Mount Kilimanjaro Solo Trekker
Climb Kilimanjaro as a solo female trekker ? Below is the experience of Dianne R. from Northern BC, Dianne is 62 years old and did a fair bit of training for this climb, doing a lot of walking with a pack both here in Canada and in the foothills of Kilimanjaro during the month prior to the climb. (she arrived in Tanzania to do volunteer teaching in mid January). During the week she hiked a fair bit after school in Moshi, and on the weekends out to the rural areas at the foot of the mountain for 4 or 5 hours hike. Dianne made the ascent via the Machame Route.
Tanzania – February 22, 2015
Greetings from Tanzania. I have now had a day’s rest since the Kilimanjaro trip, so thought I would update everyone on the adventure. I am dealing with a major sunburn to my face and mouth – my own fault. I had sunscreen in my pocket and neglected to put it on when summiting Kilimanjaro – and of course, at that altitude, and the glare of the sun on the snow, well – I am now dealing with the consequences. I didn’t develop altitude sickness, for which I am extremely grateful. I had a slight headache one evening, but other than that I felt great.
The trip was amazing, incredible, exhausting, and the most physically demanding activity I have ever engaged in. That I made it to the top of Kilimanjaro (Uhuru Peak – 5895 m) is largely due to my determination (a small amount), and the amazing patience and urging of my guide, Salvastory. Without his belief that I could do this, I would never have made the top.
I had an incredible crew: the guide, Salvastory – who patiently allowed me to move pole-pole (slowly, slowly in Kiswahili), and believed that I could make the top – he kept telling me – “you make a good story for Canada – children, grand daughter, grand son”; a cook, Baltazar, who made meals that rivaled any first class restaurant using fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meat and eggs. I usually had 3 course meals beginning with an incredible soup, a main course, and a dessert of fresh fruit, even to the last day. I had a waiter, Urasa, who would bring me a bowl of hot water and soap to wash up each day, then spread a table cloth on the floor of my tent and bring me dishes (real ones), utensils (real ones), napkins, all the makings for tea, all nicely laid out. The food was brought in insulated metal containers – I was spoiled like a princess. Urasa also had a camp chair for me that I used when the weather allowed.
I cannot say enough about the porters – Alfredy, Faresi, Augusti, and Ewady. These are the toughest guys I have ever seen and I have such respect for their efforts. For Kilimanjaro treks all gear, tents, my big pack, (I carried a day pack with my water, cameras, rain gear, and sometimes lunch), food, propane tank, water, etc, etc, is packed in by the porters (and cook and waiter), and everything is packed out. Meticulous records are kept of what goes in and the garbage is weighed coming out to ensure the mountain stays clean. The guide carried his own big pack of about 30 kilos. The porters move so quickly, even with their big packs, and when coming down the mountain they are almost running. They always had camp set up when the guide and I arrived.
I took 8 days to complete the trek – once on the ground the guide and I made some adjustments to the original trek plan because of the weather, and the fact that I moved quite slowly:
Day 1: I was picked up at the Hostel in Moshi and we drove to the Machame gate. We hiked for about 5 1/2 hours through the verdant rain forest in the rain. It was very tough climbing and I thought to myself – what am I doing here? I’m never going to make this! But no way was I going to quit, so I marshalled on. I got soaking wet, but I had a good tent and sleeping bag and I slept really well that night at Machame Camp (3000 m) in the rainforest.
Day 2: A lot of vertical climbing on this day (about 6 hours). It rained all day and I was better prepared with all of my rain gear. Because we started out in the morning, I seemed better able to cope with the walking and climbing. We climbed out of the rainforest into the moorland (scrub forest) to Shira Camp at 3800 m. I rested in the afternoon – had about an hour’s nap, ate supper, then went to sleep early. The weather cleared upon rising.
