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Conquering Kilimanjaro…Better Luck Next Time!

by Jane McLellan

I have always wanted to climb Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Mainly because I like a challenge, but also I’d read about the trek and was fascinated by how the landscape changes each day of the climb. I started training with the aim of climbing Kili in January 2010. Mt Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest peak at 5895 metres.  January to March and June to October are the best times to go with regards to good weather, but you can climb all year round. There are different routes up to the summit including Marangu, Macramé, Rona, Umbel, Shire and Lesotho. Routes vary with regards to duration, steepness and length of trek but one thing’s for sure; it’s no walk in the park!

While on the trek I experienced constantly changing weather conditions. I started the trek in a warm climate, but conditions at the top of the mountain were very different. I climbed in January which is one of the hottest months and when the sun went down it was still extremely cold and one night, I even ended up going to bed in the clothes I was planning on wearing to climb the following day. I also slept with the addition of a fleece, hat and a very warm sleeping bag.

Like 80% of climbers I did the Marangu route which can be done in five or six days. It’s also known as the Coco Cola route as it is the easiest, shortest and most popular. The route is an interesting one and has the advantage that you sleep in wooden huts instead of camping (which is a blessing during the cold nights!)

The Marangu route starts at Marangu Gate. I made sure I stocked up in the little shop on food, drinks and toilet paper and made good use of the toilet block, as it was the last one I would see for a while!  The trek started with a gentle walk through rainforest to Mandara Huts at 2740 metres. I made sure to listen out for the monkeys who lurk in the surrounding area!

The food and accommodation along the Marangu Route is pretty good, much better than I expected. The wooden huts slept four people on bunk beds and were small, but comfortable. I had a clean mattress and pillow and there was a separate block for toilets and dining.

Day two took me across heathland and moorlands, where I saw some extraordinary plants and flowers, especially the giant lobelias and groundsels.  The next day is a trek through an alpine desert.  Then finally, after a few days hard trekking, summit day had arrived!  I woke at midnight (!!) for a light breakfast before starting the final climb at 1am. The goal is to reach the summit shortly after sunrise and it was a steep climb, walking on scree and snow.

My favourite part of the climb was the scenery and the different landscapes. It changed every day and there was always something new to look at – the view of the peak, the forests, flowers, hills, trees and streams. It was brilliant to climb in such beautiful surroundings.

Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I failed to reach the summit after making it to the last day of the climb!  I was suffering badly from altitude sickness and although I was really disappointed, but I did enjoy myself and I intend to give it a second attempt in the future. There are things I would do differently next time and I would definitely take a longer route so I’d have more time to acclimatize.  Watch out Kili, here I come!

 

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