Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, at 62
You want me to WHAT!!
This was the response I gave to my daughter when she asked me to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, the Mother of all Hills in Africa.
Anyway, to cut a long story short I agreed, even though it wasn’t on my bucket list! After all as Edmund Hillary said “it’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves”.
We had previously trekked together in Nepal with World Expeditions. The company is very well organised so we booked with them again. They now have a climb called “Kilimanjaro for Over 55s”!
A decision was made to climb the more remote Shira Route. This is a longer trek – eight days – that gives an extra two days for acclimatization.
Although – I wasn’t too fussed when I read the information on the grading that said – CHALLENGING! Or, the sentence in the brochure that said “Shira is ideal for those who are confident in their ability to acclimatize to altitude, and to walk over steeper paths for extended periods!”. But it was too late for a change of mind because we’d booked by that stage.
Climbing Gear needed for Mt Kilimanjaro.
Luckily my wardrobe already included most items needed for the climb. For anyone wanting to attempt the mountain the Climb Kilimanjaro Guide has excellent details of what to pack.
Fitness was a priority (obviously) and included regular climbs up the local small, but challenging, Mt Beerburrum. This is north of Brisbane and part of the Glasshouse Mountains walks, plus a few visits to the gym were needed.
Did you know:
- The oldest woman to summit the mountain is a Russian, Angela Vorobeva, who reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro aged 86 years 267 days, on 29 October 2015.
- The oldest married (Canadian-Swiss) couple, Martin Kafer (85) and his wife Esther (84), summited on October 2012. Probably just a training run for them!
- AND… the fastest ascent and descent of the mountain is held by a Swiss mountain runner, Karl Egloff, who ran to the top the summit and back in 6 hours and 42 minutes in August 2014!
Then, before you knew it we were at Kilimanjaro Airport! Next stop was the Ilboru Safari Lodge, Arusha, Tanzania. Our African driver stopped the jeep for our first look at the Mother of a Mountain that didn’t look so big after all, eg not like Mt Everest.
Of course this was because we were already at an altitude of 2,800m and the challenge was going to be all about conquering the altitude and not ropes, crampons, picks and the like.
Obote was our Chief Guide, aged 58 years. He was supported by three other guides. I was the oldest in the group at 62 (instantly nicknamed “Mumma” and my daughter the youngest at 25 (nicknamed “Toto” meaning the youngest).
Our group was made up of eleven females from America, Canada, England and Australia plus one young man, a pilot, from Jordan, Israel. Initially he appeared devastated to be the only male in the group, although quickly adjusted to being spoilt by 11 women of all ages!
Day 1 –
We left the comfort of the lodge and drove to Londorossi National park formal registration to climb the mountain. During our short drive through the park we saw monkeys, black monkeys, camels, baboons, goats, donkeys, and a moose….yes we were definitely in a different country.
Before we knew it, our entire contingent piled out of the bus – well the porters and cooks got off the roof – along with the massive amount of gear that needed carrying daily.
How do those porters carry tables, chairs, gas bottles, stoves, food and water supplies plus tents up the mountain?Many of them just wear thongs and were seen ‘jogging’ up ahead of us with their load.
The first day of climbing was in brilliant sunshine and we reached out first camp on the Shira Plateau (3,550m) mid afternoon. The walk across the moorlands of the Plateau, which is a collapsed volcanic crater, was really enjoyable. A calm before the storm type of feeling!
Everyone was upbeat as we sat at the table for dinner – all totally in awe of how the tasty meal had been created amongst a mountain of stones and dust.
Then a massive headache struck! Oh no, surely I didn’t need to head back down on day one totally embarrassed. I was in luck Obote’s Diamox tablet did the trick and by next morning all was good with the world.
Day 2 –
An easy day. To help with acclimatisation the group walked to the summit of Shira Cathedral (3,750m) to see a stunning view of Mt Meru poking its head (4,562m) through the afternoon mist. This is a smaller mountain that many trekkers use as a practice run before attempting Mt Kilimanjaro.
Day 3 –
We explored beneath the Northern Ice fields, almost totally unvisited by tourists, with our destination being Moir Hut (4,200m). We then had a choice of another strenuous walk or time to enjoy the peace of the campsite – doesn’t take rocket science to figure out which option I chose!