Day 3: We walked to Barranco Camp by way of Lava Tower (4600 m). The weather on the way to the Lava Tower was cool, but I started to really feel the effects of the higher altitude and less oxygen. I would often have to stop and catch my breath – and this pattern would continue for the rest of any ascent. On the way down from the Lava Tower to Barranco Camp (3950 m), we encountered a terrific snow storm with snow thunder and lightening. We hustled along quite quickly – it was a bit scary. That night we camped in about 3 inches of snow – not so pleasant, but again the tent worked well and kept me dry. We were now up in alpine desert.
Day 4: I was supposed to stay an extra day at Barranco Camp, but the weather wasn’t the best, so we moved on and tackled the Barranco wall. This is a steep incline, when I looked up at it, I couldn’t believe we were going to go up and over this wall of rock. Well, it was doable, but in places it was like free climbing a rock wall. A couple of times I had to throw my pack up, find toe holds and pieces of rock to cling to and pull myself up. A couple of times the guide had to grab my hand and haul me up to the next ledge. Now I am someone who is not fond of heights. (I close my eyes when climbing up the ladder at home to clean my chimney). But I told myself: “suck it up buttercup, you don’t have a choice – you can’t go back down” – so I just kept my vision forward and didn’t look down. What gets me is the porters also have to go up this same route with their big loads, often having to throw them up, then clamber up to the next ledge. Of course, not all of the trail was that steep, eventually the wall was ascended and the trail became more gradual to Karanga Camp (3963 m). We were now truly in the alpine desert country. The weather began improving, as well. Salvastory says the weather on Kili is like a chameleon – it changes very quickly. I went to the bathroom in full sun, when I returned to my tent the fog had rolled in and I could hardly find the tent.
Day 5: Today we walked to base camp at Barafu (4700 m). The walk was one of the gentler days, but because of the altitude I had to stop and catch my breath often. We arrived in the sun and it seemed that the weather was improving. Here is where most climbers stay and then make the final ascent to the summit. General practice is to begin at midnight to see sunrise at the crater on top. Because I was such a slow walker, the guide and I decided to do a daylight ascent. Also I would get more sleep. The camp is very rocky with tents tucked here and there and everywhere. There are many climbers and many, many support crew. Only the guides and climbers make the final ascent. A note about bathrooms – every campsite has toilets available for the tourists and porters. They are pit toilets, but are well maintained. As well each campsite has a park building where each tourist and guide must sign in. It helps to keep track of who is on the mountain.
Day 6: Ascent Day – we left camp at 6:30 am and moved very slowly. Because we were doing a daylight ascent we had the trail to ourselves. I moved very slowly wondering many times if I would make this. The air is very thin at this altitude. Again I would walk a few meters, then catch my breath. Often I would not look at how far I would have to go to get to the top, but rather how far to go to the next bend. Eventually, after 7 1/2 hours I made the top!!!! I was exhausted, the guide was so excited and gave me a big hug. The views are spectacular from the top of the mountain. We saw an amazing sunrise over Mawenzi, a nearby peak, many glaciers, the crater from the old volcano (Kili is a dormant volcano), a lot of spectacular sights. It was worth it all! The descent took about 5 hours and I was very tired getting back to base camp. We stayed another night at Barafu Camp (4700 m).
Day 7: We got an early start and actually started going downhill! We walked for about 4 1/2 hours to Mweka Camp (3100 m), passing back down into the moorland and the edge of the rainforest. The weather was lovely and I had to start shedding some of the warmer clothing. Lots of rest and an early night.
Day 8: In the morning we packed up and I thanked the crew and gave them their tips. They sang the mountain song (I have it on video) for me and we said our goodbyes. Some of the porters would be well ahead of me and would depart for home at the park gate. A 3 hour walk later the guide and I were at the park gate, we signed the final paperwork, I was issued my certificate, and a vehicle was waiting to transport us back to Moshi.
I had an amazing experience. I did something out of the ordinary and I certainly challenged myself to my physical extreme. Would I do this again? Probably not, it was one of the toughest physical challenges I have ever had. Am I glad that I did this? Absolutely!! It was an amazing experience that I will never forget. And I saw some incredible scenery, met some amazing people in my crew, and I made it to the top of Kilimanjaro!!!