I used to live and work in Tanzania and during that time my work took me to all corners of the Country, which included Arusha, Moshi and Kilimanjaro. During this time I was lucky enough to successfully climb Kilimanjaro twice, taking the more popular Marangu route on both occasions. I really looked forward to travelling to Arusha as it is the gateway to fantastic Safaris including The Ngorongoro Crater, lake Manyara, and The Serengeti, and is surrounded by lush fertile land and superb scenery. Also for me, it was a welcome break from the oppressive heat, humidity, and chaos & bustle of Dar es Salaam.
The climb starts at Marangu (1,372m), here you meet your guides and porters then register at the main entrance of Mount Kilimanjaro National Park. It then takes about 4 hours gradual walk through lush vegetation and rain forest before you reach your overnight stay at Mandara (2,700m). The huts are quite comfortable basic wooden structures, which were donated by the Norwegian government many years ago. By now you will have heard the word Pole Pole many times, which means slowly in Kiswahili, this is very apt as the main thing that will stop you reaching the top is altitude sickness. So the more time you can take to get acclimatised the better the chance you have of reaching the summit, so this is why an extra acclimatisation day is recommended.
The next day you trek through heather and open moorland where you get great views of the twin peaks of Kibo and Mawenzi. 5 hours is about the average time to reach the huts of Horombo (3,720m), these are much the same as the huts at Mandara. At Mandara you should take an extra day to acclimatise, a popular trek is to the base of Mawenzi.
By now you are probably feeling the effects of the altitude, so the word pole pole (slowly), is used even more by the guides as they lead you on your way to Kibo Hut – the final stop before you make the accent to Uhuru peak. On the way you cross the saddle, which is a vast expanse of grey/brown dirt where nothing grows. As one crosses the plain with its lunar like landscape, the feeling of expectancy of the next 24 hours begins to set in. Kibo (4,706m) is a cold stone building with basic facilities and old bunk beds. Here you try to grab as much sleep as possible before you are woken shortly before midnight to start the final accent. The midnight start is a must, if you want to reach the summit in time to see the sun rising over the rooftop of Africa, surely the high light of the trip.
This last day is very long and demanding. You start in the extreme cold and darkness, zigzagging up the scree slope at not much more than a snail’s pace, following the long line of flickering torches coming from the trekkers in front. After roughly two hours you should reach Hans Meyer’s Cave – named after the German geologist who made the first successful ascent in 1889 – where he found the remains of a frozen leopard. Roughly three hours further on (this is the hardest stretch of the ascent!) and a short scramble to Gillman’s Point (5,680m), you should be rewarded with the dramatic spectacle of the sun rising over the ice fields and craggy peaks of Mawenzi. It will be a hard slog now, but to reach the summit it takes another couple of hours along the crater rim before you finally get to Uhuru (Freedom) Peak (5,895m). Just time for a few photos, then you have to descend – approximately 3 hours, which retraces your route, back down past Kibo Hut and on to Horombo Hut for a well-deserved rest.
The final day is easy in comparison, as you triumphantly march your way down past Mandara, stopping briefly to share your experiences with other trekkers who are only just beginning their climb. As you loose altitude you feel better all the time and after about 8 hours walking you are back at the National Park’s gate at Marangu. All that remains now is for you to collect your certificates and say – Kwa Heri (farewells) to your porters and guides. A tip is customary in Tanzania as wages are so poor, if you tip well you will surely get a rendition of the Kilimanjaro song.