This remote corner of Kilimanjaro was super special because few visitors use the Shira route. Many choose the shorter climbs.
Day 4 –
Our route to reach the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro took us along many lava ridges. These gave magnificent panoramic views while all the time we were going up, up, up.
The Lava Tower campsite (4,550m) was reached before lunch. After satisfying our appetite we faced a steep but truly spectacular afternoon walk on rocky slopes. This acclimatisation walk took us to the ruins of the old hut at Arrow Glacier 4,800m). The bonus was stunning views of massive hanging glaciers.
It was at this stage of the trek that I realised the Assistant Guide had fallen madly in love with my (engaged) daughter and I heard comments about “50 cows” being part of the dowry! We all laughed at this revelation and once the guide realised there was a pending wedding in Australia he was happy to just be her friend for the next six days.
Back at the Lava Tower campsite our guides and porters treated the group to a very LONG song and dance routine with each of us being named individually in the lyrics! Another wonderful memory that will remain forever.
Night time was as black as ink – no light pollution out there. You could almost reach up and touch the Milky Way stars. Temperature overnight dropped to -5 degrees – time to pop on the beanies!
Day 5 –
Karanga (4,000m) – longer day 7 hours.
I couldn’t believe it, with two days to go we had a steep climb down into the bottom of the Great Barranco Valley (3,900m). This was 900m below what we had climbed up yesterday!
This was followed by quite a difficult climb up the famous Barranco Wall – luckily it was only a short way. Once up the Wall there were fantastic views of the Southern Ice fields and the steep climb was forgotten – for the moment.
Day 6 –
Today started with a steep climb out of the Kadanga Valley on our mission to reach Barafu campsite (4,600m) in preparation for our summit assault. Sounds dramatic but that’s how it felt.
We arrived in the afternoon and were enjoying the peace when other trekkers started to arrive, about 500 of them, turning the camp turned into a mini city! While Shira is the more remote route for climbing the mountain, all groups meet at Barafu ready for the summit attempt the next night.
While getting organised at camp we saw porters coming into the camp with a person in a plastic bag (not over his head though). This sight started off a lot of “what ifs” until Obote explained that 25 climbers with various missing limbs had climbed, and summitted, the mountain. While they could climb up they couldn’t get back down without assistance.
This of course spurred us on to be successful in our mission – if these guys could get to the top without all their arms and legs, we had no excuse.
After yet another short acclimatization climb we had dinner and were given extra advice for the climb, including the freezing of our valuable water. The plastic litre bottles needed to be shaken to regularly. If using camel packs we needed to blow the water back down the tube after drinking – again to prevent the water freezing.
All the groups left at staggered times from 12 midnight for the ascent. Obote had nominated us to leave at 1 am meaning we were last to leave but wouldn’t be hassled by groups behind.
Nerves were really kicking in. Everyone seemed so excited and organised with what gear to wear, energy bars to carry etc. All EXCEPT ME – I was in a near state of panic!
Day 7 –
Mt Kilimanjaro Summit Day
Midnight arrived and so did the check list:
- Layered up with clothing – check
- Headlights on securely – check
- Spare batteries in pockets – check (or so I thought)
- Two litres of water – check.
- Power bars and chocolate in pockets – check.
- Phones and cameras next to body to prevent batteries running out in the cold – check.
Facing a 15- 20 Hour Day of climbing up and down.
Our goal was to reach the crater of Stella Point (5,735m) for sunrise. Then hopefully up to the summit to experience that magic once in a lifetime moment.
(My daughter and I had already discussed that if one of us couldn’t make it the other definitely needed to go on. Really glad that decision didn’t need to be made.)
A quick cup of tea and a light breakfast and we were off.
Now, if you think climbing over boulders is difficult in the daylight – it’s twice the challenge at night. Plus my torch batteries faded within the first half an hour and no spares – good one Joycee!
On the way up Mt Kilimanjaro there were several climbers being rushed back down as their oxygen had reached dangerous levels. Our guides didn’t carry oxygen – anyone suffering severe altitude sickness was simply raced back to a lower level.
Our amazing assistant guide literally sang us up the mountain with his African songs – all the time hopping over rocks like a monkey (honestly, how do they do that). His energy and enthusiasm were contagious, as were the other guides, and I’m convinced it was all this encouragement that got us to the top.
