, excited about starting the long awaited climb.
The gentle uphill was an easy start to the climb. The hiking pace set by the guides was slow, which suited me just fine. We have been warned that even at the lower elevation, we need to conserve our energy, because the high altitude will really tire us out later.
We hiked for 3 1/2 hours to reach our first camp–Simba Camp (Lions Camp)–at about 8,000 ft. By the time we arrived, the porters have already set up our tents and put our duffel bags in the tents. We set up the Thermarest and our own sleeping bags, washed up, and were fed popcorn, tea, hot chocolate, followed by dinner.
That night, I looked up to find a pitch dark sky with stars everywhere. Without the pollution of city lights, the stars shone with such brilliance. The milky way was clearly visible, stretching from one end of the sky to the other. It almost seemed like one can stretch out a hand and reach the stars.
In the tent, I wrote in my journal, and felt the temperature drop dramatically. I could actually see my breath inside the tent. I was exhausted from the excitement of the day, and the lack of sleep from the previous night. I fell asleep to the sound of my teammates snoring all around me.
All the prepping and weighing of bags in the morning:
Starting the journey, driving by a banana market:
Starting the very dusty hike: