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Kilimanjaro experience: Machame route 7 days

26/06/2022 - 02/07/2022

I was not at my best fitness level after being sick (from COVID-19) for 4 days just a week before I was supposed to climb, however I was ready mentally to give my best self to reach the summit. No pressure on my side anyway: as I kept saying to myself “adventure is a journey not a destination”. And together with my team I knew we will be stronger😊

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was on my bucket list for a very long time; I remember having mentioned it to some friends already in my first year when I started working for adidas back in 2017.

I do not have much experience with hiking, but the idea came out when my friends and I went on a hiking trip in Chamonix in June 2021. We had such an amazing time that I wanted to renew the hiking experience with them but in a more incredible & challenging environment…

After that I planned my 2-month trip accordingly planning first the Kilimanjaro climb & Zanzibar trip with my friends, then continuing the journey on my own with the Mount Meru climb (4,600m altitude), Safari in Serengeti National Park, the volunteering work in Arusha (Tanzania) & last but not least an altitude running camp in Iten in Kenya…


Equipment

For my 2 month trip, I brought a 90L backpack & a 30L daypack. During the day I was carrying a 30L daypack with 3L of water, raining gears: poncho, backpack cover, rain pants, snacks & gels, sun cream & sunglasses. I also brought an empty waterproof duffle bag 100L (bought on Decathlon) which I used as a main bag for my 7-day climb on Mount Kilimanjaro. Among the things I packed for the climb, these were the most essential elements:

  • Hiking shoes (2 pairs): one light pair used for the first two days of the hike when the warmest days from Decathlon & one pair more rigid & waterproof made for winter (bought on Vinted)

  • A waterproof backpack cover (for the 30L daypack)

  • A warm scarf

  • One pair of thick gloves & mitten

  • multiple pairs of compression socks & wool socks

  • Tights, hiking pants / wool pants, rain pants

  • A down jacket, a fleece vest, a rain jacket + rain poncho

  • Some long sleeves thermos, quick dry t-shirts

  • Quick dry towel

  • UK adapter

  • Power bank

  • Headlamp

  • Plastic bags (for trash + wet/dirty clothes)

  • Water bottles (2x 1.5L + 1x 500ml)

  • Some hand/foot warmers for sleeping (to put in the sleeping bag) & for summit day

  • Some hiking poles

  • A sleeping mask, Earplugs

  • Wet wipes

  • Nok cream (against blisters)

  • Diamox (for prevention of altitude sickness)

  • First aid kit.

  • Ski pants & a hard shell waterproof jacket: which were the only equipment I rented from the travel agency in Arusha

Amenities (tents, toilets)

We slept in light tents (Fresh & Black tents) for two people from Decathlon which

were not the best for the relatively cold period we had at the end of June & when the sun was down it was freezing cold in the tent^^

Luckily with a warm sleeping bag and wearing many layers: a base layer and a beanie & wool socks with the foot warmers in my sleeping bags were enough to not feel too cold :).

Also, we had a thin sleeping mat in the tent which was ok enough to sleep.

Do not expect to take any showers or get clean during the hike. What we used for the 7 days were only wet wipes and the porters gave us a bowl of hot water with soap everyday at the end of the daily hikes so we could wash our feet and hands at least.

Finally, regarding the toilets: We paid for a private toilet in a separate tent (only €50 per person for the 7 days) otherwise there are public toilets to be shared with other hikers and it is basically squatting toilets…


Weather conditions

The first two days through the jungle were rainy & cloudy. Then most of the days were sunny but very cold at night (close to 0 degrees most of the nights). At the summit (on day 6) we had a temperature close to -15 degrees and I did not wear enough layers so I could really feel the cold, especially on the hands.



Food

Food was served in a separate tent which had a higher ceiling so that we could stand up in the tent and have space for our dining table and chairs. Food was delicious! The cook adapted to our diets needs as we had one person in our group who is vegan but could eat all kinds of diverse meals which were served.

Breakfast consisted usually of: porridge, pancakes, toasts & omelettes. For (late) lunch we usually had a warm meal: meat on the side, carbs (rice/potatoes/pasta) with veggie stew. For longer hiking days we had a picnic with basic sandwich, egg, muffin & banana. For dinner: we usually had popcorn or peanuts as starters with tea, then warm soup or salad & main dish: meat on the side, carbs (rice/potatoes/pasta or noodles) with a veggie stew & sometimes a fruit platter. Always way too much food than needed for the 4 of us😊



Physical & mental challenge

Physically: you should be relatively fit and be able to walk for 7 days for at least 6 hours even though the climb is not technical (at least for the Machame route that we took.

The way up for me was relatively accessible but the physical challenge was more significant on the way down starting from the summit; where we had to walk down another 7 hours to reach the camp. The way down from the summit is very steep, rocky & slippery as the ground is sandy and rocky at the same time. So, I had to be very careful & go slowly to protect my knees.