As always with trekking I was at the back – this time with a young guide called Donald who was determined that I would summit. After about 6 hours I adopted a desperate three foot shuffle. Shuffle 3 steps, stop and count to five and repeat, and repeat…..and with this clumsy walk I caught up with the rest of the group! He also promised me a gift if I made it to the top. His mother was called Joyce which gave us an immediate bond.
At Stella Point (5,735m) we saw the sunrise of a lifetime – a blood red sun that once seen will never be forgotten. A cup of tea to celebrate and then one more hour of climbing got us to the summit, Uhluru Peak (5,895m).
The bonus was the last hour was definitely the easier. We had been told many times by guides walking from Stella Point to the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro would be as enjoyable as “eating chocolate” and they were right!
AND THERE WE WERE – on top of the highest freestanding mountain in the world – and in Obote’s (Chief Guide) “Office in the Sky”!
Obote himself was like a man possessed. In his 25 years of guiding up the mountain this was the only group to summit together with no severe altitude sickness.
Twenty minutes maximum was allowed at the summit because internal organs get unhappy and start to break down. (I didn’t need any convincing to leave after I heard those words).
Some people on the summit didn’t get the chance to take photos because their camera batteries had drained with the cold -20 degrees centigrade.
After nine hours of climbing and celebrating it was time to head back to Barafu Campsite – 3.1/2 hours back down the mountain. After a quick rest at the camp it was pack-up time and on to Millenium Camp for a good night’s sleep. We had been climbing and walking for 20 hours.
The descent was 2,000m and definitely tough on the knees and toes. But hey, who cared, everyone was high on adrenalin and we’d just waved to the world from the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro!
On the way down from Uhluru Peak we passed very close to the spectacular 10,000 year old glaciers and ice cliffs that still take up most of the summit area. They are HUGE.
We literally skied down the slopes from the summit on the scree (volcanic ash and stones) using our feet for skiis! I was hanging on to Donald (guide) for grim death as it wasn’t as easy for me as the young ones. Oh and I did get a present at the summit as promised – a bead bracelet in the colours of Kenya which I still have today.
Everyone found sleep difficult that night. So much excitement – words and personal stories were tumbling out of mouths with the excitement of our personal achievement. Making the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro when many others hadn’t been so lucky. Then suddenly……conquering Mt Everest was on everyone’s list – except mine!
The last day of walking
We were woken up at 4 am thinking we were in the middle of an earthquake. But no – it was the deep reverberations of humming by our African porters coming through the ground and our bodies. Then the singing started – the songs of Africa. We just laid there listening for about half an hour – what a surreal experience we were living.
Their happiness was contagious, spurred on because it was their last trek for the season and home was getting close.
After breakfast there were thank you speeches and tips handed out individually to the guides, porters and cooks (all 32 of them). My daughter did the lions share of this but thoroughly enjoyed the experience. (I think!)
After a final five hours of walking we arrived at Mweka for lunch and a beer with our support crew.
Back at the hotel, there were showers and hair washes – the first in TEN DAYS followed by massages of legs – particularly calf muscles.
We unanimously decided it had been the toughest physical challenge of our lives – AND also the most rewarding!
Next stop…on Safari!
Success (for the two of us) was followed by a four day safari in the Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangira and Lake Manyara Nationa Parks in search of our favourite creatures – elephants.
Statistics to Consider Before Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro.
The following statistics highlight the benefit of taking the longer Shira Route rather than the shorter 5 or 6 day climbs:
Success rate on summiting:
- All climbers, all routes 55%
- All climbers, all 5 day routes 27%
- All climbers, all 6 day routes 44%
- All climbers, all 7 days routes 64%
- All climbers, all 8 day routes 85%
- 3-7 deaths a year
Need to Know:
- Best time to travel is between June and October (we went in September)F
- Fitness is crucial – allow 3-6 months to build up physical (and mental) fitness, e.g. stairwalks, hiking hills in your neighbourhood a few times a week – including inclines and declines.
Need to Take:
- – Diamox
– The right gear, it gets freezing at night and on the summit. Climb Kilimanjaro Guide
Put Mt Kilimanjaro on your bucket list with your kids or grandkids – it’s a once in a lifetime experience with a satisfaction second to none.