“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” – Edmund Hillary
I woke up Sunday morning with a jolt of anticipation. Today was the day we were leaving for Kilimanjaro. Months of preparing and years of dreaming about it, I was finally on my way. It felt surreal.
Since the beginning of mankind, men and women alike have challenged themselves by climbing mountains. Scaling all of the seven summits – the highest mountain peaks on each of the seven continents – was first achieved by the late American climber Richard Bass in the spring of 1985. Kilimanjaro, the fourth highest peak among the seven summits, soaring at 19,340 feet (5,895 m) and one of the world’s highest freestanding mountains, has long been one of the most popular climbs given its relative ease of climbing (no technical climbing ability is necessary) and beauty. Located 200 miles (330 km) south of the equator in Northern Tanzania, the snow-capped volcanic dome of Kilimanjaro dominates the skyline like no other mountain on earth.
Kilimanjaro is actually not a single peak but a vast complex of cones and cores spreading over 38 miles (61 km) long by 25 miles (40 km) wide. There are three distinct volcanic cones: Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira. Uhuru Peak is the highest summit on Kibo’s crater rim and is the hopeful destination of thousands of climbers every year.
We set off for Machame Village shortly after breakfast with the van packed with our gear and a couple of our guides. Our group of nine climbers – six of us from the United States and three from Nigeria were all part of the #SolarSisterSummit in honor of Solar Sister’s five-year anniversary of providing clean energy and women’s empowerment in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our climb would be the culmination of months of fundraising and training.
There are six main climbing routes on Kilimanjaro with the Marangu Route (also known as the “Coca-Cola Route”) being the easiest and most popular. Our group chose the longer, more scenic Machame route that can take anywhere from 6-7 days and is known as one of the most beautiful routes on the mountain, passing through five distinct ecological zones and affording dramatic views every single day of the climb. The Machame Route also has one of the highest success rates for reaching the summit since it allows proper acclimatization before the final summit push.
Our one-hour drive to the Machame Gate took us through lush green, tropical vegetation. While the others talked excitedly in back, I sat up front next to the driver to get a bird’s eye view of the passing scenery. The driver pointed out the beds of drying millet that farmers use to make “mbenge” a local beer and also showed me how they planted coffee underneath the foliage of the banana leaves to provide shade which helps the coffee grow. It was a beautiful drive and very different than I had expected. I had no idea that the Kilimanjaro region was so lush and tropical.
We arrived a little after noon to the Machame Gate where we would have a bag lunch, register with the Kilimanjaro Park Office, meet up with our porters and start our trek. As we drove inside the gates, I tried to capture on film all the local vendors hawking their wares. Tanzanian flags and other fun memorabilia for the summit were readily for sale.
June marks the high season for Kilimanjaro climbs given the normally dry and warmer climate and of course summer vacation for many trekkers. We weren’t sure what kind of crowds to expect but were prepared for hundreds of fellow climbers joining us along the way. (Click on any image to enlarge size).
Before we headed out, we met our four guides and were each given a handmade wooden plaque with the words to “The Song of Kilimanjaro” which we all learned by heart by the end of the trek.
The song proved to be words of wisdom. Here is basic meaning of the song in English:
Hello, Hello! Welcome everyone to the beautiful view of Kilimanjaro. Welcome to Kilimanjaro, no worries! Go slow, slow…no worries.
Hmmm? We would just have to see if there really were hakuna matata! No worries! 62 miles (100 km) up and 24 miles (38 km) down did not sound like no worries to me.
“When the sun is shining I can do anything; no mountain is too high, no trouble too difficult to overcome”. – Wilma Rudolph