Overall, the biggest challenge for me was much more on the mental aspect due to the weather conditions, lack of sleep & lack of oxygen. I started feeling the first symptoms of altitude from day 3 before arriving at Barranco Camp where we had a picnic lunch at Lava tower at around 4,600m of altitude. Even though every day I took half a tab of Diamox to prevent altitude sickness.


Team & portage situation

We had a group of 13 porters + 2 guides + 1 cook & we were only a group of 4 friends.

The two guides were walking with us every day whereas the porters were leaving earlier and walking faster so that our tents could be set up and ready when we finished our daily hikes:) The guides were following our pace and every evening they explained our program for the following day. On day 5, the guides used a pulse oxymete to measure the oxygen level in our blood and pulse rate in evening before the final climb to the summit.

The porters were sharing the big tent where we had dinner to sleep, which I personally think was not the best conditions for them.

If you have the option; choose a company that has the KPAP certification.

KPAP’s mission is to improve the working conditions of the porters on Kilimanjaro by:

  • Lending mountain clothing to porters free of charge

  • Advocating for fair wages and ethical treatment by all companies climbing Kilimanjaro

  • Encouraging climbers to select a climbing company with responsible treatment practices towards their crew. Latest Partner List can be found here.

  • Providing educational opportunities to the mountain crew

You must bring only the essentials in the duffle bag & make sure it does weigh less than 20kg (for the porters to not carry too much weight).

Tips for the entire crew should be between €150-€200 (to be given per guest).



Nature / landscape

Various: first 2 days hiking through the jungle, then fewer vegetation as we climbed up, and more and more arid & rocky terrain on the way up,

On summit day we walked in the dark starting from midnight (guided by our headlamps) on rocky & steep terrain (but never on snow). From the top at sunrise; we could admire the glacier underneath us :)



Daily program

Day 1: Machame Gate (1800m) - Machame Camp (3000m)

Start climbing through the rain forest with picnic lunch for approximately 4 to 5 hrs where you arrive at the Machame Camp. Later afternoon walk up to a little higher altitude then you return to Machame Camp for dinner and overnight.

Walking duration: 5-7 hrs, 11 km

Day 2: Machame Camp (3000m) - Shira Camp (3800m)

After breakfast, start climbing through short Savannah, forest and other vegetation for approximately 4 to 5hrs, with picnic lunch en route before arriving in the afternoon at the Shira Camp, dinner and overnight at Shira Camp.

Walking Duration: 4-6 hrs, 5 km

Day 3: Shira Camp (3800m) - Barranco Camp (3950m)

After breakfast a slow walk through semi glacier and sandy areas with picnic lunch 3 to 4 hrs before arriving at the Barranco Camp for dinner and overnight rest.

Walking duration: 6-8 hrs, 10 km

Day 4: Barranco Camp (3950m)-Karanga Valley Camp (3995m) - Acclimatisation day

A day of acclimatisation with a walk to Karanga Valley Camp (3963 m)

Walking duration: 4-5 hrs, 5 km

Day 5: Karanga Valley (3995m) - Barafu Camp (4600m)

After breakfast, with picnic lunch enroute climb through glaciers for approximately 4 to 5 hours before arriving at the Barafu Camp for dinner and overnight.

Walking duration: 4-5 hrs, 4 km

Day 6: Barafu Camp (4600m) - Uhuru Peak (5895m) - Mweka Camp (3100m)

An early wakeup call around 01.00hrs for preparation and light breakfast before starting final ascent to the summit i.e. either the Stella Point reached in approximately 5 to 6 hrs and a further ascent to the Uhuru Peak reached in another approx 45 minutes. After signing and short rest at Barafu Hut descend via Gilman's Point down to Mweka Camp for a few hours rest with light breakfast then descend down for dinner and overnight at Mweka Camp.

Walking duration: 11-14 hrs, 17 km

Day 7: Mweka Camp (3100) – Mweka Gate (1640m)

Descend from Mweka Camp to the park gate from where you are transferred back to your hotel for a well deserved shower

Walking duration: 3-4 hrs, 10 km


Budget

As we wanted to stay on a low budget for the Kilimanjaro climb we found a pretty decent deal (compared to other agencies) with John Expeditions which I have been recommended through a friend.


Find below the details of the main costs:

Flight tickets Amsterdam-Kilimanjaro : €750 return

Travel agency cost for the 7-day Machame route : €1650 per person

Tips for porters & guides (entire crew) : €150-€200 per person



Recommendations & tips for future hikers

  • Bring extra layers & make sure that your gloves are extra warm.

  • Invest in a solar panel power bank to make sure your device stay recharged.

  • Bring a anti blister cream (Nok) to prevent from getting any blisters.

  • Bring a heating pad if you can so that you can refill it with hot water and put it in your sleeping bag to keep you extra warm

  • Do not forget raining gears to protect your backpack & clothes on rainy days!

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